Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Change - Homily for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi (2016)

It is a joy to celebrate this solemnity of Corpus Christi with you, especially as it comes just a day after the  fifth anniversary of my ordination to the sacred priesthood. Last night, as I celebrated at dinner with Father Chrismer and a few friends, I realized that I’ve probably offered over 2,000 Holy Masses; most of them at the parish, some in remote parts of the US, some in historic places in Europe. But what keeps coming back to me is something I saw when I offered Mass at a local religious community. In the sacristy, there was a plaque that read, 

“Priest of God, offer this Mass as if it were your first Mass; as if it were your last Mass; as if it were your only Mass.”

That’s a pretty amazing sentiment, actually. I remember my First Mass: there was excitement, there were tears, a longing to do things right, a profound reverence, and a total amazement at the realization that, while I held bread and wine in my hands, it was miraculously changing by God’s grace into His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. “Priest of God, offer this Mass as if it were your first Mass...”—yeah, that would make me more attentive at this Mass today.

And what if this was my last Mass? First, may God see that day many years from now—but, if this were my last Mass, there would be greater devotion, a greater sorrow for sin, and a more fervent prayer for heaven, I think.

And if this was my only Mass?—my one and only Eucharist, ever—well, I would do everything in my power to have my heart open to receive everything and everything of God’s grace that I could. I would be so focused, so attentive—I would want to remember it all.

Yes, I think those sentiments are good. And not only for the priest, but for all of us: receive Holy Communion today as if it were your first, your last, and your only. That would change things a little, wouldn’t it?

*          *          *

Yet, I think the question should be asked: why is such a plaque necessary in the vesting area of the priests?

The reality is that even priests face difficulties of faith.

It is so easy, especially after 2,000 Masses, to take things for granted; to become lukewarm by routine. It’s even easy to question—because, after all, there is so much hardship out there in the world and, Lord, are you here? Are you hearing my prayers? The temptation to become discouraged and to doubt is so real. Even priests need strong reminders to spurn on their hearts and their faith.

Today, I wish to give you a little more to help our faith. Good sentiments are nice. But, it also helps our faith when there are solid, intellectual reasons. Faith, after all, is not blindness—it isn’t a “leap in the dark.” There are reasons. So, I wish to give you some of the more heady reasons today—reasons to keep on believing. Admittedly, these may not make a lot of sense here. But, chew on them a little. Give them some time and some reflection.

*          *          *

When it comes to describing what a thing is, Catholic philosophers use words such as “substance” and “accident.”  Accident is not like a car-crash; rather, accident simply means those things that we can see and sense. So, you’ll notice that I have a book here. It’s Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. (He was a daily communicant and came up with something called Lembas Bread as an allusion to the Eucharist. I digress). Anyway, here is a book—its accidents are that it is white, it is a little torn on the spine, and when I smell it… it smells old. Those are its accidents. It’s substance is that it IS a book.

So, the substance is what a thing IS; the accidents are what we sense about that thing.

Ok, so let’s presume that I drop this book into a fire. (I know, philosophy comes up with all sorts of weird situations). But let’s say I drop this book into a fire. The book will quickly burn up. And everything about it will change. It will no longer be white, but black; it will no longer smell old, but of fire (if it smells at all); and so on. In other words, the accidents of the book will have changed.

And if the book burns for quite some time, then even its substance will change. No longer will it be a book, it will be simply a pile of ashes. Someone passing by won’t recognize that it ever was a book—only ash. That’s called a substantial change.

The reason why I mention all of this is because, when things change dramatically, we are used to seeing them change in both accident and substance. When the substance of a book changes into the substance of ash, all the accidents change with it. Rarely do we see something change in its substance without seeing its accidents change too. 

But when it comes to the Eucharist, substances change while that accidents do not. This is called “transubstantiation”: the substance of wine, for example, changes into Jesus Himself; but the accidents of wine remain the same. In other words, what’s in the chalice still smells like wine, it still looks like wine, it still tastes like wine—all of its accidents still are wine—but the substance has changed into Jesus, God Himself: body, blood, soul, and divinity.

