Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Lockdown Memories: Mass Through the Glass.

These early mornings of January are quite bitter cold. I am reminded of last year's lockdown, when Churches were shuttered and public Masses cancelled. I resolved myself to stand outside a window tucked away and attend Mass daily, I was quiet about this then except to few friends. I was then very pregnant too, wearing my husband's snow pants, not always cheerful by the window , I am human, was pissed off at the state of things. It was though a most humbling experience and even one of surprising reparation. 

At one point the weeks got as cold as -24 with windchill, it was that week that was the most challenging , at one point in praying for the Diocese on way to get to my window I let out a "are you freaking serious Cardinal Collins open the Churches!" and Yes, I realize how ridiculous it was, enough to laugh about it and work to pray with love. 

After my temper tantrums the most amazing thing was that on the coldest of mornings the grace of God met my needs, this was not always by warm and fuzzy sentiments, but humiliations, it instructed me about what God's hidden grace and consolation must be to those who truly suffer deeply, who endure much, how much unknown mercy is sent them? Tho we perceive how they suffer and see the bitter cold of their anguish from outside, we cannot imagine until we faithfully endure suffering ourself the mystery of God's provision and nearness. And though suffering may not be absolved instantly there is an accompaniment assured. 

Mass through the window in silence was also a beautiful thing. To see the Eucharist and be present to it daily was worth the cold. I personally could not digest a "zoomable" Lord, He was worth the cold , and being pregnant, meant no fasting, so this to me was something I could do in it's place. And no I am not a scrupulous freak, but fleshy mortifications are good for the soul and others.  I also thought of my nonna at times in my little window watching, she was reduced for a time to window visits with her husband of over 60 years, I cannot imagine that anguish personally, tho he had advanced dimentia, she remembered him and their love. She went faithfully to that window until she couldn't. True presence is important. 

I had time in the cold to contemplate a lot, to reflect even on things long past. But, at first my contemplations were outside of myself and poorly misguided at society around me, it is easy to look at others and declare "they should be here standing" " how dare they line up for new iphones in the cold and leave the Lord unvisited!!" "Costco is full but Mass is a 'super-spreader'" yada yada..... what a blessing it was when the Lord took my whining and reminded me of myself, these cold mornings I started to unravel insights into old sins like an onion,  "what have I stood for in my life?" "where have I stood in sacrifice, enduring the elements saying 'it is worth it?' In exploring this I found many answers, many prior "lords" in my life that I chose to worship and adore. A first thing that came to my attention was a soccer pitch, the first "god" I knew. In snow, sleet, cold, heat, all of it, in unbearable elements I showed up and ran, for what? ultimately? I was obedient and disciplined for a game, I sacrificed because I loved, and others did too , I remember my father on the sidelines, sitting with an umbrella in November hail in Cape Breton for Nationals, for a game my coach benched me for! My father took time off work, flew to Cape Breton, endured the elements because of love for me, he wanted to be present.... When I looked in the window at the massive Cross above our parish Altar and at our Lord nailed to it, suddenly outside wasn't that cold anymore. On I went morning after morning, bitter, and the Lord brought to my attention all the night club lines in the thick of winter I stood in faithfully, vested in much much less than snow pants or any pants (forgive me Lord), but not complaining, OUCH, Jesus. 

What is the point of sharing all this? I think the hidden sacrifices we endure out of love for the Lord have immense value beyond our understanding. I think it is easy in our day, and even in the climate of the Church to point fingers at everyone else, to expect more, to declare another should be standing, should be doing more. Maybe we do not want to do the mundane that is ultimately ours, we do not wish to peer deeply at the mess of ourselves, we risk though never encountering the glory of mercy deeply and seeing how loved we are!! This will help us love the Lord and others more fully, this will make the Church radiate with the presence of Christ. Our personal conversion is so layered and a perpetual process. My turn from all that hellish way of living was many years ago, many confessed times ago, but yet our Lord returned it to my mind, to humble me, to continue a work in me, that helped me love Him more, and be able to purify prayer for the Church and my love in the home. 

