Death at the Senior Center

I have a group I meet with every week to bring them communion and to spend some time with in prayer. It is a small group of about ten people, though it is rare for everyone to remember to come. Considering how bad my memory is now, I expect I won’t remember to come at all when I live there.

They are a very close group of people, and they share much of their lives together. They play bingo together, eat together, read the same books, and frequent each others apartments. My daughters come with me when we visit, and we always stay longer then we intend to. They are simply a fun group of people.

I love them all dearly, they all bring a magical quality to our gatherings. We have one who is the key organizer, calling everyone to remind them to come, we have one who always brings a little something to read aloud to everyone that is spiritually edifying. We have an old man who can’t hear much, but is doing everything he can to be engaged and present to everyone there, nodding approval, and the woman who always brings a letter she got in the mail from some charity showing the suffering in the wold to remind us to pray for them.

Francis (name changed) always brought her smile.

She was just plain cheery, all the time. A sweet, delicate woman, her husband was not Catholic, so this was her opportunity to spend some time with those who shared her faith, and she rarely missed a service. She would talk often about her son, though she had not seen him for several years.

When I found out she had passed away, my heart fell, not for her death, but for our loss. She was faithful to the end, and never gave up hope for her husband, her family, her friends. She loved God so dearly, and we all knew it through her joy filled life.

Her husband had her cremated before we even found out she had passed away, and he didn’t feel a service was needed, so we decided to have one of our own.

I brought a few extra hosts that day, because I knew everyone would show up, and show up they did. We had more people for her memorial then we ever have had for any service before. Everyone was full of joy, and we talked about her for at least an hour among ourselves before we even thought of starting our prayer.

After our communion service, I asked if anyone would like to pray the rosary with me. Normally, in any Catholic group I am involved with, my mention of the rosary is followed by a long drawn out ugggggh. Not today, not with this group. Most of them had brought their rosaries just in case, and I had brought a few for people who did not have one with them. I still had a pile in front of me when we started.

Now I have to admit something. I really don’t like leading the rosary. I lead so much prayer now, and the rosary is so feminine a prayer, that I am partial to hearing it lead by a woman. Personal preference mind you, I just like it that way.

The slow melodic voices of these woman leading us was just so beautiful. It was not overdone, nor was it rushed through. It took just as long as it was supposed to, and it just felt right.

God bless you Francis, I miss you, we miss you, and I pray that the Lord bring you into his peace.

You Aren’t an Authority Yet Buddy!

I’m a bit pig headed. I have a tendency to run around like a bull in a china shop. I can’t help it.

Sometimes, I just need to be put in my place.

I read so much information on a daily basis that I often have a hard time knowing where it came from. One day I’m reading a Church document or the Bible, the next I’m reading a blog I enjoy or some Catholic social commentary. When I first came into the Church, I went down to my local parish DRE, and borrowed every video she had, and watched them all. I’m really thirsty that way, and the info has a tendency to just pile up. Sadly, my brain does not always organize the information by trustworthiness, and once and a while I start talking about things as if they were factual, when in reality it may be rather speculative.

So here I am, giving talks, classes, trying to spread the message of the Kingdom of God the best I can. Every once and a while, God decides to remind me of my need for humility and He lets me put my foot in my mouth. I think he must really enjoy this, as He does it rather more often then I would like.

So the other day I was giving a talk about morality, and the questions from the class moved into the realm of how do decide whether any given act was moral or not.

Piece of cake right?

So I started going on about the basic steps to defining whether an act was moral in the standard way, explaining the difference between the object, the intention and the circumstance of an act, and how these relate to the objective good or evil quality of the act.

Then I started talking about double effect. (Insert foot A into mouth B)

Now, You might not know what this principle is, but basically it means an action may have more than one effect, and if your intention was on of these acts that was good, and and the other effect was bad, then it might be a neutral act. Well, I got called to the carpet, and rightly so.

Now I’m not commenting on whether or not the principle of double effect is true, leave that to the moral theologians to figure out. My problem was I was stating this as if it were the teaching of the Church, which it is not.

