Thursday, June 13, 2013

Full Love


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When the fullness of love manifests itself it cannot be diminished. It becomes its own entity, a living, driving force.
Not romantic love, but divine love, brought to life in those around us. When we are able to feel that love, see it, we can breathe it in, embrace the joy, and if we really truly get it, we can be emissaries of that love.
I met one of those emissaries and was changed forever.
She was 103 when she left this world and went to her sweet Jesus. I had only been a part of her life for the last ten years. We journeyed together – an old nun and a middle-aged chaplain. She to heaven, me to a place deeply rooted in the sure and certain knowledge of God's love.
I am not one to see divine interventions every where along our road, but I know Sister Rose was sent – an embodiment of pure grace and love – all wrapped up in a four-foot, seven-inch bundle of Jesus-driven energy.
The first day I met Sister Rose, I had been on a 16-hour on-call at the nearby trauma center. I was tired but excited to be filling in for one of the nuns at the local Catholic hospital.
When I was introduced to her she immediately pointed to a chair, told me to sit down and asked me, “So what's your story?”
I honestly doubted that this nun really wanted to hear my story which included three husbands, numerous affairs in between those husbands, three children and lots of escapades – some scandalous along the way.
Given all that, you might be wondering how I became a Catholic chaplain?
I converted back to the religion of my birth through a resignation that it was the only place spiritually where I felt at home. Profound faith in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist keeps me there -- bitching much of the time about the bureaucracy that surrounds the beautiful presence in our tabernacles.
Chaplaincy called to me and I answered. My thinking was something like, “I survived a lot of trauma. I am still walking. Maybe I can give hope to others.”
Sister Rose came to learn my story – all of it – the everyday happenings, the parts of which I was proud – especially my three children, and the parts that filled me with shame.
She especially liked hearing about my ex-husbands. She was very direct and with regard to my second one, 25-years my senior, she would ask, “What were you thinking?”
She heard about what I thought was a miraculous third marriage to a man I loved with passion and devotion.
Sister Rose and I came to love each other. I loved her because she was brave enough to swim in all the crap with me. I guess she loved me because I was brave enough to risk telling her.
She told me her story. I always loved hearing how religious got the “call.” It started when she was seventeen. Her mother volunteered her to be the substitute housekeeper for the pastor of the local church. “I thought I was hot stuff,” she asserted. She was happy to be in charge of the money, the groceries, the meals. She loved that responsibility.
One day when it was nearing time for the absent housekeeper to return from caring for her ailing mother she went to church and asked God if he could please arrange for her to stay as housekeeper. She heard God tell her, “I have something better for you.” “Six months later I was in the convent!” she happily exclaimed .
It was that simple for this woman of God. He called, she answered. She lived her life keeping her promises of obedience, poverty and chastity with joy.
She did all sorts of things, including being in charge of the hospital's kitchen for many years. It wasn't until she was well into her seventies that she took Clinical Pastoral Education and became a chaplain.
Her style of chaplaincy was certainly like nothing I was taught in Clinical Pastoral Education.
It was all about love for that nun. She distributed Holy Communion with a humble, loving reverence that radiated from her little body. The patient would finish receiving the host then Sister Rose would say, “Thank you, Jesus. We love you, Jesus.” She meant it. She meant every word she prayed.
There was no little black book – that was how I managed to give Communion. Quickly trying to ascertain how the patient was feeling and then hurriedly going to that particular topic in the book. Pathetic really but like many Catholics the idea of extemporaneous prayer was a foreign idea – fine for those lovable, free-spirited Evangelicals, but certainly not for me. She soon taught me to pray from my heart. I couldn't even tell you where my little black book is.
We became friends. Real friends. I was one of the few people who didn't treat her differently because she was old. She liked that. I liked that she could make me feel that Jesus absolutely loved me, just as I was, broken and very imperfect.
During our time together she related a full life. Many adventures lived in the busy world of the convent. She happily shared her frailties as I shared mine.
She told of the time she was in Ohio and working on the order's farm. One of the other sisters, came rushing toward Sister Rose and her friend, planting at the time, ordering them to help hunt down an escaped cow. She was having none of that! She told her friend to keep her head down and pretend they didn't see anything.
I didn't mind how many times Sister Rose told me the same story. I understood that even if she added nothing new to the rendition, I could hear it differently each time.
Sister Rose was not much of a complainer. She learned early it wasn't thought well of in the convent. She told of going to her novice mistress with a complaint about a particularly annoying fellow novice. Her superior said, “So did she crucify you?” Sister Rose never forgot that. I must confess that I have not fully embraced that non-complaining sentiment but I'm working on it.
Sister Rose lived through much change in the church – it didn't faze her. She told me about the nun who allegedly said Mass. “That was a good one!” she asserted, thinking it was quite humorous.
She enjoyed the charismatic movement of the church and had quite a few good stories of the trips to the conferences they offered. She liked the energy.
She made her perpetual vows as Sister Deodata – meaning gift from God. A fitting name but when her order decided to give the option of changing to birth names, Sister Deodata eagerly became Sister Rose Lechner.
