Saturday, March 31, 2007

Just before entering Holy Week . . .

During Holy Week, my posts will for the most part be silent ones, images with a minimum of commentary. And they will often and unavoidably be remembrances of the Paschal Drama through which Liz lived during the last weeks of her life.

Just before entering into the spirit of Holy Week, however, I am prompted by something posted today by Diogenes at Catholic World News Off-the-Record site, a piece about the retrofitting of the Lord's Prayer by group calling itself the "Non-Theistic Liturgy Resources Working Group" at St. Stephen's College in Edmonton, Alberta.

The rephrasing is perfectly predictable. It could have been written in one's sleep. The "welfare of the Earth" -- complete with a upper case E -- admission of our "shortcomings," and so on.

The author of this vacuous catalogue of platitudes is Rev. Dr. Charles Bidwell. As Diogenes notes, Dr. Bidwell is anxious to point out that: "... at no time does this indicate a petition to an external force to intervene and do the work which only we can do."

Which brings me to this from Benedict XVI:
The temptation to reduce Christianity to the level of a type of moralism is very great in our own day. For we are all living in an atmosphere of deism. It seems that there is no room for God himself to act in human history and in my life. And so we have the idea of God who can no longer enter into this cosmos, made and closed against him. What is left? Our action. And we are the ones who must transform the world. We are the ones who must generate redemption. We are the ones who must create a better world, a new world. And if that is how one thinks, then Christianity is dead.
On a related theme, speaking of the Cross of Christ, the future Benedict XVI wrote this in his now-classic Introduction to Christianity. The Cross, he wrote, "expresses the primacy of acceptance over action..."
Accordingly, from the point of view of the Christian faith, man comes in the profoundest sense to himself not through what he does but through what he accepts. [my emphasis]
One of the persistent themes in the writings of the great French theologian, Henri de Lubac, was captured in the title of one of his books: The Paradoxes of Faith. It is precisely these paradoxes that are lost on those who have lost the faith that keeps the paradoxes from turning into crude antitheses. Cardinal Ratzinger spelled out one such paradox in Introduction to Christianity:
The primacy of acceptance is not intended to condemn man to passivity; it does not mean that man can now sit idle. On the contrary, it alone makes it possible to do the things of this world in a spirit of responsibility, yet at the same time in an uncrampted, cheerful, free way, and to put them at the service of redemptive love.

Let Holy Week begin . . .

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The Emmaus Road Initiative

Supper at Emmaus

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"Ask for a sign . . . "

As I've repeatedly promised, these highly personal posts will taper off dramatically after Easter. For the time being, however, during my Lenten lament over the loss of my Liz, they are my contact with the outside world, so to speak.

At the recommendation of my friend Paul Caringella, I am reading Gertrud von Le Fort's The Song at the Scaffold, the novella about the Carmelite nuns guillotined during the Reign of Terror. Early in the narration, the narrator says parenthetically: "Mystery, as you know, is intolerably annoying to enlightenment such as ours." Reading that sentence this morning inspired me to change my mind and post something about an experience I had yesterday, which I thought of posting, but later chose not to.

We, too, live in an era that finds mystery intolerably annoying. The masters of suspicion ... the hermeneutics of suspicion ... these are the intellectual tools indigenous to our age. So perhaps when we occasionally are brushed by even modest manifestations of mystery, we have an obligation to risk the condescension of those armed with irony and insouciance by giving it the recognition it deserves.

So here is a little story.

I will start with where the story ends, because it seems a good enough place to begin it as well. It is two verses from the first reading for yesterday's Mass -- the Mass for the Feast of the Annunciation, which was moved from Sunday to Monday in deference to the importance of Sundays in the Lenten cycle.
The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!" (Isaiah 7:11-12).
The tradition of refusing to put God to the test, and of not relying on signs and wonders, is venerable one, for dependence upon "things seen" can prevent the maturation of the capacity to believe in "things unseen." We live by faith and not by sight. Nevertheless, in a faith-impoverished age like ours, the reticence about putting God to the test and the determination not to become dependent upon signs and wonders can easily morph into the naive empiricist's conviction that such things are inherently dubious and/or that God is too transcendent to stoop to them. (The Christian God has been known to stoop lower than that.)

So sometimes it is we who are being tested when presented with something uncannily extraordinary, for our willingness to give weight to such things can be a measure, not of our gullibility, but of our emancipation from the narrow epistemological confines of the materialist age in which we live.

So, bear with me; this will take a little unraveling.

Last week I phoned to schedule a service on my car. The only time available this week was yesterday morning (Monday) at 7:30 a.m. It seemed fine. I would go to Lauds and Mass at the Abbey, and then drive directly to the service center and arrive just on time. As I noted in a post on Sunday morning, I did not attend Mass at the Abbey, for there was a Mass for Liz at the Worcester Maronite church. On Sunday night, after it was too late to check with anyone at the Abbey, it occurred to me that the Feast of the Annunciation would probably be moved to Monday at the Abbey as well. If so, since it is a major feast day, Lauds and Mass would start 40 minutes later, making it impossible for me to attend and still make my appointment. (It turns out that the Annunciation was celebrated on Sunday at the Abbey, and I could have attended Lauds and Mass there, but that just makes the rest of the story that much more ... well, fascinating.

I wanted to attend Mass on the Feast of the Annunciation. My car was going to take several hours to service, so I decided that I would go to whatever church was closest to where the car was to be serviced. It turns out that it was Immaculate Conception church, the church where Liz received her first communion and where her funeral Mass was held.

I knew Mass at that church was at 9 a.m. because I had seen the parish schedule at the funeral Mass. And I knew the church would probably not be opened until 8 or after, so I lingered a while in the auto shop waiting room. I filled the time by finishing the last few pages of Benedict XVI's Apostolic Exhortation on the Eucharist, Sacramentum Caritatis, a wonderful document, on almost every page of which there were things that reminded me of conversations I have had with Liz, for whom the Eucharist was the center of spiritual life. I was pleased to think of the fortuitous coincidence of me reading the last pages of the exhortation just before going over to Mass at the church where Liz received her first communion.

At about 8:10, I left the service center to walk the half-mile to the church, arriving early enough to have some time to recollect myself. The church was empty, and concerned that the Mass schedule might have been changed to accommodate the Feast, I picked up a church bulletin, only to find that the 9 o'clock Mass was being said for Elizabeth Bailie. The Mass had been requested by Cynthia Capone, someone whom I have never met but who is on the Cornerstone Forum newsletter list and who knew of Liz's death from my newsletter to those on our list.

