Thursday, April 29, 2010

I Have Seen Your Tears

In this world that tends to be very cold, we can find quick comfort in the revelation God granted the prophet Isaiah: "I have seen your tears." (Is 38: 5) Our hearts cry out to our God morning and night. We need Him to navigate through the complexities of life. Without Him we are nothing and with Him we have everything we will ever need.

In moments of sadness whether we are mourning the loss of a loved one or undergoing some challenge that has struck us to the depths of our heart, we can be assured that God our Heavenly Father has, indeed, seen our tears. We are assured by His very Son, Jesus Christ, that we will be helped. "Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." (Mt 5: 4) But the question at this point must be, who will do the comforting?

It is our responsibility to become comforters at any given moment.  If we do not, then the world will become even colder than it already is for someone who is undergoing a challenge at the moment.  It is an amazing feeling to become an instrument of God.  It is a humbling experience that elevates the soul to unbelievable heights.

Once, many years ago, I was humbled to unwittingly become just such an instrument.  It all came in an unlikely place.  In those days I worked the late shift and traveled to work using mass transit.  There was about an hour where I had to wait for the next bus to the office.  It happened to be over the noon hour and my time was spent in the airport where my connections occurred.

The little chapel in the airport held Mass every day at noon.  I decided it would be a great opportunity to attend Mass daily.  One day, as I awaited the start of Mass, a very well-dressed young woman, apparently in her late twenties or early thirties, entered the chapel and sat not two or three seats from me.  As I knelt in silent prayer, I became aware of a soft sobbing coming from the direction of the young lady.  At first, I thought it was my imagination.  But as the moments passed, I realized that the sobbing was coming from the young woman to my left.

I didn't want to look so as to avoid embarrassment but I could not help myself as her crying grew louder and more painful with each tick of the clock.  It was just a few minutes before Mass began and the chapel had begun to fill.  Those entering could not help but hear her since the both of us were in the back row.  They stared, trying to figure out what was going on.  Finally, I decided that I must do something to see if I couldn't help her in some way.

I reached out to her and touched her on her shoulder.  She lifted her head from her hands, revealing a face marked with agony and stained with tears.  I asked her if there was something that I could do for her.  To my amazement, she moved to my side and put her head on my shoulder and began weeping even more loudly.  I was stunned, not expecting a reaction such at this. 

The priest and deacon who were preparing for Mass noticed the commotion.  They came to the back of the chapel to see what the matter was.  I was as puzzled as they were.  They motioned to me to bring her to the sacristy, a small room no bigger than a large closet, so she could have some privacy and compose herself.  I gently led her to the little room and closed the door as the Mass began. 

She sat on a small stool in the middle of the room and I pulled up the only chair available.  I looked into her tear-filled eyes and asked her what was wrong.

"I've sinned a terrible sin," she managed to say, chocking back the emotion.

"Tell me about it" I said, not really knowing what to do.

She began to explain that she had recently broken up her relationship with her boyfriend who she had been with for a number of years.  The split occurred because she found herself pregnant and wanted to keep the baby.  The boyfriend would have nothing to do with this notion and apparently demanded that she have an abortion.  She strongly resisted the notion because she felt that abortion was wrong.  He began to pressure her and kept increasing the pressure until she finally succumbed to his demands and had the abortion.  She fully expected things to be fine after the procedure.  That proved not to be the case.

Shortly after the abortion, the boyfriend declared to her that he had found someone else and that he was leaving her.  Her tears that day were due to the abortion and not the boyfriend for she realized that when the boyfriend left her, he did not care for her and certainly did not care for the unborn child that had been disposed of.

For the next fifteen minutes we spoke of what had happened.  I listened more than anything else, not really knowing what to say.  As time passed, her composure returned.  As she spoke, her voice became stronger and she began to smile a little.  She thanked me for listening and helping her.  I assured her of God's love for her and told her that none of us is free from something that we deeply regret.  With that, she rose from her stool, turned toward the door, looked at me one last time, and thanked me for being so understanding.  Then she left and disappeared into the crowded corridor of the airport.

I could not believe what had just happened.  It was completely out of the blue.  I was humbled that God had chosen me in that moment to be an instrument of His kindness and compassion.  In that moment, I was inspired to listen to this woman who was overcome with a sense of guilt where her abortion was concerned.  I have no idea why I was chosen for this role, but what I learned from it has filled me with awe since that day.

