Burning with Faith, Thursday’s Prayer for Priests

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O Jesus, our great High Priest, hear my humble prayers on behalf of your priests. Give them a deep faith, a bright and firm hope, and a burning love which will ever increase in the course of their priestly lives.

In their loneliness, comfort them. In their sorrows, strengthen them. In their frustrations, point out to them that it is through suffering that the soul is purified, and show them that they are needed by the Church, they are needed by souls, they are needed for the work of redemption.

O loving Mother Mary, Mother of Priests, take to your heart your sons who are close to you because of their priestly ordination, and because of the power which they have received to carry on the work of Christ in a world which needs them so much. Be their comfort, be their joy, be their strength, and especially help them to live and to defend the ideals of consecrated celibacy.

Amen.

Image by Tama66 at pixabay.com.

The Stark Contrast of Imperfect Love

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I was sitting in the nave of the church near the sanctuary. My friend’s final words, “allow yourself to be loved,” were printed on the front of her funeral leaflet. Just below is a picture of her on a trip she took to India, between scheduled bouts of chemotherapy. The photo shows her hugging her sponsored child. My friend’s pale and thinned skin is in stark contrast with the teenage girl’s glowing dark complexion and black hair.

It was her Requiem Mass, though her body was in a lab somewhere donated for research. In front of the altar was her picture and a few floral arrangements strategically placed nearby.

While attending her Mass I felt odd and out of place, something I rarely feel at church. I couldn’t put my finger on the discomfort, but something was amiss. Was it because the usual muted reverence before a service was displaced by loud conversations among huddled groups?

Entering the church I was greeted by the needy and the misfits whom she befriended, who were there with all their quirks to show their love for her. They paced nervously in the back vestibule and left long before Mass had ended.

There was lamenting and tears as people greeted the widower. Mass began and the readers for the service struggled to maintain their composure. The seven priests and three deacons crowded the sanctuary in white and gold chasubles and stoles. They extolled her virtues and contributions to the community as each took his turn eulogizing.

I became increasingly uncomfortable, squirming in the pew, when a long-past-middle-aged Liturgical dancer took to the floor in her overly revealing white leotards, tights, and long flowing skirt. Music began to play loudly over the speakers as she stepped and leapt about the altar, arms up and then expressively lowered.

Her appearance and movements jarred harshly against the backdrop of the Gothic architecture of the church and the formalities of a Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. The priests were sitting stoic and secure near the tabernacle and averted their eyes, choosing to look past the dancer at the congregation. Much of the congregation was watching the priests. I felt sad for the dancer whose gift to our departed friend was lost—to many of us—in the traditional rituals of Catholicism.

The Mass ended and a few final words from the pastor indicated a special farewell from the husband of the deceased. The widower stood in the middle of the church and sang flatly a capella to the picture of his wife. I’m not sure why I rolled my eyes and felt embarrassed. All I knew is that I needed to leave, and quickly, and bypass the luncheon following the service. The whole funeral Mass felt more like a carnival midway with all its strangeness temporarily displacing the dignity of the Requiem.

I had heard my friend say on more than one occasion “allow yourself to be loved.” She allowed us to love her through her cancer. She allowed the marginalized to love her through their oddities. She made arrangements to allow her friends to love her with their “special” gifts at her funeral.  She allowed herself to love and be loved in a marriage I never understood.

Her final words were a challenge, and fitting for a consummate spiritual director pointing us towards God. To heed those words and follow their calling is to embrace the very basic teachings of our Church, to embrace charity and all that it means as Christians.

She allowed more than I can imagine tolerating. Maybe this is where my discomfort comes from. I am embarrassed by my own shortcomings when it comes to receiving imperfect love.

Image by Suju at Pixabay.com.

(2013)

Regifting, Nobody Knows

shutterstock_149624612By mid-January we have settled into our usual routines. The Christmas season has ended, the nativity is packed away until the next First Sunday of Advent, most of the pine needles are vacuumed out of the carpet, and the presents have been incorporated in our daily lives.

The gifts I received this year were remarkably sweet, and addressed the needs of my soul more so than the clothing or feeding of my body. Well, about those bags of gourmet coffee—they’re good for the soul, aren’t they?

My friend in Indiana gave me a holy water font for the oratory. It is perfectly matched to my taste; clean lines, unadorned, and functional. When I touched the font for the first time I was surprised to find that its white glaze felt like soft leather. The basin is appropriately sized to hold a sufficient amount of water and roomy enough for easy dipping of fingers.

The woman who lives downstairs, and a friend for over quarter of a century, knew I was taking painting lessons—I’ve recently discovered that painting carries me away in much the same way as prayer. She is also aware of my spinal condition and the challenges of bending over a canvas.

The dear woman gave me a lovely wooden collapsible table-top easel that has a drawer for paints and brushes, and can be used outdoors—when I’m painterly enough for en plein air. Being able to now sit upright, practice sessions last longer.

I was delighted by unexpected gifts arriving in the mail from writing friends—DVD’s of the Catholicism series, and the leather-bound Manual of Spiritual Warfare. Both items were direct answers to long surrendered prayers.

We all receive gifts we will probably never use—though we would never be so crass as to let on to the giver! Those are the presents that are re-gifted, passed along, or donated to charity.

One such gift had come from “Annie“, who lives at a group home for women. She had gone with her case worker to the Goodwill store and searched through the racks and boxes of recycled cards. Annie selected cards she thought would be the best gift to me, put them into an old candy-cane bag and tied the top with several strands of colorful yarn. She had given from her need—for she has very little money—and offered everything she could in her limited way.

