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Bethany Hang Out

Christian contemplative life and devotion

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Social Justice

Gloria and her angels: a family

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My youngest daughter begged me to help a friend of hers whose family had no place to live. It was an emergency situation. They had tried everything. Her friend had come to her in tears- a friend who I had only ever seen smile and laugh- a kid I remembered by his radiant smile.

This friend’s mom was an invalid. I didn’t know the details. She wouldn’t be any trouble, my daughter said hastily, between sobs, she wouldn’t be in the way at all, “She just hangs out.” The friend had a brother, too, an older brother. The brother had a job at Taco Bell and could pay us rent. All they needed was a room.

“Please, Mom, please!

“This friend came over later, a fifteen year old guy friend of my daughter’s. We had a guest room since my oldest daughter had moved out not long before.

The boy cried in my daughter’s arms in the front yard, thanking her. He looked at that little room like it was heaven. They only would accept this one room. They had only ever lived together in one room and they would be fine, he said.

No, I could not afford this. No, I am not an extravert who likes people around all the time. No, I didn’t want to do it. I felt absolutely panicked, actually. Neither would this be the first time throughout this family’s long stay with us ( about a year, I think,)  that I had anxiety.

However, how could I ever look at Jesus again if I refused?

It turned out the mother of this family was in agonizing pain all the time. She had not walked in over a year. She was in too much pain even to sit in her battered wheelchair. She spent her days lying in bed looking at the ceiling, waiting for her sons to come home from school or work and help her with her physical needs. She could barely raise her arms without terrible pain. Her sons had to do everything for her, even feed her.

The older son worked hard at Taco Bell and went to school. The younger one went to school and mostly took care of his mother.

The mother and younger son joked around a lot. I could hear them laughing often as he cared for her. The older son was very protective of his mom, and also cared for her, doing the cooking and carrying her when needed, though he was of slight build. He was obviously proud to do it. Both boys honored their mom completely, and obeyed her in everything. Their devotion to her was evident.

Sometimes I felt bad for them for the things they had to do as teen-aged boys. They never did understand my alarm at their situation, even though they were often frightened themselves. I can only account for this by the fact that to them, this was just life as they knew it.

The first thing I saw in the mornings when I got up, was the younger son coming down the hall toward the bathroom with his mother’s bed pan. He would always smile and tell me, “Good morning!”

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Of course I tried to help out. I asked people, I posted on Face Book (in a way that protected their identities,) I got out of my comfort zone and went out looking for help. Even though I am daunted by authority figures and the world of officialdom, and by having to go places and ask questions, I did all of this. What else could I do? I often thought this family could have done a lot better in the person they ended up with to help them. I did not have much success.

Individuals were often reluctant to get involved, though some offered me some money to help out, or a gave me a gift card for them.  My friends brought food by for us. Because sometimes we ran out.One reason we ran out of food was that the boys got their food stamps cut at one point, to $11 a month. Yes, this is the truth. How do you feed two teen-aged boys on $11 a month? You can’t.How can a family of three survive on minimum wage, especially from a job that varies in hours of work offered? They can’t.

A lot of people said, “Oh go to St. So and So, they do that.” I did. They were out of money. In my experience they could not help us. “Go to Such and Such Charities.” I went. All they could offer us was a one time gift of a $50 Wal-mart card. It did help. But then what?

For housing help for them, I encountered a waiting list three years long, and income requirements that put it out of their reach.

Parish Social Justice ministry? Out of money, too.

The food pantry in our neighborhood could not help this family with food because they lived with me, and the rules indicated that my income must be counted as part of theirs, and, in that case, we were disqualified. We hardly ever had enough food during this time. Nothing was working out.

“Lord, I am trying to do what you want me to do, can you make the path more clear!?” …….. and maybe a little easier?

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Everywhere I went to get help for this family, there really was not much. I am not putting these wonderful organizations down. Obviously, we should be helping the charities around us more than we do!

When we think of the poor, I think we tend to believe the charities have it covered, but how could they? They can’t do everything, and they don’t. We have to do stuff, too.

I went to the free clinic to try to get medical help for the mother. They could not help us or even see her at all, because they did not have the specialist on board to correspond with her disease, and those were the rules.

The community hospice could not help us with palliative care because her disease was not on their list of terminal illnesses. It was not on the list because, it is a treatable disease, though hers has been untreated so long she will likely die from it, eventually. She will die a slow, agonizing death because of her poverty and because of her status as a non-citizen.

Her sons are citizens, but she is not. They are in constant fear of being separated, of their mother being taken from them, or the brothers being separated somehow if anything happens to their mother while the youngest is a minor. They have been afraid to seek help because of these things. As it turns out, help is hard to find, anyway.

Her pain is what made me really angry. Trying to get help for her frustrated me the most. Sometimes I felt crazy.

My massage therapist friends came and worked on her, bringing essential oils that helped with pain. But that can only go so far on a body twisted and deformed by advanced, unchecked degenerative disease.

The Catholic hospital took her once when the pain was especially bad, and stabilized her. A doctor there gave her a prescription for pain. The other patients and nurses on the floor put together some money between them to pay for her medicine for a while. It was truly touching to us all. But that medicine is long gone, though she usually refused to take it, fearing she would need it more later.