So I found myself, along with about ten or so other regular communicants, attending a beautiful liturgy in a lovely church offered for my beloved Liz. Again, coincidence ... yes, at least that.
The Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying: Ask for a sign from the Lord, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the Lord!" (Isaiah 7:11-12).
I have not asked for a sign either, nor would I give so lofty a designation to the graced convergence that brought me into the church where Liz received her first communion just in time to attend a Mass that, unbeknownst to me, was being offered on her behalf. Those who know more of the details of the life Liz and I share(d), however, will know how typical this convergence is of the countless ones like it that Liz and I experienced.

I share this little miracle simply as an act of gratitude for it and as it is my duty to share what is essentially an ecclesial grace, deeply personal, but not private.

"I remember the days that are past..."

When Liz and I recited Psalm 143 each Tuesday at "port time" (it is one of the psalms for Tuesday Night Prayer) I would often repeat the antiphon that accompanied the psalm, addressing it to her, with a touch of humor and tongue in cheek of course, but sincerely as well: "Do not hide your face from me; in you I put my trust."

These days, when I say the 5th verse of Psalm 143, it is difficult not to think of Liz as well as the God who brought us out of Egypt:
I remember the days that are past:
I ponder all your works.
I muse on what your hand has wrought
and to you I stretch out my hands. (Psalm 143)
Which, for some reason, brings me to this. I realized yesterday at Liz's graveside that when I meet people in the future who never knew Liz, I will feel something of the same thing I feel when I meet Catholics who are too young to have experienced the solemnity and almost preternatural spirituality of the pre-Vatican II Church. In both cases, there is something that simply cannot be conveyed in descriptive terms, something precious, ineffable, profoundly at odds with the spirit of the age.

The sanctuary of the church were I received my first communion in 1951.

Those of us who, through no merit of our own, were privileged to have been exposed to people like Liz and to mystery-soaked and Christ-haunted sanctuaries so typical of the pre-Vatican II Church must not take the graces we received from them to our graves with us. Impossible though these blessings are to transmit in an age "distracted from distraction by distraction," we must keep trying to find ways, as Paul did, to pass on to others what was passed on to us.

Liz, so completely at home in
the stillness and solemnity of the church sanctuary.
I remember the days that are past:
I ponder all your works.
I muse on what your hand has wrought
and to you I stretch out my hands. (Psalm 143)

Monday, March 26, 2007

Conception and the Inconceivable

Since it fell on a Sunday, the Feast of the Annunciation has been moved to Monday, which provides an opportunity to add a sobering note to yesterday's post.

The Marian "Yes" is the key to the Incarnation, and the capacity for the specifically Christian way of life is a function of one's ability and willingness to approximate that "Yes." The alternative to it is not often an emphatic "No." Such candid rejection is at least not lukewarm and it can be, and often is, the prelude to a most fruitful conversion. St. Paul's for example.

The more typical alternative to the Marian "Yes" and its approximation in the life of a person of faith is: "Yes, but …" or "Yes, if …" or "Yes, until …" In other words: Yes on my own terms.

Now Mary's "Yes" resulted in the conception of the child Jesus. So before that "Yes" becomes a sign and symbol of a way of life, it is the unguarded openness to the possibility of life.

So here are some things to ponder on this Feast of the Annunciation:

As the headquarters of the European Union, Brussels, Belgium is the capitol of the new Europe. For the last six years, the most popular name for newborn boys in Brussels has been Mohammed.

Which bring to mind this from Eric Gans' most recent edition of his Chronicles of Love and Resentment:

The critical test of the claim that a society can live without religion is not simply, as it has traditionally been understood, whether it can remain free of destructive internal conflict, but whether it can provide some goal beyond individual life that motivates its members to reproduce themselves.

As Benedict XVI suggested in a talk on Saturday, there is an easily detectable link between the loss of belief in anything transcendent to this present life and the loss of interest in bringing children into the world. Each represents a loss of faith in the future.

Again, Eric Gans:

Contemporary European history offers a laboratory demonstration that individuals whose horizon is limited to their personal existence will not, when given the choice (via easily obtainable contraceptives and abortions), insure the survival of their society. For the esthetes of the 19th century vie de bohême, this meant leaving works rather than children; for their descendents today, it means profiting from accumulated social wealth with no more concern for the future of their culture than of their DNA.

The Marian "Yes" has become the shrugging and self-absorbed materialist: "If and when I can work it into my schedule."

Meanwhile, since the future belongs to the fertile, the cultural schedule of the 21st century is being determined by others and shaped in ways that were, if you'll pardon the expression, inconceivable to the members of my generation who inhaled, as almost all of us did, the fashionable ideas that have left so many so resigned and hopeless. With fewer and fewer children and grandchildren to be concerned about, attention turns to making the most of the few year immediately ahead.

Sebastian Moore once said that death as ultimate horizon lets sin make as much sense as sin can make. If death has the last word then shrugging nihilism is unavoidable.

The young Jewish girl, steeped no doubt in a piety that most contemporary realists would find amusing, simply said "Yes" in a way that no human being had ever before said it, and God came into the world in response.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Angel of the Lord . . .

According to Lebanese tradition, a "40-Day Mass" is celebrated in memory of a deceased loved one, bringing to a conclusion the official period of mourning. My daughter and I will be attending the Mass at noon today at the Maronite parish, Our Lady of Mercy, in Worcester.

My own "official" period of mourning will last until Easter sunrise; unofficially it will last for as long as I live.

In my morning reading on this Feast of the Annunciation I came upon a passage from Cardinal Ratzinger/Benedict XVI which sums up almost perfectly Liz Bailie's fundamental religious attitude:

That which is truly great grows unnoticed, and silence at the right moment is more fruitful than the constant activity that only too easily degenerates into spiritual idleness. In the present age, we are all possessed by a strange restlessness that suspects any silence of being a waste of time and any kind of repose as being negligence. … Even in the religious sphere we tend to expect and hope for everything from our own activity. We use all kinds of exercises and involvements to evade the real mystery of interior growth before God. And yet in the religious sphere receptivity is at least as important as activity.
The co-creative mystery of receptivity, this was at the heart of Liz's life, as it is what we celebrate on the Feast of the Annunciation.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Honeymoon is over ...

