One of my theology professors used to refer to Christians as “Easter People”. Which we are, of course, since the death and resurrection of Christ are the founding events of our faith. But what does it mean, really…what are the implications for our everyday lives?
It means that we are never without hope. It means that all creation is redeemed and sanctified. It means that the final goodbye of death is, in reality, not forever, that Christ by his rising from the dead has forever conquered death, that although we may be parted from our loved ones for a time, someday we will be together again. It means that we have faith that our final destiny is to live forever with God, that our death is, in fact, a homecoming. And it means that we are loved, infinitely, amazingly, wonderfully loved by God, in manner far beyond our limited human comprehension.
So the question remains: How do we live our lives in response to the Easter event? I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that the serious business of Christianity is joy. Joy because our world is forever transformed, that no matter how ugly the news is, no matter how awful the presidential race becomes, we know that ultimately we are redeemed, that God calls us each by name. It doesn’t mean that it’s wrong somehow to feel sadness, grief, anger, discouragement…all normal human emotions. It certainly doesn’t mean it’s some kind of sin to suffer from mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. It simply means that we understand that loss and grief, trauma, physical pain and illness,even evil, don’t have the last word; the God who loves us each beyond our wildest imaginings and who never leaves us does. So how can we possibly, if we really believe what we say we do, live our lives in any other way but in joyful, hopeful gratitude?
Break the box and shed the nard; Stop not now to count the cost; Hither bring pearl, opal, sard; Reck not what the poor have lost; Upon Christ throw it all away: Know ye, this is Easter Day.
Build His church and deck His shrine, Empty though it be on earth; Ye have kept your choicest wine– Let it flow for heavenly mirth; Pluck the harp and breathe the horn: Know ye not ’tis Easter morn?
Gather gladness from skies; Take a lesson from the ground; Flowers do open their heavenward eyes And a Spring-time joy have found; Earth throws Winter’s robes away, Decks herself for Easter Day.
Beauty now for ashes wear, Perfumes for the garb of woe, Chaplets for dishevelled hair, Dances for sad footsteps slow: Open wide your hearts that they Let in joy this Easter Day.
Seek God’s house in happy throng; Crowded let His table be; Mingle praises, prayer and song, Singing to the Trinity. Henceforth, let your souls always Make each morn an Easter Day.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)*
*Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was a Jesuit priest and English poet
The last of the Resch boys, the five sons of John and Bertha Resch, was laid to rest earlier this month. He wasn’t the last-born, but he was the last to die; an entire century passed between the birth of Leo, the eldest of the five, and the death of Albert. But for those of us who loved them, my father and my uncles, a century wasn’t nearly enough time to have them with us.
My Uncle Al, the last surviving brother, died of pneumonia on January 6, 2016. Today would be his 88th birthday.
I feel as though my heart is broken and bleeding, scattered into dozens of pieces. I always adored my Uncle Al (I think all of his nieces did). More than that, however, he’s been like a second father to me ever since I lost my own 23 years ago. In fact, the moment he walked into my dad’s wake, I flung myself into his arms and asked him if he would give me away when I got married. Which, of course, he did. Miracle of miracles, he even wore a tux for the big event, which according to my Aunt Mickie was quite an amazing phenomenon. (I’m not entirely sure my own father would have agreed to wear one, actually.)
All of the Resch brothers were handsome, with easy grins and athletic builds. Although my dad, Leonard, was nine years older than Al, I loved watching them together because not only did they resemble each other physically, but they shared the same mannerisms, gestures, verbal expressions, and quirky sense of humor. And they were both just magic with kids. And animals. And growing things. All of those brothers had a strong nurturing, gentle streak. And talk about salt of the earth! If you needed them, you didn’t even have to ask–they were already there. I believe you learn a lot about a person’s character by what they take for granted. Well, those boys, every one of them, simply took for granted that one is there to help. To be kind. To be strong for you when you felt weak.
So many memories…The day after my dad’s funeral, I called my Aunt Barb in a panic, asking her to come over because mom and I’d had a stupid fight over nothing, and she was hysterical. I’d never seen my mother like that. In no time at all Aunt Barb was there, to talk to my mom in a way that I, submerged in my own grief, couldn’t. And Uncle Al was there too…I just recall clutching the flag from my dad’s casket and sobbing, endlessly, in his arms, while he patted my back and let me cry myself out.
He even came to stay with us a couple of times to help us with major repairs on the house–it was a beautiful turn of the century structure, but required constant upkeep. (That’s another thing about those Resch boys, they could fix anything!) While he was here, Uncle Al and I had a number of long talks, and he related stories about my dad, his Army service, all kinds of things I never heard from anyone else. So in a way, Uncle Al gave me the gift of my father. Just as he became a second father to me, for 23 years.