When the enormous hospital bill came, it could not be paid. Also, getting her to the hospital had been so terribly painful, I think now that her illness has progressed more, that it would take an ambulance to get her there. Since it is such a temporary solution, it hardly seems like a good one now.

Oddly, a protective government service showed up to my house to check on her. Seeing it as an opportunity, I tried to ply the visitor for help and information. Getting her help was out of their scope. The social worker was very nice and did offer me a number to an organization that would help pay the hospital bill she already had. It would only be a drop in the bucket, a lot of trouble to get it, and have no effect on her present situation. This did not seem very helpful to me. Sorry, but it didn’t.

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Though sometimes the stress of having another family in our house was intense, my daughter and I became very close to this family. The mom could not speak English but somehow we managed to have conversations, sometimes for hours. Sometimes she would let me help her with things, but she usually wouldn’t. She was embarrassed. That’s OK.

All three of them were very quirky, smart, and funny. I have a lot of good memories from that time. I hope they do, too.

The boys had their faults like anyone, so did we, and sometimes we all drove each other crazy. Don’t think we didn’t. Because it was truly difficult sometimes.

My daughter and her friend had their friendship strained to the limit at times.I am happy to say, she and that boy are close friends still.

The family insisted on giving me some rent, and I let them, because I knew it was an issue of dignity, and also I knew that the older son was proud of the way he took care of his family. I was proud of him, too.

When the younger son turned sixteen, he started working too. He would often be very tired, staying up late at night, sitting on the edge of their bed, doing homework in his McDonald’s uniform as his mother looked on or slept.

Both sons made good grades and took advanced classes. Their mother is very strong on education. She wants them to have a better life.

A young couple from one organization became interested in the younger son, and they were the ones who helped him with interview skills and to find a job.They were very kind to him.

One of my sisters-in-law brought audio books in Spanish to help pass the mother’s time, and my friends who spoke Spanish, would come by and talk to her sometimes. That was so kind.

People sometimes gave them helpful things, like a much needed hospital bed.One of my brothers helped the older son get a full time job, and he is doing well at that job, and taking a class or two at the local community college when he can. He doesn’t make much money, but they are able to have their own little low- rent place now, and even get around in their own vehicle, such as it is.

The younger son says it’s hard for him because he feels like he works twenty-four hours a day. He goes to school all day, cares for his mom, goes to work, cares for his mom again, and never has enough time to do all of his homework because he is so exhausted, and he worries about his grades. Sometimes he wants to run away, but he can’t. One time he started to, but he started crying and had to come back and tell his mom all about it.

They are barely, barely making it, but at least they are kind of making it.However, the problem of their mother’s agony remains.

What to do? The pain gets worse and worse all the time. The boys get scared sometimes, and I call my nurse friend. She goes and checks on them, giving them advice, but she can’t do anything about pain medicine. I have asked doctor friends. Nothing has worked out so far.There is “no room at the inn” for her. 

“How is your mom today?” “She can hardly move at all. She cries. I cry. It’s really hard.”

She suffers terrible agony with no relief. She is poor. She has no insurance. She has no rights. What is left? What do we do? Dear Reader, what would you do?

God grasps our arms for help; for each of us is His beloved servant never far. ~ St. John of the Cross

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* Note: the mother of this family died this Easter. Of a totally treatable disease.

Nostra Aetate over shisha: a conversation about inter-religious experience

We are sitting on cushions at a low table, enjoying shisha from a shared hookah in the corner of a light, airy building in a shopping center in Central Texas. There is country music on the radio, and a minty, fruity smoke rising around us in the late afternoon sun.

Frank, (or as I call him,”Frankly,”) is my first late husband’s oldest brother. Our families have remained close over the years. He and his wife, Karin, are visiting from their home in Oak Creek, Wisconsin (Milwaukee area.)

Today, I have set out to interview Frank about his experiences of inter-religious dialogue. I have been reflecting on Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II document on the relationship of the Catholic Church with non-Christian religions. It seems to me that our own Frank is a living example of what respectful friendship between the faiths could look like if taken seriously and personally, lived out in individual relationships and respectful, curious overtures, even shared prayer.

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Frank agreed to talk about his journey, though his natural state is somewhat taciturn. It takes him a while to warm up sometimes… so I’ll wait.

Right now Frank is not sure what he thinks of this hookah business, a hobby that I and his son, Hans have taken up from time to time. He stares at the plastic sanitary tip of the hose we have handed him, unsure of what to do with it.

“?”

While he figures this hookah thing out, I will give you some details to confuse you about Frank. (I say confuse because some of the facts about him are not usually found together in one person.)

Introducing Francis K. Pauc, West Point graduate, Army veteran (helicopter pilot) peace activist, father of an Iraq war veteran (Hans, mentioned above.) He is also a volunteer at the local V.A. hospital, an avid defender of immigrants’ rights, friend of Dominican Sisters, assister of people in the Catholic Worker movement (which was founded by Dorothy Day), and writer of many letters to the editor on issues of import.

He has written a book, available on Amazon Kindle, and in paper back, called Father at War. He is a recently retired dock foreman of a shipping company, a devout cradle Catholic with a long and distinguished history of being active in his parish, St. Stephen’s.  He has been twenty years a lector, a past RCIA teacher, and past parish council member, among other activities.