The Lord can use all things for His glory, even the messiness.

There is nothing wasted when He is loved, and we cannot discount our part in God's active vineyard , most especially when it seems insignificant or bitter cold. 

what is it you sacrifice for, finding value? What are the lords of your life that you are willing to stand for? 

kneel before God, know yourself loved.

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Advent Rambles:

There is a particular sense of longing spread out throughout the earth at this time of Advent for us as Christians, but also in the secular world globally in having gone through these past two years of restrictions and talk of virus and death.

We have been readied in many ways to take our gaze that can often be so incessantly on finite things and contemplate deeper realities that in good health, fortune and abundance might seem far from us, or from a need of our focus. 

We learn, if we are attentive, not how to become divisive and angry or to live dangerously, but to live seriously, alive with intention and purpose and to evaluate how we have long forgotten how to do this, how we have misplaced value on superficial things, even placing wayward onus on others to be as our savior, yet live our lives divorced from God.

This time is a grace for us, a messy grace. If we are to spend Advent well, in my opinion, it's not going to be by screaming and shouting as into a void or by looking obsessively at what is evil, by blaming "misinformation", or "wrong information", because the real travesty of all of this is far too much information and not enough effort made toward healthy spiritual formation and devotion. We are starving for more than the remedy of a vaccine, we are empty of the Love that is here to save us, the Love that is coming to us. 

There is one thing we need to do, like Mary, we need to choose the better part and sit with the Lord, in stillness at the Master's feet, and to be there present like the Blessed Mother Mary as we draw nearer to her, especially in this Advent season. From her we learn how to be open and receptive surrendered to God. In the midst of all of this obscurity and waiting He will give light to us, He will give us His Light to be as His children in the middle of this world that is so very in need. 

