Thursday, November 26, 2015

On Tuesdays I Cry

It is going on a year now, I guess, since that first time it happened.  As the Tuesday noontime mass ended, Father stepped down from the altar, turned back to kneel, and then rose to leave the church down the main aisle.  The people sang the recessional hymn, but a man in the first row went up to the priest and asked:  “Father, would you bless my baby?”  It was obviously a young newborn.
Father stopped, took the baby into his arm, placed his hand on the baby’s head, closed his eyes and began praying.  Now a priest holding a baby is not a common event, and two young boys walked up from their nearby pew to see this sight, and they stood there looking up and staring as Father continued to pray.  After a bit, he completed his prayer, handed the baby back to his father, and stopped as he noticed the two boys in front of him.  And so he reached down and put his hands on one and then the other, and prayed over them also.
And so it began.
The numbers at mass grew gradually, as the word spread among parents.  There never was any announcement or comment in the weekly church bulletin about what was happening.  Nor was there any announcement at the mass, like: “Okay, now ‘s the time to come up here.”  No, the mass ends, the priest steps down from the altar, and the kids just quietly line up to receive God’s blessing.
The majority of the children seem to be too young for Holy Communion, although a number of teens now regularly walk up to be blessed and prayed over.  Well over a hundred people now attend that Tuesday noon mass, and 50 – 75 or more children come up for blessing.  Father asked two deacons to assist at the mass, and the blessings, but still it is not uncommon for us to sing 5 – 7 versus of the recessional hymn.
One Tuesday, I fondly recall, the first child up the aisle was a toddler, walking in that wobbly toddler way, with both arms held up high for balance.  And when the tiny little girl reached the front of the center aisle, alone, she stopped, put her arms down at her side, and bowed her head --- a little angel waiting for God’s blessing.
I cry every Tuesday.  Oh sometimes tears begin as I receive Communion and perceive God’s presence, but my tears always flow at the end, in response to the kids’ quiet enthusiasm and smiles as afterward they walk back to their parents.
You know I’ve written of late about how God talks to us, but on Tuesdays I see how He doesn’t need words, just actions.  This week because I am in Arizona I will miss my parish Tuesday noon mass and seeing the kids.  And I’ll miss crying; I mean I will really MISS crying, at seeing God so love His children.
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Well, almost.  Today at the Thanksgiving Day mass I attended, three young boys were called up to the altar after the Gospel.  Dressed in black, they looked like little ninjas.  I didn’t know what was going on.  But the priest prayed over them, sprinkled them with holy water, and then they put on the white surplus over their heads --- they were newly blessed altar boys.  And they all turned to face us, hands folded, and with beaming smiles.  And all applauded --- and yeh, I kinda shed a tear.  More blessings, just when I needed them. 

