Sunday, May 13, 2018

I'll Love You Forever


This year I sang a lullaby to all our nurturing women who serve as parent, mentor and guide to children, neighbors and friends in their lives. The lullaby comes from a children’s book written by Robert Munsch entitled: “I Love You Forever”. The words are:
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living,
My Mommy you'll be.

Now for a moment, put your arms around yourself. Cuddle your body, hold yourself the way you would hold a baby in your arms. Now, after you have a real good hold of yourself, close your eyes and begin to rock yourself. Rock yourself real good, the way you would a baby, and just keep doing it. When you grow up, no matter how old you are, and if you are crying and you don’t know why, I want you to rock yourself just like this. As you do it, remember that you are God’s little child, and that God understands why you are crying even if no one else does. As you rock yourself let me offer this blessing:

To the Moms who are struggling, to those filled with incandescent joy.
To the Moms who are remembering children who have died, and pregnancies that miscarried.
To the Moms who decided other parents were the best choice for their babies, to the Moms who adopted those kids and loved them fierce.
To those experiencing frustration or desperation in infertility.
To those who knew they never wanted kids, and the ways they have contributed to our shared world.
To those who mothered colleagues, mentees, neighborhood kids, and anyone who needed it.
To those remembering Moms no longer with us.
To those moving forward from Moms who did not show love, or hurt those they should have cared for.

Good and Gentle God, we pray in gratitude for our mothers and for all the nurturing women who have joined with you in the wonder of caring for life. You who became human through a woman, grant to all mothers the courage they need to face the uncertain future that life with children always brings. Give them the strength to live and to be loved in return, not perfectly, but humanly. Give them the faithful support of partners, family and friends as they care for the physical and spiritual growth of their children. Give them joy and delight in their children to sustain them through the trials of motherhood. Most of all, give them the wisdom to turn to you for help when they need it most.
Lord, I pray for all our nurturing Sonshine Friends who need your gentle touch to remind them that we don’t have to be perfect to be a mentor to our kids. We need  to know that as you hold us close we can hear you sing to us at this very moment:
I'll like you for always,
As long as I'm living,
My Child you'll be.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

We Need a Teacher


Last week, I drove 420 miles to Ripley, West Virginia to learn wood turning. The idea of holding a blank piece of wood and shaping it on a lathe at 2,000 rpm can be frightening. Yet, I think of all the times I had the privilege of standing behind Ed Bartz, a wood turner from my parish.  He could take a chuck of wood and shape it into an exquisite bowl. His gift gave birth to the thought that this might be something that I would like to learn.

Cedar Lakes Conference Center, in Ripley, offered multiple classes in stain glass, water colors, quilting, fly-fishing, black smiting and wood turning. I was fortunate to meet my instructor, Byron, from Charleston, West Virginia, who has been teaching this course for many years. He enjoyed sharing his passion for wood with his novice students. I told him that my experience was limited since my mentor would let me hold the spindle gouge for a few seconds but never let me shape the bowl. I came to learn the basics. Put on an apron, the safety glasses and take that bowl gouge, anchor the gouge on the tool rest and pivot the gouge so that it slowly and carefully sliced the wood. However, I can’t count the number of times that instead of slicing, my wood would catch and make a mess of things. But Byron was patient and he shared that it takes practice and the whole idea was to learn the basics and come home with a few ideas that you would want to improve once you got home.
And isn’t this why we come to church. To learn the basics, how to love in a way that makes a difference in our life. However, we need a teacher. Jesus who walks along our side teaching us the basics. Not one to show us how to hold our hands, but how to extend our hearts. One to help us know when it is time to be more quiet and when to speak. A teacher who can show us how to slow down and how best to speed up for the sake of the other. For the sake of love. We need a teacher who will model for us what it is to live the sort of love that will go beyond what is expected, making the sacrifices, actually die for another, as Jesus offers now.
What I learned in wood turning applies to our spiritual journey. Byron preached patience in the classroom and his hands would sometimes wrap around my hand to guide the gouge so that it was making the proper cut. In the same way, Jesus guides us in our everyday life so that our love reflects his patience, compassion, and wisdom. However, I learned that to get comfortable and good in wood turning applies to our spiritual journey, we won’t get it right the first time, or the second, or maybe even the fiftieth time. We need to keep on turning. In wood turning, you need to practice, practice and practice. In the same way, to grow spiritually, you need to pray, pray some more and pray for the fifieth time until your life shines like the Christ with patience, mercy and understanding.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who daily need to practice, practice, practice this divine spirit of love. Not always easy, but with Jesus looking over our shoulder and holding our hands steady we eventually get the idea how to manage the difficult cuts to make a beautiful life in the image of God.

