Sunday, August 20, 2017

Heavenly helpers

     My Uncle Dave, my Moms brother and a Catholic priest, was an emormous influence on my life. Many a week did I spend reading through books he would have nonchalantly left on a counter for 'anyone interested' while I was growing up. They were mostly spiritual classics and lives of the saints. In grammar school we moved into the same parish he was stationed and each Saturday he led my girlfriends and me in devotion to the rosary through the sodality he ran. In High School he was the chaplain at Sacred Heart Academy, my philosphy teacher, and he also took me to Lourdes and Paris. a few years later, just after my dad had died, he took me on a trip to Medjugorje where I met my Freddy. To say he was formative in my life is putting it mildly.

     Story has it that he was born into the first Little Flower parish in Brooklyn, NY soon after St. Therese was canonized. When my grandmother Ellen Graham Farley gave birth, the nuns told her he would have a vocation to the priesthood. My grandmother had great devotion to St Therese all through her life, as did my own mom. My grandmother prayed for my uncles vocation particularly to the Little Flower.  If ever my mom was particulalry worried about something, she would pray to the Little Flower, St Therese,  and she'd sometimes take out an envelope and give it to you to place under your pillow during the novena prayers. Inside the envelope were the petals of a rose that my grandmother had recieved after praying a novena to St Therese in answer to prayer for my Uncles vocation.

     As a child I was fascinated by that envelope, though I only saw it a few times, as it was precious to my Mom. I can still see the beautiful handwriting belonging to my grandmother in my minds eye, and I can feel the temptation to open it and look at the flowers that were sent as a heavenly sign. I do not know where that envelope went after my Mom passed away, but I hope one of my siblings has it.  St Therese has remained a favorite saint for all of my siblings and for me as well. My sisters all have her name in one form or another either at birth, or in conformation. She's a reliable  family go-to. A regular in all our family litanies. Saints are like that sometimes, they choose you long before you choose them.

     My John-Paul headed off to the minor seminary today. He is many years away from making a decision to the priesthood, but one large step closer than he was yesterday. This isn't a huge surprise for anyone who knows JP. We've had inklings of it since he was about seven. John-Paul was the last child in our family that my Uncle Dave baptized. John-Pauls middle name is David in his honor. My Mom  and my uncle were both thrilled when they found we chose John-Paul as his name, though Fred and I argued about it. My obstinate Fred said the Pope was  already a saint, and I argued he wasn't official yet and that a child should be named after a canonized saint. Fred said our JP would just have to wait. I finally gave in.

      My Uncle Dave died on Divine Mercy Sunday when my John-Paul was just a baby. Pope John-Paul II died on Divine Mercy Sunday 2005 when my John-Paul was almost 8. Its been my opinion my son was named after two saints not one.John-Paul happily celebrated when Pope John-Paul was canonized in 2014 after hearing his own name story for so many years.

     I am meandering through this strange tale because I think its important to remember how often our faith has been first entrusted to us by our families. Those who love and go before us so often shape who we are, and how we come to know a loving God and Father. God sows seeds and if we watch, and watch closely, sometimes we see them sprout up. God finds ways to speak to us if we have the ears to hear (Matthew 11:15).

     Today I couldn't help but listen. John-Paul spent the summer working on his application. I have never seen so much paperwork in my life. No need to worry about the current screening process, its tighter than a jar of peanut butter at a squirrels convention. It was a long process and exhausting at times. Then, finally, one day about 3 weeks ago- acceptance.

     We had spent so much time on the paperwork, that when he finally was accepted I gulped hard and realized he'd be gone in a few weeks.  I asked him when he was entering, he told me August 20th. I gulped harder, my Moms birthday.

     So, this morning I woke up, on what would have been my moms 90th birthday, and I told her in my prayers that today I supposed I had a chance to give her one last birthday gift, my John-Paul. I pushed back the tears for the sake of the younger kids, and helped JP pack his bags into his car. Then we all drove to DC and unpacked him, and met fellow seminarians, and  formators and priests, and ate some cookies and prayed Vespers before hugging our third son goodbye.
     If I'm unable to do a good Irish goodbye, I at least opt for a quick one, and today was no different. We were off as quickly as possible. The kids cried and we talked them through it, and reminded them he wasn't going so far like Peter, but would come back soon and visit. I texted my sisters from the car, and they all, so faithfully, cried along with me. As we drove Fred said we should do something cheery to lift thekids  up a bit and so we stopped for dinner at a Chinese place they all love.

     When we stepped from the car and I was confronted with an entire hedgerow of pink and red roses. It almost knocked me over. Sophie ran over to look at all the roses with her sisters.  I felt as though St. Therese had never made herself so clear to me in all my life. And so on our way out of the restaurant, when we were all in better spirits, I asked Fred to pick me three roses. When I got home tonight, I cut the petals from the roses and I placed them in an envelope and wrote in my best handwriting "In answer to prayer from the Little Flower", and I sealed it. Tonight, I will place it under my pillow, tomorrow I will put it away for safeguarding with memories that mark this day as a blessed one.

Friday, June 16, 2017

On grandmothering


  This is Philip. He is my first grandson. He was born 2 days ago, and I had the privlege of being there to witness his entrance into the world.  Of course you all know what people say about being at the birth of a child.
Its a miracle
         This is all true, but Philips birth was not the most memorable part of the day for me. Somewhere shortly after he was born and the doctors and nurses were able to determine that all was well, they left the room. It was semi-dark and quiet. No more monitors beeping or electronic sounds buzzing. Philip was crying and his very new parents were introducing themselves to him. I sat back intentionally silent, and tried to keep myself still and as invisible as possible, moving only to capture a photo now and again. Their voices were sweet and full of emotion as they said his name to him and whispered words of love and calm into his tiny new flesh. They answered  him in sing-songy voices and gentle touches and breaths as he called to them in that primal language of cries.

        I have done this with my husband ten times now. I have heard Freds voice rise and fall to the new face of a son or daughter. I have whispered I love yous over and over to fresh ears. But I never realized that it was in those moments that a family was born. It comes after the birth, and before the utter exhaustion of newborn life. It comes in a promise we make to these tiny fragile little creatures who depend on us for every single thing.

       I saw this on Wednesday with fresh eyes in my own son and his bride. It was so striking. I felt as if my soul was lifted along with them as I witnessed the love shared between them and Philip. Andrews eyes filled with tears of joy and Rachels closed as she kissed his newborn forehead over and over. They drank him in and nestled him close to their hearts. I was keenly aware of how powerful the love they now held for him actually was. The words of Song of Songs came to my mind:

                                               For love is as strong as death
                             its jealousy unyielding like the grave
                                  It burns like a blazing fire
                                      Like a mighty flame
                             Many waters cannot quench love
                                 rivers cannot sweep it away
                                     ( Song of Songs 8:6-7) 

           I witnessed the birth of a family. The flicker of this powerful force as its tiny embers were being blown on and kindled in the sweet voices that now shelter it. I had hoped to be a help to Rachel as she labored and delievered her first son. Instead, she and Andrew were a help to me. They allowed me to see  the past from a new perspective; conjuring the births of my own children and those precious first moments I have shared with my husband. I found an incredible gratitude in my heart in seeing this new generation begin again that tireless work of being a christian family. They will take the flame and pass the faith. The faith we sheltered in our hearts for them in those first moments of their lives is now shaping itself into a new hope for the age that they are called to.

       I am a very new grandmother. But this new role seems to be  filled with  promise.