Friday, September 11, 2009
There was a moment, when as young mother, I became thoroughly ashamed of myself. I was at the end of my rope as the expression goes. The moment when you’ve been grasping onto a life line and your arms are shaking and fingers cramp and you simply can no longer cling to that last thread . . . and a fit, something like desperation overcomes you and you let go without really letting go at all because you are still trying to grasp the lifeline but you simply cannot hold onto it any longer. The will is there but the ability has literally slipped through your fingers. Have you ever been there? Well I remember a particular day when I was in that state of trying to hold onto my balance as a sane rational adult parent dealing with a little but far more powerful force of nature than I could ever be, and then, losing my lifeline. I utterly lost my cool and reverted interiorly to a small child myself, having a temper tantrum, without malice aforethought, without any intention of harm, without noble reserve, I suddenly without warning, lost my grip and swung my leg back, letting go a kick right in the shins of my little five year old. (Rest assured . . . she had no bruise) I checked.
Five years earlier, the greatest challenge of my life was born into our family. Abigail, “Source of Joy’ as her name signifies. A bundle of exuberance to be sure, Abby was a difficult child from the very start of our acquaintance, the victim of colic and a thoroughly discontented unhappy screaming baby that could neither sleep nor wake in peace. Everything about her babyhood was difficult, yet she was a joyful infant in the few moments when the colic, whatever that monster was, would leave her in peace. I remember lifting her up high above me when she was about 2 or 3 months old and she would start shaking, her face a mixture of surprise and shock. She was having a seizure! I was certain of it. She was shaking uncontrollably. This strange shaking would overcome her whenever I held her high. I consulted the doctor and even demonstrated the phenomenon yet he seemed blithely unconcerned with my diagnosis of seizures. He assured me that she was only laughing. Laughing?! I had by this time, in my life as a mother, learned a few things and I had never seen this kind of laughing in an infant. It was whole body laughing whole body expression of an intense inner abandon, if it was laughing. I’m still not quite sure but I am convinced today, that her destiny is one of joy.
I have vivid memories still of desperately attempting to quiet my small child. She would simply scream for hours on end as an infant. I don’t remember being able to hold her, cuddling her, and experiencing the usual bonding of mother and child, the quiet shared gaze of mother and baby, common to the newborn/mother relationship and somewhat similar to the gaze of falling in love. One day, after nursing her, when she had finally quieted, I grasped the opportunity to look deeply into her ever-bluing eyes. Without warning, her little finger shot upward with unexpected force and poked me straight on in the eye. Eyes burning, in sudden pain, I squeezed them tight becoming almost afraid to open them again exposing them to any further assault. With great care and some fear I peeked through copious tearing at my beloved and ‘helpless’ infant.
In general she seemed to be in pain, but of what kind? Physical? Colic it seems is still a mystery. Some theories go way beyond gas pain to the possibility of sensory brain involvement. I did discover a method of sorts, my own version of short-term parental/infant care relief. When Abby was about four months old, I could put her in the baby backpack and turn on loud rock music, the louder the better. Only hard rock worked. For as long as I could jump up and down to the beat, she would stop screaming. If the neighbors wondered at my taste in music and my punk dancing, as I leapt up and down and around in the back room at odd times of day and night, to very loud rock music, they never questioned me directly. I am partial to the sensory stimulation theory of colic. On our trips home from visiting family on the North Shore, we had exactly ten minutes of quiet, and at the time when most babies would drift off into peaceful slumber ours would suddenly, as if on cue, start screaming as loud as young healthy lungs would allow. For the next 50 minutes or so we would as a family, unwillingly develop the skill of patience. I finally discovered a new method of car travel with our Baby on Board. All passengers would take turns making loud and silly noises. “Brinnnng zing zoo zooo dinga dinga ding ZZZZ pading re de de de de de de and on. . . .,” for as long as we could keep up the Zinging we could stave off the screaming. We were motivated and all took turns. But the moment we stopped. . . the screaming started.
From the time I could first reason with my second born, I realized that reason could be overrated. Sometimes reason has no place in childrearing, and sometimes it can even undermine reality. I remember when two-year-old Abby toddled into our living room. I was working on a painting and I caught sight of her as she wobbled over to the ancient couch, which was currently the resting place of our old tomcat named Tony. My painting hand suspended midair, paint dripping, I watched with a quiet sense of foreboding. Her little hand was gently traveling the length of Tony’s somewhat roughened coat, extending to the short stub of a tail, all that was left of his cat’s pride after a feline encounter of some kind. He looked peaceful in a sleeping predatory sort of way. As I watched her hand traverse the same territory for a second time, I saw with a certain inner sight, her intention. Her tiny little hand suddenly stopped mid-journey resting momentarily on the softly exposed underbelly. I watched feeling as if I were a fly suddenly caught in a web, unable to free myself, impotent and unable to avoid sudden and certain disaster. As she lifted her hand high, she turned her head instantly locking her eyes to my own, like she was sighting coordinates before pushing the button, ready to release a ten thousand pound bomb.
“ Don’t you hit that cat?” I said in a quiet yet firm voice. We had suddenly and irreversibly entered into the first battle of what would become, during the teenage years outright WAR. The intensity of her eyes, which by age two, had become the stunning blue of a summer sky held my own without revealing any weakness or intimidation at my quiet command. Her hand lifted a little in response to my words as she prepared to strike her intended target. I repeated myself concealing my inner doubts “Don’t you dare hit that cat.” My eyes, though not as clear as hers or nearly as intense of color, held her gaze by the force of my own motherly conviction. Our wills were now locked in an epic battle, the outcome of which I had no Idea. We probably would be spending the night in the local emergency room fending off Cat Scratch Fever. I was almost certain.
As a child I remember playing a game with my cousin Maryanne. We called it stare down. Stare into your opponent’s eyes until one of you cracks and starts laughing. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as hard as this. My eyes were seriously drying out as were hers. We stood there blinking at one another, neither one willing to give an inch in field of battle. I’m not sure how long we continued in the stare down, but one thing I knew, laughter would not be the sign of defeat.
It seemed an age but it was probably only two minutes of intense staring when I knew I had won. For the most fleeting of moments she glanced out the window at the fair weather clouds drifting by and I knew… I exulted in my victory!!! I had won! I rejoiced! I knew it in my bones. When her eyes took up the banner once again and engaged my own, the certainty of my victory had imbued me with an inner confidence that we would not be spending the night in Milford Hospital. I purposely resumed my painting in a dignified manner neither rushing nor hesitating. Slowly with only the subtlest of motions, her hand slid downward through the air only just missing the target, as I watched her surreptitiously. She toddled away and I breathed a small sigh of relief.
The age of two was momentous time in little Abby’s life; it meant the change from crib to bed, not that we were on a time schedule. We just didn’t have a bed for her before then. When I introduced her to her new sleeping arrangements, she took to it like a fish to water. She wanted to be a BIG girl after all, and what signifies big girl more than a big girl bed? She had always wanted to be a big girl. So the transition was easy, in fact it was too easy. Her new bed arrived on Tuesday and on Friday we made the mistake of visiting Oma and Gramp in Lynn. When in Lynn, bedtime had arrived and passed itself by the time Abby and I ascended the stairs to our sleeping arrangements. In the corner of our temporary bedroom, was the playpen, the bed for visiting babies/toddlers. Directly, I became aware of the DANGER inherent in the CRIBLIKE playpen. What should I do? Was the danger too great? There was no way to know for sure. If I brought her into the big bed with us . . . we would not sleep. Of this I was certain, as we had on occasion attempted to sleep with her in our own bed at home. She would toss turn and hit us. I’m afraid to admit that I made the selfish and imprudent decision to guarantee her father and I a full nights rest and I put her into the playpen for the duration of our visit, which ended up being two nights.
I would only too soon regret my decision.
