Thursday, July 17, 2014

My Friend Thomas

                                      My Friend Thomas


 On July 2, 1963, a hot, beautiful,holiday weekend day the likes of which for years had turned all my desires to getting to Cape Cod just as fast as I could to join my buddies in cruising Hyannis Mass searching for whatever lay in store. All day football on the sand, swimming until our lips turned blue, drinking Heinekens and meeting good Catholic girls for parties later on, sleeping like the dead when we could find a spot to crash, and having what I remember as the time of my life; that’s what I thought I’d be doing for years to come.

Instead, I found myself entering the Trappist Monastery of Saint Joseph’s abbey in Spencer, MA. I don’t mean just visiting to say a prayer, or make a brief retreat; I meant for life, never to return to the outside world.

At the guest house, I met two other men my age who were to enter the life with me, Ned Mullaney and Richard Miller.   Ned was a graduate of Holy Cross College and right from the start I could see that he would be an Abbot someday. He was more than well educated and very intelligent, he was obviously wholesome and evidencing a goodness which was not superficial as was mine. I acted like a good person, but I knew myself better than that. Richard seemed much more like Harvard or MIT trained, very brilliant but a little uptight. I thought he showed stress from the moment I met him and I always suspected that he wouldn’t last long in this life; imagine me suspecting that of another.

I had previously visited with the vocation director, Father Theophane Boyd, OCSO, at Spencer.  I liked Father Theophane a lot from that moment on. Many years later, I would buy a book that he wrote after spending time in a Japanese Zen monastery. It is entitled, "Tales of the Magic Monastery". For the past ten years, it has been my practice  to read short excerpts from texts important to me. His book, along with the Sermon on the Mount"(Matthew), Poems of Emily Dickinson, "Tao Te Ching" by Lao Tzu and "The Way of Chuang Tzu" edited by Thomas Merton have been most helpful. Father Theophane arranged for me to be interviewed by Father Mark Dellery.  I was to meet with him in the Grace Chapel reception room. Theophane escorted me to a musty old room with furniture which had to be 500 years old. He left me alone to get Father Mark. He was gone for about 20 minutes. I was getting very fidgetty, and began to wonder if this wasn't a ploy to induce an aspirant to give up now and run from the interview. Eventually, Father Mark entered. He looked like a very elderly Shawmut Indian and had a very large, old- fashioned, hearing aid. I was extremely uncomfortable as the interview began. I simply hated to be trying to sell myself, for I knew myself too well.  I t was only after we talked about my former girl friends, and about my favorite beer, and my favorite golf courses that I began to believe that Fr.Mark belonged to the human race, and that there might be a place for me at Saint Joseph's Abbey.

We talked briefly about things, and then discussed my need to study Latin before entering. Theophane said that there was a school in Kentucky which I could attend for the remainder of the school year, then come back to see him in June.  I agreed, but I told him that all my savings would be gone by June. He noted that and I left to get in touch with Saint Mary's College in Lebanon, KY.
From late January to early June, I played more basketball than I'd ever played in my life before, for that's what the Seminarians in KY do, when they're not "creek-jumping". So on the following July 2nd, I entered Saint Joseph's Abbey as a postulant with the name Frater Dominic.
For the next five years I grew in theological knowledge, deepened in monastic spirituality, and lived a life calculated to open one’s mind to the living of a life of faith according to the ancient Rule of Saint Benedict.  Our day began at 2:15 am with a shockingly invasive fire-bell which one of the monks shook as vigorously as he could, all for the love of God.  In fact, on most of those mornings I jumped out of bed with those very words on my lips, “Oh, for the love of God!” I splashed ice cold water on my face, used the toilet, and headed silently down the stairs to the dimly lit nave of the Church. I knelt in the darkness saying the prayer I had memorized as a Novice for such occasions- “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner”, or, “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy faithful and enkindle in them the fires of Thy love;  Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and Thou shall renew the face of the earth.”  With a knock on the wooden stall, the Abbot, or the senior monk, would begin the Office of Vigils with the plea, “Deus, in adjutorium meum intende!”, to which all chanted in response, “Domine, ad adjuvandum me, festina!” etc...[“God, come to my help! Lord, hurry to assist me!”.]

The night Office lasted about an hour and a half, and had readings sandwiched in the middle of a series of chanted psalms.  One fought a naked battle with fatigue during this time and everyone knew it to be that. At the conclusion of the night Office there was time for silent prayer, silent reading or, mercifully, time to go to Mixt ( a sort of breakfast at which coffee, tea and delicious whole wheat bread were available with peanut butter, cheese - and on Sundays and/or feast days, jams and jellies from the Trappist Preserves  were optional). In the entire 5 years I lived there, it was this meal which kept me alive, and strong enough to last until the noontime meal, which often came after 4 hours of very strenuous morning work in the woods or fields. Unfortunately for me, this sort of breakfast extended itself long after my departure from the monastery, to times wherein my daily work wouldn’t burn off those breakfast calories taken in, and my width was to grow in proportion.
Following Mixt, we had time for making our bed, studying or doing Lectio Divina   (a form of meditative reading) and/or praying. At about 6:15 am we’d go to the Church for Prime, Lauds and the  Conventual (Sung) High Mass.  After Mass we’d have about 15 minutes of quiet prayer, then sing the Office of Terce and head out for morning work. Our work could be anything, and we wouldn’t find out until the monk in charge handed out the assignments. I enjoyed outdoor work most except that I knew nothing about farming and had an aversive quirk to weeding long- I mean really long -rows of vegetables.

I did learn how to use power chain saws and grew in awe of trees - I learned so much about them, and would not be eager to take any down until the reason for it were clear to me. Cutting brush was not so enjoyable, and hauling brush was without any doubt the best purgatory  any fiend could conjure up in punishment for my “mispent youth”.  In season we would cut hay, bale hay, stack  and load bales onto trucks for transport to the “world”. Even hay which had been rained on would be treated similarly, only these often moldy bales would be sent to the Massachusetts Highway Dep’t. for spreading over newly seeded grass alongside highways.