Annie gave me three cards: one for a granddaughter’s fifth birthday (I am single and childless), one wishing well after a surgery (which never occurred), and a Catholic sympathy card with prayers on three panels. Sentiments of good will all—for family, health, and my soul.

It was her thoughtfulness of yellowed, dog-eared cards that struck me as the greatest gift this past Christmas season. Her gift revealed love in a way I can only hope to attain.

(Image by Melpomene, courtesy shutterstock.com.)

How to Shorten Your Stay in Purgatory

Image by Lucas Malta, morgefile.com

Image by Lucas Malta, morgefile.com

On gloomy winter days I often drive country lanes. This time of year several farms have Christmas decorations up and some even decorate the out-buildings.

One such barnyard was filled with a gaggle of kids squealing and running towards an old oak tree. By the looks of it, hide-and-seek had not gone out of fashion with this family. We’ve all played the game as children and know that it’s not only about seeking concealed friends, but about knowing where the designated “It” child was in relation to the home base.

There has been an unrelenting question, more like a small battle, simmering about my prayers. It has to do with pursuing the hidden: how do I serve Our Lord—find him really—in daily life? To hunger for Christ is to seek him, to long for him.

There is a directionality to love. It matters that I not draw Our Lord into relationship with me, but that I give myself in relationship to him. And to this end work must be done.

My visits to the care home for women have become predictable. The ladies watch for me on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Several of them noted my absence over Thanksgiving week. And yet, being with the women has not become routine for me. As I don’t have the experience of being a mother or a caretaker, tolerance for basic humanity often escapes me. I am easily overwhelmed by my senses. I have yet to become accustomed to—not cringe from—grubby hands clasping mine or odorous sick rooms. I’ve not yet mastered Jesus in the smells.

To hunger for Christ is to seek him. He is felt in the oratory and in prayer, but that is not where we find him. The living breathing Jesus is found, hidden, beneath the rubble of humanity. Christ is loved and found in the land of the living.

To desire Our Lord is to seek his love here in this realm before our eternity. To have found enough of his love is to make our purgatory short.

I wonder where I am that I keep asking “Where are you Lord?”

 

Silver Tree of Christmases Past

Harold and Margaret 1922A story, one of the few, of family. It was written a while ago–my week has been hectic–and I pray you will enjoy it again.

My grandparents were born in 1896 and 1901. Their families immigrated to Detroit when they were teenagers. She had planned to become a nun, and he had graduated from Michigan State College (now MSU) in dairy science. Not a very avant-garde image. But it was the roaring twenties when they met, and things were about to become radical.

He was a Protestant from Ireland and she Italian and loyal to The Pope. In that decade mixed marriages of this type were scandalous! Unheard of! Doomed. I remember my grandmother laughing as she told the story of meeting her mother-in-law for the first time and overhearing her say “Aye Harold, she ‘tis a lovely girl, but did ja have ta go ‘n marry a Catholic!?”

They bought a shanty of a house located off Woodward Avenue near 8 Mile Road outside Detroit. The four room, wooden shingled house sat at the back of the lot. It was the only house they ever owned. Through the Great Depression they found creative ways to expand and remodel: salvaging wood from rail-road crates, removing cabinets and doors from condemned houses, scavenging a local business for discarded ceramic tiles, digging a basement by hand.

My grandmother loved sunlight, lots of sunlight. And my grandfather loved pleasing his wife. So a key feature added in the 1950s was a 5′ x 8′ picture window. I imagined that to the neighbors we all appeared like fish in a bowl.

This same picture window from Thanksgiving until the Epiphany displayed a modern 1960s aluminum Christmas tree. The silver tree was minimally decorated with clear lights, electric-blue satin ornaments, and white candy canes…saved from year to year and beyond being edible. The crowning glory was a matching mercury glass tree finial. To enhance the affect of radiance, a light with a rotating disc of blue and clear sat exactly one yard-stick-measure away. I remember as a child running my hands along the soft aluminum “needles” and feeling the smoothness of the satin ornaments. I was often gently scolded for petting the tree.

Grandmother’s home parish was St. James and only a block away. Grandfather, a Protestant by birth and Freemason by choice, never enter the church but often escorted his wife to and from Mass on Saturday nights.

I remember Christmases and quiet winter nights walking home with grandmother after Midnight Mass. Her steps were always matched to mine so that I walked steadily beside her…but never clumsily trying to keep pace. Her hat, a Betmar black wool cloche, custom trimmed with pheasant feathers from grandfather, sat perfectly over her brow. I mimicked her impeccable posture, even while walking through ice and snow as I held her kid-gloved hand.

When we turned off the sidewalk and up the long drive to the house, my grandfather would have already pulled open the picture-window curtains and plugged in the lights of the silver tree. It brightened our walk to the house, tossing rays across the yard and making the snow a glistening blue; giving light to what was love. My grandfather stood to the side of the tree, and looking to my grandmother would smile at the delight on her face. She, releasing my hand, would place hers on her chest in reply.

This is what I remember most about the silver tree, how it illuminated love in the night and for a moment in time alleviated the darkness of childhood. Christmas for me was about love in contrasts. In the home of Harold and Margaret, Irish gaiety blended with Italian faithfulness. And the results? Two no greater gifts to a child: fidelity and the joy of life.

Eternal rest grant unto them Oh Lord.