*          *          *

Someone might ask: But how do we know that? If I can’t see it change, then how do I know the substance has changed? Great question.

If a person is blind, how does she remain on a path? Not by her sense of sight; rather, she lets someone lead her. She must trust. So, the real question is: when it comes to the Eucharist, who should we trust?

Enter the Gospel today.

In the Gospel, we see Jesus changing five loaves of bread into food enough to feed five thousand. That’s pretty impressive. Miraculous, really. If we keep on reading the story (as found in the Gospel of John, chapter 6), we see that Jesus does another miracle: he walks on water. Now, when Jesus does a miracle, there is often a teaching attached to it (He does the miracle to prove to people that He can be trusted and His teaching believed). So, here Jesus is doing two of His most iconic miracles. The question for all of us is: what is the teaching in which He wants us to believe?

Well, after the multiplication of the loaves and the walking on the water, Jesus gives His teaching when He says:

            “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world” (Jn 6:51).

There it is.

The Eucharist is no longer bread but Jesus because Jesus Himself says so. And we can trust that.

Paul and the early Catholic Church bears witness to this when in his First Letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes:

whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”

Of sinning?! If the Eucharist is just a symbol, what does it matter if we eat it in an unworthy manner? But, if it is Jesus—well, then that’s a whole ‘nother matter!

Yes, at every Holy Mass, God miraculously changes bread and wine into Jesus. And this is something we can believe in-- for isn't Jesus and the testimony of His saints trustworthy?

*          *          *

Of course, Jesus knows that we struggle to trust. He knows that we want to see for ourselves. This is actually the basis of today’s solemnity of Corpus Christi.

Way back in the 1200s, there was a priest that was struggling to believe that Jesus was really present in the Eucharist. The priest was at the altar in the usual way. And in the usual way, the bread and wine were miraculously changing into Jesus, And just like at every Mass, the priest couldn’t see the change. The substance had changed, but not the accidents.

Until, that is, the priest elevated the host. At that moment, God also changed the accidents: the priest could see that it was no longer bread, but the very body and blood of Jesus. And as the priest was holding the host, blood started to pour from the host, onto the priest’s hands, and onto the linens on the altar.

This miracle was verified by many and inspired the Pope at the time to institute this special celebration of Corpus Christi-- the Body of Christ. Some of the prayers and music that we have today were composed by St. Thomas Aquinas specifically for this solemnity.

*          *          *

But, I know that there are still some skeptics out there who say, “Yeah, but that’s not scientifically provable. That’s a nice story and all, but you can’t prove that it happened.”

Well, I’m glad that you’ve said that (mwa ha ha), because way back in the 800s, another similar miracle happened. There was another priest who, you guessed it, doubted that Jesus was there in the Eucharist. And so, during the Mass, not only did the substance of bread and wine change, but so did the accidents. As the priest held the host, everyone could see that it was flesh; and in the chalice, it was obvious that it was blood. The priest and the people did not consume this Eucharist, but placed it in glass for all to see.

Now, I know what you’re saying—that was over 1200 years ago, so clearly it's not real.

Until we realize that in 1971 and again in 1981 scientists themselves examined these elements (still miraculously intact after all those years, mind you) and declared that the flesh was clearly human flesh and, specifically, from the wall of the human heart. They could not explain how this was possible.

In fact, you can still go to Lanciano, Italy, and see for yourself.  ... I have.

But, I remember our Lord’s last words to Thomas, when Our Savior said,

“Thomas, you believe because you have seen. But blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (Jn 20:29).

*          *          *

If we ever should struggle with faith, let us be consoled by these good reasons to believe; let us consider the words of our Lord Himself; let us trust in His testimony, backed by His miracles, and by the witness of the saints.

