Because 0.89% of My Time is Not Enough

Sometimes it’s dangerous putting a calculator into my hands. I can come up with some pretty wild ideas. This past Sunday, when visiting a different parish while on a trip to Georgia, the priest mentioned in his homily that if we only think about being Christians once a week during mass, then we are only giving Our Lord 52 hours a year, or only 2.167 days out of 365. Gulp! That’s nothing.

Later on, I played with this information a little bit. Figuring that sleep accounts for 8 hours a day, that leaves 16 hours a day for when I am actually awake. 16 hours times 365 days = 5840 hours a year that I am available to practice living life as a Catholic Christian. Now, if I only practice my faith by going to mass for 1 hour a week, as the priest mentioned, and I am only giving Our Lord 52 hours a year of my time, then 52 hours divided by 5840 hours equals 0.89% of my time.  Think about that for a moment.

How is that even remotely close to this?

Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest. Bind them at your wrist as a sign and let them be as a pendant on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:5-9)

If you said to yourself, it’s not, then you are thinking like me. Surely compartmentalizing our Catholic faith into just attending mass weekly is not enough to earn the “well done my good and faithful servant” kudos (Matthew 25:23). Nor is it enough time to fulfill the command to,

Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19).

We have to do more. We have to find a way to give more of our time to the service of the Lord. One way is for us to consecrate our daily work to Him. Think about the number of hours we throw toward that task. At least 2080 hours a year. So up from .89% of our time to a whopping 36.5%. But even that is far from the mark.

I ran across this short poem by Toyohiko Kagawa recently that left me thinking,

I read in a book 
That a man called 
Christ 
Went about doing good. 
It is very disconcerting to me 
That I am so easily satisfied 
With just 
Going about. 

Over the next few days, I intend to look into various ways to go about fulfilling the passage in Deuteronomy above. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing (Music for Mondays)

Tis is the season of school music concerts. Our oldest son, an eighth grader,  loves playing the upright bass in his middle school jazz band. As a parent, I find it  such a joy to watch 25 awkward middle school students, most of them boys, transform into confident jazz drummers, saxophone players, trumpeters and bassists. Much of what they play is swing music, a form of jazz music that became popular in the 1930s. The music, has fans worldwide, speaks to the sheer exuberance for life  we can feel when we begin to count our blessings.


One of the best parts of being a parent is that our children take us places. I never had much of an interest in jazz music, or specifically in swing music, until our son developed an enthusiasm for it. Here is a clip from the 2004 Japanese movie “Swing Girls” that gives a sense of the transforming power of this music. In the movie, which won seven Japanese Academy Awards, a group of delinquent high school students from rural Yamagata prefecture form a jazz band.  Here is a clip of their first efforts to learn to play swing music.

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Who cannot tap one’s feet and smile when hearing Louis Prima sing “Pennies From Heaven?” The ebullient  Italian-American trumpeter, singer, and songwriter from New Orleans was born into a musical family from Sicily and was strongly influenced by fellow New Orleaner Louis Armstrong. Prima’s style adapted to the times, but perhaps he is best known for the swing combo he led in the 1930s.

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Glen Miller was one of the first famous swing band leaders. Here is his band playing Tuxedo Junction, one of the tunes my son’s jazz band plays.

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The 1930s generated many great swing band leaders and musicians; for starters,  the Dorsey Brothers, Cab Callaway, Artie Shaw, and Fats Waller. Thank God that Pandora Radio allows us to  listen to these greats. I especially like this Pandora station: Big Band/Swing.

Here is Louis Armstrong in 1959 performing in Stuttgart, Germany. I figured this tune was especially appropriate to end this YIM Catholic post.

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Because the Church is Universal

Guest post by Meredith Cummings
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues as the Spirit enabled them to proclaim.”   (Acts of the Apostles 2: 4).

I grew up in Southern Colorado in a small town that was more or less half white and half Hispanic. Common white names were Smith, Jones or Anderson. Common Hispanic names included Trujillo, Archuleta or Garcia. My parents taught me that there was no difference between us. We all attended school together, played together, hung out together, went to prom together. We all learned to speak Spanish in school, so again, no real differences. Except … although no one said anything, and I never thought to ask, it seemed to me, one big difference loomed over us.

