Category Archives: Service

Crossing the Line

This weekend in our formation classes we had an interesting discussion that I wanted to share. In our psychology course, our professor constantly has us working in small groups, working out different counseling situations, with one of us acting as a therapist, and the other role playing a problem someone might have.

This begged the question, is a deacon meant to be a counselor?

It was astounding how quickly the director of the program jumped up and basically said “Heck no!” The liabilities involved are so tremendous that he wanted to nip that thought right in the bud.

Before I go into my thoughts, he made it absolutely clear that we can listen to people and pray with them, but we are never to give advice. The legal issues are simply to extreme. On a side note, he also said we cannot act as spiritual directors until we take a specific spiritual direction course, which our diocese does not offer.

I will admit I found this rather odd. I would imagine that any priest or deacon with five+ years of spiritual education under their belt would have the ability to give some guidance to the spiritual direction of the flock they have been entrusted with, after all, what is a homily if not spiritual direction? This one seems silly, but it brings me to my main point.

At what time did we as a nation institutionalize good advice?

I find it absolutely ridiculous that a person can be sued for sharing common sense with someone, even when that person instigated the question. “I am sorry, I am not qualified to tell you that you should not beat your children with a stick, let me refer you to a licensed therapist.” What nonsense.

And yet, in this sue happy society, everyone seems to have it out for the Church, and this now includes me. So I wanted to share some of my new rules, effective immediately.

I cannot hug children, but I am allowed to be hugged by children as long as it is in a group setting.

I cannot be alone with anyone, ever. (I hope they exclude my own family!)

I cannot give advice that might have a direct impact on someone’s life, unless that advice is to pray more.

I cannot give people suggestions of things they might change in their lives that might improve their lives.

I cannot tell anyone that I can help them. (It can be confused as “curing” them, which is clinical.)

The list goes on, and seems to grow constantly. While much of it seems silly, I do realize the importance of these new rules, but at the same time, it makes me wonder how I can really be an effective minister of God’s Word. How can I admonish the sinner when I’m not allowed to admonish the sinner? This is tricky business, and I’m going to have to really use my noggin to figure it all out.

Viaticum

I have a list. I’m a very organized guy! (Okay, not really, but I do have a list)

Every week, I go to the long term care hospital to bring communion to folks with long standing medical issues. Here in America, this is where we send people to die.

It’s a sad way to put it, but it’s the truth. While you would expect this to be a depressing place, I have found the exact opposite to be true. I am uplifted every time I come here, and have related some of the inspiration I have received here already.

I was told I have a new communicant by the church office, I was to find Bill. He had just been admitted.

I took care of the regulars first, paying attention to the doors as I walked along to see if I saw Bill’s name. We had a great visit as always, and one very nice lady gave me chocolate. I’m not a huge chocolate fan, but I was hungry, so it was a real treat.

I can easily spend several hours in here every time I come. These folks are lonely, and I am often the only visitor they will get all week. As you can imagine, they want to talk, and I do my best to oblige as much as I can.

So by the time I was done with my route, I was running a bit behind schedule. I’m used to it, and my next stop knows I will sometimes be a little late, so it’s no big deal. Nevertheless, I felt rushed as I finally started looking in earnest for Bill.

A couple of the nurses there are Catholic, so when they see me confused, they usually jump to help me out. God bless them or I would be lost most of the time. They found Bill for me. He was sitting in a hallway.

I was a little scared of Bill. He just did not look normal. Something was seriously up with him.

His hands were blue and swollen. He smelled like rotting food. His shirt was filthy from where someone had tried to feed him. I won’t lie, I was pretty uncomfortable.

I’m a brave guy though, and I got down on my knees in front of him so he could see me without raising his head, and asked him if he wanted to receive communion. He didn’t move, but his eyes locked onto mine. They were starting to get that dull blue that often happens with really old people.

He opened his mouth to talk and his whole body started shaking. You could tell he wanted to say something very badly, and just couldn’t get it out. It was seriously starting to freak him out.

