Why I Remain a Catholic

Late afternoon sunlight reflects off the water and onto my Bible during my recent retreat. (Photo credit: author)

Like many Catholics I have been (pick all that apply: hurt / angry / seething / pissed / apoplectic / embarrassed / ashamed / in tears) over all that has transpired and come to light in the Catholic Church since the summer of 2018. This latest round of shame after the “long Lent” of 2002 has been the final straw for many as they exited the Church. I, too, had thoughts for a brief moment of doing the same.

In the end I knew I would stay. I endured weeks and months of experiencing all of the emotions I listed above and then some, but I knew. I knew just as Peter did in the passage below:

After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Will you also go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. (John 6:66-68)

Holy Mother Church is just that. My mother. As I described to the priest who heard my confession two weeks ago on retreat if someone attacks and abuses my mom there’s no way I would abandon her. I will stay by her side and fight for her and against those who are the cause of her pain.

Surrender is for cowards. It is the easy path, and many have chosen to join the culture at large in this regard. We all have to choose our own path. Mine is to stay and fight. We were never promised this would be easy. In fact Christ warned us. And are we not the Church Militant? Of course we fight.

For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places. (Ephesians 6:12)

Before I left the confessional the priest advised me to read Letter to a Suffering Church by Bishop Robert Barron. This priest, and many of his brother priests, endured those same emotions I listed, and he told me that this short booklet of just over a hundred pages had been a help and comfort to him. He thought I might benefit from it as well, and I’m grateful to him for directing me towards it. The book is available on Amazon here. There is also a website for the book that includes more resources and a timeline of the scandals. [sufferingchurchbook.com]

Below are some of the passages I underlined while reading this booklet. They speak to my reasons for remaining.

Eighteen hundred years after Paul, John Henry Newman, one of the most perceptive theological minds in the tradition, made this rather startling and sweeping observation: “The whole course of Christianity…is but one series of troubles and disorders. Every century is like every other, and to those who live in it seems worse than all times before it. The Church is ever ailing…Religion seems ever expiring, schisms dominant, the light of truth dim, its adherents scattered. The cause of Christ is ever in its last agony.” [p.42]

In reference to the Scripture I referenced above from John 6:66-68:

…if you have found in Jesus everlasting life, salvation, the answer to the deepest longing of your heart, then no matter how difficult things become, and no matter how many of your fellows might drift away, you must stay. [pp.57-58]

We do indeed have to look hard at the wickedness in the Church today; but we also have to be clear-eyed about the beauty and veracity and holiness on offer in that same Church. The vessels are all fragile and many of them are downright broken; but we don’t stay because of the vessels. We stay because of the treasure. [p.59]

Bishop Barron continues:

…there is simply never a good reason to leave the Church. Never. Good reasons to criticize Church people? Plenty. Legitimate reasons to be angry with corruption, stupidity, careerism, cruelty, greed, and sexual misconduct on the part of leaders of the Church? You bet. But grounds for turning away from the grace of Christ in which eternal life is found? No. Never, under any circumstances. [pp.59-60]

In the end, we are not Catholics because our leaders are flawless, but because we find the claims of Catholicism both compelling and beautiful. We are Catholics because the Church speaks of the Trinitarian God whose very nature is love; of Jesus the Lord, crucified and risen from the dead; of the Holy Spirit, who inspires the followers of Christ up and down the ages; of the sacraments, which convey the Christ-life to us; and of the saints, who are our friends in the spiritual order. This is the treasure; this is why we stay. [p.78]

This evil must be confronted, defeated and purged.

The gates of hell shall not prevail. (Matthew 16:18)

No surrender.

I stay.

All is Gift

“I greet you with a warm handshake of the heart.”

It is, perhaps, a testament to just how much the writing well has dried up for me. Time was after a retreat I came back refreshed and verbose as all get out. Alas, those days are gone. I went on my fifth silent Ignatian retreat from December 5 – 9 and second straight at The Cloisters on the Platte.

It was, in a word, fantastic.

And that’s about all I can still muster up to say about it.

Fantastic.

I wish everyone reading this had the opportunity to make such a retreat. More accurately, I wish everyone reading this would make it a point to make such a retreat, because we all have the opportunity.

