Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What a Catholic Can Do When Another Is Grieving

It was the beginning of a new school year, and the middle school and high school teachers at Beckman were beginning to fall into a familiar routine. David taught across the hall from me. He was a convert, so he was something of a translator between me and the Catholicity of our school. He’s the one who taught me how to make the Sign of the Cross so that I could open all my classes with prayer and not stand out as the foreigner, the Evangelical Protestant, in a world that was completely Catholic.
We both had small children of our own; I suppose that’s why the news at school that morning rattled both of us so completely. One of our fellow staff members had lost her infant son to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
We fought back tears, hugged each other, felt the flash of pain that came from remembering the first year of our children’s lives. How we’d checked them in the middle of the night, placing a hand on their chests or backs to be sure they were still breathing. How we’d wake them sometimes, accidentally, because they seemed so still that we couldn’t be sure. How the first birthday had been a celebration, a milestone that marked the end of that fear and the beginning of many different fears. We couldn’t imagine what our co-worker was going through.
What do you say to someone who is living your worst nightmare? How do you find words to match the empathy you feel in your hear? I chose to say very little. I prayed, and I hoped that Christ would intercede, because I simply didn’t know what to do or what to say.
Thankfully, Christ does intercede for us to the Father, so that every request, every praise, every thanksgiving is right. It doesn’t matter if our words are eloquent or break every grammatical rule in the book. When we pray, we have a Lord who edits our prayers so that they are perfect.
I’ve learned a few things since that year of teaching. I’ve learned that there are no good words to share that will ease another’s pain. I know this, because I have gone through my own season of mourning.
I’ve also learned that if I must go through pain or loss ever again, I want to do it as a Catholic. Even the most senseless tragedy – perhaps especially in the most senseless tragedy – there is a source of comfort in knowing that we can offer up our sorrow. We can stand with Our Lady and lift up our pain with her, and offer it all to Jesus
St. Paul said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church.” I don’t understand this fully, but I believe Sacred Scripture has the words of truth and life.
I have come a long way from those early days as a non-Catholic first-year teacher in a Catholic school where I first made the Sign of the Cross.
And all that I have learned is somehow bound up together in that Cross, a mystery I understand better and better every day.
Thanks be to God.


Friday, July 15, 2011

Where Even The Shadow of Death Cannot Shake Us

I wrote this in 2009 ( I didn't know that his name was Steve. I didn't know that he had Parkinson's Disease. I simply knew that he had a Faith I longed to have. The parish secretary sent me an email two days ago, to tell me the man I wrote about two years ago had passed away. I went to Steve's funeral this morning. In memory of Steve...

Here's what I witnessed and what I wrote in 2009:

On Sunday, during the parish dinner, a man choked on a piece of food. His wife stood up and put her arms around her husband and attempted to save him. In a matter of a few seconds, those of us working the floor of the hall noticed their crisis and called to a few large men to spring into action. One man made it to their table and took over. Almost immediately, the victim's air passage was cleared, and he could breathe again.

I know what it is like to choke on food. It can be absolutely terrifying. In those critical seconds, you wonder if this is it. You know that, unless something happens to change the situation, you simply aren't going to make it.

Oxygen is that important.

As I watched from a short distance away, I found myself immediately in prayer. But the only thing I could say was Jesus. Oh Jesus.

I've only prayed that short prayer once before. It was on the day I choked. In fact, it was while I was choking. In both cases, the name of Jesus became a plea for help - for help from the only one who really could help. Jesus.

It saddens me deeply when people use Our Lord's name so casually. In exasperation. In anger. In surprise.

This one who has died for us and who gives us His own Flesh and Blood so that we might live - this name we misuse. This name we defile.

We are told in Sacred Scripture that at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

By this name, we are saved.

And even as I invoked the Holy Name of Jesus Christ in my one word prayer, Jesus, the man's air passage cleared and he began taking in deep breaths.

I have seen this man before. He comes to Mass every week, pushing a walker, making his way to the front to receive the Eucharist. Oh, he could stay home and nobody would think twice about it. God would even understand. Someone could bring the Eucharist to him. I don't know the name of his illness, but I do know that he can't be older than I am. Probably in his forties. But something has gone very wrong. He is frail. I've seen him collapse as he walked forward to receive the Eucharist. I have watched as ushers ran to help him back to his seat. I have watched as Father walked directly to him to bring Our Lord's Body to this one who suffers so greatly.

On Sunday, my husband was an usher at Mass. He greeted this husband and wife as they entered the narthex. John asked the man how he was. The husband didn't complain, though he was hunched over the walker and barely able to shuffle his feet along the floor and into the sanctuary.

The man replied that he was doing well. It was a good day.

And even though he struggles to walk, he comes to Mass.

Even though he risks falling in front of everyone, it doesn't seem to deter him. He still keeps making his way toward the Eucharist.

Even though he has a tendency to choke, probably due to the illness, he still comes to the parish dinner. He still breaks bread with all of us.

At Mass.

At the parish dinner.

In moments like these, I witness a portion of grace far greater than I have personally witnessed ever before. That kind of strength comes from God. No amount of personal determination and grit could account for the strength I see in this ailing and failing man.

And after I ponder this, I take a look at his wife. She is right there, by his side, as he enters the church, as he receives Our Lord. She is there behind him, using all of the strength her small frame can muster to wrap her arms around him and perform the manuever to rescue him from the brink of death. She is there with the napkin to wipe his mouth after the food and saliva run down his chin. She is always right there.

