A Letter to My Youngest Son

Magnificat published this reflection I wrote for my son Eli in their September 2018 issue. I hope you enjoy it.

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Divine Camouflage: To My Youngest Son

Yesterday you came to me and said that “if something fell from Jupiter to Earth,” you were sure that Jesus would save us “because I can’t see Jesus, but he’s here. He’s just, well, he’s…camouflaged.” I looked down at your camouflage pants and back up at your four-year-old face. I was so pleased.

Yes, my son, Jesus is camouflaged. That is how we experience him now, through a kind of divine camouflage. It veils but it does not conceal. It is mysterious, but it is not impossible to decipher. It does not draw attention to itself, yet deep within its pattern and color—the patterns and colors of this world—he is fully and gloriously present.

You know how you like to curl up on the couch and throw a blanket over yourself so Daddy and I can’t see you? We won’t tell you this until you’re older, but we always know you are there. We can see the blanket moving as you breathe, we can hear the muted giggles, and your body makes a very large bump on the couch! Jesus’ presence is like this too. The breeze on your face, a beautiful sound, even bumps and lumps along the way—find him in all of these things. The thin veil that hangs between him and you can disappear for a time, if you look with the eyes of your heart.

Now go outside in your camouflage pants. Run and play. Seek and find. He is waiting for you.

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Magnificat, September 2018, “She Pondered These Things in Her Heart.”

People Last Forever

My friend Fr. Ivan Tou, CSP, is a very interesting person. One interesting thing he does is that he does not age. No one really knows how old Ivan is because he looks the same as he did twenty years ago.

Another interesting thing Ivan does is write wonderful, chatty Christmas letters that are part litany-of-people-and-places-he’s-visited-in-the-past-year (this is where you find out that he has about 28 godchildren), part analysis-of-movies-he’s-seen (which I skim over when he gets too sci-fi), and part wisdom-gained-in-the-past-year.

Several years ago, Ivan shared some Christmas letter wisdom that has stayed with me. He described how, in his parish work, he is keenly aware that so much of what he does is bound to be undone as soon as he leaves a parish. A statue he purchased may be removed. A garden he planted may be made into a parking lot. A new ministry he initiated may fizzle out. And so on.

This could become quite discouraging over time, to feel that one’s work doesn’t last. But Ivan said there is one thing that doesn’t change, one thing that can’t be taken away, one legacy far superior to improvements to property or even ministries—and that is people. Love between people—relationships, friendships. Ivan said that over the years, this is what he holds onto—the people he has met and loved, and those who have loved him.

Of course, people and friendships can change too. But what does not change is the impact they’ve had on us, the memories we make, the wisdom we’ve shared, the meals around a table that enriched us, the time and the effort and the goodness of people.

This is what the Church is made of, after all. People, relationships, love. This is what matters. This is what lasts.

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After I wrote this, I found Fr. Ivan’s Christmas letter from 2016. Here is the paragraph I remember!

One thing I’m constantly relearning is nothing lasts. All the great software I wrote for HP has been erased and the back-up drives probably live in some landfill. The great ideas I started at my previous parish are no doubt forgotten as the replacement pastor and new parish staff invent their own ideas. And the things I’m doing at Berkeley will probably fade away when I move on, though Fr. George, a pastor here in the 80’s, reminds me that the current red carpet and patio gates are his doing. What seems to matter is the journey and the relationships we make along the way. People last forever, everything else has their time and then fades away. So a meaningful life seems to be connected to touching people and touching them deeply, or as Jesus taught us, love God and love neighbor with your everything.

Thank you, Fr. Ivan Tou. Come see us in Connecticut!

 Okay, maybe we’ve all changed just a little bit. Ivan, Amy, Ono. CUA 1999. People last forever.

Okay, maybe we’ve all changed just a little bit. Ivan, Amy, Ono. CUA 1999. People last forever.

Who Is the "Classic" You?

Eli turned six this summer. As a mom, I’ve always thought of sixth birthdays as a major turning point. Somehow five is special. Five means bright, happy little kid. But six? Six is growing up. No more “little kid.” Just “kid.”

When our oldest child, Reya, turned six, I was proud but sad. I remember she drew me a picture of herself the day before her birthday, so I could remember what she looked like when she was five. Of course I remember what she looked like when she was five. She was perfect.

Eli is the youngest of four, and I think even he has picked up on how letting go of “five” means letting go of an era for our family. I’ve seen him processing his own age change. My favorite episode was about a month after his sixth birthday when my mom was visiting. He said to her, “Nana, the five-year-old Eli was the classic Eli.”

This made all of us laugh because it was so cute. Then I stopped laughing because it was much more than cute. It was downright wise. Five-year-old Eli was classic Eli. Five-year-old Eli was the Eli who started reading and writing, whose love of numbers exploded, who started saying “no” to his big brother, who could articulate his thoughts, who charmed strangers with a glance of his eyes, who sat in silence to think, who laughed out loud at funny books, who cried about being the littlest, who wants to be a teacher, a daddy, an explorer and a dentist. Five-year-old Eli was just so “Eli.”

