Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Mature Boston

The past two days I have continued my walking tour with my European friend, who has fallen in love with Boston. We were walking through Quincy Market a second time and listening to some music when we stopped in front of the Cheers Restaurant. A wave of sentimentality washed over me as I pined for the good ole Boston of the 1980's when the Celtics reigned supreme and Cheers was an endearing weekly television show. Sam and Diane were quite a pair with a great supporting cast. Cheers made Boston feel like a neighborhood town.

Walking through Boston today, the city exudes a feeling of having made it. It has matured in its identity and it has well-established pride. Every street corner is clean and neat and it is well connected to the next part of the city. New construction and renovations occur in each part of the city. It is sharp, edgy, cosmopolitan and catering to a clientele that is well-to-do, which leaves me out in the cold. Still, one can marvel at the aesthetic improvements the city has made.

Boston in blessed and it has a new confidence and it offers a whole lot to its citizens and tourists. I still hope to find some of the Cheers neighborhood feeling when I turn into a once-familiar corner of the city. My European friend? His breath is taken away when we soaks into Boston's aura.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Grateful for Popsicles

A Jesuit friend from Slovenia arrived in Boston today and I was grateful to see him. After collecting him at the airport and doing a few errands, I took him back to the Jesuit community for a meal and to get settled into his room. We then set out to see the sights of Boston by foot.

My friend has his first experience of Dunkin Donuts coffee plus a chocolate covered donut and a strawberry flavored one. They were devoured quickly. As I have been on a restrictive diet for a while, I had not the slightest inclination to desire a donut or any sweet. That was soon to change.

We stopped by Quincy Market/Faneuil Hall and began to peruse the international food items. The first station was an ice cream market with two dozen flavors and an abundance of toppings. He started salivating but was full. Then we walked by another bakery, then a pizzeria, a pulled pork sandwich shop, a place selling clam chowder in a bread bowl, a meat market, an Italian bakery, a candy confectioners, and so on and so forth. I had no desire for any of the good. I was all set and committed to my changed eating habits. We then toured the commercial shops.

Then we toured the North End, the Italian section of Boston, and I was doing fine. We went to Bova Bakery and my friend was taken aback by the aromas wafting through the air. I started salivating too, though I was not hungry. Then we passed by Mike's Pastry and the line was too long and we could not get in. I was grateful. Then we went to Modern Pastry and we looked at the torrone and other sweets and my resolve was breaking down. He kept talking about the possible food he can try in Boston, and I was becoming weak.

We finally left and jumped into the car to return back to the community. However, I was thinking bad thoughts about food. I felt an urge to go straight to the refrigerator when I arrived home, but then I remembered we have popsicles in our freezer. I quickly took one out of the box, unwrapped it, and thankfully my bad urge was gone. I'm grateful for popsicles. It saved the day.

Memorial Day

Once called Decoration Day

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, is a day of remembrance for those who have died in service of the United States of America. Waterloo N.Y. was officially declared the birthplace of Memorial Day by President Lyndon Johnson in May 1966.

Memorial Day was borne out of the Civil War and a desire to honor our dead. On 5 May 1868 by General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, declared “The 30th of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date does not commemorate a particular battle’s anniversary.

The first Decoration Day honored the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers.

Red Poppies

Red Poppies became a symbol of Memorial Day when Moina Michael, inspired by the poem, “In Flanders Fields” wrote:

We cherish too, the Poppy red that grows of fields where valor led. It seems to signal to the skies that blood of heroes never dies.

National Moment of Remembrance

A resolution of Congress asks Americans at 3:00 p.m. local time to voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listen to Taps.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Eagles Nest Mass

On Friday, May 27th, we organized a mass for the Eagle's Nest, the daycare center at Boston College High School. Parents and their children, ranging from six months old to age five, attended the morning liturgy. Some were doubtful that the time together would be prayerful because children need space to play and express themselves, but we experimented with having mass with them nonetheless. The freshman baseball team and many faculty members joined us.

We were surprised at the prayerful and joyful nature of mass. The parents were well pleased that the church was able to include and welcome in their children and there were no expectations for an orderly liturgy.

We began with a song, "This Little Light of Mine" and the children learned it easily enough. It helped them settle down and pay attention to the fact that something larger was going on around them. They we quieted down to pray a simple opening prayer.

