A Rare Evening at Prayer

It was raining- pretty steadily the other night. In spite of the dismal effects a cold winters rain has on many of us, it was the perfect setting for some reflective music, candle light, some reading and meditation.

… oh, and a visit from long past relatives.

My house is rarely quiet. Between my husband, 2 of my 4 sons living with us, a good friend couch surfing and the cat’s ruling over us all, it is indeed rare that I have the whole place to myself (well, the cats… but you know what I mean) so I decide to take advantage of the solitude.

So, I lit some candles, put on Gregorio Allegri (starting with Miserere Mei Deus of course!) and dive into a new book Amazon brought me that day.

The book, “A Book of Uncommon Prayer- 100 Celebrations of the Miracle & Muddle of the Ordinary” written by Brian Doyle, was not at all what I was expecting.

It’s reflections had titles like “Prayer of Thanks for Good Bishops, as Opposed to Meatheads who think they are important.” & “Prayers in Celebration of Brief Things, for example, Church Services.”

Thank heaven for the Gregorio, or I may have chucked the book into the bin.

I then read a reflection that brought my soul into harmonious refrain with the Gregorio, and the choir singing it – which happened to be my relatives, long gone home to sleep in Christ, waiting for the Eternal Easter.

Prayers for Women named Ethel, and Men named Elmer, for We Will Not See Their Likes Again.

It speaks to these “cool, hoary names like that that reek of American character and dignity and hard work and laced dollies on Sunday before the Roast. For all the brave though quiet generous unassuming souls who came before us and built this country and built our cities and farmed our generous land and raised their children and never asked for much except the chance to breath free and love widely. “

And I wept.

I wept because in that description, I saw all my childhood memories in an instant. Names like Rose, Naomi, Edith, Albina, Eva, Antoinette, Francis, William, Mary, Otlie, Donald, Eleanor, Harold… all so fresh in my mind. They were homemakers, farmers, blue collar factory workers, truck drivers, railroad men and construction workers, living the small town American Dream, and more importantly, contributing to who I am today.

The reflection continued… “… their rough, worn hands and their seamed leathery faces that endured allot of a lot of weather and war and pain and loss but they kept working anyway.”

These passages remind me of my entire life back in small town Connecticut. It reminds me of my family, whose presence I felt with me in this dark, cold winter rain. Despite the conditions, I was warm, I was being embraced, and I was reminded of the deep love that family brings to us.

My thoughts then turned to the reflection in my mind- to the family I have. 4 wonderful, amazing sons. My wonderful relationship of 15 years, and our close, close friends who are also family. In each of them, I see my relatives.

As I reflected on my present day family experience, I see my relatives long gone, but ever present. Their examples passed to me are reflected in those who I pass along their wisdom, stories, and love, and I see the effect that ripple in the ancestral pond. That realization, until that night, was lost on me.

And I weep. I weep with sadness for those faces I can no longer touch and the laps I can no longer sit on. I weep for the loss of the farming lessons I will no longer receive, and how good a tomato plucked from the vine and immediately eaten has a taste that is truly indescribable.

I weep for the long gone family Christmas Eve, the every-pasta-ever-consumed for the first 25 years of my life came from a kitchen and not a box, and attending Mass every Saturday evening, 5th pew on the left, with scowls at the ready if some visitor took our pew. Oh, Saint Barnabas- what you must have thought!

I also weep with joy. Sunday Mass with the kids. Family dinners and trips, and truly the most amazing bond we all share.Watching them each grow into their relationships and the people they choose to bond with. I revel in joy that they are all in public service, working to help others in their hour of need.

This was such a cathartic experience for me truly. Thanks to my passed on family, for in that exact moment, you reminded me how you aren’t gone from my life, but that you define it.

The reflection ends, “For those names, which are mere sounds and handles, but mean so much to so many. And so: Amen.”

Indeed.

May God Bless you all.

Consigned to Ovens of Silence

Today while many of us are focused on our daily lives, I want to remind everyone that 75 years ago today, the Auschwitz death camp was liberated by Allied Forces.

Survivors gather there today to reflect, grieve, and remember.. As their numbers dwindle, so does our ability to be reminded of the true horror that we see the faces those who survived what was both the biggest mass murder in the history of creation, as well as the largest failure of humanity to be human.