She was not so sure about lay ministers. I was very surprised to hear that she told another sister chaplain that if they hired a lay person she was quitting! I am glad that something kept her there journeying with me.
There was sadness in this beautiful woman's life. Living to such an old age brings grief at each passing of an old friend. Her mother was killed in an accident on her way to see her. The order's rules were onerous in the beginning of her vocation. She was kept from the family she loved. The visits with them were few. Most of the time she had nothing to say about where she went or how long she would be there.
Sacred Heart Hospital was blessed to have Sister Rose there for 53 years -- an institution at the institution!
The bedraggled, the liars, the drunks, the prostitutes, people of all states of life, flocked to Sister Rose, to be fed materially and to be loved. “God loves them,” she asserted.
The CEO at the hospital was one of Sister Rose's friends. They would talk companionably. He would tell her of the hospital's troubles. She would offer advice and support.
Age continued to haunt Sister Rose. It wasn't ill health. Her health was remarkable. She hated being put on display because she happened to be a nonagenarian. She regarded her longevity as simply not worth mentioning.
Once when she was 98 I took her to visit a priest in a nursing home. We entered the elevator with another woman who began a conversation with Sister Rose. The woman asked her how old she was. “Eighty-eight” she answered without batting an eyelash. “You look great for 88,” said the woman. It was the only time I remember Sister Rose looking smug. Later she assured me, “It was none of her business anyway.” Amen!
When anything went wrong in my life Sister Rose's answer would always be, “Let's just pray before the Blessed Sacrament.” That was a practice we never stopped in our friendship. The Blessed Sacrament always beckoned to both of us, providing warm, steady comfort in the midst of chaos.
Deep sadness descended on Sister Rose when her order called her to return to the mother house, an hour away from the hospital. Sister would sleep at the convent from Sunday through Thursday but she spent Friday and Saturday nights with the medical residents, living at the hospital. She spent much of those nights ironing altar cloths, purifiers and corporals. The hospital was her home, her place to love Jesus, her place to shine.
The first time her leaving was mentioned I got angry, very angry. Few of us at the hospital could understand why the order would bring this wound upon this good woman. She still functioned as a chaplain. The hospital was willing to make any accommodation the order felt necessary for her.
I was one of many who pleaded with the Superior. She was impatient and unyielding.
I called the superior general in Rome. Unlike the local superior, she was lovely and listened to my concerns. I don't know if that intervention had any effect but the idea of Sister Rose leaving the hospital was dropped for a year.
The time did come though -- the agony. This despite the efforts of doctors, administrators, and many other people – all begging for her to stay. This beautiful, then 97-year old nun, had to leave her beloved hospital.
There was a wonderful Mass celebrated by many priests who came to love this dynamo of a nun. Old friends came to wish her well.
She was not okay with this move and asked me if I would drive her out to the mother house for one more attempt at changing the superior's mind. I did. It was a hopeful ride. We took the long way, dotted with sheep, cows and goats. We prayed the rosary. I waited in the lobby as she put forth her arguments only to be turned down once again.
It was a very sad ride coming home. We both cried at the unflinching meanness of “Attila the Nun.”
She had many options. My nature is not one made for obedience. I offered up suggestions that in Sister Rose's mind did not meet the obedience standard, “I took vows. They are my community.”
Sister Rose never stopped loving her community, the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart. No matter how angry and hurt she was, she loved and defended them.
Sister Rose needed a carton to step into my pickup truck for the ride to the mother house to begin this new, unwanted chapter of her life. The truck was stuffed with boxes – among them one filled with green cards, with “The Miracle Prayer” printed on them – Sister Rose's favorite giveaway. Praying the rosary again, we made this trip without the benefit of happy conversation that marked most of our time together. Instead there was a companionable sadness, a distinct quiet. I couldn't talk because I didn't want to cry again. I would suspect it was the same for my friend.
Thank God there were warm faces to great her as we arrived. Nuns I grew to love over the years. They were the characters in many of Sister Rose's stories. While I am still working on forgiving the superior who wouldn't let Sister stay at the hospital, I grew to love the other sisters, well most of them.
I had promised Sister Rose to visit her as often as I could.
I kept that promise. My then-husband would accompany me, on almost every Sunday after Mass. The trips were happy ones. We would take in the beautiful scenery that graced the less-traveled route. Listening to audio books and holding hands, the time was a gift.
When asked what she did there, she would shrug, and say, “Eat, sleep and pray. What else is there?” She didn't let that become her life. Sister Rose went into action. There were many times when we would arrive and there she'd be pushing one of the residents from the assisted living section of the facility in their wheelchair. She found ways to minister to the residents, staff and other sisters.
We would come bearing goodies that we would share in the sisters' dining room. Coffee, sweets, spirited conversation with a bunch of nuns – it was my idea of a good time.
These visits continued through the years.
