On special occasions or whenever the mood takes us, my wife, two children, and I drive down a gravel road north of our church and turn into a flat square drive that surrounds a cemetery. We park the car on the south side, before a sidewalk that leads to a section of grave markers much smaller than the others. Our children usually run ahead of us—they know the way—while my wife and I process solemnly, hand-in-hand, to the ground where our daughter Vivian rests.
Some days we come just to visit, to say a few words or to stand still and silent. Other days we bring replacement flowers and a new stuffed animal, which my wife ties to the vase to keep it in place. Sometimes, when the sun is warm and the wind is relatively calm, we set a blanket down for a picnic. Our children sit for a time and eat, but they’re usually quick to rise and run about the place.
We seldom meet other mourners when we come here, but we know they come. Signs of their own family rituals remain after them: assorted flowers, toy cars lined along the grass, baby dolls dressed in blue or pink, cuddly bunnies with only the wind and stone to cuddle. Most of the graves in Babylandhave a marker, made of bronze and marble, naming the deceased and telling, in too few words, something of their brief lives. We do not grieve alone.
I have my own ritual in these moments of quiet routine. Holding my wife and listening to our children play, I try to remember the day we shared with Vivian or to picture her close by, standing with us or running about, laughing with her siblings. I try to make her present, with memory or imagination, hopeful that our little remembrance will be for her a little resurrection. I don’t always succeed, but even when my daughter remains distant, the smell of the air, the caress of the wind, and the song of the birds usually leave me refreshed.
To me this place is holy and this ritual sacred, but strangely, however close I feel to Vivian, I feel distant from God. Maybe that’s not exactly right. Rather, I don’t sense the presence of a person or a being, the kind of God I hear about while sitting in the pews of the church across the field. When I contemplate God among the dead I find only emptiness and silence. I feel alone, and I do not like feeling alone, least of all here. I do not like this sense of God, this nothingness in which I now dwell. It’s dark and discomforting, and I blame it for my grey hairs.
In the months following the death of our newborn daughter, I had remained steadfast in my faith, devout and prayerful. I had not for years imagined God primarily as a figure of power, like some cosmic orchestrator of all that is, so I did not feel inclined to blame God for our loss and our sorrow. I didn’t have an answer for it, but I didn’t look to God for an answer. I didn’t expect such a response. I let God be.
I'd like to think I'm a faithful guy. I'd like to think that my belief system is grounded and strong and would persevere in any of life's storms.
But the loss of a child? God forbid.
The arrival of a child, beginning with the miracle that is birth, is one of the most divine experiences there is. The love that unfolds and envelops is tangible. One can nearly taste it. But with that love comes a certain amount of apprehension and fear.
I've never felt closer to Divinity than after the birth of both my boys... and now again, after the birth of my granddaughter Amelia. I watch her breathe in her sleep and it takes me back to the first few days in the lives of Ryan and Richard, when I used to do the very same with them. Watching their little chests rise and fall brings both comfort and terror. On the one hand, you recognize God's love in every little breath and yet, you can't help but pause often to ask Him to ensure that their breathing continues long after you're gone. It's a constant battle between trust and fear. It's what makes Mr. Cupp's piece all the more readable.
I pray that I never need to have my faith tested as Cupp has had his tested. Please dear God, none of that testing.
In the meantime, I press ever closer, in case that test comes, heaven forbid, so that I can soak in as much faith as possible, so that I can trust that He will walk me through that and any test and that my faith will sustain me and help me persevere. I pray the same, though belatedly, for Kyle Cupp.
In our busy lives it is easy to dismiss that which is simple, disdain the black-and-white and arrogantly revel in (or suffer from) the modern gray in which we can obfuscate and dissemble, where we can excuse sin and skirt responsibility. It is also commonplace for us to lose touch with wonder. But whether we are willing to admit it or not, some things are black-and-white, some things are simple, some things are gloriously True, some things are ‘wonder’-ful. The pivotal event in human history resides in the historical existence of Jesus Christ, his teachings, his Passion, Death and Resurrection. In this figure resides the incomparable redemption of humankind.
Perhaps it is time for us to consider this anew. Really consider this anew.
My prayer, frankly and bluntly, is that all parties involved in loving her, in being a part of her life, in awe of who she is to them now and who she has the potential to become for them down the road, will take on Mr. Worner's proffered challenge.
