Vantage Point

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I will be back next week with a new blog!  

I don’t know what it is about baptisms lately, but from my vantage point at Sunday Mass yesterday, I experienced an interesting phenomenon.  The Sacrament of Baptism was celebrated for two children at a Mass that was also honoring high school graduates.  Not just ANY high school graduates, but a class of students I and my colleagues have had the opportunity to work with since they were in seventh grade.  In a very real way, we have watched these young people grow up through the years.   During this one Mass, it was as if we were witnessing “bookends” in child development…the beginning of life in the Church of God for two young children and the sending forth of these recent grads toward college and beyond.

For the high school graduates blessed and sent forth, we become known as their parish family, the people they see on Sunday or in Faith Formation classes or in the parish office occasionally when assistance was needed or paperwork was submitted.  As they grew, a few of our students partnered with us in ministry as altar servers or Confirmation peer mentors, choir members and cross bearers.  Some lent a hand in classrooms.   Some journeyed to ND Vision in South Bend, IN with us for a deeper exploration of our shared Catholic faith.

Through the years, I had the unique privilege of getting to know these students’ parents.  Their children will probably never know that occasionally we laughed together, cried together, and prayed for their well-being…that’s all stuff that happens behind the scenes, where it should.   But from my vantage point yesterday, witnessing babies and high school grads, I thanked God for those special shared moments.  Yesterday, at Mass, those babies, those grads…I know they’re really not OUR children, but we are all one in the Church of God.  Welcome, newest members of our Church, and to our high school graduates, Godspeed!

 

 

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We Are Family

It’s a busy time in our home right now, with the upcoming wedding of our son and our soon-to-be-daughter-in-law!  For the next few Mondays, I’m selecting a few of my favorite “mercifulmoments” and re-publishing them in case you missed them the first time around!  I wrote and initially published this on mercifulmomentsblog May 2, 2016.   

“I can do it my SELF!”  Isn’t this a common phrase uttered by children who are trying desperately to assert some sense of independence?  It usually starts out with wanting to choose their clothes to wear, pour their own cereal or milk, ride without training wheels, etc.  As parents, we know it’s our job to raise independent, capable, caring young adults.  It’s not an easy journey and there are plenty of bumps in the road along the way complete with laughter and tears, small victories and occasional defeats. We chalk all this up to experience, life’s lessons.

As kids, many individuals got all that yearning for independence out of their systems early in life.  For other late bloomers like me, we spent a few decades trying to show how capable and independent we were only to learn that many of life’s moments are best when shared with the people we love the most.  And the people we love the most really don’t expect us to prove ANYTHING to them.  As a huge Dr. Seuss fan, I think Seuss describes this phase of our lives beautifully in Oh the Places You’ll Go:

“I’m afraid that some times

you’ll play lonely games too

Games you can’t win

’cause you’ll play against you”

One of the best lessons I have learned so far on life’s journey is that I love to be part of a family.  In fact I have three families that I love dearly:

(1) My own family and extended family including all relatives near and far, living and deceased,

(2) My community, a handful of dear neighbors and a wider circle of people in our town and our children’s schools from over the years,

(3) My parish families, past and present, and all those people in ministry who I have been blessed to call friend through the years.

Even though there are still times in life when I occasionally feel the need to prove I am capable or I am strong, most often I soon realize that the source of my happiness lies in community with others.  Pope Francis speaks of this journey in the following words:

“I think this is truly the most wonderful experience we can have: to belong to a people walking, journeying through history together with our Lord, who walks among us! We are not alone; we do not walk alone. We are part of the one flock of Christ that walks together.” ― Pope Francisthe Church of Mercy

 A few years ago I added a very special community to my prayers:  the Communion of Saints.  I used to toss this term around like any good Catholic girl, but I had no idea what it really meant.  What I’ve come to believe about the Communion of Saints is that they are all those men and women who have died and gone to heaven before us.  They’re with us in prayer and they can help connect us to God as we can reflect on their lives and learn by their examples.  Remember, most saints were ordinary people chosen by God to do extraordinary things.  With God all things are possible, so walking with the saints seems like the best path for this next leg of the journey.  Thanks for walking with me!

