Church Ladies

Anna and Simeon_for BlogTomorrow is the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord.  In my very first blog post I spoke about this feast because it is so near and dear to my heart.  The reading is from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 2 verses 22-40 or if you hear the short version verses 22 – 32.  Mary and Joseph bring Jesus to the temple for to be offered to the Lord as the first-born male child.  My favorite character, and my special patroness is Anna, whom I have proclaimed to be the patroness of church ladies.  Unfortunately, if you have the shortened version read at Mass, Anna gets left out because she’s so easily overlooked.  If you hear her name even mentioned in the homily it’s probably just because she’s there.  But she has so much to say.

And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 

I adopted Anna as my patroness several years ago.  Even though I’ve been working as a musician in the Church since I left childhood, I always thought of myself as a musician who happens to do church gigs rather than a church lady.  Then one day several years ago I took my youngest to McDonalds to give her something to do while waiting for her sister’s softball game to start.  A man walked in and began looking over the crowd of people who were there chowing down on their cheeseburgers and fries.  This man looked like he was, as my mother would say, “down on his luck.”  He was dressed in rags and was unshaven and rumpled in appearance.  I noticed him come in but then he cast his eyes on me he began to saunter right over to the table where I was seated with my six year old.  I worried about what he might say.  What would I say?  I didn’t have much money on me if he was looking for a bite, although I could probably scrape something up from the bottom of my purse.

“Are you a church lady?” he asked.  I must have looked puzzled and didn’t respond at first, so he repeated, “Are you a church lady?”  My mind raced.  I wanted to say, “No, I’m a rock diva who is currently doing a gig at a Catholic church,” but my mouth said “Well, yes.  Yes, I am.”  “Could you tell me where I could find a Father?”  I gave him directions to the rectory and he thanked me and left.  Church lady?  Me?  Do I really look like a Church Lady?

I’ve know many incredible women who fit the moniker “Church Lady.”  Most often they were widowed and, like Anna, spent day and  night in the church cleaning the thuribles, pressing the vestments, setting up for Mass and putting the sacred vessels away neatly and carefully.  When  they weren’t doing their Church Lady duties they could usually be found sitting quietly in the back of the church with their eyes closed fingering crystal rosaries.  I believe that it’s the Church Ladies who really keep the church going.  It’s the Church Ladies who really do remember to pray for all the people who have asked for prayers.  They pray for the parish and the priests and the little babies who will be baptized.  They pray for the newly married couples and the newly widowed.  These women are the Church with pantsuits and smiles.  Sometimes theirs is the first face people see when they walk in.  Since they know everyone in the parish they’re quick to recognize and greet strangers.  They enthusiastically tell them the history of the the parish and direct them to the restrooms.  They’re the understanding heart that reaches out to the sorrowing and lost ones who have stumbled into the church to find answers  to their pain.

So tomorrow go to church and greet your church lady because she’s the embodiment of Anna, the first evangelist.  She’s the one who’s probably helping to pass out blessed candles.

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Losing It

John xxiiiLast Saturday I decided  that I had had ENOUGH!

I was fresh off the bus from the March for Life in Washington the day before and was feeling excited  about doing something positive for life when out of my television I heard the familiar sound of the wii.  It was grandson number two having a battle with a cartoon figure.

January 25 was bitter cold – 14 degrees when we left the parish parking lot, yet it was a good day.  My husband pulled a surprise move and decided to go along.  It was really nice to have him there for support, and I truly appreciated it.  On the way to D.C. the Pastor ran a movie about Blessed Pope John XXIII starring Ed Asner as the aged pope.  I remember seeing television images of the little old man in his white coat and mitre because he was the pontiff of my childhood, yet I never really knew  much about him other than a couple quotes that shed light on his beautiful humble spirit.  I do  remember the reforms of Vatican II and the tremendous upheaval the “poor country priest” began in the Church.  It was because of that small tap of the first Domino on the Church’s table that I am who I am today.

The effect on the Liturgy of the Church had a direct influence on me, because it was during that tumultuous time – a time  when my parents watched friends walk away from the Church, never to return – that I was trained to become an organist for Mass.  It was Sister’s idea.  She was giving me piano lessons and for some reason convinced my mother that I should learn to play the organ.  I didn’t realize that she had an ulterior motive.  The order of sisters who had served our parish from it’s beginning, taught in the school,  played  for the liturgies and directed the chants of the choir at High Masses decided to pull out of the parish.  They were going through some upheaval of their own.  Some of the sisters left the convent completely, some decided it was better to go into the cities and work among the poor than teach 8th graders their Catechism or play for Funerals.  So it was out of dire need, in the summer between my 8th grade year and High School, that I was given the task of playing for Mass and it sealed my fate forever.

