Monday, July 27, 2015

Steubenville 2015



Friday started out somewhat normally:  shower, shave, men’s Bible Study at Panera’s, followed by a drive to church and mass at 8AM.  But then I hit the road, and began a 5-hour drive to Franciscan University in Steubenville and The Defending the Faith Conference.  I expected to be there by 2PM, in time to hear the first talk by Fr. Michael Gaitley --- I’ve reviewed some of his books here; they are very inspiring, and I expected his talk would be too.

But the best laid plans of mice and men ….  The crash on I80 was near Cleveland, blocking the entire expressway, and everyone sat unmoving in the hot sun for well over an hour.  I read the Wall Street Journal, and began the crossword puzzle.  There was nothing very inspirational there --- surely this delay was not the work of God.  People and kids got out of their cars and walked about, one even setting up a card table and preparing lunch.  

I missed Fr. Gaitley’s talk, and most of Jennifer Fulwiler’s, too.  (I recently reviewed her book here also, and it too was very good).  I caught the last half hour of her inspiring conversion story, and then went to register at my nearby hotel.  I dropped Jennifer a quick note of thanks, and she promptly responded.  That was a nice, albeit delayed, start to the weekend.

Saturday morning’s talks were by Patrick Madrid and Dr. Peter Kreeft.  In my opinion, Patrick has replaced the late Fr. Benedict Groeschel as a key reason for attending this conference.  Mr. Madrid explains complex truths simply and more importantly, I think, gives everyday examples from his life of how really simple it is to evangelize effectively:  just go where God leads you and let Him do the work.  Dr. Kreeft’s talk was a reflection on a Harvard talk given by Alexander Solzhenitsyn 40 years ago.  His address to the Harvard alums was considered shocking and unacceptably depressing back then, but can be seen now as a preview of today’s culture; it offered most interesting insights.

After the late morning mass, I went off campus and got some soup and a sandwich from Kroger’s, and then returned.  I set out a pillow and blanket under a nice shade tree, and planned to relax the entire afternoon: having lunch, reading a novel, and maybe even napping --- skipping the various afternoon workshops and their speakers.  R&R was on my agenda.  But yet another unplanned interruption stopped MY plans --- and I think this one truly WAS from God.

I don’t remember feeling drowsy as I ate and lay down on the blanket, but I do remember suddenly jerking awake:  a seizure was upon me (you may recall my epilepsy).  As I sat up on the blanket, I glanced around:  there were no people nearby who might be disturbed by my problem.  Then I clutched the crucifix hanging from my neck, and began to pray to God and Mary for help.  I feared throwing up the recently-eaten lunch --- which could be a life-threatening problem --- but after a minute or two (or three), the trembling stopped, and I tried to relax.  I glanced at my watch; it was 1:45P, shortly before the first workshop scheduled to begin at 2.  I asked God if He wished for me to attend these workshops, and took out the Conference program listings.  Both Fulwiler and Gaitley had workshops that first hour, but for some reason I had circled Gaitley’s name in my program, and so I packed up my things and went to his talk and Q&A.

Fr. Gaitley largely talked about Marian Consecration, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and in general the topics of his book The Second Greatest Story Ever Told, and most especially about a call for Divine Mercy and its importance to the world today --- both its eternal importance, and its very IMMEDIATE importance.  I took his words to heart, and wrote myself a note to read his book again, and begin (as he suggested) the 33 day Marian Consecration on November 5, and to ask God what He would have me do regarding December 8, the final day of the consecration, and the beginning date of the Church’s proclaimed Year of Mercy.

Fr. Gaitley reminded us how St. Kolbe, echoing the calls of Fatima, had helped the Polish people to prepare for WWII, through a call for consecration to Mary and prayers for Divine Mercy.  Kolbe himself died in a concentration camp in that war. Gaitley told us how before the war Poland was considered the most Christian nation on earth, and reminded us how Christ called on his followers to be prepared to suffer in this life.  Kolbe’s work had helped the Polish people prepare for their suffering: 18% of the Polish population died in WWII.