After a year in the monastery, I was assigned to care of the floors throughout all of the buildings. As a novice, I was highly regulated as to what I could see and where I could go, so this job introduced me to the many nooks and crannies of the place. My very favorite job on the floors was to apply Butcher’s paste wax to the hard wood floors of the stalls in the main church. After applying the wax, and after the paste had dried, I’d run the floor buffing machine over the wood and be transported by its quiet rocking, throbbing hum.  Two days of the week would find the primary organist, Father Malachy, practicing on our enormous pipe organ. One day, I broke all the rules by having an extended sign conversation with him, and I told him that my favorite pieces were Bach’s Little Fugue in G-Minor, and Cesar Franck’s Symphony in D. After that conversation, Fr.Malachy would break out into either, or both, of those pieces whenever he’d see me waxing the stalls. It was a foretaste of heaven to me.

Other jobs were to clean the toilets- not as bad as it might seem- because although  we worked for the love of God, I sometimes felt that the monks aimed for the love of God as well. Sometimes we’d work in the laundry folding and sorting clothes- all  clothes were community property and although you were able to get the  right size each time, you would almost never get the same exact garment. In our cells we had a hook for hanging up a garment, but no closet for amassing a “wardrobe”.  Personal property was not allowed although a private box was permitted for notebooks, correspondence and writing materials. Another major job was working in the Trappist jams and jellies plant. One-half of the building was for mixing, cooking,  bottling and labelling the jars; and the other half was involved in gift wrapping and getting the product ready for distribution. During most of my novitiate I’d be assigned to sitting at the conveyor belt and as empty boxes came from the right, my job was to take 8 different flavors of jam jars coming straight at you down gravity roller ramps from their boxes, and plunk them into the appropriate spots in the gift boxes. Years earlier I remembered seeing Lucille Ball in an episode of “I Love Lucy” and Jackie Gleason on his show face a similar challenge. So often the monk in charge of the speed controls was a young monk just a few years senior to us. My guess is that the abbot wanted him to exorcize his particular sadistic demon by pushing all us silent monks to the limit. God forgive me for what I said of him under my breath.

One day I was assigned to work a pneumatic drill and break up a floor of cement in a building we were replacing. I used airport headphones to minimize the damage to my ears, but for a week I could only mouth the words in Choir.  

For five years I lived this life to the best of my ability.   There were some very trying times for me, as I discovered that one of my primary goals in life seemed to becoming a success  in being liked by all who knew me.  This was impossible to accomplish in this life that I had chosen, because we were so restricted in our communicating with one another such that I couldn’t hear, actually hear, what a great person I was and regularly enough to satisfy my need. In fact, just the contrary was occurring.  My interpretation of the looks on my brother monk’s faces seemed to be telling me just the opposite. They seem to be asking me, “Why are YOU here?...  I know what you’re thinking and you should be ashamed of yourself and stop being such a hypocrite...  and why don’t you just leave?”
 Our abbot, Dom Thomas, was my best friend during these trials. He showed me that the monastic life was a life of faith.  I must believe in the God Who is closer to me than I am to myself, and that I must believe that he dwells within each of us... even though I cannot see it with my eyes.  I should stop trying to see that a monk liked me before I committed myself to “liking” him. After all, Jesus said that we should love our “enemies”.  I slowly began my journey in this “School of Love”, as Saint Benedict referred to it in his Rule written 1600 years ago.  Slowly I was somehow absorbing the understanding that learning to BE in the presence of God was the goal of this life, not so much thinking or talking about it.  I received assistance by becoming acquainted with the writings of Pere Caussade and his teachings on the “ sacrament of the present moment”.  Only years later, long after leaving the monastic life would his teaching echo in the writings of Merton, Lao Tzu , Chuang Tsu  and  Suzuki.

One of my teachers at the monastery, Father Henry, had been a science professor at our state university prior to entering the life, and had brought with him a 6” reflecting telescope which lay unused in one of the storerooms whose floors I annually cleaned and waxed. I asked Dom Thomas about it and received permission to use it after the night office, unless it caused a problem for the community.  For some time thereafter I would take the heavy telescope and mounting out behind the abbatiale on clear nights, and with the help of the Norton’s Atlas,  find my way again back into familiarity with the solar system,  the constellations formed from the relatively closer stars and the more mystifying bulk of our own galaxy as seen in the summer sky as the “Milky Way”.  And stretching the telescope and my mind to its uttermost, I would hazard a peek at the closer galaxies to our own such as the Andromeda Galaxy, and nebulae such as the Orion Nebula...  while just barely  beginning to appreciate what I was seeing.

And so, I began to lead a double life. I began to attempt to understand the cosmos in which we live such puny and brief lives. I struggled with the pressures to consider the earth and the lives lived on it as of no consequence in the larger order of reality. I struggled with the realization that God, if there be one, could never be uncovered by science- which springs from physically observable and verifiable data. I began to study Scripture in a new way from a perspective  which viewed the word “kosmos” in the prologue to the Fourth Gospel  no longer as “world”,(as in “ He came into the world”)  but rather as meaning , He came into “everything that exists” i.e., “cosmos”.  Thus, I realized that my concept of “God” would either have to go, or it would have to “go”.  I began to see that no concept of God could ever be adequate, and I was subtly paving the way to becoming a Christian, with Zen Buddhist tendencies. Prayer became simpler, to be done anywhere, at any and even all times. Saint Benedict was on to this, and monasticism was on to this in its teaching on the possibility of praying “always”.

