To Sing My Part

Our oldest son told me once: “Mom, life is not an opera.” Oh, I don’t know about that. My older sisters and I called ourselves “The Singing Salerno Sisters” when we were growing up. We sang constantly: pop songs, church pieces and folk music. When I became a mother, singing my babies to sleep was merely the end of a day spent singing to them. Now, I sing while schlepping our boys to their activities. I sing (not too loudly) to relieve my stress in the grocery store line. I sing while waiting for the tank to fill up at the gas station. All my singing, however, largely has been done in private. I hadn’t sung in any kind of group for at least a decade until I joined our church choir this fall. Because the choir is so small—two voices to a part—I’ve had to rethink the way I sing and the way I live.

The last time I sang for any sustained time in formal groups was 30 years ago. I sang in three high school groups: chorus, concert choir and madrigal choir. Even the madrigal choir was big enough that I could hide.  There always were several altos who were much more confident and talented than I. So I hid behind their voices. I waited for them to come in on our part. I followed behind.

I can’t hide now. In my church choir, I’m one of two altos. Sometimes, my fellow alto has to sing tenor because her range is too low. Sometimes, she has trouble finding the right notes or rhythms, as do I. This means I can’t lean on her. I can’t hide my voice behind hers. I can’t assume she’s leading me anywhere.

As a result of being one of just two altos, I’ve discovered I don’t always have the best grasp on lyrics. Often, what I imagine the words to be is slightly off from what the words are. I’ve discovered I can be lazy about counting, so I invent my own rhythms. I’ve discovered I’m always waiting for someone else to start singing my part.

I’ve had to confront the idea that my voice is my own. I’ve got to keep the time. I’ve got to know my part. I’ve got to know my words. My voice is part of a larger group of singers who are relying on me to be prepared and confident so in harmony we can all pray to God through song.

I am thankful that God, who created the music of the cosmos, led me to this choir. My fellow choristers are helping me learn to share what gifts I have in ways I never have before.“Give thanks to the LORD on the harp; with the ten-stringed lyre chant his praises. Sing to him a new song; pluck the strings skillfully, with shouts of gladness.”

Gettin’ Twangy, Sister (Music for Mondays)

Frank and I have so much fun with this regular feature we might have to make it a daily affair. Well, maybe not. We’ve had chants, polyphony, Christian rockers, and just plain rockers in recent weeks. It’s time to get twangy with some of America’s top country and bluegrass ladies, each of whom has something to say to the spirit. Last week, I did a post on Mary Gauthier’s lovely tune “Mercy Now,” recorded at the Grand Old Opry. Here’s a quartet of tunes that make good company for that one and may just rain a little more mercy down on us all.

Gillian Welch, “Orphan Girl
You’d never guess she’s a native New Yorker, playing here with her longtime musical partner David Rawlings. By the way, the G in Gillian is hard, as in “Gilligan’s Island”—

I am an orphan on God’s highway
But I’ll share my troubles if you go my way
I have no mother no father
No sister no brother
I am an orphan girl

I have had friendships pure and golden
But the ties of kinship I have not known them
I know no mother no father
No sister no brother
I am an orphan girl

But when He calls me I will be able
To meet my family at God’s table
I’ll meet my mother my father
My sister my brother
No more orphan girl

Blessed Savior make me willing
And walk beside me until I’m with them
Be my mother my father
My sister my brother
I am an orphan girl

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Nanci Griffith, “From a Distance”
Bette Midler went platinum with this tune by Julie Gold, but long before that, my little daughters and I used to sing along with Nanci Griffith on the tape player in the beloved old Blue Bomber, and at the top of our lungs—so that’s the version you get here.

God is watching us, from a distance . . . 

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Alison Krauss and Union Station, “A Living Prayer”
Their version of “There is a Reason” is even better for my money, but You Tube won’t let you embed it. So you’ll have to click here for that one.

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The Wailin’ Jennys, “Glory Bound”
This Canadian trio—Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta, and Heather Masse—is one of my favorite finds on Pandora Radio, and Lordy knows, they’re headed in the right direction:

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Allison Krauss and Gillian Welch, “I’ll Fly Away”
And you thought they were already good on their own—they are even better together! The duo combined forces and was featured on the O Brother Where Art Thou movie soundtrack. Frank really likes it and snuck it in at the last second.

