God Is Merciful

Today is Divine Mercy Sunday and I am so pleased that I remembered to pray the Novena and chaplet this year.  Today we are remembering a Polish nun, a Polish Pope, and the grieving country of Poland over the loss of their President and other government officials in a terrible plane crash.

It seems of late that the mantra of “God is merciful” has proven to calm my anxieties in dealing with changes in my career — and the usual family stuff of life.  When my mind begins to race — to worry about things that have not happened yet — when my ‘worst case scenario’ plays out in my head — I force out the thoughts by repeating over and over “God is merciful, God is merciful, God is merciful.”

Established only a year following my reception into the Church, Divine Mercy Sunday parallels my Catholic life.   Pope John Paul II’s great devotion to Blessed Faustina and Divine Mercy gave way to her canonization and the establishment of the Sunday following Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday just 10 years ago.  Just as my Catholic life coincides with Divine Mercy, my Protestant life coincided with the Pontificate of Pope John Paul II.  He was my face of the Church — the voice of Christ in the world.  It seems quite fitting that God took him on the Saturday Vigil of the Feast of Divine Mercy in 2005.  I feel like I lost him way too soon after becoming Catholic.  But, I was so blessed to attend World Youth Day in Toronto in 2002 and to see him at the Wednesday General Audience on two different trips in 2003 and 2004.

When reading or listening to scripture, I never know what may stand out — as though I’d never heard it before.  In today’s first reading from the book of Acts 5:12-16, the Apostles are performing signs and wonders such that the people are bringing people out on cots for healing.  It says, “Thus they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them.”  Without listening closely, one might attribute this to Jesus.  After all, my favorite miracle is of the woman who suffered years of hemorrhaging.  She reached out to touch just the hem of His garment and he ‘felt the power go out of him’ as she was healed.  The passage in Acts is not of Jesus but of Peter — that if just the shadow of Peter would fall on them — they would be healed.

The wind — I will always remember the wind.  At World Youth Day in Toronto, I went completely unprepared to sleep on the ground for the Saturday night Vigil.  Such as it was, we pitched makeshift tents of tarp.  We were awakened early — before dawn — to torrential rains.  We awakened — groaned — raised umbrellas  — readjusted ‘tents’ — huddled under said tents and prayed the rosary — wondered if the rain would stop in time for Sunday Mass.  The closer it got time for Mass, the more the rain began to taper off to light rain — drizzle.  It became partly cloudy — sun tempted to peek around the clouds — misting rain.  Then, the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II entered the far right of the stage.  From the moment he appeared to the moment he arrived at center stage, a great wind swept across the airfield — partly cloudy became sunny — by the time Mass was over we were dry and the sky was brilliant blue.   On the day of his funeral, as his casket lay in St. Peter’s Square — a closed book of the Gospels lay on top of the closed casket — until the wind came.  As I watched live on television, I saw the wind flip the Gospels open and pages flying wildly — what page was the Holy Spirit looking for?  I wonder….. the wind.

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Nail in My Foot

When I was a child, I remember my dad often bringing home items that were destined for the company surplus office furnishings pile.  This included large rolls of office grade carpet — where offices had been remodeled and the carpet discarded.  Often, the unworn carpet was an area large enough for a small room in my house.  The carpet would lie rolled up on our carport waiting to be used.

I remember once, when I was about seven, it was Winter and I was wearing black patent leather boots that zipped up just below my knees.  My parents were going out and I was going to spend the evening at my cousin’s house — they lived just around the block from my home.  While waiting for my parents outside, I walked around on top of the carpet rolls — like a balance beam — until my foot slipped down into the center — down onto baseboard stripping that still had protruding nails.   My breath sucked in — fearful, as I quickly pulled my leg up.  I had to pull my boot off the baseboard.  I was pretty sure a nail had pierced the sole of my boot  — but nothing hurt.  Maybe it was okay.  I didn’t want to look to see so I remained silent and told no one.

My parents dropped me off at my cousin’s house and we settled in with Jiffy Pop to watch Disney’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.  Stretched out on the floor, I put it out of my mind.  But, my cousin’s were comfortable — shoeless — wearing socks — except for me.  My cousin’s mother grew suspicious that I’d not taken off my boots.  With little questioning, I blurted that I may have stepped on a nail.  This was quickly confirmed when my boot was pulled off to reveal a bloody sock.  I had waited long enough that my parents were afraid of infection and I was taken for a tetanus shot.  I was severely scolded for keeping silent so long.

Really, this encapsulates the way I’ve often approached unpleasant things in my life.  Don’t look.  Pretend it didn’t happen.  Don’t take the risk.  Don’t be a bother to anyone.  Don’t disturb my peaceful space.  If I don’t see it, it can’t hurt — it didn’t really happen.

