Help Jane Elizabeth

I really try to be careful and not use my blog for service announcements or special requests.

But in the last month I have asked for you to pray for my wife to find a job (I am grateful, keep praying), suggested two blogs and now I’d like to share with you a very moving story about an eight year old girl named Jane at an orphanage in Uganda.

In the video I include below, one of my colleagues, Dr. Jennifer Miller, briefly tells Jane’s story and asks for financial support. Even if you do not donate, please keep this intention in your prayer.

On this feast of St. Nicholas may Jane, and all children in distress, find the support they need to flourish in life.

Watch here: https://www.youcaring.com/janeelizabeth-707299

Other Blogs

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I rarely advertise things here, but today I wanted to make an exception. I would like to recommend two Blogs, involving two men I am blessed to call friends.

One is called Risking Reality, and it’s brand new. Austin Ashcraft is the author and his approach to life and faith is really lively, off-beat and intelligent. He’s smart, exceptionally personable, passionately faith-filled, guileless and is working on completing his M.A. in theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans. Here’s a taste of his writing:

Is this risk worth it? Can we really make sense out of this wild thing we call humanity, full of joys and sorrows, peaks and valleys, pleasant interactions with a stranger in line for coffee and 5 minutes later getting flicked off by the person in front of you in rush hour traffic for no reason, blinding city lights and desert star-filled skies, craft brews and natty light, relatives living long full years to the ripe old age of 104 and a friend unexpectedly dying of sudden heart failure at 22, free pancake day at IHOP and thousands of people dying every day from starvation, sunny days in suburbia and simultaneous sunny days of genocide in another hemisphere, life and death? How can we make sense of all of these extremes?

Try it out: https://riskingreality.wordpress.com/

The second Blog, The Catholic Outpost, is a Catholic treasury of articles and resources (a veritable Rome Depot), inspired by, among others, the capacious vision of Jordan Haddad. Jordan is a Catholic gentleman to the core, a serious intellectual and is pursuing his PhD in theology at Catholic University of America. And his love for his wife, Shannon, is really a wonder to behold. He and Shannon are expecting a daughter to be born soon so pray for them! Here’s the Outpost mission:

The Catholic Outpost is a community of theologians and evangelists who, out of love for Christ and his Church, seek to spread the Kingdom of God through various methods of evangelization and media. We seek to provide a provocative yet orthodox Catholic perspective to current events as well as accessible catechetical articles on different aspects of the faith ranging from Catholic dogma, Sacred Scripture, moral theology, Catholic social teaching, Church history, canon law, sacred art and music, and liturgy. The Catholic Outpost is meant to benefit the everyday Catholic in the United States of America who desires to continue his or her growth in Christian discipleship while at the same time learning how the faith relates to each and every part of his or her life in both private and public. We seek to form an intelligent and well-formed Catholic laity who can have a real impact upon our 21st-century American world.

Try it out: http://thecatholicoutpost.com/

P.S. sorry for the bad pun

Be surprised by life

“We are called to enlarge the horizons of our hearts, to be surprised by the life that is presented each day with its newness. In order to do this we need to learn to not depend on our own securities, our own established plans, because the Lord comes in the hour which we don’t imagine.” — Pope Francis

The other day, as I did my morning prayer with the daily readings, I jotted in my journal:

If there is one thing that is consistent about God’s dealings with Israel, it’s that He seems to love catching us off guard. Knocking us off balance. Displacing our crutches. Severing our unhealthy attachments. Shattering our expectations in order to reset them. Inciting bewilderment and dizziness seems to be His strategy for eliciting wonder and awe, which are the preface to any genuine expansion of our horizons. But unlike the pagan gods, whose capricious liberty inspired fear, the God of Israel inspires trust because His freedom is bound to His truth; and His truth is justice and mercy and love (hesed we’emet). Therefore, God’s wild freedom that disorients us always does so in order to reorient us from our immediate obsessions toward our ultimate fulfillment; to turn us toward the East where hope greets the running dawn. ‘Do not be afraid,’ which is the anthem of the Scriptures, is said only to those whose circumstances seem fearful; who have cause for fear amid the chaos life can bring. Utterly astonishing: It is said to us by a God who, presiding over history from the Cross, uses the forces of chaos that threaten our well-being as the very means of revealing and effecting a future full of hope. No need to first rid oneself of problems — ‘if only things were different, then…’ — to trust this God. Per crucem ad lucem.* Christians are those who proclaim a God who has turned the world upside down, and faith is the only proper response among the dizzy. Acts 2:15ff; 17:6

