I came across the below homily that was used as the commentary for Sunday’s Gospel. The one where Jesus asks Peter 3 times “Do you love me?” I have only thought of the question in terms of Peter. St John Paul II brings out that Peter can never distance himself from this question—-and neither can I for that matter. Continue reading “Can I distance myself from this question?”
This past Sunday’s readings at Mass began in Exodus recalling Moses experience facing God through the burning bush on Mount Horeb. Within this first reading is the discussion Mosses has with God as to His Name:
Moses said to God, “But when I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.”
This stands out to me as incredibly significant in ones understanding of faith. First of all, it is significant in that it is a direct quote from God Himself. As readers of the Old Testament we have few opportunities to hear the direct word of God. The bulk of the Old Testament is the story of God’s people in the Historical books, the Prophetic books, the Books of Wisdom, and the Biblical Novellas. It is only in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books) in which we hear God directly and in those books it is limited to his establishment of His Covenant.
But also more importantly for the understanding our faith, in Moses question, God does not respond authoritatively as one might expect in that situation and say – I am who I am (As if that is all that the Israelites need to know). Which, given the context of the situation would have been a very reasonable response. Instead God’s response to Moses is not only supportive to his request, but it is profoundly more relevant to what becomes our understanding of who God is thousands of years later: I am who am.
Who am? God is the God who is? He is I am? What? This small but simple statement becomes enlarged through even a basic understanding of grammar. This response takes a simple sentence with a direct object and turns it on its head. This statement of identity becomes then a restrictive relative clause (who) as is limits God’s identity to a state of being within the reference of the relative clause defining who “I” is (AM). It likely is no accident that in conjoining two expressions in this non-traditional way that God connects two forms of sentence structure which otherwise would naturally be used to express separate ideas. But through his response He connects those forms and ideas in a way in which we can, as humans, see God outside our own first person frame of reference.
Now also in hearing God declare his name in this way, my mind becomes drawn to the Gospel of John, Chapter 14 verse 6. There in response to Saint Thomas’ question of How can we know the way? Christ responds, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
Now it’s easy to look at John’s Gospel and simply read that statement as Christ being the doorway to the New Covenant relationship. That’s because Christ is the doorway of the New Covenant relationship. But in looking at those verses together you can connect the nature of that covenant relationship. You get a perspective on what that covenant relationship is – there is only one God, one truth, one purpose, one path, one way, one faith, one life, one choice, and one meaning to it all. One truth that is absolute; not subjective, not yours, not theirs, not convenient, not easy, not amendable, not bendable, not American, not European, not because, and not maybe. One who am.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church describes it this way in paragraph 213: The revelation of the ineffable name “I Am who Am” contains then the truth that God alone IS. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, and following it the Church’s Tradition, understood the divine name in this sense: God is the fullness of Being and of every perfection, without origin and without end. All creatures receive all that they are and have from him; but he alone is his very being, and he is of himself everything that he is.
So now why is this reading our reading for the 3rd Sunday of Lent? And why in Lent?
Lent in so many ways is about our relationship with Christ. Ironically, for our relationship with Christ and the Father there is a unique parallel in the orbit of the planets.
So lets start by asking the question, “Does the Sun revolve around the Earth or does the Earth revolve around the Sun?” It would be simple to assume that the Sun revolves around the Earth, because that is how we experience the Sun. It rises in the morning, measures our day, heats the earth, feeds the plants, gives us vitamin D, and retreats at night to allow us to sleep and become restored. However, it is a basic scientific fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun.
Sadly, in 2014 TIME Magazine published the results of a National Science Foundation Study that showed that 1 in 4 Americans and 1 in 3 Europeans think that the Sun revolves around the Earth. That is in 2014; not 1814 or 1514. But again, that is how we as creatures experience that relationship as uniquely created individuals. Those numbers reveal, that as people, we are self-centric in our understanding of the world.
Our faith can be like this too, and in the Lenten Season we can transpose this thought by asking it in the form of a similar question; “Does God revolve around us, or do we revolve around God?” It is very easy to become so wrapped up in your life that you begin to see God, and your relationship with Jesus Christ as revolving around you. But you are not at the center of your being. Because that is not how God works. God is I AM. God is the constant. Christ is the way the truth and the life. Christ is our doorway to God. We revolve around him.
The other readings Sunday in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians and the Gospel of Luke describe situations of those who thought God revolved around them. In the Gospel reading Christ comes right out and warns people directly that unless you do not repent, you will perish as they did! Christ then goes on to tell them a parable:
“There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, ‘For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?’ He said to him in reply, ‘Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.’”
This is the blessing of Lent. Christ has come as the gardener to cultivate the soil and fertilize it. To give us the opportunity to cultivate fruit. Accordingly, Lent gives us the opportunity to answer the specific Question; does God revolve around me or do I revolve around him? So then if you don’t like the answer you give yourself, what will you do about it?