You do not have to be Catholic.

You do not have to be wealthy.

You simply have to have the desire, make it a priority, and the time available. Location isn’t an issue because these retreats are most likely offered in a location near you.

“I greet you with a warm handshake of the heart.”

I wish I were able to find the words to write about my experiences over those four days as there were many worth sharing. God, however, still seems to see fit that I remain mute, struck dumb and unable to express the thoughts in my heart or my head. I pray that one day after this time in the verbal desert that He grants me back my “speech” with you all. But as I ponder all of this I think that He’s not done having a more quiet, intimate conversation with me, one that was too often drowned out in my rambling and writings in the past. I think that for now that “still, small voice” desires that my ear be tuned to Him.

“I greet you with a warm handshake of the heart.”

The priest who led our retreat was Fr. Peter Etzel, S.J., a truly wonderful priest who is currently the associate pastor of Gesu Church and School in Detroit. He had recently spent seven years as the director of the Sioux Spiritual Center on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. He began each of his talks with the phrase “I greet you with a warm handshake of the heart” having explained in his introduction that it was an old greeting that had been taught to him by members of the Cherokee tribe.

Would that more of us, myself included, used that sentiment when greeting friends or strangers in whatever setting our paths crossed.

Fr. Etzel also mentioned on more than once occasion how St. Ignatius saw and taught that “All is Gift.”

When you make the time to slow down, quiet yourself, and really enter into the heart and mind of God, you see, and know, that this is true.

All is gift.

I’ll close with something I read in the back section of my breviary while praying Vespers late on Saturday afternoon. I was enjoying the last warm rays of the sun on that unseasonally warm December day that saw temperatures in the high 50s. The photo at the top was taken by me from the patio outside my lodge room. It is a poem by Henry Vaughan. I thought it perfect as Advent nears its end and Christmas comes soon.

Should we meet again, and I hope we do, let us clasp hands in warm friendship and say with conviction, “I greet you with a warm handshake of the heart.”

Merry Christmas, and may you all have a happy and blessed new year.

Peace
by Henry Vaughan

My Soul, there is a country
Afar beyond the stars,
Where stands a winged sentry
All skillful in the wars;

There, above noise and danger
Sweet Peace sits, crown’d with smiles,
And One born in a manger
Commands the beauteous files.

He is thy gracious friend
And (O my Soul awake!)
Did in pure love descend,
To die here for thy sake.

If thou canst get but thither,
There grows the flow’r of Peace,
The Rose that cannot wither,
Thy fortress, and thy ease.

Leave then thy foolish ranges,
For none can thee secure,
But One, who never changes,
Thy God, thy life, thy cure.

Manifesto of Faith – video

This may be the best presentation and representation of the truths of Catholicism that I’ve seen to date. If I’ve come to the end of my posts on this blog, let it end with this.

I have always enjoyed diving into the Catechism of the Catholic Church as promulgated by St. Pope John Paul II when wanting to go deeper into the teachings of the faith. But over the last year our current pope has taken it upon himself to rewrite and revise certain tenets. Had I wished to remain Protestant and have doctrines and beliefs change with a vote or whim of church leadership as opposed to the centuries of tradition and reason and thought, I would have done so. I still have my 1994 edition of the CCC, but recently purchased a copy of The Catechism of the Council of Trent from Baronius Press, unchanging since its writing over two decades in response largely to the Reformation, being finished at last in late 1566.

I prefer meat as opposed to the thin gruel of the modern age. Truth is eternal. The Spiritus Mundi is fleeting, sewing discord and division before it eventually devours itself. This does not mean I do not accept change. I believe it is revealed over time. It endures and survives the scrutiny of debate, thought and reason when considered against the lens of history. It does not change at the whim of a court decision or piece of hastily written legislation, voted into existence by a political class wishing to remain in the good graces of special interests.

Sentry Duty

I read this tweet quoting T.S. Eliot over the weekend and thought “Man, do I feel this.” Not in the physical sense, though I am in fact slowing down, but in the sense that I find myself grasping for the eternal more and more with each trip I make around the sun. And indeed, as the inspired author of Ecclesiastes wrote “there is nothing new under the sun.”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I thought I’d check in as it’s been almost a year since I last posted here. And this will be brief as I still find I have little to say. (You may exhale in relief now. You won’t hurt my feelings.)