And now, Fr. Gaitley said, the United States is considered the most Christian nation in the world, and he told us how now there are many calls here --- many calls --- for a renewed Marian Consecration and prayers for Divine Mercy --- for this country.   

And the auditorium was silent.  (Is God calling us to be prepared for great suffering here?)  The pope has called for a Year of Prayer for Divine Mercy, and this is most unusual. Only four such universal calls to prayer have ever been issued.

I was glad I was awoken from my sleep (and my plans) to hear this talk.  I believe there are things I must do, and applying a greater focus of my prayers on Divine Mercy among them.  I strongly suspect this is not the last thing I will hear on this subject --- but for now, I am awake.

The Saturday evening talk was by Dr. Scott Hahn, who was interesting as usual.  It was the holy hour, however, which was the highpoint of the evening.  I didn’t expect it to be, but then again my plans for this conference didn’t seem to matter anymore.

As the monstrance was processed into the auditorium, the words of the various hymns being sung, old and new, seemed to strike my heart.  Later as the monstrance was processed throughout the auditorium, aisle by aisle and at one point right next to me, I deeply felt Christ’s presence, and tears and sobs of joy overwhelmed me.  Later still, in the quiet adoration time, thoughts came to me of other nights here --- and previous years --- and especially those years when Fr. Groeschel led our adoration:  oh, how close to God we felt.  And then I thought:  but he is even closer to God right now, and so I began to pray and talk to Bennie, and so many thoughts of him flooded my mind.  His words and example were a special part of my life, and still are.  And then, somehow, my thoughts drifted to other holy hours I had attended, other very holy priests, and other thoughts were shared between God and I.  And in all this, I felt Him with me.

I was surprised when the prayers closing the holy hour began; the time on my knees had passed quickly.  I felt good as I got up and left the campus, and returned to my hotel.  I turned on my computer and checked for any new emails.  First in my Inbox was an email from a stranger, and opening it I read:  “Hello, I saw your post regarding Eucharistic adoration at St. Edward on the lake in Port Huron, Mi. and your experience with Fr. Hogan.  I've heard many great things about him and I'm seeking to find a book written about him by one of his (late?) parishioners.”  And then I recalled one more man with whom I had many special holy hours:  Fr John Hogan.  Why hadn’t I remembered him during the Holy Hour I had just attended?  Why did a stranger remind me of him right now, this minute?  And then I recalled how my rosary had turned gold at the very first Holy Hour I had attended with Fr. Hogan.  And thoughts of God’s presence again overwhelmed me.  This weekend He has something to say to me and I am hearing Him.  I think I shall add Fr. Hogan to my list of intercessors.



Early Sunday morning I had breakfast at the hotel and then went to the small adoration chapel on the college campus.  There were few people about.  The doors to the chapel building were wide open, and so as I read my morning meditations and prayed for God’s blessing on the day, I could hear the birds singing loudly nearby, and could see the sun’s light gradually entering the chapel, growing stronger, until the monstrance on the altar was bathed in bright sunlight.  My prayers and God’s answers seemed unusually focused, and with my pen I underlined many sentences in my readings, and wrote insights in the margins.



Strangely, it seemed at the time, my closing thoughts and prayers jumped to a couple of books I had purchased earlier in the week, which lay on the floor in the back of my car.  The thought seemed a distraction to my prayers, and I wanted to dismiss it, but the thought wouldn’t go away.  Finally I blurted out: “Do You have a purpose for those books, God?”  And I told Him I would take one of those books and offer it to whoever He pointed out to me this day.  And so I ended my prayers, stopped by the car to pick up the book, and went to the auditorium for the morning’s talks and mass.



I had only been there a few minutes when a man sat down in front of me, and turning around he noticed my name tag.  “Are you from Michigan?” he asked.  “My wife greatly enjoys the talks and books of a guy named Ralph Martin, who is from Michigan.  Do you know of him?”