In hearing this challenge don’t forget you are not alone. Christ is with you. Christ is the gardener. To know that to be true, put this in relationship to the Eucharist. We know that the Glory of the Eucharist is that we are bringing Christ’s physical presence inside of us. But why do we do this? More specifically, why do we fulfill Christ’s ministry on earth in this way? Why did God choose this as the process of fulfillment to allow us to live within the New Covenant Relationship? Could it be that it facilitates a complete oneness? Could it be that it allows for a physical connection to the constant that is God? The way and the truth and the life?
Such an idea makes the Sacrament of Reconciliation also so much more profoundly important in our lives (and is why you hear it so emphasized during Lent). As we fall from that oneness, we have the opportunity to be reconciled back to Him. The Sacrament of Reconciliation and the Lenten season are the opportunities within the opportunity. We keep getting the opportunity to respond in fullness to Him. Christ continues to call us towards Him like Moses was called to the burning bush. Look around and see that we all are standing on Mount Horeb. We all are being summoned to come over, remove our sandals, and enter Holy ground. Can you hear it? Are you listening? Do you know the name of your God?
It is true.
I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be Me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter. And I want you to know that whenever you invite Me, I do come – always, without fail.
Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love, and bringing the many gifts of My Spirit. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you, and with a love for you beyond your comprehension – a love every bit as great as the love I have received from the Father [“As much as the Father has loved me, I have loved you…” (Jn. 15:10)]
I come – longing to console you and give you strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds. I bring you My light, to dispel your darkness and all your doubts. I come with My power, that I might carry you and all your burdens; with My grace, to touch your heart and transform your life; and My peace I give to still your soul.
I know you through and through. I know everything about you. The very hairs of your head I have numbered. Nothing in your life is unimportant to Me. I have followed you through the years, and I have always loved you – even in your wanderings.
I know every one of your problems. I know your needs and your worries. And yes, I know all your sins. But I tell you again that I love you – not for what you have or haven’t done – I love you for you, for the beauty and dignity My Father gave you by creating you in His own image. It is a dignity you have often forgotten, a beauty you have tarnished by sin.
But I love you as you are, and I have shed My Blood to win you back. If you only ask Me with faith, My grace will touch all that needs changing in your life, and I will give you the strength to free yourself from sin and all its destructive power.
I know what is in your heart – I know your loneliness and all your hurts – the rejections, the judgments, the humiliations, I carried it all before you. And I carried it all for you, so you might share My strength and victory.
I know especially your need for love – how you are thirsting to be loved and cherished. But how often have you thirsted in vain, by seeking that love selfishly, striving to fill the emptiness inside you with passing pleasures – with the even greater emptiness of sin. Do you thirst for love? “Come to Me all you who thirst…” (Jn. 7: 37).
I will satisfy you and fill you. Do you thirst to be cherished? I cherish you more than you can imagine – to the point of dying on a cross for you. I Thirst for You.
Yes, that is the only way to even begin to describe My love for you. I THIRST FOR YOU. I thirst to love you and to be loved by you – that is how precious you are to Me. I THIRST FOR YOU. Come to Me, and I will fill your heart and heal your wounds. I will make you a new creation, and give you peace, even in all your trials I THIRST FOR YOU.
You must never doubt My mercy, My acceptance of you, My desire to forgive, My longing to bless you and live My life in you. I THIRST FOR YOU. If you feel unimportant in the eyes of the world, that matters not at all. For Me, there is no one any more important in the entire world than you. I THIRST FOR YOU.
Open to Me, come to Me, thirst for Me, give me your life – and I will prove to you how important you are to My Heart. Don’t you realize that My Father already has a perfect plan to transform your life, beginning from this moment?
Trust in Me. Ask Me every day to enter and take charge of your life. – and I will. I promise you before My Father in heaven that I will work miracles in your life. Why would I do this? Because I THIRST FOR YOU. All I ask of you is that you entrust yourself to Me completely. I will do all the rest. Even now I behold the place My Father has prepared for you in My Kingdom.
Remember that you are a pilgrim in this life, on a journey home. Sin can never satisfy you, or bring the peace you seek. All that you have sought outside of Me has only left you more empty, so do not cling to the things of this life. Above all, do not run from Me when you fall. Come to Me without delay. When you give Me your sins, you gave Me the joy of being your Savior. There is nothing I cannot forgive and heal; so come now, and unburden your soul. No matter how far you may wander, no matter how often you forget Me, no matter how many crosses you may bear in this life; there is one thing I want you to always remember, one thing that will never change. I THIRST FOR YOU – just as you are.
You don’t need to change to believe in My love, for it will be your belief in My love that will change you. You forget Me, and yet I am seeking you every moment of the day – standing at the door of your heart and knocking.