Robert Cardinal Sarah wrote that “All activity must be preceded by an intense life of prayer, contemplation, seeking and listening to God’s will.” This is the space I have occupied for some time now and will until God indicates otherwise it seems. I have always been a man of many opinions and one who used any opportunity to share them. Yes, I did exercise a lot of restraint (again…shocker I know) but it is true. But the long-winded blogging or multiple social media posts of the past remain just that: in the past. I find that I still do not feel I can speak with any clarity into the world that desperately needs such clarity.

That does not mean I do not observe, for that much I do. And here I am tempted to extrapolate on what it is I observe but stop myself before I go down that rabbit hole. I find that it’s all too much. I see it all unfold, and how so much of it is in fact connected, but when I attempt to funnel it down into bits and bytes in an organized manner I just cannot seem to make that distillation process function. The floodgates would open and yet another garbled, disorganized mass of run on sentences and thoughts would pour forth in disarray leaving in their wake muddied confusion much like the mud and silt that occupies so much of northeast Nebraska after the horrific floods of the spring of 2019.

So I remain in this silent observation post the Lord has placed me.

Though I’m not inactive.

Below is a stack of books that my local Catholic bookstore owner and good friend gave me to read and review for his store’s website. I’ve worked my way to the third book and have almost completed my review of the first two that I read.

Books to read and review

Below that is a photo indicative of what I’m most active with in this time of silence: prayer.

To battle…

It is more accurate to say that I’ve joined the battle. Whether we want to admit it or not spiritual warfare is a reality. This fall I joined an apostolate that is meeting online every two weeks to work through and discuss Lorenzo Scupoli’s seminal work Spiritual Combat. I am reading Sister Alethia Noble’s new release Memento Mori: Prayers on the Last Things released on All Souls Day this past November 2nd. Paul Thigpen’s Manual for Spiritual Warfare is an excellent resource. I am also going to begin using the prayers of the Auxilium Christianorum.

Finally, for weeks I have increased the praying of my rosary to each day. I try to continue to do the same with the Divine Office.

On page 140 of The Fruits of Fatima Sister Lucia, when discussing how to preserve our intimate relationship with God, is quoted as saying “I do not think that we shall find one more suited to people in general than the praying of the five or fifteen mysteries of the Rosary.” She also calls the prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office) marvelous.

“To pray the Rosary is something everybody can do, rich and poor, wise and ignorant, great and small.” The Rosary request keeps everyone in the loop. Anyone can pray a Rosary anywhere, whenever they are able.

Earlier, on pages 138-39:

“All people of good will can and must say the Rosary every day,” Lucia counsels. “Why? In order to put ourselves in contact with God, to thank Him for His benefits and ask for the graces we need. It is the prayer which places us in familiar contact with God, like the son who goes to his father to thank him for the gifts he has received, to talk to him about special concerns, to receive his guidance, his help, his support and his blessing.”

Here’s the one thing I will say before parting. We are living in extremely troubled and dangerous times. If you cannot admit to seeing the signs around you are willfully ignorant or blind to them. Things have been so turned upside down in an Orwellian fashion, or more accurately a Huxley-ish one, that to speak as freely as I once did on this blog will soon be grounds for my being harassed into oblivion…the cancel culture so to speak…in which I would be deemed unemployable and possibly convicted for speaking truth to a world that no longer recognizes truth. If you think me hyperbolic I will refer you to cases of this already happening in England and Canada. And whereas I observed those countries sliding down that slope a decade ago we are, in this country, already well down that slope. It’s coming.

And now I will once again fall silent as I’m prepping to begin a Total Consecration to Mary from Nov. 29 – Jan. 1, which is not only the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God but also my birthday. I last made this consecration over fifteen years ago and feel compelled to do so again. I will also be making a silent retreat for four days in early December. I plan on keeping a journal during my 33 days of consecration and of course always journal my thoughts during a retreat.

This work I do is not recognized by the world as important or sexy. Indeed some of you right now are echoing the world’s thoughts regarding my reason, rationale or sanity. And that’s fine. I do not do this to please you or the world. I’ve seen far too much in my lifetime to ignore this reality to join in such a chorus of derision. It is vital work that I, and many more than you realize, offer to God on your behalf.

