Thursday, June 29, 2006

Trying a different layout...

... hope you like. Not sure yet if I'll keep it, though.

Is it easy on the eyes? It might need some tweaking with the fonts.

P.S. Go into the June 2006 archives to access the complete 8-part series titled "A Personal Spiritual Journey."

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A Personal Spiritual Journey (Part 8 of 8)

As I moved through this entire journey – from California, to Philadelphia, to Alabama and back; visiting family and friends, then visiting EWTN and the Shrine – I found myself going through a gradual shift, centered away from self and centered more towards God. It’s not as though I wasn’t already aware of this need, or that I wasn’t already on this path. I was. I guess it just became a little less mentally cluttered and a bit more focused.

There are vocations to the religious life, and there are vocations toward marriage. One day, through God’s providence, I’ll have a family of my own. For I know that the Lord keeps his promises. In the meantime, I remain single. And I begin to realize more fully that that is a vocation, too. I just need to continue to rely on God to lead me in the right direction, as is true for all of us. To help us discern the best use of whatever skills and talents He has given us in order for us to grow in our faith and bring glory and honor to Him.

We must work towards having a discerning mind, an open heart, a sanctified body, and a centered soul. I say a discerning mind meaning one that is set in wisdom, as opposed to a so-called "open mind" which can too easily believe or accept any random whim or fad that happens to sound good at the moment. Having an open heart which allows us to be vulnerable and compassionate, not one that quickly closes to hurt or resentment or indifference. A respect for the body as the temple of the Lord, not one that is treated as an end unto itself. And a soul focused away from self, and centered towards Christ.

That’s a tall order. As for me (being my own worst critic), aside from the Lord Himself, I know better than anyone exactly where I need to continue to make changes, adjustments, and improvements in myself and my outlook on life. And if I'm not aware, I'm sure someone else will be more than obliged to let me know.

St. Francis de Sales wrote in one of his sermons, “We must be very faithful, but without anxiety or eagerness; we must use the means that are given to us according to our vocation, and then remain in peace concerning all the rest.” ~ Lenten Sermons of St. Francis de Sales (pg 120)

It was time to leave Hanceville, and head back to Birmingham. The following morning would begin a return to my home in California. I slowly walked back to my car with the seed of inner peace having been planted. I drove away, passing under the modest archway, down the rural road, past the long winding rows of white fences, and eventually turned south onto the remote county road.

The clouds shifted and began to block the sunny haze. And once again the skies opened to release a wild torrent of rain.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders… The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning… The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever.” ~ Psalm 29:3,7,20

I drive past a myriad of trees to the left and to the right, countless trees. And I’m reminded of the early morning sparrows crying out for sustenance, and I heard the owl questioning his purpose, and I heard the woodpecker oblivious to the nails of sin he was hammering into his Savior. I saw the Cross, and Jesus hanging there in his mercy. And I saw the countless crosses that each of humanity bears on its shoulders as we strive to unite ourselves to Christ. And I saw the rain transformed, as tears from Heaven cleansing our souls and washing away our pains.

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” ~ Hebrews 10:22

With yet another rapid shift of the clouds, ever moving eastward, the rain ceased, and the hazy sun reappeared. And I drove passed the deep gorges in the landscape before me. And I’m reminded of the depth of God’s love. On my left I pass a massive wall of rock stretching out from the tree line, solid yet multi-layered granite in a horizontal slate-like formation. And I recall Christ as our “Rock” and our foundation. And the many layers of his grace and mercy

“Banish anxiety from your heart and cast off the troubles of your body.” ~ Ecclesiastes 9:12

Continuing down the road I noticed that water is pouring forth from the rock - gushing not just over the rock but also from within, between the many layers.

“Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” ~ John 4:14

“For the Lamb… will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” ~ Revelation 7:17

As I come closer to the Interstate, I reach a clearing in the road. And under the blazing sun I behold the freshly baptized trees shimmering in varied hues of jasper and jade and emerald across the corrugated horizon.

So, what does this whole journey say to me, and also to you? Three things:

1) Regarding the past - forgiveness of self and of others. Seek first the Lord's forgiveness for the mistakes you've made, and as He has forgiven you, so should you forgive others.

2) Regarding the future - release the anxiety about the future, and the eagerness to control it. You can make plans, but don't try to control something that's not yet here and uncontrollable, for you may be blindsided or surprised by unforseen events. So, trust in the Lord.

3) Regarding the present - patience and humility. As Bro. Leo said, "be in the moment." And, as St. Peter (the man whom Our Lord and Savior named as the “Rock” on which to build His Church) gently instructs in his letter to “God’s elect, strangers in the world”:

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” ~ 1 Peter 5:6-7

So... pray, persevere, be thankful... and turn down the volume of your life so that you're better able to listen to God... so that He is better able to release the seed of inner peace that he's already planted inside of you. Sure, we'll continue to stumble and fall during our journeys. But at least we'll be falling forward.


Source Materials:

Biblical Quotes: the Revised Standard Version – 2nd Catholic Edition and the New International Version

“The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales (for Lent given in 1622)” ~ (TAN Books)

“The Confessions of St. Augustine” ~ (Doubleday Image Books)

Pilgrimage Talk ~ given by Brother Leo, MFVA, at The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament (May 17, 2006)

“Come And See: A Pilgrim’s Picture Book of The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament” ~ Our Lady of the Angels Monastery (self-published)

“Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve and a Network of Miracles” ~ by Raymond Arroyo (Doubleday)

Web Link Sources:

Suggested Reading List (by author):

The Writings of St. Francis of Assisi (patron of the Franciscan order – MFVA - at EWTN)

The Writings of St. Clare of Assisi (patroness of the Poor Clare order – PCPA - at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery)

G.K. Chesterton (Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, What’s Wrong With The World, and his biographies on St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas)

Scott Hahn (Rome Sweet Home, The Lamb’s Supper, Lord Have Mercy, Swear To God, Hail Holy Queen)

Rod Bennett (The Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words)

Patrick Madrid (Surprised By Truth, Pope Fiction)

Rabbi David Dalin (The Myth of Hitler’s Pope)

Norma McCorvey (Won By Love)

Psalm 139


EWTN is available on these channels:

• DishTV - channel 261
• DirectTV - channel 422
• Sirius Satellite Radio – channel 160

(check your local cable and AM/FM radio listings for local stations)

See the Chapel on EWTN with each broadcast of the Daily Mass.

