My New Year's Slogan

This year I wasn’t planning to make any New Year’s resolutions. What I really wanted was a New Year’s slogan. I wanted a phrase or a saying to echo like a guiding refrain throughout 2018.

I hoped the fortune cookie following my New Year’s Eve meal of Chinese dumplings might provide the wisdom I was seeking. After all, I’ve had some pretty awesome fortunes in my day. Unfortunately, I didn’t even understand it. (This was not the first time one of my kids had to explain the meaning of a fortune to me.)

“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

My daughter Siobhan can explain this to you, if you’re interested. All I knew was that this was not my New Year’s slogan.

A few days later, I was reading through my students’ homework assignments. They were responding to a series of questions about 1 Corinthians 12-14. In 1 Corinthians, Paul was addressing a community of eager but immature Christians. They wanted to follow Christ, but they were still learning. Among other issues, they seemed to be in constant competition with one another. They even bragged about their own spiritual gifts! One Christian might flaunt that she could speak in tongues, another might boast that he had more knowledge, and so on.

How did Paul communicate to the Corinthians that this behavior, this attitude, had to stop? He wrote to them about the value of their spiritual gifts, and how wonderful it was that they were all unique parts of a functioning whole. And then he offered them one guiding criterion for determining how their gifts were to be understood and used. One by one, my students noted Paul’s simple guiding rule, echoing like a refrain: “Does it build up the Church?”

And here was my slogan. Here was a simple question to ask myself in many situations, in many decisions: “If I do this...does it build up the Church? If I think this way...does it build up the Church?” To build up is to provide support, to bolster, to help, to heal. This is why St. Paul brilliantly concluded that love is the greatest spiritual gift – better by far than teaching or leading or speaking in tongues or prophecy. Love never divides as these other gifts sometimes do – when they are used to exclude, to compete, to denigrate or to build up oneself at the expense of the community. But love? Love only serves. It is patient and kind. It is not inflated. It does not brood. Love never fails.

I thought you might be looking for a slogan too, so I’m sharing. Here’s to 2018!

“Everything should be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).

Too complicated for me.

Too complicated for me.

Guest Blog: What is it like to be related to a "Blessed"?

My friend and colleague, Barbara Jean Daly Horell (B.J.), is the grand-niece of the recently beatified Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM Cap. (her grandmother was Fr. Solanus’ sister!). You may not know much about Fr. Solanus, but you may have heard that his Beatification Mass in November was held at Ford Field in Detroit and that the stadium was filled to capacity.

After B.J. attended the Beatification Mass along with many members of her extended family, I asked her to share her thoughts with us about what it’s like to be related to someone who has been declared “Blessed.” As you will see, her reflections point outward, as all authentically Catholic things do. Blessed Solanus Casey may be related to her by blood, B.J. explains, but in the heart of Christ, he belongs to the whole human family.

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“Holy Families”

One of my favorite “days of Christmas” is the Feast of the Holy Family. My three children were all baptized on the Feast of the Holy Family. Every year we celebrate with gifts and special foods, and we lift up the holy family as our model for the new year. Of course, we walk in holiness no more, and maybe no less, than most Catholic families of our generation. But we have been gifted with one special grace. We were raised into a kind of “heart-knowing” of one who is unequivocally holy: my granduncle, Fr. Solanus Casey, OFM, Capuchin.

Fr. Solanus died five years before my birth, so there are many who speak with more authority about Fr. Solanus than I: my cousin Sr. Anne Herkenrath, SNJM, for example. She is a Casey of my own generation, whom I know and love. She was privileged to have met Fr. Solanus face-to-face, as God spoke to Moses. I am more like one of the crowd of underlings in the Book of Exodus, struggling with brazen calves but still hoping to be true, as my granduncle was true.

Fr. Solanus deeply loved his huge Casey family. He kept close to his parents and siblings, even from Detroit when most of them had resettled in Seattle. Family letters through the years, though, show the comfort he continued to draw from his mother in particular. Two lines of a poem he wrote speaks to me of his love for his parents: “Everyone needs someone, knowing that somewhere someone is thinking of you.” And it’s true that from Solanus’ holy parents he came to his unshakeable devotion to Our Mother Mary, a love relationship which only deepened what has been called his “astonishing familiarity” with Father, Son and Spirit.

The family connection goes both ways, though. So as lately born as I was, I still grew up knowing Fr. Solanus with a profound “heart connection.” Really, he looked so much like my Jesuit uncle (his nephew) Fr. John McCluskey, who literally bounced me on his knee (and I have pictures to prove it!). Of course, the family resemblance went more than skin deep. When my mother and her siblings gathered in our home, the joy of the Casey clan echoed as if from the far away farmstead in Wisconsin, where Fr. Solanus was born and grew in holiness. It is said that my mother’s first word was “Whoopee!” This characteristic family joy accompanied a deep Irish mysticism that resonated God’s presence in the household as plainly and palpably as my fingers can feel my keyboard as I write. The prayers passed down to us were the same prayers said in voices that would be as familiar to Fr. Solanus as they are to me. We were cherished by our elders, who were themselves cherished by Genevieve, who was the cherished youngest child of the Bernard Casey family. Grandma surely picked up her Celtic mysticism from the “bricks and boards” of the old Prescott farmstead. Or so it seems to me. In November, when more than 350 Caseys gathered in Detroit to witness Fr. Solanus’ beatification, I felt at home among familiar strangers.

