Thursday, September 25, 2008

In the palm of my hand!

The call came just before dawn.
I was pastor of a country parish, the church in a village so small there were only seven houses in the village.
The rest of the vast area was made up of farms, forests, lakes.
The parents were young, newly married. This was their first child.
He had been born so pre-mature, before the days of modern specialized ICUs for newborns, he would have surely died.
Could I come to the city and baptize him?
Of course I said yes, gathered stole, holy water, ritual and rushed to my car.
On the three and a half hour drive to the city I prayed the Rosary, asking Our Lady to grant strength and long life to the child or at least to keep him alive until he could be baptized.
Once at the ICU, because this Little Man was in an incubator with tubes sending oxygen and other essentials into his tiny being, it was a delicate task to arrange access to him – but the nurses managed and suddenly here was a human being, literally in the palm of my hand as I used my little finger to gather drops of water.
Today that Little Man is a full grown adult, Deo Gratias and thanks to Our Lady.
Today in my own family we are waiting the birth of a child – the Little One is truly due, awaited with love, the parents reasonably peaceful, though the Dad [ this is their third child ] has that restlessness so common to expectant fathers who are, by God’s design, in a sense one step removed until the birthing begins and even then are more in the role of coach than player!
It is a salient lesson for fathers, the experience of powerlessness in such moments, like the father of the newborn child mentioned above, to remind them, indeed all males, that real power and authority originates not within us but as gift from our Abba, Father of us all.
Those of us who have reached the elder stage of life { I detest the word ‘elderly’ as it sounds more like a sickness than a wisdom-graced state of being which IS the vocation of elders, something our Aboriginal Brothers and Sisters and many of our Asian Brothers and Sisters have understood for millennia. } – how should we support the young parents, the new parents?
Well women clearly do a better job around expectancy and birthing with each other than men because we men are always trying to fix something!
What the expectant father needs from we elders, priests and laymen alike, is patient, loving, understanding – indeed an actual standing with – because NOTHING IS BROKEN!
There IS LIFE happening!
Today the Church remembers another man who had a challenging birth and life known traditionally as Blessed Herman Contractus, translated bluntly as: Blessed Herman the Cripple.
Now given the fact he was born in mid-winter in the 11th century [ a. d. 1013 ], born with spina bifida, a cleft palate and cerebral palsy, the first miracle is that his parents obviously loved him and cared for him so well it was only when he was seven for unknown reasons – other than perhaps the obviously serious medical ones – his parents found themselves unable to continue to care for Herman at home and confided him to the care of the Benedictine monks of the Reichenau abbey.
So the second miracle, and this continues today within the Church among those priests, religious, lay apostle communities, as well as some secular medical facilities and caring places – and most wonderfully among those who work to protect life from conception to a natural death { hence the critical importance of these Forty Days to November 2nd of prayer and fasting for the Gospel of Life, for life itself } – is that Herman was received by the monks with such loving care he not only grew, matured, he became a brilliant person, expert in various scientific, literary, spiritual fields – indeed some historians attribute such traditional hymns as the Salve Regina to his authorship.
Herman’s union with the suffering Christ entered a final stage of surrender and trust before his death when he went blind, returning to the Father the gift of physical sight but undoubtedly this expanded the vision of his heart.
In 1054 a. d. Herman was welcomed forever into the arms of the Heavenly Father, into the eternal glory of Jesus, into the everlasting fire-love of the Holy Spirit.
When the culture of death screams about quality of life being in doubt before a human being is born that is arrogant evil to the extreme. It is a destructive and selfish presumption assuming intimate knowledge of the future life of a human being – something we simply cannot know.
Even more dark and evil is the assumption expectant parents are incapable of loving their child unless the new person meets criteria of supposed perfection of potential intelligence etc., criteria which themselves are dubiously arrogant and hostile to the sacredness of the human person, as witnessed by the Little Man I baptized and by Blessed Herman.
My own Father’s generation within the ranks not just of the Allied Forces but within the ranks of ordinary men and women of all faiths and no faith, across the occupied countries of Europe and Asia, paid a horrendous price to put an end to the selective and death imposing actions of the Axis powers.
We dishonour the sacrifice of those men and women, indeed we spit upon the graves of the victims of those Axis atrocities, when, under whatever twisted philosophy it is rooted in, we claim abortion, euthanasia or assisted suicide as either a right or something good, rather than precisely what each of those acts are: the deliberate murder of a person, a human being given life by the Father, Son, Holy Spirit, by Love Himself.
We are NOT the originators of life.
We ARE recipients of the ultimate gift.
It is not economic chaos or climate change or terrorism which will destroy us.
It is our arrogance.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A Hard Lesson About Vigilance!

