I just finished reading Camron Wright’s novel based on a true story, The Orphan Keeper. A child stolen from India and living over 20 years in the United States senses his need to return to a place that’s a half-globe away. Wright’s page-turner tells of loneliness, abandonment, and loss of identity. The reader senses that the main character cannot reach his full human potential until he becomes connected with his origin. Connecting with his roots, he becomes more fully human. We, too must see ourselves related to everyone and everything. We grow in the context of community as we participate in more gatherings—parties, reunions, neighborhood picnics county fairs. Let these opportunities to connect help us become more fully human, more our real selves that are related to everyone and everything in the mystery of God’s Creation and Incarnation. In the new creation is the fullness of Christ, which is all humanity and creation bound in a union of love.
Recently a minister ended his talk at a funeral with this message delivered vehemently: “Don’t stop using the name of the deceased. The family needs to hear it.” While we may think not mentioning the deceased will prevent grief, it has the opposite effect. The loved ones think the deceased is forgotten. Speak the name. “Meghan would have been 70 today.” “I made Meghan’s favorite dish.” “I’m going to give one of Meghan’s necklaces to my neighbor.” “I bet Meghan would appreciate such a beautiful day as this.” “That song reminds me of Meghan.”
I love picnics. I love to plan them. I love packing the basket. I love finding a table in the perfect spot. I love the breeze on my face. I love looking around at sky, trees, and other picnickers. The best part of a picnic occurs after the food is eaten and the lighter basket taken home. It’s the “doggy-bag” of happiness, that leftover that will last until tomorrow or even many days to come without refrigeration.
This morning I went to the funeral Mass of a religious sister. In the afternoon I traveled an hour for the visitation of a brother to one of our SND sisters. There did not seem to be many expressions of grief at either place. Those emotions have probably already occurred and will occur again in the quiet that follows the funerals and luncheons. Then the friends and relatives will experience the many different feelings of grief: panic or helplessness, worry or anxiety, fear, anger, guilt, failure, loneliness, emptiness or hopelessness, sadness or despair. Grief may also feel like relief, happiness, gratitude; but don’t feel guilty about these emotions. Emotions aren’t good or bad, positive or negative. They just are. They come unexpectedly, often at an unusual time. Almost anything has the power to elicit grief. You’ve probably experienced this. A flavor of ice cream, a song, a smell of soap or bread, an advertisement, a photo, a receipt left in an old jacket, an envelope with an 8-cent stamp. Let these times of momentary grief, when the tears sting and the throat catches reconnect you with your loved one. Let them also help you to let go of your grief in some small way. Letting go of grief is not letting go of your loved one.
Joan Rivers once said, “No matter how trapped in the Krazy Glue of life you may be feeling, you can get unstuck. My favorite way is to make a list of all that I have to be thankful for.” May is the busiest of times. May is the loneliest of times. (Do these questions sound like the beginning of a novel?) Do they fit you? May’s calendar brings lots of busyness: graduations, First Communions, excursions, anniversaries, weddings, May Crownings, and more prosaic things like spring cleaning. May can also be a lonely time when such events are not part of this year and perhaps never again. Whatever the events of May, whether they bring happy activity or aching memories and lonely longing, we can make each day one of gratitude. Making a list of things for which to be grateful is the Goo-Gone for a Stuck Life.
Historically Easter and its subsequent 50-day season have been a favored time for First Communion and other sacraments of initiation. Parishes and schools place First Communion in April and May—and pray for beautiful spring weather to enhance the joy of the momentous day.
Do you recall your First Communion Day? Children like me who attended a public school and had religious instruction only on the weekend were typically held back a few months. Our parish in Bellevue, Ohio, scheduled First Communion for third graders on the Solemnity of Christ the King. (At that time—1957—the feast occurred on the last Sunday in October.) What do I remember? On the previous day I cut grapes in half for salad, raked leaves, and tried to keep the house clean. Furniture was rearranged to accommodate the two families of my godparents.