Monday, April 09, 2018

What Part of Your Life needs a Resurrection?

The disciples, when they went into the empty tomb, they couldn’t have imagined that they would find an empty tomb. The empty tomb raised questions, immediately. It raised questions for the women. The disciples come; it raised questions for the disciples. And that empty tomb—it’s been raising questions every since, and it will raise questions until the end of the world. It represents the most significant moment in the history of the world: the moment where Jesus rose from the dead. And now the tomb’s empty. So lots of people got lots of questions.

I have one question for you today: What part of your life needs resurrection? What part of your life needs to be resurrected?
Some of our biggest challenges, some of our biggest problems, some of our biggest crises, some of our biggest obstacles—they take more than a year to solve, to change, to heal. The real question is: Do you actually believe that whatever mess you’ve got yourself into, or however bad the situation is in your life, or whatever tragedy or challenge it is that needs to be resurrected in your life . . . Do you actually believe that God is willing and able to resurrect it?

Let me share some examples:
I pray for my friend that she finds a resurrection. She’s a grandma whose children and grandchildren find easy to exploit. They come and help themselves to food in her house. Grandma told her girlfriend that she feels so much stress that she would like to walk out of her home and never come back. She plans to will her home to her grandkids. However, her daughter-in-law learned about grandma’s generosity and said she would buy her home now and move in with her two little kids and three dogs. Grandma already has a daughter living with her and three dogs of her own. Her daughter hasn’t talked to this relative in four years. The chaos would be nerve racking but grandma cannot say no to her relative. Her friend said she needs to set boundaries. Grandma feels like she would fall short if she couldn’t take care of her family. Her friend reminded her that she needs to be compassionate to herself; while that comes easily with others, she needs to be less of a savior to her family and more like a best friend to herself. Her girlfriend believes that God can help grandma in this dilemma.

There are several areas in my life that need resurrection: my passion to get healthier; my marriage; my relationship with my estranged daughter. And I will continue to pray for these intentions. With God, all things are possible!

I would like to say that my body needs to be resurrected. After having had back pain for the past twenty-five years, I had surgery last June which has made the pain and mobility issues for me so much worse. I was active in my parish before and no longer can be. So, I would ask God to resurrect my body so I can continue doing the things I love. Do I believe that he can do this? Absolutely.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who need a resurrection. I believe that God is willing to resurrect you from the messes in your life. Blessed Easter!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

How to Do Holy Week

Holy Week is a solemn week of extra prayer and fasting. It involves the Triduum: Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil. During those three days we recall—and through our prayer participate in—Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, his arrest, trial, and execution, the long day of silence (Holy Saturday) while his body rested in the grave, and his Resurrection on Easter. The many readings of Scripture surrounding the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ give us a lot of material for reflection and prayer.
Unfortunately, the rest of the world does not stop or slow down to give us extra time for all this liturgy and church attendance. How to “do” Holy Week, especially if we will not be participating in all the special church liturgies at this time?
Here are just a few suggestions. I hope you’re helped by at least one or two of them.
  • Spend a little time each day listening to music that helps you slow down. It doesn’t matter what kind of music—hymns, jazz, folksong, symphony pieces, songs with meaningful words, or pieces that are instrumental only—as long as the listening helps you breathe more slowly and go to a place deeper in your spirit.
  • Prepare at least one meal with special care for the people in your home (or, if you live alone, for you and a guest or two), and make certain all of you sit down together to eat it. Today, I did some “butter sculpting” and carved an “Easter Lamb” for our traditional Polish breakfast on Easter morning. Now I need a recipe for “plazak."
  • Choose one of the Passion narratives—from any of the four Gospels—and read it aloud to yourself over the course of the week. Don’t try to learn anything new or have a profound experience; simply read the story, asking God to help this story live in you better this year than it ever has before.
  • While you’re sitting—maybe at the end of the day, trying to unwind in front of the IPad or in a favorite chair—try drawing aspects of Holy Week. Use whatever paper and pen(cil) is available and express something about symbols that are meaningful to you: cross, lily, bread, chalice, table, garden, hands, faces, a road…
Finally, you are invited to attend your parish Holy Week services. The choir members are rehearsing, the sacristans are designing the floral sanctuary and poor father is racking his brain to come up with a “profound Easter message” that will make people glad they came to Easter services. Wherever you are, you can go on a spiritual pilgrimage with Jesus.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends that as we journey with Jesus in our moments of darkness He will take us by the hand and lift us all to the Light of His Resurrection.