He is also the token Catholic at the Buddhist Sangha at Milwaukee Zen Center, frequent attender of the Orthodox Jewish synagogue in his area, and he now and then hangs out at the local mosque. He is a regular pray-er/visitor at the Sikh temple in his neighborhood.

Frank is the father of three adult children, long time husband to Karin, who he met and married while stationed in Germany as a young man.

He is of Slovenian heritage but is sometimes mistaken to be Turkish. Lately he has grown a long beard and looks very Orthodox Jewish. On that last long peace walk his beard became a bit dred-lock-ish.

I have known Frank since the late eighties when I started dating brother # 6 in the Pauc family of seven boys, Marc Blaze.

Frank is starting to be amused with the hookah experience. I can tell he is comfortable enough I can ask him questions now.

Fortunately, besides his big, German village wedding, his journey learning about other faiths is his favorite subject.

His habitually taciturn, crabby look becomes a warm, soft- eyed lucidity now as I begin to ask how all this started for him. When did he first learn about other religions, I ask, blowing out my delicious smoke.

Frank says his first real look at another religion was learning about Islam in the Army, since he had to learn Arabic. Then he took a refresher course in Arabic with someone from work, years later, at a Muslim culture center. He made more friends there. They didn’t necessarily talk about faith all of the time. They moved from learning Arabic to talking about their kids, their wives, their work, their daily lives.

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After 9/11, Frank wanted to do something personal to cross the widening divide in our country between non-Muslim Americans and Muslim Americans. He ended up going by the mosque. He found the front locked so he went around back to the kitchen. “I thought you guys might need friends.”

“Are you Muslim?”

“No. I am a Catholic.”

Frank is the only person I know who would show up to an unfamiliar place of worship and ask, “Anybody want to talk about God?”

Frank observes that the prohibition on images in Muslim art has created a very masculine looking art form of geometric shapes and calligraphy, which is beautiful, but, to him, missing something. He thinks it’s a conception of the feminine side of the Divine that is absent. This gave him a new appreciation of our knowledge of the the Holy Spirit, the Giver of Life, “Creator Blessed,” and of our Mother Mary exemplifying and reflecting this to us. He thinks our ability to be spoken to by God through images is related to conscious contact with the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary through whom the Incarnation was accomplished. The Incarnation puts us in touch with how God communicates through what we can see and touch. It’s why, he theorizes, Catholic art is so glorious. It’s because we have Mary, and we are very in touch with that creative motherly energy and imagery.

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He talks about how sad it is that so many Christians have lost their mother. Their art is not as cool as ours, either, he thinks. “There’s got to be a connection here.”

He really did love the Dome of the Rock, though when he went to the Holy Land. “That was awesome.”

But we digress. We smoke in silence a while… listening to the pleasant bubbling sound of the water in the hookah’s base. 

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Years ago, Frank says, he became curious about the Sikh Temple in his neighborhood. He smiles when he remembers his visits there. “You have to eat. They always feed you. You never leave without eating.”

He adds that the music is great. Like a cross between our best praise and worship, and the coolest Indian music ever. Frank likes to find someone and ask them questions like, “Do you think God loves you?” and go from there.

The Sikh Temple he liked to visit was the same one where there was a shooting in 2012 . Frank knew one of the people who was killed. He was among those who offered support. He still likes to drop by and pray.

Sometimes he meets interesting people of other religions in his work as a peace activist. He met a Buddhist monk named Senji on a long peace walk he went on to protest drone warfare. The next year, he, his wife Karin, and his son, Stefan, went to visit Senji in his monastery in Oregon. They had a great time, and found a lot in common, especially in the social justice work the monks engaged in, and their quiet, dedicated life.

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The desire for contemplative prayer was what got Frank to visit the Zen Center in the first place. He and Karin had tried to find a place to learn forms of Christian contemplative prayer and practice in a group and had not found one. (They have now.) So Frank and Karin went and sat with the Buddhists. Karin always took her rosary and prayed that. Frank started hanging around all the time and being part of the life of the Sangha, even though there are some things that as a Catholic he can’t do, of course.

He decided to learn more, and he loved hanging around. They appreciated his thoughts. When he thought something was stupid, he always said so, (he always does, regardless of the company,) and he also gave his thoughts as a Christian. They came to appreciate this.  He liked sitting in silence with them.

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Going to “Zen practice” regularly brought visible changes to Frank.

I remember seeing these changes in him. He became much more playful and open and calm. Less “‘onry.” I think he really did find peace. I could see it in his face and hear it in his speech. I could tell by  his kinder  attitude, and even the way he carried himself. He still can be found at the Milwaukee Zen Center on a Saturday morning if he’s not volunteering, or traveling somewhere.

He says getting to know his friends at the Zen Center helped him delve into his own faith and prayer traditions all the more.

“It’s made me a better Catholic.”

Learning to sit quietly in what was consciously a form of trusting, un-knowing prayer, for him, brought him nearer to God, and God blessed him with a sense of open-ness and peace. It seems the Lord continued to lead Frank on his unique travels through the spiritual world and to teach him that learning about how other people love and understand God is an act of love.

