A Reflection On Pope Francis Speech Before Congress.

I am just now beginning to reflect and put into words what I have taken away from Pope Francis’ visit to the United States.  What I would like to first write about is the Holy Father’s speech before the joint session of Congress.  I was floored by his references to four Americans; President Abraham Lincoln, Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton.

Abraham LincolnGrowing up, the only thing I knew about Abraham Lincoln was that he led the country through the Civil War, and that he freed the slaves.  It was not until I watched Ken Burns’ documentary: “The Civil War,” that I came to appreciate the depth of Lincoln’s character, his determination, and his sacrifices.  When he began his presidency, he was not a fervent abolitionist.  He believed that if he could restrict slavery to the Deep South; keep it out of the new territories, it would die out from economic pressures.  When the Civil War began, his primary concern was to preserve the Union, even if it meant keeping slavery.  However, as the war continued, with the vast amount of blood spilled in the conflict, Lincoln came to realize that a higher cause needed to be recognize, the cause of freedom for all persons in America.  He expressed this higher cause in his Gettysburg Address, calling for “a new breath of freedom.”  It began with the Emancipation Proclamation, which freed the slaves in the Confederate States, and concluded with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery forever.

Martin Luther King, Jr.It was to further the cause of liberty that brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to take on the mantle of leadership of the Civil Rights Movement.  I grew up during those tumultuous years, and was somewhat aware of the importance of Reverend King, and the Movement.  My admiration for him grew, as I began to read biographies, and watch documentaries about him.  I remember watching a docudrama series about him when I was in seminary, which had an effect on me.  The last movie I saw about MLK, was the film “Selma.”  It was a film that brought home to me the sacrifices, the sufferings that those marchers experienced as they headed to Selma, Alabama.  Martin Luther King, Jr. indeed had a dream of liberty for all, a dream that would be fulfilled by nonviolent action.

Dorothy DayNonviolent action was part and parcel of Dorothy Day’s work.  I cannot exactly remember when I became aware of her story.  Dorothy Day always had a passion for justice for the poor and oppressed.  As young adult, she reported for various socialist newspapers, and was a suffragette.  As a young adult, she was known for living a bohemian life style; and having some love affairs.  One of these affairs resulted in a pregnancy, and an abortion.  Day believed that the abortion caused her to become sterile.  While living in New York, she entered into another relationship, this time with an anarchist.  She discovered that she was pregnant again; something about that realization caused her to experience a conversion.  She had her baby girl baptized, and then she herself was baptized into the Catholic faith.

Still very much the social activist, only now from a faith perspective; she, with Peter Maurin, founded the Catholic Worker Movement.  They published a newspaper, “Catholic Worker,” which had columns about worker rights, Catholic social teaching, and care for the poor.  Putting theory into practice, she organized “Houses of Hospitality,” where the poor and hungry could find a meal, and a comforting embrace.  I visited one such house in New York City, St. Joseph’s House, which is considered the unofficial headquarters of the movement.  I was in NYC, testing a vocation to the Franciscan Friars.  One of the friars had a connection with the House, and brought a group of us over for a visit.  Dorothy was in residence, but was ill and confined to her room, so we did not get to meet her.  We were given a copy of her autobiography.  After I read through it, I found myself looking for and reading many of her books (she was a prolific writer).  I would like to say that I was inspired to go out and volunteer at a soup kitchen, but that would be a lie.  I could make the excuse that there was a lack of opportunity; but the truth of the matter is that it would have been way out of my comfort zone.  I am trying to get out the box I find myself in; I try to provide financial support to St. Joseph House.  And I am trying to see the world through the lenses of Dorothy Day.

MertonFinally, Pope Francis mentioned the Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.  Born to an artist couple, he grew up in both United States and Europe.  He was baptized into the Church of England, though his family was not that religious.  He attended Cambridge University, but was not a very good student, living a very wild lifestyle.  He eventually found himself studying at Columbia University in New York City.  It was there that he himself had a conversion experience.  He received Catholic religious instruction, and was baptized.  He would later discern a call to the monastic life.  He entered the Trappist Abbey of Gethsemani, in Kentucky, USA.  He wrote an autobiographical book about his life, conversion, and the development of his spiritual life.  It became a best seller, and he became the most popular Catholic spiritual writer in the United States.  He also wrote about social justice issues, and anti-war and peace matters.  Later in his life, he explored what Eastern religions could teach Christians about meditation, contemplation, and the spiritual life.  He pursued dialogues with Eastern spiritual masters.

My encounter with Thomas Merton came during my seminary days.  Reading his books on prayer and contemplation, I discovered a desire for a more intense spiritual life.  Merton became one of my guides, especially through his journals.  Truth be told, it is still a struggle for me, even at this point in my life.  Issues of discipline, and a very active mind, (I call it the monkey mind, skittering from one thought to another!)

Two famous Americans, two Americans not so well known; but all four can a source of inspiration for all of us.  They can provide us with inspirations on how we as a country can live together, dialogue with each other, and serve one another.  And perhaps we as a country can live up to the expectations of our founders.

