Because We Might Be Entertaining Angels

Yesterday, I had a conversation with a schoolmate of our fifth grader, a conversation that reminded me how blessed we are that God is always with us.

This boy, let’s call him Michael, lives with his mother and brother in a small apartment in our neighborhood. When I pick my son and his pals up from school I usually give Michael a lift home, too. At first, I felt funny about giving him a ride home. I never had met or talked to his mother. But Michael reassured me that his mother had told him he could catch rides with any friends’ parents. Plus, I felt he was safer with us in my van than walking two miles home alone. Yesterday I learned how very loved this child is.

Michael’s mother works until about 8 p.m. Michael and his brother fend for themselves when they come home from school. The situation, far from ideal, is not unusual. When I worked one year as a teacher at an urban Catholic elementary school, most of my students were latch-key kids.

On Wednesday, after picking the boys up from school, I asked Michael if it was okay if we stopped by the Dunkin’ Donuts for a snack. He said “Oh, I don’t have a problem with that,” with a big smile. I took the boys to the drive-through for a box of Munchkins and some hot cocoa. Michael said he had never seen Munchkins. He sipped some of the cocoa and said he would save the rest  for his mom. “I know my mom would like this cocoa,” he said. “Definitely.”

As we headed from the Dunkin’ Donuts toward his home, Michael started talking about his home country, a war-torn place in the midst of a civil war. (The drawing above is by a child caught in the war in Chechnya, not Michael’s home country.) He told me that his mom divorced his dad because his dad had had a problem with drinking and with choking his mother. “Sometimes, people do get addicted to alcohol, honey,” I told him. “And sometimes that can make them do mean things.”  He said he hadn’t seen his dad since he was four years old: “We don’t even know where he lives.”

I wasn’t sure what to say. It was quiet in the car for a few minutes. Then Michael told me that three of his five uncles had been killed in that war. Among the dead was his favorite uncle, who had been killed in a roadside ambush for no apparent reason. “I’m so sorry,” I told him. “Oh, it’s okay,” he answered. “I have had five years to get over it and I am fine now.”

Michael is 10. When I first met him, I imagined him to be a sad and lost child, walking home alone after school, waiting for his older brother and then his mother to return. But I have come to see that he is a sunny boy, who feels safe in his new suburban neighborhood and with his school chums. He is bright and reads voraciously. He always says “Thank you” and “See you tomorrow!” when I drop him off.

At the start of the school year, the difficult details of Michael’s life might have made me cry once I got home. Yesterday, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm when he was talking to me. This is because I have come to understand that God is present with Michael at every moment. And that my job is to keep taking him home.

As St. Paul said in his letter to the Hebrews: Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels.

“Praise” (A Few Words for Wednesday)

I searched all evening for a poem with which to celebrate the Ascension. I found nothing worth publishing. But deep into the last chapter of a book I am writing about Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston (which is making my posts here both few and far between), I find myself thinking every day about science and faith, about intelligent design, and even about the AIDS virus. And so, wouldn’t you know it, I came across a poem that blends all of these themes. It is by R.S. Thomas (1913–2000) (left), and it is called simply “Praise.”

A Welshman like Dylan Thomas, he was also an Anglican, like John Henry Newman before conversion. A pretty good combination and, I think you’ll agree, a pretty good poet too. 

I praise you because
you are artist and scientist
in one. When I am somewhat
fearful of your power,
your ability to work miracles
with a set-square, I hear
you murmuring to yourself
in a notation Beethoven
dreamed of but never achieved.
You run off scales of
rain water and sea water, play
the chords of the morning
and evening light, sculpture
with shadow, join together leaf
by leaf, when spring
comes, the stanzas of
an immense poem. You speak
all languages and none,
answering our most complex
prayers with the simplicity
of a flower, confronting
us, when we would domesticate you
to our uses, with the rioting
viruses under our lens.

Meanwhile, can anyone come up with a good Ascension-themed poem?

Because St. Francis de Sales Can Help Me Do Laundry

This is not our laundry room. Our most unlovely laundry room is in our cellar.

Of all the aspects of being a mother that I cherish, laundry isn’t one of them. My patient, loving husband washes and dries nearly all the family laundry. The laundry I then fold makes it into baskets that I carry to the first-floor family room, or, if I am feeling particularly ambitious, to the second-floor hallway. We generally pull clean clothes from the piles in the baskets. Obviously, I am a lazy laundress. But over this Mother’s Day weekend,  reading St. Francis de Sales gave me a burst of inspiration.