It is worth remembering that Thomas Merton, a great American Catholic admired by Pope Francis, also got to know Buddhism very well, made friends with Buddhist monks, and found ways to share silence and spiritual practice with them that enriched his own faith.

I asked him what lead him to choose to start showing up at the Orthodox synagogue, rather than Reformed. “Is it because of being Catholic and therefore more into deep, rooted, more ritualistic and mystical worship? ” He said no, that it was because that was the closest synagogue to his house. “What made you want to learn more about Judaism?” One of his more rare expressions crosses his face; an innocent, child like look. “Because I wanted to understand.”

He says he became very close with the Rabbi there and began to take Hebrew lessons. He was often invited to dinner at the Rabbi’s house, and even to Passover. He says he doesn’t think anyone can have the fullest appreciation for their Christianity if they don’t get to know Judaism. He said attending their liturgies changed him as a lector. He grew in his appreciation of the Scripture and reading the Old Testament at mass was a more profound experience for him after seeing the very solemn and reverent way it is read in the synagogue.

He remembers a funny conversation he had with he Rabbi who said, “Oh, you Christians, always forgetting Satan isn’t anything close to equal with God,” when Frank was worried about something.

He still likes going to the Synagogue regularly.

Frank remarks that Jesus was a good Jew, and that he thinks of Jesus as his older brother. I smile, remembering that is what John Paul II said about the Jewish people and the Church. They are our older brother.

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I say that it strikes me that his inter-religious ministry and journey seems to be about making personal connections, about being a friend. He agrees with that, though he says he is less conscious of that than just wanting to understand others and share with them. He feels compelled about this.

He says he is most impressed by the people who are deeply and “completely sold” on their religion. He respects the most those who have “their faith woven into he fabric of their every day life. When it’s just who they are.” Those are the people it’s easiest to talk to, and who return the interest he gives to them about their faith.

At times he has wondered if he should stop hanging around Buddhists and the Orthodox Jews.  They were quick to say they needed him around, and enjoyed what he had to say. They felt spiritually up lifted by their token Catholic.

At one time in his life, following a series of crises and being simultaneously very wounded by some in his own parish,  he actually struggled about whether to remain Catholic or not.  It was his friends at the Zen Center and the synagogue, who said, “Whatever you do, don’t leave the Catholic Church.” They cared more than anyone else, he said.

Now that he is newly retired, he can spend more time volunteering, working for peace, and walking into temples, synagogues and mosques asking about God and giving the gift of a listening heart to anyone willing to share their faith.

Frank seems to have been aptly named after the great St. Francis of Assisi, who said, “Preach he Gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.”

Frank and Karin are off to their next stop on their summer adventures; a Catholic Worker farm, then a Youth Hostel, a Benedictine guest house, and then on to Mt. Bly in Oregon to visit my off the grid daughter, Maire, and her little family.

I mention, as we get up to leave the cafe, that we’ve actually been talking Nostra Aetate over our shisha. Frank says, “Yeah. That pretty much rocks.”

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Read Nostra Aetate

Hookah: a waterpipe
Mu‘assel, or shisha tobacco: the molasses-based tobacco concoction smoked in a hookah; often comes in various flavors such as rose, lemon, mint, etc.
Hookah lounge, or shisha bar: an establishment where patrons share shisha

Travel by heart

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…  wholesome, charitable views… cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner …”
~Mark Twain

This is true. However,  one can travel without leaving town.  Consider the borders of social and economic boundaries,  roles we occupy that keep us from knowing one another, our self protective measures in the face of suffering.  To brush aside convention and fear in favor of love and adventure; this is travel by heart. I don’t know about you, but without it, I tend to create my own world and risk losing sight of the Gospel.

The rule of this travel is: Anything that softens your heart is a good thing. Anything that hardens the heart should be avoided. Cultivate a receptive heart to be a well -rounded traveler. Learn to ignore what doesn’t matter to go places no one has ever been before.

Get to know a “Welfare Mom.”

Be friends with an “illegal” human being.

Hold someone who is dying.

Breath deeply of another’s world.  

Sometimes I am still embarrassed, scared or don’t know what to say, but I have tried walking through the doors when I see them,  making a pilgrimage to the holy shrine of human encounter.

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It’s kind of a crazy place.

Once, an elderly lady I was obediently and routinely spoon- feeding,  smiled, picked up her spoon, and started feeding me! We looked at each other and laughed.

Moments like this happen all the time in life. What if you made a habit of paying attention to their opportunities every day? You would be a seasoned back packer through worlds unknown. Maybe you already are.

Sometimes you will not want to make the trip.

Tradition dictated I invite “all” my “friends, neighbors and family” to my house blessing. I thought, “Not the druggie guys next door.” But I did invite them. They looked great, all smiles, clean and dressed up, obviously totally honored to have been invited. That was humbling. Being humbled feels great.

Make the trip.

 I met a young mom who had to scramble to find a house to clean or a lawn to mow to get dinner on the table for her kids at times when her meager supply of food stamps ran out. LeAnn became a good friend. I would have missed knowing a true poet, missed a beautiful friendship, if she and I had maintained the customary boundaries between “helper and helped.” She would have missed me too.