And if we should be lukewarm, let us be generous in our acts of faith so as to spur us on: make a devoted sign of the Cross and a profound genuflection; spend much time in the adoration chapel and don’t be hasty; receive our Lord today as if it were your first communion, your last communion, your only communion.

Because, after all, how would this Mass be different for you if you were certain Jesus was here and that you were receiving Him?

Wouldn’t that change things?—and not only the bread and the wine?

Friday, May 27, 2016

Riding the Catholic Bike - Homily for the End of the School Year (2016)

Good morning!

Isn’t this wonderful? It’s the last day of school! I hope you’re all looking forward to summer…. it’s the season of lemonade and swimming at the pool and staying up late and having friends over. There’s so much time to go out and play!

Many years ago, I had summer vacation just like you. And during one of those summer vacations, I learned how to ride a bike.

Who here knows how to ride a bike? … Who here knows how to ride a bike without training wheels? (I figured: you all do).

I mean, training wheels were fine when we were little, right?—when we had the ribbons on our handle bars or the noise-makers on the spokes. But when we got older, we wanted to ride the bike like older people do. Right?

So, many years ago, I learned how to ride a bike. Of course, I began with training wheels and wobbling back and forth—and those training wheels kept me from falling over. But during one summer, I was tired of the training wheels and I wanted to be able to ride the big boy bike.  So, my dad took off the training wheels. Now, dad didn’t have me try out the big boy bike on the road—instead, we tried it in the grass. But it was on a hill. (Thanks, Dad)

And so I climbed on the bike, dad steadying me, and then he gave me a little push—down the hill—and I fell over. I'm thankful we didn't have YouTube back then.

Dad picked me up, gave me a little encouragement, and we tried it again. And I fell again. We did this for a little while and it could have been easy to say, “Well, this is dumb. I give up.” But we kept trying and eventually I was able to ride the bike.

And I can still ride. I take my big mountain bike over to Klondike Park or on the Katy Trail. And I can go fast and it’s so much fun—especially when people ask: “Was that a priest on that bike? ... And was he using training wheels?" 

*          *          *

The reason why I tell you that story is because for the past nine months, you have had training wheels on. Teachers and Sisters and Aides-- this School—they have all been helping you stay steady, training you in how to ride the bike: and that bike is the Catholic faith.

We’ve taken you to Mass; we’ve trained you in the virtues; we’ve helped you up when you’ve fallen down, encouraged you when you thought it was dumb, and hopefully showed you the joy of living the faith. We’ve been the training wheels.

But today, we’re taking the training wheels off. It’s time for you to ride the bike. You are going to have to decide when and whether you pray or when you're going to go to confession or whether you are going to be kind to people. WE are not going to be at your home. We’re not going to be with you on vacation. We're not going to be reminding you about what you need to do if you want to ride a bike. But, if you would like, we'll be with you and help you remain steady and pick you up if you fall over. Because we love you. That's why we were here in the first place.

*          *          *

So, parents, I turn to you. You and I grew up in a similar generation—we grew up in a time when there was still a remnant of Catholic/Christian culture that would support our parents in raising us Catholic. But something was going on during our training: the culture was falling apart; such that, for most of us, our faith became something merely served up on a platter. What I mean by that is, it was the school that took us to Mass, it was the school that took us to confession. We started to learn that the only time we went to Mass and confession was when our school took us there.

So, what happened when school ended? Religion ended.

But that’s not the point of a Catholic education, is it?—to have a Catholic faith that ends when Catholic school ends?

I mean, who would keep training wheels on for 8 years, but then mothball the big boy bike at precisely the moment when it was time for the big boy bike?

That's what happened to many in our generation-- and we've seen the devastating effects of that. You're here because you wanted to raise your kids in the faith. So, I'm telling you, it's time for the big boy bike.

*          *          *

This is the moment, then—this is the moment when we find out if our Catholic faith is a just a school thing or a lived thing. A training wheels thing or a big boy thing.