Something about laundry slays me. It never ends, does it? My family keeps wearing clothes and needing clean clothes. Even though our family is small, the laundry never ever really ends. Five years ago, in anticipation of a visit by the Dalai Lama to Rutgers University, a group of Tibetan monks spent four days at the Zimmerli Art Museum, constructing a beautiful mandala. Then, shortly after completing the mandala they destroyed it in a public ceremony designed to be “a metaphor of life’s fleeting quality.” My friend Jane, who is raising four daughters, shook her head when I told her about the ceremony. She told me anyone who wants to understand the transience of life should do laundry. Here is a video of another such mandala-destruction ceremony. This is how I feel when I consider how quickly clean clothes become dirty laundry. 

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I am embarrassed by my lazy laundering. God has blessed me with a husband and sons, and, in addition to loving them, which I do with all my heart, my job is to take care of them. As tedious as laundry is, I know I should do it. Nothing says love like freshly washed and folded clothes in a dresser drawer. Many devout Catholic Christian women cite Titus 2 for their model of motherhood. So I checked it out. No surprise: I came up short.

Here’s what Titus says: Older women (Are they talking about me? I am 47.) should be reverent in their behavior (yes), not slanderers (working on that), not addicted to drink (check),  teaching what is good (check), so that they may train younger women to love their husbands and children (I am not sure what kind of trainer I would be, but I do love my husband and children), to be self-controlled (my figure suggests otherwise), chaste, (always), good homemakers (ouch), under the control of their husbands (ummm), so that the word of God may not be discredited.”

Boy, oh boy. I need an intervention. And who better to turn to than St. Francis de Sales, the son of French aristocrats who taught that everyone, regardless of job or position, can lead a devout life? This 16th-century Doctor of the Church detailed this view in his work Introduction to the Devout Life, which I pulled off the YIM Catholic bookshelf and devoured this weekend.

St. Francis de Sales compares each of our vocations to a precious stone. When cast in the honey of devotion, each stone becomes more brilliant “each one according to its colour.” And “all persons become more acceptable in their vocation when they join devotion to it.” It occurred to me that one of the things I loathe about laundry is that, unlike cooking or even cleaning, I don’t feel I can put my stamp of individuality on it. In other words, I am so vain that I struggle to offer this gift to my family because it doesn’t please me enough to do it. What is the answer?

“In all your affairs rely wholly on the providence of God, through which alone any of your undertakings can succeed; labor, nevertheless, quietly on your part to cooperate with it….Do as the little children do; little children who with one hand hold fast by their father and with the other gather strawberries or blackberries along the hedges; do you while gathering and managing the goods of this world with one hand with the other always hold fast the hand of your heavenly Father, turning to Him from time to time to see if your actions or occupations are pleasing to Him; but take heed, above all things, that you never let go of his Hand.”

This led me to consider that I should see this otherwise tedious time amid the laundry as an opportunity for prayer. Once again, St. Francis de Sales provides instruction. First, he says, we have to pray in the presence of God. How do we do this? St. Francis de Sales offers four suggestions.

1. Realize that God is in your heart. He is not “out there;” He called us into being. He is in our very being.

2. Imagine how God beholds us from above. Because He does. He particularly beholds us when we are praying. How comforting to consider that God’s loving gaze is on us throughout the day.

3. Understand that Jesus Christ is at hand, right by our side, just as a friend would be.

And this suggestion of St. Francis de Sales I place last because I want to write it on my heart—

4. Cultivate “a lively and attentive apprehension of the Omnipresence of God, that is, that God is in all things and in every place and that there is neither place nor thing in the world in which He is not by a most true presence; so it is that the birds, where ever they fly, always meet with the air, so we, where ever we go or where ever we are, find God present.” Even in the laundry room. 

Thanks to Salvador Dalí

Until recently, all I knew about Salvador Dalí was that he created this painting. I have seen it—smaller than I expected—many times at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I hadn’t realized that Dali, known for weird surrealist paintings such has this one, had reverted to Catholicism in midlife. Born on this day in Catalonia, Spain, he had been raised Catholic but had turned to atheism as a young adult. He painted this picture, The Persistence of Memory, when he was 27 and in the full embrace of atheism. Even then, however, he was contemplating how time is a fluid concept, something anyone who believes that God exists beyond space and time has mulled.

Dali died in 1989. I am heartened to know that he died in full Communion with the Church. To celebrate his birthday, I wanted to share some of his religious artwork. I never studied art history, and so I was delighted to discover these works in my journeys through cyberspace.