I'm not sure a bigger opportunity to do so will come as obviously as this one has.
Today we conclude the series of catecheses on the Sacraments by speaking about Matrimony. This Sacrament leads us to the heart of God’s design, which is a plan for a Covenant with his people, with us all, a plan for communion. At the beginning of the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible, at the culmination of the creation account it says: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.... Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Gen 1:27; 2:24). The image of God is the married couple: the man and the woman; not only the man, not only the woman, but both of them together. This is the image of God: love, God’s covenant with us is represented in that covenant between man and woman. And this is very beautiful! We are created in order to love, as a reflection of God and his love. And in the marital union man and woman fulfil this vocation through their mutual reciprocity and their full and definitive communion of life.
1. When a man and woman celebrate the Sacrament of Matrimony God as it were “is mirrored” in them; he impresses in them his own features and the indelible character of his love. Marriage is the icon of God’s love for us. Indeed, God is communion too: the three Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit live eternally in perfect unity. And this is precisely the mystery of Matrimony: God makes of the two spouses one single life. The Bible uses a powerful expression and says “one flesh”, so intimate is the union between man and woman in marriage. And this is precisely the mystery of marriage: the love of God which is reflected in the couple that decides to live together. Therefore a man leaves his home, the home of his parents, and goes to live with his wife and unites himself so strongly to her that the two become — the Bible says — one flesh.
Beautiful stuff... but... it gets better:
3. There is a truly marvellous design inherent in the Sacrament of Matrimony! And it unfolds in the simplicity and frailty of the human condition. We are well aware of how many difficulties two spouses experience.... The important thing it to keep alive their bond with God, who stands as the foundation of the marital bond. And the true bond is always the Lord. When the family prays, the bond is preserved. When the husband prays for his wife and the wife prays for her husband, that bond becomes strong; one praying for the other. It is true that there are so many difficulties in married life, so many, when there is insufficient work or money, when the children have problems. So much to contend with. And many times the husband and wife become a little fractious and argue between themselves. They argue, this is how it is, there is always arguing in marriage, sometimes the plates even fly. Yet we must not become saddened by this, this is the human condition. The secret is that love is stronger than the moment when there is arguing, and therefore I always advise spouses: do not let a day when you have argued end without making peace. Always! And to make peace it isn’t necessary to call the United Nations to come to the house and make peace. A little gesture is sufficient, a caress, and then let it be! Until tomorrow! And tomorrow begin again.
At or about the same time that the gears were turning at Mozilla to turn a man out to pasture because he dared to publicly stand up for marriage, the Vicar of Christ is speaking to the marvellous design inherent in that which Eich had dared support.
Maybe it's just me but I find this pretty amazing.
You've probably never heard of Nathan Trapuzzano. He was not a pop singer nor a hollywood actor. He was not a professional athlete nor a politician. He was not a celebrity in any sense of the word.
Instead, Nathan was a 24 year old man who was married less than a year ago and who with his young bride was looking forward to the birth of their little daughter Cecilia next month. He was widely known by friends and family as a tremendously faithful, compassionate and decent human being yet, tragically, Nathan is no longer with us.
On Tuesday in Indianapolis, he was murdered.
If you're like me, your first reaction, particularly after reading more about what kind of man Nathan was, is... why? Why does something like this have to happen? You can't fault the question. It's a natural one.
But this morning, via Deacon Greg, I found the homily delivered by his priest at the funeral. It's a tough, but necessary read, one I'm posting in its entirety. I post it because Father Christopher Roberts chose to focus on a completely different question. Read what follows and seriously ponder its implications:
We begin with a very practical note. We celebrate a Solemn Requiem Mass at the request of Nathan’s wife, Jennifer, who indicated this would have been what Nathan wanted. This form of the Mass, even for practicing Catholics, can be a bit confusing. Like any Mass, we focus in this Solemn Requiem on the re-presentation of the One Sacrifice of the Incarnate Son of God on Calvary and His presence, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity under the appearance of bread and wine in the Holy Eucharist. This form of the Mass invites us to participate in this great mystery of Our Lord’s presence and sacrifice principally through contemplation and adoration.
Holy Communion will be offered only under one species, kneeling and on the tongue, not the hand, at the communion rail. It is not customary to make any response when one receives Holy Communion. If you are not accustomed to receive the Eucharist in this manner, observing others doing so can be a great help.
