My thoughts and reflections on my Catholic Faith, Fulton Sheen, the problem of suffering, and books

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hello again

Hello, my faithful readers. It's your not-so-faithful blogger.

It's been a while; how have y'all been?

The past few months have been difficult; lots of hard things going on in friends' lives, and a few rough things in my own...hence the silence. (Sometimes I forget I have a blog.) I'm currently in the process of re-vamping the blog and deleting some posts--although it seems impossible to permanently delete anything from the Internet. I'm not going to make any promises about future blog posts, but hopefully I'll crank more out in the near future.

How's Lent going for y'all? I've been doing a Bible study, called Above All, published by the new ministry Take Up and Read. It's beautiful; it's deep; it's soul-searching; it's difficult--but Lent isn't supposed to be easy; it's supposed to be hard, it's supposed to make us dig deep. During Lent, we're supposed to struggle with topics such as forgiveness, self-denial, prayer.

It's time for me to repeat a timeless quote from my dear Archbishop Fulton Sheen:
It is quite a wrong thing, therefore, to say that you “give up” something during Lent. Our Lord never asked us to give up anything; He asked us to exchange: “What exchange shall a man give for his soul?” When someone is in love with God, he finds that there are somethings (sic) he can get along without (his own pleasure), and something else he cannot get along without, namely, the peace of soul that comes from obeying God’s Will. So he exchanges the one for the other, surrenders the lesser good to gain a Kingdom. He makes such a series of profitable exchanges every day he lives.  (Peace of Soul, 194)
The purpose of Lent is not to give up chocolate or Facebook or swearing; the purpose of Lent is to grow closer to Christ. If exchanging those things for self-denial and a clean tongue bring us closer to Christ--good.

There are three weeks left until Easter. Make them count.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sheen on Kingship

Happy Feast of Christ the King!

They could not make Him King; He was born a King. ...
His Kingship would come through the Divine "must" of the Cross, and not through popular force. This was the second time that He declined a crown; the first was when Satan offered Him the kingship of the world, if He would fall down and adore him. "My Kingdom is not of this world," He would tell Pilate later on. But the crowd would push Him to a throne; He said He would not be pushed; He would be "lifted up" to it and the throne would be the Cross, and His Kingship would be over hearts.

~Fulton J. Sheen, Life of Christ, 136.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

All Souls Day

Today is All Souls Day--the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.

All Souls Day has a particular poignancy for me this year, because in the past three months I've lost three clients: Mrs. Brien, and two of my Home Instead clients, whom I shall call "Rose" and "Mona."

Rose in particular has me reflecting on the beauty of our Faith.

She had a fall in late September, and just didn't seem like herself after the fall; there was an uneasy, persistent feeling in my mind that she should be anointed; so I asked her daughter-in-law to ask their parish priest to anoint her.

My suggestion sent the daughter-in-law into a panic: "Do you think she's going to die?" and I reassured her that I just wanted to make sure that Rose had received the Sacraments, in case she were to die.  I didn't want it on my conscience, if she were to die without the Sacraments.

This fear--that someone being anointed means they are CERTAINLY going to die--is a common misconception about the sacrament, as my Moral Theology Professor, Joseph Arias examines in his article "What the Anointing of the Sick Is and Isn't."

So on the First Friday of October, she was anointed and received Holy Communion.  There was something extremely comforting in kneeling by her bedside while the priest anointed her forehead and her hands, and gave her Viaticum.

She had a stroke two weeks later, and died a week after that.  I learned of her death this past Monday, and immediately realized--and was grateful--that All Souls Day was approaching.

Even though I didn't make it to Mass, there was a certain consolation in visiting the local cemetery where Mrs. Brien is buried, and praying for the repose of her soul and the souls of my other clients.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.
May they rest in peace.
May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Monday, August 28, 2017

In Loving Memory

On August 21, 2017, at 12:30 a.m., Ann Marie Plunkett Brien died in the Lord.

She was 81. She had been disabled since 2011, when a stroke robbed her of her speech and of the use of her right side.

I was blessed to have been her caregiver since October 2012--for four years and ten months. Trying to articulate her impact on my life is going to be difficult.

She taught me how to make a good strong pot of Irish tea. (Heat the teapot first by pouring boiling water in and letting it sit while you boil the water again. Pour out the water in the teapot; put the teabags in the pot--use two for three people unless you want your tea to taste as weak as water--pour fresh hot water over the teabags, stir very thoroughly, then cover the teapot with a tea cosy to keep it hot while it steeps. The longer it steeps, the stronger the tea!)

She taught me the importance of small things; she was very particular about her clothes...not in a vain way, but in a "this matters" way; the whole idea of faithfulness in the little things.

She was generous. Yes, she hid her dark chocolate to keep the grandkids (she had 24!) from eating it, but she would share it with me sometimes.