And of course, being a Resch brother meant mischief. It meant that one existed in order to tease and make the lives of their children, younger siblings, and nieces and nephews difficult! My dad always got this special twinkle in his blue eyes right before he was about to tease me, and so did Al, who called me “Sparky” all through my teen years because of my red hair and, er, temper. Furthermore, all through my teen years, every time a boy paid any attention to me, I was terrified my dad would find out–because I’d never, ever, hear the end of it! Everything was grist for the teasing mill. But they were always sweet, never mean or cruel in their teasing. We–children, nieces, and nephews–all knew it was a sign of affection, and we loved it.
Leo, Leonard, Tony, Al, and Frankie. One blog post can never do them justice, but this has to be written. As one of the nieces, and as Leonard’s daughter and only child, I feel compelled to write something to honor their passing, to tell whoever might stop to read this how truly special these brothers were. To give witness to the huge void they have left behind. And to honor the amazing legacy they have left for their children, their nieces and nephews, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren.
Al’s death has left a lot of broken hearts. Yet, like his brothers, he also was a man who took a great deal of solace from his faith, and those of us left behind do as well; we know that, someday, God promises to wipe away every tear, that death will be no more, that goodbye is not forever. And in the meantime we have our memories, our stories, to share and cherish. We know that they are never far away from us. And most of all, we know that love never ends.
Al lived in Montana, where he and my beloved late Aunt Mickie raised eight children. Some of my favorite memories are of the trips daddy and I took to visit them all! It is fitting, somehow, that he lived in Big Sky Country, because when I think of him I picture enormous, unending blue sky, and sunshine, laughter and stories and a love even vaster than the sky above.
So goodbye for a while, darling Uncle Al. I hope you know how much I loved you and always will, and what a difference you made in my life.
In paradisium deducant te angeli May choirs of angels lead you into paradise in tuo adventu suscipiant te martyres and at your arrival may the martyrs welcome you; et perducant te in civitatem sanctam Jerusalem. may they bring you into the holy city, Jerusalem. Chorus angelorum te suscipiat, May the holy angels welcome you, et cum Lazaro quondam paupere and with Lazarus, who lived in poverty, aeternam habeas requiem. may you have everlasting rest.
At our graduation dinner last night the other four Master’s in Theology graduates and I were asked to submit short reflection related to our time as students and now graduates of the Theology Master’s Program at St, Catherine University. I wound up writing mine straight from the heart, so I’m afraid it was less about my favorite class or my most uplifting experience, but at least it had the virtue of being honest.
I must admit that last week’s graduation was bittersweet. I was thrilled to be graduating, oh my goodness, yes, especially with my family there, and with my friend Sherri (who was absolutely glowing and stunningly beautiful); but at the same time I was fighting a migraine and on some fairly heavy-duty painkillers (!) and my fibromyalgia had me so sore that we went straight home afterwards instead of going out—where I sat around in my brand-new academic robes and hood and gorged myself on takeout pizza and watched bad WWII movies on Netflix with my husband George. Okay, so that part was fun, actually, and I wish we had thought to take photos of me stuffing mushroom pizza in my face wearing my graduation regalia!
The bittersweet part is that people keep asking me what is next, and I stumble around, trying to come up with something funny to say, and I’m at a loss. The dream that has kept me going, through the myriad of chronic pain conditions that has required me to drop classes and seek numerous extensions and medical leaves of absence (thanks Bill! (our super-understanding theology department head)) has been pastoral ministry, especially the idea of chaplaincy. That’s the whole reason I entered this program. And now these chronic pain conditions are making it impossible for me to hold down even a part-time job. Or be a reliable volunteer, much less work full-time as a hospice chaplain. So there is triumph in the degree, but grief and uncertainty when i contemplate my immediate future.
Still, there are several treasures I will take away from this outstanding program to help guide me in my coming journey. I have met so many amazing, compassionate, loving people here at St. Kate’s, both faculty and students, who I am honored to count as role models, mentors, and friends. I know that your prayers go with me, just as mine go with you, and that our journeys together do not end here, but in many ways have only just begun. I am excited to continue growing as both a scholar of theology and as a pastoral minister. My studies here have opened so many doors! I feel I have only dunked my toe in the water. And, too, I will take all of your stories with me. I have had a rough time, yes. But I am not the only one. So many of you have done battle with your own pain, and done it with immense grace and courage, and I cannot tell you how much I admire you and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. Finally, I take with me the knowledge that I need to trust in the process, as Deb (my mentor and pastoral ministry prof.) told me recently. This is very difficult for me, (trust is not my strong point) but I know she is right—I need to learn to take better care of myself, and learn to trust that the Holy Spirit will lead me in the right direction, even if I don’t know where in the heck I am going now, beyond more physical therapy. After all, Someone helped me through comps!
