Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Porpoises, Horseshoe Crabs, and the Setting Sun

Life is good. Silence. Stillness. Warm breezes.

For the past two nights, I've gone to sunset beach at the close of day. Mind you, my motives were not pure. The first night, I went because I heard a small store sold Soft Serve Ice Cream with Chocolate Sprinkles on them, but the consequences of the trip were worth it.

Thousands of Horseshoe Crabs line the beach because they go to the shore for feeding and reproduction. They are the most fascinating creatures because of the hard, but not impermeable shell. It is fun to see the waves flip them over and thereby exposing their underbellies, which make them vulnerable to the flocking seagulls. To some, they look beastly and fierce and they will not even hold their non-living skeleton because of fear.

People come to watch the sunset, but they leave far too early. Once the sun disappears over the horizon, people scatter in their cars back to their homes, but they miss the best part. Once the sun sinks below the horizon, it begins to reflect its rays up into the clouds for at least an hour longer. The most brilliant colors appear at this time, but only a small remnant stays to see it. Patience pays off.

Once the sun sets, porpoises begin to crest in the waves. They are large animals and their fins bring excitement to those who are not expecting to see them. Once the sky darkens, the lights of the ferries and other ships make it seem like there is a grand party happening in the ocean. It makes for great photography.

All the while, the seaside cafe churns out dozens of ice creams, hamburgers, Philly Cheesesteaks, and other temptations.

Life is good.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

John the Baptist

After all these years I have a great affinity for John the Baptist. The image I like best is that he calls himself "the friend of the Bridegroom" and is able to share in the happiness and mission of Jesus. The line from Scripture that is always powerful for me who bears his name is "He will be called John."

I remember the summer when I was entering the Society of Jesus, I closed on my sold condo on this date and was without a place to stay for a couple of months. It reminded me that John must decrease so Christ must increase.

The sadness about this date is that it is the summer solstice when the daylight gets shorter as the light fades away until Christmas. I get duped. I want to be happy that the fullness of summer has arrived and as soon as it comes, it begins to point towards the fall and the change of seasons.

However, my plans are to spend this week with the Bridegroom and to enjoy the day in front of me. This week is all around restoring a work-life balance that has been out of whack. This 2018 has been one that consumed much time and energy from me and I need to rest and disconnect for a while.

While I'm here at the retreat house in Cape May, I'm amazed at the industriousness of the Sisters of St. Joseph. After a whole lifetime of generous service to the church, these woman volunteer their time caring for a large retreat house. They cook, clean, give direction, provide maintenance and groundskeeping, acts of sacristans and music directors, and every other imaginable household chore. They do it all - cheerfully, simply, with elegance and grace, and frugally. Their community of faith is amazing to watch.

I've been happy that it has been overcast the past few days. First, I cover every part of my body so that sun does not warm my body, and second, it has kept me indoors to nap, to rest, and to pray. All is good.

Today, I may even paint!

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Happy Father's Day

Many blessings on this Father's Day!

Prayers and blessings on all Dads. Thanks for all the effort you give in raising and nurturing our young ones, or children of any age. Thanks for looking our for our safety, giving us shelter, food, and life's necessities. Thanks for your advice and counsel. Thanks for your friendship and words of encouragement.

Blessings to all men whether they be biological dads, uncles, grandfathers, brothers, priests, or mentors. We know not all men are called to be or can be biological fathers, but you still contribute greatly to the care of others. Thanks for the stepdads, the steady voices, the stable partners, or the inspiring teachers of life. Thanks for all who lend a hand.

Thanks for the many women who are single-parents for the maternal and paternal voice you are to children. Thanks for all who make life bearable because you care for us.

Thanks for anyone who increased the charity in this world by your care and concern. Today is our day to honor you. Enjoy.

Completion

On Tuesday, my mother's ashes were laid to rest in the National Cemetery in Bourne, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Alongside her, my sister's ashes were also buried. A remarkable sense of completion and closure washed over me as these two women could now enjoy eternal rest.

