Archive for the ‘fear’ Category

One life and how it changed so many

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Yesterday I began my vacation. I enjoyed an exquisite kayaking trip up the Sudbury River in Concord, MA to the Great Meadows National Wildlife Reserve. The day ended with a wonderful family dinner to welcome home my brother-in-law as he visits from California.

I remember sitting in my kayak, looking at the scenery and thinking,  “It doesn’t get more beautiful than this.”

Yet after today, that beauty paled in comparison.

My favorite day of vacation won’t be the glorious kayak trip or the family reunion dinner.

It will be a funeral.

Today I witnessed something so beautiful that I couldn’t stop weeping. I was not sad; I was overwhelmed.

The essence of Henry

A very special man had died. He was a member of our parish family and our town for several decades. His wake was crowded and the funeral mass nearly full. Our pastor summed up the story of Henry this way:

“Henry was a gracious receiver.”

What in the world does that mean? Monsignor Mike used the gospel reading as the key.

The story of Henry

Monsignor had chosen John 13: 1-17 where Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. It was a different choice for a funeral mass. But Henry was a most unique man.

Henry had fallen prey to a mental illness when he was 19 and spent many years institutionalized. Years later he was placed in a new experimental program where he would live in the community, and he moved to a small apartment in downtown Westboro, MA where he was to live out his days. He joined our parish, St. Luke the Evangelist, and began to use his special gift.

At first people were put off by Henry’s odd mannerisms and ways. But as eulogist Charley O’Neil pointed out, it didn’t take long for those same people to count this dear man as their friend.

A simple life full of love

Henry loved people. He exuded joy and made it a point to meet and greet as many people as he could. He never forgot a name nor a face. He was a fixture at daily mass, loving our Eucharistic Lord most passionately. He prayed his rosary regularly and became known as a powerful prayer warrior.

Henry was also a man who recognized his needs and weaknesses and never hesitated to call on parishioners for help. Charley remarked that once Henry asked you for help, you were a member for life of his little community!

His gift of “gracious receiving” enabled a large part of our parish family to be more like Jesus.

Henry taught us how to receive

Monsignor Mike pointed out Peter in the gospel, how he first refused the Lord’s offer to wash his feet. When Jesus told Peter that he could not be a disciple unless he received this gift, Peter understood and allowed the Lord to wash his feet. In turn, Peter would care for many of the flock throughout his life with greater love than he could have imagined.

Monsignor explained that Henry did that for people. He asked for help and received it graciously. As a result, Henry was Jesus to many and allowed others to be Jesus to him. He helped people live the verse from the parable of the Last Judgment: “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink, naked and you clothed me, sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25:36, paraphrased)

Charley O’Neil as a key member of  Henry’s beautiful community of friends, driving Henry places and each year, hosting a big birthday party for him at his home. I imagine that each year, the guest list got longer.

Henry taught us how to love

And Charley reminded us that Henry indeed represented the least of us, a man disabled who had to depend on others for his needs. Henry was a man who would normally be shunned and forgotten, but he refused to play that role. His great joy and fearless love, fueled by his devotion to the Eucharistic Lord, enabled him to achieve the kind of legacy we could only dream of. (read Henry’s obituary here; read a letter to the town of Westboro about Henry here)

Surely Henry is “free of his demons” as Charley said, and “rests in the arms of the Lord.”

What Henry taught me

And why could I not stop weeping? Because, here was a man with a heart so big and so full that, despite his “demons” was able to change so many lives for the better.

Only this week the Lord has been showing me the painful truth of my small heart which I liken to the Grinch who stole Christmas. So small and stingy. So afraid.

Today I was exposed to a heart and a life that was lived fearlessly, in great joy. Henry’s light was so bright and although I barely knew the man, his funeral and life story would change me forever.

Henry understood the delicate balance of receiving and giving. “So simple,” said our pastor, and yet so profound.

True beauty

Today I saw a beauty and a truth that reminds me yet again that there is nothing in this world that can even begin to compare to the love of our God.

I may have kayaked down one of the most scenic rivers in the world yesterday. I may have enjoyed a wonderful dinner with family, full of laughter, love and stories.

But all of that paled in comparison to the truth of God’s love as shown through the life of “the least of these.”

Henry, you’re in heaven now and I bet your giving has just begun. You gave me a most precious gift today. And I will continue to ask you to pray for me that God will grow my heart to be as big and generous as yours. Rest in peace.

 

 

Lay down your burden

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

I just loved the homily given on Sunday by our pastor, Monsignor Mike Foley. He shared a true and compelling story of how he applied the above verses from the gospel reading to his own life.