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For Practical Advice Like This from Benedict Baur

Webster was kind enough earlier this year to send me a gem of a book about developing one’s interior spiritual life. This is one of those books, like St. Teresa of Avila’s The Interior Castle, that is so deep, so lovely and so helpful that one certainly cannot read it in one sitting, or even a chapter at a time. In fact, I have been reading it sentence by sentence, pausing to take notes and meditate on how the book’s message speaks to my own circuitous pilgrim path.

The title of this book, “Frequent Confession”  by the late German abbot Benedict Baur  O.S.B.,  was about as appealing to me as would be a book titled “Monthly Weigh-ins” that focuses on improving one’s physical health. That is because Baur’s book, first published in 1922, is not so much about encouraging Catholics to make frequent use of the Sacrament of Penance, which it does, but rather about cultivating an understanding of one’s exterior and interior faults daily so as to grow spiritually. Thus, frequent confession becomes a kind of weigh-in for our souls.

Thanks to poor faith formation as a child and my own spiritual immaturity, my understanding of the Sacrament of Penance has been shallow. I knew one is supposed to go to Confession at least once a year and always after one has committed a mortal sin, including deliberately missing Sunday Mass. So my habit has been to go at least once a year, and when I am aware of a mortal sin. Then before I head into the confessional I will do a quick examination of conscience, which helps me to confess a few venial sins for good measure. Until I started reading Baur’s book, sadly enough, I never connected my earnest freelance efforts to grow as a Christian throughout the year with this sacrament. This book is a useful guide.

Baur, for example, recommends that we examine our conscience every evening. He suggests we take a look at our “thought, feelings, words and deeds.” This is not an obsessive-compulsive exercise in scrupulosity; rather, Baur says: “When this examination of conscience is made regularly it is not very difficult; a person knows his customary failings,  and so he discovers without much trouble whatever faults he has committed during the day.” It’s pretty humbling.

Another point Baur makes early on in the book is that we can confess sins more than once. I never had considered this;  I had felt an overwhelming sense of relief that some of the more embarrassing sins of my youth had been confessed and that was that. Baur is helping me to see the links in my journey, the way my path sometimes winds back upon itself.  In other words, perhaps as a youth I had the tendency to sin in a certain way. While I have confessed those particular sins, and no longer sin in that way, the underlying character fault that caused those sins has remained and perhaps found expression in different ways of sinning.

Baur follows this insight with a discussion of exterior and interior faults. Exterior faults are those “by which those around us are annoyed or irritated.” I am finding those are easy to tackle, or at least to identify. For example, I have a tendency to gossip. When I fall into that bad habit or feel as if I am about to, it is relatively easy to realize and then I quite literally hold my tongue.

What is much more difficult to face and diminish are my interior faults: “our own faults of character, the weak points in our makeup.” These are the brutes I’m now confronting. It’s painful and cathartic and perhaps the subject of another post at another time. I am so grateful to have this monk, Benedict Baur, as my companion through rough terrain.

For now, dear readers, I’d like to ask you: what role does confession play in the cultivation of your own interior life?

Because of Bishops Like This II (A Letter to Parishioners)

A few days ago I shared a post about an allegation of sexual abuse that occurred on April 14th in the diocese my family resides in. I posted the press release of Bishop Richard F. Stika along with the 27-minute-long video of the press conference held the day after the allegation came to light.

Today at all Masses, as promised, a letter by Bishop Stika was read to parishioners after the daily readings. In the case of my parish, our pastor read the letter and, in place of the homily, offered a reflection on this particular incident. He also reflected on how there are actually three victims whenever scandals take place within the ranks of the Church: the victims of the abuse, the innocent priests, and we the faithful.

My pastor mentioned that the victim in this case had expressed surprise and elation that Bishop Stika handled this case so rapidly and thoroughly. He said Mr. Tucker also mentioned in interviews that Bishop Stika’s handling of his case is a model that he sincerely hopes will be followed by others throughout the Church.

Bringing this full circle, then, in the video below, is Bishop Stika reading the letter he composed to his flock.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=11013760&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Bishop Stika’s Letter to all parishes in the Diocese of Knoxville 4-17-2010 from patrick murphy-racey on Vimeo.

Did I mention Bishop Stika has a blog too? Check it out.

