Final word on death: Prayer of the Faithful

I think (hope!) this will be my final observation on the deaths of Nora and Uncle Theo, but it is a story I think others would profit from reading.

I mentioned in my reflection on Nora’s death how people were changed by the caring for her. I am seeing in Uncle Theo a similar change – and from people who never heard of him until last week, and who never laid eyes on him in this world.

News of Uncle Theo’s situation spread through the internet rapidly. Several bloggers picked up the cry, and I myself shared the need for prayer with the 150 or so people on my email prayer group, some of whom also posted on their blogs, on Facebook, on other venues. The outpouring of prayer was immense.

Several of us have found renewed vigor in standing firm for the sanctity of human life as consequence of this.

But one of the most beautiful things I found – I’ve got to share this with you.

I’m a member of the Catholic Writers Guild,  This past week was our very exciting Writers Conference Online – begun each morning at 8:30, half an hour before the first chat conference, with Morning Prayer, led by… yours truly.

I mentioned the need for Uncle Theo on the very first morning after I found out his plight. It is the only time during the conference I initiated any mention of him – because thereafter, conference participants were intitiating the queries – “What’s the word from Uncle Theo?” – “Have you heard anything?” –

Chats were interrupted when I would sign in late – “Laura, have you heard anything?” followed by an explanation to the Presenter and those participants who had missed prior word. Others initiated prayer for Uncle Theo before I could have time to mention him, myself.

Even after his death, Friday, by legal euthanasia (he was in Holland, remember), the Guild members continued to hold his soul – and the souls of family and the medical personnel responsible for promoting this heinous act – in prayer.

We ended the conference last night with a “party,” of sorts – an open chat room. And one of our leaders said, “We need to take a moment to pray…” and it began with prayer for Uncle Theo.

The Communion of Saints – and saints-in-the-making – is a mighty powerful force.

In life we are in death… and in our unity of prayer, then we are very strong.


In life we are in death…

So reads the a line from the old Requiem Mass. It certainly has been a vivid reality during the month of March, when several of my friends lost close loved ones and my own life was touched by the deaths of my dear friend Nora, and my friend’s Uncle Theo (written about, below).

I think about the nature of death – I’m not so much afraid of death as I am of dying (how it could happen, that is). My maternal grandmother had a deep dread of becoming incapacitated and winding up in a nursing home, where she had seen so many family members wind up – “I just hope it’s quick,” she said. And when the time came, it was. She sent my grandfather out to the garden to get an eggplant for lunch, and while he was out there she suffered a massive event of some description; she died moments after Papa found her lying on the hallway floor.

The fact is, we take what we’re given. God hasn’t spoiled us yet by sending us emails and polls asking us how we prefer to go – He determines the time and the method, and that is it.

What we have to do between now and then is to prepare. And one of the ways we prepare is by visiting the sick and dying, which is a Work of Mercy. It’s an obscenity that any of our family members should approach death alone, untended and unsupported by our love.

“I want to remember Granny as she was,” is just a flimsy cover for abject selfishness. We owe our parents, our siblings, our extended families and our friends – even strangers, if we happen to have them placed in our paths – with the very tenderness and compassion that we, ourselves, would have extended to us as we approach the hour of meeting God face to face.

Death is a part of life – it’s the end of the finite and the beginning of Eternity. We experienced its parallel in being born – dying the security and familiarity of the womb to be born into our life as independent creatures. This is only the prep school for Eternity, after all.

No need to be squeamish. No need to recoil. Comfort the afflicted – visit the sick and dying.

Mortal v. Venial

Mortal sin is like a bomb blast: the damage to one’s soul is immediate and catastrophic.

Venial sin is like a termite infestation. It may not seem like much at first, but if you don’t deal with it quickly and decisively, that one or two wee little bugs you almost don’t even notice are going to multiply, and become a colony; and that colony has the capability of doing some serious long-term damage to the structure it inhabits: your soul.

Just who are we, anyway?

Part of my research for Pray, Study, Work – I’ve been reading the Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity (Apostolicam Actuositatem) from the Second Vatican Council. Every Catholic ought to read this, and Lumen Gentium (the Dogmatic Constitution on the Faith).

In a nutshell (because this has to be a brief post this morning), the laity have two major functions in the life of Christendom:

First, we have a duty, a mandate, to bring the Gospel into the secular world we frequent in our careers, education, and daily associations.

Second, we have the mandate to infuse that worldly world with Gospel values – to be a redeeming influence on it.

Now. It may be because I live in an area where a lot of retirees move, but it seems to me that I far too frequently hear Catholics complain that they’ve “done their bit,” and are now ready to kick back and relax a bit.

