Saturday, January 29, 2011

The March

Death, death is all around us.  You could feel it in the air.

  This past Monday H and I went with friends on the bus to Washington D.C.  for The March For Life.  This was my first time, Helen's third.  From CT is took us 7 hours, driving through the night and arriving just on time to attend the Mass at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception.  This was only my second time in D.C., the first this past August to go to the Restoring Honor rally.   Let me say this; The Basilica is truly beautiful, inside and out, with all the altars off to each side.  We ended up getting lost right at the end of our ride into D.C., the Basilica not registering on the bus drivers GPS.  Go figure.  We found seats in the side altar dedicated to The Miraculous Medal.  A large video monitor provided us with the Mass, so we didn't miss a thing.  But even though this event was part of the larger event, The March, I want to focus on what stood out and still stands out to me.  Like I said, I'd never been to The March, never even protested at an abortion clinic.  This was all new ground for me.  Even the bus ride was disconcerting to me; there were no overhead lights on my side of the bus, and the none of the seats at all would recline.  Needless to say, no sleep came to me Sunday night into Monday morning.  No matter, I survived.  After Mass, a different bus brought us to an abortion clinic, no, not a clinic, a mill.  I didn't know what to expect.  When we stepped off the bus there were already people standing on both sides of the sidewalk, I think praying and singing, I can't quite remember.  A middle aged priest with that group showed us where to stand.  Almost immediately this group left, and we moved down closer to the entrance.  Young women dressed for the weather wearing yellow bibs that said Clinic Escort walked back and forth , up and down the sidewalk in front of us, I guess in order to keep the sidewalk open.  This must happen all the time, and if not, on this day at least.  A member of our group, R, one of the most spirit-filled people I know, began The Sorrowful Mysteries in a voice that was clear and strong in that cold morning air.  At about this time, the leader of our group, Hal, the retired gentleman who organizes this bus every year began to walk behind one of the women escorts. For a sign he had two pieces of cardboard held together with twine, hung around his head.  For the next hour he took turns walking behind each escort, silently, never saying a word, walking as we prayed aloud.  I was called upon to lead The third Sorrowful Mystery, The Crowning of the Thorns.  I remember starting to have a feeling of being swept up, of being a part of something that for some reason I'd never acknowledged, this feeling of, for lack of a better way to put it, Spirit of Christ, of doing something with others that, even in it's own small tiny way, was a voice.  I felt a great sorrow for what we were here for, but sorrow mingled with satisfaction.  Satisfaction in knowing that at least for this hour, the voice of God was being spoken here through His vessels, however unworthy.  We ended the rosary and began The Divine Mercy, led by D in her soft quiet voice.  We took turns leading this prayer, one leading, the rest of us following.  We finished, and our bus had not yet arrived, so we began another, this time singing. God is so good.  Even in the face of death, just footsteps from the entrance He shows Himself to us in the witnesses to our faith.  Hal, walking silently, following the footsteps of the consorts of death.  He was joined by an older woman, holding her own old sign, like Hal's a sign they use here every year, which just read Abortion Kills.  And finally a young mother with her 9 month old baby, another member of our group, she began to march on the sidewalk holding her bundled baby in her arms.  Talk about witnesses.  As we were finishing the last prayers of The Divine Mercy the bus arrived, and we all formed a line and got on board, still singing.  I was numb, but not from the cold.  As I sat down I knew that He had been present with us on that sidewalk in a very strong way, and in thinking back, probably in one way or another present to everyone who was there, from the escorts to the five motorcycle policemen who showed up halfway through our protest to all of us in our group.  Evil verses Good, right before our eyes.  The veil lifted, just a little bit.
  After the speeches, (which were very good) we began the march toward the Capitol.  R had told us to stick together, and we'll pray all twenty decades of the Rosary.  R has a beautiful melodic voice, and when he leads us in prayer his brogue comes through just a little bit.  On that day the Holy Spirit was with him especially, for I'd never seen him with such purpose.  We stuck close to him as best we could, answering him as he lead our prayers in the cold waning day.  Two priests joined us, and for awhile a young nun also walked along, replying to the strong voice that lead us above the din.  I don't recall if we made it through all 20 decades.  I don't think so.  Near the end, climbing the hill, I was cooked, my back done in by the bus ride and all the standing and walking.  We stayed only a few minutes at the top, near the end point of the march, mainly so the young kids who were with us could see the whole thing.  We turned our back on the Capitol, and made our way down to Union Station to find our bus.
  The ride home was uneventful, and I made it to work on time the next day, going with 3 hrs sleep.  I felt fine, really, still caught up in the excitement of my first march.  I really hope I don't have to go back again, but I'm afraid I will.  The culture of death is so ingrained in our society, it may never be eradicated.  During the week I thought about the whole event, the bus ride, the cold creeping into my feet as we stood listening to the speakers, the March.  How uncomfortable the whole thing had been.  How just days before last Sunday I'd moaned to myself that I'd have to gulp! sleep on the bus, something I'm not good at.  But you know where I'm going with this.  He is always here with us, leading us, comforting, us, teaching us, giving graces to those who will listen.  Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.  I heard, and saw, with my inner eye I saw.  All of what I'd complained about is nothing.  Nothing compared to the silent scream of a baby in the womb who feel the first prodding of the needle.  Nothing compared to the guilt of the mothers and yes, the fathers who finally feel the truth to what they had done.  The unregrettable remorse.  The sadness that fills my own heart thinking of the event in my life, so long ago.  Yes, I finally heard.  A long bus ride to stand in the cold?  Nothing, nothing at all to stand a be counted.  Nothing at all to raise voices together Heavenward to counter the culture of death.  