I became the official organist at the age of 14, playing for all the Masses.  By this time the Mass looked and sounded completely different.  The Church was renovated to turn the altar around, the altar rail was tossed into the dumpster and the organ was moved from the back of the Church to the front.  The music, too, was totally unlike any of the chants I grew up listening to.  It had a distinct “hootenanny” feel to it, especially when they let (gasp!) guitars into church.  It felt and sounded more like the Pete Seeger and Peter, Paul and Mary records my older sister played incessantly on her 45 record player than the stuff in the Gregory Hymnal.

I wasn’t very good yet but the parishioners, who were trying to put on a happy face about the whole thing, remained very patient with me as I learned.  I played for parish Masses on weekends and school Masses in High School, getting a special dispensation to leave school for the parish when there was a funeral.

What I wasn’t aware of at the time was John XXIII’s dedication to nonviolence and peacemaking.  I never read his beautiful encyclical Pacem in Terris that was written just three months before his death.  He believed in ecumenism, reconciliation and unity.  He promoted understanding and dialogue rather than the mistrust and espionage of the Cold War.

After the Newtown, CT shooting there was a few days of what I thought was respectful silence while the town buried their children.  What I didn’t know was that it was more like the prelude to a tsunami when the shoreline is drawn back into the ocean because a tremendous wave was building up.  As soon as the last  hymn of the last funeral was finished the shouting and accusations began flying and it’s now becoming more and more shrill and hateful.  Voices were coming from all sides,  blending into a kind of mass hysteria of suspicion and fear of anyone whose opinion differs – on any topic, not just guns.  Anything is fair game, even another person’s faith is held up to the light of public scrutiny and social bullying.  If I read a news article about the Catholic Church there follows post after post of anti-Catholic venom ranging from making the churches pay taxes to making laws against any religious expression.  If I read a blog from a priest, there are people – Catholics – who don’t think he’s Catholic enough (huh?) and they spew their opinions as if they’re Scripture verses.  An insightful article from a professor or professional on any subject is fodder for people to attack them with accusations and curses because it was not the opinion of the writer.  It’s madness.  It’s like we’re putting ourselves into another Cold War against each other.

So I’ve had enough.  Enough violence in thoughts, words or actions.  I need peace in my life because the current political and social climate is beginning to poison me.  I wasn’t raised this way and I’m not going to stand for having it around my family, so I’m going to start small, and Lent is a good time to put it into action:

  • In my home there will be no more “fighting games”  on the wii or computer.  I don’t care if someone likes fighting games and can quote me research that it doesn’t harm children – I don’t want them in my home!
  • No more negativity.  In my home there will only be words that will build others up, not tear them down.
  • No more angry words about anything, even if the dog gets into my yarn and makes confetti out of my afghan.
  • No more reading memes or forums online – these are a trap for me and I’m not going to let myself fall into it.
  • There will be respect for each other’s opinions, patience with each other’s conversations and understanding of each others feelings

Since I’m removing the negative I will need to replace it with something positive, so I’m going to dive deeper into my Catholicism by reading words of peace, reconciliation and understanding.  There are several modern saints and almost saints to choose from, but I figure Blessed Pope John XXIII is a good place to begin.

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Stargazing

1star_of_bethlehemI’ve seen too many trailers for The Poseidon Adventure to ever want to take a cruise.  I’ll drive  anywhere, and will voluntarily take a plane if I have to, but water – uh, no, thank you.  I have a real fear of ending my life as fish food.  My husband said he’d do it in a heartbeat because he’d be so far away from the lights on land that he’d be able to see all the stars and he really wants to see the whole night sky with all the stars.  Humans have always loved stargazing since the beginning of time.  We’ve named them, drawn figures around them, used them as guides, and told tales about them.  I guess it’s in our DNA to want to know about them because scientists say that we are made of star stuff.  Even ancient cultures knew more about the stars, the seasons, and the cycles of the natural world than I do – and I watch the Discovery Channel religiously.

