Legend

[this TØP-inspired post dedicated to the Shuttle–Maria, Catherine, Sydney, Ashley, Nina, Swan and Daniela!:)<3]

You were one of those classic ones
Traveling around this sun
You were one of those classic ones
I wish she knew you
You were one of those classic ones
Now everybody knows
You were one of those classic ones, yeah — Twenty One Pilots

My grandfather, Pop, who was 99 when he died 11 years ago, is a legend in my mind. “One of the classic ones.” A tough, scrappy and world-wise man with cauliflower ears from his boxing years, and an immense heart for his grandchildren. He and Nana were married for 76 years. In my world, they were a defiant lighthouse, a steady axis, an immovable rock, a harbor of refuge that had resisted the relentless pounding of life’s storms.

In their lifelong embrace, my peace.

I remember the first few years after we were married, Patti and I would call Nana and Pop fairly regularly. They would always be on the phone together, and would playfully tease each other relentlessly throughout the conversation. Pop would wax eloquent sharing aphorisms or telling family stories, while Nana would intermittently engage in a “fact check.” To him, she was “doll,” and to her, he was “dad.”

Once, when Patti and I went up to Walpole, Massachusetts to visit them with our two toddler sons, we sat with them in their condo for several hours talking about the early years of their marriage in the late 1920’s. All the while, our boys crawled onto and off of their laps. The lunch we shared together that day was a sacramental experience Patti and I will never forget. The next time we visited them, they were together in an Alzheimer’s care facility, unable to recognize us. Yet somehow, Pop still called Nana “doll.”

In the memory of their marriage, my heart finds a spacious world in which I can dream of my wife and I also joyfully living and loving long.

Pop wrote me 26 handwritten letters between 1986 and 1996, pages filled with his hard-won wisdom about everything from friendship to faith to family to failure. They are pearls of great price, and a testament to an age when parents and grandparents considered it a noblesse oblige to pass on wisdom within the family from generation to generation. May my wife and I do the same.

As I recently re-read Pop’s 1995 letter to us, sent just before our wedding, these were the lines that leapt off the page. Reading them, my heart overflows with emotion. May Pop and Nana dance together for us in the wedding feast of Paradise.

….in the end you realize that nothing is greater in life than love. But only the love stronger than death, not the glitter of passing sentiments, will keep you together here and beyond the grave.

Tom and Patti, if I have one credo which epitomizes my philosophy of confrontation with the fortuities of life and the species homo sapiens, it is this little Serenity Prayer. I have carried it in my billfold for over 50 years. It is yellow with time and usage:

“God, give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.”

This recapitulates in a few words all the tomes on philosophy ever since Thales. Make it the motto of your marriage.

…to you we bequeath our heritage, our fidelity and reverence for each other and our gratefulness to God for bringing us together. We know He has never shed one tear of regret!

We love you both,
Nana and Pop

My Blood

Last night we had a dear friend over for dinner. He made dinner for us. Served us. What a gift that is, such a humbling gesture of generosity. The simple joys of life and friendship are what give life a soul.

Over dinner, our son Nick, who is getting his B.S. in physics, was sharing insights into the wave-particle theory of light he was learning about in his Quantum Theory class. Absolutely fascinating, though 95% of it was likely out of my field of vision. After dinner, we treated our guest to some of the music from Twenty One Pilots’ new album, Trench. Among other songs, we watched TOP’s music video My Blood. It’s a stunning story-song about a child who had to develop ways to cope with his life’s hardships…

As the evening wore on, Maria and Ashley practiced some music with my wife, Michael came home from a day at the beach with his girlfriend, and Catherine came home from her play practice and we studied for a Religion test. My my, I work mightily to drink in the beauty of these days of our life as a family, as I know they will soon pass away, as they all must. Into something new.

Though passing, they live on alive in my memory, especially at night.

…I went to bed, praying in thanksgiving for these graces. Too many to count. In the middle of the night I awoke to a flooding downpour. I love a rainy night. As I watched it fall powerfully in the absolutely still air, with a steady roar, I remembered some painful and frightening scenes from my childhood. Not certain why. Maybe the video of My Blood had filled my mind. I recalled my “older brother” who had shielded me from some of the harder blows life had for me. An elusive friend, a nearby brother.

I could see dimly in these moments of pouring remembrance what I had not imagined before: a child searching about in Christ-haunted shadows.

My Brother, with me. Now I see.

Yet I did not know Him, with me. Do we really ever? Only in memory of. Especially those endless hours I spent alone out in the deep woods.

Jesus said: “Split wood, I am there.
Lift up a rock, you will find me there.” — Gospel of Thomas saying 77b.

