We need

“The Good Samaritan,” Vincent van Gogh 1890. wikiart.org

Dear Synod Fathers:

As you debate and discuss, reflect and pray over the state of marriage and family life in our world, I simply ask that you keep before your mind’s eye the truly revolutionary vision of the Council given to the lay faithful: “All the faithful, whatever their condition or state, are called by the Lord, each in his own way, to that perfect holiness whereby the Father Himself is perfect” (LG 11).

The Council told us, the lay faithful, that our path to perfection and sanctity is tightly woven into the web of secular life, where we find ourselves everyday. There we are called to be salt, light and leaven; consecrators of the world and faithful stewards of the temporal order. It is there, deep in the heart of the world, that we discover our path to union with God and serve — by God’s mercy — as witnesses to a world made new in Jesus.

What we lay faithful need to receive from our shepherds is a clear and inspiring vision of what our world-leavening secular sanctity looks like and how we are to live it out. We especially need you to show us how to embody the Church’s social doctrine in our lives, for in it is our unique spiritual charter that awaits a new “secular” edition of the Way of Perfection. Help us to believe that our Cathedral is the public square, the marketplace, the workplace, the field and the home, and that our daily labors and leisures are the living sacrifices God seeks (Rom. 12:1).

We need to hear from you that all our faithful undertakings in the world are holy; that our dedication to marriage and family life is supremely noble; that ours is the great dignity of gathering earthly material for the heavenly Kingdom (GS 38); that our toils constitute the substance of the priestly oblation you offer in every Eucharistic Sacrifice. We need you to encourage us in the arduous work of building a Christ-culture in an increasingly Christ-less world. We need you to take our calling seriously and challenge us to embrace the truth that we are “called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (LG 40).

In a word, we need you to help us be saints.

Yet we are weak, we falter and we fail. We cry out with St. Paul: “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:24-25).

We need our shepherds to speak to us with the Lord’s own compassionate voice and open to us without reserve the infinite treasuries of mercy that God has entrusted to the Church. That mercy, revealed from the Cross and poured out on Pentecost, was given us by God to heal us, give us a share in the divine life and conform us to the Truth, Jesus Christ.  Mercy, born of a crucified and risen God, gives unfailing hope to all whose lives, this side of heaven, are defined by unresolvable tragedy. Having hope that God-is-with-us in tragedy, and that He brings ultimate good out of a broken world, restrains in us the desire to eliminate tragedy by either destroying tragic lives or by tearing down the moral law that maintains tragic tensions.  As Pope Francis said so eloquently:

God doesn’t intervene to prevent the tragedies and sufferings of life. If we had a god who simply swooped down as some “deus ex machina” to prevent human tragedy and sinfulness, then religion and faith would simply be reduced to some form of magic or fate, and we would be helpless pawns on the chessboard of some whimsical god. Where is God in the midst of human tragedies? God is there in the midst of it all, weeping. This is our God who stands in deep, human solidarity with us, and through the glory of the Incarnation, embracing fully our human condition.

Fathers, we need you to teach us hope and trust in the midst of tragedy; to proclaim a mercy that does not dispense us from the demands of justice, but reconciles us to them; a mercy that does not shade us from the light of truth, but leads us from darkness into its healing rays; a mercy that does not confirm us in our sin, but pardons our sin and strengthens us in virtue; a mercy that does not abandon us to our dark prisons, but leads the captives to liberty; a mercy that does not leave us beaten and bleeding along the roadside, but tends to our wounds and restores us back to health; a mercy that does not indulge our weakness, but suffuses our weakness with Christ’s strength; a mercy that does not overlook our evils, but overcomes them.

Dear Synod Fathers, become for us in this Synod the very mission of Jesus here and now:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19)

Then come out to share with us the good news, lead us into Jubilee and bid us: Go, be sent!

We are praying for you.

7305 Days of Grace

Over the years, I have made it a practice to write journal reflections on marriage around the date of our anniversary. Insights I’d gained during that year. It’s a great gift to look back to see how my thinking has evolved. The priest who prepared us for marriage told us, “Everything you need to know about a happy marriage is in the Nuptial Mass.” Because of that comment, I took up the habit of prayerfully reflecting on various texts and symbols from that Mass. Today I will share with you a selection of my reflections written over the last several weeks as I prepared to celebrate our anniversary.


20 years — 7305 days — ago, at around 10:45 a.m., Patricia and I joined hands.

