The Mass in Memoriam

Notre Dame Seminary & Chapel, New Orleans, LA

Yesterday, the Seminary I work at offered the community Mass as a memorial Mass for the repose of my father’s soul. My mom, wife and oldest son attended (our other children were unable to come).

Surrounded by the prayer, song and kindness of seminarians, priest faculty, colleagues and friends, it was an experience of the church as family that is beyond my power to adequately describe. For my 91 year old mother, it was, as she said after, “like being in heaven.” Yes, that’s it. “On earth as it is in heaven,” with heaven being anywhere God’s will is done.

God’s will?  John 17:21-23:

That they may all be one. 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.

For me, yesterday demonstrated how, when the church consistently lives the unity of love found in the Eucharist outside its liturgical celebration, the Mass itself becomes more readily transparent as the time “when things of heaven are wed to those of earth, and divine to the human.” When we live the unity of love outside the Mass, St. Irenaeus’ words back in 180 A.D. are confirmed, “Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking.”

For all the prayers, Masses offered, cards, emails, texts, comments, calls, flowers, visits, I, my wife and children, my mom, my step mom and siblings are exceedingly grateful. And for my dad, above all, may all of these acts of faith, hope and love speed him into the fullness of the new creation, where God “will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

I will end with the setting of Psalm 23 that was sung at yesterday’s Mass.

The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing.
He shall feed me in a green pasture, and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.
He shall convert my soul, and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake.
Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me;
thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cu shall be full.
But thy loving kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost.
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

Stern as death is love

My lover belongs to me and I to him.
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.” — Song of Songs 8:6-7

I met a woman while I was flying back to New Orleans from New England a few weeks ago, and she was telling me about her deceased husband’s slow decline into dementia. Our conversation began after I told her I had just spent time at an institution for dementia patients. After tearfully describing the long and agonizing journey she had walked with him, she said,

Those years redefined love for me. Jeff’s decline demanded from me the willingness to make another person your center of gravity in a way I had never known. Dementia took away the man I knew and asked me to love him just as much. No, much much more.

I remember a few weeks after he stopped knowing who I was, which totally devastated me, I went to see our pastor to get emotional and spiritual help. He referred me to a Christian counselor, but he asked me first to do something that made all the difference for me. He said, ‘Why don’t you renew your wedding vows again this Sunday so you can recommit to him at this new stage in your marriage?’

We did it, and though Jeff was not totally aware of what we were doing, he had a lucid moment during the service. I could see in his eyes he knew it was me. That’s what I clung to over the next two years.

What a timely gift to me she was. I wanted to kiss her feet. Then the other day Patti sent the kids and me a story on cnn.com. A perfect capstone to this woman’s witness to me. Click here.

+ + +

I won’t run away no more, I promise
Even when I get bored, I promise
Even when you lock me out, I promise
I say my prayers every night, I promise
I don’t wish that I’m spread, I promise
The tantrums and the chilling chats, I promise
Even when the ship is wrecked, I promise
Tie me to the rotten deck, I promise
I won’t run away no more, I promise
Even when I get bored, I promise
Even when the ship is wrecked, I promise
Tie me to the rotten deck, I promise
I won’t run away no more, I promise

Requiescat in pace

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” ― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

It has been a while! I have missed writing. Like being away from a group of friends that I am used to talking with often.

Life has been full of late.

My father, Edmond Neal, died on Tuesday of this week. Above is his photo from 30 years ago. He was 88.

Saying goodbye to my father, face to face, was one of the most painful and profound moments of my entire life. I am not ready to write on any of it now, but do earnestly solicit your kind prayers for his soul, for my mom and step mom, for our whole family and for all those who grieve his passing. Thank you.

My step mother insisted that I share in my teaching what I learned from my final time with dad, and so I will. Some day. I will try to get writing again on other things very shortly, as I catch my breath.

“May the angels lead you into paradise;
may the martyrs receive you at your arrival
and lead you to the holy city Jerusalem.
May choirs of angels receive you
and with Lazarus, once a poor man,
may you have eternal rest.”

Sigrid, Raw

[had this unfinished post in my drafts. i recall it was fun to write. felt inspired to post. be back next weekend.]

If I show I’m fragile
Would you go ahead and find somebody else?
And if I act too tough, know that I care ’bout you
I’m honest, no offense

No, I could never fake it
Like players always playing
Arrest me if I hurt you
But no apologies for being me

I am now a huge Sigrid fan, thanks to my daughter who introduced me to her last week. Sigrid is a Norwegian singer and songwriter who just hit the pop scene last year.

I like her because she is, as Maria says it, “authentic, honest and quirky.” Her music is not hyper-produced, the lyrics are plain, direct and reflective, and her look is natural. I hope she retains all of that.

I especially liked the song Raw, because it made me think of my wife. Patti, for those who know her, pulls no punches. What you see is what you get. She is truthful in the extreme, which is what I have always loved most about her. Whether it’s pointing out that I need to take a second shower before giving an evening lecture, calling me on the carpet for some inconsistency, or grabbing me by the tie and saying (when she saw I was filling my early morning prayer time with work), “I need you to be a man of prayer!” — she is, for me, grace in my face.