The Church has a tradition of  cherishing artists. Pope John Paul II said: “Beauty is the vocation bestowed on the artist by the Creator in the gift of “artistic talent”. Those who perceive in themselves this kind of divine spark which is the artistic vocation as poet, writer, sculptor, musician, and actor feel at the same time the obligation not to waste this talent but to develop it, in order to put it to service of their neighbor and of humanity as a whole.”  To be sure,  Dalí was an oddball.  This formidable 20th-century artist didn’t have a conventional childhood. He was born nine months after his older brother, also named Salvador, died. When he was five his parents took him to his brother’s grave and told he was the reincarnation of his brother. Imagine how difficult it would be to grow up with that misperception.

What a blessing that our Church and our God has room for everyone. We are all misfits in our own way, aren’t we? As Flannery O’Connor wrote: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you odd.”  I pray that Salvador Dalí, who gave the world the gifts of his artistic talent, found comfort and solace in the Church. Here are some samples of paintings that reflect his faith.

This 1946 painting is called “The Temptation of Saint Anthony.” It is in the Musée Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. Here Dali depicts the supernatural temptations of Desert Father Saint Anthony the Great as he sojourned through Egypt.

This painting from 1951 is “Christ of Saint John of the Cross.” It is based on a design by the 16th-century Doctor of the Church. It is in Glasgow’s St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art.

In 1954,  Dalí painted “Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus).” It  is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Finally, given that we will celebrate the Feast of Ascension on Thursday, I thought I would finish this art tour with Dalí’s painting, “The Ascension of Christ.” It is in a private collection.

Thanks to Our Lady (Music for Mondays)

This post is by Allison Salerno.
I’d guess that Mary, the poor unmarried Jewish teenager who 2,000 years ago agreed to bear the Son of God at considerable personal risk, is the most famous woman who ever lived. Certainly, she is the most remarkable. We Catholics dedicate the month of May to her – not because we worship her or think she gives us salvation. We honor Mary because she is in heaven, reigns as its queen, and can pray for us. Always, she leads us to her son.

So it’s no surprise that Catholics throughout the ages have sung songs dedicated to Our Lady, who is the mother of us all. I thought it would be fun to share a few. (Along with a photo of a work by contemporary sculptor Enrique de la Vega.)

Blogger Lee Strong posted this tune by The Thirsting, a five-piece Catholic alternate/rap/rock band from Vancouver, Washington. The group largely plays gigs on the West Coast and in the Midwest. I hope they would consider a visit to New Jersey!

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Danielle Rose, whose work I discovered this winter, created an entire CD of musical reflections in varied styles to all 20 mysteries of the Rosary. Danielle Rose now is Sister Rose Therese, living in a convent near Amarillo, Texas and no longer performing professionally. Here is her tune from her “Mysteries” CD, using the same prayer but radically different style than The Thirsting: Hail Holy Queen.
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Paul McCartney, who was baptized Roman Catholic, has said this piece is about the memory of his mother, Mary McCartney. Take a look at the joy and longing in the faces of the audience members and see how this work of art transcends a son’s struggle to honor his mother.

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Bono, whose father was Roman Catholic, was raised Anglican and married in the Anglican Church. The lead singer of Ireland’s U2 rock band says “Magnificent,” is based on Mary’s Magnificat.

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Okay, I had to slip Joan Baez in. She isn’t Catholic; her parents were drawn to Quakerism and she has said “Singing is my religion.” Her rendition of the Blessed Mother’s life is, as like all her work, spectacular.

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The faithful have been singing about and to Our Lady for hundreds of years. Saint Ambrose of Milan, a Doctor of the Church, lived in the fourth century. He is widely credited with writing one of the most ancient hymns to Mary. Here it is, sung by a schola at the Basilca de San Marco in Saint Ambrose’s hometown.

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Because Here in Nashville, God Is With Us in Our Deepest Need

Guest post by Julie Cragon

Nashville has pulled together as a family. This is due, in no small part, to the prayers of the faith-filled and the Holy Spirit working through our hands and feet.

Last Saturday, I sat in this very spot at St. Mary’s Bookstore and worried as creeks and drains began to fill due to the heavy amounts of rain. By late in the day, we were hearing of families pumping out basements due to flooding. Soon, stories of flooded basements turned into stories of moving furniture from first to second floors, which became stories of evacuations and boat rescues and then stories of total losses and even deaths.