Thanks to the Support of Other Catholic Men

I spent Saturday morning at the Boston Catholic Men’s Conference in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart in the South End. No, that’s not me at left. That’s Danny Abramowicz, former NFL tight end for the New Orleans Saints, author of Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint, and creator of the EWTN show “Crossing the Goal.” “Coach Danny” and his “teammates” were the featured speakers at the conference. What follows are my notes from their talks.

First speaker was Peter Herbeck, Vice President and Director of Missions for Renewal Ministries. On the topic of “Conversion,” he spoke of Easter readings in the Acts of the Apostles and asked how Paul was changed from a man affected by the circumstances of everyday life to one who was contented everywhere. Paul realized that the problems of life do not arise from circumstances but from sin. That, Herbeck said, is the message of Jesus on the Cross: “I came to put away sin.”

Sin, he said, is the drive to push God to the margins of our life. The martyrs, by contrast, went to their deaths in joy, refusing to bend to the powers that be. Their freedom of spirit “blew people’s minds.” Today, by contrast, the vast majority of Catholics live a sort of “Christian minimalism,” asking, “What’s the least I need to do to get to Heaven (or Purgatory)?” Mass once a week, confession once a year? This is putting Christianity at risk. Herbeck quoted Pope Benedict as saying that in vast areas today, the light of faith is in danger of going out.

John Paul II called us to lives of “Gospel radicalism,” to believe in our hearts that Jesus Christ is acting in us today. To have a “total and radical” faith, Herbeck said, is like playing no-limit Texas hold’em with Jesus Christ and going “all in.” But we don’t do this, we bet a chip or two, because we are seduced by our culture. Look at the Archdiocese of Boston, with 1.8 million registered Catholics of whom only one-sixth (300,000 people) go to Mass on Sundays!

Abramowicz was next, speaking on “Transformation.” He began by talking of living the fast life of an NFL star and seeing his marriage and his own soul in peril. He entered Alcoholics Anonymous in 1981 and began to practice his faith more seriously.

“Coach Danny” said there are three types of people, represented by three circles. The first type has no Cross in the circle. The second type has the Cross just inside the circle, but not at the center. In the third type, the Cross is at the center of the circle. Then he described the “Spiritual Workout” needed to place the Cross at the center of our lives. This includes (1) having a serious prayer life, “stretching out in prayer,” making a daily appointment with the Lord; (2) running away from temptation which, he said, “stops fifteen minutes after you are in the grave”; (3) going to daily Mass for spiritual nutrition, the Word and the Eucharist; (4) quieting the chatter of daily lives so that we can be like Elijah, who heard the word of God “in a whisper”; and (5) gathering together as men.

Abramowicz ended by describing a heart attack he suffered in 2007. On the operating table, about to go under anesthesia, he prayed, “Lord, the timing’s not right here. I want to help raise my four grandchildren. But if it’s your will, I accept it.” He said that at that moment “a perfect calm” came over him. Then he asked the men in the Cathedral: “If that was you on that table, would you be ready?”

Final speaker of the morning was Curtis Martin (above), who took the theme of “Evangelization.” Martin is the founder of FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), which evangelizes on campuses across the country. He spoke of the “dark cold spiritual winter” that Boston has survived and of the “new springtime” into which we are moving. He challenged men to take responsibility for this: “Do you think there’s another group of men like this in Boston, a group of men that God is calling? [Pause] You’re it.” Then Martin asked each man to ask, “What is God’s deep personal plan for me?” Martin asked us, “Do you believe that God’s plan for you is better than your plan for you? If Jesus Christ is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.

Pope Benedict, he said, has taught that the purpose of evangelization is to address poverty in all its forms. “Lord, what form of poverty do you want me to address?”

Martin quoted Catherine of Siena, who told the Pope, “If you are what you were meant to be, you would set the world on fire.” The problem, Martin said, is that men are basically, essentially lazy. “The devil is counting on this one thing…. Many of us are paralyzed by fear of failure. If a man thinks something might make him look weak, he won’t do it.”

Martin noted that Hall of Fame baseball players fail seven out of ten times (batting .300). Those who succeed just have “the highest FQ” (failure quotient): They fall just as many times as the rest of us, but they get up one more time.

Martin ended with a quote from Benedict’s first homily as Pope: “The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.”

It was a great morning.

To Find Christ in the Grid

I seldom travel on business but Wednesday I did, a one-day round trip to Nashville. I had about twenty minutes to speak at a sales conference, and eighteen hours to think. Flying above the southern Connecticut coast in the early east light, I marveled at the land and river waters undulating away from the plane to the left, toward Long Island Sound. I turned from the view to my reading, the Easter edition of Traces, worldwide journal of Communion and Liberation (CL).