Somehow I became the peacemaker of my family and that is the cross I bear.  Perhaps I have this resistance to the unpleasant to thank.   The burden of soothing hurt feelings — negotiating truces.   Softening the blow of bad news.  As the life of a close relative unraveled from alcohol, drugs, and mental imbalance; my peaceful space was all but gone — a knot in my stomach every time the phone rang.  The time came that no one could pretend there was not a problem.  The eyes of my mother desperate for hope for this loved one.  Saying that God is still in control and yet wondering why this cross is getting heavier.  More nails — not just my foot any longer.  Drawn into spiritual warfare — pulled to my knees in prayer ranting against Satan and pleading with God.

The nail in my foot is hurting now.  I close my eyes and I’m there again.

Today I am a Catholic and a Franciscan, but, years before I was either — I learned to pray the “Our Father” and “Make Me An Instrument” at AA meetings where my mother and I supported our family member.  I’ve stood between life and death with this loved one as we cycled through good times and bad — rehab here and there — hoping for a good year , or longer.   Now is as good as its been in a long time.

We all sat in family counseling once as part of one of the rehab programs — three generations of brokenness, hurt, and resentment.   The counselor looked at me and said, ‘You are the peacemaker.’  This diagnosis left me feeling less spiritual and more clinical.  Less angelic and more secular.   Yet I was affirmed and validated.

The nail in my foot — I exhale — less fear — more hope.

Peacemaker.

As they led him away they took hold of a certain Simon, a Cyrenian, who was coming in from the country; and after laying the cross on him, they made him carry it behind Jesus. — Luke 23:26

Full Circle

It has been a very busy couple of weeks for me.   My Secular Franciscan fraternity and friars of my parish were planning and preparing our celebration of the Transitus of St. Francis.  It was the most solemn celebration I can recall in recent memory.  As part of our service, we had six characters who encountered Francis speak about their relationship.  I went first, speaking in the person of St. Clare–the first woman to follow his simple way and whose community is the Poor Clare nuns.  I feel that I really bonded with her last year–even taking a book with me to Rome last October that I’d begun and couldn’t put down.  Her encounter with Francis was life changing to her and I have a feeling she approached things one day at a time.  When she first heard his preaching in the piazza near her home, I don’t think she could have imagined how it would all play out in the end.  I don’t know that she saw her days lived out in a cloister.  Francis’ way of life — for a woman — was unheard of in that day.   At the end, Francis told his brothers that “I have done what was mine to do.  Now you do what is yours to do.”  Clare went the way that was hers to go–cloistered at San Damiano–the church most special to Francis as it is the first church he repaired — where the Cross spoke to him.

Then, there is Lady “Brother” Jacoba, a widow who lived Francis’ way of life of the Secular Order.  Besides the Blessed Mother Mary and is own mother, Lady Pica — Clare and Brother Jacoba are probably the two most important women of his poor little way.  Brother Jacoba delivered the items needed for burial — a new habit, candles, incense, and her own special almond cookies that Francis loved.  Brother Jacoba is recorded to be there when he died — Clare was not.  Poor Clare.  But, Clare did see him one last time as the brothers brought his body by San Damiano.   Surely there are facts and there are legends — but it is written there, as we read our character accounts at our Transitus — St. Clare and Lady “Brother” Jaboba.  We venerated a first class relic and shared bread — bread that I gave away since I just found out I am wheat intolerant.  We had a wonderful reception following the Transitus.  I went home to begin again early on Sunday, October 4th……

I feel that I came full circle in my faith life — the Feast of St. Francis on Sunday, October 4th coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Baptist church where I grew up.  I began the morning at 9:00Am Mass and stayed through the 10:45Am Mass homily — I wanted to hear both on the Feast of St. Francis.  Being a Franciscan parish, we had permission to celebrate the Feast at all the Sunday Masses.  After that,  I did what I had not done in ten years — I headed up to the Baptist church to join in the anniversary celebration.  I saw people I had not seen in over ten years.

One of my old youth group members is now a pastor.  He delivered a sermon that asked, “Jesus paid a great price on the cross for our salvation — when Jesus bought you, did he get a lemon?”  He went on to describe the ways in which professed Christians become “lemons” — wanting it all for no effort of their own.  I’ll remember that little analogy for a long time.  Lemons want great church programs but do not want to participate when they are provided.  Lemons want a beautiful sanctuary but do not tithe.  Lemons think the homeless should be fed but do not want to ladle the soup.  All the lemons expect to be in heaven one day.