White people worshiped at all the churches in town but one: the Catholic Church. St. Joseph’s was the Hispanic church. Our family knew a few white families who worshiped there, but I assumed they had to get a special letter from that pope guy or whoever he was to attend. (Our family attended St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church down the street. I had little idea who that pope guy was at the time.)
I knew whites were allowed to go to their friends’ weddings and funerals at St. Joseph’s. But I had in the back of my head that there must have been an unspoken rule. The Hispanics got one church, and we got all the rest.
I asked my mom about the Catholic Church on occasion. What was different about it? She said the prayers were mostly the same, as were the beliefs. Really, the only differences she knew of were just the amount of attention paid to the Pope and Mary. “Oh,” I replied. Her answer didn’t really solve anything for me, but I moved on and didn’t think much about it until years later.
Wouldn’t you know, in time, I dated several Catholic guys in college and ended up marrying one before joining the church myself?
The big surprise I learned along the way is that the Church isn’t just for Hispanics. It’s for everyone, just as God planned. It isn’t an elite church but one for all, and that’s what I love about it. At our parish in Indiana, we’ve met friends who came here from all over the world … Laos, Kenya, Mexico, Vietnam, Germany, China, the Philippines, Haiti and many other places.
This weekend of Pentecost, some of these parishioners lectored. The first reading from the Acts of the Apostles was read in Lau (an African dialect), French, Tagalog (Filipino), Kreyol (Haitian) and Spanish. What a blessing to hear God’s words in so many languages  and to know that He speaks to us all wherever we are, whether it’s Central Indiana, Southern Colorado or half way around the world.
In my first guest post, I mentioned His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whom I recently saw speak in Indianapolis. One of the Buddhist monk’s key messages is that we are all the same. We are all humans with the same needs, but it’s our differences that make the world special. He told the audience to think of a cereal aisle.  There are so many different kinds of cereals, especially here in the United States. Can you imagine if we only had one cereal from which to choose? Breakfast would be pretty boring pretty fast.
I loved the Dalai Lama’s cereal analogy, especially because a Venezuelan woman I once interviewed for a magazine article told me that when she moved to the United States and stepped for the first time into a big box grocery story, she was stunned by the cereal aisle. “I had never seen so many different kinds of cereal in my life,” she said. She sat down in the middle of the aisle and cried tears of happiness. She said she knew it was just cereal, but she realized then that America had so much to offer her in so many ways.
So, too, does the Catholic Church. People from all over the world bring their cultures, their ideals and their talents together to form one Church in the name of Jesus.
I’d like to end this piece with The Lord’s Prayer. Our school children pray it at Mass each week without batting an eye. It’s part of who they are; part of being a universal church, and it’s said, each week, in Spanish.

Padre nuestro, 
que estás en el cielo, 

santificado sea tu Nombre; 

venga a nosotros tu reino;

hágase tu voluntad 
en la tierra como en el cielo.

Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día; 
perdona nuestras ofensas, como también nosotros perdonamos 

a los que nos ofenden; 

no nos dejes caer en la tentación,

y líbranos del mal.

Amén

Because the Holy Spirit is the Soul of the Church

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Spirit of Life.  In the Paulist published book entitled Light of the Cross in the Twentieth Century,  the following passage is attributed to Monsignor Louis Gaston de Ségur and describes in beautiful detail the scene that played out on the first Pentecost that we read of today in the second chapter of the book of Acts.

These thoughts of Monseigneur de Ségur help me better understand the fact that the Holy Spirit is indeed the Soul of the Catholic Church.  As many of our children receive the Sacrament of Confirmation this week, let us reflect on these truths on this great day.

Pentecost and the Holy Spirit

Before ascending into heaven, the Word Incarnate had promised to St. Peter and the Apostles that He would send to them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, of holiness, of justice, and of love, to become the Soul of the Church.

He had, moreover, commanded them to wait at Jerusalem, in retreat and prayer, this miraculous descent of the Holy Ghost. In obedience to this, and in expectation of the fulfilment of this promise, St. Peter and the Apostles, with seventy-two disciples and the holy women, had withdrawn to the upper chamber, and there, grouped around the Blessed Virgin, mother and queen of the budding Church, they persevered in fasting and in prayer.