The Star of Bethlehem has always been a source of wonder and story and throughout the ages artists have attempted to paint it.  They’ve usually made it big  and bright – sometimes placing it directly over the manger even occasionally vying for position with the angels.  Musicians have composed carols and popular songs about it; “Star of Wonder, Star of Night, Star with royal beauty bright…”  We put stars on our Christmas Trees, on our street lights, on our advertisements and over our doorways.  But I’ve often wondered – if the Star of  Bethlehem was so big and bright, why didn’t anyone else notice it?  Why don’t we have records from other civilizations about an unusual light in the sky?  Why didn’t Herod know about it before the Wise Men showed up on  his doorstep looking for directions?  Evidently he had a couple astrologers on staff because just after he fibbed to the wise men he got them all working on the problem of the prophetic light of a rival king.  Why didn’t they see it coming?

Perhaps the reason that no one noticed the Star of Bethlehem was because they weren’t looking for the one that was there.  Maybe it wasn’t very big at all, didn’t shine brighter than the noonday sun and it didn’t have a tail as big as a kite.  What if it were just an ordinary, garden variety star that appeared on the horizon one morning just before sunrise in an area of the sky where it wasn’t the night before.   We know from legend that the three wise men were astrologers.  Many ancient cultures were skilled in reading the stars and other heavenly bodies, and the astrologers were very familiar with the sky.  If something new would have shown up, they’d have noticed.  In fact, the sighting prompted them to immediately pack up their things and undertake a treacherous journey through unfamiliar lands and cultures.  It was worth it to them to see this king of the Jews because they had read the prophecies and understood their meaning.  I wonder if they were a bit confused when the star led them to a little rinky-dink Jewish town and that the new-born king appeared to be nothing out of the ordinary, no different than any other child in the vicinity.

It’s funny when you think about these road-weary men who finally got to the end of their journey only to find that the King of the Jews was a poor little boy with ordinary parents in an ordinary house.  Yet, unfazed, they still bowed before the child and offered the gifts they had brought for the king they were seeking; Gold, a gift for a king, Frankincense, a gift for a deity, and Myrrh, a gift for the Man destined to die.   Later, when they realized that they each had the same dream that warned them not to return to Herod’s palace, they navigated another route home and disappeared into the pages of Salvation history.  There were hundreds of people living around the house of Joseph and Mary, and not one of them saw this child as anything but another child.  They were waiting for their Messiah to show up, like the Star of Bethlehem, as someone big and bright and out of the ordinary.  Unlike these three astrologers, they wouldn’t have been able to accept that the Messiah was already with them in the ordinary day in and day out of their lives.

There are so many lights around us that it’s almost impossible to see a winter’s night sky without having to trek the globe to find enough darkness.  If the Star of Bethlehem had appeared today who would have been able to see it?  Maybe it would be noticed by someone at NASA, whose job is to scan the skies for Extra-Terrestrial visitors or Near Earth Objects, but they’d probably only map it, not knowing it’s real meaning.  It would be marked as a point of light among billions of other points of light.  Could it be that we are just like the people of Bethlehem?  Are we able to see the miracles that are all around us in our ordinary day in and day out?  Are the lights of our age distracting us, keeping us from seeing the true light because it’s a point of light among billions of points of  light?   Could  it be that we’re following the same lights that are keeping us from being stargazers?

So today I’m going to pack up Christmas, wrap it in tissue paper and put it back in the boxes to be stored in the garage with the lawn mower,  but as I do I’m going to make a resolution.  From now on I’m going to pay more attention to what’s really happening in my ordinary life.  I am going to listen to more silence and gaze at more stars because I don’t want to miss anything.

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The Year of Hope

sunlightOkay, New Year’s Resolution – get more regular with the blog.  There!  That’s much more simple than losing weight and paying all my credit cards down.

So what happened that I stopped blogging for a while?  Truth is I started several posts and abandoned them because everything seemed too muddled and confused. The world started spinning too fast for this little ADHD brain to keep up with and I felt like my thoughts would probably be better off sitting quietly and use my inside-my- head voice.

First:  The hurricane of the century, Sandy,  came to call and wiped out the beach where I loved to go to for rest and refreshment, the place where Bugman rescued the butterfly while frolicking with his brother in the warm Atlantic water.  We watched the television news (after the power came back on) in horror.  Grandson number one looked at the images and shouted, “Hey, I was just on that roller coaster!”    This disaster wasn’t happening in a far off land or even at the other side of the country, but in my own little part of the world.  Images of the places I’d been to and knew well were shown day and night with the shell-shocked refugees who had just lost everything they owned.  They lost generations of memories, the tangible pieces of their lives and even members of their family in that same water that gave me renewal.  Unbelievable that they’re still begging, borrowing and stealing to get power, shelter and the basic necessities while the rest of the world has lost interest and moved onto other things.