A Place of Solitude

Attic

“There should be at least one room, or some corner, where no one will find you and disturb you.  You should be able to untether yourself from the world and set yourself free, losing all the fine strings and strands of tension that bind you, by sight, by sound, by thought, to the presence of other men.”  (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemane in Kentucky, who achieved fame as a spiritual writer.  His books were written in such a way, that many Catholic Christians could understand and strive for a deeper spiritual life.  To help one’s spiritual life along, Merton, along with spiritual writers before and after him, saw the need for some solitude.  Merton had his own hermitage, for many of us; it may be a room with a closed door or a secluded spot in a backyard.  We may find seclusion in a park, or even in a public library.  It may be found in a church, or on a beach.  It is just important to find a place where one can be still, both in body and mind.  In that stillness, one becomes open to the Presence of God.

Of course, this is easier said, than done!  When I try to sit quietly in a room, by myself, the more I try to quiet my mind, the more the monkey inside my head comes out to play.  Some Zen meditation practitioners speak of the monkey mind, which skitters from one thought to another.  One remedy is the practice of centering prayer, focusing on a one word mantra, like “Father,” or “Jesus”; repeating the word slowly, slowing your breath; when a thought pops up, acknowledge it, and let it go.  Another remedy is the Jesus Prayer; slowly repeating the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on us!”  Finally, there is reading Sacred Scripture, slowly, prayerfully, until a word or phrase suddenly strikes you, you begin to repeat the word or phrase over and over, reflecting on the word or phrase means for you.

The ultimate goal is to be still in mind and soul, to be open so that God can come in and touch us.  The experience can be intense, it can be mild; but each of us is called to be open to an encounter with our loving God.

Uncertainty in Life

“Hear me, Lord, and answer me,Question mark

for I am poor and oppressed.

Preserve my life, for I am loyal;

save your servant who trusts in you.

You are my God; pity me, Lord;

to you I call all the day.”

(Psalm 86: 1-3)

Uncertainty, it is a word that is definitely in the lexicon of any worker in the American workplace.  It is especially true for anyone who suddenly finds himself or herself laid off from the job, unemployed.  There was a time that the longer you were with a particular company or firm, the more certain you were that your position was reasonably safe.  In today’s business world, that is no longer the case.  Five years or nineteen years on the job, we all can find ourselves escorted out of the office, with our personal belongings in a box or bag.  We all can be standing on the street, wondering, what next?  We all can be struggling with the sudden loss of certainty in our lives.

I was laid off in January, 2015, and I have been on the job search since then.  I have been scanning the Web, looking at online job boards, filling out electronic job applications, and sending them out.  Checking my e-mail box daily, and hoping that the phone will ring; and so far there have been no hits.  I get dressed up and go to job fairs; I walk around scanning the tables.  If I am lucky, I might find one table that offers possible positions that match my knowledge and experience.  So I leave a resume, and hope for a call.  In the meantime, my wife and I are taking steps to reduce the draw on our resources.  So what our lifestyle will be in the future is also uncertain.

There can be so much uncertainty in one’s life, that it can wear a person down, and there are times that I can identify with the psalmist who the above words.  These are the times when I turn to prayer, to reflection on Scripture, reflecting on the beauty of God’s Creation, to let a little light in, and experience some hope, some peace; the peace that comes only from God.

Reflecting Again on Why I Write.

Writing

Writing

Why do I write?  That is a very interesting question today, especially since I have been finding it to sit in front of a keyboard, or to pick up a pen.  It was not too long ago, that I would be posting on my blog every other day, if not every day.  I have a serious case of writer’s block, which is why I am trying out Writing 101.

Why do I want to write?  Because sometimes I feel have something to share with the rest of the world.  As a Christian Catholic, a Secular Franciscan, and a Deacon, I feel the need to share my experiences of my encounters with God through Scripture, the Eucharist, prayer, and life.  I want to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a world that more skeptical, that is a little darker, more violent, and where the poor and powerless have no voice.  I want share the Good News with those who are struggling with the challenges of everyday life; by sharing my own struggles with living the faith daily.

I want to write about, and express my belief that the Catholic Church, this community of believers, is still relevant for our society today.  While not turning a blind eye to its sins and failings, to express the joys, comfort, and inspirations I have experienced for myself.  And I want to share my opinions with a voice that accepts others, whether they agree with me or not.

When I write, I hope I am becoming, like St. Francis of Assisi, a Herald of the Great King, Jesus Christ!

Keep On Moving On!

Job Search Continues

“I wait patiently for God to save me;

I depend on him alone.

He alone protects and saves me;

he is my defender and I shall never be defeated.

Trust in God at all times,

my people.

Tell him all your troubles, for he is our refuge.”

(Psalm 62: 1-2, 8)

I have posted several times about my layoff, and the aftermath.  I have written about the struggles with unemployment assistance, the uncertainty of the job search situation, and the depression that can come with the experience.  I do not want to give the impression that everything in my life is doom and gloom.  I am not alone in dealing with this new chapter in my life; there is my wife, who has supported me, and when needed, has given me a much needed kick in the ass.  There have been family members, from both sides, who have provided help and support in so many ways.  There are some members of my parishes, and parish staff, who always inquire on how I am doing, and encourage me onward!  My brother deacons continue to be very supportive; some have been an informal networking group for me.