Ladies and gentlemen: There is no retirement from the Church Militant. We hope to graduate, but resignation is unthinkable!

This is the sort of attitude I lament in “Spiritual Warfare.” Our culture is in the mess it’s in because good Christian people – Catholic and nonCatholic – have bought into the lie that we have an obligation to shut up and get out of the way so that people who reject our paradigm can do whatever they want in order to think they’re “happy.”

We need to get off our fannies and quit acting as if we were called to be Church Somnolent.

Book update

I engaged one of my student friends to help me as a research assistant, this morning. He’s a good Baptist and well-versed in his Bible. I took him through the chapter I’m working on, showed him what I’m looking for. He’ll help me fill in the baps for illustration and verification, thus saving me… probably a couple weeks’ work?

I’m touched by the comments. I really feel the idea I have, here, is important. The Church is suffering from lack of understanding of what our identity is, and lack of instruction how to live in that identity.

The basic elements of Pray, Study, Work are also integrated in our baptismal identity, with Christ, as Prophet, Priest and King.

This job is getting exciting!

Where does the time go?

Well, first of all, the bad news: Phoebe Hummingbird had two bad (nonfertile) eggs, and so there are no chicks. The webcam is off until maybe, since she didn’t hatch any chicks, she lays again. It happens with other species, but I think hummers sound a bit more delicate and unpredictable.

In other news, I’m writing, and editing, and making notes, and taking care of myself. Got a bit off-balance for a while, but am recovering.

The past couple days, we’ve had temps in the mid-70s. Tomorrow it will be chilly again, and it will be pretty cold over the weekend, but spring is here. We’ll have some more cool/cold weather between now and next week-end. After Easter, we always warm up in earnest –

Spring has arrived late this year – after nearly three months of unremitting cold (for NC), we’re enjoying some mild weather. And a month after  usual, the Bradford pears are in full bloom, as are the forsythia, quince, daffodils… Even the scrub oaks are blooming, a strangely lovely dark red where only dull grey was, just a few days ago. It’s absolutely beautiful, and all out all at once. The dogwoods in my yard are in bud, and they ought to be opening in about a week. The redbud also blooms about the time the dogwoods do, and then the azeleas… resplendent Spring.

At the bird feeders I’m seeing sparrows en force, but also purple and gold finches, tufted titmice, juncoes, black-capped chickadees, the occasional cardinal – a couple of late afternoons, I’ve heard doves cooing in the back yard.

I attended the Typica service for The Feast of the Annunciation last night at the area Eastern-Rite chapel, and as I pulled into my driveway, a gorgeous, bushy-tailed red fox darted across in front of me.  And there’s at least one possum wandering around the yard, looking for cheap hand-outs.

I love Spring!

More later – I’ve got a bit more to do before bedtime – and I’m late for bed as it is.

God bless and keep you all.

On writing

Listen. The place where words come from is not so far away as it might seem. Know your question, and listen; the answer will come.

Most writing occurs in the imagination before I pick up my pencil or sit in front of the computer. I have a sense of the story I want to tell, and how it’s to be told. I did this in college, writing under pressure; I’d think and think about the assignment, and then I’d see exactly what it was I wanted and needed to say.  Composing, after so much contemplation, was the simpler task; I was more or less transcribing something that had taken clear shape in my mind.

Now that I’m writing “professionally,” I thought I ought to change my tactic – sit and pound out so many words per day, for so many pages or hours. It was a fruitless effort, though. So I did my writing exercises, the “brain drain” of all the cluttery thoughts that have been gumming up the pipes and distracting me from the project that means so much to me. And one question in particular was formed in my mind.

Now I’ve seen my way clear on it. I know the answer to my question – and the answer to some other less demanding questions as well. When I return to active writing, tomorrow morning, I’ll have something worthwhile and reasonably well-formed to say.  It’s already there, in my heart.


Actually, it’s not as bad as it sounds. Of course, it sounds like desert-style deprivations and repressions, psychoses and irrational inconveniences, right?

Of course it does! If it didn’t sound so awful, more people would be willing to adopt it as at least a temporary lifestyle and would speak very positively about it. But, oh, no! it’s too “unhealthy” to go without sex!

Actually, I’ve found it extremely healthy to go without these past (ahem, cough) years. Haven’t always thought it so – sometimes it is lonely and unpleasant. But then comes the breakthrough, a breakthrough which can only come when one isn’t distracted by the inebriating effect of one’s raging hormones and narcissistic drive for gratification…

Huh? -Let’s look at that again, shall we?

