Uncle Johnny’s lesson….

I didn’t know Uncle Johnny very well.  He had a stroke before I was born, and lost his capacity to speak.  He lived in the garage apartment on his sister’s property, and she lovingly cared for him.

To my sisters and me he was a curiosity, and we used to sit on the garage steps and watch him roll tobacco into white papers, making his own cigarettes, and sometimes his eyes would smile kindly at us.  That, and the fact that he dragged his right leg when he walked are really all I remember about him….except for his funeral.

I was about ten when he died, and his funeral was the first one I had ever attended.  I can still remember that it was a bright sunny day with clear blue skies.  I was struck by the contrast of nature’s beauty and the sorrow of my aunt .  I gathered with my family, and the few others in attendance and stood around the grave, covered with a green tarp, while the priest said prayers and sprinkled holy water.

My mind wandered off, trying to grasp that Uncle Johnny was gone forever from the earth.  I thought of how the rest of us would go on with our lives, but he wouldn’t be there anymore.  It seemed so impossible to my young mind.  How could someone I had always known really be gone?

It was my first encounter with the reality of death, and I have never forgotten it.  People die; life goes on.  Then, most people forget about you, and sooner or later, everyone does.

The year after Uncle Johnny died, Aunt Anna died of leukemia at age twenty-seven.  She left behind a husband and two babies.  They buried her in her wedding dress, and everyone cried.  But life went on.  Her husband remarried a few years later; her children couldn’t even remember her.

I often return to these thoughts when someone “important” dies.  Celebrity, accomplishments, power, wealth, all remain behind.  Death is the great equalizer.

God tells us as much:   What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  James 4:14

When Steve Jobs and Christopher Hitchens recently died within months of each other, I found myself pondering their lives….and their deaths.  Jobs was an agnostic, and Hitchens, a militant atheist.  Does anything else really matter now?
 
The media has long since moved on to more timely matters.  The accolades of friends and admirers have descended to a whisper.  Jobs and Hitchens, like Uncle Johnny, have left our world.
 
Where are they now?  That is all that really matters for any of us.
 
This life we have been given….it is such a gift, such a grace, such an opportunity from Our Heavenly Father through Our Lord Jesus Christ!  We have only this infinitesimal moment in time to love and thank Him on earth, to help others to know and love Him, to fall on our knees in prayer and worship, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to dry the tears of our neighbor, to give them food for their body or their soul, to offer a hand or a hug.  Simply to love….God first, and then everyone without exception.
 
All of life can be reduced to that moment at life’s end, when God will gaze deeply into our souls and He Who is Truth will see us as we really are….and there will be no place to hide.
 
And who we have been in the world and what we have accomplished or the power and wealth we have accumulated will only serve to make us even more accountable for having used these gifts for loving God and neighbor.
 
Eternal Father, grant me the grace of cherishing every moment of my life as a gift to return to You, filled with whatever will most please Your Divine Heart.  Let me not waste the precious gift of time this life on earth is.  Draw me into Your Loving Gaze that I may always be united to You, always lost in You, even when my poor mind must be occupied with other duties.  Call to me when the gleam of this world’s distractions captures my eye. Shelter me within Your Very Being until that day when nothing can ever separate me from You again.  Grant that I may love you forever…
 
Uncle Johnny wasn’t rich or powerful, and hardly anyone knew him.  But I wonder what God thought about smiling eyes and Uncle Johnny’s lesson.

Suffering — get it while you can

An acquaintance of mine died last week. 

I said a prayer for her when I heard the news, and then I whispered, “Pat, rest in peace. You have finished your work, completed your journey.”

I think about that journey a lot. My friend didn’t make it to the three score and ten mentioned in the Bible. We just never know.

There is something uniquely precious about living in our imperfect world. It is only an instant in even the longest of lives. What are a 100 years compared to eternity?  Yet, we have only this breath, this heartbeat of time in which to determine our eternal destination, and to labor for God’s Glory.

I, who do not relish suffering, still value it and this amazing moment in my existence when it actually costs me to offer something precious to God.

It is quite thrilling to be among the Church Militant, marching through the battlefield of life, buffeted by the blows of pain, loneliness, rejection, grief and a thousand other sufferings which we encounter on our journey.

I think how tenderly Jesus watches over us as we bear our wounds for love of Him.  His eyes never leave us and His Heart almost breaks with compassion.  Yet, when we are brave, and offer up as best we can these trials, surely He is so pleased, so very proud of us.  

We cannot see, but Jesus Himself binds up our wounds with the balm of His Love, measures to perfection all that we are asked to bear, and supports us Himself that we may not be crushed beneath our crosses.

Heaven is our true home, but I find myself pondering how bittersweet it will be to leave this place of exile:  Never again to be able to make an act of faith when all seems lost, to tell God we love Him through tears and sorrow, to endure the battle of temptation and be victorious with His Grace, to do violence to our own will so that we may choose for God, to walk amidst a hurting and confused world and try to be a ray of His Light, to visit a lonely Jesus in His Sacrament of Love and console His Hidden Presence. 

These many treasures are ours for only a moment, and yet I waste an abundance of riches, and neglect the joy I could give to God by seizing every opportunity to cooperate with His Grace.

One day it will all end, and suffering will be no more.  I’m sure much of my Purgatory will be spent in weeping tears for all the times I walked away from the graces God extended to me – times I insisted on my own way, or complained about something trivial or was annoyed with someone else.

Lord, help me to begin again today to be ingenious in finding the jewels you have hidden in every moment of my life.  Those I choose are mine for all eternity.

But much more important: You have chosen to be glorified by the sacrifices lovingly made and offered by your children.

Oh Jesus, help me not to waste the moment this life on earth is, the only moment I will ever have to choose You above all the other distractions and temptations of my world.

In one of Therese’s favorite books, The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, by Father Charles Arminjon, in the chapter on Heaven we read: 

And the grateful God cries out, “Now it is My turn!”

He is so eager to reward us. Indeed the lives of the great mystics indicate that He can hardly restrain His Love, as He pours out upon His holy ones a foretaste of Heavenly bliss.

On our last day, if we had never been able to suffer anything in life, would we really be able to endure Infinite Love pouring into us from His pierced Heart, and the embrace of His crucified hands?