Sunday night arrived and our imminent return home raised the specter of my prescient concerns. Home, It is always good to return home to one’s own bed. Well, it’s usually good to return to one’s own bed. That night proved to be a different sort of night altogether. All was well until ten minutes past lights out at the Winant homestead. Abby had fallen into her new BIG bed as any exhausted toddler should, prayers said, story read, then goodnight kiss and lights out! A short ten minutes later however the screaming began. I knew about this already, as the task of bedtime had never been an easy one when it came to Abby. I had been proud of myself in how, with patient persistence, I had gradually weaned her away from the nightly tantrums of facing bedtime. My long suffered efforts over the past year, which had finally found success, were abruptly replaced with wild and uncontrollable crying. I was armed with many and sundry child help and advice books detailing the process of aiding one’s little child to a safe and peaceful sleep. I had used them with some success in the past. “Let the child cry for five minutes and then enter the room, pat her back comforting her with your presence, add a minute each time, lengthening the time between visits. Soon your consistent returning visits will reassure her of her safety and she will shortly be sound asleep.” I hoped rather than believed that this good advice would work now. Five minute intervals of intense screaming became six minutes, became ten-minute intervals, became twenty-minute intervals, and became thirty-minute intervals with out any sign of her tiring or weakening at all. Perhaps she enjoyed the back rubs in between.
Midway through the first night my Husband told me to give in and bring her into bed with us. I knew that if I did my opponent’s strength would be increased tenfold and we would perhaps never, never be allowed a full night’s rest again in our own bed without her agitated presence between us. By the third night, her crying continued with as much vigor and determination as when she had first begun her crying marathon. John had a pillow wrapped completely around his head belted on for some permanency. Somehow, he had managed to fall asleep despite the auditory chaos. I on the other hand, was lying wide-awake for the third sleepless dreamless night in a row. My nerves were on edge.
As I lay there staring into the dark, trying to block out the strident notes of Abby’s shrieks I found myself unexpectedly yelling at God. “ God what should I do,” I yelled aloud? Now, I was a praying woman, but quite honestly it hadn’t occurred to me to ask His advice on this topic. It was 3AM, three nights into the battle and I knew that I was losing. “Help me!” I cried out again. “You have to help me,” No sooner had I finished my demand when a thought popped into my conscious mind. Why had I waited so long? I considered the “idea” and immediately agreed. “You’re right” I thought, “O.K. I’ll do it.” I hopped out of bed and headed for the attic. I rooted around in the dark for a few moments, echoes of the screeching below bouncing off the rafters around me. I found it, the ancient wooden playpen, and an antique in its own right. I struggled to extract it from the pile of junk and drag it out of the cobwebs. Finally freed, I lugged it down the narrow stairwell and promptly set it up. Without losing a moment I darted into Abby’s bedroom swept her, screaming, off her bed and into the living room where the PLAYPEN awaited us. I rather angrily plopped her on my knee. “Do you see that playpen.”? I asked. Her crying had stopped as she stared intensely at me from under lowered brow. “That playpen is for babies.” I said. “You are a baby because you are crying like a baby. Now do you want to sleep in that playpen like a baby or do you want to be a big girl and sleep in your big girl bed?” She glared at me and stated in very clipped but determined words “ I want to sleep in my big girl bed.” I warned her that I would only give her one chance to sleep in her new bed but if she started crying, off to the playpen with her! I placed her into her own bed patted her back one last time and then left the room with only the smallest measure of hope. I lay myself down and waited anxiously, tentatively, three minutes, and four minutes, passed. By the fifth minute, the night air was once again split with a piercing cry. I leapt out of bed, scooped up her substantial (one hundred and tenth percentile on the growth charts) little frame and purposely plopped her into the playpen. She promptly rolled over and went to sleep. The next night I took down the ancient wooden playpen folded it up and put it away. She went directly to sleep in her big bed without any fuss at all. No clue why that worked, only God knows.
In June of 1991 Mount Pinatubo erupted, the second largest volcanic eruption of the twentieth century and in August of that summer we made plans to spend a day at the beach. We invited my dad to join us. He was the kind of father who had played and swum with his children and some of my happiest memories are from the times we had spent together with him at the beach. That day, as I recall, it was about 65 degrees outside, the coldest summer temperature I had ever experienced in late August thanks to mount Pinatubo. The whole summer had been cool verging on cold, because of still-drifting ash in the upper stratosphere.
When we arrived at Good Harbor Beach, in Gloucester MA, I laid out our beach blanket and pulled out the sweatshirts that I had brought along to fend off the cold breezes. John, Sarah, my dad and I pulled on our sweatshirts without delay, all of us that is except for Abby. She was then 3 ½ years old and I had not given her one. My dad, being a dad still, noticed that I had not put a sweatshirt on Abby. He looked me directly in the eyes and asked in a forgivably critical voice, “Aren’t you going to put a sweatshirt on that child?” I thought over his question interiorly. Being still comparatively new to parenting, my insecurities as a mother bubbled up to the surface of my self-awareness with his question. Was I? Nope, I decided, not worth it. He continued to express his dismay over my lack of good judgment and my failure in being a responsible parent. I was quiet for a long moment before I pulled out the sweatshirt, child’s size four. I extended my arm to my father. “Here you go dad, you put it on her.” I knew Abby well enough to know that in her mind, she had already decided, that at a beach in the summer, ‘you do not wear a sweatshirt.’ It is probably a well-known phenomenon that dads loom larger than reality in the minds of their children and I was no different. My dad was not a small man either physically or in any other way and after all he had raised three boys and me. Perhaps he would put it on her.
My vindication shortly arrived, however, when about twenty minutes later, utterly deflated, my father, threw down the sweatshirt onto the sand, exclaiming, “ What the hell is wrong with that child?” Now he understood.
Returning to the day of my shame, it was a very stressful time in our lives. I had just recently given birth to our third child, Gabriel “Strength of God”. He was probably only around the age of three months old and I was seriously sleep deprived. We were not making enough money and were struggling in many ways. I was working several part time jobs to help out with our financial woes but still we were not only the charity case at church, we were the poorest family in our neighborhood, to be sure. I worked teaching and running the arts and crafts program for the elderly in our town and I also worked several nights a week in local company doing photo graphics. During the days that I was at home, I provided childcare for a neighbor’s infant, who as I recall, was never a happy camper. My neighbor’s baby cried incessantly and I was sadly aware that my own infant’s quiet nature demanded so little, that I barely held him at all during the days in which I cared for poor miserable little Joey.
My husband was currently employed as a woodworker but was concentrating his time mostly on his sculpture career. Much of our money went to support his studio at the Franklin mills, where he had been working for several years on a single body of work comprising about thirty sculptures. It was nearly complete. The household chores fell to me during that period as well, both indoor and out, as he was rarely home.
I was only thirty-one but I was feeling worn out, tired, worried and anxious all together at once. I didn’t have the luxury of shopping for non-necessities. We lived very frugally and it had been a long time since I had bought anything new for myself or for either of our daughters. Family, friends and church members were very kind and I will always remember the generosity of the many souls who crossed our path during those years. On the particular day, aforementioned, I can recall the intensity of feeling but not the exact specifics of incident. It was early morning. Sarah had caught the first bus, and then it was Abby’s turn to catch hers. She must have been five years old, kindergarten age. We were waiting in the front hall and I had brought her down a jacket from our apartment. It was cold outside, a late fall day. “Abby you need to put on your jacket.” I was feeling keenly, our ostracism by the majority of our neighbors as Abby and I stood together in the front hall. We had a car that was not registered because we could not afford to have it fixed. In fact we could not afford to have it towed away and thus it sat in our yard. One of our ‘neighbors’ had found a regulation in the town bylaws disallowing any public exposure of an uninsured vehicle and indeed, had just recently sent the local police to our door to inform us that we needed to dispose of the offending vehicle as soon as possible. The irony was that the man who was so offended by our old car was a car mechanic. He fixed old cars for a living! We would have given it to him if he had just asked for it.
