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Catholic contemplative life and devotion

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coping

Kiss the sky; a blessing

A priest and I have met in a cool, bustling lobby on a hot summer day. We smile at one another. We don’t know one another really except by sight and a few short conversations. But we have a warm, positive regard for one another and I feel safe and encouraged as soon as he comes in. I am so grateful that he is here.

We are about to head up to bless the place where my brother committed suicide. I know this is not a light task to ask someone to come along and join in.

I came here twice before to make sure I could handle it. The first time I sat in stunned silence for an hour and a half without even realizing the time that had gone by. The second time I was pretty sad but I thought I was ready. I am ready.

I am impressed that this priest who barely knows me responded to my request so readily and agreed to come here for this.  He seems to understand the need for healing, both emotional and spiritual for all concerned.

Our plan is also to commend my brother’s soul to God, and to pray in that place for my family’s healing.

Father walks with me toward the elevators, which we take to a high floor. We walk down a hallway, then through a stair exit, and out onto a tiny bare balcony overlooking a pool area.

“Just be however you need to be,” he says reassuringly.

This is the spot where my brother, Mark, sitting on the railing here, shot himself and fell down to the concrete below even as friends and family repeatedly called his cell phone and frantically texted him begging him not to do it while the police looked for him not knowing where to begin. I have thought of those moments over and over, tried to understand, tried to feel the way he must have felt, wondered why it had to be this way, watched my family and our friends do the same.

What is there to say in a place like this?

After a time of respectful silence, Father talks to me earnestly about how the Cross conquers everything. “I believe that,” I say.

He has such a kind face, I think to myself. It’s an easy, open, playful face, too. He is the kind of person who puts others at ease.

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photo Renee Bork

I get out my phone and show Father one of my favorite pictures of my brother. I briefly tell him about Mark, about my symbiotic relationship with him, and what happened to him as best I am able to understand it now.

Mark Timothy Manning

This gentle priest takes all this in thoughtfully.

He tells me what he would like to do, how he would like to proceed now.

I show him what I have brought: a grocery bag full of rose petals, some bubbles; a small bottle for each of us.

He smiles. He says the bubbles are a great symbol for what we are doing with the commendation. He blesses them.

He puts a thin priestly stole over his shoulders and smiles at me.

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Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

We begin with the Sign of the Cross together. He prays the prayers for the blessing of a place, telling me we are also reclaiming this place for God. In our prayers we invite the angels to come and drive every trace of evil from here. We bless and bring healing to this place where there was so much pain, where there was such a tragic, senseless death.

Seriously and with purpose, he begins to fling holy water all around us; over the rail, down the stairs, all over the balcony, the walls of the building, and splashes it down to the concrete below. He blesses this place in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

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Photo by Hilary Halliwell on Pexels.com

I tell this dear priest how hard it is not understanding what happened, and how I agonize still about how my brother could do this. Didn’t he know we loved him? Didn’t he know that any of us who loved him would have forgiven anything, given anything, done anything for him? How could he do this to us?

Tears are running down my cheeks.

Father listens closely, nodding.

I tell him how I have come to understand that somehow, that for some reason I will never know, my brother wasn’t able to let our love and support change what he did. Maybe to him we seemed so far away, he just didn’t know his way back.

I have to cry a little bit.

“You’re being really strong right now.”

“Thank you.”

He reminds me that as Catholics we believe every soul is given a moment of choice at the time of death, an encounter with God’s merciful love and truth, so each of us has a chance to choose the embrace of mercy.

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“Jesus” By Bob Chapman

He mentions that our Lord is here on this balcony with us, and that our Holy Mother Mary is here with us, too, to pray with us.

I am moved to talk to her. I tell her I had never thought I would be OK again but now I see I can have a new life and that Jesus wants me to have life. I spontaneously renew my consecration to her offering my life to her and committing to follow her Son better than I ever have before.

I can hear Father quietly praising Jesus as I speak these words of my new hope to Mary.

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I close my eyes and smile. I say, “I love you, God.”

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Photo by Elia Clerici on Pexels.com

 

In his gentle voice, the priest reads a reading from one of the Gospels, and we pray for my family’s healing. We pray the Our Father together. I pray for the deep inner healing of the Holy Spirit for each person in my family. We say Amen.

We talk. We pray more. I tell him about the evolution of my understanding of my brother’s death through the tenderness of God in my prayer life right through all the horror of this death, this overwhelming loss, and fear I had of finding out something that would make this even worse. I explained that I still needed to understand all the same, and how I feel God helped me in His ingenious ways.

