76 years ago…

John W Emmer, Jra B-24 bomber was shot down by enemy fire over Hansa Bay, New Guinea, carrying my uncle John and 10 other crewmen. They were officially MIA until Good Friday of 2018, when the team of Project Recover discovered the plane nearly 200 feet under the surface of the bay.

I had stopped by the family cemetery plot on that same Good Friday on my way to a prayer vigil in Saint Paul. As I cleared snow from the tombstones, I began thinking about uncle John and how little we knew about him. I decided to walk the cemetery praying a rosary for all the deceased in my family. Little did I know that, on that very day, his plane had been discovered.

gravestone of John Emmer, JrMore details about the discovery, and the consequent gathering of the families of the deceased crew, at the links below.

in memory of uncle John

Heaven Can Wait family gathering (October 2018)

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

-Excerpt from “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon

Project Recover: The Finding of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ B-24 from Kyle McBurnie on Vimeo.

NOTE: I’m currently working on a new blog post about Uncle John… specifically, the things I learned from my visit to Omaha in May of 2019 for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency regional meeting. I was able to sit down with a casualty officer, analyst, and historian to review what they know about what happened to the crew of Heaven Can Wait on March 11, 1944.

on the passage through life

LateAfternoonLightTomorrow (at 12:49 pm, to be precise), I turn 50.

If I were going to take my cues from the culture, I should be surrounding myself with black balloons and all sorts of birthday cards evoking nostalgia and/or grief. For all of the talk about being “forward-looking,” we sure spend a lot of time longing for the past.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time thinking about our passage through time… especially as both my father and the man I consider one of my primary spiritual fathers passed from this life to the next. Experiencing these deaths, and especially being present at the side of my father as he took his last breath, had an unexpected effect on me. Of course I expected the grief and sense of loss. But what surprised me was the way it stirred up a desire for the life to come, enkindled, I’m sure, by the fact that both men had pilgrim hearts: They took great joy in this life but never forgot that they were still on the way.

About a year before he died, my dad sent me an essay he’d written in college about Robert Frost’s After Apple Picking, which includes this passage:

My long two-pointed ladder’s sticking through a tree
Toward heaven still,
And there’s a barrel that I didn’t fill
Beside it, and there may be two or three
Apples I didn’t pick upon some bough.
But I am done with apple-picking now.

Dad enclosed a short note with the essay, very matter-of-fact, saying he found it among some old files he had been sorting through. He didn’t need to say anything more; the consummate teacher, he allowed his own peaceful — and I might hazard to say joyful — entry into the next life to interpret the poem for me. It wasn’t that he didn’t enjoy this life, but he had tasted something more and wasn’t going to stick with the hors’d ouerves when an entire banquet was being laid out before him. As C.S. Lewis once put it,

If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

Or in the words of Saint John of the Cross:

I will never lose myself
for that which the senses
can take in here,
nor for all the mind can hold,
no matter how lofty,
nor for grace or beauty,
but only for I-don’t-know-what
which is so gladly found.

Or as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Four Quartets,

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass….

Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

The Four Quartets, “East Coker”, section V, by T.S. Eliot

So I think my perspective on age is a bit different, a bit changed this year. If someone approaches me today and asks, “So how does it feel to be a year older?” I think I will respond, “The real question is: how does it feel to be a year closer to the life to come?”

Not fare well,
But fare forward, voyagers.

The Four Quartets, “The Dry Salvages”, section III, by T.S. Eliot

 

the message of Fatima

FatimaOn May 13, 1917, Mary appeared to three shepherd children in the hills of Fatima, Portugal.

I had the chance to be in Fatima for the 75th anniversary of the apparitions, in 1992. (It was also the 11th anniversary of the assassination attempt on the life of Pope Saint John Paul II).

It was an amazing week. I was digging through my photo albums a while ago, and it gave me the idea of blogging about my overseas travel adventures: the semester I spent in Austria back in 1992, the summer I spent in England in 1993, and the travels in Europe and Israel during my seminary studies in the fall of 1996.

Fatima, Portugal

Today I’m posting a link to the document about Fatima published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in the year 2000. It includes several elements about the secrets of Fatima and their interpretation. The theological commentary – which has a great discussion of the proper understanding of private versus public revelation – was written by then-Cardinal Ratzinger. Here’s a teaser from the end of his analysis:

What is the meaning of the “secret” of Fatima as a whole (in its three parts)? What does it say to us? First of all we must affirm with Cardinal Sodano: “… the events to which the third part of the ‘secret’ of Fatima refers now seem part of the past”. Insofar as individual events are described, they belong to the past. Those who expected exciting apocalyptic revelations about the end of the world or the future course of history are bound to be disappointed. Fatima does not satisfy our curiosity in this way, just as Christian faith in general cannot be reduced to an object of mere curiosity. What remains was already evident when we began our reflections on the text of the “secret”: the exhortation to prayer as the path of “salvation for souls” and, likewise, the summons to penance and conversion.

I would like finally to mention another key expression of the “secret” which has become justly famous: “my Immaculate Heart will triumph”. What does this mean? The Heart open to God, purified by contemplation of God, is stronger than guns and weapons of every kind. The fiat of Mary, the word of her heart, has changed the history of the world, because it brought the Saviour into the world—because, thanks to her Yes, God could become man in our world and remains so for all time. The Evil One has power in this world, as we see and experience continually; he has power because our freedom continually lets itself be led away from God. But since God himself took a human heart and has thus steered human freedom towards what is good, the freedom to choose evil no longer has the last word. From that time forth, the word that prevails is this: “In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world” (Jn 16:33). The message of Fatima invites us to trust in this promise.

celebrating Mom

mom_letter_400wMy mom passed from this life to the next on Holy Thursday of 2013 (March 28).