We welcome all those who are not practicing Catholics or who are ill-disposed to receive the Eucharist and invite them to remain in their pews and lift their minds and hearts by a spiritual communion with Almighty God when others are receiving the Holy Eucharist.
When Nathan asked me about a year ago which parish I thought would be a good one for him and Jennifer to attend after they settled in Indianapolis, I would have never imagined that when I put Holy Rosary on the top of the list I would be preaching at his funeral here before he had the chance to celebrate his first anniversary. Today is a heart-rending day for all of us.
There is so much that we could say and so much that has already been said about Nathan in the past week.
We could reflect at length about his involvement in the pro-life movement and how he would pray rosaries in front of the abortion clinic near his home in the hope that his prayers would save the lives of little unborn babies.
We could share stories about his great love for his wife Jennifer and his soon-to-be born daughter Cecilia.
We could reminisce about Nathan’s intelligence, goodness and deceivingly keen sense of humor.
We could marvel about the tremendous outpouring of goodwill that Nathan’s murder has created.
But rather than focus on these very worthy themes, we will focus today on forgiveness. We do so because Nathan Trapuzzano was a man who knew from his head to his toes that he was a sinner who was loved and forgiven by God. He wanted everyone he met to know the same love and forgiveness. I believe that he still does.
His friends report that during his college years he went to confession very frequently, even weekly, so that he could become more and more the man that God had created him to be. Less than a year ago when I celebrated his wedding Mass, he asked me to hear the confessions of all of the Catholics in the wedding party after the rehearsal. While I cannot remember his exact words, they were something like, “Father, don’t be surprised if some of them have not been to confession in a very long time.” His wife Jennifer wanted everyone to know that celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation was one of the last things that Nathan did, going to confession a day before he died earlier this week.
We know Nathan to have been an exceptionally good person. Why then, we might ask, did he confess his sins to a priest so frequently?
This special young man went to confession so often because he had a deep desire to love others with the love of the heart of Jesus and would stop at nothing until he did. He didn’t just want to be good as the world reckons it; he wanted to be like Jesus. He wanted to love others with a pure and humble heart. One of the most important aspects of having such a heart is being able to forgive unconditionally. Nathan knew that the best way to learn how to do that was to ask for such forgiveness for himself. He prayed the Our Father frequently and asked,
“Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
What is forgiveness?
Forgiveness is not looking at an evil and being too cowardly to call it evil. Nor is forgiveness acting as if something that is a big deal really is not. Rather forgiveness looks at something done that is evil and recognizes it as evil, comes to a sober conclusion about the extent to which the guilty party is responsible and then extends love to the offender and hopes for repentance and change of heart.
Our Blessed Lord teaches us what forgiveness is from the Cross when He says, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He looked squarely at the crime being committed, namely the execution of an innocent man who also happened to be God in the flesh, and recognized that what was happening was an unspeakable injustice. He knew that those killing Him did not have full knowledge of what they were doing, which diminished their guilt. Most importantly, Our Lord did not withhold His love from His executioners, but desired their repentance and return to communion with His Father.
Nathan would have wanted everyone here to know something in our bones. Each one of us here is loved with an infinite, personal and unconditional love by a merciful God. There is nothing that we can do that God will not forgive. We can refuse to accept that mercy, but God will never stop extending it. God loves each one of us more than we can ever know. He wants nothing more than for us to return to Him and let Him fix His merciful eyes on us and say, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, in whom I am well-pleased.” He wants to run out to meet us just as we decide to come back to Him, to embrace us and to shower us with kisses. This is true no matter how grievous our sins are.
We cannot be certain exactly what was going through Nathan’s mind in the last moments of his life. But as one who knew Nathan’s soul well as a priest, I believe that he would have desired to do God’s will with all his heart, just as he sought to do throughout the entire time that I knew him. For myself, I have little doubt that as his soul drew near to his particular judgment on Tuesday morning, perhaps even after he had passed out of consciousness, Nathan forgave his murderers. That was the kind of man that I knew him to be.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they have done.”
Like some of us here, I met Nathan when he was a parishioner at Saint Francis in Muncie. The last lines of the Prayer of Saint Francis capture the Christian mystery that gives us hope today: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;/ and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him.
May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.