See the Shrine on EWTN's Sunday broadcasts of “Benediction & Devotion” (3pm pacific)

A Personal Spiritual Journey (Part 7 of 8)...

Upon entering through the side door, you are stunned by the awesomeness, the power, the spaciousness, the beauty, the silence, and the peace.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.” ~ Psalm 37:7

White marble, precious gold adornments, rare woods, intricately designed stained glass windows, vaulted ceiling. Tall white columns – wide, firm and secure. The floors and wainscot portions of the walls laid with various shades of marble and red jasper (jasper being the first foundation of the New Jerusalem, the City of God in Revelations 21).

Sanctus-Sanctus-Sanctus written in the three steps to the Altar. And on the face of the altar is a detailed mosaic image of a Pelican feeding its young by piercing its own breast and offering its own blood. A symbol of Christ that dates back to the beginnings of Christianity. And I’m reminded of that early morning one week prior, when the sparrows were crying out for nourishment and comfort in the pre-dawn hours. And I’m reminded of my own late night cries for comfort – as a small child for its parent, and even today for my Eternal Parent, my Eternal Father.

The backdrop of the main altar is the ornately-speared Reredos (55’ high at it's highest point - made of rare cedar and shimmering in 24-karat gold-leaf).

The golden Tabernacle in the reredos behind the altar.

And the unmistakable and undeniably impressive Monstrance (nearly 8 foot tall gold and bejeweled). At its center - the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ exposed for perpetual adoration.

“Times must be set and hours must be assigned to provide for our health of soul.” ~ St. Augustine, Confessions: Book 6, Chapter 11.

The resident order of nuns, the Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration, are sectioned off sight unseen behind the reredos (approx. ¼ of the church). Most of them only appearing in public in a section behind a grill to the south of the altar during mass. Otherwise, most of the time they remain cloistered, maintaining adoration of the blessed sacrament, saying the rosary or novenas, singing hymns and chants, going through the liturgy of the hours, doing their daily functions and chores throughout the monastery.

There are 8 Large Stained Glass Windows (four along the north wall, four along the south wall) depicting eight scenes during the life of Christ, again with his Mother present:

- The Annunciation
- The Visitation
- The Adoration of the Magi
- The Hidden Life (depicting Jesus as a young boy with Joseph the Carpenter & Mary, His Mother)
- The Resurrection
- The Ascension
- The Descent of the Hold Spirit
- The Assumption and Coronation of Mary (Revelation 12)

Above these larger stained glass windows, in the second level, are 14 smaller Stained Glass Windows (seven along the north wall and seven along the south wall) representing:

- Each of the Nine Choirs of Angels (as enumerated in the Bible)
- The three archangels mentioned in the Bible by name: Michael, Gabriel & Rafael
- The Angel of the Apocalypse (mentioned in the Book of Revelation)
- And a Guardian Angel (representing the legion of these angels who’re charged
with watching over, guiding, comforting & protecting each one of us, individually)

And the angels in these windows were designed so that each one (depending on where it was placed along the walls) is facing towards the Real Presence of Christ in the Monstrance and Tabernacle.

Above the west wall in the back of the church is what is called the West Rose Window (depicting God the Father) and above the east wall behind the altar is the East Rose Window (depicting the Holy Spirit in the image of a dove).

Behind the reredos, the Poor Clare nuns begin reciting The Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel, and their angelic voices rise above and float ethereally in this shrine to our Lord and our God.

After trying to absorb and comprehend all of this breathtaking beauty, I am silenced like Zachariah. No. More accurately, I’m silenced like Job, who after reciting his litany of complaints (valid as they might be) and receiving weak excuses and poor advice from his friends (as well intentioned as they were), is suddenly questioned by the Almighty Lord, saying - “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the universe?”

“For He Himself is our peace.” ~ Ephesians 2:14

Upon leaving the church, I (as several others also do) I take the time to write down a note for special intentions and deposit it in the prayer box on the way out the door, ensuring that the nuns and friars here at this blessed place will offer their own fervent prayers. And all one can do is meditate on the experience as you quietly stroll the grounds amongst the deafening silence.

Now, this whole monastery was inspired by a trip Mother Angelica made to South America in preparations for starting a Spanish language television network for Latin America. While on a pilgrimage in Bogotá, Colombia, she went to the Sanctuary of the Divine Infant Jesus (founded nearly a century earlier by a Father John Rizzo – the same name as her own father). She was praying while staring at the beautiful statue of the Child Jesus there, when suddenly she saw the Child Jesus turn towards her and say, “Build me a Temple and I will help those who help you.” As soon as she returned to America, she began making plans to find a location and build this Shrine and monastery.

And what is even more amazing about this entire sacred, inspired and inspiring place named The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Angels Monastery is this important fact – (quoting Mother Angelica in her introduction to “Come and See: A Pilgrim’s Picture Book of The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament”):

“We had no money to build, but we never tried to raise funds, and EWTN had no participation in paying for any part of the Temple. This was totally a project of Our Lady of the Angels Monastery… The entire edifice – Church, Piazza, Monastery, Enclosure Walls, roads – everything was paid for by [just] five families who wanted their donations to remain anonymous.” ~ Mother Angelica


Monday, June 19, 2006

A Personal Spiritual Journey (Part 6 of 8)...

Upon entering the Lower Church you are faced with massively thick white marble columns, supporting a low ceiling, and along the back wall are the crypts for those cloistered nuns who eventually pass from this life and enter the glory of Heaven. Only two or three of the order have been laid to rest at this point in time.

Brother Leo (one of the Franciscan brothers) was asked on a moments’ notice to fill in for another brother to give a talk to a group of people on their pilgrimage retreat. These talks are open to anyone who enters the church and are not exclusive to the small groups attending. And in his half-impromptu/half-prepared presentation, Brother Leo said some profound things.

He started off with a whimsical hypothesis of what Heaven must be like. Or more specifically, what would we be like in Heaven. He gleaned from scripture the images of Jesus after his resurrection. He was able to suddenly appear to His disciples who were cowering in a locked room, so we may be able to walk through walls. Jesus ate fish with His disciples, so we may be able to eat as well. We would be able to move at the speed of thought, at one moment being in one place, then immediately appearing somewhere else far away. In considering the transfigured body of Christ, we would be filled with bright white light. And, of course, as scripture states, “[there will be] no more pain, or tears, or suffering, or death.” (Revelation 21:4)

St. Francis de Sales, in his Lenten Sermons, comments further that we will be able to “see, hear, consider, [and] understand more perfectly” when we reach the glory of Heaven. That we will be able to recognize those whom we’ve never met while here in this life, and that we will “know each other by name.” That our level of awareness and the “power” and “harmony of [our] actions [will be] perfected with divine consolation.”

