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.

may I suggest…

you take five minutes to listen to this song?

There’s no time like the present.

May I suggest
May I suggest to you
May I suggest this is the best part of your life

May I suggest
This time is blessed for you
This time is blessed and shining almost blinding bright

Just turn your head
And you’ll begin to see
The thousand reasons that were just beyond your sight
The reasons why
Why I suggest to you
Why I suggest this is the best part of your life

There is a world
That’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize
A lover’s trusting smile
A tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life

There is a hope
That’s been expressed in you
The hope of seven generations, maybe more
And this is the faith
That they invest in you
It’s that you’ll do one better than was done before
Inside you know
Inside you understand
Inside you know what’s yours to finally set right
And I suggest
Yes I suggest to you
Yes I suggest this is the best part of your life

This is a song
Comes from the west to you
Comes from the west, comes from the slowly setting sun
This is a song
With a request
With a request of you
To see how very short the endless days will run
And when they’re gone
And when the dark descends
Oh we’d give anything for one more hour of light
And I suggest this is the best part of your life

Susan Werner, May I Suggest, from the album Live at Passim

IMG_4740
I think Pope Saint John Paul II was singing in the same key when he wrote:

We need first of all to foster, in ourselves and in others, a contemplative outlook. Such an outlook arises from faith in the God of life, who has created every individual as a “wonder” (cf. Ps. 139:14). It is the outlook of those who see life in its deeper meaning, who grasp its utter gratuitousness, its beauty and its invitation to freedom and responsibility. It is the outlook of those who do not presume to take possession of reality but instead accept it as a gift, discovering in all things the reflection of the Creator and seeing in every person his living image (cf. Gen 1:27; Ps. 8:5). This outlook does not give in to discouragement when confronted by those who are sick, suffering, outcast or at death’s door. Instead, in all these situations it feels challenged to find meaning, and precisely in these circumstances it is open to perceiving in the face of every person a call to encounter, dialogue and solidarity.

It is time for all of us to adopt this outlook, and with deep religious awe to rediscover the ability to revere and honour every person, as Paul VI invited us to do in one of his first Christmas messages. Inspired by this contemplative outlook, the new people of the redeemed cannot but respond with songs of joy, praise and thanksgiving for the priceless gift of life, for the mystery of every individual’s call to share through Christ in the life of grace and in an existence of unending communion with God our Creator and Father.

Pope Saint John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, paragraph 83

Our freedom and our vocation is always found in the moment, in that place where time touches eternity. Not in tomorrow or yesterday:

For most of us, there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,
The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning
Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply
That it is not heard at all, but you are the music
While the music lasts.

T.S. Eliot, The Dry Salvages, Four Quartets

Slowing down to be grateful for what life has given us here and now, to be aware of the invitation that is uniquely expressed in this moment, in this place, in this person, can set us free, no matter what the circumstances may be.

Very often we feel restricted in our situation, our family, or our surroundings. But maybe the real problem lies elsewhere: in our hearts. There we are restricted, and that is the root of our lack of freedom. If we loved more, love would give our lives infinite dimensions, and we would no longer feel so hemmed in.

This doesn’t mean objective situations don’t sometimes exist that need to be changed, or oppressive circumstances that need to be remedied before the heart can experience real interior freedom. But quite often we may also be suffering from a certain confusion. We blame our surroundings, while the real problem is elsewhere: our lack of freedom stems from a lack of love. We judge ourselves to be the victims of difficult circumstances, when the real problem (and its solution) is within us. Our heart is imprisoned by our selfishness or fears, and it is we who need to change, to learn how to love, letting ourselves be transformed by the Holy Spirit; that is the only way of escaping from our sense of confinement. People who haven’t learned how to love will always feel like victims; they will feel restricted wherever they are. But people who love never feel restricted.  That is what little Saint Thérèse (of Lisieux) taught me.

Father Jacques Philippe, Interior Freedom

Or in the words of Susan Werner:

There is a world
That’s been addressed to you
Addressed to you, intended only for your eyes
A secret world
Like a treasure chest to you
Of private scenes and brilliant dreams that mesmerize
A lover’s trusting smile
A tiny baby’s hands
The million stars that fill the turning sky at night
Oh I suggest
Oh I suggest to you
Oh I suggest this is the best part of your life

Catholic life in the age of coronavirus

img_0070Now that public Masses (that is, Masses with the lay faithful in attendance) have been cancelled throughout the United States, it’s a good time to think through the wisdom of this decision. Here is an article that may help: Why Cancelling Public Masses is the Right Spiritual Decision for the Faithful

… The crucial difference between the martyrs and the laity in the time of the coronavirus is this: we are not facing a decision to sacrifice ourselves; we are facing a decision which affects others. A single person may sacrifice themselves for the sake of a friend. They do not sacrifice their loved ones whom they are charged to defend, especially the weak under their protection.

Of course, I am not an epidemiologist, but the average layman has access to enough basic details about this virus to make a sound moral analysis. Consider what we know: this virus is highly fatal to the weakest among us; many experience only mild symptoms or may even be asymptomatic. This creates a perfect storm for accidental transmission of the virus, especially from the relatively young and healthy to the relatively elderly and/or sick. No one can be completely sure that they will not pass the virus on to others. In fact, right now it appears that very many will get sick and most (or at least a significant number of) transmissions may indeed happen without the transmitter even being aware that they are sick.

It seems to me that the decision of our bishops to cancel public Masses needs to be seen particularly within this context. They are decidedly not choosing a lower good over a higher good, i.e. preserving a particular set of individuals’ bodily health over their spiritual health. Rather, the bishops are helping us care for the vulnerable whose lives are ours to protect.

on having your world turned upside down

large-wave-capsize-boatOn a day like this, it can feel like everything has been turned upside down… or like the boat you’ve been traveling in has just capsized.

Well, that’s not always a bad thing.

Here’s a talk I gave twelve years ago this week on the value of having everything upset in your life.