Do you find this hard to believe? Then look at the cross, look at My Heart that was pierced for you. Have you not understood My cross? Then listen again to the words I spoke there – for they tell you clearly why I endured all this for you: “I THIRST…”(Jn 19: 28). Yes, I thirst for you – as the rest of the psalm – verse I was praying says of Me: “I looked for love, and I found none…” (Ps. 69: 20).
All your life I have been looking for your love – I have never stopped seeking to love you and be loved by you. You have tried many other things in your search for happiness; why not try opening your heart to Me, right now, more than you ever have before.
Whenever you do open the door of your heart, whenever you come close enough, you will hear Me say to you again and again, not in mere human words but in spirit. “No matter what you have done, I love you for your own sake Come to Me with your misery and your sins, with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved. I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to Me, for I THIRST FOR YOU…”
“Jesus is God, therefore His love, His Thirst, is infinite. He the creator of the universe, asked for the love of His creatures. He thirst for our love… These words: ‘I Thirst’ – Do they echo in our souls?”
Mother Teresa Imprimatur Mons. G. Sergio De la Cerda Z. Vicar General Tijuana, B. C. México.
Have a blessed Lent,
When my wife and met 23 years ago this month. Along with a myriad of other attitudes and ideologies that strong willed young people have, my wife and I were happy that we both were pro-choice in our politics. We have both always been “you don’t bother me and I won’t bother you” kind of people and the mere thought of emphatically, and without discussion, hard lining a decision for someone else’s life in that way at the time almost seemed monstrous to us. For people of our generation and where we grew up, those types of questions and conversation points were the fishing moments in which early check-ins were made of social compatibility.
Such attitudes should not be strange considering we are both natural contrarians. Outsiders even by nature. As an outsider you tend to gravitate towards other outsiders as you make friends and affiliate your way through life. No surprise then, many of our friends always shared similar political views. As such, little discussion about a woman’s “choices” if she became pregnant actually ever really occurred. If the topic arose, eyes were usually rolled, and graceful withdrawals from the discussion typically ensued with thanks that we all agreed that we don’t have to talk about that.
Looking back now at the person I was then compared to the person I am today, one of the many differences of note here between those two people is the idea of family – and the role family plays in our lives. What I realize now was that I was missing something. What many of my fellow outsider friends and I lacked was a strong sense of family. During that time, we and our friends were each other’s family – a collection of fractionalized (and self-marginalized) people. So our world view was built around protecting the life afflicted. My Catholic understanding of today – the vocational responsibilities we share with each other as one body, as a family, and as families, was well beyond imagination then.
In my late teens and early twenties, family was something I, and in some way most of the people I knew, were trying to escape from. Without rehashing my entire CRHP witness, let’s just say that my family might arguably fall under the category of dysfunctional.
As I went out into the world as a young adult I soon became overwhelmed by the level of harm people inflicted on one another – especially by those closest to them. Never will I forget the number of women I met in the military (and in college) who at a young age had been victims of some kind assault (sexual or otherwise) by a family member. At one point, I actually started actively looking for a young woman with and unaffected childhood.
One such moment I remember was traveling with my girlfriend at the time. We met living in Omaha. She was a graduate of the University of Iowa and we travelled together to her cousin’s wedding in Atlanta. During the rehearsal dinner she became extremely disturbed by something and withdrew herself. Trying to be understanding, I pressed to find out what was wrong. It turned out that her Uncle, whom she had been sat by at the dinner, had regularly raped her when she was twelve. Please know that I, nor you, nor anyone ever could have guessed that to have been true had she not told me. We spent the rest of the night getting back to just feeling safe again.
Another such moment happened while stationed in Texas one night in the Service. As the watch officer I had to respond to a domestic disturbance in our unit quarters on base. It was at the dorm of what turned out to be one of the women on my team. A neighbor and friend pulled me into a bedroom with her and made her take off her blouse to show me what had occurred. Her fiancé had bruise-brander her over her whole body with his fists, leaving untouched only those areas which would be seen while she wore her uniform. The fiancé had learned this from his father and was how his mother had been “marked” into the family. The saddest part of the experience was convincing her that this wasn’t okay.
Furthermore, my service to our country opened my eyes to the depths of inhumanity in our world. The work I did as my service was in the area of reconnaissance. Our unit had some unique assignments in this area and one such mission was in service to the United Nations. We were to be a recording witness to the tribal genocide in central Africa. It would not be unusual for competing African tribes to be ridiculously brutal with one another.
One such brutality that was regularly used was to take advantage of American Aid Air drops. It would literally take a whole village to handle the logistics of moving the pallets of food that was dropped into a clearing in the bush back to the village for disbursement to the hungry. Sadly, what this also created was the perfect kill zone for an opposing tribe to lay in wait, surround, and then finally put their enemies to death. It was an old fashion animal trap with a modern twist.