And your kids will need you, just as any kid who is trying the big boy bike. When you’re on vacation, they may wobble in the faith, as kids do when the training wheels are gone—why do we have to pray when we're on vacation and so on. But that’s the moment when a kid learns how to ride the bike.

I mean, how many of us ever went to confession during the summer or Mass on a week day? We have all of that free time—so, why not? Wouldn’t this be the best time to help the kids see the connection that hurting others and God means that we need to go to confession now—and not simply when our school teacher tells us... in Advent? I mean, really, how many kids will remember in December what they did in June?

*          *          *

So, the training wheels are off. Summer break is here. Let’s ask God right now, then, to help us to be steady and to persevere in this faith in the months ahead-- to discover the joy of being alive in the faith all year 'round. I truly think this is the best way that we can give thanks for all that we have received during this past year at this Catholic school. If we are thankful for the Catholic training wheels, then it’s time we ride the Catholic bike.

Monday, May 23, 2016

A Blue among Blackhawks - Homily for Trinity Sunday (C)

A few weeks ago, our 8th graders received the sacrament of Confirmation. One of the customs at my previous parish was that the priests and deacons would interview the 8th graders and ask them a few questions about the Catholic faith. For example: name the three persons of the Holy Trinity. Sure, that’s a softball question. But I liked to follow up that question by asking them: “So, why is it important that God is three persons?”

That’s much harder. Why is it important that God is three persons?

*          *          *

Whenever we pray, we probably have an image of who God is. Perhaps He’s a mountain-top God with a big beard (He’s obviously a playoff hockey fan). Perhaps your image of God is that of a friend. Or maybe He is just light or a presence.

But when we consider that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, there comes a certain and very important reality about God: He’s not alone.

That’s important, because when we say that “God is love,” there really is something alive and dynamic going on there. It’s so easy to think that God is alone and that He’s an idea and that when we say “God is love,” that it’s… nice—but ultimately static and isolated and maybe even self-centered: does God really even care about me?

But if God is three persons, that’s a whole different ballgame. Three persons—that’s community. I dare say it’s family. And family is real and it’s love is actual and dynamic and fruitful.

This is the deepest reality of who God is and what we mean when we say “God is love”—He's real, He's dynamic, He’s fruitful, He’s relational. God is family.

*          *          *

It’s why, when God creates us, He says, “Let us make man in our image.” Us, our—not me, or I.

And we’re made in His image—there is something deep down in us, in our very identity, that longs for communion, that longs to be loved and to give love. It’s why God said, “It is not good for man to be alone”—because deep down in us we long for and really need community. It’s why were born into families—God could have made us in other ways, but He creates us into a family.

Last night, during the 1st period intermission of the Blues game, I went to the grocery store. The Blues make me nervous and, when I’m nervous, I need me some Cheez-Its. (Cheez-Its—not Jesus… but I need Jesus, too!) So, there I am at the Dierbergs and I notice that they are playing the Blues game over the speakers. Very cool. I went down the aisle for the Cheez-Its and there was a couple wearing Blues jerseys. As we passed each other, I couldn’t help but say, “Let’s go Blues!” They laughed, and echoed back: “Let’s go Blues!”

And while it is kinda superficial, even though I didn’t know them, there was a connection there. And a little joy. Somehow, in this crazy little—or big—world in which we live, strangers can be united by something like hockey. And, strangely, we want that.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, His last words to His disciples were to this very effect—not for hockey (as wonderful as hockey is), but to enter into communion. And so He said, “Go,… and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”—go and baptize in the very communion of the Holy Trinity, the One who is the source of all communion.

God wanted us to be in communion with Him and in communion with others.

*          *          *

Shoot, right now, there are people at Mass here in Cottleville but also in South County. Here in Missouri and also in Arizona. Late Mass somewhere in Europe and morning Mass somewhere in Brazil and Peru. So many people who have been baptized and who call themselves brothers and sisters of the same Father.