I said, “I promise.”

She said, “I promise.”

In the play, A Man for All Seasons, St. Thomas More says: “When a man takes an oath, he’s holding his own self in his own hands like water, and if he opens his fingers then, he needn’t hope to find himself again.”

How can I justly extol the gift of a nuptial promise? It is freedom’s noblest act, the oblation of liberty for love.

It safeguards every good in our marriage. Without it, all would crumble. It is a key that unlocks our trust; a safe-space for the exchanging of unprotected hearts; a bond that builds an impregnable fortress; a playground for our children; a sanctuary for our joy; an altar on which we offer our one-flesh sacrifice; a confessional in which we reconcile without fear; a cultivated garden for every imaginable virtue; a cornerstone for civilization.

“I promise to be true to you.”

True. No lies. Honesty. Fidelity. Integrity. Consistency.

Only you. You first. All else comes after you. All loves find their place in service to our love. You are my first way of loving God above all things, and by it I will be judged. I love God best through you and with you. You are the perfection of my vocation to my love neighbor as myself, caritas in extremis. “He who loves his wife loves himself” (Eph. 5:28).

I am loved by God best through you. I can no longer see His Face apart from yours. “He who does not love his [wife] whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20).

You afford me the chance to be forgiven 70 times 7 times, and to forgive, because you’re always there. You know me terrifyingly well, I can’t run away. I know you. Through you, Christ’s power enters my weakness and his grace super-abounds.

You and I, my bride, are co-celebrants of a timeless covenant, a real-time Sacrament, a reconciling liturgy, and a grace-giving icon of the earthy, daily, untidy, holy love of God.

“…in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.”

I say “yes” to all of you — all that you were, are or will become. My promise of love embraces joy and sorrow, rejection and acceptance, failure and triumph, riches and poverty. I will choose to love you again on every waking, and kiss you before falling off to sleep. I will ask of God, who has loved you from all eternity, to place in me His love for you.

I promise to show you honor, in small ways and great, to uphold your dignity and to defend your honor. I will never speak ill of you to others or betray our sacred trust.

I willed these things then. I will them now. I will them to the end. So help me God.

“What God has joined man must not divide.”

Our love, our bond, our unity, our capacity to create life is no possession. Tout est grâce, “All is grace,” and all that is freely received is to be freely given. We are poor stewards, keepers of an unbreakable covenant not of our making that God has so generously entrusted to our safe-keeping for the life of the world. We are an overflowing chalice that holds His Blood-shed, we are a paten on which His Body-broken rests. We are earthen vessels of His promise. In confessing ourselves to be a Sacrament, we renounce all claim to authorship, to power over who we have become, and ask God to write our love story as He wills.

Our prayer, my love, is always to be a grateful act of humbly receiving anew from God each day who we are, seeking His mercy for our failure to be who we are, begging all the while for the grace to become what we have received. May we, O God, become a credible sign to our children and the world that you are faithful, loving, merciful, longsuffering and the lover of mankind.

Every day unfolds God’s laboring to join us, to weave our lives together in unimaginably intricate ways. Through suffering, joy, worshipping, parenting, pleasure, working, dancing, crying, arguing, singing, failing, moving, drinking, trusting, praying, laughing, whispering, repenting, reconciling, walking, yelling, eating, sleeping. Then one day, dying. “Consciousness of self at new and previously unexperienced levels is now discovered and understood by each primarily through the mediation of the other. Their personhood, in all its potentialities, is being realized day by day in their nuptial consubstantiality and oneness with God” (Paul Evdokimov).

My grandfather wrote a long letter to my wife and me before our wedding day, and these words remain for me the most powerful:

From now on, it is up to you, Tom, and you, Patti, to love together, to laugh together, to cry together, to respond together, to be joined together. When one is cut, the other bleeds; when one wants, the other gives. There are no rules;  there are no formulas; there are no singular pronouns. There is no “I,” “me,” “my,” “mine.” Only “us,” “ours.”  I don’t know where Nana begins and I end, or where I begin and she ends…And for over 69 years of oneness, each year has been an exponential factor, a geometric multiplier, that carries our fidelity way beyond the puny magnitude of E=mc2. Long ago we have outscored the dimension of such a feeble concept as infinity.

Someone said to me the other day: “Wow, twenty years. Congrats! How would you sum it all up?”

I said, “Trying to do what I promised.”

