So, the other day I had the opportunity to spend a couple of hours with my brother who is somewhat home-bound while his wife went out to do some needed errands.
We just hung out for a while but since it was a beautiful sunshiny day we decided to go out for a walk. Now my brother is in a wheelchair so I would need to push him along our way. As a chaplain in a nursing home I have actually become quite adept at handling wheelchairs but always on a smooth and flat surface.
My bro wanted to show me a path along which some deer come out to graze on the lush grass near a wooded area. The path is paved and travels slightly downhill to the area we wanted to see. So getting there was fairly simple and the pushing easy. Well, the way back up was not so easy. It was work. The path seemed a lot steeper going up as I recalled going down.There appeared to be more cracks and holes in the asphalt on the uphill climb. I also realized at that point that my brother’s weight was about the same as mine. Not light. My brother has lost some of his ability to speak clearly and so was quiet most of the way. I was pretty quiet too except for my panting and gasping, and breathing hard. In the silence, I recalled a recent homily given by Father Leroy Maus at one of the local care centers in which he referred to the priest who founded Boy’s Town; Father Flanagan.
Some of you more seasoned readers may recall a movie way back when by the same name: Boy’s Town. It starred Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan and Mickey Rooney as an orphaned teenager who was kind of a trouble maker. Boy’s Town was established as a home/school for young lads who had no one who cared for or about them. Father Flanagan coined a phrase to portray the purpose of the academy that has been written into a song and performed by many artists over the years; the Hollies in 1969, Neil Diamond in the 70’s and many others since then. The phrase is: “He ain’t heavy; he’s my brother!” Here’s an excerpt from the song, (google the title for the full lyrics):
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where? But I’m strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he, to bear
We’ll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother
If I’m laden at all
I’m laden with sadness
That everyone’s heart
Isn’t filled with the gladness
Of love for one another
I recently found a recording of the song online and after listening to it realized thatyes, I am my brother’s keeper and you know what?He ain’t heavy.
Matthew 6: 19-21 “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.
I helped a friend clean her attic recently. I have spent time reflecting about it since. I know, most people want to finish such a project and put it behind them. The dust…the spider webs…and other creatures you realize may be joining you (though unseen). However, in recent months I have found myself thinking about our life’s journeys. We each have a different one and we each choose to live it uniquely and, hopefully, authentically. How do we do that? Well, I am not a picture person. There is little physical evidence on this earth I exist, particularly if you judge existence by the number of photos you appear in or possessions you own. Does this lack indicate a life wasted or, at a minimum, insufficiently documented?
I saw a quote recently from Louie CK. While not the most appropriate man to quote for a Catholic blog, I appreciated his sentiment. “I don’t like taking pictures with people… It doesn’t feel normal,” CK explained about people’s need to take a selfie with him rather than have an actual conversation. “I always shake their hand and ask their name because everybody is interesting.” Imagine that, he wants to use that brief encounter, just for a moment, to learn about a stranger.
Treasuring a moment should be about closing your eyes, remembering a smell or a sound or a touch. I think we need to find a way to enjoy things beyond literal societal requirements. Observe. Let some things happen, pass, and then reflect. For instance, when you attended the state fair, would you smile at your selfie in front of the Sweet Aunt Martha’s cookie stand or do you remember the taste of the cookies? I am too skeptical for pictures. I see smiles, but I think about what is going on inside. Worries, hopes, ambitions, anxieties, love, hate, joy, sorrow, disappointment, satisfaction, anguish, anger, gratitude. Who are they really? Where do they wish they really were? I want a conversation; I want to hear your feelings. Describe it to me in words so I can feel your emotions; let’s talk.
Why does this have to do with the attic and my friend? There was a lot of “stuff.” To most, much of it would appear to be of little value or consequence. However, with each box there was a new story – Christmas gifts of long ago- some close to 70 years old, an assortment of practical jokes (definitely inappropriate for Catholic blog), retirement gifts marking a well-earned completion of a career, worn back braces from a severe injury. It was fun, almost a game – what used to be in this empty box? Where did it come from; on what occasion; who gave it; and most importantly, what did you feel about it. We built upon the stories as the day went on. Little pieces, little insights. Her son was able to hear about his mom’s childhood and touch and experience the same toys she played with as a child. She was a person, with feelings, memories and stories, not just “mom.” She joked that we were preparing for an estate sale for someone not dead yet. With that her son stopped her and pointed out that without her narrative, without her voice, all of the “stuff” would not have meaning. Now some of it seems priceless. It is the power of her story that gives it value.