"The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy ." Psalm 126:3

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Genesee of A Soul

                                                      Fr. John Denburger  Bamberger
The scent of fresh baked bread embraced me as I entered the lobby of the Abbey Church and it only furthered a sense of home for me. Not only was there immense comfort spiritually and a great feeling of peace in the surroundings alone, it was quite appetizing too. I know it’s said 'we do not live on bread alone', but if you ate this bread it may be a point up for debating!
Despite my feelings of inner comfort and peace, I too felt a bit imposturous. Although I am usually extremely extroverted and one who talks WAY too much, I felt silenced in the face of this place. Even the creaking of the floor made me feel like I was far too loud to be there.  The bread store was closed, the porter’s door was too. I took notice of some clip boards on a table, there were two. One was designated for Confession, and the other for Spiritual direction.
The Confession sign-up sheet had the date written with a corresponding time and also listed the priest “on duty” for each day. All of them were strangers to me. I looked at the sheet and decided upon a 2:30 pm time slot on Monday. There was a priest’s name listed there, Fr. John Denburger. The last name had been crossed out and the name Bamberger had replaced it. In my immaturity and private thoughts I couldn’t help but think of hamburgers, and then the scene from The Pink Panther movie, where Steve Martin attempts to pronounce hamburger with his French accent humorously flooded my mind. If you haven’t seen the movie my apologies, but it is quite a funny moment. I was also fasting that day so perhaps my immaturity can be excused and blamed upon a moment of great temptation. Though, unbeknownst to me at that time I was about to confess to the “Big-Mac” of monks!! 
I headed back to Bethlehem house and prepared to go to sleep awaiting my Confession with an anxious and joyful anticipation.
                                                                            *    *   *
I was happy to have found a companion at the retreat house, his name was Patrick, and though mindful of our shared need for solitude and silence, our conversation somehow only furthered our experience of solitude and did not veer us from our personal paths sought that week. He agreed to walk with me to the Abbey for my Confession and said he would be in the Abbey Church praying during his time of waiting for me. I assured him that I had a confessed a week ago so this would be a “short one”. Was I ever wrong!
I entered the same lobby embraced by the beautiful scents of home. This time the Bread Store was open and there was more quiet activity around. The porter door was open, though no one was there. I did not know where to go for Confession, here was far different than home. No polished priest with a fresh black pressed shirt and Roman Collar, No red and green light, no line, just a check list and an empty wooden chair.
I caught notice of an elderly man perusing some books. He was disheveled, yet radiant. A little rugged and bearded, wearing tarnished clothes suitable for work. I remember looking at him and saying to myself “Gosh this guy looks like Padre Pio”, not that I have ever seen Padre Pio, but, I mean, based on the photos I have seen this guy could have indeed played him in a film or something.
Anyway, my Confession time had arrived and I had no clue what I was doing and did not want to bother anyone, I took a long shot and interrupted this man and his reading. “Excuse me sir, I’m looking for a Fr. John Bam-ber-ger, or something,” stumbling appropriately on every syllable of this lengthy name. “I signed up for a Confession and I'm not sure where I have to go to meet him."”  He became a bit more engaged for a moment looking up from his thoughts with a bit of heightened curiosity saying “Oh, yes, that’s me!”. He shook my hand exchanging some formal yet extremely guarded pleasantry and led me behind the bread store to a small room with a window. The anticipation of a joyful confession was overtaken now by a bit of anxiousness. How could this small, old, working man monk priest make me feel so tiny?
I compensated for any discomfort by over talking before the Confession began. He was not having any of that. Though he was curious to know briefly about me and my reason for retreating, and what I was looking for, he too was rather quick to get things on track. "Now, now, your Confession."  I looked up at him blankly. "Go ahead" he said invitingly.... 
At this point I was sweating. Arguably this room was quite hot, but suddenly it felt much smaller than it had when I first got in there. Fr. John gazed reflectively out the window to his left, his face filled with a peaceful intensity and his hands folded restfully. My thoughts raced. "How am I gonna tell this priest, who is like my Nonno's age all the horrible things I've done? Oh my God, he is going to have a heart attack or something when I talk about fornication! Breathe, Catherine, breathe, all of that was long ago, confessed, just give him a general idea of where you've come from, where God has brought you, why you're here, and the current sins and temptations... you can do this God is good" And just like that familiar words flooded my mouth. "Forgive me Father, for I have sinned"....
I began my litany of sins, eyes rather downcast, voice slightly softer than my jovial over talking. Fr. John remained quite stoic and collected.  I would look at him from time to time, perhaps for a reaction of some sort, or for a disciplined dialogue, as any good father does.
 Though I did not know this priest before me, I knew I could expect sound penance and well-grounded counsel.  My anxiousness lifted throughout the length of litany. I was aware that I needed this honest shedding. Fr was patient with me, he had a way of making everything I said seem important and significant, but he was also collected and stern enough to not allow me to veer off from what really mattered.
At one point he interjected and said “Why would you ever do such a thing?”  Such a simple question, yet it still remains with me. It was a moment that I was able to reflect upon my actions; even those not deemed mortal sins, with a greater sense of accountability. When I attempted to rationalize them to him or offer some sorry excuse, there was none.
 “How many times did you do this, you know it is important to say that too…” I counted using my fingers, a custom I had acquired from my childhood, and clearly not gotten rid of, as if I was releasing each of those moments with the abrupt point of my shaky fingers into the mercy of God. Layer upon layer the onion was being peeled away.

 “Sorry Father, I can’t remember”. I felt like this was my first Confession, It was very different than any of those I had made before. His counsel to me was direct and precise. Most of it profoundly communicated through the silence of his listening. Though extremely spiritually green and still a stumbling sinner, I was open. I knew I came to the right place where God had wanted me, 250km from home, in the middle of nowhere, spending my March Break with a bunch of praying monks.
“Make a good retreat now!” he said, and I exited the room, heading to the Abbey Church for my penance and then to find my walking companion.