(Maybe we should put both feet into the mouth)

This for me is the cardinal sin, to teach error in the name of official Church teaching. I deeply dread this kind of thing coming up. I constantly study, trying to make sure I am prepared for any talk I may have to give, but once and a while, one of those random ideas I have read about sneaks in to grab me by the throat. God save me from making such an idiot of myself.

The worst thing is, I held to it. I just knew I was right. Dangit, I’m like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way, I cannot make a mistake. It’s just not possible.

The group felt I was probably right, and everyone went home with my sage wisdom. Then I pulled out the Catechism. Guess what? No double effect. Nowhere. Not even hinted at. Crap.

The next time I met with them, I was a lamb. A dog with my tail between it’s legs. I’m still embarrassed.

Lord, save me from my own pride.
(If you are interested, you can find this info in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1749-1756)

Choosing Reflections

Somehow I got recruited to lead our parish’s communion services. This had been done by one of our deacons, but his work simply got too busy for him to be able to get away long enough to do them, so, I guess I am now doing it.

Seeing as it is not a Mass, I am allowed to give a short reflection after the reading the Gospel to help focus the community of daily communicants. I am however still in the early stages of my formation, and I my pastor and I felt that it would be more appropriate for me to read a reflection rather then come up with one of my own, at least for this first year of services. So we thought up a few safe sources that I could choose from, and other then that, I am given licence to choose whatever I feel is appropriate for the readings for any given day.

This has been a far more stressful practice than I thought it would be. I figured I would just open up the Divine Office or one of the other sources, and whatever would be written for that day would automatically be relevant.

Oh how I wish that were true.

Once in a while I will get lucky and have it be spot on, but more often then not, the writings that correspond with the day have a myriad of problems. Sometime they are too lofty and dense to be able to read aloud, sometime they are too short to really get the point across. Very often I find that they have no relevance whatsoever.

While this has be a firm source of frustration, I have also for it personally quite edifying. I spend so much time poring through these texts trying to find something just right, that I have gained a great familiarity with them. I find myself quoting odd saints that I had before never heard of. Our community is often rather shocked when I actually read from one of the many documents the Church has produced over the centuries. How many had never actually read any of the documents of Vatican II for example? Very few, I’m sure.

I was reading from one the other day, and you could actually see some discomfort with what I was saying. I could tell that some members of the congregation thought I was being a little too loose. (You know, it’s that look grandma gives you when you ask for more pudding) Then I just read where I got my quote, and you see this combination of relief and consternation on their faces. Truly intriguing.

It is my sincere intention to continue to pull from wealth of sources we have in the Church as I begin to structure my own reflections in the coming year. Listening to our predecessors in the faith or otherwise has become a forgotten art in our culture in general, as we seem to think we are so modern that none of those old, dusty books could possibly have anything to say.

Oh how deeply wrong we are.

Wet Noodle Dance

So I’m not sure if I did the right thing. I went and got my children an X-box for Christmas.

You should know, we did not even have a TV for many years. I’m rather uncomfortable with the idiot box in general. It’s not so much that I can’t stand the degradation of common decency that is present on the thing, I do, but there is a deeper issue for me.

I have no attention span.

What this means is, if the TV is on, I can’t hear anyone speak to me, nor can I be a useful member of our household. If the TV is on, I am glued to it, period. I can hate the show, be angry at the commercials, wish that all the crap was taken off the air, and at the same time, I cannot hear my wife calling me in the kitchen. TV just doesn’t work for me.

While it certainly shows how brilliant all those producers and directors are out there at grabbing our attention, it has also been something I have had an aversion to for most of my life. We usually have a TV in the house, but it is primarily for movies. I can’t even remember the last time I actually watched a live TV show. But I digress.

We live in a very rainy climate, and that means we stay indoors for most of the winter. While this has made my daughters very good at knitting, it does not give them much exercise. Enter X-box Kinect. For those of you who don’t know, Kinect is a device you add to your game system that makes you able to control the game with your body instead of the hand held remote like thingy. If you want to race a car, you just act like you are holding the steering wheel, and it sees you and the game responds accordingly. Pretty darn neato really.