At a certain age we start to think about how a particular day, interaction, experience becomes part of the great story of our life, rather than just another day. Who or what will tell our story? Will people wish there would be one more conversation, one more hug, or one more letter or card? (yes, handwritten, with an actual stamp!) One of the coolest treasures we found was a get-well poster with notes from friends and family that was from a surgery over 30 years ago. Seeing familiar names, remembering forgotten faces. Actually hand-made, handwritten (in cursive even!)
The quest for literal documentation is not new. Remember Thomas in the Gospel. In today’s world, Doubting Thomas would have demanded a picture. In the story of Martha and Mary (the sisters) in Luke 10:39-40, “Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving.” I am pretty sure Martha would have had a camera. Maybe we should be like Mary (his mother) who “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19.
“I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.” -2 Timothy 4:7
As I type this blog, my muscles ache and my toes hurt, but it is all worth it because I completed my first ever 10-mile race! A big run like this has been on my bucket list for quite some time, but I was not sure if I would ever accomplish it. I am the furthest thing from a runner but I wanted to prove to myself that I was capable of doing it.
I started this 10-mile run with thousands of other people- young and old- at a little after 7 in the morning in the pouring rain and with the sun just starting to make an appearance. It would have been incredibly easy to have thrown in the towel right off the bat. Really? Rain? It was only barely above 50 degrees. But the support from the fellow runners and the spectators was something I will never forget!
The first 4 miles were easier than I ever could have imagined. I had never run 4 miles straight in training and I doubt I could do it again right now, but as a group it didn’t seem like quite as big of an obstacle.
The whole run I thought about how a race such as this is so similar to our journey in life. There are hills- some that seem too high to climb- and maybe we can’t sprint but have to walk it. There are obstacles that try to shift our focus, toes and muscles that hurt, or unexpected downpours. Finally, there is always the devil putting thoughts into our heads like “I can’t do this” or “it’s too far” or “I am only halfway?”
The 9th and 10th miles were the hardest for me. My muscles were so stiff and my whole body was exhausted. There were extra fans cheering us along this part of the race. There were people with funny signs that got us all laughing, and kids that were dressed up giving everyone high fives and yelling “keep running, you’ve got this!”
At times I did not have the energy to run like I did the first couple miles, but I knew I had to keep moving, so I would walk as quickly as I could until I could run again. I think this is exactly how we have to take life- when we think the obstacle we face is too steep to climb, sometimes we have to take a slower pace so that we have the strength to make it to the top, because each and every obstacle we are faced with can be conquered.
My challenge for each of you is to create the best possible support system to run this race with, and when you see others struggling up the hills of life to cheer them on and run it with them. You may never know how much strength a simple smile or high-five can give someone who may be contemplating giving up.
Reflecting on Jesus’ statement that the members of his family are “those who hear the word of God and act on it,” Pope Francis invited his listeners to reflect on the concept of familiarity.
To gain such familiarity one must be willing to enter “into the home of Jesus, to enter into that atmosphere…those who reside in the house of the Lord are free, those who have a familiar relationship with Him are free.”
Gaining familiarity with Jesus “also means standing with Him, looking to Him, hearing His Word, seeking to do it, speaking to Him.” Pope Francis makes clear that speaking to Jesus is to have a prayer life marked by a common language, an easy back and forth.
Finally, according to Pope Francis, familiarity with Jesus is gained by remaining “in the presence of Jesus, as He Himself counsels us at the Last Supper.” How much this reminds us that faithful, Sunday by Sunday, celebrating the Mass in remembrance of Jesus is a sure way to gain familiarity with the personality of Jesus.
Jesus desires a familiar relationship with each one of us. Such a familiarity is gained by spending time with him in daily prayer, reading the gospels, faithfulness to Mass, and being in the company of his friends, especially the poor and vulnerable.
How familiar am I with Jesus? Am I comfortable in his presence? Draw near to him who desires to be near to you!
(This reflection is based on Pope Francis’ homily for Tuesday, September 26, 2017).
Several years ago, our youngest son asked if we could give a friend of his, who I’ll name “Joe,” a ride to school on the first day of senior high. I happily agreed to share the excitement of this new adventure and off we headed to pick up Joe. As Joe jumped into the van you could sense his excitement.
“Excited for your freshman year?” I asked.
“ I’m so excited to get a new start”, Joe replied.
“New start?” I replied.