Keep us forever faithful, O Lord, for without your grace we fall away into nothingness. Amen.

+ + + + + + +


Poem on our refrigerator

From the Crowning Service of the Eastern Rite of Matrimony:

Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Holy Celebrant of mystical and pure marriage, Maker of the laws that govern earthly bodies, Guardian of incorruption, Kindly protector of the means of life: do You Yourself now, O Master, Who in the beginning created man, and appointed him as the king of creation, and said, “It is not good for man to be alone upon the earth; let us make a helpmate for him‑” then, taking one of his ribs, made woman, whom when Adam saw, he said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, for she was taken out of her man.

For this cause shall a man forsake his father and his mother, and cleave unto his wife, and two shall be one flesh‑” and “whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” And now, O Master, Lord our God, send down Your heavenly Grace upon these Your servants, Thomas and Patricia, and grant unto this woman to be in all things subject unto the man, and to this Your servant to be at the head of the woman that they live according to Your Will.

(+) Bless them. O Lord our God, as you blessed Abraham and Sara. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Isaac and Rebecca. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as you blessed Jacob and all the Prophets. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Joseph and Asenath. (+) Bless them O Lord our God, as You blessed Moses and Zipporah Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Joakim and Anna. (+) Bless them, O Lord our God, as You blessed Zacharias and Elizabeth. Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved Noah in the Ark.

Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved Jonah in the jaw of the sea beast. Preserve them, O Lord our God, as You preserved the holy Three Children from the fire, when You sent down upon them the dew of the Heavens. And may that joy come upon them which the blessed Helen had when she found the Precious Cross. Remember them, O Lord our God, as You remembered Enoch, Shem, and Elias.

Remember them, O Lord our God, as You remembered Your holy Forty Martyrs, sending down upon them the crowns from the Heavens. Remember them, O Lord our God, and the parents who have reared them, for the prayers of parents confirm the foundation of houses. Remember, O Lord our God, the wedding company that here have come together, to be present at this rejoicing.

Remember, O Lord our God, Your servant Thomas and Your servant Patricia, and bless them. Give to them concord of soul and body. Exalt them as the cedars of Lebanon, and as well‑cultured vine; bestow on them a rich store of sustenance, so that having a sufficiency of all things for themselves, they may abound in every good work that is good and acceptable before You. Let them behold their children’s children as newly planted olive trees round about their table; and, being accepted before You, let them shine as stars in the Heavens, in You, our Lord, to Whom are due all Glory, honor, and worship as to Your eternal Father, and Your All‑Holy, Good, and Life‑creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.


In him the hope of blessed resurrection has dawned,
that those saddened by the certainty of dying
might be consoled by the promise of immortality to come.
Indeed for your faithful, Lord,
life is changed not ended,
and, when this earthly dwelling turns to dust,
an eternal dwelling is made ready for them in heaven. — Preface I for the Mass of the Dead 

I am very grateful that my wife’s dear friend, Janet Bradford, was willing to share in this blog her very honest, intimate and moving testimonial about walking the journey to death with her mother, Linda Sue Brazier.

My Mother died September 16 at 3:15 of pancreatic cancer. I had the privilege, along with my four siblings, to do vigil with her beginning Sunday when a hospice bed was brought into my parent’s family room. We all camped out in varying spots in that room — the two reclining chairs, the couch, the love seat and two blown-up mattresses. Dad slept in his bed. I wondered when the last chance was he got to hold Mom? Mom was rarely alone. If she was she was asleep. Even then, someone was always close by. Maybe not in the same room but definitely in the house.

She started the death rattle on Sunday. We didn’t know what it was at first. We had witnessed her throwing up old blood and some liquid bowel. We all wanted to turn on the suction machine and suck it out. But we were cautioned not to do that unless we could see it in her mouth. We later learned it was bodily fluids collecting in the lungs that the lungs couldn’t expel any more. In a way I guess you could say she drowned in her own body fluids.

The early morning hours of the Wednesday she died, somewhere between 2:00 AM and 5:00 AM, we all could not sleep. By then we had been taking turns giving her morphine every two hours, trusting an alarm to wake us up. I believe we thought she would die in the night. We were all busy with our tablets or reading books wide awake yet exhausted. We didn’t want to miss her taking her last breath. The room was spiritually tense. I finally had enough of fighting sleep and knelt beside her saying a rosary — The Glorious Mysteries. When I got to The Assumption of Mary, I had become aware that Mom was living the fruit of that mystery — the grace of a happy death. Peace came to the room. It was almost as if it was the last thing I had to do besides see her die.