Encyclopedia Catholic?

It’s a busy time in our home right now, with the upcoming wedding of our son and our soon-to-be-daughter-in-law!  For the next few Mondays, I’m selecting a few of my favorite “mercifulmoments” and re-publishing them in case you missed them the first time around!  I wrote and initially published this on mercifulmomentsblog May 23, 2016.  

I have fond memories of watching black and white Mickey Mouse Club re-runs as a girl.  I mainly followed the short serials such as Spin and Marty and The Hardy Boys, but there’s a short Jiminy Cricket film that I remember this morning called Encyclopedia.  In it, Cricket sings of the wonders of these big books of knowledge and how they satisfy one’s curiosity.

Our parents proudly purchased a set of encyclopedias for the family in 1972 or 1973, almost around the same time that we got our first Zenith color television set.  Those encyclopedias sat on a shelf below the TV and were well-used over the years for our homework assignments.  We were taught to respect the books, to always return them to their rightful place on the shelf and to take good care of them.  They also, however, became an integral part of proving one was right in a multitude of disagreements in our large family.  While the thirst for knowledge was recognized in our home, so was proving that one was right at all costs.  Running and grabbing the correct encyclopedia to prove a point was very common.  It was almost a survival of the fittest at times…or quickest with the answers. And in someone proving himself or herself right, subsequently someone else was wrong or at least not as fast to defend their case.

I believe for a very long time this was pretty much the way I lived my Catholic Faith.  Maybe I was, to coin a phrase, an Encyclopedia Catholic.  I could list the Corporal Works of Mercy or with some prompting, even the Seven Deadly Sins, both helpful if playing a round of Catholic Trivia.  But it was not until I started reading Scripture daily that I began to look at what it really means to encounter Christ, to love our neighbor, to show compassion or mercy.  I dare say I never “owned” my Catholic faith until I began to grow in understanding of Jesus’ encounters with others in the Gospels.

“The truth is not grasped as a thing; the truth is encountered. It is not a possession; it is an encounter with a Person.” ― Pope Francisthe Church of Mercy

 The only drawback to “owning” one’s faith, however, is you never can sit back and do nothing again.  From that first spiritual awakening, it becomes obvious that in order to encounter Christ, we must walk with others, we must work with others, and we must laugh and cry and be with others.  We learn to realize that our actions have consequences and sometimes our words can inflict pain.  The Catholic Christian, in his/her awareness of this, must strive to see each person as one of God’s beloved sons or daughters, with their own stories, their own “baggage,” their own sorrows and joys.  If I fail to see Christ in you, I fail to see Christ at all and am only being an Encyclopedia Catholic.  Today, LORD, help me to see the person of Christ in EVERYONE I encounter.  And please help others to see Christ in me.  Amen.

Lessons of the Heart

I imagine many churches nearby, like ours, are wrapping up another catechetical year and collecting registrations for September classes which seem so far away.  This time of year is bittersweet for me, as we bid farewell to students, especially our Confirmation and First Eucharist kids and their parents.  I find myself wondering, did we teach them enough?  Will they come back?  Were we able to convey the depth and breadth of our God’s love?  Did we do more than just transmit information…were we able to reach some hearts as well? 

I do realize that most of these questions I pose repeatedly to myself don’t have easy answers and often immeasurable metrics.  But I will continue to ask them, to offer our families the best that we can give them as we journey together in our shared Catholic faith.