My five years in the monastic life were not without difficulty. Obedience has never been, nor ever will be I trust, easy for me.  Yet while I was there, I only rarely saw the command of the abbot, novice master or the rule,  to be a burden, and I can only affirm Dom Thomas, Fr. Regis and Fr. Robert for their gentle caring manner in their appointed role as leaders.  It was I, myself, who gave me the greatest difficulty. My imagination, my broodings, my nursing of hurt feelings, my feeling that others were judging me as a phony and a failure  were all I needed as "an angel from Satan to buffet me".  It was only when I had read some of Pere de Caussade, SJ, that I began to be able to escape my black hole by focusing on the present moment and by aligning my thoughts with what was God's will in my life. Later in my life, I would be helped to see these realities in light of Zen practice, and realize that almost all of my trials in life arose from my not living in the present moment. My past, and possible futures, have always hog tied me in the present moment.            
In 1965, two novices who entered after I did were allowed to make profession ahead of me. This stung, but there was nothing I could do.  I became, if anything, more at peace with a reality which I did not and could not control. I was very happy in the life, although I'm not sure that I felt I belonged with such a group of people as I got to know them better. Some, who seemed to be ideal monks and to whose level of spirituality I doubted I could ever rise, would suddenly not be in the choir any more.    What really bothered me is that during all the years that I was in the monastery, I made a promise to myself to "never be a phony" as my Dad had taught. I told my Novice Master, I told my Abbot, I told Father Raphael,  the resident shrink  and a great person,  everything I was upset about. It didn't guarantee my perseverance as a monk obviously, but it did help preserve my sanity.  I can vividly remember "confessing" thoughts I was having as a monk, and thinking that I was embarrassing Dom Thomas with my revelations. Instead, he seemed to be regaled by my honesty, and it made me overjoyed to see this man laugh so heartily.

 I remember one day in particular, it was hot and I was the fifth monk waiting to talk to the Abbot, and after an hour wait, I went up the stairs to see him. I asked if he'd rather go outside and walk while we talked. We went out to the brow of a high hill nearby, and we talked. I remember describing how difficult I found  certain aspects of the life. I summed up what I had said with the words " It sure ain't heaven".
" It's not hell though, is it?" he asked. We both looked at each other, "It's purgatory", we said simultaneously and laughed. We sat silently for a long time after that. That was the best.
Through the last forty three years of my life, I have tried to correspond with Dom Thomas and he has been the greatest help to me and my family. Through the years, Dom Thomas himself went through many trials and transformations. Fortunately, he has written much about his thoughts and given some truly remarkable lectures as he has become a spiritual guide for people of prayer of all spiritual schools and religions throughout the whole world. He is the co founder of Contemplative Outreach and is a close friend of the Dalai Lama,  Popes, many Islamic scholars and Jewish prayer guides. Recently he gave the following lecture on Contemplative Prayer in the Modern World at MIT as one of the famous TED Lecture [ Series]. You may link on to it and hear it in it’s entirety .  Thank you
                                                                      Charlie Mc

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Where is God?


                                     Astrophysical Spirituality

When I was in the fifth grade, I inherited a Boston Globe paper route. I worked it both on Sundays with a red wagon as I covered all the Christian Hill and High School area of my hometown of Norwood, Massachusetts, and on weeknights with the Daily Globe delivery. By means of this income, over the next six years I saved enough money to pay for my entire first year tuition at Northeastern University College of Engineering. That may sound incredible, but the tuition for one full year in 1955-56 was $850.00. Can you believe it.    My second through fifth years there were fully paid for from the salary I earned on my co-op work jobs that N.U. assigned me to. My parents simply could not afford to help unless you consider giving me room and board free for five years pay! I do, thank you Mom and Dad.

My nighttime paper route afforded me another benefit for which my life has been enriched immeasurably. Delivering papers on  cold clear nights gave me a ring side seat to the greatest show in the Universe; the Universe itself. I grew to become a friend to the constellations, the wandering planets, occasionally some shooting stars and even on one occasion a comet. As I beheld them, I wondered what exactly it was I was seeing. I wrote away to Sky and Telescope Magazine and studied the glow-in-the-dark night sky charts until I knew all the Zodiac and the circumpolar sky, and then because I knew these stars, I began to easily discern “strange stars” moving through them which I knew and could identify because of their lack of twinkling and specific color as planets; Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. I saved up $29.95 and sent away for a small 4” Newtonian reflector telescope which I lugged up to the High School football field on clear nights and saw for the first time in my life the craters on the Moon, the crescent of Venus, the polar caps on the ruddy Mars, the unbelievable rings of Saturn; and most wonderful of all, I could clearly see the surface of the giant Jupiter, its cloud bands, red spot and the very four moons which Gallileo saw convincing him that they revolved around their planet and consequently we also revolved about the sun, which stirred up all kinds of Church resistance and censure. I was flabbergasted. It made me decide then and there that I wanted to become an astronomer.

In junior high school, I joined the AAVSO [American Association of Variable Star Observers] and I began to travel all by myself by public transportation from my home town into Cambridge and attended the weekly Thursday Night Lectures at Harvard Observatory. My mind was hungry to understand the Universe and its immensity. For the rest of my life, while not indeed becoming an astronomer, my fascination with the subject continued on into my teaching years, helping me to found an Astronomy Club and driving its young members to these same lectures for years. One night, a Harvard Astronomer, Robert Kirshner, gave us the greatest lecture I have ever heard when he broke the news to us that his team of Astronomers at Harvard had just made the greatest discovery in the history of Astrophysics. They discovered that our Universe is not just expanding, but it is accelerating in its expansion requiring a force we have never known to exist.

Our current knowledge indicates that our sun is one star of average proportions. The nearest star to our sun is 3.8 light-years away. That means that light, traveling at a speed of 186,000 miles/second [8.3 minutes from sun to earth] takes 3.8 years to get to us from this next nearest star. These two stars exist in what is called a galaxy, the Milky Way Galaxy, which it is estimated to contain 1011  [100,000,000,000] stars. Our sun is a star 1/3 of the way towards the center of the galaxy which is  100,000 light-years in diameter. It looks something like our nearest neighboring galaxy, The Andromeda Galaxy which is 2,000,000 light years away and is the furthest object visible to the naked eye as a faint hazy patch but which is really the nearby twin of our own galaxy.

Recently, NASA sent a telescope into outer space and took a 3600   video of our own Milky Way Galaxy from within where we are located. We have never been able to see this before because the earth under our feet prevents us from seeing the southern hemisphere’s portion of the Milky Way. Astrophysicists estimate that the total number of other galaxies in the Universe approaches 1010­ ­[10,000,000,000] with the furthest galaxies 13,700,000,000 light-years away from us. In other words, that is the estimated age of the Cosmos. Thus 13.7 billion years ago it is believed that the entire space-time/matter-energy Universe came into existence from a point of no dimensions! How ‘bout them apples! 