Second:  The election….I’m still shuddering thinking about it.  I had plenty of opinions, but discovered that it would probably be best if I didn’t express them.  There came a point that whatever I thought, said, wrote or believed was fuel for someone else’s rage.  I lost friends, people I  knew – or thought I knew, for years – because of something I expressed on Facebook that they took out of context and blew out of proportion   I’m glad it’s over.  I’m glad that I live in a country where we elect our leaders freely without threats or coercion.  I’m not glad that the process is so messy and nasty.  I’m not glad that it’s an opportunity for those with power to try to influence the minds and hearts of people through half-truths and outright lies.  I’m not glad that the nation is becoming more and more polarized.  I’m not glad that I was pigeonholed and demographed, categorized and counted as if I were a commodity instead of a rational, thinking human being with the ability to read and follow my conscience – because even my conscience became something that could be scrutinized,  judged and torn apart by people I didn’t even know.  Even now that all’s said and done I worry that I may have gotten someone’s hackles up who just read this paragraph.  We’ve lost the ability to respect ideas, opinions and each other.

Third: The Massacre of the Innocents…I still can’t go there.  Syria, Connecticut – when will we ever learn, O Lord?  When?

Fourth:  Christmas…the most wonderful time of the year – if you are seven.  The Church tries its best to keep it holy by focusing on Advent, and I’m in that camp completely.  I love Advent!   I love the readings, the music,  the anticipation; however, who can resist getting caught up in the maelstrom?  It started after Halloween.  I was still raiding the grandkid’s candy stash for miniature tootsie rolls when I heard the first commercial of Christmas.  It was pink, and loud and the speaker had a voice that, I suppose, is supposed to attract ten year old girls and get them  to nag grandparents to buy pink things that will be opened and abandoned in one day when the target children discover that it isn’t nearly as much fun as it looks like in the commercial.  The voice crawls up my spine like a tick with cleats.  At that moment I saw a vision of my life for the next couple months – the Christmas Season – an extra special time for Church musicians.

I begin to prepare for Christmas in the summer.  I usually do an arrangement of an obscure carol for my choir – this year I did “A La Nanita Nana,” a beautiful medieval Spanish carol.  In August I reserve the church for our Ceremony of Lessons and Carols and begin my yearly war with the basketball coaches for the release of my choir kids to be able to sing at the concert.   We rehearse like mad for weeks and after the concert realize that we have to quickly rehearse for Christmas Eve midnight Mass.  I plan, play and direct six Masses between 5:00 pm Christmas Eve and 12:00 pm Christmas Day with choirs, cantors, brass, bells, and guitars and 4 1/2 hours sleep.  In between these I have to visit with the in-laws, fill all the stockings, bake a ham, green bean casserole, finish wrapping gifts and entertain company.  As usual, I survived,  but it’s definitely not a time for wimps  and it’s getting harder every year.  Heck, at my age everything is getting harder every year.

My husband, who usually plays the pessimist to my Pollyanna  has decided that 2013 would be the year of hope.  He’s rallying the family like a general leading his troops into the fray, trying to get us all to work just a bit harder,  complain a bit less, cooperate a bit more and keep on the sunny side.  Oh, and we’re going to lose weight and pay down our credit cards.    I hope it works.

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Happy Meetings in Glory

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to write.  Dealing with two very active grandboys each morning  and ringing in the Year of Faith with all that entails for someone who works at both liturgy and Digital Evangelization has kept me pretty busy.  It’s not that I haven’t tried.  I’ve parked myself down at my keyboard many times over the past month and started writing, only to be diverted by the chatter of family or the tyranny of my arch-nemesis,  the calendar.

I have always credited myself as being the inventor of ADHD so even at my advancing age I find that I’m still quite fidgety, and one of the hardest things for me to do is sit still at meetings and patiently listen to people hash and rehash problems that should only take a minute to present and agree on.  To me, if something needs done you do it.  If you don’t know how to do it, you learn how and then do it.  If you’re unable to learn how to do it, you find someone who does.  Simple.  But no, I’ve learned that there is a strata of people who  seem to enjoy meetings.  They show up on time, armed with a neat yellow legal tablet and pens and prolong the agony of sitting in a room with several other people who wish they were somewhere else doing anything else but are too polite to say so, by revisiting things that took a long time to agree on before, and looking for more discussion (be reasonable, see it my way).  There’s a old joke that a camel is a horse put together by a committee.  I understand that completely, but going to meetings is now a part of my life and there’s no getting around it.