Comfort does not come out of thin air! God made us as social beings. We have an innate need to reach out to others, to touch their lives at specific times during their lives. It is a need that resides in the very core of our being. Too often, however, we ignore this need or, even worse, we deny its very existence. But recognize it or not, the need is present and must be expressed in some shape, manner, or form.

Who comforts us as we mourn our losses? God, obviously! Through us. Since God dwells within all who believe and seek to live out His divine will, we become instruments of God in every aspect of our lives.  We must become aware of His presence within us so as to be available in those moments when others may be in need to be the compassion of God at that time.  In this way, we can be assured that what God has said and promised is true.  "I have seen your tears."  (Is 38: 5)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Different World

As the chill of the spring evening descended upon us, I sat at my office window which overlooks a green area that is filled with trees and great expanses of freshly mown grass.  The aroma of the newly cut lawn drifted in through the open window and instantly freshened the room.  Down below, in the lengthening shadows, three boys ranging in ages from eight to twelve were engaged in an exciting cricket match. 

My mind swiftly retreated to earlier days, the days that were filled with the carefree notion of youth.  I lived in a neighborhood composed mainly of elderly people.  There were few kids my age anywhere near.  But, there were enough, so that on those hot and humid summer nights that define the Midwest, a spirited game of baseball would often break out. 

Our "field" was the asphalt of a sloping playground that was watched over by an ageing school building.  Jefferson School had been in place for years.  It was the childhood elementary school of my mother back in the 1930's.  In its day I am sure it was a regal appearing structure.  But now, in the sixties, it showed its age and it looked tired.  Nevertheless, it was a great spot for a ballgame.

Now I am not an athlete!  I know this may shock some of you, but it is true.  I was always the kid who was "elected" to take that vital position of right fielder simply because very rarely did a ball ever reach that field and if it did it was because of a bad throw to the first baseman!  But it was fun any way.

As I played out those times in my memory, the echoes of the cricket players brought me back to the present.  "How different the world is today!" I thought to myself.  In those days of the sixties, everyone on the ball field was white.  Most were boys, although some girls who had to prove themselves as "suitable" athletes were allowed in the game!  Down below my window perch, the three young men playing cricket were all from the Far East.  Two were of Chinese descent and the third was from the Indian continent.  And they played in complete harmony.  There wasn't one raised voice in anger.  They were perfectly happy playing in the quiet of the early evening.

How different the world is, yet, in so many ways, it remains the same.  The cricket players like we veterans of that asphalt baseball diamond, were busy just being kids.  Screaming and yelling.  Running and laughing.  Playing as hard as possible to win but, yet, somehow winning wasn't the most important thing.  It was the fun of it all.  And just being a kid!

And then the thought struck me, how different the world would be if we, as we grew up, would have kept just half the attitude we had as kids.  Baseball players and cricket players struggled to win.  We were all competitive.  But it was the friendship that counted.  The feeling that you were part of the gang.  That somehow you had worth because you could play together, try to beat each other, and when it was all said and done, you left the ball yard even better friends just waiting for the next game to "blow them away!"  We knew we all had flaws but it didn't matter.  We played on and then we grew up.

It is my hope that the cricket players beneath my window will have learned from my generation how important it is to take along with them into adulthood at least a little of that attitude that all children have.  That somehow, they will be able to in the future, still see the important thing at the end of the day is the complete regard for the other person!  Now there would be a "Different World!" 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Into Great Silence

Several years ago a very unique motion picture came to the United States for screening across the country. It had no action as part of its plot. There were no love scenes. There were no actors or actresses. No one pulled a gun, discovered a gruesomely mutilated body, or even spoke one curse word. Yet, the movie was a success. Quite remarkable when you stop and think that the movie ran for over two hours and did not have one line of written dialogue, only a community of religious men who came together daily for prayer.

The film, "Into Great Silence," chronicled the lives of the monks of a monastery tucked away deep in the French Alps. The director, who also served as the film's camera and sound man, spent six months recording the daily pulse of life in the monastery. Here we witness men living in complete silence, making every task a prayer. They gathered together as a community several times a day for prayer and carried out their work assignments in complete silence, allowing the voice of God to penetrate their hearts. Once a week they came together to talk among themselves about issues in the monestery and to enjoy one another's company. The rest of their week was spent in complete silence.

Their is a lesson in this simple and beautiful film. It is a message of simplicity. A message of true and honest work in the name of the Lord. It is an example of commitment to the Word of God in mundane every day tasks.

We live in a very noisy world. Televisions run twenty-four hours a day. Traffic seems to flow at all hours of the day and night. Our computer keyboards clatter well into the wee hours of the morning. Music plays in the backdrop of our lives and the only time we notice it is when it is not playing! In all of this racket it is very difficult to hear the voice of the Lord, let alone determine what it is that He is saying.