An elderly man I met during my CNA training enchanted me with his serene playfulness, his big blue eyes. We had fun together while I changed his sheets. “I’ve never met anyone like you before!” he exclaimed. “I’ve never met anybody like you either!” I said. “I think I want to marry you!” “I want to marry you too!” We didn’t get married. But we remain good friends years later. Jim is an extraordinary and inspiring person. To think I could have changed the sheets and walked out of his life!

The mother of one of my daughter’s friends, who is very ill, allowed me to do a few, small acts of service for her. Her courage, humor and kindness have inspired me. She has put a human face on the term, “Illegal immigrant,” for me. Coming to know her has taught me that only what God sees matters. Only His will, His law, which is always, love, matters at all.

Early in my care giving job, talking to my boss, Gretchen, suddenly it seemed I was seeing how lovely she is to God. It was magical, a holy moment, a total gift.  Now I know by experience that she really is lovely, and, fortunately for me, she is a world class traveler! She saw past my brokenness, past the employer-employee relationship, to let me try even when it was scary for her to do.  Her trust helped me grow.

A tendency to travel by heart can help you stay close to someone you love very much even when his journey becomes painful and frightening.

I held my husband, Bob, as he died. I went with him as far as I could until he was gone. All I or anyone else there felt was the overpowering presence of Love. As anyone who has done this can tell you, you can experience love and joy even when death comes, if you just let your heart be there. All that is left is love and you’re not scared anymore.

Habitual focus on what is human and real made me able to connect with my mom in new ways and walk with her through her dementia. It sounds crazy but we had a really good time. It was grace.

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Love is its own wisdom, and God Himself IS love. Love covers all the territory. By love, you learn that the universe resides in each human heart, even your own, and that the journey never ends.

That is the kind of trip I love most, because of the peace, transformation, and joy it brings- a trip across borders God does not acknowledge, to that place where the last is first and the first is last and neither even thinks about it because only one thing matters.

So don’t be afraid to cross the borders. Explore, and love. The fence is imaginary and God is on the other side.

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Stay calm, access peace; for your good and the good of all

With constant developments in the news about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church, and constantly breaking political news, these are extremely stressful times. How do we keep some equilibrium so we can be any use to ourselves and to our brothers and sisters in these dark, difficult and divisive days? Every day it seems like there are more bomb shells. How do we sustain them?

I messaged a friend the other day, “How ARE we going to keep calm these crazy days?” She wrote back:

“I’m going to be drinking! You don’t drink, so you shall have to pray, I suppose. :P”

I do plan to pray a lot, in whatever way I can, but most of all, I plan to pray in ways that simply keep me connected to God.

As a Carmelite, I have a strong belief that cultivating a constant, loving awareness of the presence of God within is a service to the world, and that it has a gracious effect on everything, and everybody.

I believe that when I am recollected, and in conscious contact with God, I have opened the fountain of living water in my soul. By doing so, I become a channel of grace for the world.

Unsealing the living fountain of the Holy Spirit in my own soul mysteriously helps others do the same, and somehow they are helping me as well. To me, this is part of the Communion of Saints.

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“Let us draw from the springs of salvation

for our selves, and for the entire parched world.”

~ St. Edith Stein

Also, staying connected to God helps me to keep closer to His perspective when things get a little crazy.

It also reminds me that whether there is the earthly appearance of what I think is justice or not, God is going to win in the end, win in His kind of way, and that His win lasts forever. My sister in Carmel, Pat Thompson says that God’s will is always love. Whatever happens, I can trust that will of love is still at work.

So, in these days of fear, anger and chaos, grief, division and anxiety, I hope to remain connected and recollected.

I know I will have to be focussed about this commitment to myself, to God, and to the world. Sometimes I might become overwhelmed with what’s going on. However, I hope to make a consistent effort to draw myself back to the center every time; that center of my soul, and the center of the whole of existence, where God is. Here are some tips about staying on track for inner peace during your day.

Make a plan for your day that cultivates peace.

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  • Plan, whether you are at work, or at home today, and the days ahead, to cultivate serenity. It’s not going to help anything or anybody for you to freak out, right?
  • It may be a good idea to limit your engagement with what’s going on during the day, and to limit your media consumption, to the minimum.
  • Visit the Blessed Sacrament. Even popping in for a few seconds helps. If you can’t get there, here is adoration live. 
  • Plan some stopping points at certain times to settle down and re-center, and make a simple plan for what you will do. Sometimes you just need a few minutes with some calm music, a view of nature, something nice to drink.
  • Go to mass if your schedule permits.
  • Plan to pray The Liturgy of the Hours; however many of the set hours you can pray. (Morning, Mid Morning, Midday, Mid- afternoon, Evening and Night Prayer.) Universalis is a good site to pray the Liturgy of the Hours for free. You may also like The Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary on-line, a Marian version, so to speak, of the Liturgy of the Hours. Also free. Check in with the Liturgy of the Hours any time, and pray with others all over the world.
  • Plan to do acts of kindness and/or sneaky good deeds. You will feel great. Leave someone a flower. Pay it forward at a drive through. Give something to a homeless person or engage him or her in conversation. Do a chore for someone else in your household or at work, to lighten their load. Here is a list of acts of kindness if you can’t think of anything.
  • Make time in your day to interact with your pet. Even a quiet moment spent petting or brushing your dog or cat can raise your spirits and calm your heart.
  • Look at art that uplifts you. Plan ahead to do this, or check out I Require Art on Face Book. I love looking at that page. It is also on Twitter.
  • Have coffee with a friend and catch up. This does wonders.