 I forgot to mention that back when I was a boy, my mother and dad indicated to me that a very important Person in our lives was God. We went to Mass every Sunday, confession before first Fridays and abstained from meat on that day. I attended public schools but I was required to attend “Sunday School” on Thursday afternoons at Saint Catherine of Sienna Parish School. I’d like to add that I paid close attention and learned a great deal there, however that would not be true. Actually, when the bell rang for classes, I stayed out on the basketball courts outside of the school and played with the Parochial School kids who didn’t have to go to Thursday classes. I guess I believed in God, but I considered God to be really upset by my attitude and was really going to ream me some day for my pagan ways. Years later, at the completion of my last year at Northeastern, two close friends of mine a year older than me had signed up to be voluntary lay mission teachers in Jamaica, WI, under the supervision of the New England Province of Jesuits. Sounding like the grand world tour I was unable to make, I signed up to go as well. Imagine my surprise when I was accepted for the program and traveled to Above Rocks, Jamaica and met the greatest man I was ever fortunate enough to work for, Father Sylvio Garavaglia, S.J. Three years later I entered a Trappist Monastery in Spencer, Massachusetts. Although I lasted five years there before returning to the world, it was a life changing time where I learned so much more about God. I say about because I was not yet ready to know God personally with faith. That has begun to come late in life I trust. I taught Scripture, Theology, Sexuality, Chemistry, Physics and math in 35 years at a boys’ Catholic high school outside of Boston, and I learned a lot more about God but I still didn't know God in any personal experiential way. I would see other people at prayer and I would assume their posture and try to grind out thoughts about God to which I would say lots and lots of words; mostly, " Forgive me God for being such a mealy mouth faker and for doing all the bad things I enjoy doing." For five years as a monk candidate I witnessed and heard from some of the most saintly people I would ever know. I read books by Thomas Merton and thought that I actually was living a similar life. Nonsense!

Then I left the monastery, got married, we had four children, I became a single Dad , and then I began to understand what life is. It is about failing. It is about needing help. It is worrying about your children, about their children, about being a failure at helping the ones you love and nearly giving up on ever achieving success in this life, and all the time wondering where the hell is this God that's supposed to be loving us? Does this sound familiar? It sounds something like Jesus on the cross , doesn't it? "Father, why have you forsaken me?"
At this point in my life something wonderful happened to me. One day I began to read the earliest written of the four Gospels, Mark, where Jesus opens his mouth and speaks for the very first time and says:"Metanoiete", a Greek word which should have been translated 'Change the way you think', instead of the way Saint Jerome translated it into Latin as "Poenimine"['Repent!']. The entire history of the Church pivoted on that error. To understand what Jesus said and meant to say would have otherwise been translated:"Change the way you think about reality, the present moment is the right time, the Kingdom of God is within you, believe this good news”.

From this time on I began to take seriously the belief that God is within me, closer to me than I am to myself. I no longer considered God to be at the end of the Cosmos somewhere outside me. I began also to believe that God is within every other person as well and that God in us reaches God in the other in this way.  From now on my prayer became real, personal and interior and when I did, all of Jesus' teachings on prayer became my belief.

Just as the entire Cosmos emerged from a point of no dimensions 13.7 billion years ago, God still emerges from the hearts of each and every one of us, God's children. Scientists can try to demand that I prove this from observable data; I say that's like the egg proving that the hen that laid it exists. It is not a question of "perceiving", nor of "conceiving"; but of "believing" first, just like I first believed in God because someone trustworthy told me to, and this is what Jesus, the most trustworthy said, "Believe this good news". 

Now the whole Cosmos means so much more to me than just a big place, it is a Sign of infinite Love and Generosity and Kenosis, a pouring out of oneself for the beloved. That's us.

                                                            Charlie Mc

Thursday, July 10, 2014



Mychal and Michael         
Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM                                                                                        Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM
 On September 11, 2001, the United States of America underwent a terrorist attack, with the catastrophic loss of nearly 3000 persons in New York City, Washington, D.C., and in Pennsylvania. One of the first bodies recovered was that of a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order whose name was Fr. Mychal Judge OFM ,a first responder with the men of the firehouse to which he was assigned as Chaplain.

Four days later, a funeral Mass was celebrated at Saint Francis of Assisi Church on W.31st St. The sermon for this memorial was given by  Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM.  

Father Mike Duffy came originally from the small hometown of Ashland, NH.   He graduated from Boston College in 1961 and joined a band of Lay Missionaries headed for the Jesuit mission in Jamaica, W.I.    Mike was a dorm prefect at Saint Mary's College in Above Rocks, fifteen miles into the hills of St. Catherine Parish. The school had been founded and built in the hill and gully country by one Jesuit pioneer, Father Edmund Cheney, S.J. In 1960, a true saintly Jesuit arrived as Pastor, Sylvio Garavaglia, S.J.   At the same time a nurse, Louise Reimann arrived from Switzerland to begin plans for a health care clinic to serve the needs of the impoverished but delightful Jamaicans in the surrounding area. During his year there, Michael was impacted by Father Garavaglia as all the teachers were, but Mike was called to make a retreat Our Lady of the Angels,  a Franciscan parish on the Spanish Town road from Kingston and his calling grew clearer to him.

Upon returning to the Sates,  Mike  entered the Franciscan Order and there he met Father Mychal Judge, OFM, who as with everyone else who met Michael, recognized the special gift of grace and goodness he had received. Ultimately, Michael was assigned to the Saint Francis Inn in the heart of Philadelphia and the rest is history. A more beloved Priest it would be impossible to find, and to read about his work in Philly click on the link,  The INN.