Prayer life is vital to the survival of the soul. Without it, we may very well whither and die in our spiritual life. We must create a personal space for prayer, preferably on a daily basis, that allows for the quiet that our souls crave.

My quiet time is late at night when the house is quiet and the world outside my window seemingly has slowed down to the point that the evening sounds can be recognized. The sound of crickets and bellowing of frogs in the summer and the absolute quiet that follows a freshly fallen blanket of snow speak volumes of the love of God. It is in these quiet times that our hearts and minds are better able to open to the Spirit and allow the Father of us all to enter into communion with us.

This quiet time doesn't have to be a prolonged period of time, although I think you will find that if you do create a quiet time for yourself, you will want it to go on beyond the time you have allotted. It is a time of peace and real relaxation. It is a time when you do not have to have one single thought in your head. Indeed, it is often better if you do not! It is a very private time between you and God in which the Father will take the opportunity to touch our hearts. In this moment, a sense of enormous joy will infuse the soul even though you may not be readily aware of it.

As the film "Into Great Silence" teaches, there is great satisfaction and peace in allowing the voice of God to permeate our existence as we go through our every-day lives. Jesus invites us to come to Him in just such a way. He once told His followers that when they wanted to pray, they were to lock themselves away so they would not be disturbed. In this way the Father of us all will certainly come into our hearts with His messages of Faith, Hope, and Love. How can we possibly pass up the opportunity to meet God in such an intimate setting. Seek your own "Great Silence" and the Lord will not disappoint!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Faith. . .Not Certainty

All of us believe, I think, that we know what faith is. Many of us will recite the definition of faith from the Letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews. "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Heb 11: 1) By its very nature, faith is a mysterious, mystical element of our lives that we all depend upon whether or not we acknowledge its presence.

However, faith is not certainty. We can be certain of very few things in life and faith does not bequeath certainty in any way shape or form. Faith, rather, is the foundation of the spiritual life. It gives us both hope and direction. But it is not certainty. Faith does not fail as long as we hold onto it and trust in its ability to transform and reform us.

When life becomes confusing and chaotic, certainty often fails. When our beliefs or philosophies are shaken to the core, we usually lose all certainty. We feel lost and alone and find it difficult to return to the path we were on when life's little surprises knocked us off course, a path lined with certainty about our life. Only faith gives us reason to go on. If we have faith, true faith based upon a mature understanding of Who God is and His role in our lives, then it gives us reason to go on. It is through faith that we are given to understand that despite the darkness we may find ourselves in at the present, there is hope.

Faith cannot always be defined. It defies definition any way. And, yet, it guides us through our days. Even though we may be going through a period of uncertainty brought on by one of many life crises we may encounter, faith will see us through it all with hope. And this hope is not the hope of someone wanting to hit the lottery. It is grounded in reality. Hope, as defined by the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is "the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ's promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit." (CCC, Article 7, Section II, The Theological Virtues)

Hope, therefore, is not of our will but that borne of our faith in God. It is not some pie in the sky wish we have for our mortal existence, but based in the reality of God in our lives. We are incapable of having faith without the guidance of the Holy Spirit and His prompting toward hope. We choose to respond or ignore this prompting, but we do not originate the communication. In essence, we respond to God on a very intimate level.

So, while there is very little certainty in this life, there is still one definite certainty. And that certainty is the love of God for each and every one of us as we make our way through the maze of life. We can be certain that if we but have faith in God, hope will be His gift to us!

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Hot Cup of Coffee

Well, Lloyd, you've been gone a little over a week now and the reality of your passing is just sinking in.  And while we're so happy that you have joined the heavenly choirs in praise of God, we mourn your passing very much.  There is a sting to your death that cuts deeply into the soul and I don't think this will ever pass.  You just adapt.  We know that with the passage of time we will heal, but until then, the pain in our hearts serves as a reminder that you are gone.  However, you'll never be forgotten!

Your gentle voice will always ring in our ears as a sweet lullaby, soothing and healing.  We will still celebrate your birthday, each in our own way.  The holidays will still be marked as family gatherings with the bittersweet memory of how much joy being with us brought you.  In fact, you will be at the heart of each celebration but please understand that there will be a touch of sadness, especially at that first Christmas without you. 