It made sense for us to select a June date when family could be present for the ceremony. We prayed the words of committal and witnessed the honor guard to pay tribute to my mother's stateside military service during the Korean Conflict.

We were pleased that most family members and some cousins came down for the service. We found a little cafe at the nearby rotary for breakfast afterwards.

I was very pleased that my sister's ashes were finally laid to rest 19 years after her death. I mourned the fact that I could not pay her respects at a cemetery all these years. I've wanted to visit her on her birthday and her memorial day and lay flowers on her gave. I can now do so.

The whole funeral and burial business becomes complicated recently when families experience different places of religious beliefs. Wakes and funerals have changed dramatically over the years. In the old days, families were of one faith traditions and funerals were made easy, but it is not so these days. Some families today are of mixed faith traditions, non-believers, non-practicing believers, and other situations. It makes conversations very difficult to maneuver where everyone is respected.

Death brings to the foreground both our commonalities and our differences. None of us will escape death, and the death of a family member makes us consider our own mortality and how our funerals will be celebrated.

Many people say, "Don't make a fuss over me. Don't have a wake for me," or words to express a similar sentiment. "I don't want an open casket." "Let's just have a celebration of life."

The words of the soon-to-be deceased are important and have to be considered, but the wakes are for the living. People come to pay respects to the deceased, but they are showing up for the loved ones who are alive and are mourning. The support that people receive from wakes are enduring.

If you are ever conflicted about attending a wake, Show up. You will not regret it. Even if you did not know the deceased well, show up. If you knew the deceased, but not the family, show up.

Wakes are often enjoyable, filled with laughter, full of storytelling and remembrances, and promises to reconnect and get together soon. Wakes are filled with people who will just sit with you in solidarity with your sorrow. Just show up.

Wakes are often filled with ambiguous feelings because of conflicted feelings with the deceased. That is O.K.  That is natural and everyone has those feelings.

We have a saying that we will never speak ill of the dead. That is a very good protocol, but we also want to speak the truth - kindly. People are saints because of the way they lead their lives. We cannot forget the challenges the deceased have sometimes given us, and we don't want to only speak to their good side without acknowledging our frustrations. The trick is to learn to speak about it positively. It is easy to say, "So and so held a dear spot in my life and it was not always easy." This acknowledges the truth of your experience of the relationship and it honors the we, though saints, are far from perfect.

After a loved one's death, we can still talk to the person and hold together the relationship, which continues into eternity. We can still achieve reconciliation or forgive ourselves or one another. We are forever marked by the relationships we have in life and we will deal with our issues until our own death. Our entire work is reconciliation and the restoration of relationships to its loving origins.

If we have not planned our burial plans yet, do so now. Why wait? Some people are deathly afraid that they will not be honored in death. Some people fear that no one will come to their funeral or the wake, so we become self-effacing and say, "No wake. Don't make a fuss." It is not all about you. Get over it. We will honor and celebrate you and share in your sufferings.

Funerals are expensive and the most basic funeral will not cost less that $10,000.00, and that does not include a burial plot, and some people will not put aside any money for funerals and burials. Be thoughtful of where you and your family will be buried. It is scary because it brings up many questions of self-worth, but it is necessary to discuss openly.

Funerals reflect upon the way we live. It calls to mind the ultimate choices we make in life, and the manner by which we value ourselves. They are tough questions. Some people don't think about funerals because they are afraid of death, but it is because they are afraid of living or afraid of the manner in which they are living.

And we are all laid to rest, and rest we shall have. Our loving Creating God will make sure of that. Our job is to live and to show up for one another. We are never going to get all things right but we have a chance to make life better today. I find that consoling. Let's live in the present for the future will settle all matters for us.

Death continues to inform life. Today is a gift that we are to use well. Death is not far off - ever.

Back to my mother and my sister. Rest well, Connie. Rest well, Dawn Mari. Until we meet again...

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Celebration of Mothers

Today is the first Mother's Day I will celebrate without my mother. She loved lilacs and I used to try to get her greeting cards with lilacs or soft flowers. She loved the flower buds and tree blossoms and watching chipmunks frolic on the lawn.