I bought a children's lectionary and sacramentary, which simplified the readings. The homily was brief; the reflection, brief also, was given by a parent who spoke to the children very comfortably. The children even responded with the psalm response. The children are learning the basic structure of the mass and recognizing their participation in it makes it meaningful. Parents were asked beforehand to mention specific prayers their children would connect with during the prayers of the faithful.

We gathered the children in the sanctuary for the Eucharistic prayer. It worked out well for the most part. Some say this as a new playground but most were trying to follow the mass and stood with their parents. We noticed that when we introduced song the children became very engaged. They want to naturally sing and learn the songs. It quieted and centered them. They became naturally quiet as we began communion for the confirmed adults in the congregation. The children came forward for their blessings.

The rite of peace was touching because they children respectfully expressed their goodwill to each other spontaneously. The baseball team kept fighting back smiles because they never experienced a mass quite like this before. Everything held together and the children were simply polite and respectful children.

We ended the liturgy with the sign of the cross and everyone walked away very happy. It was quite an experience.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Walk Alone

Since the weather has been glorious over these past two days in Boston, I took a walk through the City. I was dressed in mufti so it was not apparent I was a priest. I started out in South Boston and crossed into the South End. A woman near the art galleries asked me a question and we began talking. She is in Boston for a graduation, but she attended Scranton University (Jesuit) in Philadelphia. It lead to a discussion of her faith and her great trust in Christ.

Then I crossed over to the Back Bay where a couple in their mid-60's we trying to remember the name of a church on Boylston Street. I chimed in and they started asking about churches in the area. They were seeking places where they could go to confession. They were visiting for a graduation and some time for vacation. He attended Fordham University in the Bronx and enjoyed his time in the Jesuit classroom. They explained how their faith was important in their lives and they are so appreciative of certain types of priests who deliver homilies of substance.

On the way back to the car, I began crossing over the Fourth Street Bridge and a man said something to me. His wife and two sons were up ahead and he was tired of walking. His elder son graduated from Harvard today and they were celebrating with him. He was from Nebraska, was a Catholic, and appreciated the work of the Jesuits. They often travel to Omaha to hear homilies from Jesuits. He appreciates the way his Catholic faith gives meaning to all the other facets of his life.

It just seemed like these unsolicited visits were quite revealing. I love being a Jesuit priest and the world seems to be in such a need of a deeper connection with the Divine. Even a simple walk for exercise can turn into walks of grace.

Weight Loss

For some strange reason, just as Lent came to an end, I began my diet. On Holy Thursday I prayed for assistance to help me have a partner in my weight loss plans. I was told of a free app called Lose it that would help track the food I consumed. I was certainly pleased with the ease with which the pounds started dropping from my body. I was also pleased with what I was learning about nutrition. Earlier I would decide what I wanted to eat by how tasty something seemed; now I decide by different standards.

I am fascinated by the marketing of food and the new expectations that are created for us. I see very many signs that advertise "all you can eat" or a food "happy hour." We certainly do not need any of this excess food. Restaurants serve food that is three times as much food as we need for the entree only. We also have a drink, soup or salad, and we leave room for dessert. Earlier this week I was at a restaurant where the average calorie count of an entree alone was 1,400, which is incredible because my daily caloric intake is 1,750. One has to be diligent when ordering the proper food so that we are not obese.

By simply paying attention to my meals, I am watching the weight drop. Of course, I need to walk or exercise to assist. I do feel like Christ is working with me to get me down to my desired weight. It is easier than I was expecting and it does mean I have to make choices, but the choices seem very rational and clear. I have my choices back and I think that is the big difference in using this app. It allows me to eat as I'd like and to make natural adjustments. I am now aware.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Photo: A blowing windmill

Prayer: Anthony of Padua

God, send forth your Holy Spirit into my heart that I may perceive, into my mind that I may remember, and into my soul that I may meditate. Inspire me to speak with piety, holiness, tenderness, and mercy. Teach, guide, and direct my thoughts and senses from beginning to end. May your grace ever help and correct and strengthen me.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Happy Mother's and Others Day

For this Mother's Day weekend, a big shout out to our Moms. Thank you for the life and nurturing you gave us. We cannot comprehend how much you have done for us so generously and freely. Many thanks to those many others who have been a positive mothering presence in our lives: aunts, grandmothers, sisters, nieces, wives, friends, religious sisters, especially including those women that were open to becoming biological mothers, but life did not move in that direction or who chose to remain single. Thanks also to the men in our lives that at times provided motherly parental care. Today is a day of celebration of the love we have undeservedly received and it is our day to give a token of our appreciation back. Happy Mother's Day.

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.