“All is perfected and brought to perfection in the eternal beatitude of Heaven.” ~ Lenten Sermons of St. Francis de Sales (pgs 54, 57)

But, until then, we are left on this earth - where we tend to strangle ourselves with countless anxieties. Then Bro. Leo quoted the passage from Matthew that I read earlier in which Jesus says to “not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… [and] therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Brother Leo went on to say, “The more you complain, the more you need to thank God for all of the little things.” That “everything you have is a gift from God.” Your eyes, your hands, your ears, yourself, your life, your family, your job, everything. Even your pains and disappointments.

“I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.” ~ Psalm 3:5

Bro. Leo continued, “The past is gone… The future is not yet here... You only have the present… Be in the moment.” For there is “a reason for being where you are at, whether [that reason is] for you, or for someone else.”

How quickly we complain about a certain trial someone may be going through, or shake our heads at some injustice witnessed from a distance, or rationalize an abomination all in the name of convenience. Or we cry out to God wondering why we’re continuing to go through whatever trial we’re facing at the moment. And, in doing so, we blind ourselves to the possibility that through our own struggles someone else may finally open themselves up to God’s grace. Or when we witness someone elses struggles we obscure ourselves from the very parts of our own nature God is wanting us to confront and challenge and change.

Bro. Leo instructs, “Humble yourself.” And “think of Jesus as a good friend.” And your house as your heart. Brother Leo relayed the imagery of Jesus standing at a door, and the handle to that door is only on your side. So waits for you to open the door to your heart and to be invited in. And, even when you do let Him in, Jesus (like any gracious guest) “will only go into the rooms of your house in which you invite Him.”

Will you invite Him into your living room where the TV is? Your kitchen & dining room where you prepare and eat your meals? Your bedroom? Your telephone? Your computer? Your basement or attic? Your closets? And, of course, we have many closets, don’t we?

Brother Leo continued, “A person wounded is afraid to love. Afraid to be wounded again.” And it’s that person who needs to learn to forgive. “The things we bury inside and don’t want to talk about are the areas where Jesus wants to enter, and to heal, and to comfort.” It pleases Him “when you seek forgiveness” from Him, as well as when you yourself forgive others. “Pray for the person who did you harm, and pray for yourself to be able to forgive.” And pray to be forgiven yourself.

And then Brother Leo said this: “There is joy in the midst of suffering.” When you are in pain, suffering, anxious or depressed… it is then that Jesus is closest to you. It is at that moment that "Jesus is kissing you." And you may ask, “How could that be? My wife is seriously ill. My husband has left me. My child was killed in the prime of his life. I’m struggling to pay the bills. I’m overwhelmed with my job. I’ve been betrayed. I’m so lonely. I’m depressed and filled with despair. How could it be that Jesus is kissing me when it hurts so much?”

The reason why it hurts so much is because at those moments “Jesus is kissing you while still wearing His crown of thorns.” And I think back to the display just outside the door to the lower church. And the gnarled and twisted crown of shockingly thick yet needle-sharp finger-length thorns. And the wounds of suffering He endured for all of humanity.

And an image flashed in my mind of Jesus carrying the cross on His back. And that wooden cross was me. That very cross onto which He was nailed… was me… and you… and you… and you. Christ nailed with spikes onto the tree of our sins. And we are intimately and permanently embraced by his love and grace and mercy in His suffering and death.

Brother Leo said, “Unite you pains to the cross. Unify yourself to Jesus. Purify your life. [And] Grow in holiness.”

“In becoming man, He has taken our likeness and given us His.” ~ Lenten Sermons of St. Francis de Sales (pg 91)

Brother Leo ended his talk with these words: “Your Guardian Angels are protecting you, even if you don’t know it.”

“Some have entertained angels unawares.” ~ Hebrews 13:2

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” ~ Psalm 91:11

In speaking on when we reach Heaven, St. Francis de Sales said, “There our good angels will give us greater joy than we can imagine when we recognize them and they speak to us so lovingly of the care they had for our salvation during our mortal life.”

After taking some time to ponder and reflect on Bro. Leo’s comments, I and the others on pilgrimage began to make our way up to the Main Church.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

A Personal Spiritual Journey (Part 5 of 8)...

The following morning I drove up the Interstate to Hanceville and The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament, located in a remote section of the state. Once I got off the main highway, I began to travel down rural roads and county routes, passing fields with cows & horse ranches, the occasional home (some new, some old, some buildings being dilapidated barns). The remoteness and the richness of the greenery begins to prepare me as I make a final turn down a long yet simple stretch of roadway.

Horses grazing in the distance. White fences lining the road, leading toward the Shrine ahead. And I’m struck by the shear expanse in front of me as I crest the last hill. 380 acres of isolated farmland - 19 acres of which are behind the Monastery, sectioned off by a wall for the cloistered nuns in residence.

It’s mid-morning on a Wednesday. I park the rental car in the lot (which is purposely some distance away from the Shrine), and gradually make my way past two monuments of “The 10 Commandments” and “The Beatitudes,” behind which is a copper sculpture of Mary the Mother of God, gleaming in a polished green patina.

Then, some distance further ahead, is the wide Piazza paved in a herringbone pattern. Used for outdoor processions, and can hold up to 30,000 people. The Church at the far eastern end of the expanse.

At the west end of the piazza is Castle San Miguel - the gift shop and conference room facilities, built in a 13th century architectural design. Inside, by the east and west entrances, are tall statues of St. Michael the Archangel and St. Joan of Arc. Also in the foyer, just outside the gift shop entrance, are various tapestries, medieval manuscripts, and full-sized suits of armor (calling to mind the spiritual armor of God as enunciated in the books of Isaiah and Ephesians).