I will try to get Michael's permission to publish this story, but I think I will, with or without his OK. Would that the Catholic Church be blessed by an abundance of seminarians like Michael Duffy, OFM.
                                                              Charlie Mc 
Full text of Michael Duffy's Words:

Fr. Michael Duffy's Homily For Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM

September 15, 2001
by: Fr. Michael Duffy, OFM.
Your Eminence, Mr. President, our provincial Father John, family and friends of Mychal Judge, good morning everyone and welcome to this celebration. And it is a celebration. My first thought would be for Michael’s sisters, Dympna and Erin. Our hearts are with you all these days and in the days to come.
After all that has been written about Father Mychal Judge in the newspapers, after all that has been spoken about him on television, the compliments, the accolades, the great tribute that was given to him last night at the Wake Service, I stand in front of you and honestly feel that the homilist at Mother Teresa’s funeral had it easier than I do. [LAUGHTER]
We Franciscans have very many traditions. You, who know us, know that some are odd, some are good. I don't know what category this one fills. [LAUGHTER]
One of our traditions is that we’re all given a sheet of paper. The title on the top says, "On the Occasion of Your Death." Notice, it doesn’t say, in case you die. [LAUGHTER] We all know that it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. But on that sheet of paper lists categories that each one of us is to fill out, where we want our funeral celebrated, what readings we’d like, what music we’d like, where we’d like to be buried.
Mychal Judge filled out, next to the word homilist, my name, Mike Duffy. I didn’t know this until Wednesday morning. I was shaken and shocked … for one thing, as you know from this gathering, Mychal Judge knew thousands of people. He knew, he seemed to know everybody in the world. And if he didn’t then, they know him now, I’m sure. Certainly he had friends that were more intellectual than I, certainly more holy than I, people more well known. And so I sat with that thought, why me … and I came down to the conclusion that I was simply and solely his friend … and I’m honored to be called that.
I always tell my volunteers in Philadelphia that through life, you’re lucky if you have four or five people whom you can truly call a friend. And you can share any thought you have, enjoy their company, be parted and separated, come back together again and pick up right where you left off. They’ll forgive your faults and affirm your virtues. Mychal Judge was one of those people for me. And I believe and hope I was for him …
We as a nation have been through a terrible four days and it doesn’t look like it’s ending. Pope John Paul called Tuesday a dark day in the history of humanity. He said it was a terrible affront to human dignity. In our collective emotions, in our collective consciousness, all went through the same thing on Tuesday morning.
I was driving a van in Philadelphia picking up food for our soup kitchen, when I began to hear the news, one after another after another. You all share that with me. We all felt the same … It was at 2 o’clock in the afternoon that I came back to the soup kitchen, feeling very heavy with the day’s events. At 4:30, I received a call from Father Ron Pecci, my good friend. I was, we were serving the meal to the homeless. And I was called to the phone. And he said, "It’s happened." And I said, "What?" And he said, "Mychal Judge is dead."
At that moment, my already strained emotions did spiritually what the World Trade towers had done physically just hours before. And I felt inside … my whole spirit crumble to the ground and … turn into a pile of rubble at the bottom of my heart. I sat down on the stairs to the cellar, with the phone still to my ear and we cried for 15 minutes.
Later that day, I was in my room. I had my head in my hands, on my desk, and a very holy friar, whom I have the privilege to live with, Father Charlie Finnegan, just gently slipped a piece of paper in front of me and whispered, "This was written thousands of years ago in the midst of a national tragedy. It’s a quote from the Book of Lamentations." "The favors of the Lord are not exhausted. His mercies are not spent. Every morning, they are renewed. Great is his faithfulness. I will always trust in him." I read that quote and I pondered and listened, contemplated. I thought of other passages in the Gospel that said, evil will not triumph, that in the darkest hour when Jesus lay dying on the cross, that suffering led to the resurrection.
I read and thought that the light is better than darkness, hope better than despair. And in thinking of my faith and the faith of Mychal Judge and all he taught me and from scripture … I spiritually began to lift up my head and once again see the stars. And so, I had the courage today to stand in front of you to celebrate Mychal’s life. For it is his life that speaks, not his death. It is his courage that he showed on Tuesday that speaks, not my fear. And it is his hope and belief in the goodness of all people that speaks, not my despair. And so I am here to talk about my friend.
Because so much has been written about him, I’m sure you know his history. He was a New Yorker through and through. As you know, he was born in Brooklyn … He was born, well, some of you may not know this, he was a twin. Dympna is his twin … He was born May 11th, she was born May 13th. [LAUGHTER] Even in birth, Mychal had to have a story. [LAUGHTER] He just did nothing normally, no. [LAUGHTER]
He grew up in Brooklyn playing stickball and riding his bike like all the little kids then. Then, as you’ve heard the story so many times, he put the shoe polish, the rags in a bag and took his bicycle over here, and in front of the Flatiron building, he shined shoes for extra money, when he was a little kid. But very early on in his life, when he was a teenager, and this is a little unusual, because of the faith that he believed, that his mother and his sisters passed on to him, because of his love for God and Jesus, he thought he would like to be a Franciscan for the rest of his life. And so, as a teenager, he joined the friars. And he never left. He never left because his spirit was truly, purely Franciscan, simple, joyful, life loving and laughter. He was ordained in 1961 and spent many years as a parish priest in New Jersey, East Rutherford, Rochelle Park, West Milford. Spent some time at Siena College, one year I believe in Boston.
And then he came back to his beloved New York, whose heart really never left the city. But I came to know him ten years after he was ordained. I was ordained and this is a little ironic … My 30th anniversary of ordination was Tuesday, September 11th . This always was a happy day for me, and I think from now, it’s going to be mixed. But my first assignment was very happy. I was sent to East Rutherford, New Jersey, and Mychal was there working in parochial work. And of course, if you know in the seminary, we learned a lot of theory. We learn a lot of knowledge but you really have to get out with people to know how to deal and how to really minister. So, I arrived there with my eyes wide open, my ears wide open. And my model turned out to be Mychal Judge. He was, without knowing it, my mentor and I was his pupil. I watched how he dealt with people. He really was a people person. While the rest of us were running around organizing altar boys and choirs and liturgies and decorations, he was in his office listening. His heart was open. His ears were open and especially he listened to people with problems.
He carried around with him an appointment book. He had appointments to see people four and five weeks in advance. He would come to the rec room at night at 11:30, having just finished his last appointment, because when he related to a person, and you all know this, they felt like he was their best friend. When he was talking with you, you were the only person on the face of the earth. And he loved people and that showed and that makes all the difference. You can serve people but unless you love them, it’s not really ministry. In fact, a description that St. Bonaventure wrote of St. Francis once, I think is very apt for Michael. St. Bonaventure said that St. Francis had a bent for compassion. And certainly Mychal Judge did. The other thing about Mychal Judge is he loved to be where the action was. If he heard … a fire engine or a police car, any news, in the car he’d go and away he’d be off. He loved to be where people were active, where there was a crisis, so he could insert God in what was going on. That was his way of doing things.
I remember once I came back to the friary and the secretary told me, "There’s a hostage situation in Carlstadt and Mychal Judge is up there." So, I said, "Oh, gosh." Well, I got in the car … drove up there. There was a house and there was a man on the second floor with a gun pointed to his wife’s head and the baby in her arms. And he was threatening to kill her. When I got there, there were several people around, lights, policemen and a fire truck. And where was Mychal Judge? Up on the ladder in his habit, on the top of the ladder, talking to the man through the window of the second floor. I nearly died because in one hand he had his habit out like this, because he didn’t want to trip. So, he was hanging on the ladder with one hand. He wasn’t very dexterous, anyway. [LAUGHTER] I was fearful and he was, you know, his head bobbing like, "Well, you know, John, maybe we can work this out. You know, this really isn’t the way to do it. Why don’t you come downstairs, and we’ll have a cup of coffee and talk this thing over?" I was there, we’re all there, saying, "He’s going to fall off the ladder. There’s going to be a gunplay." Not one ounce of fear did he show. But he was telling him, "You know, you’re a good man, John. You don’t need to do this." I don’t know what happened, but he put the gun down and the wife and the baby’s lives were saved. But, of course, there were cameras there. [LAUGHTER] Where … wherever there was a photographer within a mile, you could be sure the lens was pointed at Mychal Judge. [LAUGHTER] In fact, we used to accuse him of paying The Bergen Record’s reporter to follow him around just to … [LAUGHTER]
Another aspect, a lesson that I learned from him, his way of life, is his simplicity. He lived very simply. He didn’t have many clothes. They were always pressed, of course, and clean but he didn’t have much, no clutter in his room, very simple room.