On Thursday,  I went with two of my daughters to the St. Cecilia Motherhouse for an evening of prayer in their beautiful chapel, the center of their convent. I needed this time to listen in prayer and to contemplate the lives of those who could not come this night due to the recent flooding in Nashville. For me, it was pure peace amidst the storm.

Here in Nashville, people sought shelter and comfort from neighbors, and churches, and schools. Areas all around Nashville were affected in one way or another as every river and creek overflowed. The Cumberland River finally spilled over into downtown Monday, causing major damage to our businesses. Story after story began pouring in to the bookstore. Four employees were displaced from their homes by the flood. Everywhere people were gathering to help and everyone has played a part, be it by corporal or spiritual acts of mercy.

Those who can, tear out, and dig out, and clean. People work extra shifts for the families who need to stay home. Food and clothing and other necessities were donated in huge quantities. We attended funerals and buried our dead. Priests still are celebrating Masses despite the massive energy they are using to attend to the spiritual needs of our communities. Many took in families or took care of children so others could go work. Moms are substituting for our teachers and our principals. 

On Thursday night, as the Dominican Sisters prayed back and forth from one side of stalls across the aisle to the others, I was engulfed in the peace of Jesus Christ. Their movements, their complete full waist bows during any mention of the Trinity, the sprinkling of holy water and the candle lit procession to the Tabernacle occur every evening in their convents throughout the U.S. and now in Australia. Together with priests and sisters and brothers and many lay people throughout the world they pray the Liturgy of the Hours. They pray for us, for the world, for the victims of the flood. In this small monastic-like place, this group of Dominican Sisters make a difference.

Life goes on. There are still those in hospitals who need to be visited and they are. People are still dying of illness and old age. The elderly need to be cared for, and they are. I haven’t talked to one person who has not physically or spiritually done something for someone else this week. People are tired and tempers are short and yet we are still coming together every day to care for one another and to love one another and to be a family. 

Here’s a small example. I’ve been more worried than usual about not doing enough for the survivors. They’re everywhere. The father of a  lifelong family friend  is dying from cancer and today the family is meeting at his house to decide about care and hospice and so on. A coworker texted me last night and said she’d like to cook for the family. I texted back this morning to say that I was going to leave them some bagels when I got his newspaper and I’d taken over something for them for lunch. She had made chicken salad and we were on target for me to run by at 8 before work. I got plenty of bagels to include everyone so I dropped some off for my children and I took some in for her family. She handed me the chicken salad and a brown bag lunch for me for today.  As we swapped meals I couldn’t help but think that this is exactly how I’d like to describe Nashville: one hand feeding another, one heart loving another, one family, one faith, one. 

And then, just now, another incidence of God working through us. After I wrote these words this morning,  I opened a box at work to check in new merchandise. Inside were bracelets with a silver charm that reads, “Many Hearts, One Family” and the latch reads, “together.”  What a nice connection to our week here.

To Redeem My Past

If Catholicism were only about getting into heaven, then it would be only about the future. I’m sure there are skeptics who look at our faith this way, as a means of racking up brownie points for the afterlife. In fact, however, I chose to become a Catholic mostly for what it does for my present. It changes my life, day by day. It makes me happier, here and now. What I didn’t know then, and what has taken two years to begin to understand is, being a Catholic also changes my past.

I am not talking about confession, though that is an obvious place to start this discussion. My first, general confession before I was received into the Church began a process of absolution and of letting go. A weight was lifted from my shoulders, mostly from stones that surprised me. The obviously bad stuff I had done had not been such a burden. What most buoyed my heart was absolution for things I had been less aware of, if also haunted by, like being a bad father or an ungrateful son. I have written elsewhere that it was the Fourth Commandment that stuck hardest in my craw—my failures to honor my parents, as well as personal failures that made me a parent not worth honoring.

But I do not mean confession when I say that Catholicism is changing my past, and I do not even mean forgiveness, although that is an important way of changing one’s past. What I mean is something like forgiveness, or perhaps it is a pathway to forgiveness. 

My business is memoirs: I help people write their stories. Sometimes that story might involve a whole family or even an institution, which is why I now find myself deep into the final stages of writing the history of a large Boston institution, the Massachusetts General Hospital. (It’s also incidentally why readers of this blog are reading fewer posts by yours truly in recent weeks.)