Every visit ended with a trip to the chapel and a prayer for us. She absolutely hated the tabernacle being off to the side. “This is his house!” she would angrily exclaim. I must admit I always thought the justification for moving the tabernacles was flawed so she got my support. She tried to have it moved. Like many things in the Catholic church, her initiative got lost in a bureaucracy that didn't welcome change – even if it was a change back to the way things were.
When Sister Rose hit her hundredth birthday, there was a festive celebration with tons of people, music, and testimonials, one of which I was honored to give. Her reply, happily delivered, was that she, “couldn't wait to meet Jesus!”
Every time a situation with my family surfaced I would tell Sister Rose. Our friendship demanded that I not become one of the people that kept things from her. She didn't want that.
She shared her disappointments also. She hurt for those around her. Sister Rose was hurt when people discounted her because of her age.
She was my biggest cheerleader. Everyone needs a Sister Rose in their life. Introducing me to the sisters, she heralded every one of my accomplishments, big or small.
Years went by and then one day I made the trip alone. I had the task of telling my friend that my husband, the love of my life, had been unfaithful and was moving back to England to be with his mistress.
We both cried that day. He was her friend too. She was a huge source of support for me in the ensuing months when I found adultery was minor in comparison to the heinous offenses that landed him in jail, probably for the rest of his life.
She told me about the time he came to visit her after we separated. “Well Carolee, there is no other woman, and it's all your fault,” she told me this laughing. Sister Rose was no dope.
Once she asserted I had a “Sears Catalog” husband. “He looked good on paper.”
When he was arrested she wanted to go see him. “He has to know that no matter what he has done, Jesus still loves him.” His betrayal was of such a magnitude that I didn't know if I could help her with this. Eventually I contacted the prison and asked that she be put on his visitors list. They never called back, I assume he was too embarrassed to see her.
Ministering to prisoners was nothing new to Sister Rose. One of her happiest moments was when a death-row inmate converted immediately before he was killed. Sister Rose had been writing to him, encouraging him to turn his life over to Jesus and ask forgiveness for his sins. She read the account of the execution in the paper and the prison chaplain reported that he acknowledged Jesus and begged forgiveness.
Her charity was real-- palpable-- and I wanted to be more like her.
Sister Rose's example inspired me to pray regularly for my ex-husband.
It wasn't until Sister Rose was 102 that she finally consented to use a walker. I was visiting with one of the other chaplains from the hospital. I had for quite some time tried to tactfully suggest that she might want to try a walker. She would give me withering looks that convinced me to drop the subject. Sister Clare took one look at her and said, “Rose, you need a walker.” Sister Clare then got one of the aides to bring her one and that was that! Her hip pain, the only health concern she ever expressed, was eased because of that walker. I was very grateful to Sister Clare for her forthright insistence.
My new found dire financial circumstances found me visiting less often. I was working four jobs and working every day. I didn't mind working but I minded not seeing Sister Rose. She was a priority. I still managed to find ways to see her fairly often but I missed the frequency I had enjoyed previously.
People would comment on how marvelous I was to be so loyal. I always pointed out that the joy was mine and that when I visited it was definitely as much for me as it was for her.
What I could count on was her love. She always was happy to see me. Our faces would light up when we saw each other. She would tell me she was ready to meet her Jesus. My only comment was, “Well you might be ready but I am not ready for you to leave,” admittedly selfish!
During the last weeks of her life she had moved to a wheelchair. While my heart was saddened for my friend, the wheelchair provided an opportunity to take her outside for a wonderful walk on a gorgeous day. Whenever we went outside she always wanted to go to the sisters' cemetery. That time was no exception. She stopped before many of the graves and prayed for her friends.
One of the last visits I had with her was when she was taken to the local Catholic hospital because she became faint. Her friend, Sister Eileen, called and told me she was admitted. I quickly went to see her. When I arrived she was sleeping. She woke, saw me and gave me a big smile and said, “Here I am lying around doing nothing!” She went back to the mother house that afternoon.
Two weeks later I got another call from Sister Eileen. Sister Rose was not doing well. They had her anointed and called in hospice.
This time I really raced. I arrived to see my friend wracked with pain but I was so glad to be there. The morphine began to work. I stayed. I prayed the rosary and prayed some more. I read to her from her Liturgy of the Hours book. I sang to her.
I prayed to St. Anthony to help her find Jesus. St Anthony was one of our favorite saints. I still have the statue of him she gave to me when she left the hospital.
I kept whispering in her ear, “Go to Jesus. He's waiting for you.”
Her sister friends could not have been kinder. They knew how special we were to each other and they honored me by allowing me to be with her. Sisters would come in and out of her room, checking on their friend who would be leaving them soon.
They told me the Friday before she became so ill she went out into the hall and thanked all the aides and nurses for taking such good care of her.
The circumstances of Sister Rose's death provided one of those rare moments in one's life when God's love comes up and washes you in its greatness. He allows you to drink it in, to revel in it, to be enveloped in his loving generosity.
Sister Rose died on the 13th of June, the Feast of St. Anthony, with only me by her side. In a mother house steeping with nuns, God graced this very faulty woman with the beautiful gift of being the one to walk my friend home.
I will forever be grateful for witnessing, when once again, God told Sister Rose, “I have something better for you.”

