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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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.

Taught by Student

One of my Catholic Biblical School students wrote this on her homework. Brilliant!

I want to be priest, prophet, and king — not judge, jury, and executioner.
— April Brilvitch
  Christus  by Giovanni Meschini, goache-painted pochoir print (Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim)

Christus by Giovanni Meschini, goache-painted pochoir print (Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim)

Guest Blogger: Something We Can Do for Families in Syria

Merry Christmas!  I hope you all enjoyed a peaceful and meaningful Christmas Day.  This year my six-year-old’s “second favorite” Christmas song (trumping “Rudolph” is no easy feat) is “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  We are in full swing! 

Today I offer you a different kind of Christmas reflection.  The post below was originally published on the blog of my friend Jillian Ciriello (www.momingrace.wordpress.com).  Jillian is a thoughtful young woman, the mother of a lively toddler, a nurse by trade, a faithful disciple of Jesus, and a compassionate human being. 

Jillian’s post is a timely reflection on the conflict in Syria.  She helps us understand how near Syria is to Bethlehem (“less than the mileage I will log in the car while visiting family this Christmas”).  She explains the anxiety and needs of many Syrian families, expresses our own angst and uncertainty as we watch the suffering from afar, and offers a concrete way we can help.

"Underwear for Christmas"

As my heart turns to Bethlehem, I find it pulled closer to Syria this Christmas.  Amid a complex civil war, babies are killed and millions of widows and orphans flee trying to find safety. In this painful conflict I hear the words of Jeremiah 31:15:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
mourning and great weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted
because her children are no more.”

This Old Testament image of grieving mothers is too accurate for many in Syria today.  As I read about the birth of Jesus, this passage is quoted by Matthew 2:18 speaking ofHerod’s massacre of all baby boys two-years-old and under. A futile attempt to try and stop Jesus from changing the world.  I think of my two-year-old son and cannot fathom the anguish of those mothers. But evil did not triumph then, and it will not triumph now.

I hold my sona little tighter and thank God for all we have, but often feel paralyzed to do much more.  Paralyzed by images of wounded children, by my own disbelief and fear, by a struggle to comprehend what is happening and what I could possibly do that would make any difference.  It is overwhelming.  It is confusing.  It is too far away.

Far Away: But this week more than ever my heart is in Bethlehem, which is so very near to this conflict.  The distance between Bethlehem and Syria is difficult to measure because of unclear borders and shifting country lines, but the city of Damascus in southern Syria is just 129 miles, less than the mileage I will log in the car while visiting family this Christmas.  Aleppo, the site of greatest violence and tragedy at present is about 340 miles away.

Confusing: In this region violence seeks to overtake the holiest of lands where Jesus walked during his time on Earth.  We can become numb to the long complex history with many nations and groups fighting one another. But my focus in this present conflict involves the city of Aleppo where innocent civilians, women and children have been trapped for months with no way in or out surrounded by violence and death.  Evacuation efforts are in place but danger remains and the refugees have no where to go once they escape.

Overwhelming: This problem is clearly too big for me, or for any one person, group, or nation to resolve.  But I have been inspired by Nadia Alawa, a mom in New Hampshire who decided to stop waiting and start acting in 2011 to help these mothers and children in Syria and those living as refugees in neighboring Turkey.  She started an organization called NuDay Syria that built grassroots partnerships with people in Syria to get supplies and aid to the most dangerous of places.  Remarkably this is one of the few organizations still working on the ground in the war-torn nation.  They are meeting the most basic and important needs: getting diapers and milk to babies, undergarments and sanitary pads to mothers, not to mention food, clean water, tents, and warm blankets.

Now this is an idea I can wrap my head around.  A local mom, packing up supplies, shipping them oversees in giant 40 foot crates and getting them into the hands of suffering people within 6 weeks.  And I can donate via Amazon gift registry, super easy!

I wish I learned more sooner. I wish I understood more now. But at least I can Amazon up some supplies and know that a mom experiencing unfathomable pain will at least have milk for her starving child and some undergarments to wear.  One mom.  I can do that.

So this year the most important gift I am buying is underwear.  It is not gold, frankincense, or myrrh, but I do think its the gift that Jesus asks me to lay at his feet this year. It may be delivered by a wise woman instead of a wise man.  It will be given to a mother who is caring for her child, in a land that has no place for them, who would humbly welcome the shelter of a manger. It is a far away place and struggle that I am much removed from but Jesus understands it in a very real way.  He is present in this time of suffering as much today as when he lay in a stable just 300 miles away wrapped in swaddling clothes.

Where to go from here:

NuDay Syria
www.nudaysyria.net
Amazon registry

Excellent 5 Min Video Summarizing Syrian Conflict
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKb9GVU8bHE

Thank you to all my friends who posted on social media about the Syrian refugee crisis, until I finally took the time to listen and understand.

Thank you to the Boston Globe for this great article From Small Town NH, A Stream of Relief to Syria, Lisa Wangsness, 31 May 2015

  The Killing of the Innocents by Herod , Detail, Leon Cagniet, 1824

The Killing of the Innocents by Herod, Detail, Leon Cagniet, 1824

The Sacred Art Pilgrim

As you all know, I choose the artwork that goes along with my blog posts very carefully and deliberately.  In fact, sometimes it takes me longer to find the art than to write the post!  It is my hope that the art I select resonates with the words you read and that your mind is filled with beauty, understanding and ideas.  Above all, I want to communicate to you in both word and image that there is something mysterious, powerful and transformative happening in our lives all the time.  I want to believe this myself, and art (like words) helps me believe it and, hopefully, communicate it. 

Last week I discovered a treasure trove of sacred art, and I thought many of you would like to explore this treasure for yourselves.  John Kohan, an international journalist by trade (over 20 years with TIME magazine) and a sacred artist by nature, has set out to gather and display – on his website – beautiful, modern, sacred art.  His collection includes religious art from all over the world in a variety of media and styles. 

You can visit John’s website here:  The Sacred Art Pilgrim.  If you click on “sacred art meditations” (at the top right of his homepage), you can select moments from the life of Christ, themes of faith, or other bible stories, and can view relevant art along with Bible readings, meditations and explanations.  Or you can click on “sacred artists” and view a variety of gorgeous art collected there, along with interesting information about the artists.

John’s own first piece of sacred art was a pencil drawing of the sower and the seed that he drew at six years old (which I would like to see, but it does not yet appear on the site!).  His lifelong journey through sacred art is ours to behold.