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I feel so much less alone as the priest listens quietly and with compassion to all I am saying. I don’t think even I knew how much this day would mean to me. I am grateful for his courage and kindness in coming here.

He said he would like to pray the Prayer of Commendation now, that we use for funerals. He says it is our prayer to send the soul to God, commending the person to God’s mercy and love. It serves as some release to us too, allowing us to send the person forth with love, to God.

So he prays the beautiful Prayer of Commendation.

Together we pray a Litany of the Saints.

We blow bubbles and watch them glide out shimmering, into the sun, cascading down the side of the building, drifting out over the pool. We send streams of them up into the blue and watch them float gently. We can’t help but smile.

I open the bag of rose petals and toss some out over the rail. I sprinkle some over Father. ‘Yay! Thank you so much!”

We grab more and more handfuls of petals and throw them out, everywhere, like confetti at a party. Some of the petals drop quietly onto the water below, some waft out on the breeze, some scatter themselves on the patio.

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“Did you SEE that?!”  he exclaims, as, amazingly, some of the petals suddenly spiral upward into the sky and away. Laughing we throw more and more of them everywhere, as if we are showering the world with roses.

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He takes some holy water and blesses me with the sign of the cross on my forehead.

With trembling hands, I drape a rosary over the end post of the rail and fasten two white silk roses to it.

Something I need to say to my brother:

“You’re not that.” 
You are not the way you died.

You’re just… my beautiful brother.”

Smiling, Father and I take pictures of each other, of the balcony, of the draped rosary, and the scattered petals, so my daughters can see what this looked like today.

 

We hug, and peacefully we leave the rose petal strewn balcony.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O God.
~ And let perpetual light shine upon him.

 

The clergy sexual abuse crisis

I want you to know that I have addressed this issue on ATX Catholic and here is the link if you would like to read it.

God be with you,

Shawn

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Praying through conflict

When we talk we can do a lot of good sometimes. When we pray we don’t do anything. We stop doing. Instead we meet one another in the Heart of God. We bring ourselves, and our difficulties before Him in good will and open-ness of heart. What is there to argue about then?

It is a truth I often point out to my daughters, that God will not force solutions on us. “Remember all the times you brought broken toys for me to fix? I couldn’t fix them if you wouldn’t give them to me. God can work with your problem when you trust Him with it and let go.”

We don’t know what God will do but we do know that God responds to prayer, especially humble, open- hearted prayer, and we know it pleases Him when people set aside their differences and come together to seek His will, willing to be changed by Him.

Authentic prayer always brings out the best  in people. It brings them to recognize their own littleness and broken-ness before God, Who is all love, at once perfectly just, full of mercy, and utterly mysterious- thus requiring our open-ness and willingness, for Him to reveal Himself to us. This is when we can come to know the power of His transforming love.

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Photo by Suvan Chowdhury on Pexels.com

On the day of Pentecost in the midst of the believers gathered in prayer the gifts of the Holy Spirit undid  the language barrier, the curse of Babylon. People who heard them when they prayed understand now, in the Spirit, no matter what language each one speaks.

God can hardly help Himself, I think, responding when anyone prays with trust and hope. Surely He will bless the prayers of His children who don’t want to fight anymore and don’t know what to do to stop.

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Photo by Jimmy Chan on Pexels.com

How can we pray through conflict together in our lives?  I think it is of special relevance in families. There is a lot of pain and love in families. There are always issues that need to be brought to the light of the Holy Spirit for forgiveness and unraveling. We don’t always know what to do. Sometimes we have talked and talked or we have tried not talking. We have tried forgetting, avoiding each other, pretending nothing happened. What if we came together in honest prayer and let God begin the healing in His own way?

What if our first reaction, when we had a conflict with someone, was to pray about it with him? Imagine how this might look on social media if people with differences stopped arguing for a minute and prayed together humbly instead?

Praying through conflict can help make difficult decisions people are in conflict about. When my first husband, Blaze, wanted to move back to his native Wisconsin, I knew it was  fair since he had been in Texas with me so long. However, I could not help my grief, and he was upset that I was upset. Our talking about it was not doing any good. We were advised by someone wise to pray about it. Our prayer was to be, “If we are supposed to move to Milwaukee, give Shawn peace about going. If we are to stay in Texas, give Blaze peace about staying.” He got peace about staying and we stayed. It was the right thing.

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Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

Once my dad had read about something and wanted to try it. He wanted to sit down on the couch with me and have us look into each other’s eyes for nine silent minutes.  So we turned off the stereo and we sat on the couch and we looked at each other right in the eyes in silence. After the first awkward, anxious moments of wanting to laugh or run away or cry were over, my heart felt such peace and quiet and love.