My Confession was obviously much too long. No sign of Patrick and in a way that was important too. I needed to be alone with God, to digest Fr. John’s words. I paused before our Lady of The Genesee before departing the Abbey. It had grown to be my favourite spot on the Abbey grounds. I knelt and said nothing. I gazed up at the statute of Mother Mary engulfed in a feeling of consolation while simultaneously spiritually shaken.

I began walking back to Bethlehem through the grassy path. I could not get the Confession out of my mind, and Father’s words continued to linger.

 I began to realize that the fluffy spa like feelings of a spiritual retreat were not meant to endure. If this was to be the place of reflection for greater clarity and honest discernment, then rightfully so some healing and a wrestling of wills was to be had. 
 It was time to be shaken. It was time to face the Cross.



Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Genesee of A Soul: March Break With Monks by C.C.


March Break With Monks '12


Prior to March Break middle school hallways are sheer chaos, this is what it often feels like in anticipation of one week off. Teachers pleasantly passing one another discussing their holiday plans of lavish vacations or just looking forward to quiet days spent with their families. Some friends of mine often gave their time to more work, more students, and more teaching during their break. These were those who were always "on". I admired them but I knew in so many ways it was time for me to log off.

I selectively shared my March Break plans with some coworkers. Here I was a young woman heading off to a monastery with a bunch of monks for the March Break, how does one ever share this casually in passing?  There is no simple way to present it. The length of morning chatter in the narrow hallways not quite long enough to ever communicate the truth of it all, nor is it easy water cooler conversation. Mindful of my position teaching in the Public School Board I also didn’t want to pierce that political line and cause discomfort. There always seems to be a public silence around the sacred; lingering somewhere between timid false ignorant humility and a fear of radical over-zealousness. At this time in my spiritual life I just wasn’t ready for the questions.

I was so desperate for this time away. I was not running from anything but running toward God. I had undoubtedly given my time off to feed the emptiness of sin before: the parties, the resorts, the lust, all of it now were memories of a life I no longer lived, but one that very much lived in me and served as a reminder of God’s radical love and transforming merciful grace.

I owed everything to God and I had a lot of time to make reparation for.  A one week retreat would only be grazing the surface but I so desperately needed it so that He could dwell deeper within me, or rather, so that I could find Him already there.

I packed simple for retreat, I mean not as simple as a walking staff, and I did have a couple bags for my journey. I figured I would want to be comfortable, I was also mindful of the fact that I was going to an environment with many holy celibate men. I made sure to bring modest clothing, although conversion is a lengthy process and at this time in my life I admit that while my heart was undergoing some serious transformation, my closet needed its own conversion. I opted for sweats, soccer track pants, and some hoodies.

I left for Genesee in the afternoon following Mass in the morning and a brief lunch with Carmen. Then I was off, I drove blaring some new Bruce Springsteen music as if hanging on to some sense of noise before the apocalyptic foreign silence of retreat.

The drive was smooth and liberating. I could not deny the inner peace and excitement that overtook me in anticipation of this retreat, yet there was some fear too. Fear perhaps of the unknown spaces that would open up within me, or of what God was asking of me. Peace was greater than this fear though and that is what kept me willing and open.

I crossed the border with ease, although the U.S. customs man did look at me like I had three heads when I told him where I was going. I was used to crossing the border for teacher’s college some years prior, but I’m sure seeing a young woman driving a two door Honda Civic, saying she is heading to a monastery for the week seemed rather misplaced. Surely, more women of my caliber were seemingly flooding the border in pursuit of the latest U.S. shopping rates and such, I was in pursuit of God.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Genesee of a Soul

One sees great things from the valley, only small things from the peak.” (G.K. Chesterton) 

God on the Greyhound 

It was a late night in December 2010, I was aboard a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Buffalo, NY to catch a red eye flight to Boston, to then return home for Christmas driving a U-Haul rental truck with a man I had met on YouTube that spring. This may sound like some segue into a romantic comedy and perhaps it is fitting that way. In hindsight everything has a way of appearing more pruned, calm, and collected. There is a certain liberated clarity we can look upon the past with and enter into it not in a spirit of dwelling, but of immense gratitude. It becomes then a classroom for us of a school we have already graduated from yet perpetually an eternal student of. 