And he would say to me once in a while, "Michael Duffy," he always called me by my full name, "Michael Duffy, you know what I need?" And I would get excited because it was hard to buy him a present or anything. I said, "No, what?" "You know what I really need?" "No, what Mike?" "Absolutely nothing. [MURMURING] I don’t need a thing in the world. I am the happiest man on the face of the earth." And then he would go on for ten minutes, telling me how blessed he felt. "I have beautiful sisters. I have nieces and nephews. I have my health. I’m a Franciscan priest. I love my work. I love my ministry." And he would go on, and he would always conclude it by looking up to heaven and saying, "Why am I so blessed? I don’t deserve it. Why am I so blessed?" But that’s how he felt all his life.
Another characteristic of Mychal Judge, he loved to bless people, and I mean physically. Even if they didn’t ask … [LAUGHTER] A little old lady would come up to him and he’d talk to them, you know, as if they were the only person on the face of the earth. Then, he’d say, "Let me give you a blessing." He put his big thick Irish hands and pressed her head till I think the poor woman would be crushed, and he’d look up to heaven and he’d ask God to bless her, give her health and give her peace and so forth. A young couple would come up to him and say, "We just found out we’re going to have a baby." "Oh, that’s wonderful! That’s great!" He’d put his hand on the woman’s stomach, and call to God to bless the unborn child. When I used to take teenagers on bus trips, he would always be around when we left. He’d jump in the bus, lead the teenagers in prayer, and then bless them all for a safe and a happy time, wherever I was taking them. If a family were in crisis, the husband and wife, he would go up to them … and sometimes take both their hands at the same time, and put them right next to his and whisper a blessing that the crisis would be over.
He loved to bring Christ to people. He was the bridge between people and God and he loved to do that. And many times over the past few days, there’s been several people who have come up and said, Father Mychal did my wedding, Father Mychal baptized my child. Father Mychal came to us when we were in crisis. There are so many things that Father Mychal Judge did for people. I think there’s not one registry in a rectory in this diocese that doesn’t have his name in it for something, a baptism, a marriage or whatever.
But what you may not know, and I’d like to tell you today because this may console you a little, it really was a two-way street. You people think he did so much for you. But you didn’t see it from our side, we that lived with him. He would come home and be energized and nourished and thrilled and be full of life because of you.
He would come back and say to me, for instance, "I met this young man today. He’s such a good person. He has more faith in his little finger than I do in my own body. Oh, he’s such good people. Oh, they’re so great." Or, "I baptized a baby today." And just to see the new life, he’d be enthused and enthused. I want just to let you know, and I think he’d want me to let you know, how much you did for him. You made his life happy. You made him the kind of person that he was for all of us.
It reminds me of that very well known Picasso sketch of two hands holding a bouquet of flowers. You know the one I mean that there’s one bouquet, a small bouquet, it’s colorful and there’s a hand coming from the left side and a hand coming from the right side. Both of them are holding on to the bouquet. But the artist was clever enough to draw the hands in the exact same angle. So, you don’t know who’s receiving and who is giving. And it’s the same way that Mychal related to people. You should know how much you gave to him, and it was that love that he had for people, and that way of relating to him, that led him back to New York City and to become part of the fire department …
He loved his fire department and all the men in it. He’d call me late at night and tell me all the experiences that he had with them, how wonderful they were, how good they were. It was never so obvious that he loved a group of people so much as his New York firefighters. And that’s the way he was when he died.
On Tuesday, one of our friars, Brian Carroll, was walking down Sixth Avenue and actually saw the airplane go overhead at a low altitude. And then a little further, he saw smoke coming from one of the trade towers. He ran into the friary. He ran into Mychal Judge’s room and he says, "Mychal, I think they’re going to need you. I think the World Trade tower is on fire." Mychal was in his habit. So, he jumped up, took off his habit, got his uniform on, and I have to say this, in case you really think he’s perfect, he did take time to comb and spray his hair. [LAUGHTER]
But just for a second, I’m sure … He ran down the stairs and he got in his car and with some firemen, he went to the World Trade towers … While he was down there, one of the first people he met was the mayor, Mayor Giuliani, and he, the mayor last night, said, Mychal Judge ran by him and he, the mayor, just put his hand on his shoulder and said, "Mychal, please pray for us." And Mychal turned and with that big Irish smile said, "I always do." And then kept on running with the firefighters into the building. While he was ministering to dying firemen, administering the Sacrament of the Sick and Last Rites, Mychal Judge died. The firemen scooped him up to get him out of the rubble and carried him out of the building and wouldn’t you know it? There was a photographer there. That picture appeared in The New York Times, The New York Daily News and USA Today on Wednesday, and someone told me last night that People magazine has that same picture in it. I bet he planned it that way. [LAUGHTER]
But you know when you step back and see how my friend Mychal died, I’m sure that when we finish grieving, when all this is over and we can put things in perspective, look how that man died. He was right where the action was, where he always wanted to be. He was praying, because in the ritual for anointing, we’re always saying, Jesus come, Jesus forgive, Jesus save. He was talking to God, and he was helping someone. Can you honestly think of a better way to die? I think it was beautiful.
The firemen took his body and because they respected and loved him so much, they didn’t want to leave it in the street. So, they quickly carried it into a church and not just left it in the vestibule, they went up the center aisle. They put the body in front of the altar. They covered it with a sheet. And on the sheet, they placed his stole and his fire badge. And then they knelt down and they thanked God. And then they rushed back to continue their work.
And so, in my mind … I picture Mychal Judge’s body there in that church in the sanctuary, realizing that the firefighters brought him back to the Father in the Father’s house. And the words that come to me, "I am the Good Shepherd, and the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep ... Greater love than this no man hath than to lay down his life for his friends. And I call you my friends." …
And so I make this statement to you this morning that Mychal Judge has always been my friend. And now he is also my hero.
Mychal Judge’s body was the first one released from Ground Zero. His death certificate has the number one on the top … and I meditated on that fact of the thousands of people that we are going to find out who perished in that terrible holocaust … Why was Mychal Judge number one? And I think I know the reason. I hope you’ll agree with me. Mychal’s goal and purpose in life at that time was to bring the firemen to the point of death, so they would be ready to meet their maker. There are between two and three hundred firemen buried there, the commissioner told us last night.
Mychal Judge could not have ministered to them all. It was physically impossible in this life but not in the next. And I think that if he were given his choice, he would prefer to have happened what actually happened. He passed through the other side of life, and now he can continue doing what he wanted to do with all his heart. And the next few weeks, we’re going to have names added, name after name of people, who are being brought out of that rubble. And Mychal Judge is going to be on the other side of death … to greet them instead of sending them there. And he’s going to greet them with that big Irish smile … he’s going to take them by the arm and the hand and say, "Welcome, I want to take you to my Father." … And so, he can continue doing in death what he couldn’t do in life …
And so, this morning … we come to bury Mike Judge’s body but not his spirit. We come to bury his mind but not his dreams. We come to bury his voice but not his message. We come to bury his hands but not his good works. We come to bury his heart but not his love. Never his love.
And so, I think … we his family, friends and those who loved him should return the favor that he so often did to us. All of us have felt his big hands at a blessing that he would give to us. I think right now, it would be so appropriate if we called on what the liturgy tells us we are, a royal priesthood and a holy nation. And we … give Mychal a blessing as he returns to the Father.
So, I’d ask you now could you all please stand. And could you raise your right hand and extend it towards my friend Mychal and repeat after me.
FR. DUFFY Mychal, may the Lord bless you. CONGREGATION Mychal, may the Lord bless you. FR. DUFFY May the angels lead you to your Savior. CONGREGATION May the angels lead you to your Savior. FR. DUFFY You are a sign of his presence to us. CONGREGATION You are a sign of his presence to us. FR. DUFFY May the Lord now embrace you. CONGREGATION May the Lord now embrace you. FR. DUFFY And hold you in his love forever. CONGREGATION And hold you in his love forever. FR. DUFFY Rest in peace. Amen. CONGREGATION Rest in peace. Amen. FR. DUFFY Thank you.
*—Delivered by Fr. Michael A. Duffy, O.F.M., Director of St. Francis Inn, Philadelphia, Pa., at the Mass of Christian Burial for Fr. Mychal F. Judge, O.F.M., 10:30 a.m., Saturday, September 15, 2001, St. Francis of Assisi Church, 135 West 31st Street, New York, N.Y. Edward Cardinal Egan, Presider. Vested concelebrants: Fr. John M. Felice, O.F.M, Provincial Minister, Holy Name Province; Fr. Peter V. Brophy, O.F.M., Pastor; Fr. Myles P. Murphy, St. Gabriel Church, Bronx, N.Y. (cousin).