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Ring-Ring, God Calling

I know I’ve written a few posts in recent months (including that last one) about listening for God’s call, and making a difference in this world with our lives.  I mentioned how (of course) He calls in that small, still voice, and how He sometimes uses the written word (Scripture or otherwise) to speak to us, and sometimes He even calls us through the people we meet.  But I guess, as I was reminded last night, that perhaps if you aren’t getting it from all these other sources, He may just pick up the phone and call….
It was a dreary day, yesterday, the first snow of the season, and after my usual Saturday breakfast with a friend, I just hung around the house all day, watching the snow fall.  So I guess I wasn’t surprised when the phone rang at about 7PM and I was told that, with the weather, people were having difficulty getting to the adoration chapel, so it was being closed for the night.  My usual midnight adoration hours were cancelled.  (I took this picture out my back door, of the snow-laden branches almost touching the ground around my deck.)
I sat down on the living room couch and said my usual night prayers, and read some meditations, but even as I looked up at the crucifix on the wall, well, I felt we just weren’t connecting.  And as I took out my binder to write my end-of-day thoughts on what I had accomplished this day, I found myself looking at a blank page.  What a wasted day.  And so I arose and considered my plans for the rest of this quiet evening.  …. Um, did I say the rest of MY plans?
At about 8PM the phone rang again:  “Tom, this is Kaye.  I’m up north and I just spoke with Deb.  Her dad’s been rushed to the hospital, dying; she’s a wreck, and she’s afraid to drive in this weather in her condition.”  (You may remember Deb from my post last Christmas, titled: Christmas Dinner at McDonalds.  That day Deb could reach no one else that Christmas morning as her mother was rushed to the hospital, dying, and so she called me, and I spent Christmas day with her mom and family until the end.)  
And so it was that I called Deb: “I’m just printing out directions to your house, and then to the hospital.  I’ll be over in about a half hour to take you there.”  Between her sobs Deb insisted the weather was too bad, and I shouldn’t come.  “Wait a minute,” I responded.  “God cancelled my visit with Him at His house this evening for a reason.  Obviously it must be because He had something more important for me to do.  Are you going to argue with God?”  She laughed at that.  I think that was a good sign.
The roads were pretty bad, driving through the 7 or 8 inches of snow we had, and the plow trucks rushing to their jobs threw up huge gobs of slush onto the windshield.  And so of course my wipers decided to go into one of those brrk-brrk-brrk, screeeech; brrk-brrk-brrk, screech modes, just pushing the slop around in my line of sight.  Looking for the street to turn on to reach Deb’s house, I realized that all the signs were covered in snow --- you could read none of them.  This was going to be fun.
Deb was still a wreck when I reached her house; she was on the phone with her sister, who had reached the hospital.  Things were very bad.  I made her put her coat on and led her to my car, even as she continued to talk to her sister, and tell her we were on the way.  We traveled the highways, expressways, major roads, and then dark two-lane roads through the countryside, where well over a foot of snow had fallen.  We passed many cars in the ditch, but squinted on, trying to see our way through the twisting winding roads, in the middle of nowhere.  We finally reached the remote hospital over an hour later, surprising the Emergency Entrance security guards: “No one’s out tonight; why are you here?”  They gave us passes and we rushed to her dad’s room.  He had died five minutes before we arrived.
Deb’s sister and brother and their spouses were there, and you can guess the scene.  It was a difficult time.  The hospital had called a priest, who arrived about a half hour after us, and he administered the last rites, and led us in prayer.  He and the hospital staff were most caring people, even as they were that day Deb’s mom had died nearly a year ago.  We waited for their brother to arrive; he lived in Grand Rapids, across the state, and normally a 3-hour drive away.  But not tonight.  We prayed, talked about dad and mom, and the good times and memories.  And we knew Deb’s mom was once again yelling: “Paul, get over here!”  And he was!
After a couple of hours, the normal shut-down events of a body began occurring, and the room became uncomfortable to stay in, and so the family called the still-distant brother and all agreed to call it a night.  We said one final good-by, and headed home.
While Deb was on the phone with the funeral parlor, I turned out of the parking lot and began the long drive home; the snow still fell heavily.  And it took all of about 3 minutes for me to peer into the total darkness ahead of me and say:  “This isn’t right.   I’m lost,” and so I stopped in the middle of the road --- the only car and only lights in any direction.  After about 5 minutes Deb finished her conversation with the funeral home, and asked her phone for directions to take us home.  It directed me to make an immediate u-turn.  I guess I wasn’t surprised.  The voice from the phone kept directing us to turn this way or that way at some street up ahead --- as if we could read any of the snow-covered street signs.  But an hour or so later, we finally reached Deb’s house again, even as her brother was arriving from his trek across the state.  It was a good ending to the night.  (And those previous snarky comments I may have made on a post or two in the past, about how “I don’t need no stinking iphone apps”--- I may go back and erase them.  If not for those directions to get us home I probably would have wandered around until I ran out of gas, or into some farmer’s field.  It was a most useful device.)
It was after 2AM when I finally approached my home street, about the normal time for my coming home from adoration.  Yes, God had a better plan for me.  And as I looked ahead, the clouds parted in the sky in right front of me, and I could clearly see the full moon, smiling down.  Now THAT was a good ending to this night.
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As I drove to mass this morning, the sun was shining brightly, and all the trees and every single branch were covered with a heavy coating of snow.  It was like looking at heaven.  I thought to take a picture of the beautiful scenery, but I figured there are plenty of those pictures around today.  Instead I thought I’d include this picture, to remind me that today is just another day:
I went to the closet this morning and grabbed a handful of gloves --- it’s time, I guess, and putting them on the counter, this is what I saw:  six left-handed gloves.  Not a single right-handed one.  Sheesh!  Yep, this was going to be just another one of those days.
But as I write this, I have 40 hours until I take off to Phoenix and Thanksgiving with my nieces.  And I realize how I have so very much to be thankful for. 
I think I’ll leave the gloves at home.  

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Can I Make a Difference?

