Thursday, December 25, 2008

From Incarnation to Incorporation . . .

Writing of the mystery of faith, Hans Urs von Balthasar says this:
The background for understanding this mystery lies in the fact that the natural man best acknowledges the gift of himself by passing the gift on in an unstinting service of his fellowman and of the whole human work of cultivation. This service remains something whose scope we can comprehend in one way or another. In contrast, what the Christian’s selfless following of Christ – who died for all – effects in the world of grace cannot be surveyed. We can say only this much: to the extent that a Christian more and more selflessly and unselfishly serves and commits himself to the work of God-in-Christ in the world; allows God, the Church, and his fellowmen to make use of him; opens his heart to the needs of others; considers Christ’s concern, the salvation of all, to be weightier even than his own salvation and welfare; universalizes his prayer to God to include the whole of mankind, especially its most reprobate members; offers himself to God and makes his life, and, if need be, his death, available to God’s saving will – to that very extent God, the Church, and individual human beings can pluck fruit from his tree, and his existence will be all the more spacious and universally accessible. Such a Christian can in some sense grow up to the dimensions of the Church and identify himself with her intentions. He becomes, as the Fathers say, a “man of the Church,” an anima ecclesiastica. [Mary: The Church at the Source, 134-5]
One thing can be said of von Balthasar: he doesnt't lower the bar on the Christian vocation.

Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Giving Thanks

A friend sent me this story which appeared last month in the Rhode Island Catholic. It's a beautiful reminder.

The boy who changed my life forever

by Sr. Patricia McCarthy, CND
Rhode Island Catholic -- November 27, 2008
I was 19; Douglas was 13. Far more than six years seemed to separate us. I had just taken my first vows as a religious sister and was attending a small college in New York City.

I grew up in a large, happy family, had a good education, many friends and seemingly endless opportunities for choices in life. Douglas was in a large state institution, also in New York City, abandoned at birth, severely physically disabled, paralyzed from the neck down, and had spent his entire life in the same institution with little hope that anything would change in the future.

We met and my life was changed forever.

One day while walking to college with a few other equally young sisters, a car pulled over. A priest opened his window and asked, “How many of you are there?” I answered, “27,” knowing exactly what he meant by his question. There was a string of black-and-white garbed nuns walking to the same college. “I need religion teachers for people in the state institution,” he said hopefully.

A few days later the deal was set. Any who wanted could teach on Sunday morning at the largest state institution in New York. Two buses and an hour of travel got us to the site where 6,000 patients lived, many of them Catholic. I volunteered for the boys who couldn’t walk. A consequence of that fact was that while everyone else taught for 20 minutes and then took their class to Mass, I was left in Building 21 with 12 children in 12 wheelchairs for an hour and a half.

It didn’t take me long to arrange for the old men on walkers to leave their walkers and push a chair over to Building 3 for Mass. Life was good and God was better! I never had to teach, since it took me 20 minutes to get the boys to Mass and another 20 to get them back. We went all year, no matter the weather, until a brutal fall rainstorm hit one Sunday. The boys were sad; I was desperate. What could I possibly teach them?

I started, “God is not only in Building 3; God is right here in our Building 21 and in our hearts.” Douglas perked up and in his very halting, slow, measured voice said, “I already know that. I talk to God every day.”

I stopped mid-sentence and looked at this child, who was abandoned at birth, whose only home had been this institution, whose earthly possessions consisted of a few trinkets in a bag hanging on the back of his wheelchair, who needed help for every action in his life, who had neither family nor friends to visit him, who never had a birthday party or a trip outside Building 21 except for the hospital and Mass. I looked at this child and wondered. Hesitatingly, I asked Douglas, “When do you talk to God?”

Again the halting, struggling attempt to speak, “I talk to God every night before I go to sleep.”

I looked beyond Douglas and the other boys and stared out at the dormitory where bed after bed was lined up, all with identical white sheets and bedspreads, about 40 of them in rows. This was where Douglas slept; this was where Douglas talked to God.

“Douglas, if you want, will you tell us what you say to God every night?” The boys and I waited.

Douglas gave me his most radiant smile, tried to hold straight his unsteady head, and then spoke in a clear, steady voice for the first time I had ever heard. Douglas simply said, “I say, ‘Thank you.’”

Sr. Patricia McCarthy is associate provincial for the Congregation of Notre Dame. For many years she taught troubled children and victims of abuse.
This true story has been illustrated and written as a children's book. To purchase a copy email:

Friday, December 19, 2008


Podunk has become a word of mild derision for a small and unenlightened town, remote from the sophistication of city life. It turns out, however, that Podunk is an actual place, and it’s just down the road from the little town where I live in central Massachusetts. Podunk was named after a tribe of Algonquians whom the Europeans dubbed the Podunks. There is still a Podunk Road not far from my house, but what was once called Podunk is now East Brookfield, a few miles away from North Brookfield where I live.