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Just for a Day

Pick one of these to do now and then. You can do something for a 24 hours period that would be overwhelming to do for a lifetime. But it is great training!

  • Hug people today, whenever possible. Seriously. This helps them and you.
  • Just for today, no fighting with anyone. Fight tomorrow. Not today. You can do it just for your waking hours in this next 24. Have a day like that now and then.
  • Have peaceful things to read that are helpful to you, comforting, or don’t get you emotionally stirred up. Don’t read anything else, just for today.
  • Plan to be extra caring with the people around you today. Remind yourself often that this is your intention today: to be kind. All day.
  • If you have a baby or a little kid in your family, read with him, cuddle with her. Spending time talking with a little kid can be healing. Plan on it. Make it part of your day today.
  • Eat comforting foods. It’s one day. Don’t worry about it. Plan comfort food meals for your family. Try to limit dinner talk to peaceful topics. Just for today.
  •      Make peace your highest priority just for one day.  
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“Let nothing steal your treasure.” ~ St. Teresa of Avila

 

If you become overwhelmed, here are some quick ways to calm down:

  • Push your palms together for a moment.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Shake out your limbs.
  • Breath in through your nose slowly (count five) and then out through your mouth (count five.) Keep going with this for a while if it helps you.
  • Stop what you are doing- especially stop interacting with whatever or whoever is upsetting you. Turn off the T.V. Get away from that person. Get off social media. Whatever it is, stop it.
  • Tune in to the moment: Feel the floor (of whatever you are standing on,) hear the sounds far away, the sounds near you, the feel of whatever you are touching. Be conscious of your breathing. Look out of the window, at the sun, at the sky, at the trees or whatever is around you. Notice what’s going on in this present moment.
  • Go for a brisk walk. Pray the rosary or inwardly repeat the Holy Name of Jesus, or the sweet name of Mary as you walk. Let your inner, prayerful repetition fall into rhythm with your steps and your breathing. Pray with your whole body, mind and eventually, heart.
    • If you can’t pray the rosary, just hold it.  Think of it as holding Our Lady’s hand.
    • Slow down your responses to anything agitating that people say. Think before you respond back. A good thing to remember before you speak is, “Is [what I am about to say] true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
    • Intentionally tense different muscle groups, and then release them. It’s very calming.
    • Make a list of five things you are grateful for, of five people you love, and even what you love about them.
    • Do a simple task you do all the time, but do it mindfully. Sweep the floor patiently. Wipe the table. Brush your hair. Water plants.
    • Wash your face, or sprinkle cold water on your wrists and dab it behind your ears.
    • Call a sympathetic, or light hearted friend. Say you don’t want to talk about current events. You want to talk about turtles or something.
    • Watch something funny (as long as it is not snarky, sarcastic or mean spirited.)
    • Litanies are awesome. My mom swore by these. She kept a notebook of them. “When you’re crazy, walk the floor if you need to, and pray a litany. Litanies are great when you’re crazy.”
    • Listen to a guided prayerful meditation, like one of mine, or the Daily Disconnect podcast from the Carmelite Friars of Illinois.
    • Here is a body centered, calming recording, an app that helps me sometimes. calm.com
    • Have a cup of calming tea, like chamomile.
    • Have a cup of coffee. Just don’t drink too much coffee.
    • Try a calming essential oil, like lavender, chamomile, or any citrus essential oil. That can be really good. Rub it on your feet, or on the back of your neck. Put it in a diffuser. Splash it around.

In general

Stay safe, stay mentally cool, drive carefully, (and as little as possible if you are overwrought,) stay connected to God all through the day. It helps everybody.

As Fr. Adrian van Kaam said, “Lord, make me a smooth channel for the outflow of your divine will into this world.”

 

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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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Lesson from Elijah: a prayer story

When I answer the door, a wild- looking old hippie guy standing on my porch asks me for some water and a sandwich. I don’t actually have much food in the house right now, as it’s a few days until Pay Day. I’m trying to think what to give him, remembering I am down to the last scrapes of peanut butter, when, seeming to read my mind, he says that I won’t run out of either bread or peanut butter until the next time I get paid. “Just make me a sandwich,” he says in response to my incredulous stare.

In my kitchen, I open a cabinet and find my jar of peanut butter unexpectedly full. I also find a loaf of bread. So I make him a sandwich.

“Should I know you?” I finally ask. “Yes. I’m the prophet Elijah.”

I ask him, “Aren’t you supposed to appear in the end times?” * He looks at me sharply with an expression of terrible ferocity, sadness, tenderness, radiance, and when our eyes meet, I feel exposed to the vastness of space, and I know even that vastness to be flying by, nothing at all. I know myself to be dust, less than dust. Both the prophet and I are dust in the wind together.

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I find myself on a mountainside next to him. I don’t look at his face, but I watch his feet in their dusty sandals as I follow him up. The path is rough, steep, and though well worn, it is still difficult. We climb on and on in silence. This must be Mt. Carmel. Suddenly I take a thoughtless step, sliding and falling backwards down the narrow path, and then over an edge I didn’t notice before.