The modestly-dressed grey-haired woman sat in the pew two rows in front of me, as she did most mornings before mass.  This day, however, she stood up and walked back to me.  “Hello.  My name is Naomi , and I will not be here next week.  Would you please pray for the safety of my travels, and the safety of my mother whom I care for?”  I replied, “Of course,” but then felt a compulsion to ask: “Where are you traveling to?”  “To Africa,” she replied.  “I am going to visit the children I care for there, through the little charity that God asked me to start a couple of years ago.”  And she wrote down the website of the charity for me, so I could read more about it.  And then mass began.
Later, looking at the website, I read how this simple woman --- like any of us, really --- felt called by God to love his children in need in Africa.  And (somewhat like me, I confess) she felt she that she had to verify that need herself: she had to see it, and so she traveled to Africa.  As a result of that first trip she has gone on to help many individuals, including recently a little boy needing surgery to remove a huge tumor on his neck.  She convinced the University of Michigan hospital to donate the surgery, and so she brought him here, found him shelter while he recovered, and is taking him back to his mother.  Neither she nor any of the few others who help her take any salary or cost re-imbursements; they donate their time and money for any administrative or travel costs.  They raise a relatively small amount of money each year, and then ensure it is used to help those in need, that it is put to the most good use --- in Africa.
Naomi had no brochures or business cards to pass out promoting her charity, just her simple website.  I have seen her come to church each morning for years now, and never knew her.  I support many charities, some of which are very far away and remote from me, while here my parish neighbor was working and praying and could really use my help in helping others --- and she was sitting right in front of me.
I’ll drop my monthly support for one of those remote worldwide charities in favor of the one run by this little woman who I see at daily mass.  I WILL love my neighbor, as I am called to do.
This is Naomi’s charity website:
People often ask me what charities I routinely support.  There are many local ones I support with periodic donations, but if you are interested, these are the ones I feel worthwhile enough to support monthly:
All of these charities have one thing in common:  they were started by a single individual (who I know) who thought he/she heard God’s call, and answered --- and through them He has done marvelous deeds (well, in one case it is just a guy starting out; but I expect he will accomplish marvelous deeds).  And through these people many thousands of God’s children have been and are beingloved.  No one in any of these charities makes big salaries; most work very long hours, and they love and are loved.
Who do they help?  They help the unborn (whose lives were saved), unwed mothers, the poor, people who are searching for God, orphans, students on a college campus, people in despair, and people who would like to dedicate their lives to God by entering religious life, but they couldn’t --- but now they can. 
And who are these miracle-workers who have started such wonderful charities?  Well, one was a college student whose boyfriend dumped her; another was an executive vice-president of a global corporation, another was an atheist, alcoholic drug abuser, another was a poor Franciscan friar, another is a recent college grad dissatisfied with the God-bashing college atmosphere, and yet another is a top grad of an Ivy-League college who was quickly earning a large six-figure salary --- and who gave it all up.  Who are they?  They’re young; they’re old; they’re rich; they’re poor; they’re married; they’re religious.  Some have families and work jobs, and some are dedicating their lives to their charity.
And of course, there’s Naomi, caring for her mom --- even as I did mine.
And I can’t forget the organization which I recently volunteered to become involved in, which is just a group of people making modest salaries, working long hours, and being loving people who care for lovable people.  This is their website:
Is God calling you to use your talents for His work?  Can you make a difference?  How many might you help; how many lives --- and souls --- might you save?  How many people are waiting to hug you?  None of these people whose charities I support felt especially religious or important --- or had any idea that God might have some plan for them.  A few DID ask: “Lord, what would you have me do?”  But most just one day found themselves in a strange situation: they saw someone who needed help, and then they began. 
God did the rest.  They are beautiful people, and I feel blessed to know them, and support their work in some small way.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Review: Finding True Happiness

The subtitle of this book, “Satisfying Our Restless Hearts” is a concise summary of how and why we find true happiness.  The dedication page says something similar in the words of Augustine: For Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.
This is the first in a series of four books aimed at “those who feel themselves to be at an impasse -- not knowing whether to take their faith seriously or to let it slip away.”  Spitzer intends to provide logical and scientific proofs for our yearnings:  for happiness, for meaning in life, and for a relationship with God.  These books are written to help all to deepen their faith.  He begins the series with this book on happiness, since it is the key to most major decisions made in our lives.
Spitzer points out that our desire for happiness is a natural yearning, but it is also a choice.  He identifies four levels of happiness, the first two (material and ego-comparative desires) are our self-seeking happiness desires: “I’ll make myself happy.”  The latter two higher levels of happiness (contributive-empathetic and transcendental-spiritual desires) are a form of reflective happiness: “I’ll find happiness in making others and God happy.”
The first third of this book is focused on explaining these levels of happiness, how they are achieved, and problems which are often encountered in achieving them --- one of the key being our inability to move beyond the second level of happiness because so much in our culture supports the supposition that we must focus on our own happiness, and not that of others.  To the degree that we DO focus on other’s happiness, it is often over our concerns about their “rights” to pursue their own happiness --- and no one better get in the way of anyone’s rights.  Spitzer, with supportive studies, shows how distorted is that perception of life’s priorities.
The latter two-thirds of this book is focused on how we measure and achieve that transcendental level of happiness: having a relationship with God.  This section starts with a chapter titled: “Is Level Three Enough?”  Spitzer makes it clear, just achieving level three of happiness is NOT enough.  But he also gives guidance on how someone wanting to grow in his friendship with God can do that.  He gives you actions, steps, and ways to measure your progress toward the book’s final chapter: “The Assurance of Eternal Life with God.”
And along the way, Spitzer is reminding you: “These are steps to even higher levels of happiness; you will be glad you took them.”  And I’m sure he’s right.
I liked this book, and the many scientific, philosophical, and theological studies he quotes and analyzes.  The next book in this series has even more references to studies, proving the points he raises.