The day was nearly over before one person — only one person the whole afternoon — sidled up next to me and whispered, “I hear you are Catholic?” Yes. ” What is it about the Catholic Church?”  I had mere nanoseconds to respond that it is the celebration of Mass — Jesus is not just a symbol.  I told him that a Catholic friend had helped me with some questions and suggested I go to a Mass.  It was the one Mass I attended and knew I wanted that Communion.  Jesus is not just a symbol — and — we do predate the Protestant Reformation.  That is as good as my nanoseconds allowed for a semi-thoughtful response.

So, at the end of the day, I’d heard two homilies and two and a half sermons and avoided wheat at the buffet lunch.   I saw three eras of youth ministers, my prom date, and a couple other crushes from my teens.  I’ve kind of lived my life one day at a time.  I never would have expected to be where I am today.  I live more on the interior than the exterior.  God has illumined my path one step at a time.  I have been to amazing places and seen great things — especially in the last ten years.  At the end of the day, I was very happy with my life.

I began this year writing about Mary and how Secular Franciscans should “express their ardent love for the Virgin Mary” (The Rule of the Secular Franciscan Order, 9) My fraternity received a precious gift this year — the gift of a beautiful — and large — statue of Mary.  We brought her to our Fall retreat at the Monastery in Conyers.  We brought her to our fraternity meeting yesterday.  We decided that she will go home with a different person every month along with a prayer journal — kind of like the Elijah Cup for priestly vocations.  I got her this month and set her up in my bedroom.  I wonder if she will talk to me like she talked to St. Therese of Lisieux?

Mary

Bringing Mary home

I Believe What I Believe

I can breathe a sigh a relief — I can finally open my news page and Michael Jackson is no longer in the top six news topics that display.   I’m not going to argue the merits of the media saturation we have endured over the last weeks.  I will only say that I have been launched into my topic of the day — the person in music that I would bring back — a person who I believe we lost before his time — Rich Mullins.  He has been on my mind the last week.  I pulled out a couple of his CDs and put them in rotation in my car.  Rich died September 19, 1997, in a car accident while traveling to a concert.  He was 41.  Who was Rich Mullins?  If you have worked at all in teen ministry — Protestant, or, Catholic — you have been exposed to his music.  Think Awesome GodSometimes By StepPraise To The Lord— to only name three of his Christian music hits.  He wrote a lot of Contemporary Christian music.

Not long after coming into the Catholic church, I somehow became aware that Rich had been exploring Catholicism.  He was an ardent lover of St. Francis of Assisi.  Rich was surely worth a lot in terms of his music royalties, but, he chose to live simply — in a trailer on a Navajo Indian reservation.  He taught music to Navajo children.  It is said that he was often unkempt and bare foot.

Rich Mullins had this to say . . .

“Having grown up Protestant, I was unfamiliar altogether with Saint Francis.  Then I watched the movie, ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon.’  The movie really clobbered me in a way that a really good movie can.  I just became fascinated with the character of Saint Francis.  What I saw in that movie was a man who had fallen in love with God, someone for whom God is everything.  And that was one of those things that propelled me.  I started reading about Francis and the Franciscan movement and asking the question, ‘What would it be like if we took the gospel that seriously?’  Beaker and I started looking at the three traditional monastic vows the Franciscans take:  The vow of poverty, the vow of obedience, and the vow of chastity.  And we started saying, ‘What does that look like if you’re not a monk?’  We began to look at them in a broader sense rather than very specifically.  We came to believe that poverty is being a steward of whatever resources you have, as opposed to being the owner of those resources, that what is important is to recognize that everything belongs to God, and He allows us to be stewards of his gifts.  And so rather than saying ‘OK, so we will just not own anything,’ we tried to look at everything that we own–our talents, our physical possessions–as being God’s, and ourselves as being stewards of them.”

Rich Mullins:  An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, p. 139

Rich Mullins went on to write a musical Canticle of the Plains, a life of St. Francis set in the American West.  I went to my Youtube account and pulled up some videos.  I was very surprised to see people still arguing whether or not he was about to join the Catholic church.  I’ve seen it documented in other sources that he attended RCIA [Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults] classes and he did attend Mass.  He had a priest friend and also wrote with Tom Boothe of Life Teen music.  Some of his music — like Faith without Works (is like a screen door on a submarine) certainly hit at doctrinal differences.  It is also documented that he still had reservations.

“A lot of the stuff which I thought was so different between Protestants and Catholics was not, but at the end of going through an RCIA [Right of Christian Initiation for Adults] course, I also realized that there are some real and significant differences.  I’m not sure which side of the issues I came down on.  My openess to Catholicism was very scary to me because, when you grow up in a church where they don’t even put up a cross, many things were foreign to me.”