Being already painfully aware of the fact that we were not acceptable to the majority of our neighbors, having been pointedly left out of several neighborhood parties, well I just felt hurt. “Abby you need to wear a jacket,” I repeated myself. Her little chin thrust forward, eyes glowered “No I don’t” I won’t wear it.” I am sure that my unease with our lack of financial wear with all compared with the relative wealth of our peers was influencing my determination to have Abby put on the jacket. At least she had a jacket, it wasn’t a new jacket but it would do. I was conscious of the fact that I was already suspect by the other mothers in the neighborhood. “Abby put on the Jacket. It is cold outside.” I’m not going to and you can’t make me.” I don’t know what her rationale was. I’m fairly certain that it was sensible to her, as I have since found her, to have sound, although original thinking, when it comes to reason. Probably some kid had dissed her jacket the day before. I was not then in a state to understand, nor give credence to her originality however. It was a fight I chose to pick out of wounded pride. “Abby you need to put on the jacket if you want to go to the bus stop.” Well it rapidly devolved from there and I abruptly, without warning, let go of that thread that I had been clinging to and kicked her in the shins and she put on the jacket.
She marched out the door without another word to me and I broke down and cried. The rest of the day I cried and felt thoroughly ashamed of myself. I felt literally as if I had sunk to the level of an out of control five year old, which I had. I’d lost control. I’d never lost control with Abby before, no matter how she had tested and tried my metal. I had always withstood the fire of her personality. I had always won the battle with quiet strength and purposeful reserve. This time I had won the battle but lost the war. The rest of the day I sank into a sea of sorrow. All day I called out to my God not asking for forgiveness, but rather telling Him over and over that I wished that He was real and that He could just come down to me and hold me in His arms and give me a hug. I felt as if I was a five year old myself and that I was desperately in need of a hug. “I just wish You were here and You could give me a hug.” I must have said that to God a hundred times that day. The weight of my failure weighed heavily upon me and increased as the day wore on. How could I have done that? How could I have kicked Abby?
About mid-day, a friend of mine dropped by. I can’t even recall her name now. She was a little older than me and we had been in a Bible study together. She came upon me in the throws of my self-recrimination, and I confessed my crime almost immediately. Her eyes widened a bit. I’m sure she was shocked at my deplorable lack of motherly restraint! She prayed over me as I continued to lament my sin. She said to me, “Louise there is a healing service tonight at Fatima Shrine. I think you should come.” So I did. Fatima Shrine is Catholic community over in Holliston MA that would periodically host healing Masses. I wasn’t too familiar with them but knew I needed help and I am not one to turn down help from whatever quarters it may be offered. So later that night my friend came by and picked me up. I was a little nervous and feeling a shameful sense of guilt. After the Mass, there were prayer stations set up around the church with lay people dressed in white robes. They were praying over anyone who wanted prayer.
I got in Mr. Kerr’s line because I knew him from my church in Medway. He was a kind man. As I walked up to him I reached out, still feeling as if I had somehow strangely morphed into a very little girl. He wore around his neck a big wooden cross and without thinking I took his cross in my hands, my head down and eyes wet. “Do you like my Cross?” He said in a sing songy sort of voice, for all the world sounding as if he were talking to a five year old. I nodded silently and responded in a tiny voice, “Yes.” “I got it when I went to Medgorje” he continued. “Oh” I said and then he surprised me. “Louise God gave me a message tonight before I came here. I didn’t know who it was for, but I think it is for you.” I looked up from his cross, which I had still been grasping onto like a lifeline, and stared in the eyes. “God wants you to know something . . . “You know how when at the consecration, the priest holds up the Eucharist?” I nodded. “Well you know how the Eucharist goes around?” Then Mr. Kerr extended his arms above his head imitating a priest, and he made his forefingers and thumbs join together in a circle as if they were a host held high. Then he began rocking them back and forth, touching forefinger-to-forefinger and thumb-to-thumb, “Well God told me to tell you that those are his arms and every time you receive Him in communion He is putting his arms around you and giving you a hug.” TRUE STORY
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Source and Summit
(Source) the place where something begins
(Summit) the highest point, level or degree
I’ve scaled some very small mountains, and hiked some higher cliffs without actually reaching the summit but even those climbs were grueling for an untrained out of shape mother type.
Many years ago, I ‘found’ Jesus, little understanding at the time, that it was not really me who did the finding at all. It was more of a returning home really after a lengthy vacation abroad. After I ‘found’ Jesus anew and was enlightened to His reality, I really thought my enlightenment was complete and my Christian growth was only a matter of filling in the few blanks remaining of what I didn’t know. I realized how little I did know, and so began my quest to learn everything I could of exactly what I didn’t know!
After my conversion and return to Jesus I found myself firmly in the camp of Protestantism. I had much to protest! Mainly I simply could not understand how I could have missed this new found friend of mine named Jesus, in all of the years I had attended Catholic school and Mass. How was it possible to miss the point so drastically as to miss the point?? I almost immediately realized that my former ‘lost ness’ was clearly the fault of the cold, distant, authoritarian and misleading Catholic Church. This conviction grew at the same rate as the fervor for my newfound love of God grew. It grew as a rival plant in my carefully tended heart, supporting the great conviction of Solo Jesus, me Jesus and the Bible against the world. I watered this plant into a growing suspicion of anything and even anyone ‘Catholic’. I was convinced that the Church was apostate and was leading many astray. I’m sure my mother and father could attest to my strong convictions at that time, and of my insistence of their need to leave the apostate church. It wasn’t long before I developed a firm resentment for things Catholic, distrusting the relationships Catholics had with their Savior. I was certain that they, like myself, had been naively deceived and were living a distant fear-based religion that could not save them, as only “Jesus Saves”. It seems strange to me now that my great love affair with God engendered fear of and almost a hate for the Catholic Church.
To be fair, I was listening then, in my newfound fervor, to many a preacher promoting that very view. My attitude was, I think, more reflective of Peter than Paul. The Apostle Paul gave passive assent, by holding the cloaks of the men stoning Stephen, while Peter, leaping into action, thrust aggressively at the enemy of Christ slicing off the offending ear! Both disciples had fervency, surety, and a strong desire to defend God, but perhaps I was more like Peter in his active pursuit of ‘helping’ God. It is an odd kind of ‘help’ that seeks the destruction of the objects of God’s love. I think it is fairly indicative of the fundamental sin that has plagued our race from Adam’s time. Pride. God must need ME to defend Him, at least that much was clear to me.
How, when and why my heart changed is still a mystery to me. Grace was involved I know, but by whose love and prayers I won’t fully realize this side of the veil. I have come to appreciate the good humor of the original comedian, so to speak. I’ve found that God rather delights in demonstrating to me my innate foolishness, all in good measure, of course. The fervent anti-Catholic fundamentalist Sola Scriptura evangelical has permanently altered into a fundamentally orthodox, traditional old-school Catholic firmly committed and rooted in …… obeying, the Magesterium in all things.
Man that’s weird!
It seems today only the slimmest minority of Catholics actually believe that the “Magisterium in union with the Pope’s” teachings is the authentic voice of Christ, speaking on faith and morals in the world, even though this understanding is the actual “Catholic” teaching. It seems that Catholics willing to follow these teachings are even a smaller slice of the pie. As a protestant I was very comfortable believing what I believed based on what I believed. As a Catholic I have struggled with conscience and reason and understanding on many moral issues, but when all is said and done I have yet to disagree with any official Catholic teaching in the realm of morals or faith whether it be abortion contraception or divorce. This is also the product of a will that has already assented to the claims of Catholicism. The more I’ve investigated when conflict has arisen in my mind, the more I have come to accept and believe. The Church’s positions when clearly understood seem eminently reasonable to me. Now, that is amazing, for someone who is a spiritual knowledge junkie needing the intellectual assent to faith.