Last weekend, I was blessed to give a retreat at the Servant Sisters in Birmingham, Alabama. While I was there, I needed to take my car to a mechanic—something about my tires. Now, down there in Alabama—it’s Bible Belt Country. Less than 5% of the population is Catholic, so I hear. So, I take my car to the mechanic and he has me wait in the waiting room. In full disclosure, I didn’t wear my black clerics—I went “incognito.” So there I am, waiting in the waiting room, surrounded by what I assumed were not Catholics. I brought my Breviary (my book of prayers) with me—and they look like Sacred Scripture—so I’m thinking all of my Protestant brethren won’t have a second thought about me.

Until I realize that I’m about to make the Sign of the Cross.

If there is one thing that indicates that I’m Catholic, here is it—I’m about to out myself. The Sign of the Cross: the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit: it’s the sign of this communion, it’s the sign of this family.

It’s like the Blues jersey that says, “I’m a Blues fan!” But, have you ever worn a Blues jersey at a Chicago Blackhawks game?

So too, have you ever made the Sign of the Cross in the waiting room of a mechanic shop in central Alabama?

You see, it’s one thing to “wear the jersey” of your favorite team—it’s whole ‘nother thing to “Bleed Blue.”

So too: it’s one thing to simply make the sign of the Cross and to be known as a Catholic fan because of it. It’s a whole ‘nother thing to totally live out the faith.

*          *          *

There was once a saying among Christians and that was: “They will know we are Christians by our love.” That’s very true.

But I think our culture has pulled the wool over our eyes. We’re so interested in labels and signs and caricatures that we have lost what is at the very heart of things. For the Catholic faith, it’s easy to simply say that if we’re baptized, make the sign of the Cross, and go to Mass—that, hey, I’m Catholic. But, can we say why the Trinity—the very heart of our faith and the source of all that we teach—can we say why the Trinity is important to Catholicism?

You see, you’re not alone.

God has brought you here. And He’s brought you into a family. And into His Church. And into His very life. Because He doesn’t want you to go it alone. And if there’s one thing that our culture is about, it’s going it alone: the I-phone, the Me-project, thinking that we're isolated and islands. Isn't it true that we make life so much about what we have to do that we forget that we’re all in this together?-- that we need each other?

How many couples are trying to raise kids on their own, when all around them in this parish there are seasoned couples who have been through what they are going through and could provide wisdom and help!

How many teens and twenty-something—and, let’s be real, sixty- and seventy-something too—how many of us are searching for the Truth and the meaning of Life, but are going about it all by ourselves?

How many of us are trying to totally live out that faith—to love and to “Bleed Blue” if you will—but think that we are the only ones stumbling through the dark? Blues fans among Blackhawks....

You’re not alone! You have people in the pews all around you to help you. You have priests. And not only here and throughout the world, but also you have the saints and their prayers and their writings. There is a whole communion surrounding us to help us. Because you’re not alone!

Right now, there are Sisters praying for you. At this Mass, I will be praying for you. And maybe you will pray for the person next to you—which means that it’s likely that people here in this church will be praying for you. You are not alone!

This is why the Trinity is important: because God is not alone and He wants all of us—all who are His “children scattered throughout the world” to be joined to Him as one family of faith—with one Father, who art in heaven; with one Lord, Jesus Christ; with one faith; with one baptism; united under the Sign of the Cross-- known not simply for the sign, but for our love. Because we're not alone....

Sunday, May 8, 2016

A Beautiful Motherhood - Homily for the Solemnity of the Ascension (and Mother's Day)

Today we have before us two great celebrations: the first is the Ascension of Our Lord into heaven; the second is Mother’s Day. And, wonderfully enough, I think they are tied together. (You’re wondering how I’m going to do this. Yeah, me too….)

You’ll notice over there the beautiful statue of Mary, holding the child Jesus. A few days ago, our school children crowned them at the May Crowning, the crown of roses being the transformation of the crown of thorns which they both wore during the Crucifixion—Jesus wore the crown of thorns on His head; Mary, in her great love, wore the crown of thorns spiritually on her heart.