She was patient. Sure, she got frustrated sometimes with the limitations of her illness...not being able to speak was a cross to bear...but for the most part, she bore that cross with patience and dignity.

* * *
We read a lot. I didn't keep a complete list, but we read Dickens' Christmas Carol, A.J. Cronin's Adventures in Two Worlds, Betty Smith's Maggie-Now, M. Raymond's The Man Who Got Even With God, Chaim Potok's The Chosen. We had just begun Henry Morton Robinson's The Cardinal a month before her death, and were only halfway finished with chapter one.  (Cronin, Smith, and Raymond were her recommendations; Potok and Robinson were mine.)

* * *
Grief stinks. It sneaks up on you while you're driving to work, or in quiet time before bed. It about knocked me over at the funeral; brought tears, even songs that I can listen to at other times, such as "Lord of All Hopefulness," "The Servant Song," and "O God Beyond All Praising."  There were some new songs, such as "Lady of Knock." The Communion song, "Holy is Your Name" made me smile through my tears, because it's to the tune of "Wild Mountain Thyme," a song that my friends and I know as "The Heather Song" because we have a good friend named Heather.

Death happens, and grief stinks, but nothing--NOTHING--can separate us from the Love of God.

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life,
neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
nor any powers,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

~Romans 8:28-29

Rest in peace, Mrs. Brien.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Prayer Request!

For the third time, dear blog readers, I come to you with a prayer request for my friend and history professor Brendan McGuire.

(Brendan at St. Patrick's Day this year. Photo shamelessly stolen from Flickr.)

He was just diagnosed with a second recurrence of Ewing's Sarcoma.

Brendan is 34. He has three kids under the age of 10. He's a good guy. This isn't fair.

He is having surgery tomorrow to remove the tumor. His family is asking for prayers for Brendan's healing through the intercession of Venerable Solanus Casey. Please keep Brendan, his beautiful family, and all of us who love him in your prayers!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Caregiving: Death, Faith, and Bedside Commodes

(...or when a blog post you started months ago takes a totally different turn....)

I am a caregiver. For three-and-one-half years, I worked privately; then, almost a year ago, I got a job with an agency. I've cared for probably a dozen clients; and while some have been axasperating, on the whole, I've liked them.

I lost a client in December. I only had the privilege of caring for her for two days at the end of October. The shift was a last-minute one that needed to be filled; I accepted it because it was nearby...and then I read my client's assessment and found out that she was dying. I was terrified: what if she died on my shift? what if she needed more than I could give? what would I say [I'm an expert at sticking my foot in my mouth in delicate situations]? But then I accepted it, and found a charming woman--funny, kind, gentle, grateful...and I picked up a shift with her the next week as well. It was heart-breaking to see how much she had declined in just that one week; but she was still funny and kind and graceful. I tried to pick up more shifts with her, but they were filled; and then her family came, and she no longer needed my company's services.

In mid-December, in a middle-of-the-night moment (I have too many of those), I looked my client up online, and found that she had died ten days previously.

I had known she was dying; but even still, the news rattled me.

I went to my office's Candelighting Ceremony in January. None of my client's family members were able to be present; I was the only one of her caregivers who attended; and thus, I was privileged to light a candle in her memory and to take home a white rose. When the rose wilted, I pressed the petals, and put them in a box, so I can always remember Ms. L.

I can't tell you now what it was I loved about her...I've had other clients whom I've known I loved during the time I was caring for maybe it's just the fact that she's the first client I lost, that's made her stick with me.

I believe in God. I believe in the resurrection of the body. I believe in life everlasting.

How does someone who possesses no faith--someone with no belief in God, in a life after this one--perform a job as a companion to the elderly, or a Personal Care Assistant (my title), or a nurse, or a doctor?

When I first started with this company, this was my mindset:
I am not a saint by any stretch of the imagination; there most definitely is no halo around my head; and there is no way in heck I would do this job for free. (I'm no Mother Teresa!) This is my job right now--I need money in order to live, to pay bills, to buy food, etc. This is only a job, only something I'm doing "until something better comes along."
Thanks to a change in circumstances, the job has moved on from being merely a job, merely something I'm doing for the money, merely something I'm doing "until something better comes along," to something more.

I don't want to call it a "vocation"; I don't think God is calling me to spend the rest of my life caring for the elderly (I hope He's not!) but I'm beginning to find the joy in the job, rather than to let the job take away all the joy.

A few months ago, I was emptying a particularly foul bedside commode, and the thought came--I hope in the form of a prayer: "I want to empty this commode as if I were doing it for You, Lord."  Now, let me be clear that that thought does not cross my mind every time I have to perform that task; sometimes it's pressed out through gritted teeth, from a tired caregiver who's not sure she's making a difference in anyone's life; sometimes, in the normal human disgust at the task, the thought doesn't occur to me at all.