While I still remain mute on the many thoughts I have about specific events of the day, I will instead defer to this poem written by Auden shortly after Germany invaded Poland in 1939. For in his words, in his thoughts and feelings expressed, I find my own in strident agreement.

God be with you all. Pray for me as I pray for you.

September 1, 1939

W. H. Auden – 1907-1973

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden, published by Random House. Copyright © 1940 W. H. Auden, renewed by the Estate of W. H. Auden.

My Life’s Ambition

Eight years ago, in November 2010, I wrote a post I called Stargazing. It was about asking life’s big questions and how we stop doing so as we age. Within the post I mentioned someone who during my high school years meant a lot to me:

I only took one person to this sacred spot of mine. Her name was…well, I’ll keep that to myself. She may read this and I’d hate to embarrass her. She was a year ahead of me in high school. We were in band together. She was quiet and unassuming, and I thought she was very pretty. Somehow we connected in all the busyness of our teenage years for too short a time and made a try at dating. I was horrible at it and my first love, baseball, ensured the relationship’s death come springtime. But that winter was warmed by the quiet, pretty farmgirl who played clarinet. One night, a night much like tonight, we had gone out for a bit and spent some talking on my front porch. We went for a walk and found ourselves in my backyard where I led her to the place I did all my thinking. I sat down and she sat on my lap for warmth. We talked about the same questions: How will it all turn out? Where will we go in our lives? What will we be doing? We laughed and we talked about all the possibilities before us.

She still means a lot to me. I’m a man blessed to know many people, but I have a very small circle of close friends. I would fight for them in a heartbeat even if we haven’t seen each other in years. I’ll fight physically, if necessary, and always through prayer.

In November of last year, just two months ago, my friend’s husband of twenty-eight years, a fine man, husband and father of her two children, died very suddenly and without warning. No sooner had she finished the grim, sad task of burying him than she was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer. So aggressive that they started chemo within a week. An elementary school teacher with two children in college, her most pressing concern was for her students and her kids. I know this because we had reconnected by random chance by running into each other in a big box store parking lot of all places, around twelve or so years ago, and have stayed in touch via Facebook or text messages.

Before I’d gone on my retreat last month I sent out a text to several people asking them if there were any intentions I could pray for on their behalf. She responded, asking in part:

“For cancer to be gone for the rest of my life. For (my) children to have peace and be cancer free their whole life, to hear God…”

I responded by offering those prayers at my retreat and after. Understandably her spirits were very low after absorbing all of these blows while heading into the holiday season. I also responded by sending her bad clarinet memes. When we were in high school she played clarinet and I played trombone. Trombonists are notorious trouble makers and forwarders of bad band memes, even those with typos. I like to think I helped her laugh a little.

I text her every week, especially the Sundays prior to her two-week chemo treatment. On December 23rd she texted me first:

“Hey! You should see my bald head … 30 years off my age and with a gazillion more muscles and I could be G.I. Jane.”

Sure enough a few minutes later I saw a family photo taken in front of their Christmas tree. Bald as the proverbial cue ball.

It should be mentioned that she is around 5’5”…maybe 5’6” before the hair loss. It should also be pointed out that clarinet players are not as funny as trombone players, but we laugh at their jokes anyway. I figure you gotta have a sense of humor to play a reed instrument. Trombonists have few faults outside of our propensity for bad memes and being late. It’s why we chose to play an instrument with that slide. It’s a cool, non-chalant way of being a half-beat early or late but eventually getting to the right note. “Bad timing, with style,” is what I’d imagine Buzz Lightyear saying if he played the trombone.

Admit it, you just heard him say it in your head.

Yesterday was the passage of another two weeks and it was time to check in. She responded:

“Feeling good for the last four days. Chemo tomorrow. Would have been my 29th anniversary today.”

Oof.

Before she dozed off (I was up late watching a special about the Red Sox run to the World Series title on MLB Network) she seemed to pick up the conversation we’d begun all those years ago during the time I write about in that post when she texted:

“What is your life’s ambition?”