The other day I finally completed the notes for the promised post on “The Thin Place” when something happened which threw me off track, the brutal murder of a young homeless man at the gates of the soup kitchen.
While coping with that, emails began arriving from priests and laity alike worried about the extreme turbulence in the financial markets.
The same day I got a phone call about the sudden death of a dear brother priest, which threw me for another loop!
Then, of course these past weeks and days have seen horrendous acts of terrorism in India, Pakistan, Spain, the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, peoples devastated by hurricanes, typhoons, floods, the outbreaks with widespread illness and death from tainted meat in Canada and poisoned milk in China.
Increasingly, with the often times harsh political campaigns in Canada and the US currently underway, the uncertainty about the political situation in Israel, North Korea, to mention just a few, the seemingly unending news stories about droughts and famine, melting Arctic sea ice, climate change – well is it any wonder many of us get unsolicited mailings or emails from those who advocate the world is coming to an end, preceded many of them claim, and frankly seem to wish for, some catastrophe on the order of global punishment!
Yesterday I made a serious communication gaffe with my family and received several emails in response – what made matters very confusing has been a series of unusual computer glitches, and today, on a walk with an old friend we both noted a huge increase in the number of drug addicts, wrecked cars, garbage, graffiti in the area and he remarked how the city is deteriorating.
Indeed for the past several days the usual cacophony of jets and prop planes and helicopters from the airport a few blocks away, the constant banging of steel upon steel from the shunting section of the freight-yard, also just a few blocks away, has been added to by the constant wail of police, ambulance and fire engine sirens.
Stressed I became slack and inattentive and this morning, before coffee, before real brain functioning, before spending time with my face on the ground in prayer for true love, charity, discernment, vigilance, I answered those family emails in draft form, a sort of get the harrumph out before deleting and writing a real, loving, understanding reply.
Image my total embarrassment when I on email auto-pilot hit send rather than delete!
I was even more astonished when instantly I heard in my heart those powerful words from the first pope, St. Peter not only urging us to stay sober, alert, that is truly vigilant, because of the devouring nature of the evil one, but also encouraging solidarity in suffering, patient endurance for Christ Himself strengthens us. [ 1 Pt. 5:8-11 ].
Even more so if we reflect on the paragraph which precedes that admonition about vigilance we see the call to humility and to trust in Christ. [ 1 Pt. 5: 5-7 ].
Suddenly my heart understood in these critical times on the universal level I have been attentive to pray for the restoration of the whole world to Christ, so satan rarely tricks me into getting one-sided about politics or other things of the world – BUT where I had failed to be vigilant, for the evil one is not only the great deceiver but the great disturber, was on a more personal and family level and he tried very hard to wreck things.
He did manage to do some damage but Our Lady has taken me by the hand and led me to ask forgiveness and her help to be more vigilant.
So this morning I went first to prayer for tender words and then, to be honest had a strong brain starter cup of coffee {!}, after which was composed and sent to my family the email which they merit simply because they are family and we love each other and no matter the gaffes or miscommunications or outright failures towards each other love IS stronger – all that is needed is humility, that is to put them before self, to grant understanding and compassion, to admit when I am wrong – the latter I confess with my ego is tough to do.
Saying I’m sorry in and of itself often times is giving a little – begging forgiveness with a determination to change the offending behaviour, yeah that is giving a lot.
Accepting personal powerlessness in spiritual warfare and relying in all things on the strength of Christ and the help of Our Lady is to giving everything.
Yes we can fret ourselves into true fear these days of so much darkness and death around the world, so much suffering; yes we can get caught in the snares of doom and gloom and forget Christ is Risen; yes we undoubtedly, or most likely I will, have relationship problems from time to time, priests with each other or their bishop or parishioners, spouses with one another, parents with their children, yes even on the larger scale between adherents of one political party or another, nation with nation – however I cannot directly solve any of the larger problems.
I can, among my brother priests, within my own family, serving the poor, in all relationships begin again to be and remain vigilant.
The best way I know how to do that is by, even when it means admitting I am wrong and begging forgiveness, living out what the Servant of God Catherine Doherty taught: I AM THIRD. [ God first, my brother/sister next, I am third!]
Catherine also taught, and frankly this has been hard to do today for it means admitting my frailty and absolute need of Him, even in the seemingly small things like being more attentive to what another is going through, that: “In God every moment is the moment of beginning again.”
So, in this moment, in particular with family, also with the vigilance St. Peter urges!