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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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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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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The New Normal

I just saw a cartoon that a friend had posted on her Facebook.  A little girl was looking up at her mother and asked, “What’s normal?” The mother replied, “Oh, that’s just a setting on the washing machine.”

Not very long ago my normal was quiet and comfortable.  Our nest was finally empty so my husband and I began to date each other again.  If we were hungry we ate.  We cooked for each other and practiced the skills we watched together on The Food Channel shows.  We made tasty, nutritious meals, working on our “presentation” and “carmelization” techniques while relearning the art of cooking for two that we had begun 36 years earlier.  We spent quiet hours absorbed in our own special projects and had a good chance of finishing them because there were no interruptions.  If we wanted to go out for a beer or see a ballgame all we had to do was put the puppy in her crate and off we went.  We saved money because we didn’t need much.  Those were halcyon days of getting reacquainted with each other and remembering why we married in the first place.  All of that came to a screeching halt a few months ago when the oldest called to tell us that she was separating from her husband and moving back with her two boys, ages 10 & 11.

First, let me state on the record, that I absolutely adore my grandsons.  There is nothing I wouldn’t do for them.  I loved them the minute I first heard their little cries at the hospital.  I delighted at the joyful squeals of “Grandma’s coming” as my car turned the corner of their street.  No statesman or queen ever received such a royal welcome as these two little boys jumping up and down with excitement on their porch steps as the car pulled up.  It was great…they lived there, we lived here.  They could come over anytime and I would feed them gobs of junky food and candy.  When they became too wound up I’d send them home for their parents to deal with.  That was my job – chief spoiler.  Then one day they learned that they would have to move many, many miles away.  We held on to each other at the airport and cried.  My heart broke seeing their little faces as they waved goodbye before disappearing through the doors.  Eventually we got used to communications by email, posting photos on Facebook and sending Christmas gifts by way of Amazon.  I missed them, but soon became accustomed to being a grownup again.

Now they’re back carrying the baggage of their parent’s breakup, but happy to be back home in familiar surroundings.  They’ve grown.  They’re taller and stronger.  They eat like a pack of wolves, and don’t care a wit about my presentation techniques.  They want carbs and sugars and anything they can find in the refrigerator.  They bring friends over and play the noisy war games that boys have played since the dawn of time.  They wrestle with the puppy who always wanted a boy in the house.  They watch dreadful cartoons with characters that have whiny voices that  crawl up my spine like a frozen centipede.  They stay awake till all hours playing with the tablets that I bought them for Christmas from Amazon, barely fitting in the bunk beds we got for them when they were smaller.  And they talk..and talk…and talk…and talk.  They bicker and fight about everything.  Everything is a challenge.  Everything is amusing.  Everything needs noticed and explored.   Everything is an opportunity to correct or affirm.

So this is my new normal, and it’s okay.  It’s been an adjustment, but I have  to keep reminding myself that whatever happens does so for a reason.  I may never know what this one is, but I’m content with it.  It’s another opportunity to realize that things really are never in my control.  It’s the first of the 10 Commandments….I am God and you’re not, so have a little faith.

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