I remember a woman I met while I was still a Protestant believer. She and I had just left a bible study at the little congregational church I attended at the time, and as we conversed, she revealed to me that she attended both the Catholic Church and the protestant church. This oddity perked my interest of course and I probed her strange behavior. She responded, “It’s just that the Catholic writings are so much deeper than the protestant offerings.” I wasn’t sure what she meant. I did know that most contemporary Christian books were of the self-help spiritual variety and did leave me also wanting something deeper. I asked her to explain and she shared with me some of her journey. It was a little thing, but being a “thinker type” at least according to a personality test I once took, it explains the staying power of her little comment about the spiritual depth she found in Catholic writings. Around that time a friend introduced me to Thomas Merton, who was a deceased, artistic atheist become Catholic convert, monk and writer. His words opened a world of spiritual thought, depth and pondering to me. No Man Is an Island, Thoughts in Solitude are some of the writings that stimulated within me a growing hunger for even greater depth and richness. I simply consumed his thoughts and although I couldn’t always grasp his exact meanings, I got the gist of his expression and a greater yearning stirred within me. I developed a voracious appetite for reading other Catholic writings, such as the History of the Church by Esubieus written sometime in the early 300’s AD and various other extra-biblical works by the early Church Fathers. It was a journey once begun that led almost directly across the street.
Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, Village St Medway Ma. situated diagonally across and only a stones throw away from my church, the Medway Village Congregational Church hosted a pro-life meeting one evening. I attended. It is difficult to give credit where credit is due in this case, but it is an undeniable truth that National Public Radio aided my reversion back to the Catholic faith. NPR was and had been for several years the source of my nightly fare of information, and as information is what I constantly crave, I listened every night. The subject at hand involved abortion, although that term wasn’t exactly used. It rarely is in polite discussion of the topic. The pro-life movement in today’s vernacular is always coined as either anti-choice (a self-proclaiming bad thing since anyone against choice must be bad) or anti-abortion (two negatives) verses the obviously enlightened position of pro-choice (two positives) the choice being to abort an unborn human, that is. Sometimes the obvious bias in expression is so mainstream in acceptance that even I, a thinker type, am slightly confused about who is who and what is what and who am I. In any case, that particular evening the bias in favor of abortion expressed by the host was so verbally deceptive that my gut and mind revolted suddenly, violently and completely against receiving any more sustenance from such a morally poisoned silo. I have never by ‘choice’ listened again to NPR despite the fact that my husband loves All Things Considered!
I did however begin to seek out avenues supporting the pro-life cause and so a short time later, I became involved with Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, as it alone, of the four churches in Medway, took a stand against abortion and was actually attempting to do something to oppose it. I found there, a few people of moral courage coupled with what I thought was extraordinary kindness and so began a convergence of thought, experience and desire that led in the end to our family’s final walk across the street.
It was five minutes to ten on a Sunday morning. Our two daughters separated John and me in the seat; Sarah age six and Abby age two. Our ‘Church Family’ was just beginning to finally quiet down after a loud and friendly time of warm fellowship when the worship music finally began. John and I glanced at each other as married couples sometimes do, and our eyes locked, communicating an abrupt convergence of thought. He whispered to me “We don’t belong here anymore”. “I Know” I replied in a whisper of my own. What are we going to do?” “I don’t know” Why don’t you take Abby out that door and I’ll take Sarah out the other door and we’ll meet out front.” “OK” was all I could manage, so as inconspicuously as possible I slid out of the row in one direction and made for the basement exit while John headed for the side door. We had been discussing changing churches for a while and had even visited a few. We were considering the Episcopal Church, but john’s feeling was that if we were moving in ‘that’ direction, why not go all the way! I was not yet convinced of the Catholic Church’s validity, the validity of its claims that is. John never cared a jot nor even understood its claims of teaching infallibility. It wasn’t even a consideration to him. I must say that it did become so later on in the living out of those claims! At the time, however and still today, he will declare the same basis for leading us across Village St. and into the ancient Church of Rome. He converted to Catholicism because he wanted to kneel. His grandmother Isabel had arthritic knees and would kneel despite her pain. She was Church of England. John out of deference to his Grandmother’s painful stiff knees simply liked the way Catholics are forever kneeling and how it sometimes hurts.
So, we met in front of Medway Village Church, held the hands of our two young children, and crossed Village St. just in time for the 10:00 am Mass. I closed my eyes, head down and prayed a prayer as we walked across the street. I said, ”Lord I’ll do this but only if what the Catholic Church claims is actually true, otherwise I just can’t and P.S. you’ll have to prove it to me.” I knew that I simply wouldn’t join the Catholic Church if I didn’t believe its claims of authority. I also knew that what the Church claimed required more faith than I actually had. Besides, I really liked the protestant church and I didn’t want to leave it! The people at MWV church had been good to us and I was afraid to leave the ready-made support system we had there. Never the less
Within a month we were on the fast track to officially joining the Mother Church. John was enrolled in the RCIA program for adult converts and I had once again received the sacrament of confession and communion. Father McKenzie was more than a little pleased with our presence in the Church, as there had been a steady flow of parishioners leaving and crossing the road in the other direction. We it seems were rather unique.
One by one my doctrinal doubts came into focus and one by one I became convinced of the “Fullness of Truth” preserved in official Catholic Teaching. As a child the nuns would always say that phrase, in referring to the Catholic Church, and its unique place in Christendom but I never had understood before exactly they meant. My heart was wide open and I wanted only the truth. There was one very important doctrine left that I needed clarified in order for me to fully accept my destiny as a devout Catholic. All of the others made sense to me but for almost seven years I had attended churches in which communion was proclaimed as a symbolic act only. It was indeed, as claimed, in the Protestant churches only bread and Welch’s grape juice, yet now, I was expected to believe that Jesus himself, present in the form of bread and wine, was to be my food. I was receiving, yet I simply didn’t know if it was bread or the flesh of God. It is rather an important distinction. How is one to know for certain such a thing! We were attending Mass for perhaps two months when I began to wonder and question and then to even to worry about it. Before that time I really hadn’t given it much thought. In the bread of life discourse in the Gospel of John 6, Jesus himself declares:
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. And I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” After Jesus declared this seeming absurdity the scripture declares plainly that hundreds of his followers simply abandoned him. They apparently thought He was a madman after all. They understood him to mean a literal eating of his flesh and He did not correct their thinking, He did not assure them that he only meant a symbolic eating…. He allowed them to leave. He let them go. Only the twelve remained and Christ turned to them with the question, “Will you also leave me”? Jesus was neither softening his teaching nor changing it in any way. I instinctively understood when facing my own doubts that The Eucharist is the dividing line, just as those early followers had realized. They said, “This is a hard teaching, who can accept it?’
I too knew that if I could not accept it then I could not remain Catholic no matter how many other doctrines I was coming to appreciate and even to love.
Now to my mini miracle.
I began to dwell on my doubts more and more, especially at Mass. The moment of worship when the priest raises the host above all and holds it suspended above the congregation for a second or two longer than is absolutely necessary. That moment demonstrates the historical faith in the sacrament, and I challenged it by my doubts each time I attended Mass. How was I to know? I finally decided that maybe I should be simple about my dilemma and just ask. So that’s what I did. “Lord are you really present or not? I really have to know.”
As a young Child I simply accepted what I was taught about my faith, but my spiritual journey had changed all that. Now I wanted to know. I needed to know. There is another scripture that comes to mind, ‘Seek Me with your whole heart and you will find Me.’ Lord knows I did that. God is interested in the heart. It’s the heart that has the power to love God and accept Him as well as the power to hate Him, reject Him or even simply disregard Him.