Just outside Castle San Miguel, towards the south, is a modest doorway leading into a mound in the field. Inside is the Crèche - an approx. ½-scale Nativity Scene open year-round for contemplation of the birth of Christ. A modest chapel-like setting with six small pews in front of the glass-enclosed scene. A large stone slab floor, with adobe-like walls and low ceiling. Two opposing stained glass windows with flickering wall lamps beside. Holy Water founts in the corners. And in front of the Nativity Scene is a kneeler and two banks of offertory candles to be lit by those who come with prayers and special intentions. Sacred Music gently plays from a hidden speaker system.

Back towards the piazza, in the center is the El Nino sculpture (the Monument of the Divine Child Jesus). Engraved in the steps leading up to it is a quote from Isaiah 11:6 “and a little Child shall lead them.” Behind this scuplture is the front of the church with a Romanesque/Gothic façade, and off to the side towards the back is the Bell Tower.

Atop the church you’ll notice a cross with its top piece missing. It was not like that originally. A severe storm damaged and sheared off the upper portion of that cross. But Mother Angelica chose not to have it repaired. The Tau Cross (tau is Greek for the letter “T”) was preferred by St. Francis of Assisi, using it as the signature of his writing. And being that EWTN and the monastery houses the Franciscans and the Poor Clares (St. Clare also being from Assisi), they decided to keep the damaged cross as it is.

Above the doors are the Three Rosettes (or seals). One with the Greek letter Alpha, another with the Greek letter Omega, and center one with a Latin inscription which says, “Let us adore for all Eternity the Most Blessed Sacrament!”

Leading up to the front of the church are The Seven Steps (symbolic of the seven days of creation, the seven sacraments, and the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit).

These steps lead you up to the two huge central doors called the Great Doors, made of bronze (adorned in great detail with the images of the Seven Joys of Mary on the left, and the Seven Sorrows of Mary on the right) reminding you that his Mother was there at every moment of our Lord’s life (from His conception to His ascension):

The Seven Joys
- The Annunciation
- The Visitation
- The Nativity
- The Adoration of the Magi
- The Finding of [the young] Jesus in the Temple
- The Rejoice of the Resurrection
- The Assumption & Coronation (Revelations 12)

The Seven Sorrows
- The Prophecy of Simeon (Luke 2:25-35)
- The Flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-18)
- The Loss of [the young] Jesus in the Temple
- Meeting Jesus on the Way to Calvary
- Jesus Dies on the Cross
- Jesus Taken Down from the Cross
- Jesus Laid in the Tomb

On either side of these main doors are the two bronze Minor Doors (topped with the images of the two patrons of the resident orders - Sts. Francis and Clare of Assisi).

I entered the building through a side door to the left, and headed down a long hallway towards the staircase to the Lower Church. In the antechamber of the Lower Church is a full-sized photographic replica of the Shroud of Turin, in tall vertical backlit display cases. Both the front and the back, side by side. And the full-sized photographic negatives against opposing walls. Even though it’s a photographic copy, it’s a rare opportunity to see this cloth up close and personal. [more Shroud links here]

Even after the suspect carbon dating that was done on the Shroud some years ago, more scientific data accumulates (from the weave of the fabric, to the types of pollen found on the cloth, to the scientific discrepancies with the carbon dating process that was used). And its authenticity becomes less and less suspect. The Shroud has never been a required article of faith (literally or figuratively) within the Catholic Church, but its beauty as well as its mystery continues to inspire, and summons reverence. Witnessing the extent and severity of the wounds as it is faintly depicted on the cloth is breathtaking.

And between these displays are replicas of the types of implements used at the time of Christ to flog, torture and crucify our Lord - including an arm-length sized whip with small dumbbell-shaped weights at the ends of the lashes, the large crucifying nails, and a crown of thorns.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

A Personal Spiritual Journey (Part 4 of 8)...

As throughout portions of my trip up to this point, a certain amount of anxiety had once again taken residence. The recurring unsettledness of soul. Part of it is due to the fact that I’m in a new environment in a distant and remote location. Part of it is the nagging remains of my introverted past. Part of it may be the certain uneasiness about the state of things in my life at the moment, I guess.

The first morning in an Alabama hotel room, I’m woken by the echoing sound of a woodpecker pecking away on a tree. (What is it with these birds early in the morning?) After getting washed and dressed, I go to grab a bite to eat at the local I-Hop. At a small table on the opposite side of the dining area is a group of five older gentlemen going through a bible study. I make a mental note that it’s not 6:30 in the morning. (Inside joke. My Wednesday morning bible study group meets at 6:30 in the morning.... ugh!... I'm NOT a morning person.)

From there I drive a few miles down the highway and make my way to EWTN just outside of Birmingham. As throughout portions of my trip up to that point, a certain amount of anxiety had once again taken residence. A new environment in a distant and remote location. The recurring unsettledness of soul that generally creeps up every now and then.

I arrived at EWTN in time for the 9:30 mass at the Chapel. A sloping A-frame structure, with a modestly-sized interior – enough pews for maybe 60 or 70 people. The chapel split in half with a reredos behind the altar, behind which another set of pews (once used for the Poor Clare nuns when they were in residence, and now used for the general public on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation). The ceiling constructed of curved slats of dark wood beams following the slope of the frame. Against the back of the church are large panels of windows - depicting angels playing musical instruments etched in frosted glass. Atop the reredos, behind the altar, is a monstrance containing the Blessed Sacrament. And, once I enter the chapel, the anxiety slowly begins to melt away.

After mass I walked the grounds and spent some time by an outdoor shrine in the shape of a covered-V with an altar, a crucifix, and stained glass windows in the two walls (the place is used on occasion for outdoor ceremonies and holy rosaries). Between this place and the chapel is a railing-enclosed grotto with small angel statues amongst the greenery, flowers and jagged rock formations. While here and in the little gift shop, I had the opportunity to meet and talk with several other pilgrims visiting from Indiana (members of the Legion of Mary) and Louisiana. We talked about where we all were from, the reasons for coming on pilgrimage, the state of the Church in general and of our parishes in particular. Genuinely wonderful people.

Later, I went through a tour of the impressive yet cramped facilities where they showed you all the inner workings of the network - uplinks, downlinks, production house, editing stations, control rooms, taping rooms, archives, monitors, international feeds, graphics, sets, backdrops. On site are 9 satellite dishes of various sizes (7 of which are currently in use) - all adorned with star-shaped lightning deflectors. And the studios where many of their programs are aired or taped.