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Bit of Cadmium


Saint Michael the Archangel,
defend us in battle.
Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray;
and do Thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host -
by the Divine Power of God -
cast into hell, satan and all the evil spirits,
who roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls.

And sociopaths, be our protection against sociopaths....

The small brown bottle stared at me challenging me to pick an emotion. I couldn't. I stood there swimming in a mixture of disbelief, exuberance and anger.

It all started about five years ago in the final months of my marriage to my ex-husband Geoff.

I made coffee in the morning, he made tea at night. No matter how annoyed or happy I might be, the coffee got made and brought to Geoff in bed. It was love as action, something tangible – you could put your hand on the mug and feel the warmth, the love. Presumably it was the same for him. He brought me chamomile mixed with mint or rose hips. Geoff even sent to his homeland, England, to get my favorite, chamomile with lime.

Something happened those last months – occasionally the tea tasted metallic. The difference was subtle but I knew what my tea was supposed to taste like. I told Geoff, he got defensive. There wasn't anything else to say. Maybe he forgot to use water from the Brita pitcher? “Yes, that must be it,” I thought.

That was also the time when Geoff suggested I get life insurance. I laughed at that because I was a Catholic chaplain making not very much money. “Surely the year and a half of my salary that comes with my employment would be enough?” He wasn't so sure.

Then there were the headaches. They were persistent and painful. They went away the day I temporarily moved in with my sister after finding a $2,000 phone bill to his “fiance” in England. They didn't return until a head injury brought me migraines.

The significance of the convergence of the metallic tasting tea, the life insurance and the headaches escaped me until after the sociopath I had married had been arrested for doing unspeakable things to two little girls. A few months after that I remembered the funny tasting tea and I wondered whether he actually could have been trying to poison me?

There were only a few people I mentioned this to since I thought it sounded paranoid and just a little crazy. I must admit none of the people I told treated it that way. They thought I just might be right but we would never know.

At least I didn't think so...

Many people think I should move out of the very old house in which I was raised. I love it. Throughout the entire nightmare that surrounded the events involving my ex-husband, my house and more importantly, my neighbors, provided comfort, lots of it.

So, I stayed.

I finally had a little money to take care of the wiring and the cabinets in my kitchen, both in dire need of replacing. One of my neighbors is an electrical contractor who like me, grew up in his house.

He was absolutely appalled at the state of the wiring. Geoff, who told me he was an electrical engineer before becoming a systems validation consultant, had done a lot of rewiring.

At one point my neighbor said, “This is so bad. It's like Geoff was trying to kill you.”

Funny you should say that,” I recounted my suspicions about the tea.

The next week my neighbor yelled up from the basement, “Carolee, put the water on … you're going to want a cup of tea.”

I had no clue what my dear neighbor could have meant. I went to the basement and there it was, a bottle of cadmium, a heavy metal – very, very toxic. It was hidden between the duct work and the ceiling. It would have stayed there, indefinitely, undetectable, had it not been for the work being done.

Immediately I shared this news with my other neighbor and another friend who had always believed Geoff had tampered with my tea.

Still, I wanted it somehow not to be true. My father worked in the labs in the research center of the Bethlehem Steel Corporation. I immediately became as knowledgeable as I could about cadmium. They do use it in electroplating. I am convinced it was my father's cadmium. I am also equally convinced Geoff took it from my dad's messy workbench and decided to use it for his own purpose. There is no scenario that would explain my father hiding it. He had bottles of hydrochloric acid, a bag of asbestos, and other not-so-healthy components of his work on display for all to see.

I had to admire Geoff's ingenuity. The hiding spot was very conveniently located just about two feet from the stairs leading from the kitchen to the basement. “I'll just nip down and get a bit of cadmium,” I could hear him saying in his Birmingham accent.

Your guardian angel must have been watching over you,” someone said.

Yes,” I thought, but where were the guardian angels of the little girls so violated by the monster I had married?

As a chaplain, especially when I was working trauma, this question of why God allows evil to be wrought on the innocent was a constant companion to my ministry.

The question, never answered satisfactorily, has surfaced again, this time with very personal implications.

It is that whole free will phenomenon. The gift. The hope of a loving God that we will choose to love him.

The gift comes with many, many complications. To say we don't always choose good is to state the obvious. The choice not to do good sometimes creates dire consequences to the innocent.

If we are brave enough to look and accept a God so magnificent that he does the miraculous, we also are compelled to ask why he chooses not to help those suffering.

Why when facing this great dichotomy – the loving God vs, the cold unfeeling one – am I so convicted of God's love for each and every one of us?

That even though he didn't swoop down and stop Geoff before he damaged the little girls he abused, that I believe God cried with all of us at the carnage Geoff left in the wake of his narcissism.

Feeling vs. action, like the cup of coffee I brought to my husband every morning, is also apparent in my faith life. There are times when I feel loved by God – when I feel like I'm loving God. It happens sometimes during adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, when God's very full presence fills me and I have no choice but to kneel in awe.

There are times when that doesn't happen but I stay adoring anyway because my faith tells me God is there whether I feel it or not. My actions tell God I love him, my feelings don't.

God's free will plan sometimes unleashes horrendous events, despicable actions.  That this time they happened in a very personal way by a monster who made choice after choice to do evil doesn't change my belief in a loving God.

Because he did not intercede when I thought he should does not diminish the miracles he has given us through his will alone and through the hands of those who love him.

I do believe all heaven eventually came together and aided the police in discovering Geoff. My prayers for him were heard when he was incarcerated for hopefully the rest of his life, where he can no longer sin against children.

It was God who gave the police and the district attorney the gifts they needed in order to prosecute Geoff.

God gave me a gift when it came time to testify against him. Waiting to go into the courtroom, I was literally sick. I prayed. I knew many were praying for me. When I entered the witness box, I felt those prayers, calm descended. I was able to identify the body of the man I had loved so much in the most vile of photographs.

God gave gifts of courage to people to be outraged and stand up against the evil.

God gave gifts of empathy and compassion to the counselors his victims will hopefully visit.

God gave us beauty to thumb its nose at the hideous images found in pedophiles' possessions.

When this terrible drama was playing out I think I would have succumbed to despair if it were not for the friends and family who I am convinced God helped me recognize as ambassadors of his love.

I have no answers when it comes to knowing how to prevent sociopaths from destroying lives. They are about manipulation, lies and deceit. Their purpose in life is to satisfy whatever pleasures them. If it hurts other people, tough.

I do know that each one of us is called to be holy, to love freely, to give of ourselves, to make God's world a better place, if only in little ways. When we call on God to join us, we together become a formidable force against the evil one. God will win!