So I took a hold of his cold blue hands, and held them and asked him again, this time just asking him to nod his head. Again the shaking. I was thinking I was going to need to grab a nurse, he was in seriously bad shape. Add to that his teeth which were clearly in the process of rotting away, and his foul breath, to be honest, I just wanted to get out of there.

Instead, I squeezed his hand, and told him it was alright, and proceeded to pray for him, and give him communion. He very carefully, very slowly chewed the host, and then he started flipping clean out. This was way beyond a little shaking, he was clearly upset. There was something he really really wanted to say, and just couldn’t pull it off.

So I reached up, grabbed him by the back of the neck while still holding his hands and told him not to speak. I told him there was nothing he needed to say. I told him I was there, I understood, and I would be there again next week and he didn’t have to say a thing. I touched my forehead to his, and prayed the Our Father.

He calmed down immediately and started to cry, staring straight at me. I just stared back. But I’m a busy guy, so on I went on my merry way to my next stop.

Bill died that afternoon.

I have a million things I want to say, a million points I want to make, a million lessons to be gleaned from this experience, but I just can’t be my normal witty self.

The truth is, I was too damn busy and scared to just sit with him, and I am so deeply saddened that it breaks my heart.

Dead Tree Decor

What the heck is with the dead trees? When did this become a Lent thing?

Seriously, I can’t think of a church I have been to in the last few years that doesn’t remove the pretty flowers arrangements that scatter the church and replace them with dead twigs.

Now I’m not saying we should have pretty flowers everywhere during Lent, that is clearly nonsensical. This isn’t a time for finery, it’s a time for penance. Are the dead bushes really all that relevant though?

Now I realize that our amazing, dedicated altar ladies group is just trying to get us into the spirit of the season, I’m just not sure it’s the season of dead things. I totally get that we should be in the desert with Jesus, hacking at the nasty bits of our souls. I’m all there.

Dead trees? How does that really help us understand Lent?

Let me tell you what I think. I think they just want to make pretty stuff, and since they can’t use flowers, they are going to find some other arrangement that they think still looks nice, but is in line with the season. I think the dead branches are more about the desire to decorate, and less about Lent.

I’m not complaining, I swear. The dead tree arrangements do actually look nice in their crystal vases, all tied up with purple ribbon. I am extremely thankful for all the hard work these ladies put in to make our place of worship beautiful. The amount of effort they put into Christmas and Easter is obvious, and it simply looks stunning. Beyond that, it really help me get into the season when the altar is surrounded with lilies or evergreens. I am so thankful for the hidden efforts of these amazing women.

I just don’t understand the dead tree thing.

I don’t have a decorating bone in my body, so it would be asinine for me to start throwing out suggestions on how to decorate the church. I’m not even going to attempt it. Any desert motif I put out there even as an idea would look more like a kindergartner was walking around the sanctuary throwing sand and desert stuff rather than real decorating. It simply isn’t my skill.

So if you cringe as I throw out my idea, I’m okay with that.

Lent is a time of penance, right? We Catholics are overly sensual, yes? We love our stained glass, our statues, our candles, our incense, right? So why not just be plain? No frills, no ribbons, no flowers, no fancy altar cloths, just the bare minimum.

I hearken back to the practice of covering all our statues with purple cloth, removing any consolation and hiding the beauty for just a short while.

It just seems so much more Lent than dead trees.

My Favorite Night of the Week

Every other Sunday, we have guests. Sometimes they fill the house, sometimes it’s just one or two folks. Sometimes it’s loud and raucous, sometimes it’s quiet and prayerful. It is always awesome.

I used to be a Youth Ministry Coordinator, and when one of my former youth group kids asked me to start up a young adult group, I of course said sure. Now when I say young adult, I don’t mean kids or teens. I’m sorry, but I just don’t understand when we started calling late teens adult, that’s just bad vocabulary. I am talking about college age young people, 21-30ish.

I totally understand why John Paul II had such a deep love for this age group. It’s hard not to. Please, don’t ever ask me to work with Jr High school kids, I just can’t take it. Twenty somethings however, I can do that every night of every week.