Thus nine clays passed away. The tenth was the fiftieth after Easter, and was also the anniversary of the promulgation of the Decalogue by the Lord in the midst of the thunders of Mount Sinai. On this tenth day, at about nine in the morning, the whole house trembled, and the room in which the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin were Assembled was filled with a supernatural flame—a symbol of the Holy Spirit, of whom Mary was the living temple.

It descended upon each of the Apostles under the form of tongues of fire, penetrating and completely transforming them. At that moment they received both the plenitude of heavenly gifts and the fulfilment of all the promises of the Savior; the Catholic Church received its confirmation and its divine mission- and it was then, according to the most ancient traditions, that St. Peter, the first Pope, surrounded by all his brethren, celebrated for the first time the divine sacrifice of the Mass.

Now all this was noised abroad throughout Jerusalem, and many thousands of Jews came in haste to Mount Sion. St. Peter, seeing this multitude, had pity on them, and going out with the Apostles, he began to preach to them the resurrection and divinity of Jesus Christ. And all the Apostles joined in glorifying the loving-kindness of the Saviour. Then it was that God worked a great miracle—the Apostles preached in one language only, and there were present there men out of every nation under heaven, who were quite unable to understand Hebrew, and yet all understood the Apostles, and every man believed that he heard them speak in his own tongue. By this God desired to teach that His Apostles were helped by Him, and also that the Church is the universal society of all people, and that, by means of the Church, all are united in the same faith, in the same truth, and in love for the same Lord.

Seeing this great wonder which none could deny, almost all present unhesitatingly adored the God of St. Peter and the Apostles, and they cried, ” What shall we do?”

Then St. Peter instructed them briefly in the mysteries of the Incarnation and Redemption, prepared them for baptism, and, assisted by his brethren, he that day baptized nearly five thousand. The following Sunday three thousand more became Christians. This was the nucleus of that great and imperishable Catholic Society, which, from that time, has gradually extended over the whole world, teaching all the great nations of the earth to acknowledge Jesus as their King, and inculcating the lessons of holiness and peace, of devotion and charity, of purity of morals, and human respect; teaching, in one word, all that is great and true and noble upon earth.

The Holy Spirit is, I repeat, the soul of the Church.  It is He who sustains and protects it, who gives it life, and makes it fruitful in all good works; it is He who brings destruction upon its enemies; it is He who maintains in the true faith and constantly assists the Pope, its infallible head.

To continue reading this passage, click here for the rest available on the YIM Catholic Bookshelf.

Because the Mass is the Mass

The beloved Carmelite Chapel at our local mall is undergoing a makeover after 50 years in business. Since late winter, it has moved temporarily and now sits in an abandoned retail shell beside Toys ‘R Us, opposite Nordstrom’s. The temporary chapel (left) is not exactly a visual inspiration. Not knowing just where the oldest chapel in an American mall had been moved, I went in search of it this morning because I wanted to go to confession before a weekend retreat.


Father Herb was presiding and the first reading was underway as I walked in. About fifty communicants were present. The acoustics were awful. I heard every third word of Father’s homily and followed the communion liturgy only because I know most of it by heart. We wallowed in an echo chamber without an echo. But it was the Mass. I know this because Father Herb is a beautiful elderly priest and he would not lie about such things.

Afterward, I asked Father Herb if he would hear my confession. Of course he would, and while he greeted a few more departing communicants, I stood waiting for him before this (left) photo of Carmelite Saint Thérèse of Liseux, a Doctor of the Church,  I will tell you now, it is very hard to make a bad confession after you have gazed at this face for more than a couple of seconds. I thought of this young woman living from age 16 to 24 in a Carmelite convent in France, then dying there of tuberculosis, and I really could not feel anything but inspired. The confession was short and sweet—centered on a matter that has been troubling me for nearly a year now—and then I hit the road in the direction of the retreat.


There is nothing like the Mass, after or (in this case) before Confession. I am happy to be a Catholic.

For All the Saints: Christopher Magallanes and Companions, Martyrs

Today the Church commemorates the lives and deaths of 22 parish priests, along with three lay Catholics, who were killed between 1915 and 1937 in Mexico because they professed the Catholic faith. These martyrs were all active members of the Cristeros Movement, which rose up against the Mexican government’s persecution of Catholics. The Church has confirmed these men as saints: Pope John Paul II canonized them in 2000.

