Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Rest in Peace, Fran O'Donnell

During Fran’s Holy Land trips, a graced moment for her was following in the footsteps of Jesus across the Kidron Valley and sitting in the garden with her friends, just as Jesus did with his friends. She gazed upon Jerusalem and marveled at the remarkable life of Jesus of Nazareth. Her contemplation of this scene filled her with wonder at the richness of her Catholic tradition and the goodness it brought the world. Her soul was content. As a contemplative, Fran absorbed the essence of this holy space and filled it with prayers for her family and friends because this is where her Lord spent his final hours and poured out his emotions. Fran united her prayers with his, knowing he would bring them to God.  
This Gospel passage speaks of the warmth and affection Jesus has for his friends. He sees his disciples as pure gifts to him and his intense desire is to have everyone who believed in him remain close to himself. Fran was united to her friend Jesus last week. Her fundamental choice was always to be held in the arms of the one she trusted all her life. She knew his love would ease her pain and set her free from her failing body. She knew He would tenderly receive her and wipe away her tears, and that he would still protectively care for those she loved and cherished. She wanted to be embraced by his mercy.
Fran recent personal comments to me resembled the sentiment of this prayer by Jesus. She knew her time was coming and that she was returning to the God who loved her since the beginning of time, but she interceded for those that remained behind. She prayed in thanksgiving for her devoted sister, Alice, who shepherded her to so many appointments, and to George, who patiently stood by her in her trials. Also, she asked God to protect Paul, Gerri, Mary Jane, Mimsie, and Paul and Laura, and everyone who tried to ease her worries. She spoke gratefully of those who walked gingerly with her during this last chapter of her life and did not want them to be concerned for her any longer because nothing, no medical cure, no intervention, could separate her from the love of God. Though her chronic debilitating pain caused her despair, Fran’s soul was at rest and she trusted in God’s mercy and believed in the saving work of Jesus. Death would not have the final word; Fran wanted to be remembered for her gentleness and her trust in God.
Fran prayed often in this church and appreciated the community of faith that gathered here with its joys and struggles. She was brought up in the Carmelite tradition of praying, which suited her quiet, private way, but Fran became an outgoing person when she picked up her recorder and piped some Irish music. The normally reserved Fran would pick up her guitar, mandolin, penny whistle, banjo, or fiddle and would join in the celebrations. In fact, during the offertory, some friends from Cape Ann will sing a favorite tune that Fran often sang during her Irish jam sessions.
Her disposition was well suited to her career as a Curator and Archivist at the University of Maine, MIT, and Harvard’s Divinity School. She often remarked about waking up every morning with enthusiasm for this type of work and to be with colleagues that made her feel blessed. And those who made her feel most blessed were her family members. Her family remembers the time she devoted to her younger siblings to take them out into the world to broaden their horizons. As they grew up, she attended to her siblings’ children with the same joy and care as she did her siblings. Fran always made a special attempt to include her brother in the Northwest in her prayers.
The church was Fran’s home. A faithful churchgoer, she was fed by the Body and Blood of Christ, which fueled her concern for social justice. At a recent house mass, as we raised the bread and wine to be consecrated, Fran’s prayer was for the safety of refugees and for peace in the world’s violent areas. For Fran, the Eucharist was an action that meant she had to be responsible for alleviating the world’s pain. As a contemplative, Fran relied upon the power of prayer; as a Catholic, she was called to act for God’s justice, and she did so in her own special way – gently, respectfully, kindly, paying attention to tiny details by which sainthood is made, just like St. Therese, the Little Flower, the revered Carmelite saint.
Yes, we are sad, and yes, we will miss Fran. Yes, we will wonder if we did enough to help her deal with her pain. It is natural for these questions to arise. When Fran’s life came to an end, she was not in despair. Her soul was still, very calm, because she knew she would be with her Lord. For years, Fran explained that she no longer felt like her true self and she longed for the day that God would give her true self back to her. She has it now. I can imagine that she is sitting in heaven’s garden, across the valley, gazing over at us as we remember her, and telling Christ about each one of us, by name. She is sharing her stories and remembrances of us with Christ, our Lord, and cherishing us as a gift to her. That is who we are to one another – gifts that are to be shared joyfully.
The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall ever come to them. Fran is at peace because she rests in God’s hands, and she does not want us to be sad for her. Let us raise our eyes to heaven and let us raise our spirits, but as we do, let us notice one another because we are Fran’s gifts.  We can give great joy to one another. We remember the many blessings on Fran’s life. How would she want us to celebrate her life? By trusting more fully in God and taking part of his Eucharist, by picking up a tin whistle and dancing a jig, by baking scones and sipping tea with each other, by visiting the archives she loved to research, by stopping by the Carmelite sister’s monastery and praying with them, by spending time with siblings, nephews, and nieces, particularly those from whom we are distanced, by supporting refugees and those displaced by war and violence, by ending divisions and reconciling sparring factions, by thanking her doctor and medical professionals, by doing all the little caring things with Fran’s customary gentleness, kindness, patience, and trust, and mostly by thanking God for being steadfast in her life and yours. Fran wanted to make Christ’s name known to others because of the love she received from him. Together, Fran still wants to be part of your life, through Christ, through the Eucharist, for she wants you to have within you, the love he gave and is still giving her. Fran has been called home to God, and her soul is at rest. The God who has always loved her continues to love her in a new way.  

