The Gift…

I’ll never forget being told one day, “Well…you know, you were created to be a saint.” I remember thinking to myself, “Huh? Yeah, right.” I must have looked at the person funny while I was thinking that, because he smiled at me and said, “Yes. You were created to be a saint. It’s true! You were created in God’s image, you were created holy and to be with God. We all are.”

My reaction – “Wow!” This person was being serious. I recall feeling somewhat amazed. The more I thought about it though, I felt almost embarrassed, like I had missed this really important piece of information. I felt like it was something that should have been obvious to me, but it wasn’t, because up until that point, I had never heard those words before. Here I was, in my 30’s, and despite years of attending Liturgy (or Mass), week in and week out, neither these words nor anything resembling them had ever been called to my attention or directed to me before that day.

While these words may seem obvious to some, it had never occurred to me and having someone speak these words to me out loud was so profound. It was a moment I will never forget; it definitely changed me, and the way I have seen myself, others, and the world around me. It inspired me to try to be a better person.

Growing up, I attended religious education religiously from kindergarten through high school.  Every Sunday throughout the school year we had Sunday school followed by Liturgy. Once the school year was over, we got to sleep a little later, before leaving the house to get to Liturgy.

One very snowy Sunday morning, I recall our car, with my parents and siblings packed inside, sliding all the way along the VFW Parkway as we made our way to West Roxbury. I was probably only 8 or 9 at the time and the ride was rather scary. We were all very quiet as my father maneuvered the car. When we got there though, I remember there was only my family and the family bringing donuts for the coffee hour. As a child, I was excited that Sunday school was canceled and we got to eat donuts (usually reserved for the adults who had coffee hour while we were in Sunday school) as we waited and people gradually arrived for Liturgy.  I remember other times when it was pouring rain and there were huge puddles on the parkway. We literally attended every week, rain or shine, sleet or snow. As I think back, I find myself marveling. There’s no way that could’ve been convenient for the parents of 6 children!

While I never learned as a child that I was created to be a saint (maybe that was the lesson I missed that snowy day that we sat eating donuts with the Kfoury family), I will never forget the memories of going to church every week with my family and the faces of the families with whom we worshipped. I learned the importance of being family and coming together to celebrate and give thanks to God not only with my family, but also alongside other families. I witnessed and learned about commitment and dedication. I learned how to be faithful. Or rather, my parents, whether they knew it or not, and whether it was convenient or not, by their example, were teaching me how to be faithful.

I feel very blessed to have had that experience growing up and while I may have not liked it at times, or may have fallen away from it or taken it for granted on the way to adulthood, the memories of all those Sundays formed a foundation that has always pointed me back home…back to the center…back to the One without whom I am nothing…back to God.

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Ring A New Song…

A number of years ago, I saw an announcement looking for bell ringers for a hand bell choir that was starting up at my church. I remember being interested, but also being mindful of the fact that despite my love for listening to music, I did not know the slightest thing about reading music.

As I was contemplating whether I should contact the music director, I thought of my younger brother, Douglas, who had passed away a month earlier. August would be approaching soon and he would have been turning 38. He was such a kid at heart and always had a “can do” attitude and a sense of excitement, enthusiasm and optimism about him. Some, even I at times, thought him to be naïve, but in hindsight, I now know that he was anything but naïve. He was living life to the fullest, and what a blessing, especially because in 37 years, one could say that Douglas lived a full life.

As I sat there, bell choir announcement in hand, I could picture his beautiful face with that mischievous grin and sense his gentle, loving soul nudging me to ignore the voice that was saying, “You don’t even know how to read music!” Nudging me to try something totally new; not to sing a new song, but to ring a new song.

That night I sent a message to the music director introducing myself and explaining my interest and that I could not read music at all. I was pleasantly surprised when her response indicated that despite my music reading ability (or inability in this case) I was welcome; she could teach me what I needed to know. With that, I decided to give it a try, and what a blessing it has been.

In the time I have been in the bell choir, not only have I learned to read music with the help of a music director who is probably one of the most patient, encouraging, and optimistic people I know, but I have also become part of a supportive, nurturing, lively and fun group of bell ringers. I could have never imagined what a gift being in the bell choir was going to be when I first started. In fact, I got off to a bumpy start. I felt completely inept in the beginning. It did not come easy to me at all and that was hard for me to accept; I had never really stuck with anything that I was not particularly good at before this experience. Looking back, I feel so grateful for the patience and encouragement of the music director as well as for being part of a group that was, and continues to be, pretty much easy going as we all learned to ring better and work together.

All of that seems so long ago now. When I think about it though, I am so glad that I gave the thing that initially seemed ridiculous to even try, a chance…a ring. Whether at rehearsal or during Mass I find it so uplifting now; it puts a hop in my step and joy in my heart.  Who would have ever thought I would find ringing bells so peaceful and calming, and so life giving? I certainly did not…but my brother did!