It was probably a week or so later when God answered me. It was a bright sunny autumn day and I was chosen to be a chaperone for Abby’s fall field trip to the Big Apple, an orchard located only a few miles away in Mendon. As we waited in the bus for the nursery schoolers to board, my mind was mulling over the day’s expectations. Abby settled down next to me and I put my arm around her. Soon we would be eating apple dumplings or maybe even a candied apple. There was a small turn around in front of our former church, which was the home of “The Good Shepherd Nursery School.” John had carved the school’s sign a few years earlier when the church had begun the ministry and I had done the design. My thoughts were set on the beauty of the day and the happy time I hoped for. As the bus driver made the turn around I was thinking autumn colors and of the apple pie I would bake for dinner. I glanced out the window to my left as we passed Medway Village Church, still daydreaming of fall delights. Then we began to pass Saint Joe’s on my right and I gazed in that direction. We hadn’t quite passed when a very odd thing happened to me. The best way to describe it is by directing you to the image of the Sacred Heart. Jesus, His heart exposed, thorns atop, heart on fire. My heart began to burn. That’s the best way to describe it. It wasn’t a painful burn but it was an intense sensation that was physical, right in my heart. It felt like Love made tangible, physical, as if you could hold it in your hand. The memory of that feeling still resonates in my being although I’ve never felt it again. Remember I spoke earlier of a glance married couples share in a moment of understanding? At the exact moment when I fixed my eyes on St.Joe’s, I felt the burn and I knew beyond doubt that our hearts had joined and that Jesus was telling me of his real Presence in the tabernacle. He said to my heart, it is because “I Am here”. I have never doubted the truth of His Real presence since. It is indeed the source and summit of my faith just as the Church teaches. It is the single reason that I will never leave the safety of the Ark again. How could I? To quote Peter (John 6:67,68) When Jesus asked him, “Will you also leave me?” “Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of life.” Only the twelve remained, all other’s had left Jesus over the “hard” saying regarding eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
Now when I genuflect, upon entering the pew, for the celebration of Mass, I have one consistent prayer on my lips and in my heart. I say, “Thank you Lord for letting me be here. And please don’t ever allow me leave.”
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
When Cats Die
Cats are mysterious creatures. I grew up knowing dogs, not cats and never really appreciated felines nor even liked them. Mostly they annoyed me. Dogs are so understandable, humanlike, man’s best friend as they say. Owning a dog is somewhat like owning a best friend only perhaps a little more satisfying. The dogs we’ve had reflect back love and devotion as a best friend will but without requiring the element of mutual relationship responsibility. If you are a somewhat decent owner it is actually almost impossible to offend your dog. Dogs always forget and return with a smile and hopeful wag of the tail no matter what the offense may have been. Cats on the other hand as any cat ‘owner’ knows are never owned. They deign to allow you to dwell with them and to serve their needs.
Perhaps it is that element of cat ownership or the lack there of, which has revealed the true failing of my spiritual life, and why it has taken me so long to warm up to them, cats that is. Humility, and the lack of mine, has been displayed in my relationship with the intrepid cat. Dogs are humble. Cats are too, demonstrated by the very firmness of their own interior knowledge of their instinctive pre-eminence. Of course being human, speaking personally that is, my innate conceit is challenged by the Cat’s humble superiority.
Foxy was the first cat I learned to like but before knowing her, I knew Tony. Tony was the first cat that lived with us. He was a refugee from a lobster trap found by my husband near the docks in Boston. Tony the cat from Southie, I only tolerated. Upon arriving at work one morning, John heard the feeblest of cries, coming from an apparently abandoned shed and being a cat lover and friend of cats, he had to investigate. He found the tiny kitten barely alive, trapped amidst the dead bodies of its’ siblings in a lobster trap that had indeed done its work trapping. A passing car had hit their mother, leaving Tony the sole survivor, his unfortunate siblings having starved to death.
Of course Tony rode home that day to begin his new life in the suburbs. He was content. I on the other hand, wanted no part of him or any cat. He became, within a short span of time a big old Tom Cat, picking fights with any available other feline. Some body part of his was always bleeding and in need of expensive veterinary care. One time the entire skin of his tail had been ripped down to the tail tip, as if some vicious opossum had clamped down on Tony and recognizing defeat, Tony had simply run in the opposite direction. Amputation was necessary.
He had an incessant and unquenchable hunger that stemmed no doubt from his early experiences of deprivation. I remember one time not clearing the dinner leftovers rapidly enough as Tony managed to devour an entire large bowl of leftover spaghetti, sauce included, before we had even finished our meal. From that time on I recall, cats tripping me, cats on counters, cats in bed with us, cats mad, cats marking territory, usually my husband’s side of the bed, “thank you God for small mercies” and cats with fleas.
Now Foxy… Foxy lived with us for a little over a year and she didn’t live longer than that. We had finally verged into the realm of dog ownership about the same time as we brought Foxy into our family. Humble was the dog’s name. He was a three-month-old Black Labrador retriever. That says it all, if you have ever been ‘mad’ enough to do such a thing as own a Lab pup and kitten at the same time. If you have, you know of what I speak. At that time we had moved from Medway to the beautiful and scenic town of Sutton Ma into a small-antiquated cape on the main throughway to neighorboring Oxford. Our desire was for an antique house and it certainly was antique in certain respects but not in the ways we’d hoped for. The well was surely of the original shallow and hand dug variety and the septic was no doubt in its original form desperately needing updating. The home itself was sadly lacking in original detail, although it was picture perfect from the outside. Our family had grown to three children ages 12, 8 and 4, two
parakeets, Bud and Sky, the puppy and a kitten. The kitten we named Foxy.
Foxy was named for her bright orange coloring and bushy tail. She was foxy indeed, but most importantly, she didn’t annoy me. She ate only cat food, never scratched, and never tried to trip me in an effort to get my attention. I liked her for her mature and undemanding ways. When she became a mother cat I grew to admire her even more. She was firm yet gentle in the mothering of her kittens. Rather than waste time bothering me for her extra nutritional needs, she simply provided for herself. She was a marvelous hunter. And my garden thrived that year, as there was a dearth of small critters eating my much labored over produce.
From the start, she and Humble became the very best of friends. I can remember her leading Humble on wild games of chase throughout our tiny house. One particular time I recall Humble being a rather overweight sixth month old puppy leaping off our newish delicate queen Anne style couch in hot pursuit of Foxy’s tail. I was so proud and pleased with that couch. It was the first couch we had ever bought and it was beautiful. I waited ten years before we could afford to buy that couch. By the way, Humble never could catch her.
That wild and memorable scene still brings a smile to my face, demonstrating how the passage of time can wear down the conceit of even the most resistant cat owner. I had finally learned that I simply could not rule over any cat and perhaps I should accept a cats being a cat and the obvious limitations of my humanity. My reluctant growth in humility and resignation was due in no small part to the instinctual superiority of will of the CAT. If cats were to be part of our life, and John would have it no other way, then a long awaited delicate antique style couch would necessarily be subordinate to the wants of the cat.
It was a bright and sunny early summer day and my girlfriend Ann had just left after a pleasant mornings visit when the inevitable happened. Ann, a cat lover herself, was the one bearing tidings of sadness that day, not joy. She had hardly pulled out of our drive when she returned with the news of Foxy’s sad demise. You see our road had become something resembling a small highway, a trucker’s delight, few if any cops, almost no lights and no stops. “ Louise I think Foxy’s been hit.” she said before I had even finished smiling my surprised re-welcome. “It’s an orange cat.” It’s pretty bad”, she continued. I was going to run out to the road but my oldest daughter suddenly appeared asking what was the matter. She knew something was wrong by my friend’s expression. I called John to investigate and he dutifully grabbed a shovel and wheelbarrow and headed towards the road. Ann said her goodbyes once again and Sarah burst into tears. Technically speaking, Foxy was Sarah’s cat. As I attempted to comfort Sarah our little son made his appearance and with his large worried eyes, he asked the same question. I told him simply that Foxy had been hit by a car and she had died. He promptly burst into tears as well. Sarah’s head was now on my shoulder and Gabe’s little hands were grabbing my leg, both were crying with something like abandon, when our middle child came running outside to join the family gathering. Abby arrived just in time to see her father entering the driveway and pushing the remains of Foxy in the wheelbarrow up the small slope of our drive and into the yard. I turned towards her as she echoed for the third time, “What happened?” As I answered for the third time, I was somewhat relieved, although surprised, that she did not burst into tears as her brother and sister had, rather she stared intensely at the wheelbarrow for a moment, and then spun on her heels and ran swiftly back into the house.