“Yes, Mama Evans, I get to have new teachers and I’m hoping they will see me as a new kid and not know me as the little brother of_______.”
“You see,” he continued on to explain, “my sisters and brothers have not always made good choices and I’m trying really hard to learn from them. I want to get good grades and be something when I grow up. I just want a chance for them to see I’m a good kid.”
My heart sank. How could a young teen feel so diminished and so excited to be seen as the gift they are in the world all at once? How could the words and actions of others have created this sense of judgment in a young person? How could I help support and build up this young person?
As another school year begins and we prepare to welcome children, youth and families to Faith Formation, I am reminded of the lesson Joe taught me many years ago. Everyone wants to be good, to be something, to have others believe in them and be respected.
I was blessed over the years to witness this young person develop into a respectful young man. He had the resilience to strive to be better than others thought of him.
Another school year has begun as fall approaches and we return to a rhythm of learning. We are all on a life long journey of faith. We all have the opportunities to welcome and encourage one another in many ways to support the “Joe’s” of our community. Many of us may have some “Joe” in us.
St. Francis de Sales writes, “Be who you are, and be that well.” We are called to reflect Christ’s light into the world and from the very core of our breath.
As we begin this fall, we have many opportunities to share Christ’s light in the world. Many of us are preparing to begin another year of Faith Formation classes. Many of us will have the opportunity to meet and greet new children and youth. Some of us are the “Joe’s” in the world looking for a new beginning and welcome. We will have the opportunity to share in another person’s life and journey. We have the opportunity to be the “Body of Christ” for the world.
As your fall progresses, consider how you may greet and welcome the “Joes” of the community to your parish and faith community. We are all invited and called to shine the light of Christ into the world…how will you shine?
And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A gale arose on the lake, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing!’ and he said to them, ‘Why are you afraid, you of little faith?’ Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, ‘What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?’ Matthew 8:23-27
As I sat there on the rocks along Lake Superior during a recent family trip to the North Shore, I found an unexpected peace. Amid the occasional shout from one child or another as they found the “perfect” rock or one shaped like a heart, I still found it. The waves slowly lapped against the rocks and I took a deep breath. I began to realize that I had been holding my breath and waiting for relief for quite a while. If it wasn’t one thing, it was another, this summer. While there were so many great days of sweet and blissful memories, there were many others that made my summer seas full of tumult and difficulty. The heaviness in my chest sighed as I sat there with hardly a care in the world, even if it only lasted a short time. I may have found more therapy in those minutes–as I just stopped and listened–than I have in quite a while.
We watched a ship on the horizon making its way to the port. It’s one of our favorite activities every time we visit Duluth, but never has it struck me as profoundly as this time around. I found more symbolism to my recent days and weeks in that ship, the breaking waters, the water hitting the rocks and even in the travel of a single rock ripple than I could have ever searched for. The mightiness of the ship on the waters called to mind the greatness of God, His goodness and His strength even in the great waters of life. My awareness of the calm even as the waves came into shore called to mind that even as the chaos of life swirls around, there is beauty, simplicity and calm even if only on the smallest shore of my life.
Although I may have been carrying around a full load of burdens over recent months, as I tossed even the smallest pebble into the great lake, it brought about a tranquility. The fresh breeze cleansed my soul as I whispered a simple prayer of gratitude for my faith in a God who never left me stranded. As we embark on another changing of seasons and these summer days fade to autumn, may the splendor of God’s creation stir a place within us that reminds us of his faithfulness and fills us with gratitude.
As a reporter, it’s not every day that I have the opportunity to be in a room with a national public figure, much less have the opportunity to ask a question. So when The Visitor was invited to a press conference with former Florida governor and 2016 Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush Sept. 21 at St. John’s University in Collegeville, I took the opportunity to attend and to sneak in a question or two that I thought might interest our readers.
First, a little background. Born John Ellis Bush, he was nicknamed Jeb for his initials. He is the son of George H.W. and Barbara Bush. George H.W. served as the 41st president of the United States from 1989 to 1993 and the 43rd vice president of the United States from 1981 to 1989. Jeb is also the brother of George W. Bush who served as the POTUS from 2001-2009.
Gov. Bush served as the 43rd governor of Florida from 1999-2007, and in 2015 he announced he would enter the 2016 presidential campaign. He later left the race.
Gov. Bush was invited to St. John’s to speak on “Conscience and Courage” at the 11th annual Eugene J. McCarthy Lecture. Over 20 years ago, the governor converted to the Catholic faith and still practices today.
