Archive for the ‘Personal Growth’ Category

“Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”

September 11, 2010

Rob and Rocky Rallying Help for Paralyzed


Reflection: “For it is in giving that we receive”…………..(Francis of Assisi)   

I recently picked up a nice brand spanking new book called: Time: Haiti-Tragedy and Hope (Time Inc 2010) The opening lines of the book jacket struck hard like a hammer to my head: Check out these words-that shake like an earthquake? “Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”….. ….”And on January 12, 2010, that is exactly what happened to Haiti, the poorest nation in the western hemisphere….. Immediately, the scale of the tragedy was apparent, a nation already so often on its knees had been knocked to the ground…….” Reflection: So often we hear the empty unreassuringly shallow words of well-meaning bystanders,–“God only gives a person as much suffering as he or she can bear”………….   

I have often heard a response by those who receive this advice shake their heads and wonder, “Can God really somehow help me sustain the strength I need to go on?” How can I go on? I really don’t know the way. So many ask,–“Can God give more than shares of tragedy to the weak”? Yes, I believe so, God gives Community, a spirit of solidarity with brothers and sisters. And more, God inspires some an ability for the embracing of misery with compassionate forbearance. The Holy Spirit is connected and reaches out in humble dignity from the despair to connect upwards with the wonderful and beautiful gift of hope upon hope. Beyond platitudes, beyond token gifts of a few dollars, solidarity of standing beside the struggling and suffering is the great gift that counsels more than words and gestures can offer. My lament in discovering the inner workings of tragedy of football catastrophic injury and paralysis is that–the deeper tragedy of the boys and families–who wallow in a position of poverty, disconnect from community…yes…..can bear it least…….is being alone!   

In fact for 11 years I have seen the tears, the struggle, of those who could bear it least, too often alone, distanced by safe- seeking others. We who take the time to witness the plight of the tragedy—deeply appreciate and admire how some mightily and quietly bear up…..(in their lives of quiet desperation) We notice the effects of refreshment like a drink of water for the thirsty living in the desert are boosted by small little rays of sunshine because a very few ones on occasion demonstrate some amount of care…..   

Who will rally from the comfort of apathy and complacency and cynicism and skepticism and hear the calling to move paralysis along? Who is not intimidated by overwhelming obstacles and sure and certain pathways of more despair without relief?   

“Tragedy often has a way of visiting those who can bear it least”……….   

Tragedy is being alone in the midst of a community.


Can there be:Good Suffering? and Good Grief?