Dear God, your ways are not our ways. We are likely never to know why Nathan had to die so young. Neither however can we fully comprehend the necessity for the death of Your Son. Instead oh Lord, teach us to trust that good can come from evil and that Nathan's death was not in vain. Wrap your arms around his wife, watch over her future and the future of his soon to be born daughter Cecilia. This we pray in Christ's name.
In late February, I received an email from a woman in the Michigan. She had stumbled across my blog and she wanted to share something with me.
She told me she was born and raised Catholic, and was educated by Dominicans, but had left the faith when she was young.
She ended up joining the United Church of Christ. Feeling called to something more, she entered the seminary and was ordained a minister, eventually serving as a pastor. She retired a few years ago.
“My life,” she wrote, “has offered some very interesting and at times challenging experiences. At 72 I have arrived at a point which begs for spiritual reexamination and exploration.” She went on to describe how excited she was about Pope Francis—a man she called “such a shining example of leadership and love…providing much-needed light in my life.” For reasons she couldn’t quite explain, she felt herself drawn back to the faith that had formed her and that had played such an important role early in her life.
You don’t get emails like that every day—especially from people you don’t know. I wrote back and told her I’d be praying for her on her journey, wherever it led. I wasn’t sure that I’d hear back from her. But several days after that exchange, I did. She wrote to tell me that she had gone to Mass on Ash Wednesday. The desire to reconnect with her faith was growing. She had made an appointment to talk with a parish priest.
After decades away from the Catholic Church, she wanted to come home.
I thought of this woman and her journey when I read this weekend’s gospel—a story about another woman’s journey, but a story that is very much one of conversion. Like so many conversions, it is a brought about because of thirst.
It is Jesus who asks for a drink of water. But ironically, it is the woman who is really thirsty.
Isn’t this true for all of us? We are all, in a sense, the woman at the well.
We thirst for love, or mercy, or understanding. We thirst for justice or peace. Our throats are parched by indifference and selfishness and cruelty. We feel ourselves spiritually dry.
We thirst for wholeness. We thirst for grace.
And we find it, like the woman at the well, not in ordinary water from a deep cistern, but...
But what? Go read the rest and find out. The 72 year old woman pastor makes another appearance, in a quenching way.
I was escorting my grandmother. There isn’t enough room in this essay to explain to you everything she was, I would need volumes, so for the sake of brevity I will tell you that she was beautiful even in her eighties, vain as the day is long, and whip smart, though her particular sort of intelligence did not encompass recognizing young celebrities.
I pointed out Robert Downey Jr. to her when he arrived, in a gorgeous cream-colored linen suit, with Sarah Jessica Parker on his arm. My grandmother shrugged, far more interested in piling her paper plate with various unidentifiable cheeses cut into cubes. He wasn’t Carey Grant or Gregory Peck. What did she care?
The afternoon’s main honoree was Ron Kovic, whose story of his time in the Vietnam War that had left him confined to a wheelchair had recently been immortalized in the Oliver Stone film Born on the Fourth of July.
I mention the wheelchair because it played an unwitting role in what happened next.
We made our way to our folding chairs in the garden with our paper plates and cubed cheeses and we watched my stepmother give one of her eloquent speeches and a plea for donations, and there must have been a few other people who spoke but I can’t remember who, and then Ron Kovic took the podium, and he was mesmerizing, and when it was all over we stood up to leave, and my grandmother tripped.
We’d been sitting in the front row (nepotism has its privileges) and when she tripped she fell smack into the wheelchair ramp that provided Ron Kovic with access to the stage. I didn’t know that wheelchair ramps have sharp edges, but they do, at least this one did, and it sliced her shin right open.
The volume of blood was staggering.
I’d like to be able to tell you that I raced into action; that I quickly took control of the situation, tending to my grandmother and calling for the ambulance that was so obviously needed, but I didn’t. I sat down and put my head between my knees because I thought I was going to faint. Did I mention the blood?
Luckily, somebody did take control of the situation, and that person was Robert Downey Jr.
He ordered someone to call an ambulance. Another to bring a glass of water. Another to fetch a blanket. He took off his gorgeous linen jacket and he rolled up his sleeves and he grabbed hold of my grandmother’s leg, and then he took that jacket that I’d assumed he’d taken off only to it keep out of the way, and he tied it around her wound. I watched the cream colored linen turn scarlet with her blood.