Jeez…clarinet players are unpredictable and much too serious. Thinking about it for a bit, and recalling a similar conversation we’d had together under a canopy of stars thirty-four years ago, I texted back:

“That’s the million dollar question that I have never been able to answer.”

But as I type this out now a thought occurred to me. Maybe it’s to be there for friends in need. That’s not a bad ambition, is it?

During my lunch hour today I was running errands and buying a few things for my oldest son’s birthday tomorrow when she texted me after her chemo was finished.

“Found out at appt today I have cancer in the right side also.”

Being a master wordsmith who is often too verbose in my texts, I considered my a reply for five minutes before mustering

“Nuts.”

“Better to find out now then later,” she replied.

I think I’ve begun to realize my life’s ambition after all … just a week after turning fifty-one.

Trombonists aren’t known for their timing. Better late than never. A clarinet player taught me that.

Please pray for my friend Clarice.

*******

I quoted this song in my original piece eight years ago but failed to embed it for some silly reason. I’m correcting that grievous error here.

©2019 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.

Peace in Our Day

A gargoyle statue is seen among a property smoldering rubble in Paradise, north of Sacramento, California on November 09, 2018. (Photo credit JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

During my silent Ignatian retreat four weeks ago I made and long and intense face-to-face confession with a retired priest and confessor. I confessed my sins and then as I confessed to the sin of anger I found myself unloading my anger about the sins of those priests, bishops and cardinals who undermine the faith of so many in their participation and covering up of the abuse of young boys, men and women. When the newest outbreak began to be reported this summer I was seething…OUTRAGED! I considered leaving, but to go where? This wasn’t of Christ. It wasn’t of His bride, the Church. This was sin and wrongdoing as old as Cain and of the sort that resides inside the deepest recesses of our fallen human nature. To leave Christ’s bride would be like abandoning my own spouse or closest friend or family member in a time of great need, one in which they needed to be defended while under attack. It would be my scurrying like a coward over the old city walls and escaping into the night when outside the ramparts the enemy was preparing for the final siege and rape of the city. What kind of man would I be to do this? The sacraments themselves are still valid. I’ve read too much, studied too much, and experienced too much to ever abandon the Church. But I have zero problem at all in the handing of those traitorous vermin who are to be her most ardent protectors and teachers over to authorities and to justice. I do not envy them the Divine Justice they will one day experience.

I closed by telling him that when asked at the start of the retreat to write down an answer to Christ’s question In Luke 18 “What do you want me to do for you?” I had written the following:

I want Jesus to release me from this anger.
And from my desire to control the uncontrollable
To make me a better husband and father
To make me more selfless and serving
To guard me from my own cynicism
To make me a better man

And when asked to read and meditate on Isaiah 55 and then to write what it is I hunger and thirst for, I had journaled:

For the Truth
For Beauty
For the Good and the Holy
For Peace

“The bottom line Father,” I said. “is that I long for peace.”

When I was finished the old priest looked up at me with a sense of fatigue that I cannot know. For he is likely pained by his brother priest’s betrayal moreso than I. After talking through it with me he gave me my penance: “Go, and search for peace until you find it.”

He completed the rite by absolving me of my sins and sending me on my way with a blessing.

The magnitude of what he said didn’t hit me until after I’d returned to my seat in the chapel. At first I laughed to myself at such a seemingly flippant and silly penance. But as I recalled the wry smile that he wore while saying these words to me and began to consider the magnitude of what he had assigned to me I was no longer laughing. I considered rushing back into the confessional and begging him to give me something else. “Can’t I just recite 100 Hail Mary’s instead? Or 100 Our Father’s?”

Go, and find peace. He just as well asked me to pick up Mount Everest and move it onto the plains of central Nebraska near Kearney. Finding peace would be as easy as that.

I say this as one who tells you that you would have to truly be blind to not see the increasing unrest and chaos in our world today. Events have picked up in intensity and volume at a pace that is destined for a crashing explosion. I do not have the time nor the inclination to attempt to document or list said events here. I don’t say these words as a “prepper” or one hiding behind his armory in a mountainside bunker in Montana. But I can see it with mine own eyes. I can feel it in my bones. Many times recently I’ve found myself uttering these words by Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings to myself:

There is a well-known song, and I’ve even seen it in meme form, that says “Let there be peace on earth.” Too many times we recite the first six words and overlook the six that follow: “…and let it begin with me.” This is the key, I think, for my quest to find peace. I have to start with myself. With my own mind. With my own heart.