Of course as Eli grows, he will change, and he will discover his “Eli-ness” in new ways. But there will always be those five-year-old traits inside him – numbers, strength, curiosity, sensitivity, humor, beautiful eyes.

We’re always changing and growing, but at our very core there is the person God made us to be, the spark that makes each of us most ourselves. Sometimes the world threatens this person, tries to change it. Sometimes we forget this person, forget our true selves. Sometimes we’ve buried that person under a pile of unrealistic expectations, busy schedules, lame excuses, or mindless, meaningless, meandering pursuits. But he or she is still there, deep down, in our core. He or she is “classic,” the one God created us to be.

I’ve known a few people who have discovered who they are later in life. Not at five or twelve or even thirty – but in their forties, fifties, sixties, seventies. In fact, I met a woman in her eighties at a retreat who was so excited to tell me, “I just realized today that I can be a saint!” She had just met her classic self.

And then there are people who never find – or at least never accept – their classic selves. They go on pretending, being someone else’s version of themselves. This is not who God made them to be. God keeps loving them, coaxing them, eagerly awaiting the moment he can run to meet them, put a ring on their finger, embrace them and invite them home to celebrate, passionately awaiting the moment he can put them on his shoulders and carry them back to the flock to be warm and safe, willingly and tirelessly searching for them in a field (Mt 13:44) or in the sea (Mt 13:47)  – or in a suburb, an office, a living room, or a pew.

Who is the “classic” you? Do you know? Are you looking, along with your Creator, searching for that treasure that is you, that pearl of great price for which God himself would give absolutely anything? Is it trite to say that God knows us better than we know ourselves? Then let us be trite and surrender to the God who knows us better than we know ourselves. Let us be found by him, embraced and thrown with joy upon his shoulders, to join the flock and the feast, to be classic, to be ourselves, forever and ever.

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 Announcements:

 I have a reflection in Magnificat this month (September 2018). It’s called “Divine Camouflage: To My Youngest Son.” Yes, it’s about Eli. And his camouflage pants.

After 3 years of writing Gospel commentary for Catechist Magazine, I’ve moved over to a sister publication. I have a new column called “The Bible in 5” in Catholic Digest! Every month I cover a Bible-related topic in a snappy list of five. It’s fun to write, and I hope it will be fun and informative to read. Check it out, and let me know what you think!

I have a new book out with Little Rock Scripture Study/Liturgical Press. Advent, Season of Divine Encounter is a 3-session Bible study for Advent that can be used by individuals or groups. You can purchase the book on Amazon, Liturgical Press, or Little Rock Scripture Study. Bulk pricing is available from LP and LRSS.

 Classic Eli.

Classic Eli.

Guest Blog: We Grieve, We Believe

My colleague at Little Rock Scripture Study, Cackie Upchurch, wrote these clear, gentle words in response to the recent revelations about our Church in Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and beyond. These words helped me, and I hope they may help you too. I don't want to be bitter, I want to believe. But I have children, I have been a child. A sacred trust has been broken.

In times of confusion, we need guiding voices to acknowledge truth and point us back to the light. I found one here.

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We Grieve, We Believe

We grieve the scandals that have plagued and continue to plague our Church. 
We grieve because we are outraged and disappointed and even disgusted by the revelations of sexual misconduct and abuse, and the lingering violence these do to the human person.
We grieve the cover up and the misplaced loyalties.
We grieve because the body of Christ is injured and in need of healing that will not come easily (nor should it). 
We grieve because, as communities of faith, we’re not quite sure how to proceed – how to bind up ugly wounds so that they heal and are not simply covered over, and how to be forgiving but also demand consequences.
We grieve because our ideals are tempered by ugly realities that demand a reckoning.
We grieve because we know the corrupting influence of power that goes unchecked.

We believe and affirm that Christ is suffering with us, in us, and through us.
We believe and affirm that we have a sacred trust to bring Christ into this broken world, and into our very broken Church.
We believe and affirm that God’s mercy and goodness will have the last word.

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Cackie (Catherine) Upchurch is the director of Little Rock Scripture Study, general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible, associate editor of The Bible Today and contributor to Give Us This Day. She is the author of four volumes of the Alive in the Word series, including Mary, Favored by God and Christmas: Season of Wonder and HopeCackie finds great joy in meeting people around the country and beyond when she speaks at conferences and leads retreats for lay people and religious communities.

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The Golden Rule, Remix

What does this deep retelling of the Golden Rule mean to you? How do you do it? How would our world be different if we all lived by these words?

I shape my heart like that of others that I meet, and theirs like mine.
— St. Teresa of Avila
 One white flower on my blue hydrangea bush.

One white flower on my blue hydrangea bush.