I'm not sure how much grieving I have done, but my overall feeling is one of gratitude. Life always comes to an end and it is sad and yet it is what is supposed to happen. I'm thankful that I've had my parents as long as I have. Sometimes death gives way for new life to be developed.

I walked outside after the warm rains and admired all the fragrances around campus. I gave thanks to God for this life and for its many blessings, my mother included among them. I simply felt light and grateful for life is pretty good. Each fragrance soaked by the drying rain contributed nicely to the memories. Ignatius of Loyola favored the sense of smell as a way of bringing us to God.

As I reflect upon what my mother has meant to our family, I cannot help but see the abundant care of many other mothers with their families as well. I can see the face of an 84 year old friend who adopted two children. His son married and had two children; his daughter who was born in Columbia did not marry, but she just adopted a child born in the Bronx. He is so proud. Each week he shows me a picture of his new grandson who grows a fraction of an inch each week, but he is so proud. At church I see many grandparents with their grandchildren.

Grief is mysterious and there is no set plan for how one mourns. I have a great deal of compassion for those who have recently lost their mothers and I can recognize their sadness, and yet I have the feeling that everything is O.K. and much will still unfold in due time. I trust the process.

Whatever the question is, I know the answer is to love as fully as we can. To give mercy, to give compassion, to hold someone's hand in their time of need in order to show them God's love through us is quite a blessing. We are all pilgrims on a journey. Our birth is one of love, our death is one of love. We need an increase of love, a love that reconciles, a love that heals, a love that gives freedom. I'm sure this is the gift our mothers want for us. May our celebrations today make each one of us grateful for those who are in our lives.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Les Miserables: Mercy and the Law


I just finished watching the student production of “Les Misérables,” and I was deeply touched by the message of the production. The professionalism of actor’s performances and singing were also deeply moving.

I cannot help but reflect upon the timeless struggle between mercy and the law. In 1830, the July Revolution that was the basis for the play projected a rebellion by liberals and revolutionaries against the French monarchy. King Charles X limited freedom of the press as he sought to consolidate his power, especially after the upheavals of the French Revolution of 1789. Revolutionaries wants to establish a republic where the voice of the common person would be heard and honored.

The protagonist, Jean Valjean, at his lowest point of humanity, experiences the mercy of God through the local bishop who bought his soul for God. He then devoted his life to paying it forward as often as possible. His devotion to mercy pits him squarely against his antagonist, Javert, who is a police detective obsessed with the fulfilment of the law and the metering out of punishment in accordance with the legal system.

Often throughout this story, mercy and the law clash. The law provides comfort and is designed to assist in the freedom of individuals and the proper functioning of society, but it can be made into a god as well. Mercy is the law of God written into human hearts and it cannot be squashed. Mercy is the divine act in which we enter into the chaos of another person’s life and give them a glimpse of the divine. The story of every person must be heard.

Valjean was fearful of telling his story and he could not see his saintliness, which was based on always doing what was right. It is helpful to us to really listen to another person’s story and learn about the humble, insignificant ways that God has touched each person’s life. When Valjean’s story becomes known, we weep in gratitude. When we learn another person’s story, we weep and celebrate as well. This is mercy. It is entering into the chaos of another person.

Pope Francis is a champion of mercy within the church that can at times become laden with legalism, rigorism, and clericalism. His two most recent official teachings, “Amoris Laetitia,” (2016) and last month’s “Gaudete et Exsultate,” are his calls to holiness based upon the development of one’s valuesbased on mercy.

I invite you to read at the very least the latest one, “Rejoice and Be Glad” because it bases one’s daily holiness on the pursuit of the Beatitudes found in the Sermon on the Mount.

As Javert experienced, mercy can upend the teachings we hold as true, eternal, and changeless. As Valjean experienced, mercy saves lives and makes sense out of senseless situations.