The Courtship Has Begun ...

In C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia, after Aslon the lion, the Christ figure of the story, is slain by the White Witch, he appears to Lucy and Susan and offers an allegorical explanation of the Paschal Drama -- Good Friday to Easter -- namely that as a result of the victory of the Lamb Slain "Death itself would start working backward ..."

It is an echo of the passage in Matthew's Gospel about the immediate effect of Christ's death:
. . . the tombs opened and the bodies of many holy men rose from the dead, and these, after the resurrection, came out of the tombs, entered the Holy City and appeared to a number of people. [Matthew 27:52-53]
I have said that my reminiscences about Liz will subside after Easter, but until then I will share then, not just to indulge in nostalgia, but because since Liz's death I have been witness to the miracle to which both C. S. Lewis and Matthew the Evangelist allude. There are no words to describe what has occurred, but death working backward is a fair approximation.

The last months, and especially the last weeks, of Liz's life -- when I was attending to her needs 24 hours a day, and when with each passing day she was losing one faculty after another -- that period of time was like nothing so much as a honeymoon. We were entirely alone; I hardly left her side. I held her hand, stroked her forehead with a cool cloth, and watched for signs of some need which she might not be able to express in word or gesture. The intimacies involved, while not the sort that one typically associates with those of the honeymoon, were nonetheless opportunities for tenderness and trust and vulnerability that seem to be the crowning event in our commitment to become "one flesh."

So, analogously, the honeymoon is over, but not in the ordinary rather cynical sense, for our marriage now has anchorage on the far side of the divide to which the Aslon alluded, where death works backwards. In the world that Liz and I now share, and into which our marriage has now moved, not only does death work backward, but the honeymoon is followed by the courtship. For nothing better describes the experience I have had of Liz since her death than the vocabulary of courtship, or better still, the vocabulary of falling in love -- as if for the first time. Perhaps what awaits at the end/beginning is meeting for the (very) first time. Meanwhile, though it hasn't relieved the heartache, the present courtship is accompanied by the most extraordinary influx of grace I have ever experienced, a tribute, no doubt, to Liz -- for whom grace was as palpable as bread and wine and as necessary as air and sunlight.

Liz on a walk near our home,
a place called "Buck Hill"

When I met Liz, she lived between the Trappist Abbey and Buck Hill, a large wooded area which was right outside the door of her little cottage in the woods. She loved to hike, and she knew every inch of Buck Hill and the woods that surrounded it. Part of our (first) courtship consisted of Liz taking me to her favorite hiking areas.

The explorations continue.
Spring has arrived.
The courtship has begun (again).

God bless her.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What's Mine in the Mother Lode Mine

Saint John of the Cross:
Mine are the heavens and mine is the earth. Mine are the nations, the just are mine, and mine the sinners. The angels are mine, and the Mother of God, and all things are mine, and God Himself is mine and for me, because Christ is mine and all for me.
Míos son los cielos y mía la tierra, míos son las gentes, los justos son míos y míos los pecadores, los ángeles son míos y la Madre de Dios y todas cosas son mías, y el mismo Dios es mío y para mi, porque Cristo es míy todo para mi.
(Walt Whitman eat your heart out.)

Here is a marvelous instantiation of the lines from the Spanish poet San Juan de la Cruz by the French poet and dramatist Paul Claudel:
…we have at our disposal for loving, understanding and serving God not only our own powers but everything from the blessed Virgin in the summit of heaven down to the poor African leper who, bell in hand, whispers the responses of the Mass through a mouth half eaten away. The whole of creation, visible and invisible, all history, all the past, the present and the future, all the treasure of the saints, multiplied by grace -- all that is at our disposal as an extension of ourselves, a mighty instrument. All the saints and the angels belong to us. We can use the intelligence of St. Thomas, the right arm of St. Michael, the hearts of Joan of Arc and Catherine of Siena, and all the hidden resources which have only to be touched to be set in action. Everything of the good, the great and the beautiful from one end of the earth to the other -- everything which begets -- it is as if all that were our work. The heroism of the missionary, the inspiration of the Doctors of the Church, the generosity of the martyrs, the genius of the artists, the burning prayer of the Poor Clares and Carmelites -- it is as if all that were ourselves; it is ourselves. All that is one with us, from the North to the South, from the Alpha to the Omega, from the Orient to the Occident; we clothe ourselves in it, we set it in motion. All that is in the orchestral activity by which we are at one and the same time revealed and made as nothing.
Recipients of such a rich patrimony inherit with it the responsibility for passing it on to others. This is the task to which we at the Cornerstone Forum want to make whatever contribution we can. We need your help and welcome your collaboration.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Our dead are not absent . . .

My old friend Fr. Paul Lachance, O.F.M. sent me this quotation from Karl Rahner:
The great and sad mistake of many people -- among them even pious persons -- is to imagine that those whom death has taken, leave us. They do not leave us. They remain! Where are they? In darkness? Oh no! It is we who are in darkness. We do not see them, but they see us. Their eyes, radiant with glory, are fixed upon our eyes . . . Oh infinite consolation! Though invisible to us, our dead are not absent. They are living near us, transfigured into light, into power, into love.
The last month has been a series of very convincing confirmations of this.

- - - - -
The Cornerstone Forum Work Awaits.
And we want and need your help and advice.

Randy Coleman-Riese and I had a teleconference today with our board of directors, and we will soon be sending out a newsletter about the reactivation of our Emmaus Road Initiative. If you have not signed up to receive our periodic newsletter, I hope you will do so by putting your email address in the field at the top of the blue panel to the right. If you are not sure whether or not you have signed up for the newsletter, sign in again and you will be told if you are already on our list.

You may also sign up for the newsletter by going to our website, here, and signing in at the bottom of the home page.

As we prepare for a resumption later this year of the monthly Emmaus Road Initiative programs in several cities, I will continue for the next while to offer occasional reflections on my dearly loved and recently deceased wife Liz, whose "eyes, radiant with glory," peer down at me from the photograph above the fireplace, reminding me, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13: that love never ends.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

One month later . . .