May 3, 2010
What a strange combination of words I selected for my title of this brief essay. I suspect that the words do not seem comfortable together. Creative and good are compatible, but they seem to be hardly at peace with suffering? Hmmm let’s explore this challenging thought for a moment.  The message of creative good suffering seems so filled with possibilities. The words together seem to portray my deep hope. Yes, I hope that somewhere deep within each of us we possess the transformative power, gumption and resilience to be so optimistic to think that we can create a mindset that can turn suffering into something good for ourselves and others. I suppose that this challenge comes from deep within my heart, spirit and soul and perhaps had its profound origin in 1988 when Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, the Archbishop of Chicago, laid hands on me and bestowed the gift of Deacon Holy Orders. He challenged me to be a herald of good news. For the best part of some twenty years I have truly enjoyed creating good news in the face of happy times which is easy, and I worked hard at creatively finding the elusive silver lining when the dark clouds of storms and life’s disasters loom heavy all about.
In worse case scenario situations I have seen death and near death and in the midst of the suffering I have also seen never failing seeds of light, hope and redemption. Yes, I truly believe the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete visits our hearts when invited, when we call out in agony, or pleading intercession. I admit, sometimes it takes creativity to see a pathway out of misery, dark valleys and the shadows of death and pain pressing down on our soul. Creativity can truly bring us out of despair. I find it so uplifting and true: “Suffering may be inevitable, but misery is optional.” Creativity is a gift, an antidote to the toxic poison of suffering in despair alone with no place to go.  Most recently I walked the creative suffering journey of hope with my younger brother who bravely struggled with five cancer locations that wracked his body with agony. The Holy Spirit embraced us until a week ago when this valiant warrior with amazing holy gumption proclaimed creative good suffering news: “I think I am dying, and it is OK.” Our creative good suffering strategy he and I crafted was to pray for a miracle, trust God, embrace each other until the pain goes away, and hope for the best. Creativity helped us develop the strategy: “Either way we win.” His heavenly Easter was a winning homecoming celebration because he creatively invented that reality. His funeral mass was good suffering because God helped us make it that way. His gumption and faith inspire me onward to keep creatively passing on hope.
Five boys who became my friends and teachers broke their necks playing high school football. Now young men, they continue to teach me profound insights and lessons about gumption, resilience and creative good suffering. One quadriplegic boy told me tearfully that once he had wanted to be a car mechanic when he grew up. With a smile and peace that is beyond all human understanding he told me; “Now, with God’s grace and the help of the Holy Spirit I am content and delighted to be a mechanic of the mind, heart, spirit and soul.” He laughed when he said, “Being this kind of mechanic is truly a sufficiently demanding, creative, full-time job.” He went on to share, “It takes real creativity and talent to restore the wreck of a totally paralyzed body that must breathe assisted by a mechanical ventilator. It is hard facing the suffering reality that I can do almost nothing for myself.”  Yes, I am confident in knowing that there is good news: creative good suffering is possible.  I have seen miracle transformations fueled by holy gumption faith, and resilience overpower ordinary suffering.
In her very creative and popular book: “Eat, Pray,Love,” author Elizabeth Gilbert takes the reader on a whirlwind, global journey as she attempts to transform an emergent life of painful suffering into something better. Her book gives another witness to the elusive and holy power of transforming pain into creative good suffering. Check out Gilbert’s lecture on the Internet: TED, She gives a powerful witness and a good solid lesson on how to be resilient when faced with suffering that threatens to break your heart and soul. Yes, I am convinced that holy gumption and bounce come from the Holy Spirit. We each have the opportunity to use it, or lose it. Deacons need it, everybody needs it. Pass on the good news, won’t you?

The Gifts of Native American Spirituality and Grief Rituals that Help

December 22, 2009

In her book, Broken Open, How Difficult Times Can Help us Grow, Elizabeth Lesser describes a beautiful ritual for those that face grieving, suffering and broken heart. (pp 214-215)

She describes: Ed Benedict a Native American leader from the Mohawk Nation once leading a condolence ritual at the Omega institute-and gave her a doeskin pouch, dove feather, and a clay bowl used for the ceremony:

“Some of you have suffered the loss of a loved one. Perhaps it is something else that has caused you pain. It may be that your eyes have been clouded over by tears that you can no longer see the beauty of the creator. Perhaps the soreness of the grief that you have suffered through your eyes now blocks your vision. If this is the case, I offer you in symbolism a white doeskin that I take from the sky of the Creator. The skin of the doe is soft and comforting and with it wipe the tears of soreness of old wounds from your eyes, so that you may see clearly once again.

(Touch the doeskin to your eyes)

I fear that you have suffered the loss of a loved one. Perhaps you may have suffered many losses. It may be that the cries of grief now echo in your ears so that you no longer hear properly. If this is the case, I offer a white feather—a gift from the Creator—that I take from the sky. I take this feather and in symbolism I will clear the cries of grief from your ears, that the silence may rest and comfort you and that you have hear properly once again.

(Touch the feather to your ears)

It may be that you have suffered the loss of a loved one, perhaps something else caused you pain. If this is the case, perhaps you have uttered many cries of grief and done much weeping and a great sob has become lodged in your throat. This may be keeping you from speaking the truth of the Creator. If this is the case, I will reach into the sky and take for you a bowl of pure water. This water is sweet and pure and comes from the Creator. It will wash the lump of grief from your throat so that once again you may speak clearly and properly.