That day of the crucifixion was so difficult for Mary. There is a statue that depicts that day: the Pieta. It is Michelangelo’s famous work from marble where Mary holds her son, Jesus, no longer as a little child, but as the young man—His body lifeless—as He is placed into Mary’s arms. Can you imagine? Michelangelo depicted Mary lovingly holding her son, but her left hand is free, and outstretched, palm to the heavens, as though in prayer to the Father, saying “This is my Son… this is my flesh and blood….”

These two moments, I believe, get at the heart of Motherhood: a mother, unlike anyone else on earth, can echo with Christ: “This is my body, given up for you.” A mother, just like Jesus, feeds her infant child with her body and blood. And Mary, like all mothers, when she gives over her child, can say to all who receive Him, “This is my body, given up for you.”

But Mary’s sacrifice—as are all mothers’ sacrifices—is given a glorious return. Her Son rises from the dead—and more, He ascends into heaven. This is significant because Mary knows—knows with certainty, without any doubt—that her child is in heaven. This is one of the many glories of the Ascension and, as well, a great hope for mothers today: this is what all mothers want: their children to be in heaven! Yet, how many mothers suffer: when their child suffers, mom suffers. How many mothers have experienced the loss of a child—by a miscarriage, by a sudden and tragic death, or simply by the expanse of distance and time. The Ascension gives all mothers a great hope that they will see their children again!

For Mary, the Ascension transforms her motherhood. No longer is she only the Mother of Jesus, but as Jesus ascends, the entire Church gathers around Mary in the upper room. She is now the mother for every disciple there. Indeed, this was Jesus’ dying wish when, on the Cross He said to John, “Behold, your mother.” As her child goes to heaven, Mary’s motherhood is expanded to include every Christian. This is not figurative or a nice sentiment. Rather, precisely because we were baptized into Christ and so emerged from those holy waters as a child of God, we became through that great sacrament Mary’s child. And so, when you see that statue of Mary holding her child, Jesus, you can picture her holding you.

So, even if you did not have a good relationship with your mom, or if your mom has passed, or if you never knew your mom—or if you had the greatest of moms—all of us have the best mom, the mom God chose for Himself: Mary, Our Mother. Picture yourself in her arms right now....

*          *          *

We celebrate our mothers this day. But, if we are honest, our celebration and our gratitude for all of mom’s sacrifices and for how much we love her—this requires more than a day. Really, if we truly love mom, we imitate her. We enter into the words of her life, words that say “This is my body, given for you.”

How many women saw Mary as their mother and were transformed because of it? How many holy women have imitated her!

I think of St. Monica, who imitated Mary’s tears, Our Lady of Sorrows, weeping for the conversion of her son. Monica’s prayers were answered—and not only for her son, but Monica’s husband also converted (and just in time: he converted before his death).

Or I think of St. Zelie Martin, who was canonized last October. She had three children die before turning one year old, and another before becoming five. And yet, Zelie kept the faith, confident that she would see her children again. Zelie would die of breast cancer. But her children would imitate her, one of them being St. Therese of Lisieux—who would say that it was her parents who revealed for her the love of God.

I think of St. Gianna who, when she became pregnant with her fourth child, was diagnosed with a malignant tumor. The doctors told her to have an abortion, else she would die. Gianna saw it as a decision between her or her daughter. She thought of her daughter and the words came: “This is my body, given up for you.” Gianna gave birth and a few days later, she died. Her daughter, also named Gianna, was recently in St. Louis.

I think too of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. At a very young age, her husband died; she was a widow with five children living in poverty. Elizabeth Ann, in an attempt to provide for her family, opened up a parish school (this would become the basis of our parochial school system) and would eventually establish a religious order. Elizabeth saw her motherhood as a widow transformed: she would become the spiritual mother for many!

All of these women loved Mary and so imitated her. Where they experienced thorns here on earth, they now have the glories of heaven.