I also know that some of the best lessons of the heart take place when we are gathered around the Eucharistic table with our brothers and sisters each weekend as well as when we encounter Christ in others at work, in our neighborhoods, in our homes, or in our schools.  These life lessons help us to see firsthand how we are to love God and others, and often these lessons are neither neat or perfectly executed.  Some weeks we return to church the following Sunday feeling jubilant, and other times we come back deflated or discouraged, but we come back again and again, seeking nourishment, comfort, peace…

I hope this summer our families will continue to factor in Sundays or Saturday Vigil Masses around all the fun summertime activities that appear, like family reunions, camping trips, graduation parties, weddings and soccer/baseball/lacrosse tournaments.  Let’s look for one another on the weekends so that we can continue to grow in God’s love and share that love with all we encounter on the days between the Sundays.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7  

 

 

God Moments While Folding Laundry

It’s the weirdest thing.  Some mornings, I’ll sit down with that first steaming cup of coffee and settle in with the Daily Readings, ready to have some quality prayer time.  The house is quiet, except for the snoring of our dog on the couch next to me.  This is often the quietest part of my day, and I’m ready and open to sit with the WORD.  Speak to me, LORD, I’m listening, is my silent prayer.  And I read, and I sit, and I think, but sometimes…nothing happens…well, something happens, but it’s not nearly as wonderful as when I encounter God in an unexpected moment, like I did in the laundry room on a recent Sunday afternoon.  Let me explain…

I wasn’t looking for anything other than an empty laundry basket and the box of dryer sheets.  I’d moved the wet clothes to the dryer, put the second load in the washer, added detergent, and started folding a pile of clean towels that had been sitting on the nearby table for the past few days, smelling fresh but rather neglected.  That familiar why am I such a bad housewife? tape was running through my head when all of a sudden, in the action of folding a bath towel, I felt strangely peaceful.  I found myself remembering time spent long ago with my mom, when she taught me how to fold clothes.  A smile crossed my face and any angst I’d felt while playing Sunday afternoon household catch-up had dissipated.  As I folded every last towel and washcloth, I felt myself turning to God in prayer, thankful for that gift of relationship with my mom that I’d been fortunate enough to have for the first thirty-five years of my life.  I glanced around our laundry room, badly in need of sprucing up, but my eyes fell upon the sturdy washer and dryer that have served us well over the past few years.  I thanked God for the miracles of running water and electricity and stability and the reality of HOME, even with all its quirks and imperfections.

The month of May hits me hard each year as I miss our mom terribly and the anniversary of our Dad’s death is later in the month.  Many of you reading this may be able to relate to that feeling of loss.  What happened in the laundry room on a recent Sunday, I believe, was a brief God moment, a little nudge to help me open my eyes to all that I do HAVE, right here and now, a reminder to be grateful and open to God’s gifts every day.

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praise to your name, Most High,

To proclaim your love at daybreak, your faithfulness in the night…Psalm 92: 1-2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wedding Gifts

When Steve and I announced our wedding engagement years ago, we did all the ordinary things that brides and grooms were doing at that time.  This included attending a Pre-Cana retreat at a local church, selecting wedding readings and readers who were close to us, and completing a Bridal Registry at the now-closed Burt’s Department Store.

Looking back on all those preparations, I must chuckle now.  The adventures we have lived, the highs as well as the lows, have taken us in directions I never would have imagined.  Our Scripture readings would be extremely different if we had to select them now, less sentimental and containing more wisdom!  There were items on the registry that ended up being not very important, and there were gifts received, without even asking for, that have become personal treasures.  Today, I reflect on one item that is especially near and dear to my heart.

A Wooden Risen Christ Wall Crucifix hangs in our bedroom to the left of the doorway.  It was a gift from Aunt Ruth and Uncle Al, two very special family members who had been a part of my Pittsburgh relatives (Mom’s family) and accompanied our Hammond family on summer vacations to Michigan where my dad’s relatives lived.

With the crucifix came a small note written by Aunt Ruth, reminding us that God is, and will continue to be, a part of our married lives, come what may.  That crucifix has become my daily reminder that along with God, we will get through today.  Being an extremely tactile person, I touch the foot of that cross most mornings when I first get out of bed, asking God to walk with us or even saying, “We’ve got this, LORD!”  I know these words are not particularly eloquent, but in my heart, it’s the sincerest prayer I know.