Friday, March 23, 2018

What Darkness Tastes Like For You

In the Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, TIME magazine ran a cover story on the question of why Jesus died. The piece was well researched and included the opinion of a variety of scholars, but it also delved into the feelings of ordinary people around this question.
One person who expressed her feelings was a young woman who, as a child, had witnessed her mother being murdered by a jealous boyfriend. Looking back on her mother’s death, she senses, without being able to put it into words, that somehow her mother’s blood is connected to the blood that Jesus shed on Good Friday and that his death, also unfair, somehow gives dignity to her mother’s death.
Her hunch is right. There is a connection, even if we lack the words to explain it, between what Jesus tasted on Good Friday and what any person who is unfairly victimized tastes. We have our own Good Fridays and they are not unconnected to what happened on Calvary two thousand years ago. Indeed, what Jesus underwent on Good Friday is, as this woman says, what gives us dignity when we taste the blood of humiliation, loneliness, helplessness, and death. What did Jesus undergo on Good Friday?
Interestingly, the gospels do not focus on his physical sufferings. What they highlight instead is his emotional suffering and his humiliation. He is presented as lonely, betrayed, alone, helpless to explain himself, a victim of jealousy, morally isolated, mocked, misunderstood, stripped naked so as to have to feel embarrassment and shame, and yet, inside of all this, as clinging to warmth, goodness, and forgiveness. Good Friday, in Luke’s words, is when darkness has its hour. What does that taste like?
Whenever we find ourselves outside the circle of health, on a sick bed alone, with the sure knowledge that, despite the love and support of family and friends, in the end it is us, by ourselves, who face disability and disfigurement, who have to lose a breast or an organ to surgery, who face chemotherapy and maybe death, when we are alone inside of that, alone inside of fear, we are feeling what Jesus felt on Good Friday.
Whenever we are misunderstood and because of that are made to look weak, bad, wrong, when we have to live with a misunderstanding that makes us look bad in the eyes of others, we are feeling what Jesus felt on Good Friday.
Whenever we find ourselves alone and lost, before aging, before the loss of health, before the loss of sexual attractiveness and our former place in life, and before the loss of life itself, we are feeling the loneliness of dying and we are feeling what Jesus felt on Good Friday.
When we taste that bitterness there is little else to say other than what Jesus said when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and led away to humiliation and death: “But this is your hour—the triumph of darkness.”

We know what that means. All of us have moments when our world falls apart and when, as the Book of Lamentations says, all we can do is put our mouths to the dust and wait. Wait for what? Wait for darkness and death to have their hour, wait for (as Matthew says in his Passion account) the curtain of the temple to be torn from top to bottom, and the earth to shake, and the rocks to split open, and the graves to open and to show themselves to be empty.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who have tasted darkness in their life. Give them the strength of patience and perseverance until the darkness passes and they rise with Our Savior who came to free us all from this darkness of sin and death.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Beauiful Life


I just received a phone call that my dear spiritual director went to heaven at 4:41 this morning. Let me say that this man is a saint so let me share a story about our last visit together.