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again, dear Fran. Until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Full Weekend

In retrospect, I realized I had a quite packed weekend, which began on Friday night with a trip to the art galleries. It continued Saturday with meeting friends to visit the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum to see the exhibit "off the walls." Then I headed out to say mass.

I was very pleased on Sunday when I said the Spanish language mass at St. Ignatius Church. The feedback was encouraging and I did not feel as if I tripped over my words. It was quite an eventful time.

Then I headed out to give a two hour presentation on Divine Mercy Sunday. Based on the comments and conversations afterward, it provided deep introspection, for which I am glad. Then I rounded the weekend off with an evening mass.

Since it is Easter, I used the sprinkling rite at all masses. Of course, I warmed up the water before I sprinkled. I love to see the faces of the people when they get soaked. They brace for it with a smile on their faces and then gasp in delight. Mass seems full for them when they get doused so copiously. It seems to make them respond and sing more fervently. All is good. The weekend was fun.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Invigorating First Friday

Typically, a First Friday conjures up mass in a church with devotions to the rosary. The sacred tradition has evolved. It now incorporates the art world. Every First Friday, art galleries band together and have open studios. I attended one of these First Friday celebrations tonight and it was a pure remedy for a tiring week.

The forecasted weather of rain showers and cool temperatures was off the mark. Temperatures in the high 60's and strong sunshine lit up the festivities. I felt like I was on vacation. Well-dressed people mulled the galleries and froliced in the red brick-lined courtyard. Revelers drank wine and feasted on savory snacks as they embraced one another as if awakening from a long winter's slumber. Soft lights and Latin American music spiced up the walkways. People simply enjoyed being outside without wearing winter clothing.

Artists displayed their creations on five floors of the SoWa galleries. New exhibitors and familiar friends waited with beaming eyes as patrons waltzed through their galleries. The artists, of course want to sell their products, but they are mostly looking for approval of their talents.