It is humbling to reflect on these men and to wonder whether we would be willing to give our lives for our faith.

St. Christopher Magellenes, pictured above, built a seminary in his parish of Totiache at a time when the Mexican government banned foreign clergy and the celebration of Mass in some regions. When the anti-Church government closed his seminary, he opened another and still another. Eventually, the seminarians were forced to learn in private homes.

He wrote and preached against armed rebellion. But he was falsely accused of promoting the Cristeros guerillas. While heading to a farm to celebrate Mass, St. Christopher Magellenes was arrested on May 21, 1927. Three days later, without a trial, he was shot to death. Before he died, he gave his executioners his remaining possessions and offered them absolution. He was 48.

The last words heard from him were shouts from his cell.  I am innocent and I die innocent. I forgive with all my heart those responsible for my death, and I ask God that the shedding of my blood serve the peace of our divided Mexico.”

How did this remarkable life begin? St. Christopher Magallanes was born  in 1869 in the Archdiocese of Guadalajara. His parents, Rafael Magallanes and Clara Jara, were poor farmers and devout Catholics. He worked as a shepherd and entered the Conciliar Seminary of San Jose, pictured here, at the age of  19. He was ordained at age 30 and took a special interest in evangelizing to the local  indigenous Huichos people.

Like many in the United States, I learned nothing of the history of Mexico during my years in public schools. Only a few years ago, because a friend recommended I read Graham Greene’s 1940 masterpiece The Power and the Glory, did I begin to comprehend the magnitude of the supression of the Catholic faith in Mexico during the 1920s and 1930s.  This powerful novel, which is on the YIM Catholic bookshelf (preview only), tells the story of a priest in a region where Catholicism is outlawed. Throughout the novel, this brave yet flawed “whiskey priest” is on the run, trying to perform the sacraments and minister to believers. He is haunted by the knowledge that if authorities catch him, they will kill him.

The novel reflects historic realities. The seminary where St. Christopher Magallanes studied, for example, was closed by the Mexican government in 1914 and turned into a regional art museum.

The Cristeros Movement, of which these martyrs were affiliated, was a reaction to the severely anti-clerical Constitution of 1917. According to the website www.traditioninaction.org, Cristeros of Jalisco recited this prayer at the end of the Rosary.

My Jesus Mercy! My sins are more numerous than the drops of blood that Thou did shed for me. I do not deserve to belong to the army that defends the rights of Thy Church and that fights for her. I desire never to sin again so that my life might be an offering pleasing to Thy eyes. Wash away my iniquities and cleanse me of my sins. By Thy Holy Cross, by my Holy Mother of Guadalupe, pardon me.

Since I do not know how to make penance for my sins, I desire to receive death as a chastisement merited by them. I do not wish to fight, live or die except for Thee and for Thy Church. Blessed Mother of Guadalupe, be at my side in the agony of this poor sinner. Grant that my last shout on earth and my first canticle in Heaven should be Viva Cristo Rey! Amen. 

Here in the United States I fear we Catholics have become lazy and indifferent in the practice of our faith, taking our freedom to worship for granted. I pray more of us will accept the offer of sanctifying grace that comes through the sacraments. What can we learn from our Mexican brothers and sisters in Christ?  Let us thank God for the brave souls who gave their lives in defending the faith.

Because I Worry

Ever wake up in the middle of the night with the conviction that anything that possibly can go wrong with your life will? This week I had one of those moments. Nothing bad had happened. I was in the middle of an ordinary week of teacher training, grocery shopping, laundry, and parenting our two sons. Blame it on the drizzle outside, but suddenly small concerns in every facet of my life—in the parenting, professional, and financial departments—rose together and came crashing down on me in a big wave of anxiety about 1 a.m. Wednesday. My faith gives me a way to cope when angst ambushes me: prayer.


Nothing is new about worry. Prayer beads are found in every world religion. As early as 500 B.C. in India, people were praying with beads. The use of prayer beads spread along trade routes to the Middle East, where Muslims call them misbaha, and to China and Japan, where Buddhists call them malas.