I became absorbed in a series of stories of CL founder Msgr. Luigi Giussani, who died five years ago. I also read about Russian poetess Ol’ga Sedakova, about the Turin Shroud, about an extraordinary man of charity from Ivory Coast, and about St. Bridget of Sweden, whose favorite prayer was, “Lord, show me your path and dispose my heart to follow it.”

Suspended 34,000 feet above ground, totally in the embrace of the Almighty, it is quite easy to realize the truth of these words from Pope Benedict, printed on the cover of this month’s Traces: “Conversion to Christ ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need, the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship.” The need, I thought, for Him to fly this plane.

Down there on the ground, the illusion of self-sufficiency takes hold, persuading me slyly that I do not need, that I am able to do and direct my own existence. Up here, I can feel my own fragility, my contingency, and look down on the puny scale of my ordinary life. It is ironic, as I thumb through Traces, to come upon a review of the George Clooney movie “Up in the Air,” about a businessman who escapes responsibility by flying endlessly. On Wednesday, I feel a different kind of responsibility by flying once in a great while.

Ridges of cumulus form over the Jersey shore, like drifted snow melting in the rising sun. In the lengthy article by Fr. Julián Carrón, successor to Don Giussani, there is a striking idea, repeated several times: Before “I tried to put what happened in a pre-defined grid” … Now “the grid is blown away” …””I don’t remain in the grid, adding something” … “The risk of saying, ‘I understand,’ and putting a label on what happens, making it fit into the grid, is always lurking” … “Christianity does not fit into the grid.”

Below me now is the grid of the Appalachian chain, an uncountable collection of ant hills, an ant farm stretching toward the horizontal slash of a distant river, which cuts across the landscape as surely as Christ cut into history and is a presence here today. “The problem,” writes Father Carrón, taking off from Dostoevsky, “isn’t whether a cultured man of our times can believe in the divinity of Christ, but that without a cultured man, that is, without a man who uses all his reason and all his capacity for freedom, there cannot be real faith—one cannot reasonably affirm Christ, except as an addition to the grid, like a hat put on an already perfectly constituted ‘I’.”

East of Nashville, prior to landing, the grid has become a patchwork of fields, seemingly hedged off from one another, a bit like the tiny grazing spaces of the Aran Islands, cleared of stone slivers and walled off with structures made from those slivers. I do not especially want to be here, on a trajectory toward a 20-minute meeting that promises little meaning, instead of being happily ensconced in my home work space near Katie and within sight of my garden. But “Lord, show me your path and dispose my heart to follow it.”

We land in the grid—browner and drier from the ground than when viewed from above—with oil slicks layers on the tarmac. If any clouds are visible from above, they are only a haze here.

Later, I am sitting outside a Starbucks at the head of Concourse C, waiting for business associates to arrive on another flight. I am reading about the man from Ivory Coast more carefully now. His life was in ruins when he encountered Christ. Thirty years later, he has helped free 150,000 fellow citizens from mental illness and some from a barbaric traditional custom of being chained to tree trunks. Gregoire Ahongbonon was rescued from his former life by a priest and words from a homily: “Every Christian participates in building the Church, placing his own stone.”

In worshiping at St. Mary’s, in participating in CL and our weekly men’s group, in visiting homebound elderly parishioners, in teaching CCD to 4th graders, the presence of Christ can be palpable to me. But where is Christ here, now, outside a Nashville Starbucks, deep in the grid?

My friends have arrived. I guess I’ll find out.

Because of Bishops Like This

Yesterday in my hometown, the Bishop held a press conference. There was an allegation of sexual abuse from years past that just came to light.  No doubt the recent events in our Church are giving some victims the courage to speak out about the harm that unfortunately came to them from the most unexpected of places.

What follows are the opening comments of Bishop Richard F. Stika’s announcement to the press. If you have the time (27 minutes approx.) please listen to Bishop Stika as he fields questions from the local press corps. He very candidly and openly discusses the problem of sexual abuse and how these cases are being handled.  If anything, his remarks are an example of the beatitudes in action, justice coupled with mercy woven through and through with Christian charity.