Several years ago, Monsignor Mike was pastor to the largest parish in our diocese, St. Ann’s in Milford, MA. With approximately 3500+ families in the parish, St. Ann’s at one time had 5 priests to serve. Back in the early 2000′s, the death of a pastor caused the bishop to effectively “shuffle the deck”, redistributing pastors and promoting an associate to pastor to fill the various needs of the diocese. Monsignor was at the bottom of the deck. In the end, he was left alone at St. Ann’s without even the help of a deacon because the deacon was sick. He would not be able to get extra help for at least 3 months. On top of everything else, it was during the height of the sexual abuse scandal which rocked Boston and surrounding communities.

Monsignor knew he was in trouble. He described the various ways he could have reacted:

  • Get angry with the bishop
  • Work himself to death
  • Or turn to the Lord in prayer

He decided to turn the Lord in prayer. At at time when one would think more hours would need to be devoted to work, Monsignor Mike took 2 extra hours (together) out of his day to spend time with the Lord in prayer. He confessed his need and allowed the Lord to give him rest. He took the will of God (His yoke) on his shoulders, surrendering his own will for what he thought ought to be done, and surrendering the will and expectations of others.

In the end,  God showed him how to prioritize his work, helping Monsignor in his decision making, and ultimately, remaking the vision of the parish.

Monsignor Mike really shared from his heart. At one point, standing in front of the altar, he pointed back to the gospel book stating, ” I know that it works to allow God to carry your burden. I’ve lived it!”

All the while I’m marveling at the fact that this holy priest would spend 2 solid hours in prayer. As always, he, in essence, fertilized the desire already in me to deepen my prayer. It’s so helpful when God sets before you such wonderful examples like Monsignor Mike. We at St. Luke the Evangelist in Westboro, MA are so fortunate!

Reading between the lines regarding detachment

Monday, June 27th, 2011

I have just begun a book that will mostly likely be my summer companion. It’s called Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, SM. It’s a thick volume with densely packed type on an intense subject: contemplative prayer, based upon the writings and lives of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Happily this book was also available as an eBook which I promptly downloaded onto my ipod. Because I can adjust the size of the type, somehow the book seems less intimidating. :-)

The need for contemplative prayer

I could not have read this book even 6 months ago. Contemplative prayer demands a surrendered life and had God not prepared me with The Prayer of Mary: Leading a Surrendered Life, I could not have handled this book. It was recommended to me by a confessor (thank you Fr. Moe!) after he listened to me talk about the fear that permeated my life. He knew I needed to surrender my life and tap into the power of contemplative prayer.

Learning to detach

I haven’t even gotten into the “guts” of the book yet but I know I’m going to have to learn how to detach. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll detach from my possessions, from money, from the desire to have my own way, ” etc., etc. But I’m finding it’s more than that. I have to detach from my family, my friends, my interests, ambitions, desires, and especially my feelings. For example, I’ve known for a while that I need to detach from my grown children. A reminder today from my daughter and her “I really want to strike out on my own and not be tied to my parents all the time” attitude told me to back off and give her the space she wants until this time passes. I remember feeling that way at her age and it does pass eventually. She’s an adult now and I must let her go.

Feelings can do you in

Then there are those feelings that come up over matters so trivial yet they can have a profound affect on my attitude. My weakness is aggravation and the Enemy knows it. I have a wicked temper and he knows just how to set it off. Until recently I used to believe it didn’t matter if I spouted off when I got angry so long as I did it privately but I learned from God that in fact this was not so (see previous post, The Value of Self Control). It builds a thick barrier between myself and the Spirit, and I find it hard to pray or to love, and it sure snuffs out joy and patience!

So what got me so mad? Ever tried vacuuming a pool? We have an above-ground pool and the vacuum consists of the head (which does the scrubbing and vacuuming), a long pole that the head is connected to, and a very long hose that is connected to the pump. When vacuuming goes smoothly, I rather enjoy it as I love doing anything with water. BUT, when it goes wrong as it did yesterday, it can be an extremely frustrating task. That vacuum thought of every way to possible to malfunction in the form of detaching the hose from the pump, or the head from the pole, or the hose from the head. It must have happened in one shape or form about a dozen times and I was beside myself with aggravation by the time the job was done. Needless to say, my self control went right out the window!

The anger grows . . .

Anger like that lasts and builds on itself. Later on in the day while preparing dinner for my son and his new girlfriend, the microwave kept tripping the circuit breaker. Somehow I got the potatoes to cook but not without a lot of aggravation.

Prayer to the rescue!