Shortly after Liz and I met, and as we were getting to know each other by exchanging daily email messages, there appeared on the cover of the Magnificat a reproduction of a painting by Guido Reni entitled St. Matthew the Evangelist. The painting (below) depicts a moment of recognition as Matthew and an angelic figure gaze at one another, the evangelist’s quill poised to record the inspiration. When I first saw this image, I was struck by how it seemed to capture something of the relationship between the two vocations to which Liz and I were called – the contemplative life and the evangelical life. I was eager to find a reproduction of the painting, and I searched high and low for one, but to no avail.

A few months later, I gave a parish mission in New England near where Liz was living, and we visited. One day while we were at St. Joseph’s Abbey together, we went to the Abbey bookstore. Liz had been a regular at the bookstore for years, and on the few visits I had made to the area I, too, had discovered what a rich resource it was. While browsing in one corner of the bookstore on this particular day, I looked over to where Liz was standing, and there on the wall above her head was a beautifully framed reproduction of the Reni painting! I could hardly believe it. I asked the monk at the desk if it was for sale, and he said: “Oh, that! Why, yes, it’s for sale. It’s been hanging up there forever; you can have it at half-price.” It now hangs in a very prominent place in our home.

Adding to the amazement, when Liz and I were in Rome shortly after her first surgery we toured the Vatican Museum. As we walked into one of the rooms of the museum, we suddenly found ourselves standing right next to the Reni painting, which had by then become an emblem of our relationship and the extraordinary ways in which our two vocations were mutually enriching. It was another graced moment.

Which brings me to this:

For some reason, all this week I have been conscious that the one-month anniversary Liz's death was approaching. She died at exactly 4:50 p.m. on February 18th, one month ago today. The closer the day came, the more significance it took on for me. I wondered how I might mark the occasion. I would of course take a rose to Liz's gravesite as usual, but I wondered how else the occasion might be marked.

Now, for the last few weeks, I have been reading daily excerpts from the many books, articles, and homilies of Ratzinger/Benedict which have been reproduced in a little book entitled Benedictus. The book contains a short passage from the pope's many books and homilies for each day of the year. This morning I opened the book, and found that this is the page for today:

Just a coincidence. Similar to countless other "coincidences" -- some far more striking than this one -- with which the life Liz and I share(d) was (and is) regularly punctuated.

One of the reasons we discount such subtly synchronous events is out of fear of seeming insufficiently skeptical. Second only to the fear most educated Christians have of being associated with the dreaded "Christian right" or fundamentalists is the fear of being thought unsophisticated -- fingering rosaries, for instance, like the little old ladies whose sandals we are unworthy to untie. Care must be taken lest others think us gullible enough to imagine that lines of communication might remain open between this world and the next.

Even though the passage from Benedict's Co-Workers for the Truth which was chosen for today in the anthology of his writings deals with the Gospel for today -- the prodigal son story in Luke -- something the pope says there seems apropos of this fear of being thought religiously juvenile. By looking at Christ, writes Benedict:
... my glance falls on him who, his whole life long, identified himself as a child, a Son, and who, precisely as child and Son, was consubstantial with God himself ...
"Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Nor hear from its inhabitants.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Love wakes men, once a lifetime each . . .

The day two years ago when we learned that Liz had a brain tumor which was virtually certain to take her life was a day of grace -- to which we were probably made sensible by virtue of being in a state of shock. That night, however, after Liz was asleep, I was in agony. I could not sleep. After hours of lying there, I turned on the light and picked up at random one of the half-dozen books laying by the bedside. It was a book of Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological writings. I opened it to where the bookmark was, and this is the first thing I read:
Genuine love between persons is probably more rare than one thinks -- although most people believe that they have some share in it, and perhaps they do attain it for brief moments. …

I am not thinking about the misfortune of passion ... but about something that can be much simpler and that to succeed requires a Christian predisposition: a dedication of one’s whole life to a you in whom the lover sees the quality of the absolute shine forth, and with it the inclusion of the whole world. . . .

The brilliance of the loving choice from the regions of the divine raises the individual, lost in the anonymity of the species, to the uniqueness of a person. In this ultimate mutual acknowledgment between two lovers, eros is able not merely to offer the initial spark, it can go along the whole way, if only it allows itself to be purified into transfigurations beyond itself . . .
The Eros that stirs one deeply does so because it is the initial hint of the Trinitarian mystery of self-gift in whose image and likeness we are made. But, alas, ours is a world in which this dimension of eros has largely been lost, and many who live amid the eroticized hysteria that has filled the vacuum are unaware of what might have been. They live haunted by a longing the true meaning of which they have been deprived. As the poet Coventry Patmore put it:
Love wakes men, once a lifetime each;
They lift their heavy lids and look;
And, lo, what one sweet page can teach
They read with joy, then shut the book:
And some give thanks, and some blaspheme,
And most forget; but, either way,
That and the child’s unheeded dream
Is all the light of all their day.
Without the "Christian disposition" to which von Balthasar alludes the sacramental ordination of eros remains obscure. The attraction is still tinged with this mystery, and perhaps the lovers "do attain it for brief moments." All too often, however, the initial spark flickers out and, following what Yeats calls "the shudder in the loins" the lovers are returned to "the anonymity of the species." Transfigured by the recognition of the Absolute in the beloved, however, eros, as von Balthasar puts it, goes along the whole way.
Only in the days and now weeks following Liz's death have I come to realize the real meaning of this insight.
Love wakes men once a lifetime each.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"No Father -- No Family -- No Faith"

Some years ago, George Wesolek, (a friend of mine, now a member of the Cornerstone Forum board of directors) and I collaborated as part of a Lenten series of presentations at a Catholic parish in Sonoma, California where I lived at the time. One thing that George said had a great impact on me and on those to whom we spoke. He described, as I recall, how his father was a formidable sort of man, not one who wore his heart on his sleeve. But each Sunday when the family attended Mass, George would look over and see his father kneeling in prayer, his head in his hands. At those moments George said he glimpsed out of the corner of his eye something about his father that left a deep impression on him. He concluded his reverie about his childhood by saying something to this effect: “If I hadn’t seen father kneeling in prayer like that, I’m not sure what would have become of me, but I doubt that I would be standing here before you today bearing witness to my faith.”

I was raised by a single mother, my father having been killed in the closing days of World War II. There were a few father figures whom I managed to glimpse out of the corner of my eye, and I developed a gift for finding surrogate father figures. But it was chiefly from my mother (and my grandmother) that I received my faith. I am ever in their debt for that gift.