There is however a problem. Racing cars just doesn’t seem to excite my kids. No, they want to dance. So I said sure, let’s buy the dancing game.

What exactly was I thinking here?

There are two major problems here. One is content, and the other is the removal of my masculinity.

Ok, now I like to dance, I mean heck, my name is Dance, I can hardly get away with it. Clearly however, my idea of dancing is not relevant to this game. I don’t think I have ever tried to dance to such hits as “Right Thurr”, “Rude Boy” or “Turn Me On”.

Now, I will admit I am protective, but I have never tried to hide my kids from the evils of the world. We just let it pass, and then I talk it to death. (Effective strategy so far by the way, I think my kids have my voice rolling around in their heads permanently at this point.) Having it blasting on my TV speakers however is another matter. At first, this just made me uncomfortable, but at this point, we have made such fun of the songs that when they start up, we immediately start laughing. So yes, my daughters do know the words to “Baby Got Back”, but they also have a silly dance routine making fun of it. Give and take I suppose.

There is however another issue. I pretty much do everything with my kids, and so now, I am expected to jiggle my behind along with them.

Now, on a twelve year old, this is cute, but on a thirty five year old balding man, not so much. Every time my wife comes in the room she just starts laughing at me. Now I will admit, that is a standard response in my house, but this time it’s not because I look funny. Now it’s because I look like a wet dancing noodle.

X-box, you have stripped me of my masculinity. Now even my sister wants to come to visit just to watch the spectacle.

The Moment I Felt Called

I don’t think every person has one singular major turning point in their lives. I’ll be the first to admit that it does happen to a lot of people, but not everyone. For me, my life as been a collection of small turning points, a nudge here, a push there, never anything major, just minor shifts that add up to large changes over time.

There was a moment that I do remember, and it is one that had to be repeated several times before I really got the point. Our Lord know very well that I am a bit of a dolt, and so in His great patience with me, has repeated this event over and over, just to make sure I would get the point.

Ten years ago, I entered the Church through the RCIA process. It was an amazing experience, but I’ll have to save that for another post. When our family came into the Church, it was a full family experience. My daughters and I were baptized together, my wife and I were confirmed, received our first Eucharist, and had our marriage vows blessed all in one night. It was rather like a semi-automatic rifle, one shot right after another with no space in between.

With such madness, it is hard to grab anything more than impressions. It’s not unlike the day one is married, and between the ceremony, the family, the reception, and the honeymoon, it’s hard to gather any real meaning at the time. It is in retrospect that the true meanings begin to play in our lives. It makes you really understand why Mary always held her thoughts in her heart, meditating on them for years afterwards. It was simply too much to understand in any immediate fashion.

My one “deacon experience” happened that night. I remember coming into the Church all dark after having built a fire outside. Watching everyone process in with candles, the light flickering throughout the church gave such a great sense of timelessness, like we were a part of some great, eternal ritual. We then sat in quiet, full of expectation.

Then his voice began to cry out. The deacon began to sing a song, deeply rhythmic, and yet very personal. I did not cry as I watched my daughters get baptized. I did not cry for any of the Sacraments I received that evening.

But when the deacon sang the Exsultet, tears streamed down my face.

Years have passed since that night, and my life is very different than it was then. There is still one Mass every year that I must attend. It is not Easter until I have heard the gospel sung out through the darkness, reverberating through my body, wrenching on my soul. It is a signal moment for me, and I cannot help but cry with joy every year.

This is the night. Oh happy fault, which gained for us so great a Redeemer. This is the night.

I have always known that I must sing this song of gladness. Every year, my heart sings it for me, right along with the deacon. I want to run through the streets belting it out like a team of overzealous Christmas carolers. I come home glowing, bathed in the candlelight of that Easter morning.

I realize it’s months away, and I should have timed this closer to Easter, but if you have never had the chance to make it to the Easter vigil, make time this year.

The Ramblings, Teachings and Archive of a Catholic High School Theology Teacher, and Deacon in the Roman Catholic Church.