The past lives with us; not as a weight, but as a reminder of where we have come from and helps us to define our present purpose. It keeps us humble. Everything with any value tends to work out that way. As a phoenix arises from ashes, we too are invited, by remaining attentive, to arise from our own ash and interior desolation. 

I did not fully recognize the weight of my own ashes until I was given the grace to see just how much darkness surrounded me. Though this sounds poetically similar to the lyrics of Amazing Grace, I must in fact acknowledge that this is a truth I have lived. Any pattern or likeness to another's journey of being captivated and transformed through faith by the loving embrace of God is reflective of a fundamental truth; of God's tireless pursuit of us all and our human ignorance to flee the authenticity of where and to Whom we most belong. 

 I don't seek to convert anyone or impose values and beliefs. The last thing I seek to do in this is offend anyone. If it convicts you it is the work of God's grace. If it angers you, what a blessing, and if it moves you, in that I'm pleased. 

Anyway, Back on the bus.

 I was a bit apprehensive about riding a Greyhound, I'm not one usually filled with fear but just recently in Canada a man had beheaded someone aboard a Greyhound bus, so my usual gazing out the window and peacefully nodding off was out of the question. I was definitely wide eyed and attentive to everyone and every movement. I wasn't without comfort though. I had a met a young girl and her brother prior to boarding. She asked to sit with me. She was very polite and pleasant. She was extremely modest in her dress and delicate, wearing a skirt that was floor length, but not frumpy. She radiated a beauty I couldn't describe, but was drawn to in curiosity. She spoke with prudent chattiness and I could feel my fear aboard the bus begin to dissipate in the light of my new pleasant companion. We grazed over the formalities of initial conversation before things became far more imbued with great meaning. I peered over toward her brother who was seated across the aisle and just behind us. It was night so most the bus was in darkness, some asleep, and based on the sounds coming from the back of the bus, some were drinking their way through the night. Her brother had the light on above his head and I could see that he was reading. In the dim bus light I noticed he was also wearing a Roman Collar, and peering down to his reading material I could see he was immersed contemplatively in reading the Bible. Peace overcame me at once. I humbly asked the young girl if he was a priest, and she softly shared that he was studying to be one and in the seminary. This intrigued me. She then said that she was also discerning Religious life herself, but was still high school aged so had some time before the community she was feeling called to would be open to her more seriously.

It is amazing how God works. Sometimes in the most intricate subtle ways and other times He makes Himself very apparent, but He is always at work. God showed up on the Greyhound that night and I was all ears. Four months earlier I had begun an honest stumbling toward the Catholic faith. I was Baptized and Confirmed as Catholic but lived most of my young adolescent and adult life in the shadow of a pre-converted Augustine, (more on that later)... I'm not really  one for labels and find the term conversion to be used far too loosely, (and yet not taken seriously enough) but I had in many ways experienced what I can only refer to as the beginning of a radical transformation. 

The tone of our conversation became much more relaxed. I asked her where she was going. She told me that her and her brother were heading to a retreat to pray with monks and be in silence. As much as I was converted this idea was alarming, yet made me curious. “Real monks?" I questioned. "Where is this place?" She then rambled on about waking to pray at 2:00am and walking to the Church with a flashlight in the dark of night to join the monks in their Vigils. She assured me she would be walking even in the cold of December, even through the winter snow of Upstate New York (which can be quite unforgiving). 