“What did you think?” my dad asked when the  long beep of the kitchen timer let us know our nine minutes were up.

“I think I saw you the way God sees you!”

My dad just smiled.

Let’s go together and look into the eyes of Our Father without words or agendas of our own. Maybe we will finally see each other, and maybe even see God.

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelations 21:5)

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Photo by icon0.com on Pexels.com

A magical day with Mom

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“Remember” by Red Moore

When mom and I got out of the car, at the Antique Rose Emporium* it was as if she shed her dementia and I forgot all about it. We wandered into a timeless, and for us, almost mythical place.

Roses are healing.

She walked, smiling, down the lovely rose-lined paths with her now faltering steps, and I followed her, no less affected than she seemed to be.

It was as if we both felt a sense of peace, restoration, familiarity and relief; those bright, curving walkways leading us to the past, expanding the present, making the future irrelevant for now- while the roses looked on, their sweet, serene faces gently swaying in the breeze, glowing in the mild, fall sunshine. They seemed to welcome us.

We walked, reading their names, these names as familiar as a litany of cousins, brothers or household saints; part of my mother’s every day language.

Duchesse Brabant, Old Blush, Abraham Darby, laMarque, Baily Red, Ducher, Cecile Brunner, Red Cascade, Mermaid, the Fairy, Graham Thomas, Dame de Cour …

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found rose

We meet here in dreams- meet each other, or friends, sometimes even family members long gone. Here where past and present merge, and moments are easily savored,  it is a perfect place for the kind of dream that imprints itself on the soul forever.

We meet here often in reality too: picnics, Mother’s Days, birthdays, tea parties with mom and her best friend, Ellen, or to pick out roses for planting time.

On some visits Mom and I were so engrossed in roses, we didn’t notice the kids under our feet, or that they were running down the path, disappearing with the wagon.

Pictures of us all in this place dot our family albums, as well as mom’s massive volume of photos, labels and histories of her own roses.

I was tired and did not want to take any pictures that day. Mom had left her camera in the car, too. Pictures can only snatch at time. They never really catch anything.

We wandered happily in the temple of our many meetings.

Mom and I exclaimed over scents, over loveliness both new and familiar. We passed the big old house with its wrap-around porch, walked down brick paths and gravel, around fountains and enclosures, past the statue of Our Lady of the Rosary, where we had often stopped to pray with the kids. We stood in the center of the gazebo where my brother and his wife were married on another fall day years ago. Silent and still, we held hands, smiled and remembered.

“Roses are healing,” I said aloud, and the roses seemed to nod and smile.

“Yes,” she said, “they are.”

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She chose four rose bushes, becoming more and more distracted, wandering off now and then, so that the process of buying them took a long time.

The spell, like all spells, must wear off.

I loaded up the roses, and we drove back to reality- or a different one, anyway. But I think we were both conscious of a special blessing.

Roses are healing. Roses are holy. And some places are made timeless by love.

 

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My mom, Delphia, on her front porch with her dog, Devon, 2011.

 

*  https://www.antiqueroseemporium.com/

Don’t Freak Out

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photo Maire Manning-Pauc

Putting up with things that irritate us builds character. I think that is because when we are in a situation we can’t change, the only option is changing ourselves. “This is a good life skill,” I tell my kids. It is also a good skill for developing the spiritual life because it’s good training for the mind, for self control and endurance. Besides it’s no fun to freak out all the time. What does it get us…. but a lot of freak-out? And there’s nothing you can’t make worse by more of THAT!

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Art by Bob Chapman

Here are some things I have tried to help me not freak out.

Paying bills can be stressful. You know how when you are paying bills your shoulders get really tense and sometimes your back too, and if anybody says anything to you, you say, “Leave me alone I’m paying BILLS!” I decided that attitude needed work.  I tried a change of venue. I picked a place that it seems silly to pay bills. Then I could be amused. I try to amuse myself as often as possible. It helps a lot with life. So I paid bills in the tree house. I kept smiling because it was a goofy thing to do.

I wrote,  ” thank you so much,” on each bill. Thank you for the electricity. Thank you for the car. Thank you, veterinarian,  for helping when my dog was sick.
Thank you, God, that I can pay these bills. Thank you. Gratitude is an even better tool than self -amusement.

I enjoyed puting rose petals in the envelopes of each payment. I imagined the various possible reactions to this. “Made my day? Is it anthrax? Who’s does that?” This also amused me.