Deo gratias.

Worshipers of the cross

[re-post from 2015]

Oh, my Lord! How true it is that whoever works for you is paid in troubles! And what a precious price to those who love you if we understand its value. — St. Teresa of Avila

I remember well the day I spent an afternoon, one summer eight years ago, speaking to a priest from south Sudan about the plight of Christians during the Sudanese civil war. He was a very intelligent, yet unassuming man. Fr. Hilary, I think his name was. The stories of faith and tragedy were overwhelming, and certainly made all my problems shrink down into insignificance.

But it was at one point in the conversation, when he casually made a side remark, that I was, as my kids say, “slayed.” He said (as I recorded in my journal later),

Once when I came to celebrate sacraments in a village that had just been sacked by the Muslims, a leading man in the village came up to me and pointed forcefully to my pectoral crucifix, saying, “Now there is a God I can worship.” And we proceeded with Mass.

To the Muslims, naming us “worshipers of the cross” is an insult and blasphemy. To us it is a blessing and honor.

To us, faith makes trouble, and makes all troubles chances to live our faith of the cross. We persevere because God is with us. The one who worships a God on the cross is never surprised by any trial that comes his way, because he knows the cross is the Way. Anyone who says, “Oh, why do these things happen to me?” has forgotten this.

Marriage: The Real Presence

Today’s our 23rd wedding anniversary. ❤ ∞

In the absence of time to write, I will post a reflection I wrote long ago, but never posted. Really, it only repeats what I have tried to say in a thousand ways here.

+ + +

I’m searching for a sign,
been looking way too high.
Heart in the trenches,
head in the heavens — BØRNS

Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect — Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes

In Judaism and Christianity, one thing is exceedingly clear: God wishes to be loved principally in and through the neighbor. Period.

God sealed this by Himself becoming human, thereby making it, in a quite literal sense, impossible to love Him except in and though — and never apart from — human beings. And so the God-Man says, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). This means that the Christian never seek fulfillment in “God alone.” To enter into the “union of love” with God is, of necessity, to enter into union of love with humanity, i.e. with the real people around you. Especially the ones hardest to love.

This is precisely the meaning of 1 John 4:20:

If any one says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.

Marriage is the most extreme and radical form of neighbor-love in all of creation, as you promise the entirety of yourself to one human being, pledging on your wedding day to set out on a journey to become one body-mind-spirit with your spouse. Pope Benedict affirmed that “marriage is a union for the whole of life, until the man and woman become one spirit as well.” From a biblical perspective, that affirmation is breathtaking. The spirit is the deepest depth of the human person, our capacity for union with the infinite God — “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Cor. 6:17).

And so I am invited to share with my wife my most intimate union with God in the depths of my spirit. For Patti, I renounce all “private property,” from my body (1 Cor. 7:4) down even into the spaces of my secret depths, my spirit. I am not my own. My very union with God is hers, and hers is mine (1 Cor. 7:14).

“What God has joined man must not divide” (Mark 10:9) refers not just to a contractual agreement to remain together as a couple for a whole lifetime. It is a covenant “yes” to Christ, whose Spirit desires to be the bonding force of our one flesh, one mind, one heart and one spirit. The “joining” is not just of the spouses to each other, but of both to God.

Which is why we chose John 17:21-27 as our nuptial Mass Gospel:

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you,
may they also be in us,
so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
The glory that you have given me I have given them,
so that they may be one, as we are one,
I in them and you in me,
that they may become completely one,
so that the world may know
that you have sent me and have loved them
even as you have loved me.

To me, though, what is most magnificent of all is that this high vocation to such a mind-bending depth of mystical marital unity is not some sweet and sappy pious fantasy for the very few couples who get along famously or spend their date nights at Holy Hours. No! It’s for any couple, or even any one spouse, willing to daily hand over to Christ the indestructible resolve to love through all of the joys and heartaches, dances and arguments, ecstasies and agonies; the fun, funny, irritating, drab, dreary, dreamy, energizing, exhausting moments that pulse at the heart of real marriage and real family. That’s the stuff of real union.

Why? Because Christ’s journey to the union of love with His spouse — the human race — was marked by joys and heartaches, dances and arguments, ecstasies and agonies; the fun, funny, irritating, drab, dreary, dreamy, energizing, exhausting moments. Because of this — what a relief! — Patti and my marriage-family potpourri gets caught up into divine love — paschal love — and serves as our royal road to union with God.

Wherever the Real Presence is, there is reality, redeemed.

 

“Bear one another’s burdens” — Gal. 6:2

“Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.”

Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character. — St. Isaac of Syria

When I was growing up, there was a woman named Muriel Vassett who, along with her husband, was very close to my father and mother. Mrs. Vassett, as we called her, was a second mother — a godmother — to me. She was exceedingly kind, generous, compassionate and passionately in love with Jesus. She taught in a Catholic school and donated her salary to families who could not afford tuition. Yeah, she was that radical.

I could tell a thousand stories about the impact she had on countless people. She died in 1991, and I miss her terribly.

When I was in high school, in part no doubt because of the chaos of my home life and the influence of friends, I rejected with a passion my Catholic faith and its entire moral vision. As I have shared here before, while in college I underwent an absolutely unsought, heart-rending conversion experience that led me in an entirely new direction as my life was, like a lightning strike, seized by Christ.

About four months after my change of life, I went to visit Mrs. Vassett to share with her my newfound faith, knowing she would appreciate it. She had just (miraculously) recovered from a 3 year agonizing decline in health after a series of massive heart attacks. That is a story in itself. After I sat with her and shared my whole story, which made her stream tears, she said, “I have something to tell you.” She said,

When I found out from your mom that you had stopped going to church, heard from your brother the way you were living, I began to pray that God would give me a cross for you to bring you home. I asked the same for several others as well. Soon after, I developed my heart condition. I offered it for you.

I was, and am to this day, unable to say anything remotely adequate in return. I was flushed with a deep sense of humility. And at that moment, what I had previously seen as the unsought grace of my conversion now appeared as sought. By her. She said to me, “Remember that nothing you go through in life is every wasted when you let go and let God use it.”

Every day when I awaken, I try to remember that my whole life is bundled in a debt of gratitude to countless people, mostly unknown, whose God-filled labors and love, prayers and suffering sustain me. And I try to recall that any burdens I bear are, in the mystical matrix of grace, supreme opportunities to lighten the (hidden) burdens of others.

Make of my life, O Lord, an intentional repayment of my infinite debt, in the manner St. Paul counsels in Romans 13:8:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

May I have the courage to spread my cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them. And if I cannot take the fault on myself and accept punishment in their place, I will not destroy their character. Spe salvi.

“Tell her that you will do it, because you can”

In Christ, and according to his example and no other, the Christian assembly is obliged to do its best. It was in the doing of his own best that he laid down his life for the life of the world –- not in cynical disgust or in limp passivity before the Human Problem, but for those of those who caused the Problem in the first place. His Church can do no less. The Church doing the world as God means it to be done in Christ is the greatest prophecy, the most powerful exorcism of all. — Fr. Aidan Kavanagh

I gave a talk last night on Baptism. I had worked on the notes for weeks, trying to decide what to say. The problem I always have is there is so much to say, and I am simply not good at choosing among the alternatives. Worse, after I finally get my notes sorted out, when I give the talk it comes out as entirely something else. A.D.D., I guess.

In any event, after my talk I went into the Chapel to give thanks. As I sat there, I was overwhelmed by an awareness within me of the energy, the dynamism, the vitality — I don’t know how to say — of divine life. Aware that Baptism made my body a tattered Tent for the Spirit to indwell. Such a real-time sense is overwhelming, disconcerting.

Then the image of the Spirit as pure bubbling water flooded my mind, and the sense that He was awaiting my Yes to allow Him to gush out into the deserts of the world around me — without my causing it, not knowing where it comes from or where it is going. I thought of Ezekiel 47:

Then [the angel] brought me back to the entrance of the temple; there, water was flowing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east.

Then of John 7:

Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.

And then of the words of St. Ignatius of Antioch that I have long loved:

…within me is the living water which says deep inside me: “Come to the Father.”

I thought of how this beckoning (a taste of the reditus of all creation!) was not an invitation for me to escape this world and fly off to the Father, but a call to permit the Father entry into our world of orphans — allowing His Fatherhood a free sacramental space within me. First, by allowing Him to adopt me, to love me as His son, so I can worthily join the Son in saying, “he who sees me sees the Father” (John 14:3).

All of this swirled in me, and was made complete when I heard these words:

You received without payment; give without payment. — Matt. 10:8

And then I remembered this news story from last year. This is why we are baptized…

Pause

Well, the week upcoming is daunting, so I will predict a full week respite from my daily Inbox invasions.

Let me leave you with a new TØP song, rejecting suicide as a choice-worthy option for dealing with life’s pain. And even more, rejecting the culture of glorifying (“neon gravestones”) suicide. As Tyler sings,

our culture can treat a loss like it’s a win … no

I love TØP.