However horrid those events were, nothing came close to the death marches. In the early 1990’s thousands of people were walked to death in Central Africa. Forced to walk until they fell over and died. Already starving, already weak and malnourished, and already without hope; women, children, and the elderly were pushed out onto the roads and forced to walk. They went on for miles and miles, and we counted them as more fell to the ground every day.
It was my personal experiences like those, as well as my own escapist attitudes of my own family experiences, that really put me of the mind that getting married, and especially having kids, was not a good idea for anyone – let alone myself. It was in this vein that I had one of the most heartbreaking conversations I ever shared with my father. My wife and I had finally just gotten engaged. Already living together, my parents came to visit us, stay the weekend at our apartment, and talk about what a wedding would mean and what role my parents would have.
My father, though, also had another agenda – he wanted grandkids (and soon) – and went out of his way the whole weekend to push that agenda. The tension finally broke with the two of us outside on our deck getting argumentative about why giving him grandkids, and us having children, was one of the furthest things from our minds. Marriage was a serious mile stone for me in and of itself, and the idea of having children to me would only serve as a way to manufacture future patients for America’s psychiatrists and psychologists. I went so far as getting in my Dad’s face demanding he give me a reason why I would want to screw over anyone in this life by giving birth to them. As if coming into the world was the first step in a recipe of anguish and suffering. This world is no place for children I bellowed at him.
That conversation, angrily dismissing his hope in a legacy, and the knowledge today that he didn’t live long enough (passing away suddenly from cancer just months following our wedding) to ever meet his grandchildren in this life are two of my greatest regrets.
It was in this vane, that one of the funniest stories my wife ever tells about me was how I reacted when she finally told me she was pregnant with our first child. She slipped a copy of a sonogram picture in an envelope and included it with the “surprise” father’s day gift. In sum, I spent the next hour and a half walking around our back yard draining a bottle of wine, talking to myself, openly crying, and occasionally laughing uncontrollably.
It was two short weeks later that we were off to what was my first doctor’s appointment and sonogram. Not wanting to know the sex and maintain that mystery, the nurse very carefully printed sonogram photos that hid that information. My wife and I looked at those pictures with joy and excitement. For the first time in my life I was excited about being a family, what that could mean for the three of us, and who we all would become.
After the nurse finished, and cleaned up her equipment, she asked us to stay in the consultation room for a minute as there was an administrative item they needed to take care of and another nurse would be in soon to see us.
A nice looking nurse, slightly older than many of the others we had seen, came in and sat down with a manila folder and some papers. She very directly got our attention and wanted to discuss our opportunity to abort the pregnancy. She acknowledged that under the law they were required to inform us of our rights in the matter. She also wanted us to know that as an older couple we were a higher risk pregnancy, we could avoid some health concerns the doctor had for my wife, and if we set up the procedure in the coming days the invasive nature of the procedure would be limited. All we would need to do was sign some forms, they would schedule my wife to come back in a few days, and we would be all done. My wife would be in and out the same morning she told us. It was suggested that I didn’t even need to come, but of course I could if I wanted.
One of the things I have always appreciated about my wife is her fearless and bold nature. This was one of the few moments I ever remember looking her in the eyes and seeing real fear.
After a few moments I realized that I was still holding the sonogram photos, and my eyes then fell on them. Just moments ago I had been looking at these pictures with such joy and anticipation. I could see, through the technology of magnification, a whole person. A person we immediately started to bond with and make a part of our new little family. A person we started to talk about in reference to a greater family beyond on our own. A person who would change our lives.
My wife and I never spoke to each other, or openly asked the other their thoughts, I looked back at my wife and then we looked at the nurse together to say no thanks, we are keeping the baby.
Later that day when we got home, I spent some more time looking at the sonogram photos. I could’t put them down. My wife had gotten me a “Daddy” photo frame to put one in and I sat in our living room just staring at it. My wife came in to check on me. “You okay,” she asked?
I apologized to her for what happened at the doctor’s office. Then I told her, by the way, I am no longer pro-choice.
Throughout my life I have had the misfortune of knowing too many women who have had an abortion.
So as someone whose natural instinct had always been towards the pro-choice perspective, it took me awhile as a convert to the Catholic faith to gain any appreciation of the anti-abortion / pro-life / pick your label rhetoric I regularly heard on Catholic radio. There were times even when I had to turn it off because I just couldn’t take listening to it anymore. Caustic politics, agree or disagree, just isn’t who I am.
But as I came to the point where I could participate more in comfortable agreement in the conversation on abortion issues, and appreciate its value in the Catholic media landscape; I began to search for a few things that I felt were lacking in that conversation and thought should get more attention.
And then what?