“Happy Meeting in Glory” is a sweet little tune by the great Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence.  I first heard it on a Ry Cooder album several years ago and the title became a household joke whenever one or both of us had to attend a meeting.  “Well, at least there there will be  No Happy Meetings in Glory.”  Occasionally another song, “They’ll Know We Are Christians by our Love” would be sung as “They’ll Know We Are Christians By Our Date Books.”

Yet our faith teaches us that  there will be happy meetings in glory when we are finally reunited with those who have gone before us.  Each time we are left behind by someone we love it tears a  hole in our hearts that will only be filled when we are finally with them again.   In John 11  Jesus receives a message that his good friend Lazarus was not well and could die.  Martha and Mary, his sisters, have confidence that if Jesus would come he would save Lazarus from death.  However, Jesus didn’t leave right away.  He waited until the man had died to go.  By the time Jesus got there Lazarus would be in the tomb for four days, not a pretty picture.  When Jesus arrived at the tomb he saw the sorrow of those who mourned and felt Martha and Mary’s deep pain of separation.  He groaned within, even though he knew he would bring Lazarus  back from the dead.  Our God knows what it’s like to suffer the loss of a loved one.  What does the Church say?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, Chapter III, Article 12, XVI – The Hope of the New Heaven and the New Earth states: “At the end of time, the Kingdom of God will come in its fullness. After the universal judgment, the righteous will reign for ever with Christ, glorified in body and soul. The universe itself will be renewed: The Church… will receive her perfection only in the glory of heaven, when will come the time of the renewal of all things. At that time, together with the human race, the universe itself, which is so closely related to man and which attains its destiny through him, will be perfectly re-established in Christ. Sacred Scripture calls this mysterious renewal, which will transform humanity and the world, “new heavens and a new earth.  It will be the definitive realization of God’s plan to bring under a single head “all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth.  In this new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, God will have his dwelling among men.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

This is a meeting I want to attend, although I’ll wait until I’m invited.  In the meantime, it gives great comfort knowing that without a doubt there will be a  “Happy Meeting In Glory.”

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Keeping the Faith

I am the Social Media coordinator for the parish, which means that I create daily posts in one form or another to help our people meditate and pray; Facebook, Twitter, Videos, blog.  Last Lent, when I didn’t have grandchildren under foot or any thought that I would have the nonstop interruptions of growing boys,  I began to do a daily series of emails called Daily Inspirations that use a quote  from a saint, catholic/christian writer, or scripture.  This was not difficult to do – at first.  But like everything I begin with this ADHD addled brain, it’s harder and harder to keep it up.

This morning’s Daily Inspiration was from Erma Bombeck, a writer I’ve always loved and who died much too young.   The quote was, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I wouldn’t have a single bit of talent left so I could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’  As I posted it, I thought that perhaps I should add something else, so I thought I’d look up the Saint of the Day to see if there was anything I could use.

Today, September 20,  is the memorial of Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang, and companions.  I’ve seen these names for years, but never really bothered to find out anything about them other than the fact that Blessed Pope John Paul II canonized them in 1984.  I knew that Andrew was a priest and I kind of assumed that the companions were other priests; however, as I began to read their story I was brought to tears.

Christianity kind of sneaked into Korea by the back door.  The Japanese invaded the country in 1592 and some of the people were baptized, probably by Christian soldiers.  Years later, Jesuit literature managed to get into to the country and the people began a home church under the radar of the authorities.  When a Chinese priest managed to get into Korea, he found around 4,000 Catholics who had never seen a priest, never been to a Mass or never had the Eucharist; nevertheless, they managed to keep a faith alive underground.

In spite of the fact that his father was martyred for the faith, Andrew left Korea to study for the priesthood in China and return after ordination.  Eventually the community was discovered.  Andrew, at the age of 25, and Paul, a lay apostle, were beheaded.  Thousands of nameless Christian men, women, and children were tortured and executed for their faith in terrible and grotesque ways.  Only one person is said to have denied the Faith and be spared; however, he then returned and recanted,  knowing that he would be executed on the spot.