Today North Brookfield resembles the “Podunk” of the condescending urban imagination even more than does East Brookfield. It’s a small blue-collar town where people have second jobs to make ends meet. Standing in the middle of town – which you can’t miss – you might think you were in rural Arkansas or West Virginia. There are no traffic lights, no gas station, one grocery store, and no road wider than one lane each way. I live quietly when I’m in town, and I’m out of town most of the time, so I know no one in town well and very few people at all, except for the people at the post office, one or two people at the grocery store and the local auto mechanic.

But North Brookfield is a place where people who try to say things well are vastly outnumbered – thank goodness – by people who try to make things work. And when the chips are down, or the power is out, or the car won’t start, we all need people who can make things work. I love these people, even though I’m sure I’m a puzzle to them. I am in constant admiration of my fellow townspeople. Our town is a little piece of the "Midwest" right here in the otherwise ideologically trendy Massachusetts.

I live a very solitary life here. Months go by without visitors. But my little house sits on the brow of a hill, about a hundred yards from a road that leads into the center of town. There is a large window in the entry room of my home that is visible from the road. So, as I did last year, I put my Christmas tree in front of that window, where it’s more visible to passersby than it is to me. It’s my way of wishing my neighbors a Merry Christmas.

My only real friends in this part of the world are monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey where I go for Lauds and Mass every morning when I’m in town. I’ve gotten to know a number of the monks over the four and a half years that I’ve lived here. Some of them listen to the monthly CDs from the Emmaus Road Initiative talks and regularly assure me of their prayers for our work. With rare exceptions, however, almost the only verbal exchange the monks and I have is when one of them says “The Body of Christ” and “The Blood of Christ” at the Eucharist and I reply “Amen.” Monks are masters at communicating with small and ecclesial gestures, and the Eucharist is an especially opportune occasion for this.

It’s life in Podunk. It has its challenges, but it has its charms as well. I'm grateful for it.

Merry Christmas.

P. S. Speaking of monks, my friend Brother Jonah Wharf is being ordained a priest tomorrow – Saturday, December 20th – at New Melleray Abbey in Iowa. Please keep him in your prayers.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

A Long, Loving Look . . .

My cousin Ken Padgett sent me this story. It is apparently circulating on the internet, and for obvious reasons. Some will disparage it as fiction, but it has the ring of truth, and, in any case, it is filled with truth of an unassailable and timeless sort.
The Cab Ride

So I walked to the door and knocked. 'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor.

After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie.

By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets.

There were no clocks on the wall s, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.

'Would you carry my bag out to the car?' she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman.

She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb.

She kept thanking me for my kindness. 'It's nothing', I told her. 'I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother treated'.

'Oh, you're such a good boy', she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address, and then asked, 'Could you drive through downtown?'

'It's not the shortest way,' I answered quickly.

'Oh, I don't mind,' she said. 'I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice'.

I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. 'I don't have any family left,' she continued. 'The doctor says I don't have very long.' I quietly reached over and shut off the meter..

'What route would you like me to take?' I asked.

For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator.

We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.

Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.

As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, 'I'm tired. Let's go now.'

We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico.

Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her.

I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair.

'How much do I owe you?' she asked, reaching into her purse.

'Nothing,' I said.

'You have to make a living,' she answered.

'There are other passengers,' I responded.

Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly.

'You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,' she said.

'Thank you.'

I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.

I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk. What if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift?

What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away?

On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life.
We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments.

But great moments often catch us unaware – beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one.


You won't get any big surprise in 10 days if you send this to ten people. But, you might help make the world a little kinder and more compassionate by sending it on.

Thank you, my friend...
Advent is a good time to think about remaining alert for just such graced opportunities.

Monday, December 15, 2008

To be fully incarnated . . .

Hans Urs von Balthasar:
An either-or between Christ and Mary is as impossible as an either-or between Christ as the head and the Church as his body. If Christ is artificially detached from his Mother or his Church, he loses his historical believability in Christian devotion; he becomes something abstract; he becomes one who falls down from heaven like an aerolite and then goes back up without having become rooted concretely in the past or future tradition of human beings.
To be a Catholic is to understand these two sentences and to affirm them.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Diogenes in characteristic form . . .

The newly elected US Congressman:
• was once a former Jesuit novice, before realizing that his calling was to marriage and a secular career.
• remains an active Catholic layman-- in fact, served a term on the National Advisory Council to the US bishops' conference.
• won a special-election victory over an incumbent who is facing bribery charges.
• is the son of immigrants, whose father spent years in a Communist prison camp.
• has worked primarily as an attorney for immigrants.
• is solidly pro-life.
So why isn't Rep. Anh "Joseph" Cao a poster boy for Catholic activism? Why isn't be being asked to speak on the campus of every Jesuit university in the country? Why aren't editors of America magazine shaking their pom-poms?

And please don't tell me that America editors don't carry pom-poms.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Prayers for Jeff Hendrix

My good friend, Jeff Hendrix, is in need of prayers. A health issue we hoped had been resolved has returned.

Jeff is one of the great and good souls of whom his friends universally can say: "We few, we happy few, we band of brothers."

Please keep him in your prayers.