I love this post because, personally, learning to like myself–even part of the time–has been so incredibly difficult. Peeling back all of the layers of shame and defensiveness I’ve encased myself in is truly a struggle. For me, two things have helped. One is my firm belief that I (that we are all) made in the image and likeness of God–the “imago Dei”. The other is a quote from St. Catherine of Siena: “Become who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”
I often wonder what pushes us forward in life. What transforms us? What stimulates our movement from an abusive relationship or toxic behaviors (by others or those we lay upon ourselves)?
And I think it begins with one thought inside of us – we begin to like ourselves. We begin to like ourselves enough to say “No” to things that hurt, belittle, injure, or limit us.
This initial liking may be but a small sliver, but it is enough for the magic to begin. It begins to serve as a reference for what will and what will not be allowed in our lives.
And in this liking of ourselves, we establish a sense of value within ourselves. And like anything of value, we begin to understand that we are worth protecting. So we leave harmful situations or if we can not leave, we begin to take measure both…
When people ask me why I’m studying theology, I usually just explain, “Well, I want to work as a chaplain, preferably in hospice.” Sometimes I just get a strange look, more often I get the look along with an “…oh, okay…” Occasionally a brave person will speak up and ask me what a chaplain actually does, or why I’d want to do something so depressing. A relative told me once he wished I would do something more worthwhile with my life than prayer. Um, okay.
I did my first chaplaincy internship back in my twenties, before I had to drop out of school to deal with my fibromyalgia and migraines. This is a short story about my first hospice consult (I was terrified) which was subsequently published in our archdiocesan newspaper when they asked for submission on the question: Who Is My Neighbor?
Dwarfed by the hospital bed, surrounded by IVs and beeping monitors, she was a tiny, frail elderly woman with enormous haunted dark eyes dominating a white face. A native of Poland, she spoke little English, but was nonetheless able to understand the diagnosis: inoperable stomach cancer.
Six months, maybe less, to live.
I was a chaplain intern with a grand total of three weeks experience,
observing my first hospice consult. What could I, a 27-year-old graduate
student, possibly say to a lonely frightened dying woman who didn’t
even speak English?
As I stood huddled in a corner of the room and watched, a tear formed in one of those dark eyes and slid slowly down her face. Then another. And another. Her fragile body began to shake; and suddenly I found myself far from the safety of my hidden corner, my inexperience forgotten, my arms around her and my face buried against her shoulder, I dug out my little blue
plastic rosary, and as we wept and prayed together, the healing love of Christ transcended the gulf between us, overcoming the barriers of
language and age, binding us together as fellow pilgrims walking hand in
hand on our journey home.
In truth, I have come to realize since, we are all fellow pilgrims on a journey home to the God who created us and loves us beyond our wildest imaginings. We are, indeed, our brother’s (and sister’s) keeper, and we are called to bear one another’s burdens. We have more in common than we realize, as I discovered in my first hospice consult, and it is
through Christ’s love that we are able to journey with, and heal, each
It has been all over the internet–and my theological journals too–recently, that a large percentage of so-called Millennialsdon’t identify with any religion at all, and the new classification assigned by pollsters is “none.” This makes me, a Gen-Xer, very curious. I have to admit that as a “Cradle Catholic” and product of Catholic schools the concept is quite foreign to me.
I do understand being disillusioned with the Catholic Church, especially over gender issues and the ongoing sex scandals. But for me, the closest I came to leaving was talking to a friend about becoming an Episcopalian, an inquiry I abandoned once Pope Francis was elected (I really love him). Although I am not a perfect Catholic (the phrase “Cafeteria Catholic” fits in certain ways–but then it does for most Catholics on either side of the spectrum) I can’t imagine believing in God and not being part of a faith community, despite the flaws inherent in any institution run by imperfect human beings. And for me, I’ve always found the dichotomy between spirituality and religion a false one; after all, any study of the great mystics and spiritual leaders throughout history shows that many, if not most, belonged to a church community.
But I want to hear about your experiences, too. What do you consider yourself, faith-wise? I regret using labels for such a huge part of our human experience, but for now it will have to do. Do you reject all organized religion, and if so, why? Do you consider yourself a spiritual person, or do you want nothing to do with any of it (in which case it is highly unlikely you are reading my blog, but one never knows)? Please, I invite you to share your story. I promise I won’t proselytize or preach. I just want to understand better.