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Try it — walk through the Wardrobe and risk bewilderment this Advent…

*Latin for “through the cross to the light,” with an awesome alliteration, i.e. pair crew-chem odd loo-chem.

Hope in a kind and weathered face

All of us need consolation because no one is spared suffering, pain and misunderstanding. How much pain can be caused by a spiteful remark born of envy, jealousy or anger! What great suffering is caused by the experience of betrayal, violence and abandonment! How much sorrow in the face of the death of a loved one! And yet God is never far from us at these moments of sadness and trouble. A reassuring word, an embrace that makes us feel understood, a caress that makes us feel love, a prayer that makes us stronger… all these things express God’s closeness through the consolation offered by our brothers and sisters. — Pope Francis

One of my earliest memories of sensing God’s presence was when I was four years old. We lived in Rhode Island at the time, and belonged to St. Margaret parish in Rumford. I remember the scene so vividly. I was sitting in the pew and my mom and siblings got up to go to Communion, but my mom told me to stay in the pew. She said, “We’ll be right back.” But for some reason I was terrified and believed they wouldn’t come back. As they walked down the aisle there was an elderly man sitting in the pew in front of me, and he turned around and said to me, ‘How old are you?” I remember holding up four fingers. Then he said, “Don’t worry, they’ll be right back. See, there they are. They love you very much and wouldn’t leave you alone.” For reasons I cannot explain, in my child’s mind, I absolutely believed this man was God. I can remember like it was yesterday the visceral association I made of safety and comfort with the idea God; all there in his kind and weathered face. I could also say now it was my first conscious taste of hope: the knowledge that God holds in the dark present the unshakable promise of a future dawn.

Mother Teresa said, “I will never understand all the good that a simple smile can accomplish. Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” The greatness of small acts of kindness should never be devalued in Christian thinking. It’s easy, when surrounded by problems of a staggering magnitude and complexity, to lose hope in the significance of my small life.

My spiritual director from the early 1990’s — a sainted priest — used to remind me all the time that every great act of heroism is always preceded by a thousand small and unnoticed acts of virtue; and that the role of the occasional extraordinary act of heroism is simply to hold in relief the higher value of ordinary greatness found in the thousand unsung deeds. And he would always remind me that if the re-creation of all things was effected by a naked, dying man, crucified on a pile of human remains along a public road; a man who spoke seven words of mercy that re-wrote the script of history and called a new creation into being, then my nothing-life, joined to His, was worth living with gusto. The God who loves to count my hairs loves the small stuff.

Let’s get on with it.

“Jesus looked at him and loved him” Mark 10:21

Seeing with the eyes of Christ, I can give to others much more than their outward necessities; I can give them the look of love which they crave. — Pope Benedict XVI

The face is a living presence; it is expression. The face speaks. — Emmanuel Levinas

I was praying this morning and recalled this story.

Back in 1991, when I was volunteering at a Missionary of Charity hospice and homeless shelter in D.C., there was a man I was paired with to care for who had been found in an abandoned car during mid-winter, nearly dead, with severe frostbite that required amputations. He had also had a seizure and was unable to speak clearly.

His was a tragic life of suffering.

Yet he retained an irrepressible sense of hope and the will to live. Undoubtedly in part because he had been received by the Sisters into a home filled with love, that alone sustains hope.

I got to know him well over the months I was there, and we developed a manner of communication that allowed us to bond in a profound way. Most of what I would intuit about what he was trying to say to me was gathered by studying his eyes as he spoke. He had very expressive eyes.