“He’s in my parish,” I said.  Then he said: “We’re from Neenah, Wisconsin” --- a place I knew well; it is just down the road from where my mom and dad had retired for 30 years.  Both he and his wife knew the spot well.  And then they mentioned a Marian apparition site near Green Bay in Wisconsin --- which I have been making plans to visit soon.  That was enough.



I gave him the book I was carrying.  If this wasn’t the guy God wanted me to give the book to, I couldn’t imagine who might be.  You know, God doesn’t always have to slap me upside the head before I hear Him.   



As I wrote this in the auditorium, the Sunday talks are coming to a close.  And I thought:  “Perhaps there is something there too, that God wishes me to hear.”  This seems to be a weekend of His plans, not mine.  So I placed an order to get copies of those missed talks.

           

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I think some people wonder why I attend the Steubenville conferences each year.  “A wasted weekend, same-ol’, same-ol’,” they might dismiss my travels.  Perhaps some wonder why I attend daily mass also:  same-ol’, same-ol’.  Perhaps in some ways it is; perhaps in some ways these things are an inconvenience to me (especially if you get stuck 2 hours on a hot expressway).  But if you are sincere in wanting to have God in your life, just what should you do?



I guess you could do nothing, or just say a prayer every now and again, and just wait for Him to act.  Or --- you could go into His presence, to places where His people gather, to places where He says He is.  And He might speak to you.



Or you could go off and just do what you want, and wait for God to throw you off your high horse, like He did Saul.  And maybe He will.


Or maybe He’ll wake you up one day from your sleep with a seizure to capture your attention.  These things happen, you know.

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I was going to end this rather long post there, however perhaps that would leave you with some wrong impressions of my life.  The drive home Sunday night was uneventful.  I unpacked my car, got the mail from the neighbor’s house, and then sat down at my kitchen table to relax for a minute.

And I looked out the window and saw this:





I guess there had been a storm over the weekend, snapping off the large branch and crashing it on my deck furniture.  I don’t care to look for any damage right now; it’ll still be there when I get more energy to do something about it --- maybe next Thursday or so.  : - )

No, my life is not all miracles ---- but if this is the extent of the sufferings I am to bear, I will be most happy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Psalm 22: Hope



My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

I think at one time or another, in one way or another, we’ve all spoken aloud those words which Jesus spoke from the cross.  They are words of despair; they are words spoken out of a strong emotion.  They are words that a human body, in pain, in suffering, or in deep sorrow cannot contain.  They just come out, without thinking.

The Scriptures talk about “wailing women” at the house of a dead person, giving voice to a despair often silently felt by the living, loved ones.  I never quite understood what that meant: “wailing.”  Then came the day when I heard the news of my sister’s pending death, and I wailed.  And I cried out words from my heart to God; I had no thoughts; the words just were there.  Like those words spoken aloud from the cross.

I look about me, and it seems I see many people wailing these days.

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Last Saturday, I attended a Day of Recollection with the members of my local Secular Franciscan Order.  One of the talks given that day was focused on Psalm 22.  It began with the priest-speaker reading the entire psalm aloud, and then asking us what we had heard.  It was different hearing it read, versus reading it.  There were many differing insights voiced from the people in the room.  And although I have read and prayed that psalm many times, I too heard different things explained in my heart that day.

The first line of the psalm is one said in strong emotion, a physical reaction as I described above.  Read softly by the priest, it still sounded almost like a shout.  But then I heard calmer, more reflective words being read:

I cry by day, but you do not answer;
and by night, but find no rest.

Yet … in you our fathers trusted;
… and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved;
in you they trusted, and were not disappointed.

What I heard was the psalmist saying:  “I am in great pain, Lord; you don’t seem to be helping.  But … I remember how when my forefathers were in pain, and you helped them.  They trusted in you.” 

“Hmmmmm,” the psalmist seems to be musing aloud, “… and they were not disappointed.”

Yes, dogs are round about me;
a company of evildoers encircle me;
they have pierced my hands and feet.

In going back to and describing his own agonies again, the psalmist unwittingly foretells those of Christ, but recalling again how God saved his forefathers, he then prays:

I will tell of your name to my brethren;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you …
The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied,
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!