The tour guide pointed out handwritten inscriptions atop the door jams of several of the building entrances. The inscription read 20+C+M+B+06. It’s a Polish blessing from the celebration of the Epiphany at the beginning of the year. It stands for the year 2006, and in between the year are the initials of the Three Wise Men or Magi who brought gifts to the Infant Jesus (each symbol separated by the sign of the cross). And I thought of Skip (a Pole - just like our late Pope John Paul II - who was a member of my parish and my Wednesday morning men’s bible study group, and who passed away suddenly late last year).

Afterwards, I stopped by a creek on the northern edge of the property, and paused for some quiet reflection and contemplation as the stream trickled over the layers of rock. And then... the rain came.

One quick note about the weather. It’s the south. It’s springtime. So when they say “there’s a 20% chance of rain” it doesn’t mean that’s the “odds” of it raining on a particular day. It means that for 20% of the day it will rain. Sometimes quite suddenly, and quite fiercely, with thunder & lightning never experienced before. Fast moving clouds the forever shift eastward at a high clip. And the landscape is very green, tons of tall trees in these deep, jagged crags and gorges of rocky canyons.

After leaving briefly for an early dinner, I returned to EWTN to be in the audience for a taping of Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s TV program, “Threshold of Hope” (which airs on Tuesday nights). It’s a series that goes through the encyclicals of the late Pope John Paul II paragraph by paragraph, and Fr. Pacwa was early into the apostolic letter entitled, “Familiaris Consortio” – an exhortation on the family as a communion of persons. Fr. Pacwa’s a very personable and likeable fellow, and he walks into the studio wearing traditional casual priestly garb: black slacks, black shirt, white collar... and black cowboy boots, a white cowboy hat, and a big grin.

Before the beginning of the taping of the episode, and also halfway through the taping during the break, we in the audience were able to talk with Father and ask some questions. And I was lucky enough to be one of the people to ask a question on camera in the second half of the program. (Episode#181) After the taping, I had the chance to shake his hand and tell him how much I’ve enjoyed watching his programs.

I headed back to the hotel where I was staying, several miles down the highway, and was able to watch that exact episode aired on EWTN later that evening. It was very surreal watching myself on TV asking a question I had just got done asking only two hours earlier.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A Personal Spiritual Journey (Part 3 of 8)...

So, why take a plane to Alabama? Well, I wouldn’t normally just wake up one day and say, “Hey! I think I’ll go spend a couple days in Alabamy!” Nothing wrong with the place, as far as I know. But it’s not usually a place that most people think of when they choose to take a mini-vacation.

I stumbled upon EWTN (the Catholic cable network) about four years ago when my local cable company started airing the channel (I watch it now via DishTV satellite - channel 261. You can also get it on DirectTV - channel 422). Just about anyone who’s watched some of the programming on the network, especially the replays of Mother Angelica’s own programs, can’t help but be drawn in by God’s love and grace (as well as Mother Angelica’s spunk, wit, frankness and gentle care & genuine concern).

Here's a very brief summary which can be better gleaned from Raymond Arroyo’s absolutely fascinating new biography entitled, “Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve and a Network of Miracles.” (A book I highly, highly recommend – giving an inspiring, thrilling yet unvarnished telling of her life and the monastery and network she founded. And the book can be purchased at just about any bookstore, including, or directly from EWTNs website). It’s better than a bunch Dan Brown novels, and much more edifying.

In 1961, she left her Ohio convent to found Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Irondale, Alabama, to fulfill a promise to the Lord to build a monastery in the Deep South. Having bought 15 acres of land near Birmingham, Alabama, for $13,000, the small cloister raised money by making and selling fishing lures. Through the 60s and 70s, Mother Angelica would teach bible classes, print mini-books, give talks and speeches, and make appearances on TV.

In 1978 she confronts a local station manager where she was filming a series, upset that the network was going to air a blasphemous movie. So she decides to start her own TV network (after all, how hard could it be, right?). In 1980 she orders a satellite dish - a HUGE satellite dish – and applies for an FCC license. In 1981 she receives permission from Rome to carry out her television work, and later receives a blessing from Pope John Paul II. (I found it amusing that she ordered the dish and applied for the license first, and then got the okay and the blessing from the Vatican.)

Mother Angelica and the monastery were already in serious debt due to the acquisition of expense equipment and construction, when on March 8, 1981, the unassembled 33’-diameter satellite dish arrived – with the truck driver needing to collect $600,000 as a required down payment. She didn’t have the money. She went to the chapel and prayed to Jesus while the driver waited outside. Then divine providence kicked in. A phone call from a man on his yacht in the Bahamas who had been reading one of Mother’s mini-books and wanted to make a donation… for $600,000! She asked if he could wire the money right then and there. And he did.

On August 15, 1981, they flipped the switch, broadcasting only 4 hours a day into just 60,000 homes in the U.S. This fledgling network was being run out of a monastery garage turned into a makeshift studio in an Alabama backwater by 12 cloistered nuns with no television experience, $200 in their pockets, a belief in God's Providence, and the generous donations of any viewers who happened to stumble upon their broadcast while flipping the channels.

Today, 25 years later, ETWNs reach is astounding. Broadcasting 24-hours a day, 7-days a week with 80% original programming, feeding into 125 million TV homes reaching over half a billion people in over 100 countries worldwide. It has become the largest non-profit cable network in the world. In addition to television (via cable and satellite TV), there are over 180 million radio listeners (via AM/FM, Sirius Satellite - channel 160, and shortwave). The website has over 600 million viewers, disseminating news and information, Church documents, Scripture readings, prayers, devotions, instruction, as well as podcasts and streaming audio & video of many of their programs.

It is now a $2.25 million/month operation with approx. 300 employees (200 of which are in the Birmingham, AL, area). No commercials. No obnoxious telethons or fundraising campaigns like PBS or other non-profit networks. Just a simple plea by Mother Angelica and others to “remember us between your gas and electric bill.” And only two or three times in its 25 year history have they ever been in a position to make an urgent plea for donations from its viewers when the budget got really tight. The entire network, by the way, has never operated under the standard budget/business model. Relying solely on prayers, divine providence, the voluntary donations of its viewers, and any profits from the sales of various items from their religious catalog (e.g., books, videos, statues, etc.).

