Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Gradual formation


Trust in the slow work of God.
We are, quite naturally,
impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip
the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way
to something unknown,
something new.

And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability.
And that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you.
Your ideas mature gradually.
Let them grow.
Let them shape themselves,
without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on
as though you could be today
what time will make you tomorrow.

Only God could say
what this new spirit
gradually forming
within you will be.

Give the Lord
the benefit of believing
that God's hand will lead you.
And accept the anxiety
of feeling yourself
in suspense
and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When storms arise ...


Be strong and steadfast!
Do not fear
nor be dismayed,
for the Lord,
your God,
is with you
wherever you go.

Joshua 1:9

Friday, July 11, 2014

St. Benedict, pray for us

"Prefer nothing to the love of Christ."
Rule of St. Benedict, father of monks


I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that he may grant you in accord with the riches of his glory to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in the inner self, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

-- Ephesians 3:14-19

Sunday, July 6, 2014

"I can do all things...

... through him who strengthens me."
 
Philippians 4:13
 
 
You cannot do it alone. Whatever it is—a relentless addiction or compulsion, an inordinate attachment or desire for something or someone, a difficult or frustrating situation or relationship, etc., etc.—you absolutely, positively, cannot overcome or work your way through it by your own power. It’s utterly impossible.
 
With God, however, all things are possible (cf. Luke 18:27).

Today’s Mass readings (Zechariah 9:9-10; Romans 8:9, 11-13; Matthew 11:25-30) tell us how; and a line from the second reading, in particular, holds the key. St. Paul writes: “If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also, through his Spirit that dwells in you” (Romans 8:11). That, in a nutshell, is the Trinitarian formula, as it were, for redemption and a genuine relationship with the God who saves us. Through Christ—fully human, fully divine—God the Father confers upon us the life-giving Holy Spirit, the very breath of life.

After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples and gave them new life, the Gospel of John tells us: “He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” (John 20:22). At that point, the fearful, uncertain disciples became equipped to do God’s work with wisdom and courage. This is an act of creation, or re-creation, just as “the mighty wind sweeping over the waters” of Genesis 1:2 tells of God’s spirit or breath (ruah in Hebrew) bringing life to what had been a dark, formless void. God’s Spirit promises and gives life to all who receive and nurture it with faith.

This is what St. Paul is telling us in today’s second reading—that the Spirit of God, the very breath of life (cf. Genesis 2:7) overcomes the death-dealing desires of the flesh. By “flesh,” he does not mean simply “the body.” Our bodies and all that comes with them are good—we were created by God in God’s image, after all. By “flesh,” St. Paul means all those inordinate attachments and desires which we typically direct away—rather than toward—the God who gives us all things for our good. Living according to the flesh, as Paul puts it, means being slaves of our misdirected desires. Only the Spirit of God can put such desires to death, breathing new life into them and re-orienting them toward their origin and end—the One and Triune God.

As Scripture scholar Diane Bergant, C.S.A., says in her commentary The Word for Every Season, “The Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead is the same Spirit who dwells in us, enabling us to live transformed lives. [Today’s] readings portray Jesus as a kind of intermediary between us and both the Father and the Spirit. He reveals his Father to us, and he shares his Spirit with us.”

And what kind of Spirit is this? How does God respond to our fickleness, our tendency to choose creation/creatures over Creator, and our prideful, greedy, selfish, often violent ways? “Your king shall come to you,” the prophet Zechariah foretold, as “a just savior, meek, and riding on an ass … he shall proclaim peace.” As today’s Psalm (145) recounts: “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness. The Lord is good to all and compassionate toward all his works.”

This is the Spirit our Merciful God offers to us through Jesus, who says to us in today’s Gospel: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest … Learn from me, for I am meek [read: gentle] and humble of heart.” The God who created us, who gives us the freedom to choose but nonetheless longs for us to choose Him above all, the God who knows us through and through (with all our failures, contradictions, and misdirected desires) treats us with gentleness, humility, graciousness, mercy, kindness, and compassion. The God of all things bows before his wayward creatures to lift them up on his shoulders, and says: “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27).

This is the only way we can put to death the desires of our flesh—addictions, compulsions, inordinate attachments or desires, trying situations or relationships—and be transformed into who God has called us to be. We must allow God to save us, to pick us up. We can’t do it alone, no matter how hard we try. We must place our trust in God, and allow the Spirit to take hold of us, to breathe new life into us, to give us peace.

And if you are simply unable or unready to do that right now, the good news is that desiring it is enough. It is enough to simply desire what God has to offer. And if you can’t yet desire it, simply ask God to give you the desire. He will—in God’s own time and circumstances, I promise. Give him an inch, and God will not only take a mile, but go the extra mile with you, whispering gently, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Friday, July 4, 2014

Lucky Lou



Seventy-five years ago today -- July 4, 1939 -- New York Yankees legend Lou Gehrig made his "luckiest man on the face of the earth" remarks in emotionally charged fashion. The Iron Horse, as he was called, died less than two years later at age 37 from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), now known as Lou Gehrig's Disease.

To say Gehrig was a great baseball player is an understatement. He finished his career with a batting average of .340 and 493 home runs. He was an All-Star seven times, and helped the Yankees win six World Series titles. He was the first Major League Baseball player to have his uniform number retired. Over a period of 14 years, he played in 2,130 consecutive games, a record which stood until 1995, when Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken, Jr., broke it.