In looking back, however, I realize now that in many ways my mother became my father and the Church became my mother – the Church which was at the time so marvelously represented by nuns galore, most of whom were paragons of selfless fidelity. Those were the days – I entered the first grade in a little Catholic grammar school in 1950 – when such things were possible.

These memories are stirred by a recent piece in the Canadian National Post by Barbara Kay entitled "Men of the church," in which she cites a facinating report from Switzerland on demographics and religious practice. She summarizes the report's findings this way:
A statistical report from Switzerland in 2000, “The Demographic Characteristics of the Linguistic and Religious Groups in Switzerland,” reviewed the results of a 1994 survey of Swiss religious practice, and arrives at a fascinating conclusion about the impact of mothers’ vs. fathers’ church attendance on the future religious observance of their children.

The detailed survey indicated that if the father attended church regularly, and the mother was non-practising, then 44% of their children became regular church-goers. But if the mother attended regularly, and the father was non-practising, then only two per cent of their children became regular church attenders.
Even when the father was an irregular attender and the mother non-practising, a full 25% of their children became regular attenders, while if a mother was a regular attender and the father irregular, only three per cent of the children became regular attenders.

In short, if a father does not attend church, it won’t matter how dedicated the mother is in her observance, only one child in 50 will become a regular attender. But if a father is even somewhat observant, then regardless of the mother’s practice, at least one child in three will become a regular church-goer. The disparity is too stunningly wide to be culturally insignificant.
The rather provocative title of this weblog post is from a comment Barbara Kay quotes in her article. It is a must read. It has been reissued by the Catholic Education Resource Center here.

For the time being, no post is complete without some mention of Liz, for which I again ask your patience.

Liz's experience, though roughly analogous to mine, was a good deal more emotionally complicated. The seeds of her faith, as I mentioned at her wake, were planted in her childhood by her grandmother, a Lebanese immigrant for whom Liz often served as companion and English translator. Liz fondly recalled how her grandmother would occasionally hold her in her arms while reciting the rosary in Lebanese, and it was to this experience that Liz attributed the seeds of her faith. But Liz, too, had the experience that my friend George described, for the seeds of faith planted by her grandmother sprouted into a very robust adult faith when Liz caught sight (metaphorically) of Thomas Merton at prayer (from his books) and (literally) of Fr. Mark Delery (her spiritual adviser) and the other monks at St. Joseph's Abbey as they worshiped in song and witnessed in silence.

Faith is something we catch from others, and apparently there is something about the faith of a father (or father figure) that is all but indispensable, the snickering at all things paternal and the fashionable idea of gender interchangeability notwithstanding.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Distant Mirror, An Approaching Drum

I feel strongly called to the Cornerstone Forum work that awaits, but for the time being I only seem able to move in the direction of that work in company with Liz, who is these days ever on my mind and in my heart. It is now clear to me that Liz will be as much a part of my work in the future as she has been in the past. Again -- with apologies for an analogue that is both overworked and utterly presumptuous -- I think of Dante and Beatrice. I am certainly no Dante (you may have noticed), but Beatrice Portinari was almost certainly no Liz Bailie either; so it works out ... sort of.

By Easter I hope to have recovered from Liz's death enough to limit to a bare minimum the highly personal entries to this weblog that I posted during the last weeks of her life and since her death. In the "meantime," however, I ask your indulgence. This weblog entry represents a movement in that direction, albeit one that began with a reminiscence about my life with Liz and only became a more typical "reflection on faith and culture" almost by accident.

I was recently looking through some photographs, and I came upon a few from a trip Liz and I took to Ireland a few years ago. While we were there we visited the ruins of the great Irish monastery of Clonmacnoise, a monastery which was founded in the 6th century and survived repeated attacks until it was finally destroyed in the 16th century. It was a poignant visit, not least because, for some odd reason, we were virtually alone that day. We had the place largely to ourselves.

The ruins of the ancient monastery of Clonmacnoise
with the River Shannon in the background

Here's Liz, a monastic at heart,
trying to imagine monastic life a thousand years ago

Here's how one source summarizes the long history of Clonmacnoise:
The monastic settlement has seen many violent and destructive periods in its history and was destroyed by fire at least 13 times. It was attacked approximately 40 times from the 8th. to the 12th. century . . . 8 times by the Vikings; 6 times by the Anglo Normans and 26 times by the Irish. Each time the Monks rebuilt.

In 1552 it was finally reduced to ruin by the English garrison in Athlone and from that time onwards there were no monasteries in Ireland for almost 300 hundred years.
One thinks of the lines from Philip Larkin's Church Going:
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky . . .
Today there are powerful forces at work -- internal and external to Western culture -- which would do to Christianity's cultural foothold in the West what the successive waves of barbarians tried to do to Clonmacnoise, and what the English armies finally succeeded in doing in the mid-16th century. It is worth noting that what the barbarians were unable to do to Western monasticism, the Westerners themselves accomplished. In 16th century Ireland and in the contemporary West, it may be that the gravest threat to Christianity comes from its antagonists within Western culture. The overt violence which destroyed the monasteries on the British isles in the 16th century is still in use by fanatical jihadists, but their hyper-modern secular counterparts in the West have yet to work themselves up into a comparable frenzy. (They eventually may.) For the time being at least, they employ a more subtle but so far extremely effective method.

It was purely coincidental that as I was reminiscing about our visit to Clonmacnoise (the photos are on the hard drive of my computer), a story from Ireland and England dropped into my in-box.

The story concerned a report just issued by the British Joint Committee on Human Rights urging that the Sexual Orientation Regulations now in force in Northern Ireland be adopted for England, Wales and Scotland. In recommending the extension of the SOR, the Joint Committee acknowledged that under the regulations Christian schools would no longer be allowed to teach children that the Christian view on human sexuality is "objectively true."

Hum ...

Pontius Pilate became the patron saint of postmodernity by cynically asking, "What is truth?" Fretting about "objective truth" has certainly not been postmodern secularism's strong suit. Why the sudden interest in it?

Is it "objectively true" that abortion is a moral evil? Is it "objectively true" that adultery is a sin? Is it "objectively true" that Christ rose from the dead? Is it "objectively true" that postmodern relativism is becoming dictatorial? Is it "objectively true" that the nuptial embrace and this or that form of homosexual coupling are morally indistinguishable?

The real question is: Can Christians continue to teach Christian morality or not? If not, why not? The "objectively true" business is a ruse.