So, while most other sources were interested in hearing his political views on trending topics, my sole purpose (or soul purpose, you might say) was to find out how his faith impacts the decisions and work he does as an elected official. I asked him if he had a role model in this faith life. His response:
“Jesus. That’s about as good a role model as we can have.”
As far as how his faith influences his work, he said:
“As imperfect as we are, to be guided by your faith, you can’t ignore that. I never understood how [as a person of faith] as a public official, that’s ‘private,’ that I can’t act on my faith in the public square. Why do you have it? It should be one of the most important parts of how you go about your business.
And as governor – no perfection here – but I did my best to act on my faith. I put the most vulnerable citizens in the front of the line. They had been languishing either not in any line at all or in the back. We expanded programs for the developmentally disabled. … We grew the economy and generated revenues that allowed us to prioritize a broken foster care system. … I acted on my faith. Those are core beliefs that come from the teachings of Christ.
I had conflicts in that regard as well. The state of Florida has the death penalty. Perhaps one of the most difficult things I had to do as governor was to sign death warrants and participate in the execution, irrespective of if they were innocent or not. That’s an awesome responsibility. That was really hard.
Every year we had a Red Mass [a Mass for judges, lawyers, law school professors, law students and government officials] in Tallahassee. The bishops would come up and pat me on the back for things I did that adhered to their teachings and always saved the death penalty as the last topic of conversation and politely scolded me for not acting on the teachings of the church.
In reality, when you put your hand on the Bible, you also are recognizing that you are trying to faithfully commit to the laws of the state. That was a law that a great number of Floridians agreed to.
But I would never suggest to a pers0n who was running for office, ‘You can be as devout as you want but keep it at home. Don’t talk about your faith, don’t act on your faith in the public square.’ That just doesn’t work. It’s not meaningful to you if [your faith] is not front and center.”
Though I would’ve like to have asked more questions, there just wasn’t time. Fielding questions from other reporters, Gov. Bush added that when he ran for president he “got out of everything.”
“After I ran for president, I got to rebuild my life the way I wanted which allowed me to stay more connected to my family, less travel and rebuilt the business I had before I sold my interest out with the same partners. … I have an education reform foundation … [I’m] living large in Miami. Four grandchildren. Life’s good.”
On civil discourse, he shared some “rules,” specifically:
“If you have a chance to find someone who doesn’t think like you but agrees with you on a particular subject, the requirement would be to pause, take a deep breath, embrace that person and form a coalition to get something done.”
He gave an emphatic “no” when asked if he will run for president again. He said he already had the “best job in the world” as governor, helping people to live lives of purpose and meaning.
When asked about his feelings regarding the current president, he said he is “not a big fan,” which he has made no secret of in the media. However, he kept it positive, affirming some of President Trump’s decisions such as judiciary appointments. He concluded:
“Every morning I pray, and I pray for our leaders as we are taught to do in the Catholic faith. And I pray for our president. I want him to succeed for our country’s sake.”
Finally, when addressing a question on what advice he’d give to people who are talking politics over Thanksgiving dinner, he said:
“Turn off cable TV for starters. One thing that would be helpful would be to stop customizing how we get news. I really try hard to read The New York Times because I find it not to my liking. But I do it for that reason. I want to have different views. I don’t want to be so righteous about my own thinking that I’m less tolerant of other people’s views. … Challenge yourself to get outside your comfort zone and listen to people that don’t agree with you.
As it relates to the Thanksgiving dinner, don’t talk about the president. … Talk about things you have in common rather than things you want to argue about.”
On Sept. 9, I had the opportunity to cover my favorite kind of event — a country music festival! This isn’t something we would normally do for The Visitor, but as a fundraiser for Mother of Mercy Care Campus, a Catholic nursing home and care center in Albany, it was newsworthy.
The Rock the Prairie event featured three local bands: Edge of the Ledge, a local Albany band; the Levi Pelzer Band, a local group from Little Falls; and The Devon Worley Band from the Twin Cities, who performed before headliner Phil Vassar took the stage.
“It’s just cool when the community comes together like this to support the elderly,” Vassar said. “We’ve all been in that situation, my grandma was in a nursing home like this one until she passed away a couple of years ago at age 90. It seems like in society today a lot of people forget about [our elders] and just kind of put our old folks away, so it’s really neat for us to be able to do this.”
Although he’s not Catholic himself, Vassar said he has many friends and family members that are, so he’s familiar with Catholicism. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time, so I know that several of his songs have references to faith, including his hits “Prayer of a Common Man” and “This is God.”