We as the members of the modern human family have an obligation to never forget just how horrific we can be to each other. Had you told people in the 1930’s what was to come, the story would have been to terrific for people to believe.

If you think today that this sort of thing could never happen again, then you are as naive as our ancestors.

Pfennig Postcard, Wrong Address
by Michael R. Burch

We saw their pictures:
tortured out of our imaginations
like golems.

We could not believe
in their frail extremities
or their gaunt faces,

pallid as our disbelief.
They are not
with us now . . .

We have:
huddled them
into the backrooms of conscience,

consigned them
to the ovens of silence,

buried them in the mass graves
of circumstances beyond our control.

We have
so little left
of them

now
to remind us …

You call them Firefighters

There are men and women who fight for us every day; who face uncertainty, leaving their families to rescue yours, knowing that the chance for them never coming home is higher than most; whose uniform not only identifies their commitment and belief in honor, valor, brotherhood, and tradition, but is their only line of defense against the forces they face.

They are the only one left in the evacuation zone, staying until the last possible moment. They wake up at any time of the night, ready to respond to the call to duty. They are the face we see breaking through the flames, and the face of the one who carries you to safety.

They are the some of the bravest men and women the world will ever know, risking their lives in an a attempt to save the lives of others. They run into burning buildings, at raging forest fires, and stare death and fear in the eyes with no hesitation or second thoughts.

They are on the front lines in the war against Mother Nature’s fury, providing the last stand to protect that which we love and cherish most.

They have families, loved ones, interests and hobbies.

They are the warriors of the people, the fighters, our saviors, and the bravest among us.

We call each other Brother and Sister, and cherish each as if they were our very own flesh and blood.

You call them Firefighters.

September 11

These days in September are always an emotional roller coaster for me.

On the morning of 9/11 I went to work early. I had a pretty large meeting scheduled with the Superiors of the Jesuit Provinces in the US, as well as a few bishops.

I was at work for about 30 minutes preparing, and my phone rang. It was my then partner and still best friend Fredo Alvarez, and he was inconsolable. He was finally able to tell me that there was a plane crash at the World Trade Center. His mother worked on that block and he couldn’t reach her.

I turned on the TV in the conference room and watched the second plane hit on live TV.

We immediately cancelled the meeting, and I said Mass with the fellow priests and bishops. We prayed. We prayed harder than I think I have ever prayed. At the moment of the consecration of the Body and Blood of Our Savior, the plane hit the Pentagon.

We finished Mass and sent everyone home. I took a cab to my other assignment- The Basilica in DC, where the Cardinal was going to say a televised Mass for the nation.

Again we prayed. We prayed harder than I had ever prayed before.

I prayed for Fredo’s mom, and for the men and women I have come across in FDNY- the greatest fire department man has ever dreamt up.

I Prayed for a former co-worker and now FDNY Lt. on Rescue 1. He would have been on the initial alarm that day. I wrote him a long letter of recommendation so he could get on his the job- his dream of all dreams.

I finally made it home hours later- Metro was closed, taxis were overwhelmed. I shared a cab at one point with a woman who was a reporter for the Washington Post- her girlfriend was a reporter at the NY Times, and she couldn’t reach her.

I prayed again.. prayed harder than I had ever prayed before. We cried. Crying was the default action of the day. Our Nation was bleeding- taking as close to a mortal wound as freedom can bear.

Fredo’s mom was alive- she was late to work that day, exited the subway and saw the plane hit. She then walked from lower Manhattan to the Bronx- it took her 12 hours.

I spent weeks looking through the published list of FDNY’s losses looking for Matt’s name. Six days later I found out he was ok.

I prayed.. prayed harder than I had ever prayed before.

And I cried.

Today, 18 years later- I still cry. I cry for what our country lost; for the pain those left behind still feel every single day; for those lost in the battle against those forces who hate us just because we, like those lost, chose to get on a plane, to go to work, to don an SCBA, climb in a patrol car, to hold the hand of a dying elderly woman.

We lost a sense of our innocence that day. Something that no war, no memorial, no prayer will restore to us.

And today, 18 years later. I cry.. and I pray… I pray harder than ever before for those still in harms way here locally, in the military, and for those brothers of mine who are about to join the military.