I continue to discover, through the Career Place, and through the Web, new ways to job search; how to get my name and resume out there.  At the Career Place, whether in a workshop, or a seminar, you come to realize that you are not the only one going through this.  The thing I have to do now is to get my butt in gear.  To not just sit and rot, but to get going, to greet each day as an opportunity; not just in job searching, but in those activities that also feed my mind, body, and soul.  My job searching will continue to take priority, but also my need to just get out, walk around, get some decent exercise, and enjoy God’s Creation, especially as Spring is really beginning to dawn.  This blogging, this writing, is an outlet for my creative and reflective juices.  Also taking up the drawing pencil and paintbrush is also another approach I need to look at, and make some time for.

Finally, I need to take care of my soul, to make time for prayer.  And not just liturgical prayer, as important as it is, but also for deep personal prayer.  I need to entire that type of prayer, which opens me to experience God’s Presence in my life, to experience God’s love and care for me, as I am traveling this new road in my life.  In God, I will find my refuge during the tough times; in God, I will recognize the joy and love that is out there in the world.  So I am just going “keep on shuffling!”

Still Unemployed; Still Searching

Job SearchWell, I have been unemployed for about 3 ½ months now.  I am coming very close to the end of my severance pay.  I have been doing all the things I am supposed to do to qualify for Unemployment Assistance.  I have been sending out my resumes, hoping to hook one interview.  And the clock keeps ticking!

The last time I was laid off from a job was a little over twenty years ago!  Back then, the company I worked for provided outplacement sessions, with a counselor.  The state maintained its own unemployment assistance offices, where you had to go to each week.  While there, you applied for the next week’s benefit; presented a log of your job search activities, and was able to resolve any issues with a real human person in front of you.  While you there, you could check the hard copy listing of job openings, and schedule time on some of the center’s computers.

Now, everything is either done online, or over the telephone.  The company hired an outplacement specialist, who worked with me by phone and e-mail.  The state no longer has its own branch office, but has contracted with non-profit Career Placement agencies, to provide training on how to search for jobs online, using social media, and opportunities to improve one’s computer skills.  You now have to set up an online account with Unemployment Assistance, to make benefit requests, and keep track of your benefits.  If you need to speak with a human person, it is over the telephone, and depending on your Social Security Number, you are limited to a particular day to call.  Instead of searching the newspapers, you job search on-line; sites like: Monster, Indeed, and Simply Hired, become familiar names to you.  Companies now ask that you submit your resumes and cover letters via the Web.  There is no address to send a letter to; there is no name or telephone number to call for a follow-up.  You just get a form e-mail, confirming the receipt of your electronic job application.

I spend my mornings checking the online job search sites, and I get e-mails from them with job listings.  I have sent numerous electronic applications, and attended some job fairs.  And I have not gotten a single bite.  Come the end of May, the financial situation is going to get very tough.  My wife and I are examining possible options, her parents and our siblings have been helping out, and are brainstorming ways to help us through this.  Still, I am finding it harder and harder to sit myself in front of the computer.  And I will admit that depression, and yes, fear is reaching out for my soul.

In moments like this, I turn to prayer, whether in solitude, during the celebration of the Eucharist, or in front of the Blessed Sacrament.  And I have turned again to the Psalms:

In you, Lord, I take refuge;

Let me never be put to shame.

In your justice deliver me;

Incline your ear to me;

Make haste to rescue me!

Be my rock of refuge,

A stronghold to save me.

(Psalm 31: 1-3)

Where I Hanged My Hat Growing Up.

(The following is another writing course assignment I had to complete)

156 Lynnfield St. now.When I was twelve years old, I lived in Peabody, MA, (pronounced Peabedy, if you were from these parts.)  I was the oldest of five (we became six when I was in high School!).  The house we lived in was built in 1890.  It was a two story house, four bedrooms, a living room, family room and combination kitchen and dining room.  We had a large yard, with an old, stand alone garage.  We had an apple tree way in the back, which never produced any edible fruit, the same with the wild grapes that grew around the edges of the yard.  We did have same blackberry bushes, which gave us some delicious berries.  Beyond our yard, there was a farm field, which lay fallow.  And further back, were woods, where one could hike through, and play various games.

There were some unique features of this house I grew up in!  We did not have a garbage disposal; we would bring our food scraps, and dump them in slop bucket, set in the ground.  Somebody would regularly come and empty the buckets.  The contents would be taken to a nearby pig farm, to feed the pigs.  In the summer heat, would see thousands of maggots crawling around the bucket pit.  The other unique feature of the house was “the bridge!”  In the middle of the house was the stairway that lead into the second floor.  There was a small room that separated the two front bedrooms, and a small bridge, over the stair well, which connected the rear of the second floor with the front.  It gave access to the bathroom without having to go through all the bedrooms.  Whenever we had neighborhood kids over, they thought having a bridge in the house was weird and cool!

There were very good times growing up there, and some sad times.  There were times of celebration, of sorrow, conflict, and coming together.  It was my home, and I will always miss it.