Friday, January 14, 2011

Here it is, my Cross.

  James 1: 19-25

  Keep in mind, dear brothers.  Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for a man's anger does not fulfill God's justice.  Strip away all that is filthy, every vicious excess.  Humbly welcome the word that has taken root in you, with its power to save you.  If all you do is listen to it you are deceiving yourselves.  
  A man who listens to God's word but does not put it into practice is like a man who looks into a mirror at the face he was born with:  he looks at himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looks like.  There is, on the other hand, the man who peers into freedom's ideal law and abides by it.  He is no forgetful listener, but one who carries out the law in practice.  Blest will this man be in whatever he does. 

  Sometimes God puts challenges before us that we perceive as almost impossible to overcome.  For me, these are usually issues that arise within my family, or our extended family.  A sister-in-law who is slowly destroying herself through addiction and stubbornness.  How to reach this person when so many obstacles lie between us?  Counseling a family member is so hard; it was much easier at the shelter.  We listened to them, tucked them in at night and then went home, hoping we did our best.  With a family member sometimes your charity falls on deaf ears, and we must accept whatever God gives back to us in humbleness and humility.  No shouting or screaming.  Just trust in God.   Oh, is that hard when the person your dealing with is someone you hold dear, someone you love.  Let every man be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger...  this reading from the Letter of James, which turned up as the Reading, Wednesday Evening Prayer has been lying uneasily within me since then.  Act on this word.  If all you do is listen to it, you are deceiving yourselves.  And it is so easy for me to deceive myself!  It seems like, to me, there are two types of men (not really, but for me, right now in my life, this is how men (or women) appear to me).  One is the man who appears cold and self-centered, who doesn't care much for his fellow men, who shows this by word and at times by deed, and the man who is always trying to do good, the one who appears to be lead by God at all times.  Who am I?  Well, the second man, of course.  Right? I am, aren't I?  Maybe not, not as much as I thought.  This morning I was shown an act of kindness in the small exploits of three of my co-workers.  One worker going out of his way to help two others dig out their car covered over by the snow from the recent storm.  The person who did the helping?  Why, the one who looks down on his fellow men. He went out of his way to help, just because he could.  And what does this have to do with the one who appears to be lead by God at all times.  A lot, because in my overblown view of myself I think I am he, lead by God.  Yet this week, this Wednesday evening I failed yet again in carrying out the law in practice.  When a call came to me to help a woman with problems she has, silly to me and small, but to her, life threatening issues, I found reasons and excuses not to go to her, not to reach out to her.  The roads are completely snow covered.  I've been at work since 5:30 this morning.  Whatever.  I'll be there tomorrow, right after work.  There, that calmed her down.   (But not really, what I didn't know until later).  And something gnawed at me, that kind of gnawing that one gets when you know you didn't do something quite right, even though there were many solid reasons for not doing it.  So the righteous man who is full of himself, the one 'lead by God' finds reasons for not being what has vowed to be, a Franciscan, a follower of Francis, a follower of Jesus, for crying out loud, and instead looks at himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looks like.  I was that man for two days, but God would not let me forget what I'd done.  Maybe He has too much invested in me, or something.  When He wants to get His point across He finds His ways.  A written word or two here or there, or an example of what a person should be like, right before my eyes.  He doesn't use shame, we bring that on ourselves, we know when we have wronged someone.  I made up my mind this morning that I'd call L on my way home and stop over and help her with anything I could.  She's very handicapped and only gets along with Helen and I, really, in the whole world.  And I dismissed her in her time of need because it inconvenienced me.  Unbelievable.  When I talked with Helen at mid-day she said L had called, was wondering if I could stop over after work.  Helen said that she already told L I would.  Helen knew.  When I got there I listened as she talked, told me of her problems of the last three days.  She is very sick, and weak.  I did what I could, and told her I'd be back tomorrow afternoon to finish what I'd started.  But there won't be any finishing, not really.  L will always need me, need Helen and I.  There are so many L's in the world, so many sister-in-laws.  And I must be there to help them, every one of them, without complaint.  That is the part that I must learn, no, not learn, but to love.  His commandment to Love Thy Neighbor bore into me with its full force today in all it's terrible beauty.  Terrible for me, for I had to re-learn it all over again.  Here it is, my Cross, I believe your following Me, am I correct?  Oh, yes my Lord Jesus, you are correct.  There is no way I could ever put this down, not ever again.  I may fall, stumble, cry out, but Lord as I help you, please, help me.  