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Loud neighbors can be annoying. I had neighbors last year who screamed at each other and honked car horns several times a day. One time when the screaming and car horns started, I thought. “I HATE THIS!” This is a red light for me mentally. I usually don’t allow my mind to think, “I hate this,” about anything since that thought never leads to anything good. I took a deep breath, and I remembered St. Therese the Little Flower and all she did to train her mind in the face of annoyance to leave it free and peaceful for God. What could I do?

I told my family that from now on that screaming and honking was code for, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” It worked. From then on whenever the yelling started, one of us would say, “Smile, Jesus loves you!” and we would start laughing. I’m glad we learned how to let that frustration go. When my husband was sick, those very people came over and helped me when I needed it. If I had stayed mad at them all the time and just thought of them as “the screamy neighbors,” I would never have gotten to know them. They had some wonderful qualities.

The young people who live next door now play very loud music at times. I was enjoying a quiet fall day on my front porch one time when they started that noise. First I amused my self with the thought that I can out blast them any time. I have some enormous speakers. What got me laughing and letting go was the funny thought of getting a recording of a nice, quiet fall day and blasting that. Suddenly the young people would be overcome with an unaccustomed sense of inner peace, and they would be stunned! That made me laugh. They turned it off after a while. I diffused my inner volatility with a series of funny images and thoughts. I win!

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Waiting in line or being stuck somewhere can be maddening.  One wild grocery store day, stuck in line, I tried looking at the covers of magazines by the register to entertain myself. These seemed not good for anyone to look at ; you know- magazine covers about who looked bad in her bathing suit this week, or with titles like “Potato Juice Keeps You Young and Sexy.”  My other choices seemed to be  lighters, candy and soda. I asked Jesus silently, “What would You look at if You were here?” The thought came to me that Jesus would look at the people. “Look at the people and love them.” So I started working on that. I looked at each person around me and noticed how they seemed to be doing. I mentally blessed each one or prayed for each one. I felt very peaceful and entertained.

During long, boring trips to Lowe’s with my husband, Bob, I always had a rosary in my pocket. I thought I may as well try and be useful to the world while I suffered. Another thing I tried was to ride in the cart and have him push me around. That helps too. He wanted to bring me, after all. It made us both laugh for me to do this. He enjoyed throwing his items into the cart on me too.

Being overstimulated makes it difficult to think.

If there is too much going on and I need to concentrate, I go within myself as I would for prayer. I close my eyes, and I go to that dark interior center of myself where God is. Staying there even for a second can restore me to sanity and renew my perspective. I might imagine resting my face on Jesus’ chest for a minute. I may go someplace calm in my mind momentarily. It helps.

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photo Shawn Chapman

We Catholics have a great array of “mantras” of our own; prayer words, short prayers, and litanies that are useful when we feel overwhelmed. I have a little note up that says, “Keep calm and say a Hail Mary.” Or I repeat the Jesus prayer or the Holy Name, or one of those one-liners like “May the Sacred Heart of Jesus be praised adored and loved.” Saying over some memorized Scripture is helpful too in times when I feel a sense of overload, frustration or impatience.

When somebody pulls out in front of me in traffic, my daughters know I will growl, “RAWR!” Then right away I will say, “God bless you have a nice day and I hope  there is a happy surprise for you when you get home, maybe cake, maybe puppies….,” and I’ll go on with this stupid list of things until either I’m laughing or my girls are.

Being interrupted is irritating. When I am interrupted, it helps if I interpret the interruption as the Holy Spirit’s action in my day. Sometimes I plan one kind of day but it works out totally differently. It can be jarring to be interrupted  when I am busy or to have my day go “out of control.” It helps if I let go and let God order my day. I ask Him to show me what He wants. I try to forget what I wanted to do and just be with who ever I am with, pay complete attention to what’s happening in the moment I am in. Often when I get to the end of a day that could have been exasperating, I will see the grace in the interruptions. It is usually the demands of love and relationship that interrupt us. At the end of the day that’s what matters most anyway… the love and the relationships.

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My daughter Maire, my grandbaby boy, Blaze, and my son-in-law, Jon

Philippians 4:8 tells us to fill our minds with beauty and we will know God’s peace. Jesus said peacemakers are children of God. Sometimes temple tables actually need to be over turned or some Pharisees stood up to. However most of the time, I think I should tend towards a more peaceful, elastic, accepting mind that God can work with. My brain believes what I tell it. Usually I tell it stuff is funny and that everything is in Divine Order. Sometimes I say to myself, “This will make a great story some day.” And it does.

By the way, as I wrote this article, I was interrupted twice by each of my kids and also had to listen to some music I didn’t really like and the kitten would not stop mewing. But I didn’t freak out. 😉

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photo Shawn Chapman

 

 

 

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