The first of which is personal witness. It’s there to a small degree, but if you really want to see the effects of an abortion – talk to a woman who has had one. Why that as a common sense option isn’t more highly promoted is odd to me. There certainly are enough women out there who would be available. But that as a question should be indicative of its own answer: Most women who have had an abortion really don’t want to talk about it. Which again, should tell you something in and of itself. Those that do will share stories that remind you in large part of what a miss-carriage is like. What they don’t tell you when they are promoting to you the convenience of “terminating your pregnancy” is that you really don’t terminate the pregnancy. What you terminate is the baby.
Rarely discussed is that the pregnancy continues for a while. Just like when you cut yourself your heart doesn’t immediately get the memo to stop pumping blood to that area of the body, the absence of the fetus doesn’t automatically shut off the rest of the body from participating in the preparation process for the birth. If you have heard of post-partum depression, or understand the emotional ride women experience throughout a pregnancy, it shouldn’t stretch your imagination much to know that when you add any level of that to a woman’s life (and take away the center focus and result of those emotions and physical changes) you will be inviting them into a period of their life of emotional and mental trauma. More simply, it’s a little bit more than the woman being in and out that same morning as the nurse told us.
The Lotus Flower
The second item I wish was discussed more is the value of family. Sounds ironic doesn’t it. He who had no hope in the institution, thinks it should be more highly celebrated? Ah, the joys of humility.
I doubt seriously that I am in the minority when I speak from personal experience when that at a time in my life I used sex as a pathway to what I thought was self-worth, personal value, intimacy and love. I know the women I shared physical relationships with – especially those who had been sexually abused as a child – saw sex as something it wasn’t. When I couldn’t love them beyond the sex, especially as I didn’t even know what love was, any ability I would have had to begin and embrace what a family would be – would mean to that child – never would have stood a chance. That only would have carried an ugly cycle forward. This is why I continue to celebrate my wife. She is the woman who taught me what love was. Without that I never would have stood a chance as a husband and a father.
As a society we have taught ourselves to put off having a family – as if it’s a responsibility no person is ever really ready for. Establish your career first. Establish your income first. Wait until you can create and control a support system for the betterment of the child. Where is God in that? Where is love in that? If, as a family, we come to understand (and can live out) our vocational roles with one another as a family we not only fulfill Christ’s purpose for us; but we also create stronger families with stronger children who will be better equipped to have children of their own.
My wife and I think we missed out on something by waiting so long to have kids. We certainly missed out on having more kids than we have. Children are for the young in body and mind. God built our bodies the way he did for a reason, and we keep trying to stretch the bounds of his design. Why do we do this? If we embrace the value of family, why would we need to do this?
Sowing our Oats? Having more? Doing More? Career, travel, education, personal opportunity. Did you ever noticed that every reason that exists in the discussion of meeting a life partner, delaying getting married and having a family until your older centers on the self? The desire of I over the alternative. And socially we justify it and support it in our attempts to perfect a life path for all to follow. It’s not science, it’s not law; rather it’s the attempt to forge a path of less resistance for the next generation. It’s the nature of man trying to build what it thinks is a better world. Are we truly preparing a better way for our children to do this by filling them with the fear of a family, and then directing them out into the world to perfect themselves alone? Where is God in that? Where are the gifts God provided man? Where is love?
Then what happens when they do start a family? What we know is the Self first. Is what gets started a true family, or a collection of individuals? Do you volunteer in your children’s activities? Do you know who your kid’s friends are? What their teacher’s names are? Do your kids know your friends? Do you live in your circle or theirs? Is there a difference? Are you just a drop off Dad?
The message of Abortion is about not derailing the life of the woman, protecting her rights to choose her life, putting her in charge of her own body. Why in the world do we start by assuming that if a young woman is pregnant, that any of that is at risk? It’s as if a baby has become a violation of the self-identity of the mother. Wow! How she has fallen in our eyes.
Hail Mary, Full of Grace…
January 22nd marked the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision that a right to privacy under the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. The Court’s decision on Roe vs. Wade was made and let loose firestorm of anger and the acceptance of terminating inconvenient and unwanted life in the United States.
January 22 also marked my son’s 13th birthday. Our first child.
I love our son with all my heart. He has taught me so much about life, and I love seeing the world though his eyes and experiencing things with him. He takes after his mother quite a bit, and has the misfortune of looking like my mini-me.
My son has always inspired and challenged me to be a better man and father. Now that he is starting to show signs of embarking into manhood and entering into his teen years, he is inspiring and challenging me to be better husband to his mother as well. When he isn’t torturing his younger sister for fun, he is looking after her with an immense sense of personal responsibility and care. We occasionally have to ask him to excuse himself so we can parent her too.
To say that my son loves life would be an understatement. To say that he loves his faith a truth. He has an energy and a drive in this personality that at times overwhelms me and others, but he attempts to share joy where he goes. He loves to make others laugh. To ever think of life without him would be unimaginable.
Today as we drove home from basketball practice at Sacred Heart, he excitedly shared with me, “I named the unborn baby I pray for at school after you Dad.”