Last Saturday, by the grace of God when I went to visit my dearest friend, Walt was back. Thankfully, he was alert and verbal and you could see him reflecting on what he wanted to say before he spoke. I asked him what he was thinking about at this time in his life. With hands folded, he looked up to heaven and with tears in his eyes said: “Why me? Why me Lord?”

Please understand, these were not words of self-pity because he had suffered for many years. Rather, they were words of profound gratitude that God had chosen him to be his friend. That was the question he had been asking God for many weeks and then suddenly Walt got his answer: “Thy will be Done.” 

One of the great themes of Christian spirituality is self-knowledge. God is constantly trying to help us know ourselves more intimately: our strengths and weaknesses, faults, flaws, failings, defects, abilities, desires, yearnings. He's put all this stuff within us as clues about the journey he wants us to walk.

And so, the vocation you have embarked on in this life is not something you choose, it's something you discover. And it might sound like a little thing, but it is not a little thing, especially when you look at how our culture might interpret the concept of success or happiness. Our culture might interpret many things like, "I get to choose who I am." Or, "I get to choose what aspects of me are most important or least important." Or, "I get to choose what I'm going to be."

Christian spirituality doesn't look at it that way. As Christians, we see it as a discovery. We see it as, OK, God has already placed all this stuff within us. He's created us, now he wants us to discover who we truly are. He wants us to discover that best-version-of-ourselves. And of course, we discover that best-version-of-ourselves by discovering more and more about him. We learn more about ourselves when we enter into a friendship with God.

Walt in his spiritual journey understood that God had created him as an extraordinary professor in the physical sciences who could take each student and help that young person discover the best version of themselves through nature.

Walter had planned his funeral and he expects his colleagues, students and Neumann friends to follow his wishes. It is to be a celebration of faith and gratitude to God for a life that helped his students discover God in nature. Like St. Francis of Assisi, my dear spiritual guide taught me to love God and all the beauty he has placed on this earth.

Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends and especially, my spiritual mentor, who taught all his students to love one another as God loves each of us. May the Blessed Lord welcome our dear professor into His Heavenly Kingdom greeted by his parents and all his colleagues. Blessings and peace my friend. I miss you very much.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Don't Give Up Chocolate for Lent


Lent is a lot like our New Year’s resolution. We have the best intention of using this time to be a “better person” but we get busy or distracted with our old habits. So, if you are discouraged because you have not kept any of your Lenten promises, let me offer a few practical suggestions:
Number One: Say no to “potty mouth.” No more foul language, no locker room talk, no smutty jokes, no social media. When “twitter” becomes a way to put people down it devalues us. So, the first Lenten practice –for all of us, young and old is to watch our language and say no.
Number Two: Say yes to spiritual reading. Buy a little pocket New Testament and read a passage a day from the gospels. If you go online there are daily Lenten websites like “Dynamic Catholic” and “Living Lent Daily” that can help you in spiritual reading.
Number Three: Coffee-can the table. Put a coffee can or other container on the family table and every day empty your change into it. You might substitute your morning latte and give it to the poor. You might cut out photos of a cause you want to support like Charlotte Comfort Home or your local animal shelter or volunteer fire department.
Number Four: Be a “stitcher” meaning at home, at work, at school give the encouraging word, the encouraging deed, at least once a week. Be a repairer of broken spirits, pick up what others drop on the floor. Speak an encouraging word for every put down remark. Give a pat for every shove. Be a “stitcher.”
Number Five: Prepare to heal, work up to it. Make an attempt at reconnecting a broken relationship that often starts out with a misunderstanding.
Number Six: Reconnect. Put aside a day every week or two with friends, spouses, or families to reconnect. This week my in-laws got together to celebrate birthdays in March.
Number Seven and Final Suggestion: Come to our parish retreat next Sunday March 4th.  It will begin at 10 am with Mass and a Penance Service. Our coffee social will take place to socialize followed by several brief talks and prayer. The theme is “Friendship with Jesus.” No excuses just come to spend some time with the Lord who loves us all very much.
Lord, I pray for all my Sonshine Friends who want to be Your friend. Give us open hearts to discover Your will in our life and help us to become the "best version of ourselves."