At this very moment Faith is on every news provider’s website, blog, news show and chat page because of protests over a video, and now a cartoon satirizing Mohammed.  Islam is violently angry that the West is showing such callousness and disregard of their Faith and laws.  As a Catholic, I feel like saying, “Welcome to my world.”  But that would be kind of smarmy.  The truth is that here in the United States and in many western countries,  all faiths are being challenged in the press and in the courts.  The deeply held religious values and beliefs of many people are mocked and derided daily in every kind of public forum.  Those who have professed to be without any faith seem to be preaching their (non)beliefs the loudest.

At this point in time; however, none of us, are really being physically assaulted or executed for our faith, and we feel pretty confident that we can safely worship without molestation, so what’s the big deal?  But those who hate organized religion and the practice of any faith have no need of force or coercion to get people to deny their faith.  Instead they use mockery and twisted logic to prove that those who profess their faith are blind idiots and fools whose clergy are perverse and whose efforts at evangelization are unfairly out to harm them by forcing their beliefs on nonbelievers.  And far too many of us hang our heads and say, “Yes, we were mean to Galileo.  Yes, they burned witches in the name of religion.  Yes, we have the nerve to put up Christmas decorations with dangerous pictures of the Nativity on public property instead of harmless snowflakes.”  “We’re sorry you have to endure looking at the Ten Commandments.”

If we can’t stand up to this, what would happen to us if real persecution were to start?  If we hang our heads and apologize for who we are and what we believe now, who would be able to remain strong if asked to witness to our faith under serious threats to our lives or lifestyle?  If public worship were condemned and outlawed, would anyone keep the faith?

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Circles

What is it about children that they remind you so much of the worst of  you?   They react badly to stresses and you remember clearly having the same reaction as a child.  They say stupid things, say the wrong things, say silly things and hurtful things and you want to take them by the shoulders and tell them exactly why they shouldn’t be saying them.  The reason you have sage advice is because you said stupid, wrong, silly and hurtful things when you were that age and you know clearly what’s going to come of it.  You want to hold them and teach them how to avoid the idiotic mistakes you made growing up and save themselves a lot of heartache.  You know that the only reason you survived growing up was through the grace of God but, no matter how hard you pray, you still worry that God’s favor may not be enough for them because you’ve seen the tragedy of children who didn’t make it.   In spite of your best efforts the children will have none of it.  They don’t want to listen to advice, they don’t want you to teach them anything.  They’re telling you, “Listen, I have the right to screw up, just like you did.  I’m going to do it my own way and, by the way, would  you mind sticking around to help me pick up the pieces when I’ve succeeded?”

I understand that my grandchildren are dealing with a lot of things that I didn’t have to when I was growing up, yet there are some similarities.  I also lived in a multigenerational household.  My grandfather was disabled thanks to the abysmal working conditions in the 30’s  and 40’s.  When my grandmother couldn’t care for him my mother had them move in with us, which must have been a difficult decision.  We stuffed seven people with different needs, ages, and personalities into a tiny house that had two small bedrooms, a cramped living room and kitchenette.  My two sisters and I had to share an attic for a bedroom with some old clothes strung on a line as a  room divider.  It would be broiling hot in the summer and fiercely cold in the winter, yet – we didn’t realize that there was anything wrong with it.  Eventually we all moved into the home I’m still living in.  We all survived, so I know that it can be done.

The generations dance together, moving in and out of circles, reaching out to hold each other’s hands for a while before turning apart.  Sometimes side by side and sometimes across from each other, each  following the music they hear.  As new dancers come into the circle we teach them  the dance knowing that  soon their music will call them to move on to other circles.  Eventually, some will have to leave to continue the dance in another place.  Their shadows remain for a while, yet they are moving to the music of a new dance with the other shadow dancers.  And the circle continues.

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The Bug Man

Grandson number two, who is ten going on eleven years old, has proudly earned the moniker of Bug Man because of his remarkable compassion and love for bugs of every kind, and their apparent attraction to him.  Personally, when I think about loving all of God’s creatures I usually overlook insects, probably because I don’t care for them.  For one thing, they’re not furry.  They don’t have deep brown eyes and twitchy tails.  Except for ants and termites, they don’t have much interaction with each other except as potential food sources.  Even sexual liaisons can have fatal consequences.  They have way too many legs, body parts, mouth parts and beady little eyes to suit me.  They don’t seem to care if humans exist or not.   Unless they’re fleas, mosquitos or ticks they probably would prefer that we were gone from the earth so they wouldn’t get stepped on or sprayed with insecticide.  You could say something similar about sea creatures.  They don’t have fur, they don’t express themselves in a way that we can identify and don’t show any apparent signs of expression or affection, but I’ve seen too many episodes of Flipper to believe that.