My friends, this is Catholic faith. It is richer and deeper and holier and more faithful and self-effacing than any faith I have ever seen.

It is the kind of faith that makes saints.

And I hunger for more of it. More and more of it. Until even the shadow of the valley of death cannot shake me.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

As a Former Protestant, This Stuns Me... Stills My Soul... Makes Me Say, "I Have Seen A Miracle."


Monday, July 11, 2011

Our Lady of Mount Carmel - the countdown!

We have all these names for Jesus Christ. Lamb of God.Lion of Judah. Prince of Peace. King of Kings.Alpha and Omega. Light of the World. Ancient of Days.Immanuel.

Our Lord's mother has a few names as well.

I think my favorite name for Mary must be Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Last January, I shared my conversion story on the Journey Home program on EWTN. And I write about it every month for diocesan papers. But if you'd like to listen to the whole story, start to finish, go to the top of the blog and click on Journey Home from the menu.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel has her fingerprints all over the story.

July has always been my favorite month. It's my birthday month. It was my dad's birthday month. It was always marked by summer vacation and presents and lots of cake.

The most important day of July is right around the corner. It's not my birthday; it's not my father's birthday - although our lives were touched very deeply by the one we celebrate on July 16.

Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

She has ties to Elijah and Elisha.

To St. John of the Cross.

To St. Teresa of Avila.

To St. Therese.

And she used all of them to bring me home.

July 16. It's almost here!


Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July Catholic By Grace Diocesan Article

In the spring of 2010, a tornado siren was simply a time to go downstairs – just in case. My husband’s parents hadn’t yet experienced the New Year’s Eve tornado that hit a Missouri restaurant where they were dining. My grown daughter hadn’t witnessed the Good Friday tornado from the back steps of our home while we were venerating the Cross. And Joplin, Missouri hadn’t suffered unspeakable loss from the deadliest tornado since 1947.
No. In the spring of 2010, a tornado siren just signaled a time for gathering downstairs. On one of those stormy nights in 2010, we all ended up in the basement. My husband checked out the food pantry and decided that a bag of chocolate chips would help pass the time. As we popped chocolate into our mouths and played with the dog, we talked. Somehow, we got on the subject of doubt.
Atheism and agnosticism.
John has faith. He believes in God, but he understands how some people just cannot believe in things they cannot see or touch. One of his friends has studied faith matters and philosophies and still says it’s not enough. John doesn’t agree, but he understands why his friend has doubt.
On one level, I understand it as well. The three cherry trees that died shortly after my husband planted them in the back yard are probably not experiencing any eternal existence. Since they weren’t capable of conscious thought, I don’t suppose they cared one way or another.
But humans are different. We have the ability to love another, die for another, forgive another, work with another. We have the capacity to scam each other, destroy each other, hold bitterness against one other, and tear each other apart.
We can bless. And we can curse.
We can rule over one another. And we can serve one another.
Even some of our illnesses set us apart. We can die from stress, suffer from mental illness, and find healing through the most extraordinary things. Like faith, hope, and love.
It is true that we know very little about what comes next. God acknowledges our limited human understanding in Sacred Scripture. Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, what God has waiting for those who love him.
Love. Maybe that’s the key. The most important thing separating us from a cherry tree just might be our capacity to love. Love points to an existence beyond the here and now. Our capacity to love links us to the One who is Love.
We live in a society that does not feel compelled to believe in mysteries like faith, hope and love. We study everything, except what lies beyond. We throw our efforts into our careers and our brains and our bank accounts. We complete degrees. We build houses. And we invest.
Many blindly accept that we cannot know what comes next. Or worse, that there is nothing to know about next things. But then a brilliant mathematician, scientist, and philosopher like Pascal throws out the challenge:
Okay, so it’s a gamble. On a purely rational level, we cannot know, Pascal says. For the ones who do not have faith, it is a toss of the coin.
Either way, we’ll find out. Pascal believed the better bet was on the side of God’s existence. That gambler has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Betting that there is no God is foolish. This gambler has everything to lose and nothing to gain.
Agnosticism, says Pascal, is not an option. Death is inevitable. So place your bets.
It is an interesting application of probability theory.
For those of us who have a faith which shapes everything we do, we have trouble understanding the thought processes of those who have no faith in God or eternity. How do we help them get from point A to point B? From no faith to at least some faith?
My husband tells me to have compassion for the one who cannot believe and to encourage him to try. Just try. Faith, no matter how small, leads to faith. Encourage them to say the word maybe. To drop the word impossible.
For we know that eternity is possible before we know that it is certain.
Like tornados. A remote possibility becomes a certainty. And everything changes.
John and I don’t casually look at each other when the sirens sound these days. Tornados have touched the lives of people we know.
I suppose there are many who think everything is a roll of the dice. God’s existence. Tornados that touch down. Lottery tickets. Blind dates. There are some things that are too important to get wrong. Like whether or not God exists. Like whether or not you should go to the basement even though a tornado has never touched down in your back yard before.
So, you bet on the tornado being real. You’re wrong? You have a little time with the family in a safe place. You’re right? You live to see another day.
And you bet on God being real. You’re wrong, you won’t ever know it. You’re right, and you gain eternal life with the one who made you.
Yes, there are some things that are too important to get wrong.