Holy Door

There is a “Holy Door” at St Meinrad Archabbey, in St. Meinrad, Indiana.  These special doors are usually opened only once every 25 years and for a limited time. Pope Francis asked for these special doors (located in certain churches all over the world) to be open earlier than the normal interval to focus on the quality of mercy. You get a plenary indulgence for walking through and reciting a prayer in the church (along with a few other obligations). Each church that has a Holy Door should have information on what is required.

From reading the letter Pope Francis wrote about it, he wants this sacrament available to everyone.  He did not indicate that this is just for Catholics.

Here is the sign at the door in St. Meinrad.

door1

 

Here is the door from the outside.

door2

Here is the doorknob.

door3

Here is the door from the inside.

door4

Normally these doors are locked or in some cases even bricked up.  They are never doors that you would just happen to walk through – they are never the main doors.  Not all Catholic churches have these special doors set aside for this sacrament.

What is a sacrament?  It is “An outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual gift.”  These doors are reminders of the grace and mercy that God grants us – has granted us, will grant us.  We, being forgetful beings by the very nature of our being human, forget that God loves us unconditionally, and constantly welcomes us back when we stray.  We forget that God is the father that runs to greet us when we have wandered away, just like in the story of the Prodigal Son.

Going through a Holy Door doesn’t save you – you are already redeemed by Jesus.  That bill has already been paid.  But going through reminds you of that gift, reminds you that you are eternally loved.

A Plenary Indulgence is not a “get out of hell free card”, or a “get into heaven free card”.  You’ll have to look it up to know what the Catholic Church means by that term.  As for me, I don’t hold with the idea of indulgences or of penance, because they go against the message of Jesus.  Indulgences say that the Church, in the person of the ordained ministers of the Catholic Church, is able to forgive you for your sins, which is not something any human can do.  That is something God, and God alone, does. The idea of penance indicates that you have to pay for your sins yourself, which would mean that you are ignoring the price that Jesus paid for you on the cross.  Yes, we are to constantly be on guard for our sin, our times of “missing the mark”, and turn away from it and turn towards the Light that is God.  We are to make amends for our actions, certainly, but we can never buy our way into God’s love – that is something we already have.

Epicenter

When something bad happens, people like to know where it happened. They want to know how close it hit to them. They want to know if it’s going to affect them.

If your house is robbed and you’re part of the neighborhood watch, they will ask what street you are on. They want to know how close the danger is to them. They want to know if it is going to hit them next.

If someone dies unexpectedly, people will ask “How did she die?” or “How old was she?”or they will wonder out loud if she caused her own early death due to not taking care of herself. They want to know if there’s a possibility that it will happen to them. They want to know if they are at risk for the same thing.

In both cases, they want to know if they should move away from the danger.

No matter what you do, you will get sick, and you might get robbed. Asking how close it is to you only insults the other person and says “You are not like me. I’m special.” It implies that you think that you are above the other person – more blessed.

The phrase “There but for the grace of God go I” is especially insulting. If there is a tornado that goes through your neighborhood and your house is intact and half your neighbor’s houses are flattened, it doesn’t mean that God loves you more. It doesn’t mean that God gives more grace to you and withdraws it from them. It doesn’t mean that they did something bad to deserve it.

Bad things happen to people, period. Not just bad people. What matters afterwards is how we deal with it.

“No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were: any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee.”
– John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, “Meditation XVII”

Father’s Day, 2014. Eulogy, epiphany

Here’s to all the fathers –
Those who are here, and those who aren’t.
Those who show up every day, and those who were never there.
Those who abandoned us, and those who have died.

They have made us who we are.

It doesn’t take a license to be a father. There is no training for it. Fatherhood can be done by amateurs, and often is. Even having had other children doesn’t prepare you for having more. Every time is a new time, with new challenges.

I had an uneasy relationship with my father. He was emotionally distant. He hadn’t been nurtured by his parents, and he didn’t know how to nurture his children. Is this an excuse? Is this an explanation? Or is it just the way it is?

There are plenty of guys who left when they found out they were going to be fathers. Some stayed, but only half-heartedly. Some initially wanted to be fathers, but found out they weren’t up to the task.

Let us forgive them all. Not excuse them. Forgive them.

The best thing I ever was able to do was to forgive my father. He never knew about that bit of grace that happened that day. Shortly before he unexpectedly died, I finally saw him as just a person, and not my Dad. He didn’t owe me anything. There were no expectations to be unmet. There were no promise to be broken. I saw him as broken and sad and hurting. I finally realized he had done the best he could, with what tools he had.