Now, you would think that someone who effectively had ghost-written sixty books (I have, though none on the scale of the MGH project) would have no trouble writing his own memoir. But over the past couple of years, I have come to the shocking realization that there are things in my past life—major things—that I cannot write about, or at least should not. This is because to write about them truthfully would create a scandal. Although this may sound confusing and abstract, and I’m sorry I can’t be more specific, it is actually a very real quandary. Imagine a doctor who could not use his skills to save his own life. That is me and memoirs. I cannot tell my own story. Not all of it, anyway.

Let me be clear: I believe that there are some things that we should take to the grave with us. I do not side with the tell-all school of memoirs that has been such a rage in the past twenty years of mainstream publishing, from fine-lit efforts like Mary Karr’s The Liar’s Club to the latest, stupid tell-all destined for ten minutes on Oprah and then, once the publisher’s receipts are counted and the author’s vanity sated, Oblivion.

What do you do when there are things in your past that cannot or should not be told? My experience as a Catholic has taught me this: you redeem them. Redemption is one of those big, ponderous religious words that I’m not sure even most Catholics understand, though we use them freely enough. I want to propose a new reading of the word. To redeem is to reconsider, rethink, re-deem. As a Catholic, one redeems the past by viewing it through the lens of one’s faith. Here’s an example.

I once knew someone whose actions toward me had mixed motives, or so I’ve come to believe. This person did some very good things, and some pretty bad. But when I review (re-view) the trail of events that stretch from my first meeting with that person to this present day, I see many steps along the way that led me toward the Catholic Church, bread crumbs leading Hansel and Gretel out of danger and safely home.

I am happier today than I have ever been in my life. Some of this is seeing my children safely on their own roads home. A big part is being married to Katie, and happily, after 25 years. But the greatest ingredient in my happiness is my Catholic faith, without which everything else would reflect a paler light. And without that person’s mixed influence on my life, I might never have become a Catholic.

When I can look at my past—all of it, good, bad, indifferent—and not just imagine but begin to understand that every person, every incident led me here, I can only be grateful, and for all of it. I am, in some sense of a difficult word, redeemed.

Because We Need to Count Our Days

Whenever I take our younger son to the barber shop, I’m reminded of time’s passage and the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90: “Teach us to count our days aright, that we may gain wisdom of heart.”  Something about this barber shop, which I have been taking our sons to for a decade now, makes me reflect on the unfolding of time. I took Lucky for a haircut last weekend. What a privilege it is to watch our children grow up.

I first started going to this barber shop, then called Santo’s Barber Shop after a long-deceased owner, in our small town’s central shopping district when our older son was three. Now 13, he shuns the place, connecting it with the crewcuts of his early years.  Instead,  he has me take him to a stylist in a unisex salon who can work with his kinky hair.

But Lucky, who is ten and a half, doesn’t mind the $12 haircuts. The first time I took Lucky to the barber shop, he was three, and his bright blond ringlets reached to his shoulders. The barber propped a wooden board between the arms of the metal chair so our son could sit at a good working height, where the barber could easily reach him. The vinyl cape covered his body. I stood behind the barber, anxious for my son to keep still so as not to be cut by the razors or scissors. He sat as still as a statue as his blond ringlets fell to the tiled floor. These days, I don’t hover behind the barber. I read a magazine, eavesdrop on conversations, or knit.

Our visits to what is now called “Everybody’s Barber Shop” are infrequent; Lucky gets a couple of crew cuts a year. He lets his hair grow out until it covers his ears (as in his picture here). Last weekend, for the first time, he told me he wanted just a trim, and not a crewcut. So that is what he got. He reached another milestone in this visit. For years, Angela, a longtime employee and now the owner, handed him a lollipop as he left. “You’re too old for lollipops now,” she told him last Saturday in her rich Hungarian accent. Lucky nodded, as if he had understood all along that this moment would materialize.
To enter a barber shop is to witness a man’s world. My husband prefers to go to the barber shop alone; it’s his Saturday morning male time. I’d never entered a barber shop until we started raising sons. The men arrive, nod to the barbers and take their seats in the row of five ripped vinyl chairs in the back. They might pick up a magazine from a table or work on a crossword puzzle. The men don’t talk until it’s their turn at the chair and the barber begins his work. The conversation between customer and barber seems to continue where it left off during the customer’s last visit. They talk about the Mets or the Yankees, about a daughter’s new job or a friend’s failing health. Angela owns the shop and she behaves like the male barbers. She nods a lot and speaks few words. She knows what questions to ask to keep a customer chatting.