Bishop Stika calls this crime exactly what it is, an abomination. The priest in question is being relieved of all duties, stripped of his vestments and the title of Father.  He will no longer wear the collar. He will be accountable to the civil authorites and like us all, to God. And he states that the paramount concern is for the victim. A letter asking others to come forward if they were victims too will be read at every Mass this Sunday in our diocese. I’ll be preparing to answer my childrens questions on the matter.

Webster once wrote a post Because There Are Good Fathers. Indeed there are, and they are legion.  I’m proud that this Father is my Bishop. But enough of my feeble words. Actions are stronger than words as St. Francis of Assisi proclaimed long ago:  preach the Gospel always, use words when necessary. This is one of those times. Bishop Stika, you have the floor.

I want to thank you all for being here this morning.

Last week when I spoke to the media about the topic of clergy sexual abuse, I was not aware of a credible allegation against any priest in the Diocese of Knoxville.

Knowing how difficult it is for a victim of sexual abuse to come forward, I want to personally thank Mr. Warren Tucker for his courage in bringing this allegation to our attention [on April 14]. I know that SNAP has been working with Mr. Tucker and I appreciate their assistance.

Yesterday morning Mr. Tucker spoke with our Chancellor, Deacon Sean Smith, and a member of our Diocesan Review Board. Mr. Tucker has accused Father Bill Casey, a retired priest of the Diocese of Knoxville, of sexually abusing him while Father Casey was pastor of St. Dominic Church in Kingsport between 1975 and 1980. At that time St. Dominic Church was a part of the Diocese of Nashville.

Following Deacon Smith’s meeting with Mr. Tucker, we immediately adhered to the process outlined in our Policy and Procedure Relating to Sexual Misconduct. This policy is available on our website. I have also spoken with Bishop David Choby in the Diocese of Nashville since this occurred when East Tennessee was part of the Diocese of Nashville.

Last night I met with Father Bill Casey, and he admitted that there is credibility to Mr. Tucker’s statement. Father Casey is ashamed of his actions and truly saddened by the harm he has caused Mr. Tucker, his family, the Church, and its faithful.

Prior to Deacon Smith’s meeting with Mr. Tucker yesterday morning, we had no knowledge of Mr. Tucker’s experiences, and Mr. Tucker can verify that fact. At this time we have still not been notified by McDowell County, N.C., authorities that an investigation has been initiated.

As Bishop of the Catholic Church of East Tennessee, I want to apologize to Mr. Tucker, his family and to anyone else who may have been harmed by Father Casey.

I am sending a letter to all of our parishes to inform the parishioners of these allegations. I will ask that the letters be read aloud at Mass this weekend and inviting any others who may have been harmed to come forward.

Our first concern is for Mr. Tucker, his family, and anyone else who may have been harmed by Father Casey. We want to help him in his healing process in any way we can.

I want to assure you that Father Casey has been removed from ministry and will never again function as a priest in the Catholic Church.

http://vimeo.com/moogaloop.swf?clip_id=10955566&server=vimeo.com&show_title=1&show_byline=1&show_portrait=0&color=&fullscreen=1

Press Conference, The Diocese of Knoxville, April 15, 2010, Bishop Richard F. Stika from patrick murphy-racey on Vimeo.

Because We Could All Use a Little Mercy Now

I was in Nashville Wednesday, but I did not stop by the Grand Old Opry, or I might have heard Mary Gauthier offer this beautiful prescription for what ails us. I offer this in response to Frank’s posts about the abuse scandal, including yesterday’s “conversation” with Gen. George Washington. I don’t know the answer to the current situation, but I’m sure mercy is part of the recipe.

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An Interview with President George Washington on the Scandal

I’ve seen some weird stuff recently regarding the current scandal embroiling our beloved Church. This for example. And this. Hunter S. Thompson said that “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” Keep that in mind as you read on.

What follows are all quotes from the first President of the United States, George Washington. I wondered today what his thoughts would be regarding the current crisis facing our Church. Below are my questions (Joe Sixpack, USMC) and  President Washington’s “thoughts” on the subject, as I have arranged them. 

For simplicity’s sake, my questions are in plain script and the President’s responses are in italics. Here goes.

Mr. President, do you think it is appropriate for the members of the Church Militant, however painful this may be to them, to demand answers from our Church leaders regarding the current scandal plaguing our ranks? 

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.

Aside from the obvious expertise in theology and the daily practice of the cardinal and theological virtues, what would you suggest to Pope Benedict XVI as the main leadership criteria used for selecting bishops and cardinals to shepherd the Church going forward?