I’m grateful to have gotten to that point. It took a lot of work.

I’d realized years before that if I wanted to have a relationship with my father, I was going to have to find something we could both do together. He seemed unable to connect with me, so I had to make the effort. Eating out seemed to be the way. We would meet for Sunday brunch at Ruby Tuesday’s, or Bob Evan’s. Every Sunday I would go to church alone, and then come back home and we would go together out to eat.

It was his choice to not go to church, even though he was an ordained minister, even though the church I went to was the one he had gotten married in. It was kind of an awkward routine on Sundays. It would have been easier if we had gone to church together and then to brunch afterwards, but that wasn’t going to happen. I took what I could get.

He didn’t come up with the idea of us eating out together, I did. I saw it as a point of agreement, something we could both enjoy. His other interest was classical music, and that wasn’t really something we could meet on. I didn’t love it like he did, and he would always be the expert on it. We wouldn’t have been on equal ground.

When we ate out, it was our time together, just us. It wasn’t always easy. He was a sloppy eater, a bit greedy. I remember when we would eat at home he would finish his food first and then look at my plate and ask to finish it for me. I ate slowly, carefully. He ate ravenously, like a dog. He was willing to take food from his child. This pattern happened in other areas of my life too.

This is who he was. This is how he was raised. He wasn’t allowed to grow up true and strong. His parents were either overbearing (his dad) or flighty (his mom). There was no healthy role model. It was military precision and perfection, or playtime. He never had a childhood, not really. His dreams were squashed as being unreasonable and unrealistic.

One day, over a mid-day breakfast of pancakes and sausage, it clicked. I stopped seeing him as somebody who owed me a good childhood. I stopped seeing how he had failed me. I stopped expecting anything from him. I started seeing him as just a person.

He died twenty years ago. There was no more time to work on our relationship. There was no more time to rebuild it. I was grateful that I’d had that epiphany while he was still alive. I was grateful that I’d had all those Sunday brunches with him to build up to that point. I wanted more. I wanted to rediscover my Dad as a person, but there wasn’t time. He died unexpectedly, just six weeks after Mom died.

My brother never made the time to get to know Dad as a person. That is his fault. That is his loss. He’d threatened to kill Dad when he was 17, and the relationship had never gotten better. Dad’s will reflected that. My brother blamed Dad for the bad relationship, but it takes two to have a good one. And Dad didn’t threaten to kill his son.

My brother insisted on an etching as part of the estate. It was of “The Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt.

It was worth a lot of money. It was worth nothing. It was a piece of paper.

I had the “returning” in reality, because I’d worked on it. In the story, the son returns, and the father welcomes him. But my brother hadn’t worked on it, hadn’t returned. He had the image, but not what it represents. It is sad, but not tragic. Perhaps he thought he’d have more time. Perhaps he didn’t think about it at all.

When Dad died suddenly, there was no more time to work on the relationship. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. We didn’t know he was that ill. In a way, it wasn’t a surprise – he’d never taken care of himself. He smoked two packs a day. He never exercised. He ate whatever he wanted and it was never fresh.

Relationships transform after death. I’ve come to see that every time I think about him, he’s thinking about me. People who die don’t leave, so much as change state.

Death is freeing – a person is not limited to the body anymore. Your loved one is always with you.

There is a time of transition, surely. There is grief, and acceptance, and anger. There is a time of growth and deepening after that. It isn’t all pain.

Our society doesn’t teach us how to deal with death and grief. It doesn’t teach us how to transform it. It doesn’t teach us the other side of it.

Here it is –

After death, you can ask your Dad anything and he will answer. He is part of you now, just like you were always part of him. All of your ancestors are with you now – even the ones that you never met, even the ones that you don’t even know the name of. Your presence is the sum result of all their efforts. You are the end of the relay race. The baton has been handed to you. They passed on their genes, their knowledge, their fears and hopes – to you.

They are all with you, now.

Death isn’t an end. It is just a beginning.

My Dad.
Dad

At the intersection of grief and anger.

What is in the middle between grief and anger?

These are conflicting emotions. My spiritual director once asked me what I felt towards God, who took my parents. I’d never thought of it that way. I’d always just thought they made bad choices. They died early because they smoked and ate poorly.

But if I truly believe that God is in charge of everything, then I have to believe that they died when they did because it was the time that God had alloted for them to die. And then the next thought is that all the grief and ugliness of my childhood was meant by God to help me. Eckhart Tolle says that waking up to the truth is easier if you have a hard life. If it is easy, you don’t have to work on it. In the same way, God is said to put trials to us because God wants us to do better.