. Perhaps five minutes later, I was still trying to calm the roiling sea of emotions pouring out of both Sarah and Gabe, when I twisted around and saw that Abby had returned. She had a somewhat enigmatic little smile upon her face and exuded a quiet confidence. “Don’t worry,” she said. “It’s O.K.” I questioned her, “What’s O.K.?” She just repeated herself assuring me once again that ”It’s O.K.” “What do you mean Abby” I attempted once more to gain an explanation of what was O.K. “I saw Him,” she said with matter of fact assurance. Then she smiled. “What do you mean? Who did you see?” I asked. “I saw God” she replied. “You saw God?” I queried somewhat doubtingly. “Yes I saw God”, she returned in her pragmatic non-emotional way. “You saw God”, I said once again making a statement that was really only my repeated question. She nodded and continued to smile. Then I smiled in return and asked what any reasonable person would ask, “ Well what does he look like?” She waved her hands back and forth at me rather impatiently, and replied, “Oh you know He’s up in the clouds just what you’d think, He has a white beard.’’ He was in a rocking chair. “Oh really” I replied with some incredulity. “Yes, and in His lap was Foxy and He was patting her.” Then Abby’s eyes grew wider and her sky blue eyes sparkled as the sometimes do. She continued explaining, “I asked Him when I went inside, whether or not, when cats die, ‘Do they go to people heaven or do they go to cat heaven?’ Then her smile grew a little wider still and she nodded saying, “They do. They go to people heaven.” Her smile brightened even more and became as the noon day sun on a summer day.
I couldn’t help but be a little awed by Abby’s ‘vision’ of God, if that ‘s what it was. Truth is, She asked an honest question and she got an honest answer. I don’t know about the theology of Cats and heaven but there is a lot I don’t know. What I do know is that children more than adults, have the gift of clear sight and simplicity and we should follow their example in the realm of faith. Jesus said so. “ Unless you become as a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Several years back I did a painting about this story. My brother owns it today and it’s still one of my favorites. It’s called, When Cat’s Die Do They Go To People Heaven?
If you would like to see it, you can check out my web page highlighted on the full profile page
of this blog site: )
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Day by Day
I’ve been told, that in some rural cultures today, much as in days gone by, different flocks of sheep will graze together in the same pasture. As with most sheep, one looks much like another. Perhaps an exceptionally observant and interested shepherd could tell one lamb apart from another based on its’ natural good looks or a certain twinkle in its’ little beady eyes. I think it is rather a beautiful thing that in such situations, it is the shepherd’s sheep that differentiate themselves from the ‘others’, by their highly developed listening skills. It does bring added value to the Christ’s words when He said, (John 10:27) “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” I really don’t know much of anything else about the art of shepherding but this little sentence does say a lot. When the shepherd calls out to his sheep, in a voice ringing out over a hillside that is filled with numerous different sheep herds, grazing together, spread lightly as a field of softly seeded dandelions across the landscape, I can almost imagine the Shepherd’s flock lifting their heads from the delicious and tender green grass, turning ever so slowly in the direction of the beloved sound, reluctantly perhaps, but with quiet obedience turning home and moving deliberately away from their neighbors towards the direction of their own, shepherding, Voice. They go to the Voice they know.
When I was a child, I remember trying to be close to God, desiring it with fervor and a passion, but with time and experience the desire and sensation began to grow cold. Then God became a rather distant character. I never gave up my belief in His existence, but experiencing Him became an idea rather than an incarnation. I like that word, incarnation because it expresses the down and dirty reality of God, God/man, God incarnate, carne meaning flesh or meat, the meat of man, the meat of God. I think it is an idea that can make us uncomfortable. God made man. Man is dust. God becomes dust, God making dust like unto God. How odd. Some would say crazy
Anyway to return to the subject at hand, which is an Idea vs. an incarnate God. If God is so like us that He can die, surely he can communicate with us? So He says, anyway!
This may seem like a mini miracle or perhaps like a large miracle or perhaps the raving of a mad piece of dust. I guess it just depends on your perspective. There have been many times when I believe that I have heard the voice of God in my life. I began praying in my early twenties. Generally speaking, in order to recognize the voice of a friend or acquaintance you have to hang with him, so to speak be near him, get to know him by speaking together. Spend time in other words. Is it even possible to truly care about someone that you’ve never taken the time to know? Of course you won’t talk to a person that you don’t believe is actually listening in return. If you did, someone might call you crazy. Faith is the prerequisite of course, for without it, a court of law may indeed find you mad! God has faith. Some how or other He has faith in us even when we are oblivious of Him.
When I only believed in God, I never spoke to Him. Since belief became faith however, I’ve never stopped speaking with Him. How I went from belief to faith is still something of a mystery. It is God’s work. I do remember a time in my early twenties, when I was most distressed. More distressed than I can even say. I remember also, ‘the moment’ that I made a decision. I didn’t know at the time that I had just committed to a life of faith in the “God of my fathers”. I clearly recall, after a very intense painful argument with someone close to me, putting my head down on a table, seeing the dimly lit proverbial light bulb shine just enough upon my soul to realize that our relationship had nothing to do with LOVE. At that moment, an inner knowledge of the nature of LOVE was made simple and clear as a cloudless summer sky to me. God spoke silently in a ringing voice, to my heart. I didn’t know it was Him, but I recognized the Voice. I decided then to find real love, if it did exist in this world. When I discovered that it was Christ’s voice that spoke to my heart, I decided to follow and obey, like the sheep that turn to their Shepherd in obedience.
That was the moment for which I must thank my Grandmother Mary Flynn. It was she who convinced my parents to send me to a Catholic grammar school. The cross and Jesus’ dead corpus, hanging upon it, was the dimly lit bulb shining upon my weakened conscience. How much more powerful that image is, than an empty cross. The apostle Paul puts it this way, “but as for me, I will preach Christ and Christ crucified.” Jesus Dead is LOVE! This is the thought or awareness that seeped into my heart that day. It was the Gospel that converted me. Love is all about sacrifice not about having your own needs met. My head down resting out of pure weariness with the life I had created, living according to my own best guess as to how to live, had crushed me. I thank God often for that crushing. I thank Him that he made me weak enough to cry ‘uncle’ at a young age. As is always the case, when it comes to an incarnate God, there is paradox, foolishness and the absurd.
Now to my mini or maxi miracle, depending upon your own view. Three days after I gave birth to our first child, a very beautiful perfect little girl, I was sitting in an antique wicker chair in the back room of our small but cozy apartment in the old family homestead. I was nursing her and wondering how I could love someone so much, someone that I didn’t even know. The feeling was powerful, overwhelming even. It wasn’t based in knowing her at all. I didn’t know anything about her, what she would be like, what her personality would be like etc. I didn’t know anything. As I sat there nourishing this little life from my own body, pondering the intense welling up of LOVE I felt for her, I heard a voice. It was an audible voice not just an impression in my heart. I have on many occasions experienced an impression of God’s voice, the intention of His will. It wasn’t that. He actually spoke to me audibly in my ears of all things! It’s not something we expect, yet if God is indeed incarnate, why not? He does as He wills. These are the exact words I heard that day as I pondered the deep emotion I felt, “This is how I love you Louise”. His voice was gentle calm and manly. It was natural, so natural that I didn’t take note of it for several days afterwards. That probably seems really strange, but if you consider that what we deem beyond the normal is really only perspective once again. From God’s viewpoint our supernatural is His natural!
So, it was perhaps three days later, when I became consciously aware that I had heard the voice of, I believe, Jesus. I’ve never forgotten that grace and do on occasion purposely recall His words to me when I find myself struggling even to hold on to my faith in Him let alone my belief.