Rich Mullins:  An Arrow Pointing to Heaven, p. 46

The comments underneath some of the Youtube videos were not so kind — those still debating his Christian affiliations.  Catholics were thrilled and Protestants thought he would never do such a horrible thing as become Catholic.  Satan wins every time Christians belittle one another — attack and tear down one another.  Rich Mullins’ music did very much to be a unifying musical voice.  I doubt he would be very pleased at many of the comments.

So, at the core of all this self-discovery, is the life of Saint Francis of Assisi.  A man — a saint — a devout Roman Catholic who stood for something that all Christians should agree upon — the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Rich also was convinced that we can most imitate Christ by identifying with the poor.

With myself being a convert to the Catholic Church – a former Baptist — I can say it doesn’t happen over night.  It is little by little until there is the one thing you have to have.  For me, it was the Eucharist –the Real Presence– and realizing that I already believed.

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Below is a 9 minute video of Rich talking at his last concert tour before his death.  His speech ends abruptly around 8:40 time mark but the most of what he says it there.  The last couple of minutes, he talks about the poor.

Below is a video of Rich Mullins Creed (the inspiration for my blog title)

Probably my favorite song – Hold Me Jesus (I love it when Life Teen uses this for the meditation after communion)

My Papa and the Year For Priests

My Papa & His Mother - St. Anthony's Hospital - Terra Haute IN - ca 1930

My Papa & His Mother - St. Anthony's Hospital - Terre Haute IN - ca 1930

My papa was born June 19, 1910.  Several years ago, I dabbled in genealogy research.   I bought the Family Tree Maker that came with records on lots of CDs.  I would pick up the project and put it down in spurts of interest.  In the Summer of 1998, I began attending Inquiry sessions to learn more about the Catholic Church.  My mom knew of my interest and it reminded her of some things about her father — my papa.  I don’t know if I’d heard the story before but it seemed I had not.  She said that her daddy and granny had moved to Terre Haute, Indiana after the accidental death of his father.  Dates confirm his death April 30, 1929.  All mom recalled is that they worked in a hospital and boarded at a convent.  Perhaps he had studied the church Catechism.  That Summer, I did my best to research for more information — even emailing a convent to find leads.  I became fascinated with the stories of women religious communities and was often sidetracked in my research.

Mom gave me a few items that were papas — an ebony crucifix that is about the size that would be worn on habit rosary — a medal of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that I wear to this day — two prayer pamphlets 1) “A Daily Visit to The Blessed Sacrament” IMPRIMATUR, William Turner, Bishop of Buffalo, and 2) “A Remembrance of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart” — and then there is papa’s journal.  Papa liked to write and he wrote two poems of Catholic influence dated 1929 and 1930. I have these old photos taken in front of a statue of St. Therese of Lisieux.  In faded pencil are written “Mother St. Anthony’s Hospital Terre Haute” on the back of one photo.  The other photo is written April 1930 on the back.

I was very prayerful as I discerned entering the Catachumenate — to formalize my intentions.  One night I had a dream.  I was sitting on a church pew — the front row — a deceased uncle was sitting on my left and I was looking down at the floor — a prayerful posture.  I was gazing down at shoes as I realized someone was standing in front of me.   I raised my eyes up to look into the smiling face and laughing eyes of my papa.  I felt assurance.   I put aside my genealogy ventures for quite some time.

The research spurt came more recently as Ancestry[dot]com brought research to a web based environment.  I played around with free access information.  I found census records for the various places my papa lived with his parents and sister.  In March 2007, I found the gem I’d been looking for — the 1930 Census taken of St. Anthony’s Hospital in Terre Haute, Indiana.  I scanned the names and there was my papa listed as a “painter” and my great-grandmother listed as a Widow and servant.  Papa was 19 and learned the painters trade while there–it was his lifelong profession.  My jaw dropped in amazement at the long list of Sisters names — the nuns — close to thirty names.  Many had German parents as I learned they were founded originally in Germany.  With this information, I learned that the hospital was founded by the Sisters of St. Francis — Franciscan nuns.  St. Anthony’s Hospital was a teaching hospital for nurses.  This order of Sisters founded several hospitals.  Even tonight as I write this, I’ve discovered an online book from the Vigo County library that tells of the hospital.

As these discoveries unfold, it is interesting that I find myself Catholic and a Franciscan.  I have no idea what sent my great-grandmother and my papa to Terre Haute — to those jobs at the Catholic hospital.  I don’t know how far my grandfather got with his study of the Catechism.  The hospital is no longer named St. Anthony’s and is Terre Haute Regional Hospital.

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Not only is it my papa’s birthday, it is the Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.  It is also the opening of the Year for Priests.