*          *          *

To all of our moms: our love and gratitude to you. These words are not enough. You inspire us and we thank God for you.

To our young, teenagers and twenty-somethings: I challenge you. You live in a culture that celebrates motherhood, but does so at a distance. What I mean by that is, we give cards that say “Happy Mother’s Day!” but fewer are actually becoming moms. It really is a schizophrenic culture that we live in: on the one hand, we celebrate moms, but on the other hand, we destroy children in the womb, we advocate and use contraceptives, and we urge a comfortable—that is, selfish—feminism that says, “This is my body, I do with it what I want.” This is a great challenge and I pray that you will be different than the culture at large. Get married. Have lots of kids. Or be a spiritual mother by being a religious sister with many spiritual children. But don’t just thank your mom. Be a mom. 

Finally, I want to speak to those women who may have used contraception or had an abortion in the past or who may have gotten wrapped up in self and missed their chance to have children. I want you to know that the Church is a Mother, too, and she extends her arms out to you in mercy and in healing. You are not alone and we want you to know that there is no condemnation here—we are with you. If your heart is hurting, the Church, like a good mother, is here to embrace you and hold you and to help you heal again. She loves you. We love you.

And to all mothers who have lost a child before birth—and for any reason—know that there is a very beautiful prayer that we can say with you. It is the Rite of Naming and Commendation of an Infant who Died before Birth. You can give your child a name and we lift your child up to God, commending your child to the care of our Father who loves the little children—and us. If you have never done this, I (and I am sure any priest) would be happy to help you. I know it won’t bring your child back; but what a wonderful hope: that your child has a name, that you still love them, and that you will see them again.

I think similar prayers were in Mary’s heart as she saw Jesus ascend into heaven. In the meanwhile, she now comes to us with her Son in the Eucharist, to strengthen us by His grace, so that we too may live those words: “This is my body, given up for you.”

Monday, May 2, 2016

Something Worth Sharing - a Guest Post by Ally Milner

So I've taken a little break from posting homilies online. I'll return to doing that soon. (It's just been quite a full few weeks). That said, a friend wrote this amazing, heart-felt and well-written post (and the word "amazing" does not do its quality justice). They remind me of when my dad died and the inevitable grieving and the struggle to find joy......