Some of their wonderful, inspiring and informative programs include: The World Over (a weekly news and interview program hosted by Raymond Arroyo, the author of the Mother Angelica biography), The Journey Home (hosted by Marcus Grodi, where each week he interviews people regarding their journey back to the faith as converts or reverts), Life on the Rock (geared towards young adults, hosted by Frs. Francis and Mark, MFVA), The Threshold of Hope (where Fr. Mitch Pacwa goes through some of Pope John Paul II's encyclicals, point by point), Fr. Corapi and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, programs with Scott Hahn, commentary by Fr. Richard Neuhaus, rebroadcasts of Mother Angelica Live programs, plus daily mass and rosaries, programs on Church History, the early Church Fathers and the Saints, news and events from the Vatican, and many, many others - all authentically Catholic.

Their mission? Quoting from the website:
“EWTN Global Catholic Network is dedicated to teaching the truth as defined by the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. In keeping with the Holy Father’s call for a New Evangelization, EWTNs mission is to communicate the teachings and the beauty of the Catholic Church and to help people grow in their love and understanding of God and His infinite mercy.”

So, why go to Alabama? Well, given the growth in my Catholic faith over the years, and given the fact that I studied film, theater and television when I was in college way back when, let’s just say I felt the need to come and visit EWTN – to see it up close and personal. And to come to experience the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament situated an hour north of the network - another story in its own right.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

A Personal Spiritual Journey (Part 2 of 8)...

The following evening I had the chance to catch up with a handful of old friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen for several years. Buddies from my college years. Good friends who I try to keep in touch with on a semi-regular basis. We toss out old war stories from bygone days, commiserate about our jobs, tiptoe through some political topics then quickly change subjects when things get out of hand, pop out the family photos in jammed wallets. And then it happens. The inquisition followed by the sincere advice.


Let me tell you about what I call “The cross of singlehood” - it's not a big cross, in comparison to others. But it is one that tends to get heavier as you get older.

Are you married?
Are you seeing someone?
Have I got just the girl for you!
(blind date?... ummm, no thank you)
Are you gay?
Are you a priest?

It's as though there can only be these options: married, about to be married, a priest, or gay. As if single life is not a valid option. Certainly not once you hit your 30s. So then you get that look where they wonder if there’s something wrong with you. Or there’s that look of sympathy and concern. Then the unsolicited advice comes forth. Here are some of the variations on the theme:

Try those on-line dating services?
(and pay someone lots of money to meet someone thru cyberspace?)
How about church functions?
The old standbys: night clubs & bars
(you’re kidding me, right? I’m 42, not 22.)
Have you tried speed dating?
(you mean those frantic, five minute, assembly-line race to the finish dating stunts?)
Someone at work?
(nope, small company, no single women)
Just bump into a woman’s shopping cart at the supermarket or strike up a conversation with someone at a book store.
*covering eyes*
You deserve to have someone!
(yes, I do)
You’re such a nice guy!
(gee, thanks for telling me… by the way, the descriptive “nice” is considered a 4-letter word kiss of death for single people everywhere.)
You know, you really should consider the priesthood.
(umm, it’s not my calling)
Are you sure???
*stern look* (yes, I’m sure!)
You need to get in the game.
(as though I'm to prepare for a football match, with shoulder pads and a helmet.)

Even if I did "get in the game" (and believe me, I do), given my current economic situation, I can’t afford to be in a relationship right now. And if I make the mistake of mentioning that, then that opens up yet another series of inquisitions and recommendations. (*sigh*)

“A time to weep and a time to laugh… a time to speak and a time to be silent.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3

I know people mean well. It’s all well-intentioned. But, it’s not like these topics (especially these topics - relationships, finances, career, health) aren’t already on my mind… every day. God and I have had many a conversation about these and several other topics in my life over the years. I’ve learned, over time, that there’s a reason for things being the way they are in my life right now. It’s not easy. It’s not perfect. I certainly still stumble through some of my daily struggles. I realize that there’s still some more growing to do.

“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly. A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” ~ Proverbs 14:29-30

And things once again begin to pierce the heart when in the course of just three days I find out that, my oldest brother is about to get engaged again very soon. His daughter (my goddaughter & niece) gets engaged. I’d already known for well over a month that my godson/nephew also got engaged. And then everyone in the family finds out at once that another niece is pregnant… again… for the third time. So, within the next two years, there’ll be three weddings in the family, and I’ll become a “grand-uncle” for the fifth time. And I'm joyful. Sincerely joyful. But somewhere tucked in that deeply hidden place inside of me?

And, due to the makeup of my family, it’s up to me and me alone to be able to carry on the family name. In a tearful conversation with my dad, I reassure him that it’s pressure that has never been placed on me by others. It’s only pressure, and longing, and insecurity that I’ve placed on myself.

And I recall an incident several years ago, in a late night moment of deep despair and anguish regarding that persistent void in my life, when God spoke to me in a powerfully silent voice – saying, “Patience, Michael… patience.” I trusted Him then with that message, and I have to continue to trust Him.

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” ~ 2 Peter 3:9

And I’m reminded of Zachariah who (in Luke 1) doubted the angel who informed him that his wife Elizabeth (both in their old age) would bring forth a son. And because he doubted, the angel took away his ability to speak for the next nine months. (I’m sure Lizzy didn’t quite mind that so much. Zach, I bet, was probably a bit miffed.)

Or, in Genesis 15, Abram and Sarai who (also in their old age) laughed at the direct word from God Himself who told them that generations will spring forth from them. And, in doubting His word, they decided to take matters into their own hands. And really screwed things up by having Abram sleep with a mistress.

So, not wanting to make any rash decisions in this area, and not wanting to lose my voice, I learn to be patient. And I continue to work on the parts of my nature that still needs honing and smoothing and refining. And I begin to understand that the verses in 1 Corinthians 13 (“Love is patient. Love is kind.”) are not just meant to be read at weddings for married couples. It’s also a message for single people, too.