I’ve written about some of the changes lately in our family’s lives, and at times my anxiety rears its ugly head.  But I must tell you, dear friends, I do know, deep in my heart, that it is all going to be okay.  I feel as if we are surrounded with love and grace, and the words of Scripture and our liturgies strengthen me.  Sunday liturgy provides the fuel I need to face whatever each week brings!

 Those who trust in themselves are fools,

but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe. 

(Proverbs, 28:26)

 

 

 

Unexpected Gift

We had no intention of crashing a party.  We’d simply walked into a local establishment early on a Saturday evening with the intent of having some supper.  Right away we noticed a few tables, covered in white tablecloths,  set up in a U formation and a two-piece band was playing.  Friends, you should note, this is not an establishment where linen table coverings are the norm; clearly something special was going on.  We walked past the group of party guests in search of a table for three, which were in short supply, but our waiter graciously led us to a bare wooden table on the perimeter of the growing party, unadorned with even salt or pepper shakers.  It was clearly a busier Saturday night than usual, but we were in no hurry and happily started out with tall glasses of water while we perused the menus.

We placed our orders and then chatted easily while we waited for our dinners to be ready.  The waiter refilled our water glasses in between his trips from one end of the room to the other, even leaving a large water carafe on our table while apologizing for the longer-than-usual wait.  Meanwhile, the leader of the band announced that the guest of honor was a woman celebrating her birthday, eighty-something years young, and everyone clapped.  She and her husband made their way to the center of the room, which became their “dance floor” as they danced together.  They did not move fast or even in a fancy way; but they danced like they had known one another forever and found comfort in each other’s arms.  A little later, the woman’s husband was invited to play the drums for a few numbers, including Bad Bad Leroy Brown, and this woman kept dancing with various family members and friends, smiling so brightly.  Her husband looked at her from his seat at the drums and beamed!

This was the longest we’d ever had to wait for our dinner orders at our local neighborhood restaurant, but in reframing the events that transpired, by having to wait a while for the food to arrive, our family was given more time to talk, and laugh, and witness a celebration of life.  If we’d been seated anywhere else on that Saturday evening, we’d have missed the party!  How much of life is like that, dear ones?  I want to keep my eyes and heart open for unexpected gifts like this!

Comfort Zone

How comfortable are you right now?  Are you sitting down in a comfy chair with a cup of hot coffee in your hand? If you get chilly, is there a cozy sweater or afghan nearby to wrap around your shoulders?  Some people may agree that life is pretty good when we are within our comfort zones.  Merriam-Webster defines comfort zone as “the level at which one functions with ease and familiarity.”

Alas, not all of life can be spent in the safe boundaries of our comfort zones.  Today I reflect one such moment.  The lyrics of a song keep running through my head as I write this…Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world, she took the midnight train going anywhere (Journey, Escape album, 1981).  My family often says I’m a little too dramatic, so I must disclose the facts:  I AM from a small town and I DID take a commuter train, followed by a subway train, some more subway trains and one last commuter train on Saturday.  The Uber receipt reminds me that we reached our hotel at a modest 11:34 PM, so there really was not any midnight train involved here, friends!  But, my early-bird version of the tale contains some truths I want to share with you…

Even total strangers will work together to solve a common problem.  Subway doors won’t close?  Everyone steps back.  Someone with a stroller trying to get on/off the train?  People move out of the way or even grab the front of the stroller to assist the parent.  When it’s standing-room only, people make sure that everyone has a spot to hold on those common metal poles.  Someone’s lost?  I witnessed many people on Saturday offering advice to others regarding taking the R train or the 1 train, etc.  When asked, people step up.

It’s much easier to have conversations when there’s a safe distance between us.  I sought respite in the subway advertisements lining the trains on Saturday because I was afraid if I looked anyone straight in the eyes in such proximity, I’d creep them out.   We were too close for comfort!   I whispered a few things to my family members who also were riding, but for the most part, I kept surprisingly quiet for once.  I also confirmed my theory that quiet smiles still work everywhere.