I had arranged a few days earlier, with her and Dad’s permission, for her to have the Last Rites and Holy Communion. She had confessed her sins. She even made a profession of faith with one of my now Baptist siblings. She had time with each one of her kids, speaking words of love and affirmation. She was very open to making sure her path to heaven was without any earthly obstacles. She was my model of how to be when dying. Joyful and ready.

All summer long God had been talking to me, telling me how much He loved me. Calling me “my darling,” inviting me to come see Him everyday in prayer, Mass or Adoration. I kept telling everyone it was a summer of mercy and grace. A summer of rest and peace. I had no idea I was being filled up with all the love I could hold to help me be ready for the battle I felt like I was in, once I learned the news of her cancer.

Traveling back and forth, the effort of getting along with my sisters and brother and their spouses, sorting through all of Mom’s dishes, jewelry, clothes etc…cooking, cleaning, laundry, sleepless nights, long days, people constantly around me (I am an introvert), eating all the wrong kinds of food (kindly folks kept bringing lots of carbs, sugar, and fried protein), keeping up with work demands and trying to respond in a timely fashion to those reaching out to me, took its toll.

My prayers in Mom’s last days went something like this: “God, I am exhausted. My heart aches. I can barely stand to be around anybody anymore. I just want to go home. I don’t want her to die before you are ready for her to die, but I am done.” Then God would say every time: “Just listen to my voice, my darling. Only my voice. All day long listen to me and I will help you through this.”

So that is what I tried to do with all my heart every single day until she died. All the way until I watched her take her last breath.

May the Lord grant Linda eternal rest.

Poetic risks and Priestly songs

Giotto Di Bondone’s “St Francis preaching to the birds.” wikipedia.org

A bit of a literary menagerie today, as I lacked the time to tidy up. First, some poetry.

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”
― Robert Frost

“Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.”
― W.H. Auden

Another experiment in audio. Like last week’s it was done on the fly. It’s about 13 minutes long. For those who are more visual learners, I also include part of what I say in pdf (here). Listen here for the audio recitation:

Now, some St. Francis.

As today is also the overrun feast of St Francis of Assisi, in his honor I will also quote a few stanzas from his Canticle of Creatures. The first words of the first stanza, “Be praised,” are the first two words that open Pope Francis’ ecological justice encyclical, Laudato Si.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Lastly, a few amateur pix I snapped over the last 3 weeks that were inspired by a new habit, inspired by Laudato Si, of praying St. Francis’ Canticle. It’s heightened my awareness of being a royal priest (1 Pet. 2:9) who, on behalf of the entire natural order (Rom. 8:19-21), is called to give ceaseless praise to the Creator of creation (Dan. 3:57-88). But I can’t do that well if I don’t open my five senses to take the world in so I can lift it up.


Muddy splash on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain


Sunrise on the eastbound of I-10 (disclaimer: taken by the passenger)


Cumulonimbus to the east (I ♥ cumulonimbi)


A neighbor’s snapdragons

Bring Me to Life

Jesus reveals to us God who is one with us in suffering, grief and death… a God who weeps with us. God doesn’t intervene to prevent the tragedies and sufferings of life. If we had a god who simply swooped down as some “deus ex machina” to prevent human tragedy and sinfulness, then religion and faith would simply be reduced to some form of magic or fate, and we would be helpless pawns on the chessboard of some whimsical god. Where is God in the midst of human tragedies? God is there in the midst of it all, weeping. This is our God who stands in deep, human solidarity with us, and through the glory of the Incarnation, embracing fully our human condition. — Pope Francis

Back in 2011 a coworker of mine introduced me to a song by Evanescence called, Bring Me to Life. She said, “I think this song could be about prayer.” I listened to it but never gave it too much more thought until last year when I met a young woman on a retreat who told me that this song was key to her finding faith. Though the band’s intent in writing the song is not totally clear (their music video is a fanciful story of a suicidal woman), the lyrics lend themselves powerfully to a Christian interpretation. In any event, the woman I met told me that she was herself entertaining suicidal thoughts after her life came apart, especially after her long-time boyfriend suddenly left her.