If asked for "objective" data, the Christian view of human sexuality can appeal to a massive mountain of biological, psychological, anatomical, physiological and anthropological corroboration. On the other side of the scale ... what? Twenty-five years or so of ideologically tainted wishful thinking. "Objectively true" indeed.

The relevant portion of the JCHR report reads as follows:
Regulations prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination should clearly apply to the curriculum, so that homosexual pupils are not subjected to teaching, as part of the religious education or other curriculum, that their sexual orientation is sinful or morally wrong.
This last comment is either dishonest or the product of culpable ignorance. I can't say what others teach, but the Catholic Church does not teach that sexual "orientation is sinful or morally wrong," however rhetorically dubious and philosophically slippery the term "orientation" might be. On the contrary, the Catholic Catechism makes the distinction between impulses and acts perfectly clear:
The number of men and women who have deep-seated homosexual tendencies is not negligible. This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial. They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. [§2358]
But it would be a grave mistake to think that this proposed regulation is simply about homosexuality. It may well be a striking example of the growing intolerance of those who rode into town on the (Trojan) horse of tolerance and diversity, but it is far more than that. It is perhaps the most serious erosion to date of the principle of religious freedom, which is arguably the political centerpiece of Western culture.

"The British example is not a special case," writes David Frum. "What is being done there today will be demanded here tomorrow."

If and when it is, then the Christians who send their children to Christian schools will be legally forbidden to have their children instructed in the traditional Christian moral principles, the inculcation of which may well have been their reason for sending them to these schools in the first place. This is what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger called the "dictatorship of relativism" a few weeks before he was elected pope.

"When you decide to extend your nondiscrimination principles to behavior condemned by your society's majority religion," writes Frum, "you are embarking on a course that will sooner or later require the state to police, control, and punish adherents of that religion."

The squeeze is on.

G. K. Chesterton:
The one argument that used to be urged for our creedless vagueness was that at least it saved us from fanaticism. But it does not even do that. On the contrary, it creates and renews fanaticism with a force quite peculiar to itself.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Harden not your hearts . . .

I'm not particularly in the mood for this, but I thought our blog readers were due for a momentary interruption in my reveries about Liz.

I am more and more out of touch with whatever might be capturing the popular imagination at any given moment. I have neither television nor radio, and I take only a passing glance at current events on the internet. I do make an effort to assess as best I can the deeper cultural and spiritual currents, but this often means discounting the importance of the "page one" stories.

Since I have the great good fortune to be able to start my day with Lauds and Mass at the monastery down the road, and as it is there that I feel the presence of my saintly and recently departed wife most palpably, I tend especially during these Lenten days of personal mourning to take my cues from the liturgy and the lectionary readings.

Today's readings first reading was from Jeremiah 17:
Thus says the LORD:
Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings,
who seeks his strength in flesh,
whose heart turns away from the LORD.
He is like a barren bush in the desert
that enjoys no change of season,
But stands in a lava waste,
a salt and empty earth.
This brought my mind back to something that occurred to me yesterday while I was on my daily drive over to Liz's gravesite in Worcester. I had been noticing that a fair amount of attention was being paid to a recent spate of books by angry atheists who know about as much about Christianity as I know about quantum mechanics, but who figure you don't need to know much to know that the world would be better off without it -- Christianity, that is, not quantum mechanics. Richard Dawkins has written The God Delusion, Sam Harris has written A Letter to a Christian nation, God: The Failed Hypothesis, and Daniel Dennett has written something or other about how ridiculous faith in God is. These books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies.

I haven't read these books, and I'm not likely to. (If I was a much faster reader or a much younger man, I might justify the time required to do so.) I have seen a number of reviews, however, and talked with friends who have the herculean self-discipline required to read these dreary and predictable tracts cover to cover, and I think I get the gist of the argument. If I'm even remotely correct in my estimation of them, they deserve the thrashing they have taken at the hands of serious and informed reviewers.

My state of mind these days is such that I can't work up the petulance these books deserve, but I can offer perhaps one little thought. So, with apologies for being as ignorant of their books as they appear to be of Christianity, here's what my response would be to Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, et al.
Whatever might be the drab qualities of the god you think Christians worship, and however perverse and politically dangerous you think this god is, the God Christ revealed and that Christians worship is a God who changes water into wine, violence into suffering, and (see the Beatitudes) suffering into joy -- the God, that is, who anoints the bowed head and contrite heart with the oil of gladness, the God who saved the pagan world from despair.

So, the god atheists are sure doesn't exist is banality itself compared to the God Christians are sure does.

If you think you can live without this (Judeo-Christian) God, good luck; you'll need all the luck you can get. But were you to succeed (which you won't) in your efforts to eliminate this God from lives of the rest of us -- by the draconian means that are now being proposed -- you would find that the result is not the peaceful and rational world of your dreams, but a world where the wine of conviviality turns to rancorous vinegar, where the hope that awakens and animates intellectual inquiry turns into cynical shrugs and idle curiosity, where suffering turns into violence, and where mobs roam the world looking for someone to blame for their despair.
Jeremiah's warning about the sterile emptiness experienced by those "whose heart turns away from the LORD," is followed by what is perhaps the most famous passage in this prophet's writings:
Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose hope is the LORD.
He is like a tree planted beside the waters
that stretches out its roots to the stream:
It fears not the heat when it comes,
its leaves stay green;
In the year of drought it shows no distress,
but still bears fruit.
G. K. Chesterton warned that there are only two choices: dogma or prejudice, an echo of Dorothy Sayers' "creed or chaos." "I am quite ready to respect another man's faith," Chesterton wrote, "but it is too much to ask that I should respect his doubt, his worldly hesitations and fictions, his political bargain and make-believe."

Since Liz is ever on my mind these days, let me conclude with two verses from Psalm 127 which Liz and I used to recite together:
If the Lord does not build the house,
in vain do its builders labor;
if the Lord does not watch over the city,
in vain does the watchman keep vigil.

In vain is your earlier rising,
your going later to rest,
you who toil for the bread you eat:
when he pours gifts on his beloved while they slumber.
Please keep Liz in your prayers.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A Friend's Remembrance

As I said in earlier posts, for the time being my "reflections," such as they are, on "faith and culture" will (for the most part) take the form of reminiscences about Liz. This is not only a concession to my inability to give thought to much else right now. It is also apropos in that faith enriches culture one relationship at a time, and it is those like Liz who give Christian faith a loving face who are quietly and unobtrusively Christianizing those they meet and the world around them.