Friday, July 4, 2014

The Signmaker

The Signmaker

Image credit: Ben Canales

“Make us a sign,” the skeptics said,
          “Make us a sign that in-forms us,
One that reveals who you are.
          If God be the power
And you claim to be God,
          Make us a sign of your power.
Do us a demonstration,
          Walk on water…again;
Save us from pain and death,
          And for Christ’s sake
Don’t let us be alone and lonely;
          Our strength comes from without,
So don’t abandon us to ourselves!”

He drew into the hills to pray alone,
          And as he did He proclaimed:
The Kingdom is within,
          Our Father, who is within you;
You are called to signify this,
          Become a sign of heaven within,
For the power of God is Love,
          For God is Love;
Love without, is love within.

Emptiness…is where the Real is.
       Don’t run from the emptiness,
Don’t solid-fill it;
       Steer by it, as by the North Star,
Make it your bone, your skeleton, your Rock.

For He said,
“The Kingdom of Heaven is within you,”
       Where the emptiness is;
Punch through to the empty center
       And make it your axis.
“Very early in the morning,
       Long before daybreak
He left the house,
       Went out to a lonely place,
An empty place…
       Where He prayed.”
May I come with you?
 For the Kingdom of Heaven

 Is NO “where”;
     NO “place”,
     NO “time”;     
            NO “thing”.

 “Foxes have holes, birds have nests,
  The Son of Man has
     nowhere to lay his head.”

                                       Charlie Mc

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Now! Here! This!