However, that is exactly what needs to be my motivation--the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning, that sends me into my clients' homes with a smile no matter how cranky I may feel.

Because this job is an opportunity to serve Christ in these elderly people. Because He's there. There is an opportunity for me to serve Christ in the lady with schizophrenia who does not seem to realize that "cleanliness is next to godliness." (Ms. B died in January...may she rest in peace.) I can serve Him by repeating myself three times as I try to have a conversation with the nearly-deaf ninety-seven year-old. And I can serve Him in the couple--both members of the Chosen People--whose request to go to the grocery store fills me with terror, because one of them walks extremely fast, and the other walks extremely slow, and somehow I have to keep an eye on both of them!

Christ is there. They're made in His Image and Likeness, so I have to remember, even on the most exasperating days, these words from Jan Karon's Mitford Series:

"Lord, make me a blessing to someone today."

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A Song Review: "Thy Will," by Hillary Scott

A few weeks ago, I heard a song on the radio. It was one of those times where I had the radio on as background music while I did chores, so I wasn't paying much attention to the lyrics. Then some of the words did catch my ear, and I stopped what I was doing to really listen. I closed my eyes as the words sunk into my heart.

 The song became a prayer.

I'm so confused
I know I heard You loud and clear
So, I followed through
Somehow I ended up here

These first lines can ring true for so many of us: we're confused. And this isn't confusion about the big things such as why there's evil in the world; this is personal, intimate confusion, the kind that we voice only to the Good Lord or to close friends.

We thought we heard God telling us to do this; so we did it. Except...we didn't end up where we thought we would. We're confused, we're lost, we're hurting.

I don't wanna think
I may never understand
That my broken heart is a part of Your plan

We don't want to think too much about the situation, because we'll drive ourselves batty, or we'll end up frustrated and upset and in tears. The more people tell us, "Hang in there, God has a plan!" the more we want to scream: "But this situation/problem/ circumstance/whatever can this hurt, this pain, this frustration, be the plan of an all-good, all-loving God?  My heart is breaking; how is that Your plan, Lord?!"

And it's important to note that this song is a prayer; Hillary Scott is not talking about God; she's talking to Him. Sheen explains the difference in his poem "Complain" in Our Grounds for Hope: Enduring Words of Comfort and Assurance:

God does not frown on your complaint.
Did not His Mother in the Temple ask:
“Son! Why hast thou done so to us?”
And did not Christ on the Cross complain:
“My God! Why hast Thou abandoned Me?”
If the Son asked the Father,
And the Mother the Son – “Why?”
Why should not you?

But let your wails be to God,
And not to man,
Asking not, “Why does God do this to me?”
But: “Why, O God, dost Thou treat me so?”
Talk not about God, as Satan did to Eve:
“Why did God command you?”
But talk to God, as Christ to His Father.
(Emphasis added)

The song continues; we pray...or we try to pray...but all that we can find to say, the only words that come to mind, even if we're muttering them through gritted teeth, are the prayer of Our Lord in the Garden:

When I try to pray
All I've got is hurt and these four words
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done

We recognize the goodness and omniscience of God; but because we're human and because our little finite minds can't see things as the infinite God does, we don't see how the goodness of God is manifest in this situation.

I know You're good
But this don't feel good right now
And I know You think
Of things I could never think about

As it says in Isaias 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. [9] For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.
We struggle to follow James' admonition to "count it all joy, when you shall fall into divers temptations; Knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing" (Jam. 1:2-4). The noise and the pain and the tears distract us from seeing the joy and seeing how God is keeping His promise to never abandon us (cf. Deut. 31:6):

It's hard to count it all joy
Distracted by the noise
Just trying to make sense
Of all Your promises

What we need to remember during these times is that we're not God, we don't see the whole picture. He does; He knows where we'll be in twenty years and how we're going to get there. (Sometimes I'd like to know that ahead of time...or maybe not!)

Sometimes I gotta stop
Remember that You're God
And I am not

When we return to the refrain, there is a new line: "Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is." From our earliest childhood, we learned to pray "Thy Will be done" in the Our Father; we learned it in the Bible story of Our Blessed Lord's Agony in the Garden. The "like a child" does not only refer to our childhood prayers, but to the childlike trust that we have to have in God to truly pray the words "Thy Will be done":

Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will

The song continues with an act of faith and trust: we know that God sees our heartbreak, that He hears our plea...and that because He is all-good and all-merciful and all-loving, He wants to heal our broken hearts, answer our pleas, and dry our tears, whether in this life or in the next:

I know You see me
I know You hear me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness You have in store
I know You hear me
I know You see me, Lord
Your plans are for me
Goodness You have in store

The song concludes with the refrain, the line about childlike faith, and a final act of faith:

So, Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Like a child on my knees all that comes to me is
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
Thy will be done
I know You see me
I know You hear me, Lord

Lyrics from