Friday, November 30, 2012

One Year Without a Date -- Celibacy Celebrated



 Thank you Jesus! For real.
I woke up and realized that this past year I have been  happy. This in spite of many disappointments. My vision has not improved. Panic ensues at the thought of serious multi-tasking. Headaches are still a bitch. My neck and shoulders feel like I am carrying a ton while all I'm doing is lifting my sweet little granddaughter. Cognitive therapy has now replaced physical and occupational therapy -- vision therapy to follow. The $20,000 grant that I was awarded to fix up my house was ultimately not received because I don't need $20,000 worth of repairs, I need $50,000 – the logic of that still escapes me. I failed as a copywriter because I couldn't do the necessary tasks required of my still-healing brain. I have been invaded by bastardly squirrels.
That litany of misfortune doesn't tell the true tale.
Something beautiful has happened this past year. I've gotten stronger. I have more confidence in my decisions. I have invested more of myself in the people I care about – my family, my friends, my neighborhood, my community. The result has satiated me like no man ever could.
I do not credit myself for being determined in my happiness. I thank God, who I believe directed this growth. The Holy Spirit continues to fly in to my life providing loving guidance.
Still there hasn't been a single date. I did have two parking lot attendants at the local hospital vying for my attention but I wasn't biting, or writhing or anything.
It isn't that the physical expression of romantic love holds no appeal. It does. Sometimes I get downright lonely.
A dear friend of mine was honored as a gala. Despite being on the tail end of a bad case of bronchitis, I got dolled up, put on a borrowed top, did my hair, applied a face and went. My son described my appearance that night to my daughter, “Mom looked great. There were bosoms involved!”
My friend got all the accolades she so deserves and then the dancing began. Heartache. I watched as much as I could and then had to excuse myself to privately mourn my single status. I wonder if it's silly that slow dancing is where I long the most for a man's presence? I am not a good dancer but I love being held and led and losing myself in the music, the man and the magic of the dance.
This, “You don't have a partner” phenomenon happened in the summer too. My friends invited me to a band concert that turned out to be a dance. I still remember the feeling of wanting to be in among the music and people moving effortlessly to oldies but goodies.
If I had been alone I would have prayed the rosary for help in getting through a difficult time. But I wasn't alone. Therein lies the hidden joy.
Despite yearning for human touch on starry nights, there is happiness. I have community – real community – friends I love, family to whom I matter. There is no dating awkwardness. This space away from sexuality has been freeing.
When I was very young my self esteem was such that I thought my sexuality was the best gift I could give a guy. I believe God led me to a new awareness of the many worlds of loving.  In so doing  he has opened up my own loving-ness. God created all of us as vehicles of his love. I now know I'm one of them.
Celibacy does not rob me of the ability to meaningfully interact. To share love allowing God to direct the process is to know wonder.
With my history it would be almost hilarious to say I am committing myself to celibacy. I won't pretend that I don't find chubby, intellectual-looking guys very interesting. What I know is that no matter what happens there will be love, God will always be there inviting us to step into his dance.


Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Meek Can Have It!



“Since the Passover of the Jews was near, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. He found in the temple area those who sold oxen, sheep and doves, as well as the money changers seated there. He made a whip out of cords and drove them all out of the temple area, with the sheep and oxen, and spilled the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables, and to those who sold doves he said, “Take these out of here, and stop making my Father's house a marketplace.” John 2:13-22



This morning I am thanking God for that passage. Last night I got very, very angry. I fashioned my whip and then I didn't overturn tables, I posted on Facebook.

The referenced passage teaches us a lot about anger. Jesus did not just react immediately to what he considered an affront, he took his time, he thought about it the entire time he was fashioning his whip.  I thank God this model for Christian anger exists.  Thank you, Jesus!

When we're walking the Christian walk, I think we receive subtle and not so subtle messages to squelch our anger. “Turn the other cheek,” is a mantra to many. “Nice Christians don't raise their voices,” and of course, my personal favorite, “The meek shall inherit the earth.” There is nothing meek about me and I don't really mind missing out on my inheritance. 

We are confronted daily with these schizophrenic messages from God's word. So what to do? We are left with the task of deciding how to apply Jesus' teachings to our everyday lives.

We have help awaiting us. It is stating the obvious to say that we might consider praying before working on those whips, “ Holy Spirit, a little direction, please!”

The decision to act out in anger should also be accompanied by volumes of introspection. Is it ego acting out or is my anger righteous? In last night's case, I have to admit my ego had taken one too many blows from the subject of my wrath but I don't think ego was the primary motivator. I'd be a terrible liar if I didn't admit it was a contributing factor.

Is it wrong to defend our egos? I don't think so, not always. We are children of God. The children he created in his image. When the image is ridiculed, condescended to, and reviled, I think our loving Father wants us to say, “Don't do this to me!”

One other, admittedly subjective, measure is the feeling after we display our anger. Last night there was peace! Peace is so subjective but I think we all know when we've got it and we know when we don't. Last night there was no tugging at my conscience. I fell asleep happy that for once I didn't let a bully go unchecked.

Please see my Facebook page for original rant.  

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

At the Feet of the King, Adoration -- Up Close and Personal

Warm anticipation enveloped me as I hit the pillow. No, this was not a hot date. It was Tuesday and tomorrow I would be visiting a king.

Wednesday was Adoration day at Sacred Heart Hospital.