One thing will never change, though.  At your place at the table, there will always be that piping hot cup of coffee waiting for you.  And we wait for the day when we can once again join you in this simple pleasure that so reminds us of you!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


One of the most curious things that occurs after the loss of a loved one is the reluctance to move forward in life.  With each passing day, it seems sometimes that we are leaving that person in the past, failing to carry them forward with us in our lives.  This may even produce a sense of guilt.

Somehow, getting back to the normal routine seems to say on some level that the loved one wasn't really all that important.  Otherwise, why would we "get back to normal?"  However, it is important to note that you really do not get back to "normal" at all.  You adapt.  Life will not be the same without the presence of the deceased.  There is a void in our lives that will never quite heal.  Sometimes it feels as though we won't ever laugh again.  That our smiles are only half-hearted.  That the spring in our step may never return.  And that there is little to look forward to in the future.

But the fact is that these are all mistaken notions.  We will all laugh once again and just as heartily as we have before.  Our smiles will be as broad as ever as things settle into perspective.  We will feel a sense of happiness and joy in life that will quicken our steps as we march through life.  Before we know it, we will be wondering when the next holiday will be upon us.  It is called living life and we are meant to do so, even though we may indescribably sad at various times in our lives.

Just because we engage in life once again does not mean that the loved one is being left in the past.  They are with us in those belly laughs.  They enjoy our wide smiles as we find happiness in our journey.  They will walk with us in our memories and our hearts as our lives continue moving onward.  They will know our anticipation of the next holiday looming ahead in our lives. 

You see, they are a part of us.  They are with us daily even though we may not consciously be thinking of them at every waking moment.  They move and breathe with us and we can count on them to share our lives in special ways.  We may not be able to say hello to them any longer or give them a call on the phone to see how they are.  Those days are over.  But what now lay ahead is a new form of communication based on their active presence in our very spirits.  We may find ourselves smiling from time to time as we remember an incident from the past that reminds us of what we are now doing.  We may feel their approval at certain decisions we make along the way.  This is a new form of communication that we will come to look forward to every bit as much as that phone call that we once so looked forward to.

Our sadness will subside and we will become new people in many ways because of our experience of their loss.  That new person we become will be an even greater reflection of the loved one that they were in life because now, after our loss, we have a much greater appreciation of who they were and what they meant to us.  Let us move forward into the future with a sense of hope and joy at the knowledge that we have not left them behind but have incorporated them into our lives and now take them wherever life may lead us.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rejoice!! Alleluia!!

Rejoice and be glad for the Lord our God is risen!  What a momentous statement and what wonderful news for our world in this day and age. 

Easter Sunday.  The day brings memories from childhood of colored eggs and candy.  Of bright Sunday mornings with the chill of early spring still in the air.  Of getting dressed up in the best clothes you had in order to go to Easter Sunday Mass.  Of that big ham dinner with all the family gathered around.  Of "hiding" the Easter eggs one more time so as to enjoy the thrill of the Easter egg hunt that was held first thing that morning.  And mostly, the memory of my grandmother recalling the great Easter story to her little grandson who sat wide eyed at the feet of a woman he loved so dearly.

The Easter story.  The reason behind the celebration.  This is one holiday that refuses to be understated.  Many do not believe in the Story, nor do they believe in Christ.  They have their reasons for their unbelief and they must be respected.  But they also must acknowledge that whether or not they believe, truth is truth and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the one Truth upon which the world spins.  Without this great Truth, nothing would have significance.  We could live with reckless abandon for there would be nothing but this life, no accountability after life for our actions.  What a sad and lonely world that would be.

Today is a day of celebration despite deep sadness in so many hearts.  For regardless of the human condition, the Resurrection of Christ represents the one true hope of the world.  No longer is man subject to death because we know once we die, if we have followed the will of the Father, believed in the Son, and learned from the Holy Spirit, we shall worship at the throne of God for all eternity.  There will be no disease, no fear, no anger or bitterness, no envy, no hatred, and no more separation of us from God.  All will be united in worship of the Creator.

This is the message of the gospels, the good news of hope and salvation that was won for us out of sheer love.  We are living proof of the love of God for mankind and this day we celebrate His most visible and marvelous sign of this love.

Why, then, should we be sad even though we may be burdened down by the harsh realities of life.  While we may be experiencing dark days, one thing is certain, they will pass.  The one thing that will not pass is the promise of eternity won by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, our hearts should burn with love, devotion, and excitement at the news of our salvation.  Place your trust in Christ and live life like you truly believe in Christ!  There is hope for all!  May God give you His peace and love all throughout the year and may you always seek to follow His will.

Happy Easter!