Patti is truthiness with lipstick and high heels. Once when I praised her for this quality, she said, “Well, when we got married I did say ‘I promise to be true to you in good times and in bad!'”

But the greatest part of her honesty is that it goes both ways — she welcomes it as much as she offers it. And that is something I find very rare in life, people who invite and welcome honest feedback. She will often say, “You don’t need to protect my feelings. I need to hear your perspective.”

But at the bottom of all such radical honesty — nakedness before the other — is unconditional trust. There can be no real honesty if you don’t have that in a relationship, don’t have the mutual understanding, guarded by love, sealed by a promise that the other person will never use your weaknesses against you; will never intend you harm; will never betray you; will never leave you, no matter what. Only when love is steeled by such a promise can you really get down and dirty, dig deep, be wholly free to be yourself and allow the other to be the same.

Of course, even with the best of intentions, without ill will, we do hurt each other. Reality. But even here the commitment to honesty rescues us, as I know I can admit my failure, my sin against her with unvarnished honesty and she will receive that and forgive me. Will give forgiveness which is not owed or demanded, but freely given to an unworthy recipient.

And let me say that kind of forgiveness brings you to your knees. Breaks your stony heart. Calls you out of your mediocrity toward the better. Honest love is a costly love, is a paschal love “caught up into divine love [that] leads the spouses to God with powerful effect.”*

So yes, it’s true. She, I just want to be raw.

*Gaudium et Spes #48

Where I’m From

Our almost 16 year old daughter, Catherine, wrote this for her English class. The assignment, “Where I’m From,” was to describe yourself in terms of events of your life — mostly small things — that have shaped who you are. I just loved her version of her upbringing and our family. Though it is hard to catch all the images she uses without the backstories, you can catch the drift.

But what it really made me see, besides the beauty of her literary artistry, is the kaleidoscopic complexity of influences that color who we are, as well as the power of the past to shape our vision of the future. The power of relationships. The power of family. The power of faith. And the power of memory.

My grandfather wrote Patti and me a letter after our first son was born, and said, “Among the greatest gifts you can give your children are good memories. The memories you give them will stand as a reserve of wealth to draw on later in life. Hope in hardship, cheer in sorrow … Memories that they were loved will carry them far. Waste your time on them now, and they will ‘want not’ then. While you may often regret not having made enough time for them when they were small, you will never regret having given them too much time. Nor will they.”

The power of love. Hope.

My wife said to me the other day while we were having a cocktail out on a weekend evening, “My hope is that our children can look back as adults and see in the midst of all the mistakes we made along the way, ours was a home full of God’s love. And that they always write thank you notes and never go to someone’s house empty handed.”

Yeah, that.

Mashley’s “Untitled” Cover!

Nothing exists without music, for the universe itself is said to have been framed by a kind of harmony of sounds, and the heaven itself revolves under the tone of that harmony. — St. Isidore of Seville

For those of you who don’t frequent Obstat, this is Maria (my daughter) and Ashley singing. I post their work here, (1) because I’m a dad and (2) because this blog is dedicated to allowing beauty to save the world.

Oh, Maria makes up those harmonies — since she was very little, she says, she could ‘hear’ harmonies in all monophonic music she’d hear.

If I had to define Childhood

[Re-post from 2017. After today I will pause on posting until maybe Sunday as I have so many talks to write and give this week]

Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. — Matt. 18:3

After watching some home videos, all six of us sat around in a circle on the floor in the family room, late on a Saturday night, remembering life when the children were little. We laughed at the memories around the videos, and even remembered some stories we had long forgotten.

It. Was. Awesome.

One of our children said, “It makes me sad to think back, though. Life was so simple then, the world was so magical, enchanted. You know? Especially before social media. Everything seemed possible then. Then you get older and you see it’s not quite so simple. The real world doesn’t seem to get that so well. It’s just so cynical. I hate that.”

Later, after everyone had gone to bed, a had a good cry. I am just so pathetic. I wrote in my journal:

I remember when that old man approached me after I had given my first lecture on ‘wonder as a prerequisite to the act of faith.’ The man’s face was riven with furrows that seemed to have been cut by years of tears. And he had tears in his eyes as he spoke to me: “Life beat wonder out of me long ago, son. Thank you for restoring hope in me tonight that I could regain it. To have a second childhood, be born again, as you put it.”

If I had to define Childhood as a sacrament of the Kingdom, I might say: (1) The stage of life when the world teems with divine glory, guarded by innocence, brimming over with joy, play, wonder, awe, laughter, life lived in the moment beneath the eyes of a carefree Father. (2) The state of mind kindled by an imagination freshly minted in eternity, free to roam through the expansive meadows of possibility that awaken just over the brow of every horizon. (3) The state of immunity from cynicism. (4) The capacity to naturally see (and receive) all as brand new, as crisply fresh, as sheer gift, shot through with surges of spontaneous gratitude that inspire generosity and an embrace of what is as the only springboard into a hoped-for future of what can be.

I am certain — I felt a breeze from the East, enveloping us as we sat together on the floor; a zephyr descending (before its time) from the coming Kingdom, where

the wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea. — Isaiah 11:6-9