I guess in a small way that makes us even.
To many the Christmas represent a time of stress, a time of joy, a time to celebrate, a time to eat, a time to love and a time to rejoice, a time to be with family, and a time to go to mass. My 2015 Christmas season followed many, if not all of the descriptions above. Growing up holidays meant very little to my family, even Christmas. As I have had children of my own, my ideal Christmas celebration includes mass and celebrating the birth of our Savior, opening a few gifts and spending some down time relaxing and loving. To find out, it was this and more……
To add to the excitement of Christmas, my oldest son’s birthday is on December 26. We have vowed to make this special and separate from Christmas. This year, was separate in a different way. I received the call I had been expecting and dreading for years. Mom was in the critical care unit in Wichita and had been unresponsive. Sadly, I wished my son happy birthday, had breakfast with him, and with his permission left town. It was a difficult trip as I have had this same drive a month ago, missing my second sons 5th birthday celebration. This time felt different, it felt like goodbye. Come to find out, my mom, who has been an alcoholic for most of my life, had too much to drink the night before, became very sick and started bleeding from her esophagus. Emergency surgery was done to stop as much bleeding as possible. Unfortunately, years of alcohol had shut down her liver functions and she was sedated to try to relax her body. Sparing the details of 3 long days, my mom was admitted to hospice care on December 29th at 6:00 PM after making the difficult choice to take her off the vent. 7 hours later, mom passed away at 59 years young on December 30.
Why do I write this? Maybe it is therapy. Maybe it is sorrow. My mom and I had a very bad relationship for many years, in fact, most of my life. In the past 10 years, I can probably count on one hand the number of times we have spoken. I find it a God moment, that in this year of Mercy, I was trying to show my mother the mercy and forgiveness needed to reconcile our relationship, even just a little. My mom was not Catholic, nor even baptized. After consulting with Fr. Pat, I baptized my mother on December 26. Fr. Pat was amazing during this process and more helpful than I could have imagined.
If you are still reading, thank you for listening to my rant, but this is where I need your help, a new years resolution of sorts. Point blank……..do you have a will? Do you have your final wishes outlined? If not you, your parents? Mom had nothing, but a paid on death on her checking account. No will, no wishes, not paper work, no anything. This has been the most stressful 2 weeks of my life. I am fortunate that mom has a very small estate, at least in my opinion. I can’t imagine if she had more. Please, for your sake, your children’s sake, your family’s sake…..make a plan and follow through with finalizing things. I have to take this advice for myself and my family as well as trying to talk my Dad into the same thing (parents have been divorced for over 20 years with no surviving spouses of their own). I am my father’s only child. I know this is a difficult talk to have and a difficult though, our mortality, to think about, but the stress I have had lately could have been less, had some plans be made.
Sorry for the rant and randomness. Have a blessed 2016.
Wednesday November 11th was Veteran’s Day, and on Sunday we celebrated a wonderful Blue Mass at Sacred Heart. As Father Pat acknowledged, those bagpipes are simply amazing.
Veteran’s Day is a time of wonderful national pride and for taking a day to honor those who gave of themselves in service to their country. The irony of this day, similar to celebrations on Memorial Day, is that what the celebrants and those clapping in appreciation are usually thinking about, and what the veterans being honored are usually thinking about, are not always the same thing.
Much of the celebrating we do can’t help but make anyone who loves this country smile. It’s a time of immense pride in our country and about expressing feelings many of us hold deep in our hearts. It’s a time in which symbols and ceremonies flood the passions of our hearts. One such local tradition occurs on a hillside off of I35, north of the I69 merge. There is a green hillside along the highway that is always covered with hundreds of American Flags flowing together for Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day. Driving north along the road, as you come around the bend, a visual overtakes you that creates a moment for me of undeniable joy. I can’t hold it back. The smile just takes over my face. It’s so great to see that.
But sometimes…. There are moments of these holidays in which the celebrating can become uncomfortable. As a veteran there are memories that find you again, that remind you of what these days also represent?
A few weeks ago in Kansas City, when we had the great privilege of celebrating the Royals and World Series Champions, looking at the photos of Union Station I couldn’t help but have a small moment of déjà vu.
Union Station is where Celebration at the Station is held each Memorial Day. People encamp along the hillside of Memorial Park, a stage is brought in, there is a sound system, a light show, and one of the best God Bless America kind of days occurs every year right here in Kansas City. I don’t believe attendance gets anywhere near what our community saw following the Royals parade, but you will usually see over a hundred thousand people from around the Metro expressing their national pride. Veterans from all branches of the service get publically honored at a pretty incredible day.
So while watching the Royals, I kept thinking back to last Memorial Day. How great is it that we have a way to celebrate great moments in our lives that bring us together as a community, and as a nation. How great is it that we have the opportunity to celebrate those who stand as heroes in our lives.