My worries arise when I begin to imagine that I am the one controlling the outcome of my efforts. Praying my Rosary calms me and reminds me that our Triune God, and not me, is the master of my universe.

When I awoke Wednesday morning, I cried and ruminated for several minutes. My Rosary was outside in the family van, hanging from the rear view mirror, so I prayed a series of prayers I often do to calm myself: ten Our Fathers, ten Hail Marys, ten Glory Be’s. I count them on my fingers. I didn’t even get through the ten Hail Marys before I had fallen back asleep, secure in the knowledge that God had taken my worries away, along with my illusions of control.

I am Catholic because I know God willed me into being and that I remain under his effusively loving care, no matter the uncertainties and frustrations I face. What did God send His Son to tell us?

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

 No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Dateline China: Because We Are One Body

I met Maria Holland here at YIM Catholic when she commented on one of my posts about a Lenten hymn attributed to Gregory the Great.  She is attending Xiamen University in the city of that same name.  It is a city on the East Coast of the People’s Republic of China. Due east, and directly across the Taiwan Strait, lies the island nation Taiwan. Having recently written several posts about painting master and poet Wu Li,  I must have China on my mind. So I checked in with “our correspondent in Xiamen” and ran across this post that gives us a slice of life in the Catholic Church in China. Continue to check in on Maria at her blog Adventuring Towards… (see sidebar).

Guest post by Maria Holland
This morning, I went to Zhangzhou for Bishop Cai’s first Mass in his hometown. We lined up outside the church in the rain to greet him as he stepped out of the car, all dressed up in his new bishop duds.

Mrs. Zhang (my Chinese mom) and I found a place, a small vacancy on a kneeler, and stationed ourselves there to wait for Mass to begin. The sanctuary was loud but I was trying to ignore the noise (and the stares) and pray. Out of nowhere, a woman came up to us, pushed Mama out of the way, handed her a camera, put her arm around my waist, and posed for a picture. Picture taken, she faded into the crowd without so much as a thank you. I hope she treasures that picture of her and I, thin-lipped smile on my face, forever.

Today was perhaps worse than usual, especially for church. This is difficult for me, because I try to be forbearing and understanding of Chinese people’s behavior towards me but . . . I’m just not that good of a person, not good enough to smile for every picture and respond to every “hallow?!?”. At church, I’m even more conscious of a duty to those around me.

I have many reasons for going to Chinese Mass here in Xiamen – more convenient time and location, Chinese language practice, making friends, experiencing the Catholic Church in China. I get a lot out of it, but deep down I hope that I give something back. Here in China, where the church is separated from the Roman Catholic Church by political disagreements, language barriers, and relative isolation, I hope that it some small way I can be the face of the Universal Church. I hope I can remind them that the creed we confess is the same regardless of language, and let them see the solidarity that we share in this faith, in which their sadness is my sadness and their joy is my joy.

But on days like today, I’m pretty sure that none of that message is getting through. On days like today, I feel like the only purpose I serve is distracting those around me from the real reason we’re both in church. I’m the sore thumb, the squeaky wheel, the elephant in the room.

This is sad for me. Honestly, I don’t really mind the kids pointing; kids will be kids everywhere. They nudge their parents, indicate me sitting behind them, and I force myself to smile for them. But I wish the parents would take advantage of this opportunity to teach their children a lesson, to tell them that I’m not a foreigner, because “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” There is no us and them in the Church; we’re all members of the Body of Christ, and “there should be no divisions in the body”.

Thankfully, there are some who seem to understand this, for which I am eternally grateful. I vividly remember one conversation with LiuQin (the woman who drives me crazy) and Fr. Cai (#2); she told him to greet me by saying “Hello, foreigner!”, and he corrected her, saying that there we were all just brothers and sisters in Christ. Many of the priests, when giving me communion, will say “The Body of Christ” instead of “基督的身体”, which is a small gesture that acknowledges both our shared faith and our different languages. My heart basically melted today when, during the Sign of Peace, Mama awkwardly extended her hand towards me; she had apparently figured out how we do things in America and wanted to shake my hand as she wished me peace. (Here in China, the Sign of Peace consists of shaking your hands, palms together, towards others while bowing.)