Jesus once said, “If your eye is full of light, then your whole body will be full of light.” What began in me as a feeble stream of light emanating from that proverbial light bulb barely able to disperse the darkness of my heart, has gradually matured into a greater light, filling a room, and someday will probably reflect more of the outside summer sunshine. Day by day, that is.
Day by Day
Day by Day
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
A Little God Story Involving a Cat
After five long years of attending St Pius Grammar School, Lynn, MA I finally exhaled. I don’t know how I managed to live so long without breathing. The day I resumed oxygenating my body and adding my spent breath (co2) to the world’s future global climate change crisis was the day I first encountered Mr. Tom DiLorenzo, 6th grade teacher, room opposite Miss Pallidino, who was my own homeroom teacher. She was rather an aloof woman with very big blond teased hair kept in the style of many children’s drawings at the time, large on top and then swooping out below the ears like two waves rushing skullward from the sea . There were all of two sixth grade classes in my particular Catholic grammar school, perhaps a total of 50 sixth graders and we would exchange classes for the various subjects. I don’t recall what Mr. D. taught me academically but I do recall his kind smile and gentle ways. Somehow or other I knew that my fearful little heart and ego was safe when in his presence. Up until that day I was firmly gripped by an unspoken, unknown fear of the authority figures that surrounded me at St. Pius, personified by the somewhat menacing black robed nuns and priests. In those days many nuns wore the full habit and only their faces were visible, not even a wisp of hair on their fore heads in sight. The priests seemed to me to be of a different species entirely and my intimidation up until meeting Mr. D had been complete.
Mr. DiLorenzo, today is Father Tom DiLorenzo. He was my first experience of love, outside of the family structure, love given in the form of simple kindness and compassion. He didn’t yell. He taught us songs. C O F F E E coffee is not for me, it’s a drink some people wake up with, and that it makes them nervous is no myth! So thanks to their coffee cup they can’t give coffee up! I wish I could hum the melody for you as it does stick. Of course there also was the obligatory Kumbayah my Lord and Bridge Over Troubled Waters. The seventies you know.
You’re probably wondering when the cat enters the cast of characters in this tale. I’ll just skip my angst ridden teen years and my dramatic conversion or rather reversion to my childhood faith returning that is after my many wanderings in the valley of the shadow.
Leaping into late summer 1986, I was a young mother of our first child, a daughter of about two years old. Our little family lived in a quaint old-fashioned town in mid MA. Called Medway. We were never quite sure where it was medway to. Perhaps medway between Boston and Worcester, or maybe Boston and Providence? In any case the area was idyllic small town America and hope and youth were restless in my heart.
That morning I was driving along the main route through town, route 109 to be exact, when I saw a cat by the side of the highly trafficked road staring anxiously across the sea of cars. As the poor thing looked nervous and confused, I offered a prayer for its protection. I still pray for all little creatures that look lost and confused having been one myself on too many occasions. Anyway, the cat abruptly made its decision and dodged headlong into the morning traffic. Somehow it safely reached its destination amidst only a few swerving vehicles. I am always curious as to why small animals wish to go to the other side with so much determination and courage, to the other side of where? Do they even have a clue?
As it was my habit then and now, to listen to talk radio, I switched on the local Christian radio station. In Season and Out of Season was the show that I listened to that day. I believe it is still on air today, over twenty years later. It was Father Tom Dilorenzo’s show, 15 minutes of faith and passion offered over the airways to the listening ear and yearning heart. I say passion because I still remember His words spoken to me that day, as if he were actually present to me, even though it was almost 22 years ago. After his stirring talk, Father Tom continued his efforts to persuade the listener, “You have the Life of God within You!” TODAY you must ask God to bring someone to you that you can pour that life into!!!! Well, driving along busy route 109, baby strapped safely into the car seat behind me, I complied. I eagerly, ardently, fervently, and with my eyes hopefully still open, obeyed Father’s command and pleaded those very words aloud, “God bring me today someone that I can pour your life into!” Then, unexpectedly the sound of the In Season and Out of Season ending melody intruded on my fervent appeal to the Almighty, and then Father Tom’s daily exhortation abruptly ceased and then another voice suddenly replaced Father Tom’s with another, I’m certain, very valuable message. Never the less, still, gripping my steering wheel, a bit tighter than was probably was necessary, I repeated my appeal.
Several hours later, dinner was in the oven cooking and I was waiting for my husband to return home from the studio. “Come on Sarah we’ll take a little walk before dinner”. Feeling the need to get outside and breathe in the fresh air I took her little hand and we walked together down to the end of the road. It was a rather lonely time in my life. We lived in a great neighborhood yet we didn’t fit in. John was a fine artist, and sculptor but we struggled to pay for the simple basics of life. There were no vacations, no dinners out, and more importantly in middle class suburbia, no money for home improvement! Only the oldest of old cars graced the Winant dirt driveway. We lived gratis, in an old family house that was in great need of updating and repair and I am quite sure, that it was considered the neighborhood eyesore. Property values were on the rise after all!!!
It was a dead ended cul-de-sac, a perfect neighborhood for young children but although there were some younger families, for the most part, it was the older generation that befriended us. They remembered Nanny and Bessie and Earl and Harold and for their sake the older folks were always kind to us. I also had the added grace of working for the town’s elderly drop in center and many of the old timers remembered and were friends with the Winants. The connections to the past and the town’s history helped me to feel a sense of belonging even though I had no close friends near my own age.
That particular evening, I was just glad to have gotten out of the house and was feeling a simple joy in holding my daughters hand as we strolled. We were headed back home, when a small red Renault rolled down the street in a seemingly deliberate crawl. As the driver pulled up beside us she leaned her head out the window and questioned me, accompanied by a worrisome frown, slim smile and a heavy French accent. “Did you see
My cat?” She was a dark haired petite woman probably in her forties. “Did you lose your cat? What does it look like?” I asked “Well”, she replied, “He is white with golden brown patches. I cannot find Him. I have been looking all over.” As she continued her description I had a sudden visual memory of her cat! She was describing what seemed to be the very cat that I had prayed for earlier that morning, the same cat that I had prayed for earlier in the day. “ I did see your cat I exclaimed! I prayed for your cat.” “ She responded, “You saw my cat? You prayed for my cat? Where did you see my cat?” To be quite honest up until that moment I had completely forgotten the incident and even forgotten my fervent prayer to the Almighty to bring someone my way that day to “pour His life into”, as Father D had demanded I do. You dear readers, no doubt, see the obvious alignment, yet at the time I still didn’t. I thought hard, but simply could not exactly place where I had actually seen the cat. I thought perhaps a mile or two down route 109.
My natural Inclination no matter what the problem appears to be is to ask God for help. I can only chalk it up to the fact that I recognize what a weak and foolish creature I am and how much I need help most of the time and about most things. So I immediately asked her if she prays. She told me that she asks St. Anthony to find things for her. Quite an aside, I often ask his help these days and am amazed at his stirring ability to find my many and sundry lost items… As my Saintly Aunt Mary says to me, He is a wonderful man”. I said to my little French friend, “I liked to Pray to Jesus.” And she questioned, in all sincerity with her heavy French accent, “Do you think He is more powerful?” “Oh yes,” I said He is God.” Then I asked her if she would like me to pray with her for the return of her cat. So there we were, she, still sitting in her little red Renault, me standing, holding her hand joining our intentions in request to the God above all, to please return her cat. It wasn’t until later that day after dinner that I realized the prayer I had prayed because of Father DiLorenzo had been answered in a most delightful way. What was even more striking was the fact that I had seen and prayed for her cat even before I had made my own request to God.
A small addendum. About a month later I was attempting to expand our social acceptance in the cul-de-sac suburban neighborhood and asked one of the younger families to stop in for coffee and dessert after dinner one night. As we, sat and exchanged trivialities my neighbor suddenly broke the continuity of the conversation with a question, “Louise do you remember praying with a woman that her cat would return”? Well she works with me at the hospital and she just wanted me to tell you that it did.”