Friday, January 07, 2011

Seek His Face

Once Friday comes I always breath a big sigh of relief; not because of anything I did, but because I know left to myself I'd never be able to hang in there for 52 hours a week, 50 weeks a year.  Talk about being picked up and helped along!  Whatever happens during the week always seems to be overshadowed by my working job.  Anything spiritual always seems to be done only halfway, before sleep overcomes me.  I'm not complaining!  I'm so very lucky to even have a job, never mind one that provides me with overtime.  I see the terrible situation many people are in.  Some very good friends of ours are not doing the best financially, and I can see the effects of this strain on their family.  As Seculars H and I know how we're supposed to treat this material world, but I think it's easier to despise money when all your bills are mostly paid, even if one is living paycheck to paycheck.  I've never been truly penniless, though in my heart I really do want to chuck this whole 9-5 routine, sell the house, rent a small room... but that's just one part of me speaking, and I'm not sure, really which part of me that is.  Like I said, everything is easier with a roof over your head.  Much to think about in these troubled times when it comes to money.  
  I try to not think about money much.  I really don't see too much of it; direct deposit and H takes care of the check book.  I don't take an allowance, so this I go for weeks at times without any money in my wallet.  I don't need much walking around money it seems.  I bring my coffee with me, get gas once a week with a debit card, that's about it.  All of this frees me to live my life as Franciscan as I can be, in this secular world.  Living as Franciscan as I can is a process that for me began as an idea of a way of life to actually living it.  I know that sounds simplistic, and it is, in a way, but only by the grace of God has this been allowed to happen.  Nothing happens on it's own; God is behind it all.  I was thinking today about my life many years ago, 30 plus years ago, and how I was so very far from God in my thoughts and actions.  God allowing his child use of free will, which turned out to be free will gone wild.  Where is God in one's life then?  Silent?  No, He's never really silent, we just choose not to hear Him.  He must just take a few steps back and wait.  Perhaps He was just...  I don't know.  I can't possibly know what He was thinking about me.  In the end, in my darkest hour, He pulled me back, pulled me back up onto my feet and sent me on my way, in a new direction.  Maybe He said something to me, quietly, in His silent voice.  Did He?  I don't know that, either.  I think He just pointed me in the direction of His Path and my guardian angel began to whisper Seek His Face, over and over at different times.  No split-second epiphany for me, just a long walk, mostly one step forward, two back.  Only now does the Path seem fairly stable.  I try to keep Him before me all day long, really before me, not in the background.  All the rest of the world seems to fall into step behind Him when I think like that, just the way it should.  
  Tomorrow I'm finally going to confession, the first time in about two months.  I know that sounds crazy, but I've had a real problem either getting to the heart of the matter in confession or dealing with myself before, during and after confession.  Confused?  I am.  The problem is I never feel like I've done a good confession.  Problems arise in the confessional; I forget things, I talk too much, I don't talk enough.  All week I've been dealing with this in my head, and I think tomorrow I'm going to go back to having my confession heard behind the screen instead of face to face.  I have this feeling that in the face to face confession, especially knowing the priest personally I really can't free myself to say what has to be said.  I'm hoping that the screen will do just that; act as a screen between me and Father.  
  Oh gosh, there was so much more I had to say but that was hours ago.  Night is upon us, and sleep calls.  First Friday.  The spirit and souls of the just are perhaps a bit more evident on this night, at least I like to think so.  First Friday means Nocturnal Adoration, and for us, rising at 3:30 am to be at All Saints Church for 4:00.  Blessed Jesus, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Oh Lord,
my words pour forth
from my lips
but are they always from my heart?
Is Your Name
ever on my tongue?
Oh Lord, my God
help me to ever
Seek Your Face,
to never turn my inner eye
from You,
to for ever hear Your Voice.