After Mass, firecrackers, and food, we went back home. I spent the majority of the day in my room, avoiding the monsoon outside and all. Some items from the news:

Apparently the Shanghai pavilion at the Expo has a 6-D show. I was already impressed by the 4-D (??) movie we watched at Hulishan, so I can’t even imagine what kind of crazy stuff goes on in a 6-D exhibit! Maybe I’ll go see the Expo after all .

And if you believe that, then North Korea has successfully carried out nuclear fusion, “the holy grail of cheap, clean energy that has heretofore eluded every other scientist ever.”

Most of my friends who were studying abroad this semester are done and headed home; they left America after me and returned before me. I have been gone a long time, but as I’ve learned on previous trips to China: no matter how long you’re here, you always feel like you’re leaving just as you’re getting the hang of it.

This evening, I went out with my friend Aleid for a late dinner of barbecue and a dessert of 豆花 (sweet tofu soup). We went from there to Dreamer’s House, a bar/coffee shop/hostel located in an awesome building that climbs up and clings to a hill. A band was having their farewell concert downstairs, but we met up with some friends and found a nice spot near the very top just to talk. Good night after a long day!

Because We Need To Let Go With Compassion

Allison writes: Meredith and I met in Raleigh, North Carolina, when Greg and I were engaged and Meredith and her husband were newly married. All of us were, at the time, working journalists. Our families have grown and moved since then, but we have kept in touch for nearly 20 years. Meredith and her husband now are raising their three children in Noblesville, Indiana. 

Guest post by Meredith Cummings
Thursday didn’t begin well. I  looked at my eighth-grade son’s online grades before he left for school and then failed to hold my frustration at him in check. There he stood, head down, shame on his face, as I let him have it with my angry words. I managed a “Have a good day,” before he left, but I didn’t mean it, and he knew it.

An hour later, I drove to my children’s school, for Mass and the May Crowning of Mary. I usually love this day, as the school’s new First Communicants come dressed in their handsome suits and beautiful white dresses and veils. The soon-to-be graduating eighth graders dress up, too. But today, I was mad at my son, and I had too much to do. I didn’t have time for this. Later, reflecting on Our Blessed Mother, a mother thrush in the rosary garden, and some words by the Dalai Lama shifted my perspective.

I ducked into the last pew in church but glanced at my son standing next to his friends up front, so many fine-looking young men and women in their almost-grown-up suits and dresses. My son stood among them. I couldn’t tell by looking at his expression if he had forgotten our morning encounter.

After Mass, I followed the crowd of happy children to the parish rosary garden, home to a magnificent statue of Mary. The sky was azure blue; the fragrance of spring flowers perfumed the air. As everyone gathered together to offer prayers of thanksgiving for Mary and this special day, I glanced at a corner of the garden and remembered the momma bird and her babies who’d occupied that space a few years ago.

A mother thrush had built a nest in the mulch, and when the children gathered for the May Crowning back then, she was none too happy. She squawked and flapped her wings and defended her babies with all her might. The school children respected her warning cries and gave her space, and so she and her babies joined us in the holy ceremony.

Now a few years later, I thought more about this bird. As a mother, she instinctively protected her newborns; loved them, nurtured them, cared for them. I recently heard the Dalai Lama speak. Tibetan Buddhists believe he is the latest reincarnation of  their spiritual leaders. He said  he believes people who are truly compassionate themselves first learned that compassion from loving and protective mothers. I believe he’s right. And yet, at some point, mothers must let go.

After loving her babies and caring for them, the thrush taught her children to fly and explore the world on their own. Mother Mary was no different. Upon hearing she was pregnant, she said “yes” to an unborn child and suffered many unpleasant consequences as a result. Once the child was born, Mary and her husband escaped to Egypt to protect their young son. As he grew and began to assert his independence, she was filled with worry when she lost him in the temple. But she, too, eventually had to let go so he could make his way in the world. It was hard, I’m sure, but she did it.

A tear trickled down my cheek, which had warmed in the late morning sun. I looked at my son, standing so tall and handsome among his peers. It’s been a tough year for him as he’s juggled Scouting, children’s choir, exams and choosing a high school, and it will get tougher as he moves forward. And yet, I know instinctively that he’ll be fine. He’ll struggle. He’ll make mistakes, but he’ll be fine as long as he has a mother who protects, is compassionate, but also knows when to let go. After the crowning, I walked up to my son and apologized. Of course, I wouldn’t dare give him a hug in front of his friends, that would humiliate him, but I did squeeze his shoulder. He grinned at me and apologized, as well. He even let me take his picture by the Mary statue.