(Hold the bowl to the mouth and drink the water)

All of these things are offered to you in symbolism that you may be relieved of the pain of whatever losses you have suffered, that once again we may join hands and with open hearts and minds offer gratitude for this day to the Creator.


The Spirituality of Rejection and Dejection: Navigating Back from “Poor Me”

November 27, 2009

Passsion of the Cross

I just heard the news that a grant that we had applied for to help us in our ministry to bring the “good news” to those who are deaf was rejected. I am working through feelings of disappointment and suffering. Two books that I am reading give me strength and resolve to help conquer the feelings of hurt, pain, rejection and dejection. I want to share some insights that are part of my spirituality and prayer process in search of resilience. I have a hunch that so many of us have dark periods of rejection and face situations that require an adjustment.

In healthy moments, ideally, we seek a pathway to right ourselves when life takes a turn toward, “topsy turvey.” I enter into prayer, listening for God to speak to my heart. This is the message I heard: ” Yes, that’s life, that’s what the people say..”You just dust yourself off and get back in the race-that’s life, -that’s what the people say”….. (Frank Sinatra style motivation)

After a fall, when our hearts are broken and we are ready for healing, we must, “dust ourselves off and get back in the race.. But how? How can we find the strength?

Today, the central message of two books offer a compass and fire to help me navigate through my suffering troubled waters. I will briefly share how these tools assist my recovery. The first book is:  Teresa’s Secret Fire by, Joseph Langford. The second is Perseverance: True Voices of Cancer Survivors by, Carolyn Rubenstein. The books seem to provide good medicine for my woundedness. I hope they can offer an uplifting message to my readers of this humble blog.

We are each called to be, “leaders”. Essentially, we must first attend to and lead our own decisions, hopes and dreams. At the end of the day, we must recognize our responsibility to take charge of our lives-take a stand. In the book by Langford about Mother Teresa, he describes a poignant  epiphany that helped guide and define her life. I will recollect here and recount an episode shared that takes place on the train  when,–then young Sister Teresa and God had a conversation. In this exchange it was discerned that she was to turn away from her role as nun in a school and her current context. Teresa was nudged to turn and become, no longer sister Teresa . She was being called to enter into a new role, to invent the new-mother—Mother Teresa. “Leader Teresa.”

Apparently, God called her and offered a message. Mother Teresa heard God’s desire to be close to His people and love them. She heard God say….”I thirst”—God thirsts. Mother interpreted that Jesus’s words in the cross-“I thirst”,  reflected the Divine.  Mother Teresa heard the message addressed to her. She perceived that her task was to discern–What to do about God’s thirst?- This pathway to find that response, became her new vocation. She was driven to explore the fire and drive, her motivation and direction for her life as one called to be helping God, –a God who thirsted for his people.

Today as a tradition of the order, appearing on all of the walls of the living quarters of the Sisters of Charity is inscribed the words, “I thirst”. This short message became an important and defining spiritual tool. Those who know God’s thirst go out and bring  about something to help and address that thirst. Mother went out to the dying of Calcutta and brought those who were hopeless towards quenching the thirst of God. In this act of love, Mother understood her mission was to connect the thirsty humanity, thirsting for love and for meaning in life and more, and connect them with a God thirsty to offer compassion healing, peace harmony and more.

Turning back to my need to find a way out of my suffering, I can see that I too am called to be a leader. God thirsts, and I am called to bring God’s ‘little ones’ to Him. There is no time for distraction I reason. God is telling me that it is time to move on and get on with finding my way. I have been given the compass of right soul’s direction. I thank Mother Teresa, God and author: Father Langford for this message that energizes my recovery.