The day I had to leave for good, I was afraid to tell him I would never see him again. But the Sister supervising me insisted that I tell him very directly. When I did, he averted his face from me and refused to look at me. After around five minutes of trying unsuccessfully to meet his eyes, I finally said: “Please, please, give me one last look as a last gift to me.” He did, begrudgingly.

When our eyes met, I said something to him I had never said to him before: “I love you.”

It was as if a bomb had been detonated inside of him. He wailed and sobbed, heaving and trembling as he cried out. It was awful to watch. I could tell that my words had gone from his eyes and ears into the core of his soul. He was naked with trust before me. The defenses he had put in place over the years, I imagined, he had lowered with me and he had allowed me deep within.

What an absolutely terrifying power to have.

After a period of time, even as he continued to sob, I said farewell. A Sister attended to him as I walked away. The sound of his cries down the hallway haunted me for months in my memory.

But as I left the building, Sr. Manorama took me aside and said: “I know that was hard, but you had to do that. If you left without telling him you would never see him again, he would have felt betrayed. But today you gave him a gift he likely has never received before. You said, ‘I love you,’ but first you showed him you meant it. Words are cheap, but action is not.”

Every human being longs to have those three words spoken to them by somone who has loved them in deed, and have those words penetrate the center of their soul. We exist to receive those words, and we exist to speak them. With our words. With our eyes. With our lives — because we are made in the image of the God whose essence is pure actuality, and whose pure actuality is captured in a two-word sentence: “I love.” And when we see the Face of God one day — in hope we are saved! — He will complete this sentence that He began at creation and punctuated by His Word on the Cross:

You.

Get real

This seemed like a timely meditation to post on today’s Feast of St. Jude, patron of hopeless causes. I wrote it a few months ago.

Among the causes of broken marriages are unduly high expectations about conjugal life. Once it becomes apparent that the reality is more limited and challenging than one imagined, the solution is not to think quickly and irresponsibly about separation, but to come to the sober realization that married life is a process of growth, in which each spouse is God’s means of helping the other to mature. Change, improvement, the flowering of the good qualities present in each person – all these are possible. Each marriage is a kind of “salvation history”, which from fragile beginnings – thanks to God’s gift and a creative and generous response on our part – grows over time into something precious and enduring. Might we say that the greatest mission of two people in love is to help one another become, respectively, more a man and more a woman? — Pope Francis #amorislaetitia

I have a person I know who said to me not long ago (and told me I could share the gist):

My husband and I are far from ‘there.’ We got issues and we’re incompatible in lots of ways. We didn’t know that when we married. Love was blind then. I’ve found the key to making our marriage work isn’t just seeing things for what they are, but seeing things with love. Our marriage works only because our blind love became seeing love. But if we gave up either the love or the seeing, we’d never’ve made it this long [23 years]. I totally get why people call it quits early on when reality strikes. And why wives can grow critical and hard and husbands distant and resentful. It sucks when you live like that. I totally get that. We were there for a while.

Father John [their 68 year old pastor] said it this way to us when we went for help: ‘Jesus didn’t call you to romance, he called you to Rome. To hard love. And Rome is where martyrs made an Empire Christian; martyrs are the ones who changed a whole civilization with their sacrificial love. One man, one woman, one marriage at a time. Marriage isn’t about cheap grace. It’s a diamond and diamonds are made under great pressure.’ I love that image.

Best part is that once we accepted that kind of love as the real point, as the real glue, romance became possible again because then you get a safe zone and can have something like an enchanted way of seeing your husband; or of him seeing me; and you can then see good where you saw none. You can love the stuff you don’t like or see the good that’s there. Or not! But it’s okay. As long as we’re both trying. Fr. John said a cool thing and my husband and I pray it all the time: ‘Ask God to let you see each other like He sees you.’ When I pray for that, I feel God say: ‘Get real. You didn’t marry an angel.’ And look I’m no saint! And God loves me like He’s crazy. Hey, if it works for God, it works for me, right?