Liz and her friend Michael Boover in the 1970s

In my reflections at Liz's funeral Mass I mentioned her friend Michael Boover, from whom she learned about the Trappist Abbey which was to become her spiritual home. Michael now teaches at Anna Maria College, and he and his wife Diane have been involved in peace and social justice activities all their lives. In a beautiful and moving piece Michael wrote for the Annunciation House Bulletin, he described Liz as "the best of spiritual friends a spiritual friend could have."

Here are a few excerpts from Michael's wonderful memorial to Liz:
I first met Liz in the early to mid-seventies. I was hitchhiking from the Mustard Seed Catholic Worker to the State College to the best of my recollection. My recollections are not in the “best” category much these days. But more to the point than the actual facts is the signal fact that Liz picked me up that day.

Upon hopping into the car, I noticed that Liz had one of Thomas Merton’s books on the seat. “Oh, so you’re reading Merton, are you?” This was immediately met with an intense and near instant rejoinder: “You know about Thomas Merton…?” It was as if centuries of separation and sad solitude suddenly evaporated into mid-air. Could it be that another young soul on the planet actually shared her enthusiasm for Merton, for a Catholic vision of things, for some of her spiritual interests? Could what seemed so highly unlikely really be possible?

“Oh, yeah, I like Merton too.” That was a reply to a question that really meant something. It would lead us to each other over the years and our sharing led her to venture out to Saint Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer in due time. I count that moment as the beginning of a spiritual friendship which is, albeit mysteriously, one of the most intimate spiritual relationships I have ever had. Liz has been helping me travel ever since she stopped for me that day.

Liz loved me with a love akin to what Theresa of Avila must have had for her John of the Cross- the spiritual was key to a relation such as this. All hinged on it. We were really young seekers then, but did share spiritual hungers and inklings that were genuine, if immature. Liz, however, was way ahead of the game. She knew how to pray. I was more the activist but became forever “tied to the feather” of her mystic flights. I wonder if Liz might have spotted me earlier at a Mass at Saint Paul’s Cathedral which may have contributed to her decision to stop for me. I do not know for sure, but over the decade (the seventies), we often seemed to be the only two worshippers under 60 at the 12:10 Mass in the grand cathedral! We may have been that before we actually met and we were definitely that following our initial meetings.

Liz would come to visit from time to time at the hospitality house on Piedmont Street and we would talk about life and faith. Liz was concerned about and caring for her mother and keeping an eye on her younger brother. ...

Liz from about this time

Liz brightened our house with herself in those visits. I also think she found some comfort and kindred in us. We sensed that she was what we call “called.” Liz was holy. This we knew. And while we knew we were on similar journeys, Liz was special. She was definite kin, but not for the “rough and tumble” life we knew day in and out. But sometimes she would write me a note or a letter which described our relationship in Christ with the clarity of a thunderbolt. She got it, had it way before the rest of us woke up to it. We were much more slowly and painfully progressing in “the school of hard knocks”- “upside of the head” version. Liz had already surrendered much, had a peace about her. ...

Liz had longed for an elusive communion in this life which I knew she hoped for without an answer for many years. She was happy with God but needed what had been humanly missing. A human touchstone to God she found and delighted in at long last in her marriage. With her husband, Gil, she could and would be a contemplative and be married too. This could work and we saw that it could. Later, she learned she could be close to her beloved monastery, choosing life in her own self and semi-cloistered country home on a hill proximate to the Abbey. ...

Gil’s thought captured her maturing theological imagination, one already rooted in deep experiential prayer. ... And all that prayer and experience and loneliness eventually sent her Godward in a new way- Gilward if you will. She had independently become a local evangelist for the Giradian-interpreted Christian ethos espoused by Gil and then finally went on a retreat to meet him.

Gil relayed to me a bit of the quandary they both faced on that retreat, "What do you do when and angel sits across from you?” You fall in love. I am so saddened that their physical marriage, their life together on this shore, was so short. I know it was beautiful. But such beauty deserves time. Liz’ death is yet another encounter with the “cross” of Christ both of them knew and celebrated as pivotal to the Christian revelation. This is not the end, but crucifixion is hard under any and all circumstances and seasons.
I am grateful indeed for Michael's beautiful tribute to Liz. It is a gift.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Cor ad cor loquitur