My favorite former newspaper boss, Chuck Paolino (who happens to be a Catholic deacon), has blogged about the beauty of barber shops. “Places like that barber shop have always interested me because of the role they play in a community that transcends the immediate purpose of their existence,” he writes.

Time passes. Little boys outgrow crewcuts and lollipops and grow into young men. God’s hand is everywhere in this unfolding. When St. Paul was imprisoned in Rome, he wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus, where he had ministered for years: “Watch carefully then how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore, do not continue in ignorance, but try to understand what is the will of the Lord.

May these words serve as a guide on how to count our days.

Because I Can Always Go to Mass

Drink too much last night? You can go to Mass this morning. Argue stupidly with your spouse about matters that seem trivial in the new day’s light? Christ awaits you in the Eucharist. Thrashing over a problematic relationship or a financial problem? Somewhere right now a priest is saying Mass. Pinwheeling through life without a clear sense of direction at work, at home, in love or friendship? The church door is unlocked somewhere near you, and Mass is about to begin.

It is a glorious spring morning in Massachusetts, and this train of thought rumbled through my brain as I parked my car on Cabot Street and looked up at friends entering St. Mary’s ahead of me. Daily Mass is not an obligation. It is not something you do for “extra credit” and it never quite feels like “just a habit.” It is an anchor to windward, a dependable oasis, the place I’m always glad I came back to.

This morning I kept looking around for my friend Bob, who wrote a couple of touching comments on a recent post of mine that has caused some heartache (the post, not Bob’s comments). Bob wasn’t there. (He runs his own business, has three young kids and a wife who works too—under the circumstances, who could possibly have the time? But he’s often there anyway, in the back on the left.) I particularly wanted to see him this morning, but others were there, and it was good to see them: Frankie G. in the front row as always, beside Chris and just ahead of Phyllis and Henry. Jolyne and Ferde and Heidi just behind me. And Dottie at the other end of my pew, and Flo and Maria directly across the center aisle. I love seeing Bill and Joe and Tom, and Lorrie, John, and Patty too. Brothers Tony, Frank, and John are usually side by side behind me to the left, but Frank was AWOL today. (He’s serving at a 9 a.m. funeral Mass.) And others. Many others. Morning Masses at 7 a.m. in Beverly draw between fifty and a hundred people, a tribute to Father Barnes and also to the Catholic bloodlines of Beverly, which has been favored by many, many Irish and Italian families over the past couple of centuries. I honestly consider each of the “regulars” a friend.

Becoming a Catholic is just absolutely the best thing that ever happened to me. And daily Mass, with the friendship we all share, is the one place each day where I am truly fed.

Because We Must Love One Another

At the end of our lives, what will matter? Spanish mystic and Doctor of the Church St. John of the Cross tells us, “In the evening of life, we will be judged on love alone.” But what is love?
When Christians talk about love, we’re not just talking about the thrill of an infatuation or the warm affection between spouses. “Love, first and foremost, demands commitment and sacrifice,” my parish priest reminded us on Sunday. God so loved the world . . . that what? He gave his only Son, knowing the man would be crucified for our sins, not His. God is that committed to us. God’s love never leaves us. And so we must pour out that love to others. It is a struggle to love my neighbors with the kind of effusive love God has for us.

One of the most stunning places I see this kind of love is with missionaries. Why would people, for example, forsake their home country and their families to tend to AIDS orphans in Phnom Penh? The picture here is of those children, who are cared for by Maryknoll Sisters, including Sister Mary Little. She says: There is something about these people that makes me not ever want to leave them. There is a text in the bible where God says, ‘You are engraved on the palm of my hand.’ Well, I feel the Khmer people are engraved on the palm of my hand, in my heart actually, and I can’t imagine being any place else.” 

But most of us are not called to the religious life and don’t work as missionaries. We have to walk the path of life God has set out for us, loving each person we encounter—in our families, in our neighborhoods, on a clogged freeway, or at the deli counter. As Christians, this is not optional. Sunday’s Gospel reading told us of Jesus’ Last Supper, when he gave his apostles a new commandment. “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Loving as God loves us means loving our enemies, the people who have disappointed and betrayed us. It means understand that all the people we will ever encounter during our time on earth are redeemable and deeply loved by God. The Holy Eucharist, in particular, helps us to live out the memory of Christ on earth.We partake of Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity. He becomes part of us. If we reflect on His sacrifice, we are compelled to act as Christ does. God, through His Church, helps to love as He does, and thus to follow the most difficult and radical of the ancient commandments.