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.

But given the shortage of priests the Church is facing, this may prove difficult, Mr. President.

Discipline is the soul of an army. It makes small numbers formidable; procures success to the weak, and esteem to all.

Touché, Mr. President, touché. There has been a lot of rhetoric not only from the Vatican, but also from many news sources, from Catholic pundits, etc., saying what we the laity should or should not do, think or not think, about this scandal. In your opinion, what is more important on this issue, actions or words?

A slender acquaintance with the world must convince every man that actions, not words, are the true criterion of the attachment of friends.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux would agree with you. But sir, many of us (our religious and priests too) have not spoken out due to fear of taint, or fear that changes may occur to our beloved Church if we confront this issue forcefully. Unfortunately, the saying “misery loves company” comes to mind. Why should we demand action on this issue?

Happiness and moral duty are inseparably connected.

Excellent point, Mr. President. Now, many have complained that other Christian denominations, other religious faiths, heck even the Boy Scouts, should own up to their own past abuse cases. Should we ally ourselves with these groups or “nations,” if you will, and make the plea that we are no worse (or better) than these other groups are?

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man. It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one. Bad seed is a robbery of the worst kind: for your pocket-book not only suffers by it, but your preparations are lost and a season passes away unimproved. It is far better to be alone, than to be in bad company. There can be no greater error than to expect, or calculate, upon real favors from nation to nation. It is an illusion which experience must cure, which a just pride ought to discard.

We need to face this ourselves and not blame others. Understood, sir. Here is my next question. In your opinion, Mr. President, why has the leadership seemed more intent on covering up their failures than they have on expending their energy to root out the perpetrators of these heinous crimes at various levels of the Church hierarchy?

Arbitrary power is most easily established on the ruins of liberty abused to licentiousness.

Ouch! That is painful to hear, Mr. President. Surely, as the leader of a powerful nation, that is easy for you to say. But we few, we rank and file members of the Church, in our poverty of both wealth and distinction, should we just keep quiet on this issue? Your thoughts?

It may be laid down as a primary position, and the basis of our system, that every Citizen who enjoys the protection of a Free Government, owes not only a proportion of his property, but even of his personal services to the defense of it.

Then you see speaking out on this issue as a duty for all members of the Church, not only here in the United States, but throughout the world?

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains to bring it to light.

Thank you for giving us a moment of you time today, Mr. President.

Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.

Amen to that Mr. President, a hearty amen to that. Semper Fidelis.

Because of the Answer to Question 108 of the Baltimore Catechism

Sometimes, my faith lets me roll with what life presents to me. At my college teaching job yesterday, one of my students approached me at my desk in the middle of class as students were revising their work. It was clear he wanted to talk, and he didn’t need privacy. Several other students listened in on the conversation.


 He leaned down to look me in the eyes and calmly shared his anguish over a personal matter involving a child, a custody battle, and a broken home that had been visited by violence.

I don’t know my student’s religious beliefs and he doesn’t know mine.  But I felt immediately a sense of peace about  this difficult situation  because of the answer to Question 108 of the Baltimore Catechism, What is hope? “Hope is a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust God will give us eternal life and the means to obtain it.” My personal addendum is: Hope is also a Divine virtue by which we firmly trust God will guide us through hardships on our earthly journey.

Whenever someone shares their difficulties with me, my first thought is: I need to be the face of Christ for this person. Yesterday I discovered something else about this kind of encounter.

Before I responded, what flashed through my head was this: I’ve taught this man for a year now. He’s in his thirties and a war veteran. He’s had his share of heartbreak and hard times, some of which I have read about in essays he has shared with me and the class. School was not always a place where he experienced success. He has no shame or embarasssment about some of the messier details of his earlier life, nor should he.

I asked him a few follow-up questions and then I told him, “It’s going to be all right.” Commuting home, I  mulled our encounter. It’s easy to imagine that I am the face of Christ to this man in distress. But had I ever considered that he was the face of a suffering Christ to me? He needed to tell me that he was aching because of the brokenness of the world. And I needed to offer him hope.

So now I pray for this child my student is so worried about.

We beseech You, O Lord, visit this home and drive far from it all the snares of the enemy; let Your holy angels dwell therein so as to preserve the family in peace; and let Your blessing be always upon them. Through Christ our Lord. Amen. 


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