I warned in my last post to this weblog that my postings in the period just ahead would be part of a gradual Lenten transition, as my heartache over the loss of my wife and dearest friend is transfigured into what I hope will eventually be a rekindled effort on behalf of the faith that was at the heart of the love that we shared. After uploading the last post, I read a letter I received yesterday from a cloistered Benedictine nun now living in an abbey in England who has been one of Liz's most important spiritual confidantes for fifteen years or so. I want to share something of what she wrote. (I needn't mention her name out of respect her confidentiality.) Early in her rather lengthy letter, she says something that has very much been my experience over the last two weeks. She writes:
When a loved one dies, sometimes those who remain behind are granted a deeper, clearer, almost transfigured sense of who that person really is. It is as though simultaneous with the wail of grief is another song -- which will not be silenced -- of purest joy. This, it seems to me, is the work of the Comforter, revealing to us as much as we can bear of the Epiphany that the deceased one is experiencing in its fullness in the life to come.
This marvelous woman was someone on whom Liz would occasionally call for wisdom and counsel. On one of our trips to Europe, Liz was once able to visit her at her abbey in the English countryside. Before and after that visit they periodically spoke by telephone. The morning after Liz's death, I called to break the news to her. She had know, of course, of Liz's grave illness, but since Liz went out of her way to reassure everyone about her condition, the news came as a shock to her. This wonderful Benedictine sister lives without email and the internet, and so had no way of knowing what I had said at Liz's funeral Mass two days before she composed this letter, but what she writes echoes my remarks perfectly.
Your call came between 2:30 and 3:00 p.m.; from that time until Vespers I was more "with her" than with myself, as Elizabeth, in all her uniqueness and giftedness, blossomed before my mind’s eye. I remembered the first time I met her, her striking beauty coupled with her gentleness and sweetness. I thought of the various times, as I came to know her better, when I grasped the critical features of her personal history. ... I thought of the period of time when she lived under private vows, and when she later came to question them. Through all these stages there was a steady growth in her spiritual life. And then, a new epoch arrived in the form of one Gil Bailie, and she discovered, to her surprise, a vocation to marriage. During this last period, I saw her reach a level of spiritual maturity that few attain. In her last letters to me I saw that she had become what I call an "ecclesial woman" -- by which I mean, someone who had grasped the true nature of the Church as the life-giving Body of Christ, who espoused that reality fully and gratefully, who defended it to those who attacked it, who shared it with those who loved it, and who gave her own life back to it in sacrifice with an urgency and -- amazingly, under the circumstances -- with a joy that can only have come from her union with Christ Himself. ... Her entire life, from its first moment to the last, was profoundly signed by the Cross. I can only thank God that she herself came to discover -- long before I even met her -- that in the Cross she would find her Life and the Person who loved and saved her.
Among many of my bitter-sweet chores at the moment is one that has all the gravity of decisions destined to be "carved in stone." I am ordering the gravestone that will mark Liz's final resting place and mine. I have chosen an image of the Eucharist and an inscription from the third Eucharist prayer in the Catholic Sacramentary: "May He make us an everlasting gift to You." All this unbeknownst to Liz's Benedictine friend, who nevertheless writes:
From the time I met her, in about 1993, her life was one of striving with all her might to bring herself to the light and receive God into herself. No wonder the Eucharist became everything for her during her last two years. In the end, she herself became Eucharistic as she strove to offer herself back to God, to offer her sufferings in sacrifice for the Church.
Finally, in concluding her lovely letter, this thoughtful and prayerful woman shared this:
Another revelation. I am not ordinarily given to premonitions -- or, at any rate, I am not inclined to trust them. I knew, however, that when Elizabeth entered the vocation of marriage, it would mean an intensification of the experience of the Cross for you both. And I knew it not in a vague way, but specifically: that the marriage would not be a long one because one of you would be taken from this life. This is not something I wanted to share with Elizabeth, for obvious reasons. Nor, as I say, is it something that I fully accepted. I pushed it away from my mind. But now that it has come to pass, I bring it up only as a way of affirming that your loss of Elizabeth really is encompassed within the mysterious providence of the Father for you.
The traditional wedding vow pledges the man and woman to one another "until death do you part." Liz and I understood from the beginning, long before her illness, that death would fail to part us, that our marriage was "encompassed within the mysterious providence of the Father." What other crosses or joys might be encompassed therein remains to be seen, but the means by which we are "encompassed within the mysterious providence of the Father," as Liz knew so well, is simply: Christ. A love that passes through Christ passes through death, robbing death of most, but by no means all, of its sting.
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered." No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Long Lent . . .

Liz reading Johann Baptist Metz' "Poverty of Spirit"

When the priest put ashes on my forehead on Ash Wednesday with the words, “From dust you come and to dust you shall return,” I didn’t need reminding. My beloved wife Liz had died a few days earlier. “There's a divinity that shapes our ends,” said Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Rough-hew them how we will.” That Liz’s wake was on Ash Wednesday was in keeping with so many remarkable coincidences that punctuated her life, the life we shared, and the life we continue to share.

As remarkable as it was that Liz’s wake would be on Ash Wednesday, even more remarkable is the fact that her funeral Mass was on February 22, the Feast of the Chair of Peter in the Catholic liturgical calendar. It was on that day in 2005 that Liz had her first surgery, and the coincidence of the surgery and the feast had great meaning for us throughout Liz’s long and exhausting ordeal.

The first thing Liz did when a date was set for her surgery was to look up the day in the Church’s liturgical calendar. When she discovered that the operation was occur on the Feast of the Chair of Peter, she was thrilled – considerably more thrilled than one would have thought, given the gravity of the operation she was facing. She was thrilled because the coincidence immediately inspired her to offer up the sufferings she knew she would have to endure for the intentions of John Paul II, who was the occupant of the Chair of Peter at the time, and for whom Liz and I had long had the greatest admiration. That Mother Church bestowed on Liz her final Eucharistic blessing on the Feast of the Chair of Peter is yet another indication of the choreography of “things seen and unseen” to which Liz’s life gave such quiet but stunning testimony.

One would perhaps think that having two years to anticipate Liz’s death, I would have been prepared for it, but when she breathed her last breath, her hand in mine, a great chasm opened up beneath me as I felt (so it seemed to me) her spirit leave. And so my Lenten journey this year will surely be darker and lonelier than any I have yet known, but, heartbroken as I am, I am nevertheless sustained by Liz’s continued spiritual and emotional presence in my life. She remains in death what she was in life: my daily companion, the Marian (Beatrician) mediatrix of my faith, and the collaborator in all my efforts to render that faith both compelling and intelligible.

Since Liz’s death, I have been blessed with an outpouring of love and support from countless friends, an outpouring that has almost certainly overwhelmed my ability to respond as personally or as promptly as I would like. I hope my friends will understand. I have been deeply touched by the warmth and kindness of so many. In case I am unable to respond as I should, please accept this generic expression of my gratitude as a poor, and I hope only temporary, substitute.

For many months now – and especially during the last two months – all but the most unavoidable responsibilities – both domestic and professional – were set aside as I attended to Liz’s growing needs. These long-postponed responsibilities now await my attention. In the weeks ahead, I will be working with Randy Coleman-Riese, the Cornerstone Forum Executive Director, and a number of others as we revamp and reschedule our Emmaus Road Initiative program.

This weblog, of course, exists to contribute to the Cornerstone Forum’s efforts to foster an intellectually robust and spiritually compelling appreciation for the truth which Christianity exists to proclaim to an indifferent or hostile world. The fact that its blog-master has recently lost his dearest friend and spouse, and that everything in his life is now colored by that loss, means that there will be a period of transition during which it will be impossible for me to turn undivided attention to the broader cultural matters with which this weblog is primarily concerned. During this transitional Lenten interim, I will try to stay in touch via this weblog, albeit with posts that may continue for some time to be colored by my personal loss and the ineffable Easter light that suffuses it.

To wit: these photographs of Liz, selected quite at random, which provide little windows into the remarkable person she was and is.

Probably teasing me about something ...

Liz on our honeymoon

Liz and Fr. Mark Delery many years ago.

Liz and Fr. Mark in 2001

Eternal rest grant unto her, O Lord,
and may perpetual light shine upon her.