Sex produces hormone shifts that demand, insist upon, mandate satisfaction. A kiss and a cuddle sets these hormones into overproduction at astonishing rates – gotta have more! and not just more of the same, you’ve got to go a bit farther along the process in order to attain the same level of thrill…

It’s like a drunk or a druggie who has to up his intake in order to reach the same level of “buzz” he used to enjoy – instead of two beers or a shot, it goes to twelve in quick succession and the whole bottle; his body has become acclimated to the substance, so much more is required to get the desired effect.

Sex does that, too, and in this severely disordered culture we’re living in, that insists on instructing young prepubescent children about condoms and masturbation, that places disordered information about sexual “normalcy” into our homes and minds day in and day out – well, we get warped, and our expectations of our spouses’ or partners’ PERFORMANCE becomes warped (after all, it has become a matter of performance, not of real love-making any more) …

and it’s no wonder people have gotten into rotten unsustainable sex-based relationships and basically screwed up their own lives (pardon the pun) and made themselves miserable.

I watch – not only women, men do this too! – getting into, locking themselves into these cheap, abusive, inferior relationships because on the one hand they are driven by fear of solitude (and of being “not normal”) and by sexual hormones, and on the other hand by a deep innate realization that we’re supposed to bond with one another and create families and be together in a deeper sense… and sex is supposed to be the most profound of the “togetherness” and yet somehow it’s all escaping us and what are we supposed to do?

Well, helloooo!!! When we hop into the sack as a matter of course in a nonmarried relationship, we have the euphoria of an artificial “intimacy” which, because of the drugging effect of the hormones, deprives us of the genuine intimacy of spirit we long for!

Celibacy gives one room and freedom to pull focus and to think beyond pushing for the next thrill: What is important to me in a relationship? What sort of character do I want in a spouse? What values are important to share – and which ones are nonnegotiable, and which ones do I have some flexibility with? (Fidelity of body and will is mandatory; preferring ACC sports over professional hockey not so much so 😉 ) How shall I live out those values with integrity in a relationship? How well do we know one another in matters of genuine character and spirit? Is this a person who I want to be identified with for the rest of my life? – a person I can trust and admire, whom I am proud of? or will this person shame and humiliate me with a low unscrupulous character?

Celibacy. It gives us a chance to know what we want. It allows us a clear enough head to know what we want in a life partner, a spouse – and to be able to see in truth whether this particular man or woman can live up to expectations and prove himself worthy of our devotion.

And – surprise and joy! – it gives us an opportunity to discover our own worth, into the bargain, as nothing else, out of our sex-driven culture, can do. Sex costs me all I am – my heart, my devotion, my loyalty, my whole self in unstinted donation to my spouse. I discover myself to be a “pearl of great price,” a prize of inestimable value; I will, therefore, give myself only to the man who is willing to pay my price to own me: his whole self, in all that he is.

Sunday thoughts –

I check my blog stats every couple days, and I wonder why some posts have been chosen for reading. Oh, well… thanks to all of you who’ve been visiting – and especially those reading “Prelude and Fugue in Faith.” That thing is some 14+ pages, single-spaced, quite a daunting read under ordinary circumstances, and made even more difficult because of its theological content. Especially my old school friends who aren’t Catholic – thank you, with all my heart, for reading.

So. It’s Sunday. I went to Mass this morning in a rotten frame of mind. Have been, in fact, these past two weeks. I didn’t go to Communion because I felt I wasn’t disposed, but instead made a spiritual communion by playing/singing Charpentier’s “Panis Angelicus” (found clips of the Te Deum on Youtube, but not this one) –

After our Mass, I went over to the Health Center to check out the organ there. I’m playing for a Memorial Service, Wednesday. Mass there was still in process, so I slipped into a back row of chairs as Father was finishing the “Our Father.” This is the Health Center chapel at the nursing home, and quite a few people were there in wheelchairs, very feeble and weak. I hadn’t realized this chapel even existed and had never thought of the more infirm people at the center. It was deeply touching. One woman was almost recumbent in her wheelchair; she was talking and singing to herself. For some reason, it wasn’t disruptive, didn’t diminish the very reverent atmosphere of the Mass.

When I got home, I felt completely renewed. My anger has dissipated. The issue about which I was so indignant is not the other person’s injustice toward me, it’s that it’s time for me to do other work. Yes, there were injustices, and God will deal appropriately and justly with that individual; but the fact is that I’m so dense that I wouldn’t have moved on had that deteriorating work environment not “herded” me out.

It’s a new beginning. As every Sunday celebrates the Resurrection of the Lord, I’ve been given something of a resurrection, today, myself. Now to go and prepare for the week to come. Learning to live deliberately is not easy, but it’s leahtly and necessary. I thank God for the opportunity to start anew – and that I’m young enough to have much to look forward to (my mother was “old” at 40, so it’s glorious, to me, to feel so young and eager, at age 52).

God bless you all this coming week.