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It’s been roughly three and a half months since my mom died from complications related to colon cancer, and I’ve been thinking about her a lot.  I’ve been thinking about the whole thing a lot, actually, weighing and measuring everything that happened between November 20th (I take the day off work to spend the day with Mom, who goes to the ER at 7:15 am with abdominal pain) and January 14th (I am at work, and right before lunch, I get The Phone Call).  Those two dates mark, in my mind, the beginning of the end and the end–no, I guess not.  They mark the end of one chapter, and then a new beginning, one that I didn’t feel ready for, but had to swallow all the same.  It’s taken me three and a half months to acknowledge that as scared and unprepared as I was, Mom’s death marked an end, but not the end.  And life, in a bigger sense, goes on.
And that’s a good thing.
A little part of me feels traitorous writing this, and a little part of me is not fully convinced of what I’m trying to say, but most of me knows that this is the truth.
From what I’ve gathered, grief is a process with some centralized experiences and many, many unique variations for every distinct person and distinct loss. Experiencing grief seems like going to a build your own pizza place–you and your family and your closest friends will walk in together, and you will all buy something with crust and toppings, but the specifics are different.  You will choose what you feel is best for yourself, and you will give the weird eyebrow to that one person in your group who actually likes Provel cheese / skips the sauce / chooses the vegan option (talks too much about the loss / talks too little about the loss / reacts to that loss in a radical way / appears not to reach to that loss at all).
I am still grieving, but I am pretty sure that the worst of it is over–the aimlessness, the spontaneous tears, the internal repetition of the phrase But it’s not fair.  For the first two or three weeks after Mom died, I felt a bewildering numbness that pulled me through the ins and outs of the weekday workday.  This numbness only melted when I ran, usually in the evenings after work.  I’d found Mom’s dog tags from her Marine Corps days maybe two or three days after she died, and for the first few weeks, I carried them with me everywhere. I ran with them clenched in my right hand, imagining myself off the treadmill and into some race or other, where I could cross the finish line with those tags clenched in my fist, taking her with me.  When I ran, I felt hope that drove me stride after stride toward this blurry future that was fueled by a promise I made myself:  that if I could run X miles in X minutes, I would see Mom at the finish line, and I would wake up from the best joke / worst nightmare I had yet experienced in my twenty-three years.
When my rational side caught up to this clever promise I’d made myself, I stopped running regularly, which was both a good and a bad thing.  It was bad because I am a person reliant on exercise to handle stress. It was good because I acknowledged that no number of miles could bring Mom back; no good behavior or well wishes could, either.  Acknowledging that made me face the pain of loss that I had politely avoided since January 14th (stoic had become a specialty of mine).
This whole acknowledge the pain thing came to its climax last Wednesday, when I was driving home from dinner with my sisters.  I don’t know what factor sparked the metaphorical flame–if I was listening to the band I’d listened to almost the entire time Mom was sick, or if I was thinking about Mother’s Day coming up, or if it was just that I drove past her work on the way home, and it reminded me of her–at any rate, I found myself parked outside my neighborhood clubhouse at eleven o’clock at night, crying my eyes out and feeling what could only be characterized as despair.  I was thinking everything that you would probably be thinking if your mom died pretty suddenly and this was one thing your I-want-to-fix-everything self simple could not fix.
At least this episode of getting in touch with my weepy side was not in vain.  I’m glad to say I didn’t spend the entire night crying in my car in a pothole-strewn parking lot overlooking a golf course, with nothing but a chevron-patterned throw blanket to use as Kleenex–it turns out I’m moderately intolerant to that sort of environment, so I finished the drive home in relatively short order.  I talked to my dad, and he gave me a “chin up, cowgirl” kind of pep talk softened by a one-armed hug.  I talked to my boyfriend, and he gave me a threefold reminder that 1. he supported me, but 2. was not a superhero or super genius, and could not fully fix this situation, and 3. would Always Listen to me. (Maybe I’m biased, but is that not the most honest, and, by proxy, wonderful thing you could say to someone who has just cooled down from hysteria and needs something both emotionally and rationally supportive?)
Then I took a shower, and halfway through washing my hair, realized something that I then jumped out of the shower to  write down:

Long Screenshot
Not bad for 11:30 pm on a Wednesday, eh?

Those 2 text messages are the culmination of two months of unorganized grieving, a mind predisposed to rational thinking, and a heart that could not give up on hope even when it was hardest.  I can’t speak for everyone’s pain and loss, but I can speak for my own.  If me speaking of my own helps you with yours, then I will speak a little longer.
At the specific moment in which this thought more or less came to me, I was thinking about those far-off things I want for my life–an advanced degree, travel, True Love–and, for the first time in two months, my immediate follow-up thought was not about how hard it would be to taste those things without Mom in my life to share them with.  My follow-up thought was that I was capable of finding those things, and that, should I find them, I would probably feel pretty lucky [someone, please tell this to future Ally as she graduates or renews her passport or ruminates on True Love, and keep her bawling to a minimum].
To be honest, the more I think about it, the more I realize that the emphasis does not lay with whether it’s a life milestone or an everyday event that I can call a victory.  It’s still going to happen, and I’m still going to do it, and I will still feel joy in those moments, because, thank God, my heart is apparently more inclined to joy than sorrow (most of the time).
And maybe I just have the guts to post this now because I ran the idea past my man, and he paraphrased it into something more digestible, which I also took as a sign of approval.
Explanation Screenshot
Mom is gone, and I will never forget that.  Writing / reading / thinking about that will never be painless.  And that’s okay.
Nevertheless, I will smile and laugh and, every once in a while, find some joy. And that’s okay too.