As such I have decided to at long last eliminate the noise and distraction of social media from my life by greatly reducing my access. I posted to Facebook for the final time today (though I may include this blog post), a thank you for a baseball-related favor done for my son by a friend of mine. I’ve eliminated anything reeking of the stench of politics from my Twitter feed. I’ve had to do this because as much as I love and value my friends I simply cannot stomach the vomit of politics that goes on there every day. Yes, it still creeps into Twitter and recently I found myself responding in this manner to a question posed by someone sneering at Catholics:

Why shouldn’t I expect them to sneer? It’s what they’re taught to do by our educational system, the media, and our own politicians. Senators Harris (D-CA) and Hirono (D-HI) are now suggesting requiring a religious test for being considered for a federal judgeship as they deem membership in the Knights of Columbus to be “extreme”. Yes, those of us who assist the elderly with their moves, or serve at their funerals, or cook the flapjacks at the pancake breakfasts and Lenten fish fries across the world are now to be looked upon with suspicion. And then I log onto Facebook and see friends of mine, ardent and blindly partisan supporters of all things Democrat, cheering these so-called “leaders”. In a world too full of senseless, screeching identity politics these women are two of the worst.

Just typing that paragraph removed my peace and made my blood boil, and for no reason. After all I cannot control the actions of those moronic and evil politici-…”

See? I was about to lose it again.

So I logged off. Removed the app from my phone. I did so not only for my peace, but for the peace of others. Because I don’t know how much longer I could have remained there and not begun to tell people what I really thought of their politics. I was about to pull up broadside, light the cannon fuses and blow it all to Kingdom Come. Enough is enough.

But that, of course, would help no one. No peace.

I give you peace, my peace I give you

At 4:30pm on December 31st, I drove to the Pink Sisters chapel. Flurries were beginning to fall on the cold, gray New Year’s Eve. Once inside I settled in to pray a rosary before the sisters would arrive to sing Vespers at 5pm. On this night I prayed the Joyful Mysteries because despite what I feel is ahead in the coming year it is, afterall, Christmas and in a transcendental sense I do in fact feel joy. I also felt my strength nourished inside this sanctuary, safe and secure while the darkness descended outside the stained glass windows and the wind howled outside.

My rosary finished as I was able to hear the sisters assembling behind the screen for Vespers. I had brought my breviary so I could pray with them and turned to the page marked by the first ribbon. For the next twenty plus minutes I again felt buoyed by a sense of calm and of strength. I was not praying alone, nor was I praying with just the nuns. In those moments I was praying along with thousands of Catholics around the world who participate in the Divine Office every day in every time zone. And I knew I was praying with not just the Church Militant here on earth, but with the Church Triumphant in Heaven itself, the Communion of Saints. This is how I’ve chosen to live my life, and this is how I prepare myself for my days upon the earth. In this way I know I do not walk alone.

The Sentinel

After Vespers was finished the nuns shuffled out of the sanctuary and back into their living space. But a lone nun stayed behind, kneeling in silent prayer for a time in front of the altar before which the Blessed Sacrament was stationed. She eventually settled back into her chair, a vigilant sentinel of prayer. I left shortly after, walking back outside into the dark night where the flurries had increased their intensity. The old year was in its death throes; the new year would ring into existence in six hours.

I thought of that sister again the following morning when I woke up to the new year and my birthday with Lauds. The image was still very fresh in my mind and brought back into focus as I prayed these words from Psalm 63 that morning:

So I gaze on you in the sanctuary
to see your strength and your glory.

Lauds, January 1, Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

During the Catholic Mass we hear these words from John 14:27 during the Rite of Peace, which directly follows The Lord’s Prayer:

“I give you peace, my peace I give you…”

The full verse containing the words of Jesus is as follows:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Let there be peace on earth.

Let it begin with me.

[Written this 10th day of Christmas, on the Feast of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton]

One year later…

One year ago today I awoke to find I could not walk. I would spend the next 2-3 weeks going from my bed to my couch and no further. I watched more Perry Mason, Laramie or Gunsmoke than I thought possible. I was miserable. I confess to wanting someone to put a bullet into my brain and end the onslaught of pain.