Several years beforehand, one of my sisters initiated a Christmas letter from my siblings to my mom, and it turned out to be a great way of honoring her. I think, with our Dad’s loss fresh in our minds, we realized that we didn’t want to wait until she was gone to send up some words of appreciation.

Here’s the idea as my sister presented it. She collected our letters, which were based on the following format:

  • Identify the top 2 things you like most about mom and why they’re meaningful to you. Add up to 3 more areas that you admire or like about her, (optional)
  • When you think of mom, you think of __________(from 2 words to 2 sentences)
  • Two important things that mom has taught you. (Can be more) This can be by her example as well, etc.
  • Most important gift mom has given you.
  • Favorite day, moment or memories with her (this is not limited but can expand as far as you’d like- beyond just one moment, day, experience too)
  • Funniest or silliest memory of her (laughable moment/s).
  • Your hopes, prayers or dreams for her now-what you would hope she will have/experience, related to her fulfillment.
  • (Optional) One thing she doesn’t know about you that you’d like to her to know (it can be anything, silly or serious-the point is sharing something here with her that she doesn’t know yet know about you or your life, that you’d like her to know).
  • Thanking her for … (Personal thanks for whatever comes to mind) (Some of these things may overlap but that’s fine).

A sampling of the responses from my nine brothers and sisters is posted here.

My own contribution:

The two things I most appreciate about Mom: her generosity and her receptivity. She defines what it means to be recklessly large-hearted, and fearless of the pain that might come from making herself so vulnerable. And by receptive I mean welcoming, not in any formal, dutiful way… but genuinely ready to open herself to whoever would present themselves to her. And then there’s her sense of humor, generally self-deprecating but always alive to the incongruities of life and all that is inherently silly… without caving in to the temptation of being ironic or sarcastic in any form.

Like last Christmas Eve, when she and I spent a good hour traversing back and forth across Clark Fork looking for the Holy Grail of plumbing: a toilet plunger for the overflowing facility at Sacred Heart.

lily of the valleyWhen I think of Mom, I think of lilies of the valley and sailboats, two things she’s fond of. Mom is like those delicate, fragrant flowers that change the whole aroma of the place without drawing attention to themselves, and like a sail open to wherever the Spirit might blow, and constantly tacking to see where the Wind might want to lead next. I think that’s how she taught me the value of discernment: testing everything, and keeping what is good.

Favorite memories include the lunches we shared together at the Burger King at Vine Hill and Highway 7, when I was in junior high school. I was just attending the junior high on a part-time basis, spending the rest of my time homeschooling. Generally, a bus would pick me up midday to take me to East Junior High. But from time to time, Mom would offer to drive me, so that we could have lunch together. It was just as the era of Home Covenant School ended, and during these undivided times shared with Mom, I felt I was getting to know her all over again.

My hope and prayer is that in this particular chapter in her life, she can look back with satisfaction on all of the artistry she has co-created — not the least the family she raised and nurtured with Dad — and look forward to all the new expressions of creative love that she has within her, waiting to be revealed in the days to come. She’s an artist of the human heart, with a canvas that has stretched as far as the eye can see… and a lot farther, I’m sure. There are realms of that canvas for her to revisit, and others to explore for the first time.

So I hope she’ll hop on her pontoon sailboat, so to speak, find the Wind like the expert sailor that she is, and set the course anew each day… touring that entire canvas, that whole work of art that is her life. It’s going to be a joy to watch.

Divine Mercy Sunday

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday, a time to remember in a special way the message of our Lord to St. Faustina Kowalska, a simple nun from Krakow in early part of the 20th century.

Father Michael Gaitley, MIC, describes the Divine Mercy message succinctly and well, with a particular message for this year’s celebration:

…At no time and in no historical period — especially at a moment as critical as our own — can the Church forget the prayer that is a cry for the mercy of God amid the many forms of evil which weigh upon humanity and threaten it. Precisely this is the fundamental right and duty of the Church in Christ Jesus, her right and duty towards God and towards humanity. The more the human conscience succumbs to secularization, loses its sense of the very meaning of the word “mercy,” moves away from God and distances itself from the mystery of mercy, the more the Church has the right and the duty to appeal to the God of mercy “with loud cries” (cf. Heb. 5:7). These “loud cries” should be the mark of the Church of our times, cries uttered to God to implore His mercy, the certain manifestation of which she professes and proclaims as having already come in Jesus crucified and risen, that is, in the Paschal Mystery. It is this mystery which bears within itself the most complete revelation of mercy, that is, of that love which is more powerful than death, more powerful than sin and every evil, the love which lifts man up when he falls into the abyss and frees him from the greatest threats.

Dives in Misericordia (Rich in Mercy), encyclical of Pope John Paul II, 11/30/1980

When I was studying in Europe as part of a semester-abroad program in 1992, I had a chance to visit Krakow and visit the convent where Sister Faustina lived. I remember leaving from Steubenville’s Austrian campus early that day — which meant skipping out of the end of a talk given by Cardinal Schönborn, who was reading to us from the latest draft of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Just one more thing to lay before God’s mercy…

When we arrived in Krakow, it was hard to find Sr. Faustina’s convent — although the fact that none of my classmates spoke Polish might have had something to do with it… We just pulled out our holy cards with the image of the Divine Mercy on it, and first were directed to the wrong church! But we eventually got there, and the sisters were kind enough to show us around… we saw the sisters’ cemetery, the chapel that contains the image, and the tomb of St. Faustina. Here are a few photos…

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The sister’s cemetery

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Praying at the tomb of St. Faustina

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The Divine Mercy image in the chapel

A Polish holy card