Thank you Douglas, for teaching your older sister (I know, barely that much older) a new song. Every time we ring a piece that has a mallet section, I use the mallets as if they are drumsticks and imagine you and me, again, as children, playing the drums together.

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What Would “I” See If I Was Blind

Picture the commotion and busyness of a commuter rail or train station during high traffic hours; perhaps the beginning of the day, lunchtime, or early evening. Now imagine what it might be like if you sat on the ground and closed your eyes as people continued about their business. What would it be like to hear all the noise around you and maybe even to have people bumping into you or falling over you as they went about their way?

Personally, I don’t think I would be able to keep my eyes closed. What if I had no choice though?

As I reflect on the story of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar in the Gospel according to Mark (chapter 10, verses 46-52), I find it interesting how Bartimaeus, a blind man and a beggar, who is probably not a sight for sore eyes, can recognize the truth and see more clearly than those who have their sight.

I wonder, even though I have my sight, are there people or things that I choose not to see or that I readily look past or dismiss as not being important? What would it be like if I looked more closely and gave them further consideration?

I imagine the crowd, or at least a good number of them, is used to seeing Bartimaeus begging at the roadside and has probably learned to look past him. Maybe the only reason they notice him today is because he is louder or more assertive than usual. They don’t see today as being any different in terms of Bartimaeus’ role. He’s the blind beggar to them, and he could never be, or do, anything else.

Jesus doesn’t look past Bartimaeus though. Jesus isn’t dismissive of him the way the crowd is. To Jesus, Bartimaeus is much more than his blindness. And to Bartimaeus, Jesus is much more than a teacher, or a miracle worker. He is his Savior. Bartimaeus knows it in his heart and soul even before his sight is restored.

So even though Bartimaeus cannot see where Jesus is and people around him are trying to shut him up, he is not distracted from the truth. Bartimaeus wants to see and he knows that Jesus can help him to see. He is persistent and holds on to his desire (to see Jesus, who is the Truth, the Life, the Light and the Way).

Jesus hears Bartimaeus and beckons him. Bartimaeus listens and responds. He still can’t see where Jesus is at this point, but his faith has enabled him to see…to know…to believe who Jesus is.

Next, Jesus asks Bartimaeus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus doesn’t make any assumptions about Bartimaeus, the way the crowd does. He allows Bartimaeus to be who he is and to express in his own words and in his own way, what it is that he desires of Jesus. There is freedom within the relationship, thru and thru. How wonderful!?!

This is something we see time and again throughout the Gospels. Jesus doesn’t force himself on others, but he does avail himself, and all He embodies (love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, and more) to those who are downtrodden, to those who call out to Him, and to those who approach Him, bearing their heart and soul, with faith, and with an openness. Jesus meets them, and us, where we are, up close and personal. Without judgment, without reservation, and He gives us the freedom to be who we are. Wanting to be a source of hope and promise, strength and courage. Encouraging us and helping us to face and to get through, or at times to completely overcome, whatever the obstacle, whatever the hurdle, whatever the challenge we have.

How can we do the same for others? What gets in the way?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BbihOyKIvi8

Living in a Veruca Salt World…

All I have to do is to go online, put the TV or radio on, or take a drive and within seconds, maybe sometimes a minute or two, I see or hear something or someone broadcasting the latest “must have” gadget, food or drink, or experience that will make me and my life faster, better, more attractive, happier, or more complete. And, not only should I be excited that this gadget, food, drink, or experience exists, but also that I can have it in what seems like a thousand different colors, flavors, or variations. And that’s not it, there’s more! It doesn’t matter if I can really afford it because I can finance it or pay for it in about ten different ways.

I wonder though, is this really good for me? There are studies that show, the more choices we have, the harder it is to make a good choice or decision. One that will be truly satisfying; that is, one that will not cause some sort of unrest after the fact.

Also, by having so many choices, I am more likely to expect that there is nothing that I shouldn’t be able to have “my way.” It becomes easier to think, “I am in control and there is nothing that should be beyond my control.” When I can almost always have what I want, when I want it, and how I want it, it also becomes harder to recognize when I am not being tolerant…patient…kind…or understanding. It becomes harder to look beyond myself and to see when I am not taking others into consideration, being present to them, and their needs.

It’s like I am constantly being told, “It’s all about me!” When just about everything I could possibly want, regardless of whether or not I actually need it, is at my fingertips, there is no need to give pause, to hold off, or to sacrifice. I can have it all, right here, and right now.

As I sit with the verse, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” (Jn 2:17), I think about the meaning of the word “zeal” (intensity, desire, passion) and the word “consume” (use up, eat or drink, spend wastefully, devour, squander). I look around, and I see, when I am consumed with myself, there is little to no room for God, or for anyone else.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRTkCHE1sS4