She said she was driving in her car one evening and was desperate to relieve her inner pain, and came as close as she ever had to giving up. She said, “I never really thought about God much. I grew up in an irreligious home. It wasn’t that I was an atheist, I just didn’t see it as relevant. But in my desperation that night my thoughts raced, searching for some higher meaning above the pain and loss. I turned the radio on to distract me. And then this song came on. I had to pull over. As I heard the lyrics, and felt the music’s aching cry for help, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I’d finally found a voice for my inner torment and, without my even knowing it was happening, I suddenly thought of God. I saw He was the object of all my cries for relief. The song was for me, in that car, about God. For the first time ever, I prayed. I prayed the words of that song.”

I listened to the song later at home and was overcome with emotion thinking of her pain, and with an overwhelming gratitude that the God behind this vast universe is, in His deepest nature, the answer to this song’s desperate cry. I imagined her sitting in the car, drenched unknowlingly in God’s co-mingling tears.

Listen, feel and imagine her prayer:

My Guardian Dear


O God, who in your unfathomable providence are pleased to send your holy Angels to guard us, hear our supplication as we cry to you, that we may always be defended by their protection and rejoice eternally in their company. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. — Amen.

Today is the feast of the Guardian Angels. Be sure to greet your Angel and thank him for his sleepless ministry in your service, and call on him often.

It’s a magnificent truth of faith that each of us, from the moment of conception, is assigned by God an angel to accompany us through our whole life journey. The Catechism #329; 336 gives a nice and succinct summary of our belief in this matter:

From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by the watchful care and intercession [of the angels]. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life, [who] “always beholds the face of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 18:10).

I’ve always thought of this angelic companion as a sign of God’s particular and provident love for each human being from the moment of conception, and as a sign of the intimate link of earth and heaven that every human being is meant to be. That then made me think of the extraordinary beauty, power and magnificence of every human being’s conception, as God not only sends in response an angel from heaven to earth, but creates at the very moment of conception an immortal, rational soul ex nihilo, “from nothing.” In other words, every conception is a new “in the beginning,” a new Genesis when God says yet again: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Genesis 1:26) and proclaims afresh, “Very good.” Regardless of the circumstances of our conception — darkness or light, joy or pain, welcome or unwelcome — God explodes yet again with the supernal joy of creating, out of sheer love, someone who once was not, but now is and will be for ever and ever.

Those thoughts in turn made me think of these two videos of parents welcoming the news of new life into the world. The first is real life, the other is a lovely commercial. The expression on each father’s face is, to me, a sacrament of God’s unseen joy. In fact, when I sent the second video to a woman I know, she said as she watched it God gave her a grace of feeling His joy in her conception, helping her experience herself as a “welcome gift,” having long known that her own parents had conceived her under difficult circumstances. Watch:

“You should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15)

Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless. — Bl. Teresa of Calcutta

One of my daughters loves to share with me “pay it forward” videos of people who are the beneficiaries of someone’s kindness and then go on to do someone else a good turn. She asked me if I remembered anyone in my past whose kindness inspired me to be kind. Of course, there are so many people I could name, but what immediately came to mind was a tutor I had in 7th grade — “Mr. Wallace.”

I had flunked out of 7th grade and had to repeat it at a different school. It was a dark time in my life, and I had really lost a sense of confidence in my ability to succeed. I hated school. I remember very well the first day I sat with him. He had curly brown hair and was wearing a kind smile on his face. He said, as I recall: “My job is to help you see how much you have to offer the world and show you that you’re much smarter than you think you are.” I remember this because I never expected it to come out of a teacher’s mouth and it seemed so outrageous. Offer the world? Smart? Week after week, month after month, year after year — for three years — we met and went over homework, reading skills, table manners, social skills, handling disappointment, and he often talked about my favorite subject at the time: weather. He was interested because I was. He planted a seed of confidence in me that grew, and I never forgot him. When I encountered Jesus Christ while I was in college, that seed exploded into a tree as my mind, for the first time, opened with a hunger for knowledge of everything.

Four years ago I decided to look him up. It took me weeks of detective work, but I found him. Married with kids and grandkids, living in Pennsylvania. I wrote him a letter to express my gratitude and share with him where I had gone in life. He wrote me back a simple response: “Tom, I am appreciative for your kindness in making the effort to tell me this. I vaguely remember you, but I’m old now. I am happy for your successes and am glad to know I played a small part. Those are the things make the hard times along the way meaningful.”

Who are your Mr. Wallaces?

Below are the videos my daughter, and a seminarian, shared with me that I found most inspiring.