When this cycle continued into this morning I knew I was under attack from the Enemy. This is actually the first time that I’ve ever recognized an extended period of aggravation as an attack and I applied the one foolproof defense against it: prayer. I prayed the rosary this morning to try and prepare my heart to hear the scriptures, and then listened to the readings of the day. The first reading from Genesis, chapter 18, verses 16-33 recounted Abraham’s petitioning to the Lord to not exact punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah if there were just a handful of innocent people. The psalm’s response, “The Lord is kind and merciful,” summed it up perfectly. And in reflecting on that thought of being kind and merciful, how could I possibly be either with all this anger inside, especially over such stupid stuff?

I entered into a quiet space with the Lord and relayed my desire to let go of this anger and knock down the barrier it created. I found myself sitting next to Jesus on a dock, and my ankle had a chain around it. The chain was connected to a large barge. With Jesus’ help, I unlocked the chain and we both pushed the barge away with our feet and watched it slowly sail down the river and out of sight. Just as slowly my peace returned and I felt the anger dissipate. And I am happy to report, the attack has ended.

I can see that I have much to learn about detachment!  As in all things in the Christian life, there is so much more in between the lines.

A prayer of surrender

Here’s a wonderful prayer of surrender courtesy of The Catholic Spiritual Direction blog:

Loving Father,

I surrender to you today with all my heart and soul. Please come into my heart in a deeper way. I say, “Yes” to you today. I open all the secret places of my heart to you and say, “Come on in.” Jesus, you are the Lord of my whole life. I believe in you and receive you as my Lord and Savior. I hold nothing back.

Holy Spirit, bring me to a deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. I surrender all to you: my time, my treasures, my talents, my health, my family, my resources, my work, relationships, time management, successes and failures. I release it and let it go.

I surrender my understanding of how things ‘ought’ to be, my choices and my will. I surrender to you the promises I have kept and the promises I have failed to keep. I surrender my weaknesses and strengths to you. I surrender my emotions, my fears, my insecurities, my sexuality. I especially surrender ______ (Here mention other areas of surrender as the Holy Spirit reveals them to you.)

Lord, I surrender my whole life to you, the past, the present, and the future. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, I belong to you. (Remain the Lord in a spirit of silence through your thoughts, a heart song, or simply staying in His presence and listening for His voice.)

I encourage you to read more on this wonderful site – the  Catholic Spiritual Direction Blog.

Why does love chase away fear?

Friday, March 25th, 2011

In praying the Sorrowful Mysteries of the rosary this morning, a thought struck me while praying the first mystery: The Agony in the Garden: why was Jesus afraid and what did it mean?

Jesus was the Christ, co-equal with the Father and the Holy Spirit – how could he know fear? But Jesus was also man and we all know fear. As a man, Jesus knew fear and anxiety in that garden that was so intense that He sweated blood and begged the Father to allow what was coming to pass.

It made me wonder: did Jesus as a man know the separation from the Father that all humanity knows, brought on by the fall of Adam and Eve? And because of that separation, did He then turn into Himself, thus coming face to face with the terrors that awaited Him? And by turning everything over to God (“not my will but Yours”) and thus turning away from Himself, is that what opened Jesus to the grace needed to face His most terrible hours with such courage?

Is fear then, self-centered, while love and trust is other-centered?

In remembering the many times I used to wake up at 4 in the morning, worrying endlessly about so many things, it certainly was all about me! I felt trapped inside of myself when that type of anxiety would grip me. Only when the sun came up and I got out of bed was I able to put a little distance between myself and my fear. When that happened, the fear would shrink and fade. The monster in the closet would disappear when a little perspective came into view.

I remember many years ago I read a book about a fire in a Boston nightclub that scared me so much I didn’t close my eyes the entire night. I broke out in a sweat and my stomach hurt. This fear was so deep that I refused to go out to restaurants. I wouldn’t go to our town library or work there for fear I would see that book. Sometimes I would see local news coverage of the event, citing some anniversary, and it would ruin my whole day. The fear was palpable, and it kept growing.

Finally I confessed my fear to my then-boyfriend-now husband. I had to pray on it for a long time, rocking back and forth in the bathroom crying until I got up the nerve to name it to someone else. After I confessed it, the fear went away – the monster in the closet was gone. I stepped away from myself, trusted God, and let it go.

I knew years later I had been successful because another terrible nightclub fire occurred in 2003 in Warwick, RI. This time, instead of running away from it, I faced it head on. It was hard, but it prevented the monster from rising up again.

Jesus faced His fear and turned it over to His loving Father. He turned away from himself and towards the Father. He could only do that because of his love and trust for the Father. And he was able to face his own monster, a real monster, and do it with grace.

Love chases away fear because love focuses on the other, not on the self. That turning away from self allows trust to happen.

Jesus tells us that fear is useless and to replace it with trust. Trust becomes easier as I come to know Jesus more intimately and fall more deeply in love with Him. Love is perfected over a lifetime and perfect love drives out all fear.