He didn’t really want to talk about his own faith, but it is obvious to me that he’s a faithful person. I also couldn’t help but notice the cross tattooed on his right forearm.
I asked him specifically what prompted him to write, “This is God,” which is actually God talking to us about how we need to work for peace. He said when he wrote it in 2002, 9/11 was still in the news, as well as other instances of violence. He was on an airplane — where he does a lot of his writing — and was discouraged about the hatred and violence in the world. The song has been described as a call for accountability and a reminder that there are consequences to actions, with God pleading in conclusion for all of his creations to permanently unite in peace and love. As we were talking about it, we agreed that it’s maybe even more relevant now than it was then.
I’m sure most of us can relate to this experience: you go to Mass, find yourself refreshed and rejuvenated by God’s goodness and grace, go home, and before you know it you’re yelling at a family member or complaining about some inconvenience or insignificant problem. When you take the time to reflect, you’re angry at yourself, and lament the fact that even though Jesus literally just came into you in Holy Communion, you just as quickly turn away from Him and fall into the same sins.
Defeated. That’s how I feel every time I give in to my own pride and say things I don’t mean, or argue my point needlessly. That’s how I feel when I give in to my own selfishness and spend my time only on myself, and get frustrated with those around me for interrupting ‘my’ time. I think to myself, How can I receive such incredible gifts of God’s love and grace, and then fail to live those practically in my own life?
As I mentioned in my last blog, I recently began a 10-day self-directed retreat called ‘Lift Up Your Heart’ by Fr. John Burns, based on the 10 meditations of St. Francis de Sales in the Introduction to the Devout Life. It’s been so, so good for my heart so far, because it’s made me really reflect on my own life and grow in self-knowledge, which is something that’s always been hard for me! I just have to share this part of one of the meditations, because it gave me a new lens through which I see my own weaknesses and sinfulness that I think is so incredibly helpful!:
“In quiet reflection, name your own limitations. Admit them—as many as you can recognize. Then, with a deep breath, hold them up to God’s gaze and simply ask for help. Hear God say to you, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness’ (2 Cor 12:9). Then you can say with St. Paul, ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (2 Cor 11:30). At first it sounds foolish. Consider this: if you were not weak, you would not need God; because you are weak, God can work in you. This means, surprisingly, that the places in your life most attractive to God are the places of greatest weakness, because in those places He can most easily undertake the work of making you whole” (Lift Up Your Hearts 9-10).
That last line has really stuck with me: that the places of greatestweakness in my life are the most attractive to God, because that’s where He can work the most powerfully. He’s not scared off by my struggles with selfishness and pride and laziness, but those are exactly the places He wants to come into most!
There’s a Christian song called “If We’re Honest” by Francesca Batistelli which says, “I’m a mess and so are you/ We build walls nobody can get through/ It may be hard, but the best thing we can ever do/ is Bring your brokenness and I’ll bring mine/ His love can heal what hurt divides/ And mercy’s waiting on the other side/ If we’re honest.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t really like to admit to myself that I’m a mess. In fact, I just don’t like messes in any shape or form! Even my room has to be neatly organized and clean, or it drives me crazy. I want my life to be a tidy little package where everything is ‘just so,’ and nothing is out of place. But I know that nothing could be farther from reality! And the truth is, that’s the reality for each one of us. But that’s where Jesus wants to meet us—in our messiness, in our woundedness, in our brokenness. He wants to meet us there so He can heal us most profoundly.
Fr. John goes on to say, “God sets the terms and timelines for healing and wholeness, but nothing can begin until you show the sickness to the Divine Physician” (Lift Up Your Hearts, 10). We can’t wear masks with God. He knows our weaknesses better than we do, but that’s exactly what He wants us to bring before Him, with humble and docile hearts. How freeing that is, that God doesn’t expect us to be perfect! He just expects us to be honest. He’ll take it from there. God will do the healing, but we first have to bring our wounds and weaknesses to Him to be healed. It might be a slow process, but God knows how best to sculpt our hearts in order to make us into the masterpieces He desires us to be, the kind that can most clearly reflect the genius of the Divine Sculptor. What a beautiful truth, that takes away our tendencies to hide behind our shame and distrust of God rather than humbly bringing them before Him with the faith of a child, completely confident in the love of the Father. So we don’t need to be afraid of our weaknesses, because it’s precisely in our weakness that God wants to meet us, to show us His power and love.