But the heroes of America’s pastime, and those who stood in uniform are different kinds of heroes. We should remember that. It is easy for children to idealize both, but they shouldn’t. It is easy to feel the loss of 9/11 and celebrate those who fought on our team for victory – and love them for that – but we shouldn’t. It’s easy to see them as being similar, but they aren’t.
They say we appreciate the sacrifice our men and women in uniform make in the service of their country. Do you ever wonder what they are sacrificing?
For some it’s a sacrifice of time in years of their lives. For some it’s youth when they could be chasing their dreams. Unfortunately, some have to give their lives, some an appendage, and some it’s their minds. Those are the unfortunate physical sacrifices and costs some of our soldiers pay that we can see, and that I am personally thankful that no one needs reminded of anymore. After 9/11 in this country, there were significant efforts made to change the post war social attitudes towards our troops. There was a movement to bring back the appreciation we gave to the troops returning home from World War II and not repeat the lack of gratitude and anger demonstrated following Vietnam. This was a tremendous leap forward we made as a country in respecting the rehabilitative needs of our veterans.
But in making those changes there is something we cannot forget that an earlier generation also understood from the shadows of World War II and that is “the Why.”
For those of us who progress in ceremony honoring those who serve we are sometimes struck by an uncomfortable feeling. It’s this same feeling that connects us to first responders and law enforcement who also serve for others. It’s the nagging wonder and dumbfoundedness as to why we ever even had to do it at all.
That “why” – is the sacrifice.
They were called the greatest generation – our grandparents – the generation that fought and lived through World War II. My Grandfather was part of the greatest generation, and he was subsequently also two different men – the one I knew, and the one I had the privilege to say I knew.
My Grandfather died in 2006. I knew my Grandpa was an Army Veteran. He always talked about how thankful he was to eat anyone’s cooking over what dining life was like in the Army. It was that comment at every holiday meal you knew you would hear, and could quote verbatim. I also knew Grandpa was a WWII veteran and had fought in Europe, but only because other family members shared those things as reasons why we did certain things as a family or would go certain places.
As a child my only window into his military experience was a photo album I found on a shelf in his home one day. It was pictures of Grandpa, and whom I would learn later were other guys from his unit, trying on Nazi SS uniform pieces. Being old enough, and having seen enough war movies at that age I sought an explanation. Turned out his unit had taken a command post in Belgium and were having a moment of escapist fun.
Outside of that moment I grew up knowing pretty much nothing of his military experiences. Then he died. As my father had already passed himself, and I was at that time a veteran too, my mother had me proofread his obituary before submitting it to the newspaper. I almost couldn’t make it through the thing. Three Silver Stars. A Bronze Star. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He fought in the Siege at Bastogne. Belgium, France, and Germany. His unit operated what was called a half-track; half truck and half tank. It had a 50-caliber machine gun on the top. It was a mobile armored gun.
When he died, my grandfather had few mourners. My grandmother had ironically passed away while I was in basic training. Outside of my mother, my brother, my wife and me, only half a dozen other people came to pay their respects and they were older members of the Community Christian Church he and my Grandmother had attended late in their lives. There became real concern we wouldn’t be able to have enough pallbearers to carry the body to the hearse and complete the service.
That is when something amazing happened. Four US Army soldiers showed up at the front of the church. These men were home on leave from the fighting in Iraq. They happened to catch the obituary in the paper, came to the church in full dress uniform, and asked my mother for her permission to escort the body as an honor guard to its final resting place. My brother and I joined them for a memory I will never forget.
That was the man I had the privilege to say I knew. The grandfather I knew came home from the war and went to De Paul University in Chicago receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Art. Grandpa was an avid photographer and always had a camera in his hand. If he wasn’t taking a picture, he was sketching or painting. He loved the beauty of the world. He and grandmother traveled extensively and they had countless pictures to prove it. He loved to make you smile, and was a consummate flirt. If there was a pretty girl in the room, he had no shame.
Grandpa worshipped the ground my grandmother walked on. He would tell people that she saved his life, and she would just roll her eyes eventually explaining that she was an Army nurse during the war. Stationed in Australia, she was my grandfather’s nurse who took care of him when he was wounded in the fighting and was sent there to recover. They fell in love in the hospital.
My grandfather could have spent the rest of his life being a war hero, and being known as a war hero. But there was nothing about his experiences in war he felt was ever worth thinking about again; save Grandma. Instead he chose to focus on the beauty of the world. He wanted to focus on life, and love, and laughter and capturing those moments through his art to share with those in his life.
Despite what books or beliefs tell you there is no good war. The church tells us that there can be just war, but there really isn’t anything good about it.