On Mother’s Day I went with my Dad to go to mass at my old parish. And one of those negative remnants from my past creeps up again. My mind replays certain scenes from my childhood years as we drive past the old grade school. Times when some of the kids were cruel, while others tried as best as they could to avoid their own moments of intimidation or humiliation at the hands of fellow students. Or, in some cases, from certain teachers who dispensed their own form of humiliation or indifference. Of course, not all of the teachers were like that. And not every day was filled with fear or shame. But emotional wounds at a young age cut deep and take longer to heal. Yet, I’ve learned to reconcile. I’ve learned to focus on the many more positive and joyful moments of my youth. And I’ve learn to forgive.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” ~ Luke 23:34

As my dad and I walk into the church one of those strange little humourous memories bubbled up from my brain. Although the church has been rearranged slightly, the glazed yellow and brown bricks, and the small, draw-chained stained glass windows brings back more memories – including the morning masses before classes started on the First Friday of each month, and a church full of us school kids hoping that the priest starts the Eucharistic Prayer with “Lord, you are hold indeed…” or at least “Father, you are holy indeed…” because if you heard him say the word “indeed” you knew that it was one of the two short Eucharistic Prayers, which meant you had a whole 60 seconds less time having to kneel in the pews. Little did I know then that that is one of the oldest Eucharistic Prayers in the Church, dating back to the early 200s.

Sitting next to my dad during mass, the current pastor gave his homily on the day’s Gospel reading from John 15.

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener... Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing... If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” ~ John 15:1-10

Father Tully called this the “if” clause - a clause that many of us tend to skip over. If you abide in me, if you remain in me, then whatever we ask will be given to us. We tend to concentrate on what we want, as if we think we know what’s best for us. After all, we’re adults, don’t you know? We become bombarded from all angles with massive amounts of information and distraction and conflicting messages, confusing us. At times, convincing us that this is important, and that is acceptable. This is necessary, and do that and you’ll be fulfilled.

“Meaningless! Utter meaningless! ... All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing... [all] a chasing of the wind.” ~ Ecclesiastes 1:2,8,14

Lost in the cacophony you begin to lose sight of Jesus’ words, “If you abide in me.” It’s a daily challenge trying to remain in Him. It’s a struggle to maintain the abidance. The outer forces of the world and the inner forces of our souls tug and pull and keep us unsettled, when all we really want is peace. Inner peace. St. Paul in his letter to the Philippians entices us with what he calls “a secret.”

“I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.” ~ Philippians 4:11-13

And what is that secret to real contentment versus fleeting complacency? His profoundly simple solution is just several verses earlier in the chapter.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” ~ Philippians 4:6-7

After mass my dad and I went back to the cemetery together one more time, bringing flowers for Mother's Day. Then the following morning, before leaving to catch my flight, just like my mom used to do, he takes out her old, small jar of holy oil, blesses my forehead and prays for my safe journey. And I head to the airport to catch my flight for a 2-day pilgrimage to EWTN, the global Catholic cable network, and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

“Consider what God has done: Who can straighten what he has made crooked? When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider: God has made the one as well as the other. Therefore, a man cannot discover anything about his future.” ~ Ecclesiastes 7:13-14

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Personal Spiritual Journey (Part 1 of 8)...

What is about to follow is the finished product of a talk I will be giving on June 24th in front of a small number of fellow parishioners (mainly from my bible study groups) at my local church. Well, not in the church... just in one of the rooms in the hall across the parking lot.

It incorporates some of my personal thoughts, experiences and reflections while visiting my family and friends back east (last month), and during my pilgrimage to EWTN (the Global Catholic Network) & The Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament at Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama.

I will be quoting extensively from a number of sources including, of course, the bible, sermons from St. Francis de Sales, excerpts and summations of information from EWTN's websites and Raymond Arroyo's biography on Mother Angelica (who founded the network and monastery 25 years ago), as well as notes from a talk given by Franciscan Brother Leo while visiting the Shrine in Hanceville, AL.

The first third of the talk gets a bit personal, so be gentle yet patient because there is a method to the madness. When I get to portions describing the Shrine and it's surroundings, I'll do the best I can to supply appropriate links to on-line pictures (I didn't have a camera with me, and I'm using a large picture book during my presentation to better show the folks attending on the 24th).

All that being said... I give you Part 1.

(UPDATE NOTE: What follows is a much more extended version designed more for posting in this blog. The actual talk will necessarily be trimmed, slightly rearranged and altered in some parts. I will be editing as necessary (both for the talk as well as in the posts).

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” ~ Isaiah 43:18

“So do not worry… but seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
~ Matthew 6:31-35

There are a number of quotes that I have taped on different items in different places around my apartment. Some biblical, some secular. Some have been there for so long I forget that they’re there. But on occasion I’ll stop and read one of them - each one on a certain topic or for a specific reminder. One quote – attributed to American journalist and author, Fulton Oursler, who wrote the book “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (which was later made into a famous motion picture) – is on the monitor of my computer. It says:

“We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday, and fear of tomorrow.” ~ Fulton Oursler

I found myself once again facing my past. This has happened quite often. I’ll dwell on some distant memory, whether it’s centered on some happy occasion, a mournful event, or maybe a specific offense. And the mind begins to rewind and replay the events over and over; rehashing and rearguing until I turn over in bed for the umpteenth time and stare at the clock. 2:30 AM. Yes. Insomnia has reared its ugly head once again.

It’s gotten somewhat better over the years. The more recent day-to-day stuff still nags in the back of my brain at times. Maybe something happened at work, or a certain hot-button social or political issue is in the news, and that’ll spin between my ears. But, with regard to the things of the past, the older I get the easier it is to let things go. To forgive myself of things I’d done or hadn’t done, or things I’d said or hadn’t said. To forgive others of the same. To ask our Lord for forgiveness. To put things in proper perspective.

Nowadays, it seems that my brain has traded in most of the old hang-ups of the past for things which have not yet come to fruition. The future is where it’s at. It’s not a new bag of worries, but it seems to have gotten much bigger as my old satchel filled with bygone days has shrunk. If only I could have as much peace about present and future things as I do now with my past.

“Be at rest once more, O my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.” ~ Psalm 116:7

It’s early in the morning. Very early. Dawn has yet to break. I lay in my old bed, 3000 miles east, in the bedroom of my youth. I’m trying to recover from jetlag, but the body clock is on autopilot. The clock on the wall ticks loudly each second, relentlessly. Through the window is heard the chirping of countless baby birds screaming for their tummies to be filled. And the parent birds are ceaseless in their search for worms to feed their young. The young cry out for comfort. And the parent obliges, taking care and taking watch.

It’d been a little over a year since I last visited my home town. And it’s been four years since my Mom had passed after many years of dialysis due to kidney failure. I don’t get the chance to fly back east that often. When I have, I’ve gone to the cemetery with my Dad – the last time in poor weather. But this day, in a few more hours, it will be the very first time that I will be at her grave site… alone.