The reason I love this age group is twofold. First, they are hungry. They live in a world that is constantly attacking them, and they are on loose footing. They truly want to know how to handle life and it’s challenges, and are really trying to figure out who they are with a zest for life that no other age group can match. They are bombarded every day with evils and temptation that would make a roman prostitute blush, and at the same time they are trying to reach towards heaven and understand their place in the world. Talk about a tall order.

Second, they love philosophy. Wow! Most of the time when I start talking in the abstract, whomever I am speaking with starts to get this glazed look and the confusion starts to set in. My own wife just starts to get dizzy, and asks me to stop, my kids just can’t figure out what the heck I am talking about.

This generation though really gets it. They are looking for more than words and rules, they are looking for ideals and ideas on which to base their life. They want the big picture, not a list of regulations. It’s just downright refreshing, and super fun.

So we gather at my house around 6:30, and we have a quick prayer, and we dive right in. Ten minutes of small talk minimum, and then we just go at it full bore. We talk about life issues, marriage and sex, homosexuality, the death penalty, there is just no topic that is too controversial. I led one class where I was teaching how to explain Catholicism to Protestants, and they brought along three or four of their Protestant friends so that they could see it in action.

Who does that? Only this age group has the guts.

The only thing I love more than their guts, is their heart. This generation is truly a great hope. They really and truly feel the dangers that are present in the world, and really want to be the leaven that changes it.

As for me, I think they can.

Prayer of Death

So I’m about to head out on my weekly round to the nursing homes, and I’m suddenly reminded of my first service I was a part of for a retirement community. One of our die-hard parishoners was leading the service, and she asked me to read the prayer she always read right after communion. It was a special prayer to this community, but I did not know that at the time. Here goes.

“Stay with me, Lord, for it is necessary to have You present so that I do not forget You. You know how easily I abandon You.
Stay with me, Lord, because I am weak and I need Your strength, that I may not fall so often.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my life, and without You, I am without fervor.
Stay with me, Lord, for You are my light, and without You, I am in darkness.
Stay with me, Lord, to show me Your will.
Stay with me, Lord, so that I hear Your voice and follow You.
Stay with me, Lord, for I desire to love You very much, and always be in Your company.
Stay with me, Lord, if You wish me to be faithful to You.
Stay with me, Lord, for as poor as my soul is, I wish it to be a place of consolation for You, a nest of Love.
Stay with me, Jesus, for it is getting late and the day is coming to a close, and life passes, death, judgement, eternity approaches. It is necessary to renew my strength, so that I will not stop along the way and for that, I need You. It is getting late and death approaches. I fear the darkness, the temptations, the dryness, the cross, the sorrows. O how I need You, my Jesus, in this night of exile!
Stay with me tonight, Jesus, in life with all its dangers, I need You.
Let me recognize You as Your disciples did at the breaking of bread, so that the Eucharistic Communion be the light which disperses the darkness, the force which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.
Stay with me, Lord, because at the hour of my death, I want to remain united to You, if not by Communion, at least by grace and love.
Stay with me, Jesus, I do not ask for divine consolation, because I do not merit it, but, the gift of Your Presence, oh yes, I ask this of You!
Stay with me, Lord, for it is You alone I look for. Your Love, Your Grace, Your Will, Your Heart, Your Spirit, because I love You and ask no other reward but to love You more and more.
With a firm love, I will love You with all my heart while on earth and continue to love You perfectly during all eternity.
Amen” – St. Padre Pio, OFM Cap.

Now let me say right off this prayer is beautiful. I was just unprepared for all the “end of life” talk. It caught me off guard. As I’m reading it, trying to be full of expression, in my head I’m crying out, “Holy Cow! Why am I reading all this stuff about death to these poor people who are so near to it!”

I felt insensitive, rude, callous.

No one seemed to react to me though, and over the last six months, as I have read this prayer over and over again, and lost several wonderful people in the community, I have found such deep consolation in this prayer.

Yes, they are close. They are truly looking into the abyss, and are searching for hope. I am amazed by the courage they show, to look it in the face, see death’s approach, and bear it with gentleness and humor. I truly hope that near my end, those who love me don’t shy away from what is near. I want to be prepared.

I’m not afraid to talk and pray about death anymore, thanks to this wonderful community.

St. Joseph, please grant me a happy death.