Our time together was cutting short. The Buffalo airport was in sight and I was getting ready to depart. She told me she was going to a place called Genesee. She scribbled down her email, and contact information, I did the same, and we prepared to part ways. 

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Merton Conference Memory '13

It seems I will be writing about Fr. John Eudes for a bit. It would probably bother him to no end.

 In sorting through some of the memories and things from the past years I came across a piece of writing from a kind gentleman named Max, who I met at the Merton conference in Connecticut.

Max was a recent convert to Catholicism , he knew of Fr, I never really understood how, but while Fr and I were walking about the grounds of Sacred Heart University many  would flock to him and sit with him. I realized that Max had a lot of love for father.

Anyway , we hung out and prayed a lot, gathered in a small group. And on one particular morning prior to Mass we were gathered together and realized we were nearly late for a Mass Fr was to be presiding!  In any event, the rush of it all resulted in me having to help this elderly monk get ready.

Max , unbeknownst to me sat observing (quite beautifully, I came to learn)

When I returned home , he had emailed me this description.

It is sitting with me differently now that Fr. Has passed and I'm grateful for it. The moment itself didn't strike me while in it as this powerful, but it is something amazing to bear witness to how the simplest things communicate something beyond us and have a capacity to be as a grace for another.

"His face browned and creased with time, revealing German and Irish stock that had moved to Kentucky generations ago, He interrupts the conversation: “I need to get to Mass.” She helps gather his things. Her midnight hair falls softly off her shoulder as she reaches to hand the monk his cane.

We begin, unsure of the best way to the chapel, past the green lawns, the deep purple blossoms. His steps are careful, but impatient.

Entering the side of the chapel, John Eudes hurries into the sacristy. We help with the vestments: he is not a tall man; the alb is too long. She finds a shorter one. The monk slips into the alb, pulling his Trappist hood out fully. The alb is the proper length, but the black scapular makes the collar sit too tight. She unsnaps the top button. We find a cincture to pull sides of the alb together, but it still falls apart at the unsnapped neck.

Catherine is concerned. She fusses over him. There are layers upon layers of tenderness. She chides him for being scruffy and disheveled. Her hazel eyes flash. He laughs, somewhat embarrassed by the attention: “only a woman would pay attention to this kind of detail.” Her gentle fingers straighten the collar, delivering a blessing to the priest. He is her teacher. She is his daughter. But this is not complex: loving kindness.Spiritus Sanctus. His gentleness meets hers. The young woman is radiant; the monk beams. The light shines from within. It fills the room.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

On suffering by C.C.

I wrote this for a family a while ago going through a tremendous ordeal. It returned to me today again. 
May it be of comfort.

Lord, may what You send to us in this suffering have us know the love of Your Cross and nearness. It's weight upon us is always heaviest in the places we love the most, this instructs us in Your love and teaches us somehow; the suffering in union with You, even in the obscurity of pain that it unfolds with , You promise us Your nearness.

It is true that You give grace to Your children at their time of suffering that is unknown to us all,until the weight of the Cross is felt upon us.
You supply our need with comfort and consolation unfathomable.

Even as we must grieve and appear to grow weary, we are never without Your sustenance , for we remain most Yours, and You, ours.
Even if our gaze toward Heaven trembles , even if we do not understand, all of Heaven bends to greet us.

You provide for all Your children, always. Help us always to know these ways, give us the clarity of grace we need so to endure what comes.
And in this witness of another's Cross we can be stirred to an empathy, to a charity and love that helps us serve You, that helps us become a hand of brief consolation,a humble aid of grace, while ever being mindful of our nothingness and the "Vale of tears" we too walk .

Keep us ever weighted by Your Cross so to be most exalted in Your love alone,
And help us Lord to comfort another in their time of sorrow and anguish , that our shared union in love with You may bring them the comfort of Your presence, and help us to grow in the knowledge of Your closeness all of our days.