And thus it was that I celebrated Christmas, and my 50th birthday on New Year’s Day, lying on my side with a pillow between my knees because it was the only position that allowed relief from endless spasms and for my tears to cease.

A trip to the doctor’s yielded no results, but did get me a prescription that finally allowed me to get some sleep. I was unable to have an MRI because I could not lie flat for more than 90 seconds and the long, thin tube required my stillness for 30 minutes. My wife bought me two crutches which enabled me to hobble about somewhat. Two weeks in physical therapy prescribed by my doctor did a little, but not much in the end. I did have “dry needling” or acupuncture twice, and it yielded positive results but did not last.

I continued to want that bullet in my head.

I finally went to a chiropractor that had an office near my home. My oldest son had a bad spinal and neck injury from junior high football and two years of chiro had enabled him to function and breathe normally again, complete his high school baseball career and serve as a US Marine. His chiropractor’s office was 30 minutes away and closed for three weeks due to the birth of the chiropractor’s baby. Researching a handful of chiropractors resulted in my deciding to go to the one I did nearby, because of the similarity in techniques and philosophy with my son’s. Hindsight revealed that I had ignored ten months of slow warning signals being sent from my body regarding my back and on Dec. 18, 2017, it manifested itself with the most intense sciatic pain knifing through my left thigh and down into my knee. Seriously…a bullet would have been merciful. I wouldn’t wish that pain on even my worse enemy.

And so, after a flurry of initial treatment several times per week gradually slowing to the once per week I still go today, and as the man who claimed to have been turned into a newt said when confronted with the fact that he was in fact a man said in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

What a year.

I haven’t blogged in 367 days. I’ve thought about what to say if…or when…I decided to post once again. Would it be a farewell? Would it be as if no time had passed? What would I say? Do I even have anything to say anymore?

I don’t have the answers yet. This may, in fact, be the last thing I write here. I just don’t know.

The last twelve months have been a blur, full of challenges and some triumphs. My oldest son returned from his second deployment safely in the spring, and was discharged honorably in October. He has begun the next phase of his life and currently resides with us. I’ve had to say goodbye to some dear friends my own age who didn’t get the luxury of mulling over such vanities because when the time came for them the next breath was suddenly and unexpectedly their last. Sobering events indeed.

I’ve learned, and re-learned, the power of prayer and faith. For it was my faith as a practicing Catholic that helped guide me through the dark year that was 2017, it’s painful ending, and the challenges faced in 2018. I recently made a three-plus day silent Ignatian retreat that renewed and refreshed me. One of the exercises was to review the events of our last twelve months and to journal

  • What have I learned?
  • What have I accomplished?
  • What role did faith, hope or love play?
  • What might I have done differently?
  • Why might I have done things differently?
  • What significant events occurred that were very special to me?
  • What brought fun into my life?
  • What were sources of joy?
  • What difficult things have I faced?
  • How am I different now? How did I grow?
  • What area(s) still need growth?
  • For whom or to what am I most grateful?

To pray with this exercise I used, among other verses,

  • Isaiah 42:6-7
    • I have been called. I have been taken and kept. I have been given.
  • Luke 18: 35-43
    • “What do you want me to do for you?”
  • Isaiah 55
    • What is it I hunger and thirst for?

Also for consideration: Colossians 3:9-10, Psalm 46:1-10 and Psalm 103.

So until I can decide whether to continue to write, or to write again, I invite you to do the same exercise to close out your year. To begin all you need to do is to look at your past 12 months (or 6, or 3, etc.) and ask God to help you to understand your story as it involved a good and gracious God. Also ask yourself “How can I grow in understanding how God reveals Himself to all of us and in particular, uniquely to me?” And finally, ask “How do I use the blessing that is me and my life in the service to God and others?”

I’ll end here and keep it at 900 words. No sense in exhausting us all after a year off. One year after being effectively paralyzed in one leg I was able to stand on my deck this morning with our beagle and watch the sunrise. A year ago I wasn’t sure I’d ever be able to do so again.

Nebraska sunrise, Dec. 18, 2018