As I walked to my car afterwards, I said a prayer of thanks for the two mothers – Mary and the thrush – and for the wise Buddhist monk, who helped me realize the importance of my role as a parent. Just before I reached my car, I thought about running into the school to get my son’s suit once he’d changed into his school clothes, but I thought better of it. “No, he’s a responsible young man. I’m sure he’ll put it on a hanger and get it home without any problems,” I said to myself.. Later in the day, as I waited in the car at pickup, one of his friends came barreling across the parking lot.

“Hey Charlie, you forgot your suit.” The boy opened up his backpack and threw a wrinkled, mangled wad of clothes at my son. I bit my tongue and said a quick Hail Mary, and then I turned to my son and asked him about his day.












Because Lena Horne Found Solace in the Church

Once I read that her funeral was to be held in a Roman Catholic Church, I kept reading obituaries of Lena Horne, hoping to find clues to her own faith journey. Ms. Horne, an African-American who broke racial barriers in the entertainment industry, died last week at age 92. I never did find an article explaining how this amazing civil rights activist and entertainer chose to have her funeral in a Catholic Church, but here is what I could glean. I pray that her enchanting voice is joining the chorus of angels in eternity.
Many clues about Ms. Horne’s faith life came from the most comprehensive obituary I could find, not surprisingly, in the New York Times. Her funeral Mass, attended by hundreds of mourners, was celebrated at the Church of St. Ignatius Loyola on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Its former pastor, the Rev. Walter F. Modrys, S.J., met  Ms. Horne at a dinner party when she was in her 70s.

“That was quite intimidating,” he said. “What does a rather ordinary and reserved Catholic priest say to Lena Horne?” They struck up a conversation about “feeling shy in front of people.” One can infer that the two became close, because other reports recount how she took her family to that parish for years on Easter Sundays and how Rev. Modrys attended her 80th birthday celebration at Lincoln Center.

Ms. Horne was born in the Bedford-Stuyvestant section of Brooklyn. Her father was a numbers kingpin and left the family when she was three. What followed was a life of travel with her mother, who was herself an entertainer. Ms. Horne dropped out of high school and joined the chorus line of the Cotton Club in New York. Eventually, she moved to Hollywood and became an international superstar. Among her accolades –  four Grammys and a Tony. She disappeared from the public sphere about 10 years ago.

She long was politically active, particularly in the Civil Rights Movement. This activism began when she refused to sing during World War II for the USO when African-American servicemen were seated behind the German POWs. (The Army then would not integrate the audiences with white and black American soldiers).” She participated in the March on Washington, worked with Eleanor Roosevelt on anti-lynching laws and visited President John Kennedy at the White House a couple of days before his assassination.

A glimpse into her value system came in 2004, after ABC announced that Janet Jackson would play Horne in a TV biography of her life. In the weeks following Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” debacle during the 2004 Super Bowl, however,it was reported that Horne had demanded Jackson be dropped from the project. “ABC executives resisted Horne’s demand,” according to the Associated Press, “but Jackson representatives told the trade newspaper that she left willingly after Horne and her daughter, Gail Lumet Buckley, asked that she not take part.”

So what did I learn from these accounts of her life? Lena Horne used her God-given talents during a difficult time in American history, entertaining us with her beauty and the beauty of her voice and while also raising her voice to fight for social justice. At the end of her days, she found friendship with a Catholic priest and comfort and joy in attending her home parish. I am reminded of what St. Paul said in his first letter to the church in Corinth:


There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service, the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. To each individual the manifestation of the Spirit is given for some benefit. To one is given through the Spirit the expression of wisdom; to another the expression of knowledge according to the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit; to another mighty deeds; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another varieties of tongues; to another interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit produces all of these, distributing them individually to each person as he wishes.

Lena Horne, known best for her signature song Stormy Weather, walked through stormy weather all her days, never forgetting to share her gifts and to fight for justice. Now we pray she has walked into the arms of a loving Father who never abandoned her and never will.

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