There’s evidence of beauty EVERYWHERE if we are willing to recognize it.  By the last few hours of my family’s day in the big city, I was getting tired and hungry and missing the quiet comforts of home.  It was only going to be a five-minute wait or so for the next train downtown, and I was resolved to be patient.  I did just fine until my husband and daughter asked me, “Did you just see that rat down there along the edge?”  Fortunately, I had NOT seen the rat, but I became increasingly aware of the noise and the crowds and the various smells…it was like I was enmeshed in sensory overload and starting to quietly freak out inside when…all…of…a…sudden, the most hauntingly beautiful cello music from one floor above us floated down and surrounded me in serenity.  I had walked by the solitary cello player just minutes before, wishing we could stop and listen to him and now the gift of that artist was bestowed on me.  I strained to listen and for a few moments blocked out everything else just to hear a few glorious notes.  What a gift.

We live our lives both within and outside of our comfort zones.  That’s just reality.  How thankful I am, especially during this season of Easter, to remember that the One who loves us accompanies us on all our journeys.  Alleluia!

 

Monday Morning

This morning I accidentally forgot to drop my daughter off in the car line at school. We had been deep in a conversation about graduation and other such things, and even though I saw the long line of cars, I drove past that turn and had to pull over by the football field to let her out.  I apologized to her for my mistake and she was gracious enough to still wish me a good day as she lugged that heavy backpack towards school on a Monday morning.

Do you ever become so pre-occupied with whatever’s going on that you miss an appointment or forget to return a friend’s call?  If so, you are in good company.  Before we even got in the car this morning, I had looked at the week’s appointments and made a few mental notes of what I needed to do today.  I started typing something for work after glossing over the daily readings, telling myself I’d go back to them in more detail later.  And this was all before my second cup of coffee!  I don’t think I’m all that different than many other parents of teens in that we never can seem to find enough time to “get everything done.”  Even weekends can feel like domestic catch-up time instead of moments of respite and relaxation.

Life constantly throws stuff at us every day and we need to know how to juggle many tasks at once.  Lately, though, I have begun to realize that I don’t want to multi-task as much anymore.  The past few years have taught me that life is also about making choices, discerning God’s call and beginning to simplify the life in front of me.   While I have a long way to go in the process of simplification, I call on God’s wisdom and grace often in this ongoing process of discernment.  It’s almost like weeding a garden bed or cleaning a closet, knowing what you wish to hold on to and what you are finally willing to let go.  Let my prayer continue to be like the words of the psalmist in Psalm 40: “Here I am, LORD; I come to do your will.” 

Easter Morning

In the stillness of morning, I often find a certain clarity of mind that tends to become more elusive as the day unfolds.  When springtime days finally warm up, I return to the glider on the screened-in porch for morning prayer and coffee.  This is an integral part of my day, as I am alone with my thoughts, the readings of the day, and the LORD.  Other than an occasional car driving by in the before-dawn springtime mist, the only sounds I hear are the birds chirping and the squirrels scampering about.  It is one of the few parts of the day when I have learned to just be still.

In imagining what that first Easter morning when Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome encountered the angel in Jesus’ otherwise empty tomb, I envision a similar placidity. Of course, once the angel explains that Jesus is not there, but has indeed risen from the dead, there is no more stillness.  A flurry of activity begins to take place as the women go and tell the disciples the news, all the while struggling to understand what has taken place.

Are we not, in many ways, like the women who encountered the empty tomb on that very first Easter?  Once we encounter the risen Christ after the events of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, our hearts are lifted even though much of the Resurrection remains a mystery to us.  This amazing act of love by God for us, through the dying and rising of God’s only son, Jesus, causes our hearts to rejoice and share the Good News with everyone we meet!   Alleluia!  He is risen!

In the stillness of the morning, in the days and weeks that will follow Easter, I hope to keep seeking conversation with the LORD, and ponder the miracle of Christ’s resurrection.  Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome’s lives were changed that morning in the empty tomb.  How will you live today as a recipient of this wonderful gift?  How will you keep the joy of Easter in your heart?  Happy Easter, Friends!