On the morning of my First Communion I got into my white dress—a little big for me, because it had to fit my younger sister the next year. I walked from the car to the church apparently in a daze, because my mom yanked me from almost walking into a sign. In church I was confident about all my cues. I was to walk up to the pastor, place my hand on a Bible and renew my baptismal vows with the rest of the class sitting behind me in the pews. (It wasn’t hard to memorize “I do.”) After receiving Jesus I was instructed to make acts of faith, hope, and love, which I did dutifully. I don’t recall any loving feelings, just nervousness. Did I close my eyes long enough? Was the teacher happy with me and my classmates? Would our class picture be good? Somehow I trusted that God was happy to come to me (although I don’t recall actual mental words about the feeling), and I suppose that’s the best memory of my First Communion Day. And—of yes—we served city chicken (kabobs of beef and pork) and salad with grapes, the delicacies for large groups back in the day.
I was remembering a miracle that happened a quarter-century ago in Delphos, Ohio. The parish was having a week of religious education in the evening for children. On the last day we had prepared homemade games based on Gospel stories. Children were asked to bring a few coins for people in mission countries to enter the playground sectioned with games of simple skills. Unfortunately, the weather report threatened storms. Even before the evening of fun began the sky was growing darker. We prayed to Sister Maria Aloysia Wolbring, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame who had lived in Delphos in 1881. We reminded her of her love for children and prayed that she would hold off the impending storm. Two hours later when the children were traveling home after the evening of fun learning, the first drops began to fall. The next day we heard stories from those traveling into Delphos the evening before. They reported a circle of sun above the church and school, while they were driving in the area with windshield wipers turned on. Sister Maria Aloysia’s love of children saved the day with a circle of sun.
The multiplication of the loaves and fish amply fed the large crowd who had come impressed by Jesus’s miraculous cures. Dolores Dufner composed “We Come with Joy,” which tells the story of Jesus blessing the fish and barley loaves “till food was multiplied [and] bounty overflowed their want, and all were satisfied.” Philip was the one who spied the boy with a basket of fish and bread, and the song claims perhaps in the words of the boy, “A little bread is all we have, so meager our supply.” But twelve baskets worth of wondrous things happened, and we sing “A little time, a little love can hardly satisfy, But let us bring the best we have,” for Christ’s bounty would overflow and “all were satisfied.”
The song is simply charming, and I love having occasion to select it. What are the little bits of this and that that we can bring to Jesus? A smile? A phone call or text? A word of gratitude to a cashier? A compliment to a window-washer? A wave to a runner? A thumbs-up to a neighbor tending her lawn? Extra minutes listening to a child’s story? A donation? Volunteering? Who knows how many baskets of leftovers will stem from these little bits?
Today is my youngest sister’s birthday. I peeked ahead at the gospel for the day and read how Jesus fed five thousand and then followed him wanting more. Jesus warned them, “Do not work for food that perishes.” My sister has enjoyed cooking and preparing lovely meals since she was in seventh grade. She was a manager at Michael’s Café and Bakery until she and Michael retired. The food she catered and served on beautifully decorated tables always “perished,” the diners coveting every morsel. Jesus asked the crowd to work for the “food that endures for eternal life.” My sister did that, too. She and her husband “fed” people in many acts of service: Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers, care of elderly parents, miscellaneous tasks in the parish, and so on. The Gospel passage ends with “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” My sister’s firm faith matches the Gospel selection on her birthday.
On Saturday of this week “the night will be as clear as day.” No, there is no nocturnal phenomenon to anticipate. Rather, in Catholic churches the Paschal candle will be lit, letting Christ shed “his peaceful light on all” during the Easter Vigil. The solemn night of the Easter Vigil floods the assembly with sensory images. Our eyes adjust from darkness to the light of a single flame on the Paschal Candle. Our eyes adjust again to the brightness and beauty of the faces illuminated by each one’s individual candle.
Our olfactory sense is also stimulated by incense and the beeswax from which the Paschal Candle is made—the pure beeswax symbolizing the sinless nature of Christ whose body was formed in the spotless womb of the Immaculate Virgin.
The sublime poetry of the Easter Proclamation, or Exsultet, heard only once a year is a chant containing metaphors and images so rich that the imagination is swept up in the “evening sacrifice of praise,” the “Church’s solemn offering.” (Usually a deacon has the honors of chanting; however, he can pass on the privilege. This year the deacon’s daughter will remind us to use our “full hearts and minds and voices” to “praise the unseen God.”)
The shining splendor of the Easter candle, blessed by the Exsultet, creates a feast connecting heaven and earth. As Hippolytus (3rd century) claims, “The Pasch came from God, came from heaven to earth: from earth it has gone back to heaven.”