Small animal stories to be continued . . . .
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Tuesday, I stopped into the neighboring Catholic Church in the town next to where I live. When I told my husband this story he insisted that I write it down and share it with others. He’s been urging me for years to start a blog of, as I call them, mini miracles or M&M’s. A dear friend of mine once coined the phrase. I’ve found that once you breech the subject of mini miracles, it is surprising how very many of them are happening in so many lives. So here goes...
I often stop in St. Brigid’s Church to “Make a Visit” as it’s called, in Catholic old time circles. Usually I first detour to the ladies room for a handful of tissues, as I rarely make it through a visit without losing a lot of fluid, at least lately, that is. There was a time five or so years back when I would visit the tabernacle just to be close to the Lord, to pray and secretly sing songs to Him. I say secretly, because I would never have presumed to sing singularly and publicly with a voice as off key and weak as my own. I figure since He made my voice, He’ll just have to put up with hearing it. The last several years my visits to Jesus are more out of need than joy or longing.
So, on Tuesday I made direct route to the bathroom for a generous supply of tissues, which I clasped firmly in hand and then headed for the pew as close to the tabernacle as I could get. Upon entering the sanctuary, I heard the loud echoing sound of the industrial vacuum strapped firmly on the Back of Owen. Owen is the all round maintenance man at St. Brigids but I remember him very well from earlier days, when he performed a similar service for the other Catholic Church in town known as Our Lady of the Assumption, the French connection, St Brigids being strictly the Irish parish at that time in the mill town's immigrant past. I used to faithfully exercise over there with a group of other mothers whose children also attended Assumption grammar school and I recognized him immediately. He is an older man, perhaps in his seventies and has a still heavily Scottish brogue of sorts. He used to teach self-defense and if I’m not mistaken has a black belt in Karate. He is a rather large man who still emanates a manly and youthful strength despite his years, and as I waved, I caught his eye.
In consideration of Owen’s presence, I steeled myself to a greater self-control over any copious overflow of emotion a “ visit” to the tabernacle usually elicits from me. I set out to pray my usual pleadings and lamentings before God but the roar of the vacuum was building as Owen made his way slowly and surely closer to the altar area. I was having real trouble concentrating. Lately, St. Brigids is not the place to visit if you are seeking solitude with God. There is always somebody else around, construction workers, Owen or the Devout Ladies dusting the sanctuary.
The reason I still go there is a combination of convenience and beauty. Since the new pastor took over the shepherding of the St Brigids flock two years ago many changes have come to the parish workings, I’m sure not all are either appreciated or desired. This seems always to be the case when a new pastor is assigned. The most obvious change is to physical structure itself. The bell tower is gone, to the removal cost of what must have seemed an exorbitant sum of money, no doubt dwarfed by the estimated cost of a bell tower repair. The change inside the sanctuary, however, is what draws me on occasion to St. Brigids, rather than to my own parish church. Since Father L’s receiving the pastorate, the inner church has been transformed into a place of real beauty that would indeed encourage prayer if only there was a little more quiet available, which, I have almost no doubt, there will be, soon, as the construction is nearly complete!
Anyway, I finally gave up my attempt, at least for the moment, to convince God of the justice and need of my wishes, desires, prayers etc… and as Owen approached me with his vacuum now a loud echoing roar, I smiled a small greeting. He responded by shutting off the vacuum and returned to me the semblance of a smile and said “How do you like it?” His Scottish accent added a certain mystery to the question. “It is beautiful” I replied, “I love it”. He seemed gratified and moved a bit closer to me, standing, vacuum strapped on his back, looking for all the world as if it were an oxygen tank supplying needed breath. Then he said something completely outside the realm of my expectations. Something about something he did when his daughter was killed, and then he commented on the paint colors that Father and he had chosen for the new sanctuary design. My mind and attention was still on the beauty of the their combine efforts when I seemed to recall, as if it were a past fact of my own history that he had said the words, “When my daughter was killed.” I wasn’t quite sure in fact; if indeed he had said that. I frowned inside and probably outwardly as well, feeling perplexed and confused. I don’t know where his conversation went from there as my mind was suddenly in disarray. A moment later I interrupted him and asked plainly, “Did you say your daughter was killed”? “Yes” he said, “Three years ago. She was 46”. My mind raced from his words to the fact that on my Birthday, this Sunday I will be 49 and that means I was also 46 when Hugh’s daughter died. We were the same age. The sudden and odd exit from my somewhat complaining, meditative prayer time to my inherent and sometimes driven need to understand, coupled with a certain lack of tact prompted me to ask him directly what had happened; how she had died?
Owen, must just have needed to speak of his daughter’s death that day, or perhaps my presence and the similarity of our ages had prompted the disjuncted statement about his daughter’s death. She was killed, murdered during the same news cycle, as when Katrina hit the U.S. coastline, which somewhat explains my lack of memory on this particular rampage. The story is one of those tragedies that anyone paying attention at the time, would have to remember, like Waco or Colombine. A madman had entered a Texas church and opened fire on the local pastor killing both him and the deacon who was also present. The killer then left in a rage and began a tour of the town shooting wherever and at whomever he wished. Hugh’s daughter, an accomplished horsewoman, her trailer full of horses, was enroute with a friend that day, to some horse event or other, when a man drove past her vehicle shooting wildly at them. After he had passed, she got out to check on the safety of her horses. He must have seen her in his rear view mirror and spinning around and headed towards her. He shot her in the back, killing her, and then proceeded to shoot her girlfriend several times finally shooting her in the forehead and leaving her dead in a ditch. As I write this, a vague distant memory returns to me of seeing this story on the news that fateful day three years ago.
Owen finished his story, telling me that the killer, holed up in his home with the police surrounding him, ended the ordeal by shooting himself. “It’s a good thing he did. Or I would have killed him and then I’d be in prison today. I couldn’t have let it go”. I don’t know what I said in response to his words, perhaps because I didn’t say anything. When we see these tragedies displayed almost as commonplace crimes on the nightly news, they simply do not have the same impact as when speaking to an actual victim of such a grave, evil and seemingly senseless crime.
I asked Owen what his daughter’s name was and told him that I would pray for her. He thanked me and responded, “That’s what they want me to do. Pray.” Again I was without words. He began reminiscing, and asked me if I used to exercise at Assumption Church having recognized me from there. I was actually surprised that he remembered who I was. I always remember a face, but am surprised when someone actually remembers mine. He told me that when his daughter died he had decided to retire from Assumption, but within a very short time span, the diocese of Worcester had contacted him requesting that he work for the new priest at St. Brigids. He replied with a certain characteristic aggressiveness, “If I like him I’ll work for him if I don’t, I won’t.”
And so the Non-praying Scottish black belt, ex-retired maintenance, construction, worker turned interior design and lighting consultant and all around get it done man at St Brigid’s, has been working almost nonstop since his daughter’s death. He has been implementing Father L’s vision for meditative worship, turning what was an average church experience into a place of richness and harmony. Beautifying the place of worship and sacrifice where God incarnate visits His people, a place where I go to visit with Him and sometimes with those He brings my way, a place to unburden my soul, pleading my hopes and desires for my loved ones and for their needs. When Father L. invited his non-praying all around handyman to Christmas Mass, Owen questioned Father, “Do you know anybody else who has spent more time on his knees in church than me”? Why should I go to Mass? After all, Owen assured me that he and his son had raised the altar themselves, rebuilt the flooring and personally tiled the sanctuary, and all that during the sweltering heat of last summer. “ I’ve spent more time than any other man I know on my knees in this church”. Never the less, this past Christmas found Owenn present and accounted for, front row, in full Scottish Regalia, Kilt and all while his wife and daughter sang in the choir. I see God’s hand and love at work in Owen’s life and although I cannot account it a supernatural work of God It strikes me more as a miracle of the natural where God in his mercy does as Jesus said. “Your Father in Heaven knows what you need” P.S. Thanks be to God , Owen isn't in prison : )