The Pope is doing his best to advance the practice of mercy among the faithful lest we become mini-Javerts who hold onto church teachings merely because they have served an earlier time well enough. A law that is not based on mercy or does not engender mercy is no law at all. It is our responsibility to honor the law, to wrestle with it, to uphold it, and to change if it is necessary. The Pope is asking up to become Valjeans who are always forming and informing our consciences and choosing to do what is right.

Who are the Javerts in your life, your church, and what do they need? Who are the Valjeans in your world, your church, and what do they value? Valjeans walk the hallways and are found in the classroom and playing fields of BC High.

This is not a spoiler, but at the end of Les Misérables, as in everyday life, mercy has the last word over the law. Valjean’s life and all the misérables whose lives were killed by the law ends in glory while we pray for Javert’s life that was taken from him by the law. Few will forget the touching ending when the heavenly choruses acclaim, “and remember, the truth that once was spoken, to love another person is to see the face of God.”

We are fortunate to see God’s face every day.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Three Weeks On


A little more than three weeks has passed since my mother’s death and today was my first day to slow down and move through a day with a normal pace.

I have had little time to grieve because my chemo-lotion treatment for catching pre-cancerous cells had burned my face and upper body and I was in great pain for three weeks. I am past the pain happily and I cannot believe how constant was the pain.

This has been an incredible Lent: three Nor’easters, the painful skin treatment, and far too many deaths – my mother’s, a community member at 96 years of age, a sixteen-year-old boy, and eleven others who are part of the BC High community.

This past weekend I gave a retreat to the women of St. Paul’s parish in Harvard Square at a monastery in New Hampshire. One of the sisters went to the hospital with the flu, but before she left, she gave it to me. From there, I went to Flushing, New York City to give a parish mission at a friend’s church for four days. After dealing with the quick moving bug, I had the time of my life with the parish. I was very grateful my words were well received.

I suppose I will reserve Holy Week as a time to write thank you cards to those who took time to write notes and to come to the wake and funeral. It is consoling to get them, and I can see that writing the notes is part of the grieving process.

I was amazed at the numerous graces the family received throughout the process. The wake brought together the extended family of cousins and friends, and we were amazed at the range of people who came from far distances to pay respects to my mother and to offer condolences. The number of Jesuits who came to the wake and the funeral pleased me. It was fun to pull people together and introduce them to each other. Everything seemed to come full circle.

A blessing was to say the funeral mass at St. Denis church in East Douglas. St. Denis is modeled after the church outside Paris, France where Ignatius and his first companions took their simple vows as lay men with Peter Faber as the only priest. The pastor of the church is my mother’s cousin, but he could not be there because of a medical illness.

The Jesuits from my community concelebrated the mass with me. Each of them took part, including the Jesuit brother and a deaf priest, both who are part of my community. It was quite a bonding experience to have the community stand up for me in solidarity. That’s what brothers do for one another.

I was honored to have my musician friends from Boston come to sing. High school classmates showed up; friends from various stages of my life’s formation appeared. It was as if I returned to my roots and found it to be joyful.

It was fascinating to learn various aspects of my mother’s life. Each of her children had a different experience of her with many different memories. I had seen photos that I had not seen before and it made me realize how little we know about significant people in our lives. We get glimpses into a person’s life and we form judgments that are often incomplete.

I also found the range of conversations about suffering and death to be fascinating. Among the most helpful comments are simply, “I’m sorry for your loss,” or “I’m glad to be here for you.” I was pleased to see people of various points of contacts sitting down and chatting with one another. Wakes and funerals are about coming together and sharing the beauty of life with one another.

Likewise, when I was in great pain due to my skin treatment and my face looked horrible, many people empathized with my pain. They certainly communicated that they felt my pain and that they hurt along with me. That was consoling. It was equally, if not more consoling, to hear the words of the 2% who said, “You look beautiful. You look great.” In a time when I was looking for hope and relief, those words elevated my spirit. It is odd how we can never know what will help a person who is suffering. I guess the best thing to do is to ask: What do you need? What do you want?  And make the person feel good.

So, I’m coming through these ordeals quite well. I look forward to Holy Week in trust and I know that Easter is on the horizon. I need Easter to come this year. I need the power of the Resurrection.