Yet here is Bug Man who has so much empathy and love for the least of God’s creatures that I have to marvel at him.  One moment he’s threating to pound his brother into a blob of gelatin on the floor for touching his fruit loops, the next he’s saving a poor unsuspecting moth from certain annihilation from grandma, carefully scooping it up and carrying it outside to where it can start a new life in the bushes.

Once when Bug Man was seven I took the kids on a river boat ride.  I heard him call my name and turned around to see him standing on the side of the boat with his arms stretched out.  There, lined up in neat rows on his arms, were six or seven dragonflies.  They alighted on him for some reason and stayed there for quite a while.  He never moved, enjoying the dragonflies more than the boat ride and scenery.

This week Bug Man, his brother, his mother and I all went to the beach for a short vacation.  The sky and the water were beautiful and the boys had the time of their lives in the sand and waves.  Suddenly Bug Man came running up to the blanket with a large monarch butterfly that he plucked out of the water.  “Look, Grandma, I think it’s still alive.  It’s little leg was moving.”  He set it down on the blanket in my care so that the sun would warm it.  I watched it for some time, but it didn’t move.  Just as I began to think that the little butterfly was too far gone it flipped over and tried to open  it’s wings; however, the wings were still wet and stuck together and it fell over onto its side.  It tried again, but failed and once again fell over.  On third try it managed to stay upright and the wings parted.  It was beautiful with it’s shining wings practically glowing in the sunlight, as it stood motionless on the blanket with the wings open to the warmth.  About this time the Bug Man came back from his shell collecting to see if it was surviving and was pleased to see that it had.

The butterfly began to walk a bit, trying to climb up onto my sandal.  Bug Man put his finger under the butterfly’s legs and lifted it up.  He then sat down on the blanket with the little creature on his lap, talking to it and encouraging it to fly.  Finally, it’s strength renewed, the butterfly took to the air and continued the journey it had started many miles before.   Bug Man watched it until it was out of sight.

One of my favorite Gospel hymns is “His Eye is on the Sparrow.”  Taken from Matthew 10:28,  Jesus encourages his disciples not to be afraid of things that will kill the body, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.   So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Civilla Martin, who wrote the lyrics to the song, was inspired to write it after visiting with friends.  The wife, Mrs. Doolittle, was bedridden and her husband was confined to a wheelchair, yet they were hopeful and happy, inspiring all who knew them.   Civilla’s husband asked what their secret was and Mrs. Doolittle explained, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.”

So, Bug Man, thank you.  I came to the shore with a head full of worries and discouragements that I needed to pray for.  I spent as much time as possible on the sand trying to lift up these cares to God.  Bug Man showed me all I needed to know.

Why should I feel discouraged, why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart be lonely, and long for heaven and home,
When Jesus is my portion? My constant friend is He:
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

I sing because I’m happy,  I sing because I’m free,
For His eye is on the sparrow, And I know He watches me.

“Let not your heart be troubled,” His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness, I lose my doubts and fears;
Though by the path He leadeth, but one step I may see;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

Whenever I am tempted, whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing, when hope within me dies,
I draw the closer to Him, from care He sets me free;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me;
His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me.

 

 

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All You Can Eat

I work in a large parish and we have five weekend Masses.  That means I spend much of my day listening to the same scripture readings several times.  This past Sunday’s Gospel told the story of the day that Jesus was being followed up the mountain by a large crowd of people.  They had witnessed the miracles of healing he performed with the sick and they wanted to see more.  Jesus  became concerned that it was late in the day and the people would need to have something to eat.   His disciples were concerned, too, because they knew that there was no way to feed such a crowd.  Perhaps Jesus should send them on their way or it would become too late for them to find food.  At that moment they couldn’t have known that in just a little while the people would not only get what they came for but much, much more, and  it all happened because a child thought to pack a lunch.