He told her not to worry. He told her it would be alright. He knew, instinctively, how to speak to her, how to distract her, how to play to her vanity. He held onto her calf and he whistled. He told her how stunning her legs were.
She said to him, to my humiliation: “My granddaughter tells me you’re a famous actor but I’ve never heard of you.”
He stayed with her until the ambulance came and then he walked alongside the stretcher holding her hand and telling her she was breaking his heart by leaving the party so early, just as they were getting to know each other. He waved to her as they closed the doors. “Don’t forget to call me, Silvia,” he said. “We’ll do lunch.”
He was a movie star, after all.
Believe it or not, I hurried into the ambulance without saying a word. I was too embarrassed and too shy to thank him.
We all have things we wish we’d said. Moments we’d like to return to and do differently. Rarely do we get that chance to make up for those times that words failed us. But I did. Many years later.
Shriven is not a word we're accustomed to hearing today. It's particularly Catholic and it means to be absolved of wrongdoing, to have confessed one's sins. I can speak from experience, I've never felt lighter than after being shriven and I'm of the firm belief that whether we know it or not, we all need and desire that feeling.
Yesterday, I came across this relevant quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen:
“A few decades ago, nobody believed in the confession of sins except the Church. Today everyone believes in confession – with this difference: some believe in confessing their own sins; others believe in confessing other people’s sins. The popularity of psychoanalysis has nearly convinced everyone of the necessity of some kind of confession for peace of mind. This is another instance of how the world, which threw Christian truths into the wastebasket in the nineteenth century, is pulling them out in isolated secularized form in the twentieth century, meanwhile deluding itself into believing that it has made a great discovery. The world found it could not get along without some release for its inner unhappiness. Once it had rejected confession and denied both God and guilt, it had to find a substitute.”
Google the phrase anonymous confession and you'll get over 7 million results. The need to confess is real and the Church offers the real thing, with the priest acting in the person of Christ, offering absolution and forgiveness yet... we seek subsitutes:
Sure, other things come into play now and again: the need to earn money, or… Actually, no, that's it. But my prime motivating force, the engine that powers all else, is guilt. You don't have to be Catholic, of course, to suffer the same fate (though if my anecdotal evidence gleaned from nearly four decades' membership of a family of mentally-convulsing freaks is anything to go by, it does help). It's a temperamental thing. And for those of us who are daily wearied by the ever-accumulating burden it brings, the idea of having somewhere to go every Sunday to be absolved of all your sins (perceived and unperceived, just in case you overlooked something – what catch-all bliss!); and being ascribed a penance has a charm all its own. Just once, I'd like to feel fully shriven, like the bedragoned Eustace in The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader, after Aslan scores through his scaly hide and tears it off to leave him standing there "smooth and soft as a peeled switch", and free.
We need to develop a secular alternative. "I can see it now," Toryboy says – and I won't lie (can you imagine the internal contortions if I did?), there is something faintly contemptuous about his tone. "Queues of liberals outside a recycled cardboard confessional in a community centre. 'Forgive me, Father/Mother/Caregiver of either or indeterminate gender, for when somebody made a joke at my dinner table about immigrants, I did not fully ascertain that it was meant meta-ironically before I laughed; nor did I later offset the carbon I emitted while doing so.' 'Write four articles on intersectionality and walk to Waitrose with organic peas in your shoes, while checking your privilege as penance,' your soggy, proportionally represented elected excuse for a father confessor will say. 'And forgive me for being in a position to forgive you.' God almighty. Who art in heaven, actually, and is much better."
You would think that being an atheist would be liberating, but in fact it doesn't make sense. If you believe that there is no god, and that religion is an agglomeration of useful traditions and practices that has evolved to manage our desires and fears, then paralysing panic when these are stripped from you by the rational parts of your brain are entirely logical responses.
"All you need is someone bigger to shout loudly at you," Toryboy says. "Which works out very well for me." I hope he's right. Then maybe the only thing I'll feel bad about is the fact that I don't feel worse.
I find it incredible sad that people I know and love, and so many more whom I know not like the author of that piece, settle for substitutes when they feel the need to be fully shriven.
Unhappiness seeking relief but looking in all the wrong places for it.
This is a dated video of Coast Guard Rear Admiral William Lee speaking to last year's gathering at the National Day of Prayer. First time I've seen it... might be your first time... but it's worthy, most worthy, of your attention.