Four years ago the small community hospital of about 243 beds was attempting to stave off a takeover by Lehigh Valley Hospital, a goliath. We in Pastoral Care viewed a non-Catholic identity for Sacred Heart an abomination so we decided to call in the big guns – that would be Jesus Christ, the Lord, the King, the beautiful merciful God for whom the hospital was named.

So we began Adoration -- the Catholic practice that stems from the belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Unlike many of our sister Christian faiths who believe communion is just a symbolic reminder of the Last Supper, we take the Gospel of John literally and believe through the priest's hands at Mass, ordinary bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ.

This Wednesday was special, not only was I going to get to spend time at the feet of my king, I got to prepare the altar and lead the beginning and end of Adoration. This is an honor I don't deserve but someone needed to do it and I was available.

The day began with an intercom prayer and a message urging hospital employees, visitors, and patients, if able, to pay a visit to the little chapel to experience the peace and calm this practice can afford.

Then I carefully arranged candles and flowers on the altar. It was time to uncover the monstrance, the beautifully embellished holder in which the Blessed Sacrament would spend the day. I then went to the tabernacle and took the special host reserved for adoration and placed it in the monstrance.

I bowed before my sweet Jesus and began singing, “O Come Let Us Adore Him, O Come Let Us Adore Him, O Come Let Us Adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

Memories of the first time I heard the familiar Christmas carol in adoration swept me to a scene in a small dark chapel in Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania. There I was sock-footed with a room full of Mother Teresa's sisters, wrapped in their white saris with blue trim,  bowing in joyful adoration, singing the familiar tune.

Other adoration memories from my youth filled my mind with incense and no real knowledge of what was happening – only that it was a very big deal – and that instead of a one-kneed genuflection, people knelt on both knees and maybe hesitated just a fraction before getting up and entering the pew.
That childhood awe has transformed to a real hunger for this beautiful devotion. Now, I can't do anything but bow before the blessed sacrament. It is his loving kingship which I am acknowledging. Mother Teresa's sisters taught me well. I understand now.

Through the years, I have fallen in love with Jesus. The Jesus that still loved St. Peter, even after he betrayed him. The Jesus who loved the woman caught in adultery. The Jesus who loved his mother, who looked after her, even from the cross.
I love the Jesus who healed – who still heals – our brokenness, our bodies, our minds, our souls. The Jesus who came to earth in a filthy stable, who is willing to enter into our very own dark, dirty selves, to stay with us and make us clean – yes I love Him, my king. Jesus who took my brokenness to the cross with him, I grew to be in love with him. 

This is one of my favorite readings from Luke:
A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment,she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:36-48


I love the Jesus, who allowed that woman -- some say Mary Magdalene, to pour costly perfumed oil all over his feet, to love him, extravagantly, blatantly, unabashedly.  I long to break my alabaster jar and love my king but for now I can spend precious time with him in adoration.

Oh come Let Us Adore Him!

This story was also published in Catholic Online      www.Catholic.org


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Betrayal, Forgiveness and Thank You, God!

We both sat on the edge of her bed with tears streaming down our cheeks. 
 
This story began a long time ago.
 
Betrayal violently assaulted me. I had loved and along with me, that love was betrayed. The betrayal surfaced in layers, one revelation worse than the last until I felt filled with the hurt.

I am a follower of Jesus, a Christian. I say that with no pompousness or supposition that it somehow makes me holy. I am not particular holy. But I love Jesus. I have attempted to allow that love to dictate most of my middle-aged decisions. I have come to believe fully that God loves me – broken and so less-than-perfect. I am convinced he loves me anyway.

That conviction led me to fight against that betrayal. I feared that if I let my spiritual guard down for even a day the hate would overwhelm me. I didn't want that – none of me wanted that.

So I prayed – for my betrayer. I prayed a lot for him in the beginning, not as much now. Two chaplain friends helped me. I don't think I could have done it without them. They are beautiful people with open loving hearts. They knew what I was fighting. They helped me walk that very dark road. In between the prayers were sobs. I just couldn't help sobbing. You need to be brave to listen to someone's wailing. There were a lot of brave friends and family walking with me then. I will always be grateful for each and every one of them. 
 
Maybe it was my understanding of God's love for me that helped me to want to live. I knew my children needed me. I wanted to live for them but it was more than that – it was an attempt to see myself through God's eyes that kept me going. It was fall. I walked almost every day with my Saint Bernard, Winnie. We would walk along the river and through the pastures of a park nearby. They were not happy walks but something kept me putting one foot in front of the other. I kept telling myself that if I walked enough I wouldn't need anti-depressants. The beauty of the season was balm for my aching heart.

There were so many wonderful people loving me during that time. Friends still asked me for dinner even though they knew I wasn't good company. My sister welcomed me to her home. 

One day dear neighbors brought a bunch of goodies to my sister's for me -- a wonderful big pillow with pigs all over it that Kristi and her son made for me, pumpkin pancakes and a jack o' lantern. Each gift lovingly selected to make me feel better. 

It is my simplistic faith that allows me to think that's how it is with God. He loves us even at our worse.

A few months later I was again assaulted with information nobody should have to know. This time the betrayal spread. I learned I had been married to not only an adulterer, but a monster. 
 
I began the work of forgiveness again. I prayed for him. I sobbed again. This time for all the people hurt by his selfish narcissism. I still wanted to be whole. I wanted to be a woman of love and not hate. I was struggling. The horrible images of his offenses would haunt me. They would come up and never leave my stunned and shattered mind.