He catches my wrist, and as soon as his hand closes tightly to catch me and stop my fall, I see what fills the pit I almost fell into- the charred remains of little children, so many, too many to count. The full horror of this scene chokes me. As I hang over this terrible place in Elijah’s grip, I hear the Scripture, “it is not against flesh and blood that we are at war, but with the powers and principalities of darkness,” and the words of Jesus, “Satan is a murderer and he was a murderer from the beginning. “

Suddenly I am back on the mountain path with Elijah, trying to recover my calm. I look at him, his face covered with angry tears, and I remember the priests of Baal he was up against, and I feel I understand the extreme zealous intensity of Elijah. It wasn’t only the worship of an idol, offensive as that was, it was all that this led to, and ultimately, it was the Evil One beneath it all, and who is still our real enemy.

The little children sacrificed to Baal* don’t suffer anymore. It is God who feels it forever, God who is horrifically wronged, the order of the world distorted by every scream, because He is Love and Truth itself, and we are made in His image, to love and to be loved. There is only one way evil can have any effect on God; through the harm or the betrayal of those He loves.

Unfaithfulness to Him inevitably leads the human heart to ruin and darkness and worse. “All who worship them will become like them.”

That pit. I shudder. That place was strangely familiar. I know it signifies much. I will be sorting out its’ implications for a long time.

Elijah seems tired as we continue our climb. “Thank you,” I breathe, feeling that he can hear me, and that he knows I am thanking him, too, for his life of powerful witness to God, of jealous love for Him.

“Zelo zelatus sum,” I think to myself, as we duck into Elijah’s cave. “With zeal I have been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts;” Elijah’s words, and the motto of all Carmelites.* This is why we live, this is why we pray: “As the Lord lives, in whose presence I stand,” that He come through us into this world, that we might arise and burn like a torch in the spirit and power of Elijah against the spiritual forces of darkness, the idols and injustices of our time, with “a double portion of [his] spirit.”

We sit watching the ravens bringing us food from afar. I want to explore the cave, but the prophet’s eyes are closed, and I know we are supposed to pray now, as the sun sets. Just before I close my eyes, I see in the distance, over the sea, a small rain cloud coming up over the water. I understand what this means. “He shall descend like rain on the meadows.”  Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.

I am aware of the profound, incomprehensible tenderness of God in the “still small voice” within Elijah and myself. We cover our faces, and we say His name, the Name of God.

“The fire from the Lord consumed the sacrifice… and the people fell on their faces saying, ‘The Lord, He is God! The Lord, He is God!”icon_elijah_02_in_a_caveNotes:

  • Elijah’s life is in 1Kings chapters 17- 21,  and 2Kings 1- 2:18
  •  *Elijah and the end times http://www.dailycatholic.org/issue/10Mar/030407sm.htm
  • *Baal worship involved child sacrifice.
  • *Carmelites see Elijah and the Virgin Mary as the exemplars of our Christian contemplative life.
  •  The direct Scriptures quotes italicized and in order of appearance, areEph. 6:12, Jon. 8:44, Ps. 115:8, 1Kings 19:10, 1Kings 17:1, 2 Kings 2:9, Ps. 72:6, Rev. 22:20, 1Kings 19:12, 1Kings 18:38

Praying the News with Mary

I was a conscientious objector to the world as soon as I was old enough to notice how it was going, and how apathetic everyone else seemed to be about it all. “What’s the matter with you people,” I used to think. Engaging in the news just made me feel overwhelmed by the suffering of those who suffered, and filled me with contempt for everyone else for letting it all happen!thumbimage

During my particularly opinionated and concerned teens, my dad disliked watching the news with me because I would become so outraged.

He used to ask me, “Why do you want to save the world so much when you hate everybody in it?”

This is a problem. How do you “want to save the world,” love everyone in it and not freak out when you attend to the day’s news?

 

 

For a while I cut myself off from the media. Who needs a head full of all that stuff and what good does it do anyone to hear it? Especially once I became serious about my prayer life, I felt the news distracted me and cluttered up my mind.

What I eventually found, as I developed  spiritually over time, is that we can make our intake of news media a form of prayer, and that Mary’s is the perfect example of the praying, listening heart, ready to cooperate with God on behalf of the world, and constantly doing exactly that.

 

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Mary did not and does not sit out on  God’s movement in the world. She was always part of it all her life. If we love, and we want to pray, neither can we sit out.  With that idea in mind,  I try to keep up with the news to a reasonable degree these days. It’s one way of participating in the life of humanity, it’s part of loving, praying, being part of the family.

With a Marian perspective, being informed can become less about taking in information and more about listening to the  world, and interceding for it. We can weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice and this, too, is prayer.

Mary listens to the cries of the world right now and her hearing becomes her prayer in the presence of her Son. We can imitate her listening heart and we can join her in prayer as we tune in to the radio, open the paper, click on a news story on-line. Then we receive the news purposefully aware of God’s presence, actually praying it with the Heart of Mary, rather than just reading or hearing it.

How is this done?

It’s simple and beautiful, and human, just like Mary.

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Have you ever had something from the news cling to you and you couldn’t stop thinking about it and you prayed about it with or without words?

Have you ever had nothing to say to someone’s sorrow except to pray in silence as you sat with him and listened, or you were just present with the sufferer as prayer itself?