I felt like I was at home as I walked through the showrooms. I was honored when I heard people shout out, "Father, how are ya?" The night was invigorating and I wanted to run home and pick up my paintbrushes. O God, it felt good.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Full Moon: Worm Moon

On 22 March 2016, people across the world will be able to see the full moon rise in the sky. Nothing unusual compared to other months, except that at this time of the year as winter gives way to spring, the phenomenon is also known under another name: Worm Moon.
Referring in such a way to the March full moon is a tradition dating back to Native Americans who gave names to the different full moons to symbolise what was going on in their natural environment and to mark the seasons. Generally speaking, moon cycles were followed closely by the different tribes to keep track of the passing of time.
As the last winter full moon, the 'Worm Moon' was closely associated with spring, rebirth and renewal. It got its name from the worm trails that would appear as nature began waking up and earthworms started showing themselves. With earthworms, the tribes also saw the return of robins, the brightly coloured birds that are synonymous with warmth and sunshine.
Some Native American Tribes also knew the March full Moon under other names. One of the most popular in the northern parts of America was "Crow Moon", as the birds' cawing announced the end of the cold winter months.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Judah Ben Hur

It is Palm Sunday and I enjoyed presiding at two masses this weekend. As I came home to relax, I prepared for the week and then turned on the television. As Downton Abbey is now over, I saw that Ben Hur was airing. The last time I watched the film was in Atlanta in 1993 during a business trip for Item Processing training. I recall talking with three men from the South who were very much Christians. They watched the film the previous night and we were able to discuss it in some length. I recall the zeal that I had for my faith.

As I watched it again tonight, I felt as though I had never seen it before. I scarcely remember anything about the first part of the movie and since I was in Jordan, I saw new things about it that I never paid attention to earlier. It was quite moving. It was a long film, with awkward music, and sometimes odd production, but it still captures my desire to follow Jesus. The first time I saw it I was committed to following that good man named Jesus and I wanted to see more of him in the film. Today, the film inspires my imagination in more mature ways, but I want to grasp onto his kindness and goodness.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

A Quiet Day at the Monastery

I was at one of my favorite places to visit today - St. Joseph's Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts. I visited with two friends and had some time to stop by their top notch bookstore and gift shop. The monks are now displaying gifts from each of their monasteries - honey, syrup, coffee cakes, fruitcakes, biscotti, coffee, caramels, candies, plus the regular preserves. Spencer Abbey is now working on brewing their third craft ale.

Despite a quiet, reflective day, I found myself in a hilariously unquiet lunch. The men of a particular family was making a weekend retreat, as they do every year before Holy Week. It is quite a good idea, plus it is touching that these men dedicate a week of silence to their faith.

After the guest master prayed, the scramble towards the pot roast ensued. No one spoke a word, but these bodies do not know how to move in silence. So many sounds emanated their movements - sighs, bumps, crashes, clicks, every conceivable sound. I sat in the midst of it and just laughed interiorly. These men loved their food. The retreat house was not the usual silence to which I was accustomed, but I suspect these men had a vigorous weekend with the Lord. God certainly is alive in all things.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The effect of music

Our concerts are over and we are very content. We are basking as we delighted the audiences and sent them home with a song in their heart. The 1960's folk music sing-a-long had the audience clapping and singing while they relived the days of their youth. It was so fun to see. The power of music to cure people and to raise their spirits is real.

It is strange how the body adapts to music. We gave everything we had last night to the performance and yet we needed to reserve energy for today's performance. The body does not rest as a second performance in on the horizon. Upon rising in the morning, it did not seem possible for my voice to regroup or to get the necessary energy levels back, but the body adjusts. As soon as the conductor's baton is raised, everything falls into place: The body steps up the plate, the voice raises itself to the appropriate pitch, and the whole body is oriented to the conductor's plan. Quite amazing.

Now that the performances are complete, my body energies are sinking low. I'll sleep well tonight, and tomorrow we'll begin rehearsing for the June 4th Mozart mass.

Most especially, the chorus felt like it had a duty to sing because these songs bring people together. In a divisive political arena, it is important to be reminded that we states are united and indivisible. We are one country. Sometimes, it is best that we perceive ourselves as one united nation that can easily hold individual differences but that we can still like one another in our diversity. After all, this land was made for you and me.

The big question that was raised by these concerts were answered: How can we keep from singing? It seems it is what we have been called to do.