While lying in bed, my mind must have drifted through a myriad of thoughts before I realized that the birds stopped chirping, and they were replaced with the plaintiff hoot of a lone owl. Woot woo-hoo! Hoo! Who! Who am I? Who was I yesterday? Who am I today? Who will I be tomorrow? Am I on the right path in life? What does the future hold for me? Will my career change? Will my income improve? Will I shake off some of my bad habits? Will I ever be married, have children of my own to feed and comfort like those early morning sparrows? When will that void in my life finally be filled?

What it ultimately comes down to is this: What do I continually search for, yet cannot quite seem to find? What do we continually search for, yet cannot quite seem to find? These questions are not new. People have been asking these same questions throughout the history of our existence. And Jesus, in His sermon on the mount, gives us a challenging response:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?...

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

“...And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” ~ Matthew 6:25-30

Those last five words can be jolting. “O you of little faith.” How much faith is enough? I’ve gone through a circuitous route with my own faith, having been raised in the Catholic faith, then strayed at times through my 20s during a period when I took issue with God regarding certain aspects of my lift at the time (even though, in hindsight, I was blind to other areas in which He had worked His divine providence, and healing, and mercy). In my 30s I slowly felt the yearning for that something other, and gradually and meticulously found my way back to the faith of my youth.

Each person goes though his or her own spiritual journey. And when you think you’ve reached a summit you wonder why things still aren’t quite going as planned. Questions still remain unanswered. Daily struggles still persist. And you say to yourself, “Isn’t my level of faith enough?”

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps.” ~ Proverbs 16:9

There’s an old phrase that goes, “God loves you right where you are. But He loves you too much to let you stay there.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” ~ Proverbs 3:5-6

I arrived at the cemetery later that morning, carrying with me the specially-made rosary I had given my mother as a going-away gift twelve years earlier. I know that she had said the rosary on these same beads at least three times a week (while going through her dialysis treatments) from that point forward until the last days of her life. Some of those fervent prayers, I’m sure, were said for me while I lived my life on the opposite side of the country.

There’s a story about this rosary. My mom told me about an incident that happened only once while she was saying the rosary in the dialysis unit while the machines cleansed her blood 3 hours a day, 3 days a week. She said that on this particular day she noticed that one of the decades started to give a certain glow. An orangey glow. Oddly enough, it was on the only section of beads which were artificial (the white ones); real moonstone being too fragile to make into beads. All of the other beads are authentic stones: red jasper, jade, aventurine, tiger eye, amber, and the “Our Father” beads made of bloodstone (green jasper with flecks of red jasper - a stone with a medieval legend that the flecks of red represent the blood of Christ fallen onto the green field of the crucifixion). Given her poor eye sight due to her medical condition, she pointed out the glow to someone else in the dialysis unit. And that person saw it too. Another person casually brushed it off as being caused by the glare from the sunlight through the window. That didn’t sway my mom. Yet, it never occurred again. No matter how much my mother tried to get those beads to glow.

After my mom had passed, my dad gave this rosary back to me knowing that mom wanted me to have it. Just a few days after returning to California after her funeral, I was in my apartment. I pulled out the rosary, thinking about her. And there was the glow… on the same set of beads. And, given that my Confirmation name is Thomas, I turned away from the living room window to shield the incoming sunlight from the beads. The orange glow still remained. And I knew that she was there, and that she was looking down from heaven.

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven:
… a time to be born and a time to die.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3

Back at the cemetery, now four years later, I walked up to the gravestone with her name engraved into its rose-colored marble surface. The sun shining brilliantly. I took out the rosary from my pocket. I’ve had many conversations in my head with my mom these last few years. I’ve shed many tears during the last days of her life and since her passing. After several years, I’ve been able to move forward. There may be times when I’ll be driving down the road or sitting in a room with my thoughts, and my eyes will begin to well up. But, here at her grave site I find that I have no more tears to shed. Not even any words to say. Just a whole bunch of happy memories like an 8mm film projector flicking images against the back of my brain. And the Joyful Mysteries on the rosary to say in honor of her life.

While fingering the beads in prayer (through the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of Jesus, and the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple) I think back - imagining the joy my own parents had when I and my brothers and sisters, one by one, came forth as gifts from God. And I thought of the countless infants throughout history who came forth into the expectant and loving arms of caring parents. And I also contemplate the countless millions who never took their first breath because of abortion throughout the world.

And through the final decade of the rosary on the Finding of the young Jesus in the Temple, and I think back to the various travels I’ve taken, and the worries that parents naturally go through, hoping that their child is okay when He flees the nest. And I think back to my return to my faith after straying for some years. A return that I know is due in no small part to mom’s constant prayers.

And I’m thankful for being given such loving and faithful parents; a mother and father who knew suffering and sacrifice intimately. And an extended family (siblings, nieces & nephews, aunts & uncles) that through all of our faults and foibles and peculiarities (myself included), is full of love, passion, care, and faith. It’s not that hard to count my blessings and realize that in many ways my cup overfloweth. How easy it is, when things are going badly, that we become blinded to these blessings.

Before I leave the cemetery, I bury a locket of hair; the six-inch remains of my once-long hair (it used to be much longer some years back). I called it the remains of my mild Samson complex. She always said that if I ever cut my hair she wanted to have it. And I wanted to keep my promise. It was time.

“A time to keep and a time to throw away.” ~ Ecclesiastes 3


Friday, June 09, 2006

A series of new posts coming very soon...

I'm almost done with a finished first draft of the talk I'll be giving on June 24th in front of a small group of fellow Catholic bible studiers at my local parish. As I stated in a previous post, it will encompass some personal reflections regarding my experiences visiting family and friends back east. It will then dovetail into detailed information about my 2-day pilgrimage at EWTN and the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Alabama - interlacing it with excerpts from scripture, sermons from St. Francis de Sales, and several other resources, including excerpts from a talk given by one of the Franciscan brothers at the shrine.

Soon, I will begin to post the text of the talk in sectioned parts as a work in progress. I'll try to supply links when necessary. It'll be somewhat difficult to translate parts of the latter half of the talk since I will be displaying photos from a large picture book showing details of the Shrine. So, I'll have to briefly describe each photo in this blog if I can't find suitable web linkable photographs.

Key word... patience.