But Gehrig was also a model of humility, perseverance, and graciousness--qualities we can all aspire toward. I've never been a Yankee fan (and never will be!), but Lou Gehrig's story is one of the reasons I love the game of baseball, and why I think it is a unique showcase of--among other things--endurance, community, and redemption--especially in the face of heart-breaking loss.

Above is a short clip looking back at that day in 1939. Below is the entire text of his speech:
Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans. Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day?
Sure, I’m lucky. Who wouldn’t consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy?
Sure, I’m lucky. When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice-versa, sends you a gift -- that's something. When everybody, down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats, remember you with trophies – that’s something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter – that’s something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body – it’s a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed – that’s the finest I know.
So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

School days


This week, in my hometown of Findlay, Ohio, a significant piece of my past was reduced to rubble. Demolition began at the site of the former St. Michael school located at the corner of Adams Street and Western Avenue. I spent five years there, grades four through eight, before moving on to public school at Liberty-Benton High west of Findlay (there is no Catholic high school in the city).

Above is a video of the start of demolition this week, provided by The Courier. While I was on vacation last week and visiting family and friends in Findlay, I took a stroll down memory lane and snapped the photos below of the school property as it awaited its fate.

The building has been empty for a couple years, but had been leased for some time to a couple different Christian organizations. St. Michael parish vacated the building in 2006 after opening a new school at its main complex on Bright Road--on the east side of Findlay.

A little history here: When I was growing up in the 1970s, the downtown complex including the school/parish office buildings and those across Western Avenue from the school -- the 1860s church, and the rectory and convent (for the Sisters of Charity who taught and administered at the school) -- was considered the "main" St. Michael's (also, just across Adams from the school and across Western from the church, was the local Knights of Columbus, which is still present). The Bright Road complex--called "The Annex" back then-- consisted of a newer church (1960s) and a school for grades one through three. After kindergarten at Liberty-Benton, I attended grades one through three at the Annex, and then grades four through eight at the downtown school.

Those were the formative middle school and junior high years for me and my classmates. The downtown school held a lot of memories--running around the playground, waiting for buses, flirting and holding hands (with girls, not buses, but sometimes on the buses), attending sporting events, plays, science fairs, school dances (more flirting and holding hands), and banquets in the gymn/cafeteria areas. And yes, lest you think me negligent and care-free, there were plenty of classes--with some of the finest teachers and human beings I've been blessed to know. Many of them--including my seventh and eighth-grade English teacher, Mrs. Ann Hildreth--were inspirations to me, and encouraged me, for example, with my writing. Some of my best friendships and childhood memories were rooted there--including my first love (who is married now, with children).

I also served Mass in the church across the street quite often early in the morning before school -- sometimes also attending "open gym" training for wrestling and track before showering and heading to class. On the weekends, my family usually went to Mass at the downtown church, parking on the school playground. The church is where my parents were married, and where the funeral Mass for my father (2003) was held. And every Friday morning, the entire school attended Mass in the church.

Tucked somewhere in the midst of all that, I suppose, was the tiny seed of my eventual religious vocation (which didn't bloom until my 40s)

The original section of the school, facing Western Avenue, was built in 1894. (Prior to that, the school, which was founded in 1859, operated out of the original St. Michael's church until it was destroyed by fire in 1866). In the 1960s, the school was expanded to the west along Adams Street. For many years, the main church, parish offices, and school with grades four through eight operated downtown, while the Annex church and school with grades one through three operated on the East end of town. Eventually, as the parish grew larger, the church and school on Bright Road were significantly renovated/expanded and combined into a massive modern campus that, by 2006, consisted of the now "main church," parish offices, and all grades through eight.

Downtown, the old church still stands and hosts two weekday and two weekend Masses a week (the main church on Bright Road has Mass every weekday morning and four Masses on the weekend). Though the old rectory no longer stands, the convent downtown does, though I'm not sure what it is used for. The Sisters of Charity are long gone.

And, now, so is the original school. As it so happens, the new complex on Bright Road is very close to where my mother now lives, and is quite convenient for both her and myself when I visit. Life goes on ... though the memories endure ....

The 1960s addition along Adams Street. I can remember every classroom.


The original 1894 school building.

The gymn is to the left. This lot was often the site of the parish festival.

The main entrance--with (gulp) the principal's office to the right.

That's the old cafeteria beyond the construction equipment.

Aesthetically, perhaps not very pleasing ...
Memories abound nonetheless. This wall was great for bouncing balls.
And I still remember many a conversation on that doorstep.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Evan's world


It has been a while since I shamelessly posted photos of my little nephew Evan, who turned 2 years old on June 20. Recently, I got to spend some time with him and the rest of his family while on vacation. I could (and did) spend virtually all day just observing him encounter everything and everyone around him.

He is like a little sponge, repeating words and phrases he hears and putting them into complete sentences (which he then uses to keep everyone informed on various topics). He is a very intense little boy, very focused and busy, with a wonderful sense of humor and some very definite opinions (for example, he's the only 2-year-old, back-seat driver I've ever known, pointing out "the way, the way!")

Here are some highlights (as you'll see, three of his favorite things are: swimming--pronounced "fwimming"--in his wading pool, cowboy hats, and trains--which he guides along every surface imaginable while announcing, "Shoo-shoo! Aboard!"):