But the “graced connection” to Fr. Solanus was passed not primarily by common voice or tradition. It was always passed more fully by the heart and the spirit. Even though Fr. Solanus firmly “belongs” in my family, he never belonged to us in any way that excludes others. Fr. Solanus experienced his holy, joy-filled family and manifested that love with all. Fr. Solanus had a deep appreciation for the preciousness of every single person he met. I’m told that he had a way of being wholly present in every single moment and situation, so that his visitors didn’t mind waiting hours to meet with him at St. Bonaventure’s door.

Yes, I think Fr. Solanus cared for and was loved as family by almost every single person he ever met. In his final hours, a time when words reveal the heart so clearly, Fr. Solanus was overheard to say, “I can’t die yet. Not everyone loves Jesus!” This saying reminds me of St. Paul’s words to the Philippians: “I long to depart this life and be with Christ, for that is far better. Yet that I remain in the flesh is more necessary for your benefit” (Philippians 1:23-24).

Anyone who shares Fr. Solanus’ simplicity of faith, presence of mind, generosity of soul, and joy of heart, is part of his family. This is no more true of me than it is of Paula Medina Zarate, the Panamanian catechist whose 2012 healing at the tomb of Fr. Solanus resulted in his beatification. It is no more true of my mother than of Brother Richard Merling, tireless vice-postulator of Fr. Solanus’s Cause, who always offers us a welcome and a smile. It is no more true of my cousin Sr. Anne than of Mary, the Fr. Solanus Guild volunteer who opened her home to me when once I was stranded in Detroit. It is no more true of the cardinals who celebrated  liturgy on November 18 in Ford Field than of the homeless and poor who brought the gifts to the altar that day. As all are known by Jesus, all are welcome to live in the heart of Blessed Solanus Casey.

Blessed Solanus lived a life that was not his own, but Christ’s, in kinship with “his two loves, the sick and the poor.” In his lifetime as now, Fr. Solanus desires nothing more than to walk with his family in faith. I invite you to get to know my Granduncle Barney. His presence “can’t die” because “not everyone loves Jesus yet.” Let this be the legacy of Blessed Solanus Casey and his whole extended, not-necessarily-by-birth family, among whom I am so grateful to be counted.

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B.J. Daly Horell is the Director of the Hartford Catholic Biblical School. She has a Masters from Harvard Divinity School with a concentration in Scripture. B.J. is also a trained spiritual director.

To learn more about Fr. Solanus Casey, click here.
For a USA Today article about the Beatification Mass, click here.
To view a short video of B.J.’s aunt, Sr. Anne Herkenrath, talking about Fr. Solanus, click here.

Click on the pictures below for a larger view.

The "Casey Clan" at Ford Field on November 18, 2017.

Fr. Solanus (in Capuchin habit) with his parents and siblings on the occasion of his parents' 50th wedding anniversary in 1913. B.J.'s grandmother Genevieve is the woman in the center of the picture, behind her parents. Photo courtesy of the Father Solanus Casey Guild.

Descendants (and their families) of B.J.'s grandmother, Mary Genevieve Casey (Fr. Solanus' youngest sister), at Ford Field in November 2018. B.J. is seated on the front row, second from the right.

Fr. Solanus with B.J.'s aunt, Sr. Anne Herkenrath, SNJM.

Being Right and the End of Wisdom

Happy New Year, all! The reflection below came straight from my heart in 2017, and it found a home in Little Rock Scripture Study's monthly newsletter Little Rock Connections. It is republished here with permission. I hope you will recognize within it your own wisdom, earned by years or given by grace, and that you will enjoy its fruits in 2018!

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Bell bottoms, encyclopedias, cursive, dinosaurs. Things that aren’t around much anymore. 

Will we soon add “wisdom” to this nostalgic list?

Wisdom is the fruitful combination of experience, knowledge and good judgment. It is a dynamic thing; wise people are dynamic. They learn, grow, adapt, change their minds, take forward and backward steps. Wise people are interesting. They have something valuable. It is sometimes a gift but more often hard-earned.

Emerging from experience and learning, wisdom is an inherently slow-growing thing. But have we lost patience for its cultivation? Has our tolerance for the fluidity of wisdom dried up in hopes of something solid and firmly defined? Has it become more admirable to be right than to be wise? Is it better to “come on strong” than to come on…thoughtful?  Is it more admirable to “stick to your guns” than to muddle your way through that cloudy, sticky, murky, stubborn, ever-present but oft-denied gray area? That gray area is life.

We like black and white; we crave clarity; we devour rules. We want to be right, and we like people who are right. Increasingly, we like people who are right quickly. Slow and deliberate seems out of pace. Changing one’s mind is weakness.