We all know the rest of the story.  The disciples bring the boy’s lunch to Jesus.  Jesus takes the loaves and fishes and multiplies them until, not only was everyone full, but there were baskets of food left over.  I often wonder who the child was and why the apostle Andrew even bothered to mention to Jesus that he was there.  Did the boy see what was happening and approach the apostles to offer his meal?  Did Andrew suspect that Jesus, who could heal the sick and forgive sins, could do something wonderful with two loaves and couple dead fish?   Whatever the reason it brought us a glimpse, a foreshadowing, of what was to come – the Holy Eucharist.

Like that crowd, I’ve been following Jesus up the mountain, practically stalking him, whining because I want to see a miracle or some sign that he’s working on my problems.  I’m an excitable and impatient person.  I get easily overwhelmed by life and I am inclined to harangue God when I don’t think he’s moving fast enough.  But, as usual, I fail to see the obvious when it’s right in front of my nose.  Jesus was working on the problem before Andrew even started looking around for a solution.  Jesus uses the ordinary to do his greatest work.  In this case he used a child who graciously offered to sacrifice his dinner, even though it was ludicrous to do so.  But Jesus didn’t laugh at his spontaneous attempt to help.  He accepted the offering and blessed it, broke it and changed something as mundane as bread and fish into a banquet for thousands with leftovers.   When you think about the miracle at Canaan when the jars of water became a select vintage at his touch or when he told Peter, James and John to throw their nets over the other side and nearly sank the boat with the huge number of fish, Jesus always goes over the top in his generosity.  He takes what little scraps we have to offer and turns them into a party.

In this reading I believe Jesus is saying to me, “Work with me here.”  Am I able to spontaneously offer what inadequate resources I have for him to use as he wants?  Can I let go of the things I think I need with a childlike spirit so that others can have enough?   The funny thing about miracles is that they’re everywhere you look if you know how to see them.  We look for the incredible and amazing when true miracles can be found in the ordinary.  Jesus will work miracles for us, but first we have to bring something to the table.

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Moments

Sometimes, if I get up very, very early the house is quiet.  It’s my favorite time of the day because I can spend some quality time with myself,  but it’s usually short lived.  Today was about as beautiful a day as you could hope for in late July.  It was warm, but refreshing and  the sky was a deep, intense blue that is rare here, since it’s usually so humid that even if the sky is blue, it’s hazy and dull.   So I finished the dishes and went out to the patio to enjoy the day, taking the iPad with me to read a bit.  I guess the sight of someone sitting quietly unnerved grandson number one because he instantly stopped the video game he was playing and followed me outside.

Normally the comings and goings of adults are off the radar screens of children, unless they think you’re going to do something that’s potentially fun.  If there is the least hint of work involved an adult will completely disappear into the abyss and children will cease to see or hear them.  I’ve disappeared in  mid-sentence from time to time.

Grandson number one pulls up his chair, looks around and suddenly notices that our yard is surely big enough for a swimming pool, and don’t I think it would be great to have a swimming pool in the yard.  It would be so great  to have some place to cool off and we could invite our friends over, and if we called the guy now it would be done in about a day….He then switches gears completely and talks about how many bars of Internet he can get on his laptop when he’s outside and did I know that we could get the neighbor’s signal on the patio.  Suddenly he’s off again and begins an animated discussion about the proper way to destroy a building on his video game, which would be a good thing in case the zombies came because we are always in danger of having zombies attacking…(no wonder the kid never sleeps!)

In the meantime, Grandson number two comes home with two of his friends and begins to lobby me to allow them to play the Wii in the living room since  the older brother abandoned it to come out to the patio.  Oh, and could I get them all a round of Lucky Charms because he was hungry.  He was hungry because he and his friends were deeply engrossed in 10 year old boy games and he forgot to come home for dinner.  Uh, no. I would give him some leftover dinner, but no Lucky Charms.  One of his friends, who seems to think everyone’s name is Dude, was undaunted. “Dude, let’s go to my place and get some snacks.”  Off they go.  While this scenario was being played out Grandson number one was fully engaged in his conversation, seemingly unaware that I had stopped listening so I could deal with his brother.  By now his one sided discussion had moved to a long involved explanation about why Zombies wouldn’t come to our house anyway because they hate cats.

I learned years ago, when my girls were small, that life is a series of moments that will never be replicated or repeated.  I know that these days will be gone in a heartbeat and I’ll soon be dancing at their weddings, God willing.   I’ll have lots of time to be quiet and when I find myself in the quiet I’ll probably be thinking about these moments and wishing I could go back  just once more to be in them.

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