My loyal chaplain friends came and prayed over me. Michaelene begged Jesus to help me. Russell anointed me and prayed very specifically for those images to be gone. God answered those prayers. The night I was anointed I slept without my horrible companions prancing around in my mind. They have not returned to haunt my sleep. Thank you God!

Still, I continued to struggle with forgiveness. I could pray but I could feel no forgiveness. I could never envision saying, “I forgive you.” It was too big and too bad and just too much.

I heard about a healing retreat.  Forgiveness was one of the themes. I couldn't afford it and I needed to work.  I was working all the time by then in order to try to keep my home, still a huge source of solace.

I was praying with my friends in front of the Blessed Sacrament when Russell challenged me about why I wasn't going to the retreat. I explained that I couldn't afford it and I had to work. He whipped out three one hundred dollar bills and offered to fill in for me at my weekend job. Thank you God for wonderful friends.

So I went. 
 
A cocky priest gave a talk on forgiveness. I went to confession to him later. I said I was really struggling with forgiveness and he told me, “You just have to do it.”

I felt despair.  How could I possibly go beyond what I had done? I thought praying for him was enough but no, I had to forgive him.

One of the reasons I wanted to be at this retreat was to see one of the presenters, Kathleen McCarthy.  I had spoken to her on the phone about my situation. She had a similar experience.

It was her I wanted to talk to about this forgiveness question. She was in demand from the other retreatants.  At 12:45 in the morning, I received a life-changing gift.

I told her of my dilemma, that I prayed for this man, saying empty words but saying them anyway. Then she blew my mind.
Kathleen said, “Think about Jesus.”
But I had been thinking about Jesus.
“He was beaten, He was mocked. He was spit upon. He was stripped of his clothes. He was nailed to the cross,” she continued.
“What did he say on the cross?”
“He didn't say, 'I forgive you.' He said, 'Father, forgive them.' If Jesus couldn't do it. Why do you think you have to? Just ask our Father to forgive him, he'll take care of it. You don't have to.”
I stood there sobbing, but this time it was relief that fed my tears. The beautiful release washed over me, knowing I didn't have to try and do the impossible. I simply asked God to forgive him and that was enough.

Fast forward three years -- there I was with one of my precious psych patients. She was sobbing. She too was being asked the impossible. I was able to share the beautiful news that when we just can't will ourselves to forgive we can give it to our loving Father who will take it off our hands. Thank you God!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Death Knell

Saying goodbye can be so very hard. The beautiful convent at Saint Ursula Church in Fountain Hill, Pennsylvania is soon to be demolished.

People will say, “What a shame.”

The convent's death sentence is a result of pessimism and lack of hope – the very things our faith should be curing, instead of fostering. It is an example of the staggering lack of vision that pervades our church in certain dioceses. This has been one of those dioceses.

We have a new bishop, a reportedly truly holy man. He has not yet had a chance to make his mark. My fear is that the bureaucracy of the job will rob him of his holiness.

Jesus abhorred that bureaucracy that pervades our American churches. He preached constantly against the practices of the scribes and pharisees. 
 
Jesus, in picking St. Peter as his first bishop, thumbed his nose at the idea that a bishop should be awash in balance sheets and scandal control. St. Peter was full of hope, optimism and love of our Lord. So human, he didn't let his pessimism get in the way. When he walked on the water to Jesus he started to falter but where did he look – to Jesus. When he was on the mountain during the transfiguration, he wanted to do something, anything, even build a tent! 
 
When he denied the man he loved the most out of a pitiful need for self-preservation, he humbly begged his Jesus to forgive him, knowing before the words were out of his mouth his request would be granted.
Jesus picked a very human pontiff, one full of faults but full of hope.

The projected demise of the convent is a very big deal to me. I admittedly take it personally. The empty space will be a monument to my lack of follow-through and a testament to my present frailties.
  
I had a vision. I am not a particularly holy person, but I saw that empty convent as a tool for God's love, a place for mentally ill women to come and live, to be safe and secure but most of all loved.

The convent, through a lack of care, deteriorated to the point that serious amounts of money would be needed to salvage it and turn it into a place where God's love would flourish.

I spent over a year of my life getting estimates coming up with a practical way of addressing the enormous cost of renovation. It was a journey that included many people helping me. In the end the local Catholic hospital that was going to collaborate in the venture was forced to withdraw because of their precarious financial position.

This is not an attempt to withhold blame from myself. Personal crises reared their ugly heads. I did not have the strength to keep pushing through them to find other ways to save the convent for the women who truly needed it. That was my selfish act of self-preservation. Staying sane was hard work. Through much love from my friends and family, I did. God's love made manifest through beautiful people who cared enough to keep me going.

When the convent was actually put up for sale at a very low price it was like a shove from above. I proposed that the diocese hand it over for me to use for the original vision I saw. I would form a lay community dedicated to the Eucharist and the mentally ill. We would make habitable a small portion of the convent very quickly and then move to renovate room by room, project by project. I would have sought support from many of the charitable organizations within our diocese. The diocese appeared amenable to this but said the decision was ultimately the pastor's.

We have a pastor who has many good traits. He is kind to the developmentally delayed. He visits parishioners in the hospital. When I think of him, though, it is his pessimism that comes to the fore. I don't understand it. We are people of faith. We should be people of hope. Jesus is alive! He lives in our tabernacles. Two thousand years have passed and he is with us – for real. How can pessimism survive when that belief exists?