                                            NOW! HERE! THIS!
The Gospel according to Mark, in the opinion of most reputable biblical scholars, was the first of the four Gospels to be written. It was believed to have been written in Rome sometime between 65-75AD while the Jewish-Roman War (66-70, 73AD) was being waged in Palestine at the completion of which Jerusalem lay in charred ruins and its greatest Temple of Herod the Great was desecrated in August of 70AD after a three month siege of the city wherein, according to the historian Flavius Josephus, nearly 1,000,000 died. Three years later a thousand Zealots and families  died on Masada while under siege by Flavius Silva and the 10th Legion.  Nero, who died by forced suicide in 68AD, was the first of two Roman Emperors to be referred to as the Beast in the New Testament Book of Revelation. The number number 666 was assigned to him as these numbers were arrived at by adding up the numerical value of the Hebrew name KSR NRN (Caesar Nero), .

Before Nero died, he oversaw a severe persecution of the young Jewish-Christian community in Rome including the execution of their leaders,  Peter and Paul. He also, it is believed, began a fire to rid Rome of the squalor of the city inhabited by these poor Christians. When the fire burned back on some of his own property he blamed the fire on the Christians and began a persecution.

A follower of the Christian sect who was regarded as a leader began to put down in writing many of the narratives and events of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. No doubt he risked his life with this activity and revealed matters in a manner which would not bring down excessive reprisals against the struggling young community. Mark’s Gospel begins with what I consider to be his essential message, his “good news” which he asked his disciples to proclaim as their vocation.

The very first chapter of his work, contains at the beginning Jesus’ “Keynote Address” to his followers:
 “Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the good news of  God and saying: ‘The present moment is the right time; the Kingdom of God is within you; change the way you think about reality and believe this good news.’”[Mk. 1:15-16]

Just imagine if Mark had been arrested and unable to write any more about Jesus’ life or teachings. Imagine if the persecution of Christians had been such that only this fragment of Mark was all that was saved of the New Testament. It is my opinion that this is the essential “good news” to a world which from the beginning had been seeking for a God “outside” of them.

Another very early source of Christian scriptures, Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, emphasizes the importance of this same truth when he writes:
" God gave me the task…of proclaiming his message,
which is the secret he hid through all past ages from all mankind but has now revealed to his people. God’s plan is to make known his secret to his people, this rich and glorious secret which he has for all peoples.  And the secret is that Christ is in you. "   (Colossians 1:25-  27)

And Paul presents a test of our faith:

 “Put yourselves to the test and judge yourselves,   to find out whether you believe. Surely you know that Christ Jesus is in you? – unless you have completely failed.   (2 Cor. 13:5).
I was never one to enjoy reading all of the Bible over and over again to achieve some kind of great familiarity with the entire work so as to be able to quote passage, chapter and verse to amaze my hearers, to somehow compare myself favorably to others so as to make some kind of great impression upon their lives. As I grew older, nearing my present 76 years, I preferred instead to grow more silent in my prayer, not listening for some celestial voice or seeking some astounding vision, instead I simply settled back and accepted this primary truth, the kingdom of God is within me, and my job was to shut up and BE with God within me, not because I know it but because I believe it. To help me focus on this reality, I slowly repeat Jesus’ first words in Mark. I quietly say: 

“The present moment is the right time;
Change the way you think about reality,
For the kingdom of God is within you,
Believe this good news!”

Then I even more quietly say: “I do believe you, Jesus.”
I keep repeating this and believing this, then I say that it is true of every person who has ever lived on earth. Then I say it whenever I see any person, no matter who. It is praying that I can do everywhere and at all times with no strain. So belief comes before knowledge. Belief is a gift which if we do not have it, we can ask for it from a Father who is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Somehow, I believe that this is Jesus’ good news, to which we have added millions of words of preaching, theology and arguments which do nothing but make us afraid of God and feeling that God doesn’t care or doesn’t even exist.  Professionals sometimes make laity feel like ignoramuses when they tell them to live in fear of eternal damnation and to fear god above all. That’s not Jesus’ Father.

I believe that sincere spiritual Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, Orthodox and Roman Catholics can all move towards union if a new look were given to the proponents of contemplative prayer as witnessed by the Dalai Lama, Thomas Keating, Daisetz Suzuki, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhardt, the Desert fathers and mystics eastern and Western, and even by that greatest of all theologians who died in the silence of a Cistercian monastery by choice, Thomas Aquinas.

These men focused on the sacrament of the present moment, in silent meditation in faith, in hope  and in love of God. And when each dealt with his/her neighbor, it is God acting through one to God within the other at work. We are not islands, but channels. The human person is a channel of Divinity, not a closed end container to be filled up.

Modern scientific research seeks truth through observable phenomena. As with doubting Thomas in the Gospel of John we often are urged to say “seeing IS believing”. As with modern day astrophysical exploration, the closer we get to the origins of our Cosmos, the more we perceive it disappearing into a point of no dimensions, a “no thing”, “no where”, in “no time”. We cannot see the First Cause, and because of that we can really say nothing about it. We can reason to its existence, but are not equipped to perceive it, or conceive of it, but are able only to believe in It. Thus as we read Jesus’ opening good news, we are asked to believe that the Kingdom of God is present within us here and now, and with this belief we are asked to pray according to his instructions: 
 “When you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen. And your Father,
who sees what you do in secret, will reward you.”
           (Mt. 6:6)    
One of the greatest obstacles facing Roman Catholics in embracing this understanding of the good news is the long history of battling heresies as they arose which stemmed mainly from theological disputes which the average believer could not understand. That is the very point. To strive to understand Jesus’ message and adequately define matters beyond conceptualization is not primarily what Jesus seemed to want us to do, but rather to believe what he said.  
It is as Saint Augustine wrote:
“Credo ut intelligam; et intelligo ut credam”
[“I believe in order to understand, and
understand in order to believe”]

 So, first pray that you might believe, in the “now”, the “here” and the “this”; then breathe, let your thoughts come and be flushed, go to the center of your being and BE there with your Father who loves you. Do this at every opportunity and you will possess the “pearl of great price."

I had just one desire—to give myself entirely to God. So I headed for the monastery. An old monk asked me, "What is it you want?  I said, "I just want to give myself to God. I expected him to be gentle, fatherly, but he shouted at me,"NOW!" I was stunned. He shouted again,"NOW!" Then he reached for a club and came after me. I turned and ran. He kept coming after me, brandishing his club and shouting, "Now, Now!  That was years ago. He still follows me, wherever I go.   Always that stick,  always that “NOW!”
                                                                            Charlie Mc