We all have more praying to do.

God Bless you all.

#neverforget

Notre Dame

I Continue to pray for the Church Catholic as we watch Cathédrale Notre Dame burn.

While the Church are the people gathered (ecclesia), and never the building- it is the great edifices made by man to Glorify God that give us community, focus, the sense of sacred and divine that dwells within us.

As Easter approaches us this Holy Week, we are in the midst of prayerful witness to the fire of sin, doubt, and fear that consumes the Roman’s to the point of the crucifixion of Jesus, in a vain attempt to destroy love.

Then we all together witness radiant resurrection on Easter morning. Proving to us yet again, and in the most powerful way that God survives, provides for us, and that His Church can be built again on the Rock of Love- just as the Cathedral will be.

Secretary Carson: “40 Acres and a Mule!”

Although I am retired from public ministry, I still like to think that on occasion, I have a voice and something to say about certain issues that either effect Christians, or myself personally.

Today was one of those days.

If you didn’t see what Secretary Carson, the new head of Housing and Urban Development said today, I suggest you check any news site.

Here is my letter to him regarding his shameful comments labeling African slaves as “another form of immigration.”

 

6 March 2017 letter to HUD Carson address redacted

The wedding crasher…

Recently, I attended a wedding party/reception (but not the actual wedding as it was in Ireland) and there was a wedding crasher of the most unusual sort.. and of course it was meant for me.

I met a very pleasant young man, who was there with his wife, who is a colleague of the groom– lawyers most of them in attendance (this is DC after all- you can’t swing a dead cat without… you know the rest) except this guy: you see, he is a priest.

Well of course, I can’t stop myself in mentioning that I too, am a priest- retired I assured him surely, and we exchanged small talk while waiting in line for the buffet. I certainly could have said, “I’m an ambulance driver” or something and that’s where it would have ended- but not today, and not for me.

We became completely disconnected from the entire reception, each of us casting aside our spouses for the good part of 90 minutes- literally sitting in the middle of the saloon on chairs, all but oblivious to everyone else, engaged in what our spouses and friends laughingly joked was “shop talk.”

Well, it got real…

We talked about the nature of sin, the current environment of “Fearful Christians” and what does it take to get Christians to “Stand up and Look up.” We discussed the state of the church catholic, the pope, gay marriage, female ordination.. the whole gambit.

It was a very deep conversation.. my brain hurt. Not in the “ouch too much tequila and too little memory pain” but in the stretched my brain to places it hasn’t gone in a while pain. Definitely took her out for a good ole run around the block.. it was a good ache, one I have not experienced in a long while.

After we returned to our spouses, I realized how much social justice we were surrounded by in this pub, which donates all it’s profits to open small schools in the 3rd world- 18 to date as I recall. I then realized that even in the midst of the examples of this socially responsible business, we priests had missed something, and it made me ponder what the evening meant.

In the midst of our deep conversation, surrounded by the reminders of social justice mission work, all the other attendees went to eat at the top floor of the bar (think loft space etc.) so there we were, two priests, talking about mission, ministry, lost souls, and getting people to stand up, in this room all alone; or so I thought. You see, off in the corner there was a young man… in a wheelchair… all alone.

It wasn’t until we were done talking and returning, him to his wife, and me to my husband, that we realized this young man was left all alone in a room full of people, seemingly forgotten- even by the priests who spent ninety minutes lamenting the fear Christians hold onto, which makes it too difficult for them to  stand up.

So, I have been pondering this experience all week and what it means. Some of my priest friends feel that events like this are reminders to me of my priesthood and that I should come out of my self-imposed retirement. I’m not so sure. More often than not, I feel God brought me into ministry, and then showed me it was time to step aside.  These reminders of my Christianity are very important to me, and I am certainly open to the gentle wake of the Holy Spirit as it moves through my soul- but I think my time as a true spiritual guide have passed. Still, all in God’s time.

Oh.. almost forgot.. that wedding crasher.. well, I guess I’m not sure. I thought, in my self-centered, self-aware, self-importance ego that the crasher was the Holy Spirit- there to upset my apple cart.

But maybe, The Holy Spirit was there all along, and the man in the wheelchair was his company to keep.

And just maybe, I was the wedding crasher.

May God give you peace…

M.