But sadly it does. Almost every single homily delivered is one of pessimism, even on Christmas, even shockingly, on Easter. Where is the hope that gives the faithful cause to celebrate our faith?

I had a conversation with our pastor shortly before Christmas. I wanted to bring one of my dear friends, an incredible fundraiser, to meet with him about the convent. He turned to the Lutheran pastor standing next to him and said, “She just doesn't understand the way these things work. It isn't up to me.”

It was up to him. According to the diocesan hierarchy, it was ultimately the pastor who would decide if my proposal could happen. He wouldn't even listen. 
 
The destruction of the convent will just be further evidence of a diocese that put its time effort and treasure into tearing down and destroying. The church “consolidations” that have taken place in my diocese are a mark of shame. Shuttered churches are examples of defeatism rather than hope. If all the energy that was placed into closing parishes throughout the five-county diocese was placed into keeping the churches alive we would be facing a very different picture – a portrait of evangelized neighborhoods celebrating the beautiful presence in our tabernacles and spreading God's love where it is desperately needed.

So when I look at the empty space where the beloved convent once stood I will see a palpable example of the sin of despair and hopelessness winning. Shame on us all!




Monday, March 26, 2012

Confessions of an Easter Bunny

I carefully walked up the firetruck steps helped by a couple of our borough's firefighters.  Soon the wind was whipping through my tall furry ears.  I ducked to avoid the wires overhead.  I waved to the onlookers below.  It was a wonderful day.  I was the Easter Bunny on my way to the borough's Easter egg hunt.

A few hours earlier I was at Sacred Heart Hospital helping to get the chapel ready for the celebration of the Easter vigil that night.  It was Holy Saturday! 

How could I do this about-face? How could I remove myself from the somber reflection of Jesus' great sacrifice?  The triduum was only two-thirds complete and yet I was celebrating with wild abandon.

Holy Week is my favorite week.  Easter is by far my favorite holiday. This week of the liturgical year, like no other week, invites us into the life of  Jesus.  I hear through the scriptures the stories that still deeply affect me.   The drama of the Holy Thursday and Good Friday liturgies drive home what Jesus did for all of us.

There are other aspects of the entire lent-Easter dilemma.  When do I put out the china bunnies and chicks?  When do I hang the Easter wreaths?  Most of the time I wait until Palm Sunday but this year I put up the wreaths early.  I think I needed a little reminder this year of the joy to come.

So back to the bunny, just how can I do it?

I know the ending, that's how.  My joy is premature. I don't deceive myself into thinking that there can be any  logical correlation between the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the Easter Bunny but there is a cause to celebrate – even if it is a day early!

Easter egg hunts, china chicks and bunnies, ridiculous amounts of candy, over-the-top house decorations,  can be our invitation to share the joy of the resurrection with those we know and love. 

Much gratitude to the Borough of Fountain Hill's awesome firefighters and all they do to make the borough a better, safer place to live!

This story will appear in Catholic online next week. www.Catholic.org



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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Around the Well

Following please find a reprint of my article in "Catholic Online."  The Woman at the Well is one of my very favorite Gospel readings. Comments are very welcome!
Jesus at the well with the Samaritan woman.
The strains of the famous  song from "Lilies of the Field" filled my ears once more,     "AAAmen! AAAmen! AAAmen! Amen! Amen!" It ended almost every one of my spirituality groups. Hands clapped and voices were raised - a bit of joy.

 The group was over and my patients were slowly making their way back to their rooms.

My groups were a bit different than the rest of those offered.  Mine were totally voluntary. I rejected offers from well meaning mental health aides and nurses to coerce their charges into attending. You cannot force God's love on people.  They have to want to hear it, feel it. 

We began with a simple prayer, inviting God to our group.  A prayer that our hearts be open to receive his love, some scripture, a little reflection, personal intentions, the Our Father and then that wonderful "Amen."


That formula varied little - if I had a Jewish patient we'd use the Old Testament and skip the Our Father. 


Once again I had used one of my favorite scriptures, John 4:1-42 - the story of the Woman at the Well.  Theologians offer up sophisticated explanations of the very long reading. My message could not have been more simple, some might say crude. 


"Why do you think Jesus went to her?" I asked.  My patients shook their heads, almost all of them in sad, slow motion.  Sadness that was a result of  depression, psych meds, and a life of being ostracized by a society that doesn't understand mental illness.


"He could have strolled into that town and met with the president of the Sychar PTA," I continued.                   


"But no, he went to that woman.  The woman who had been around the block one too many times, a loose woman."


"Why?" I challenged. 


"To let us know that no matter what we've done, no matter who we've slept with, no matter how broken we are, Jesus will use us to spread his news!  The news that we're loved, that he knows our sins and still loves us."


That reading has been part of my scriptural toolkit for many years. It has resonated consistently.  The beautiful faces in front of me would smile and nod.  This was truth to them.


And to me.  I am that woman.  My friends and family know I want that reading, that affirming story, read at my funeral.


Just as my patients heard in that scripture, the hope that even in their weakness they are precious, I also have heard that acclamation.  I have sought to spread God's good news, even in my brokenness.


My life is full of mistakes made, sins committed.  Telling my patients of God's love for them just as they are - broken and less than perfect - demanded a personal response from me.  I also had to look at myself differently, not through the world's eyes, but God's.  I was his daughter and he loved me.


Amen!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHHYQX-HRf8 
    © 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.  www.Catholic.org