In 1995 I was stationed in England and my unit was providing direct reconnaissance support to the United Nations efforts in what used to be called Yugoslavia. The war was between the Croatians and the Serbians and we were supporting the Croatians. To give you some perspective on the extent of the horror, we challenged ourselves every day to find a house in Sarajevo that still had a roof on it and the original four walls. The US Government later went to The Hague and prosecuted many in the Serbian leadership for war crimes.
Stationed in the Midlands of England near Cambridge University, we would regularly enjoy our leave by hopping on the A1A and head south to London for a few days. I had a good friend, David, whose family lived in Sheffield in the northeast, whom I had actually met in the US as a foreign exchange student. When I had longer leaves, he and I would get together again and he would be my ambassador to the greater joys of being English.
One such opportunity came for us on a trip to London. To save money, my friend found a “spare room let for the weekend.” It would be common, given the expense of living in London, for some middle class to rent available bedrooms for the weekends to make additional income. They hosted their homes in a Bed and Breakfast style arrangement. My friend made the arrangements for us and we set out for a break weekend in London.
Getting in late the night before, the first chance I had to meet our host was the next morning at breakfast. I noticed immediately she was not English. Being the ambassador, David wasted no time in being thankful for the opportunity and asking about her family and the occasion for the room being available. See shared with us that she and her family were Serbian. They had come to London to escape the fighting, but her son and husband had returned home because there was a need for men. We had stayed in her son’s room.
It was at this point she noticed that I wasn’t eating, and expressed concern that the food she made was inedible. She was visibly embarrassed and started explaining what the meal was and that I shouldn’t be afraid to try it. David thought I was being rude and sarcastically mocked me for my ignorance.
But I couldn’t eat. I was in shock, and had immediately lost my appetite. I sat quietly as David talked at me, and our host and I just stared at each other. It didn’t take long before she realized I wasn’t English either. That is when she spoke, “You’re American aren’t you? … And you’re military. I can see it now that I look at you.” After several moments in which we just looked into one another’s eyes, she turned abruptly to David and muttered, “That is alright, he doesn’t have to eat.” Then she excused herself and walked out of the room. I never saw her again. David only spoke to her after that.
That’s what war does. War takes opportunities for peace and love and turns them into fear, anxiety, and hurt. That woman went from being a beautiful humble host to realizing that she opened her home, gave shelter, and prepared food for someone who quite possibly would turn around and participate in the death of the loved family members she longed most for in her life and whose absence for the conflict enabled us to meet.
Instead of building a relationship and sharing joy with a stranger, I evoked real and deep fear and anger in someone who was kind to me and added trauma to a life that was already steeped in it. I did it without ever saying a word.
I will never know what came of her son and of her husband, and I forever thank the Lord for that peace of mind. But what I do know is that I was actively engaged in providing front line reconnaissance intelligence to units with the intent of eliminating human targets like her husband and son. And we won, and they lost; or at least that is what the newspaper said.
The events of last Friday in Paris likely reminded us all that there is evil in the world. That is what motivated the greatest generation and what they celebrated at the end of the war when they returned home; the destruction of an evil.
The television calls those who committed those acts in Paris terrorist fighters. They aren’t fighters. Fighters or soldiers are professionals. People who shoot innocent civilians are simply just murderers.
They say that in war you fight to hold onto your humanity. I would argue just the opposite. In war you embrace your humanity, and what you fight to hold onto is your path to holiness.
What makes you successful in war is embracing one’s human will over another and it is an arena in which the fittest, fastest, and strongest survive. That is why as a nation we have the military we do. That is why they train the way they do. That is why we invest the dollars in them the way we do. We defend ourselves with the top of Darwin’s food chain. This is a choice we make to insure our way of life as a nation and it leads to the best possible outcome the majority of the time.
Our heroes, the men and women who turn themselves over to the will of the nation and participate in her defense, put at risk the holiness inside of them and allow themselves access to the extremes of the worst in their human potential. They let loose those things inside of a person that if turned loose on a peaceful society would make them monsters. They fight evil with the parts of their person they would otherwise intentionally starve out in order to walk towards Christ. They fight evil with its reflection. They willingly bite the apple from the Tree of Knowledge out of a greater sense of duty and loyalty to a belief in our way of life as a Nation. They bite that apple so you don’t have to and that is what makes them heroes.
Many, like my grandfather, return from war and spend the rest of their lives trying to wash the blackness off of them. They search out the joy God made us for, and choose not to allow the evil they fought against enjoy any more attention. Their experiences help them recognize the stupidity of war and the costs it extolls. They see firsthand the worst of humanity and what people can do to one another when wrath, greed, lust, human desire and selfishness run unabated.
So in celebrating our heroes – celebrate heroes by making the most of what they fought for. Celebrate heroes by embracing your opportunity to live out your life for Jesus Christ. Celebrate by fulfilling your vocational responsibilities and loving those people God has placed you in relationships with. Celebrate by sharing your faith with others and in doing so help grow the body of Christ. Do all these things because though Christ we can make heroes unnecessary.