Those who seek him will find him, the psalmist reminds himself. 

Psalm 22 is not a psalm of despair, as it begins, but it is a psalm reminding us that when we are in despair: to have hope in the Lord.  He has helped our ancestors in their trials, why would we think he will not help us?  Psalm 22 begins in despair, but ends with hope. 

Faith involves reason; God is not fickle; his words and actions make sense --- even if we cannot understand them at the moment.  Charity involves the will:  I will to love my neighbor, even if he seems undeserving of my love, by human standards.  But Hope involves neither the reasoning of the mind nor the will of the heart.  Hope is a trust in God’s promises:  delivered in the past, being delivered even in our present circumstances, and to be delivered in all eternity.

Jesus died to give us that Hope.  Jesus said the opening words of Psalm 22 from the cross as a great, visible reminder of the point of that psalm:  DO NOT BE ANXIOUS. 

I know things seem terrible now, Jesus seems to say from the cross, but hope in God.  Even from this horror you see before you, He will bring forth amazing, wonderful things.

And He did.

Trust in Him. 
Hope in Him.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Gay People



I write here from the perspective of my Catholic faith.  If you found this post by a Google search of its title, you may find a good summary of the Catholic Church’s perspective of “gay people” in this link:  (http://discovermass.com/church/our-lady-of-good-counsel-plymouth-mi/), the Our Lady of Good Counsel church bulletin.  Fr. John Riccardo explains in the July 12th church bulletin what the Catholic Church teaches, and why.  If you think you think you already know what the Church teaches, I might suggest you confirm your thoughts with the few facts he presents. 
We can all benefit from a clearer understanding of facts.  I did.
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The purpose of this post is to remember some very different gay people (who I met last year for the first time) --- these are most “happy” people, and they made my life a little happier for having met them.
This is an excerpt of the posting I wrote almost one year ago today:

I had promised Maryellen Jones (Grandma’s Musings) that I would visit her, and her husband Clinton, for lunch at the Spring Hills (Tennessee) assisted living facility where they resided. 
Maryellen was a much more beautiful person than the pictures on her blog could display.  Physically and spiritually, she radiated a confidence that so many of us lack.  She knew that where she was, and at this stage of her life, this is where God meant her to be, and it was here that she was making a difference.  I told her, and her daughter Kathy that at the Caregiver’s Support Group I coordinate I often share some of the notes Maryellen sent me, describing how she lovingly cares for Clinton, who has Alzheimer’s.  The descriptions of how she patiently communicates with him, overcoming the limitations of his illness, are an inspiration to others caring for their loved ones.  I gave Kathy a laminated copy of what I considered one of the best advice pieces Maryellen had written, so Kathy could see the daily love which her mother gives her father, and how much her mother’s actions remain important to others in this world.
Kathy didn’t stay for lunch with us --- which was her loss:  the Polish sausage and sauerkraut were outstanding!  The staff had set up place settings for Maryellen, Clinton and I in the private dining room, so we could talk undisturbed, but after a glance around, Maryellen would have none of that.  One of the other women from the facility was sitting at a table alone, and Maryellen said: “No, we’ll sit at the table with her, to keep her company” --- and she proceeded to pick up the place settings and move them to the table in the main dining room.  Maryellen, at 86, just seems to fit so naturally in her role of being God’s loving presence to her neighbor.  I am so glad I took the time to come and meet her.  And it really was a pleasure meeting Clinton, also.  He has such a wonderful smile, and a peaceful and calm demeanor, even when he sometimes loses his train of thought.  I never saw him express frustration at his limitations, which I’ve often seen in others with Alzheimer’s.  I very much enjoyed my time with Maryellen and Clinton and their daughter and hearing stories of their life.

I remember most fondly that visit last year, and I recall Clinton’s gay smile and demeanor, despite his great trials with Alzheimer’s disease.  I know of no one who bore it better.
Maryellen sent me a note that Clinton’s suffering ended last Friday, July 10th.  May he rest in peace.  His is the face of a gay person which I shall always remember.