But what did the ancients think? Biblical wisdom is not first and foremost about being right. It is an approach to life – how to navigate the intersection of spiritual and secular, how to get along with people, how to make decisions, how to respond to the problems we encounter every day. Wisdom values work, relationships and dialogue. It points one toward the fruitful paths of life. Wisdom includes knowledge, and a wise person is often “right,” but wisdom is much more. 

The wisdom tradition endorses a viewpoint found throughout all of scripture: human beings are not perfect, but they are remarkable. Where they are lacking, they can change and be better. They are not often “one or the other.” They are more often “both and.” Human beings – and their endeavors – are redeemable.

Wisdom, then, is not cut-and-dried, right or wrong. It is not simple and one-note. It seeks a “breadth of understanding” (1 Kgs. 4:29) and acknowledges that human understanding is a process, and often a slow one (even Jesus, we are told, grew in wisdom). A major contribution of the wisdom book of Proverbs is the assertion that wisdom is learned, and learning requires guidance, and guidance requires humility. This natural humility of the learner, the disciple, is a fading virtue in a world that increasingly heaps skepticism on the possibility that “the other” may have something to teach us. When this humility is absent, very little real learning takes place – even less understanding, and certainly no wisdom. Proverbs offered this warning centuries ago: the one who refuses counsel, guidance and instruction will face the consequences of a simple, static, stagnant life.

There is an ebb and flow to wisdom that mirrors the natural flux of life and relationships. Indeed, the ancients believed that we are supposed to learn and grow and change. The only thing we were meant to be entrenched in is the natural human rhythm of transformation fueled by dynamic concepts like searching, repenting, returning, proclaiming, trusting and abiding. 

A lovely passage from the deuterocanonical book of Wisdom declares that wisdom “renews all things; in every generation she passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God, and prophets” (7:27). Friends of God and prophets.  Surely we could use more of these. Then we must choose a slower, more thoughtful, more receptive, more conversant, humbler, subtler, more nuanced way. Yes, this way of wisdom offers a gentle antidote to our excesses of speed, activity, polarization and bluster, in a human community at risk of losing its grip on intimacy, reflection, quiet, intrapersonal intelligence and interpersonal relationships. If wisdom was the architect of creation (Prov. 8:30), might we benefit from utilizing her blueprint? 

Our world does not have a King Solomon, or a King Arthur, or a single person of legendary wisdom. We only have each other, and the biblical promise that those who seek wisdom can find her, and that those who have found her have found a treasure. Being right can be helpful, but being wise is life-giving. It heals and begets in a way that being right never could. An echo of the iconic Tree of Life, whose roots run from front to back of our ancient books, wisdom bears many kinds of fruit, and her leaves are for the healing of the nations (Prov. 3:18; Rev. 22:2).

tree of life.jpg

Merry Christmas!

On that Christmas night, the hand of God seemed too small to hold the whole world.
That just goes to show how little we can grasp of the miracle that is Christmas.
— Ruth Mulhern

Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed and merry Christmas!

Amy Ekeh

Miriam Capurro, Acrylic on Heavy Paper, Detail. Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

Miriam Capurro, Acrylic on Heavy Paper, Detail. Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.

Do You Want to Hold My Baby?

About a year ago, I came across a wonderful image of Mary and Jesus – a painting of a young Mary holding her baby. Mary is looking straight out of the painting, directly into the eyes of whoever is looking at her.

I looked up the artist to find out more about her and about this piece she had painted. The artist’s name is Stephanie Morris, and she lives in Mobile, Alabama. Stephanie said that after she painted this image of Mary holding Jesus, she meditated with it. She prayed with it the way one might pray with an icon. She took it with her on retreat, and she said that for hours, she stared into Mary’s eyes as Mary stared into hers. After some time, she heard Mary speaking to her, in her heart. Mary asked her a simple question: “Would you like to hold my baby?”

Of course the artist’s response was “Yes!” But then Mary said to her: “If you want to hold my baby, you will have to put down some of those things you are carrying.”

Do you want to hold Mary’s baby? Of course you do. But like the artist, you must first put down the other things you are holding – distractions and burdens and attachments, expectations and resentment and worry. In this last week of Advent, lay down whatever is holding you back from being this close to Jesus, from holding him against your heart as his mother does. When Mary offers him to you, you will be ready. You will hold out your arms in freedom and love.

It isn’t brazen or lacking in humility to be this bold, to take the Christ child in your arms, to hold him close to your heart. It is just what he wants you to do. It is just what Mary asks:

"Do you want to hold my baby?"

"The Visitation" by Stephanie Morris. Published here with permission of the artist. © Stephanie Morris 2012. To visit Stephanie's website and view information about purchasing a print (all proceeds benefit Catholic Relief Services), click here.

"The Visitation" by Stephanie Morris. Published here with permission of the artist. © Stephanie Morris 2012. To visit Stephanie's website and view information about purchasing a print (all proceeds benefit Catholic Relief Services), click here.