You push those you want to encourage. It may look like you are being difficult to them, but in reality you are putting a lot of effort into them because you want the best for them.

It is kind of a paradox.

So is this feeling. I was angry at my parents for making bad choices, and for abandoning me. Then I framed it in terms of God’s will. If this is all something from God, then I’m OK with it.

I’m no longer one who gets mad at God. I’m starting to understand that God’s perspective isn’t my perspective, that the things that look “bad” now are just part of the process. Rumi speaks to this in “The Guest House.” Everything is as it is, not good or bad. Grain has to be ground up and then baked to make bread. Grapes have to be pressed and then fermented for a long time to make wine.

The same is true for us. We are the grain and the grapes. We are raw,unprocessed. We are better when we are molded. Our hard experiences create us into who we are.

Once I remembered that God was in charge, I wasn’t angry or sad anymore. I was a bit of both, and then they cancelled out and I found myself somewhere in between.

I think we call that grace.

Sanctified 2 (uncovering grief)

I see a lot of people at my job. There are people from all walks of life who come in every day. In general I enjoy interacting with people who are so different and interesting. The people I see are old, young, poor, eccentric. They are pleasant, creepy, and wonderful. But every now and then I have a really bad reaction to certain people and I’ve worked on what my problem is. I like one of the “Rules for being human” that states that every person is mirror of you – whatever you love or hate in someone else is whatever you love or hate in yourself. So I’ve been thinking about that.

I’ve noticed that I have a terrible reaction to those who reek of cigarettes and those who are morbidly obese, as well as people who are alcoholics. I’ve wondered why I seem to have a visceral reaction to them. I get angry when I see them. I’ve prayed about this. I’ve journaled about this. I’ve finally followed my spiritual director’s advice and asked Jesus into this feeling to help me understand it.

I certainly noticed those who smell of alcohol and get only movies. It has become a cliché. They drink so much and so often that even if they aren’t currently drunk they still smell of alcohol. It is escaping from their pores in the way that any poison does.

With all these situations, I have seen a connection. With the people who smoke, who overeat, who are alcoholics, each is a person who has no self control.

Part of my reaction is that I’ve been there. I used to be obese. I used to smoke clove cigarettes. I used to smoke pot. I know what it is like to be an addict. I know what it is like to feel trapped in my own body. I remember deciding I didn’t want to smoke pot every day so I wrapped my stash in several plastic bags and put rubber bands around it. I then put it up on a high shelf. It was going to take a lot of effort to get to it.

And then I’d find myself standing on that chair. I’d find myself unwinding the rubber bands. I’d pull out my bong and my supply of buds and I’d smoke. It is as if I was possessed. It was like I saw myself doing these things. I was a puppet, a slave. I didn’t want to smoke pot, and there I was doing it again. It was a terrible feeling. I felt helpless.

At first I thought to celebrate these instances, of every time I’d see something that angered me. I’d see someone who was obese or smell the smoke or alcohol on someone and it would remind me to pray. So that was good. I was praying more often. I would pray for the person and pray for my bad reaction. I hated the feeling I had, but at least it caused me to seek God. This worked for a little while.

Then Grace happened.

I came to understand this was grief.

My Mom died from smoking cigarettes. My Dad died from smoking and from not exercising. He was obese. I was angry at these people who shared their bad habits because I’m still angry at my parents for dying so young. For abandoning me. For leaving me alone to fend against my predatory brother.

There is a lady who comes every day who is retired. She sits and plays games on Facebook for hours. She is so large that she has a hard time walking.

I’m jealous of the time that she has. I’m angry that my Mom died, and doesn’t have any time left at all. I’m angry that this woman is throwing away her time. It is personal. Not only do I want her to use her time better, I want her to understand that there are people who would love to have that much free time. Why does she get to live and my Mom didn’t? Why do I have to shoehorn in my creative activity and she has all this time and blows it?

It is grief. I’m angry at them because I’m sad for myself. I’m angry at my parents for not having any self control, and then dying young. I’m angry at myself when I waste time and I don’t exercise like I should or eat what I know is good for me. My gut reaction lead me to prayer which lead me to understanding the source of my pain.

Pain became a blessing, because from it, I’m beginning to heal.

I offer you these words to tell you that you can do this too. I offer you these words as a voice in the wilderness, calling out, telling you to walk through the thicket, the stickerbushes, the marsh. Walk on. There is hope if you continue to mindfully walk this path. Don’t sit down, keep walking, keep working. There is healing here, in this work.