Have you ever heard the Scriptures read at mass and you knew God was speaking right to you and you listened and responded to Him from the heart?

Have you ever stopped what you were doing because of something you heard or read or saw, and simply closed your eyes in silent gratitude?

If you have, then you have listened, pondered, and cherished, with the heart of Mary, and God has come through you to comfort the world, to heal and restore it.

You opened a door in your heart, and Heaven came through. It touched everyone.

Isn’t that prayer? Isn’t that what Mary’s life exemplifies?

Her small foot -prints trace a beautiful pattern for us of Christian prayer.

 

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       By her prayerful receptivity, Jesus came to us.
       In our prayer of quiet, we too, are channels of His grace.

       Pregnant with Jesus, she sang the prophetic praises of God in her Magnificat.

       Jesus  lives within us and we too sing the Divine praises.

As a young mother, she pondered the events in the life of her Son, reflecting on them in her heart. We pray and meditate on the Life of the Lord always.

She confronted His seeming abandonment and expressed her hurt dismay to Him at the Temple

She was perceptive of the young couple’s problem at the wedding at Cana, interceding with her Son, eliciting His first miracle, and His disciples believed in Him. We intercede for others and pray that they, too, may be helped in their troubles and opened to God’s self-revelation in their lives.

She walked with Jesus as He carried the Cross. She stood with Him in His suffering. She allowed her heart to be “pierced with the sword” in cooperation with His sacrifice, herself to be given as a mother to the beloved disciple. We accept suffering prayerfully, trusting in God that in Christ He will turn grief into glory, and that through our sorrow He will open us, in compassion, as a gift to others.

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After the Resurrection she stood with the disciples watching Jesus, Who she loved and lived for, ascend into Heaven so that the Holy Spirit could flood the world as He promised. We pray and make sacrifices as well, giving up our own desires as a prayer that others may be comforted and know the love of God.

She was in prayer with the early Church when the Descent of the Holy Spirit changed the world forever and the mission of the Church began. The Church is still in prayer with Mary, and still on mission, full of the Holy Spirit.

What Mary hears and experiences passes through her heart as prayer offered to God. She is the exemplar of the praying, receptive soul who gives the world to Christ, and Christ to the world.

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This is what Mary did with her life, and what she does with her life in Heaven. This is for us to do, too. As St. Ambrose says, “May the soul of Mary be in each one of us to glorify the Lord! “

In Mary’s life with Jesus, the Holy Spirit was most active in her soul, and therefore  in ours as well,  through the prayer of silent, loving receptivity that conceives and gives birth to grace in mysterious ways only He knows. Trusting this brings a deeply spiritual dimension to the everyday experience of keeping up with current events.

We are still going to react emotionally to the news. Praying the news is not a way to escape the piercing of our own hearts. In fact sometimes the news of some atrocity in the world brings more tears to my eyes than ever before. I cannot begin to imagine how Mary feels, how Jesus feels, about these things.

We will still disagree with some things we read or hear sometimes. (I admit I will argue with the radio.) But our own reaction is not our focus anymore. Our focus is to accompany Mary in prayer, and to become “a smooth channel for the outflow of [the] Divine Will into this world.” (Fr. Adrien Van Kaam)

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Is it mean to send the rich away empty?

In her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Mary says, “He has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.” That line used to bother me. It sounds mean. I have often asked Our Lady what she meant by it exactly. I love the way she answered.

Some years ago I had a friend who was homeless. His name was, let’s say, Joe. He was eccentric, flamboyant, and charming. We were friends for years. Joe was fun to talk to.

One hot day I was on my way to my brother’s house with my two kids in the back seat: Maire, then eight years old, and Roise, only four. They were not being particularly good in the back of the car.

I got a call from Joe. I said, “Hey! How are you?” He said, “HOT! I’m very hungry and thirsty. Do you have any change so I can eat and drink?” He sounded hoarse. “Where are you?” I asked.

He was about a block away. All I had was a twenty -dollar bill for the week. I thought about it. I had paid the bills and gotten groceries for the week. But if I gave Joe the twenty, as I felt inspired to do, if we ran out of bread or milk we would have to wait until pay day for it. I was willing, I decided. I would be fine. Joe needed it more.

 

I headed his way. “Where are we going?” asked Maire. “We are going to help Jesus out today. He’s hungry,” I answered. “He smells bad!” complained Roise from her car seat. “Pretend he doesn’t,” I suggested. “Stop being so rude, Door Knob!” Maire scolded her sister. “Just offer it up!”

We pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot where Joe was waiting for us. I jumped out of the car and gave him a hug. The girls waved from the window. He waved back and asked them if they were being good today. This question they wisely declined to answer.

Joe wasn’t looking too good. I was worried he might be sick. He said he would be OK when he had something to drink. He was so happy about the twenty dollars he practically danced. He was wearing what looked like a bull -fighter’s outfit that day. A dance would have been perfect.

As we pulled away from a very happy and relieved Joe, who had been so hungry and now had the prospect of lunch and maybe even dinner, I looked around at my beaming, waving kids, and felt the smile on my own face, even though I was now broke for the week.

Then I realized that the hungry had been filled and the rich sent away empty. But both were happy! 🙂

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