The second book I want to share with readers is written by Rubenstein. It is is an anthology of stories that offers a jolt that helps shape my daily walk. Rubenstein’s biographical sketches describe the tactics used by cancer survivors to endure and transcend the tortures. These stories  inspire me greatly. Reading about the personal strength it requires to squarely face the realities of a cancer diagnosis and squarely face tortuous surgery, radiation and chemo,– touch me deeply. In the telling of the stories, I perceive the hand of God extended so graciously to touch and love the afflicted.

Transformation of the heart and adjustment to adversity requires clear thinking and faith. Spirituality and perseverance seems to be sufficient to help carry the day. The book and the stories in tandem with Mother Teresa’s Fire, help turn my head away from, looking back–and behind…pondering yesterday’s bad news. Now, with the grace of God  I get on the pathway and walk in faith and in solidarity—toward the light–toward the fire–toward life.

We are not meant to suffer alone. The authors have helped provide a community of wisdom available to me. God,  can transcend the hurt, and help me move on, “dusting myself off and get back in the race. Yes, rejection and momentary defeat– “that’s life, that’s what the people say…….

Most importantly you and I know what Mother Teresa lived out in her unique and wonderful way:—-God thirsts for the broken to be healed. You and I have work to do?

Jesus-Teaches About Status and the “Little Ones”

September 21, 2009

Mk 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.

They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
They had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in the their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”: 30-37


Last week-I got an email from a very proud grandpa and grandma-It was a extra nice birth announcement. Obviously, they were popping their buttons with happiness. The note started like so many: “Parents: Bill and Mary; Grandparents; Ed and Sue,– proudly announce that little Johnny came bouncing into the world at 11:31 September 16, at 7 pounds,1 ounce–a beautiful baby boy. Mom and baby are doing well. Dad too!

The E-mail went on to a surprise ending….”We offer prayers of thanksgiving.  Can we ask a favor? We invite prayers for the family. Johnny was born with Down’s syndrome. They close with….”We all eagerly can’t wait to discover the gifts that Johnny will bring our way.”

These pretty smart Christian Grandparents seem to really, deep down, get the heart Jesus’ gospel message: To meet life’s challenges it will take prayer and focus to keep the game of life simple enough to what to know, and do. Simple, innocent, al about optimism, focus on the “other”

Living the so-called game of living a “good Christian life” can be very daunting. We are taught and reminded the virtues of loving our enemies, forgive the unforgivable, avoid status and power, and be selfless like Jesus. How can you and I avoid the trap that the disciples described in today’s Gospel fell into,- as they argued about who deserved the title of being the greatest?

Jesus in Mark’s very familiar Gospel passage today points to the ideal of the innocence surrounding “little ones”. Jesus tries to help his disciples avoid the too tempting practice of human pride and personal aggression.  Jesus states the rules of the Christian game of life is to live for the other,- as he does. Jesus’ disciples aren’t immune to the sin of pride.

Many of today’s Kids seem to be taught by the global culture to be #1 in everything: first in the class; most likely to succeed; best job; most beautiful or handsome, best clothes, best toys, become the best mom and dad; compete to be the best and the brightest at everything. As Vince Lombardi preaches in the Gospel ethic of sports proclamation, “winning is not everything-winning is the only thing.” Wow!

How do we catch ourselves, in a fiercely competitive and, “status is everything” world of ours?, where lust for power and fear of the other and coveting what the other has, or imposing one’s beliefs- causes constant wars, over and over? How do we like a little child be innocent?

Perhaps we need the invention and aid of a spiritual mechanized Tom Tom Spiritual GPS to guide us and keep us on track?- How do we avoid getting into the rat race game where the ethic is:” He or she that accumulates and dies with the most toys,— wins?  Like a diabetic checks blood sugar level toward health we must find a way to keep on the proper path we seek.

 “A young boy enters a barber shop and the barber whispers to his customer, “This is the dumbest kid in the world. Watch while I prove it to you.” The barber puts a dollar bill in one hand and two quarters in the other, then calls the boy over and asks, “Which do you want, son?” The boy takes the quarters and leaves. “What did I tell you?” said the barber. “That kid never learns!” Later, when the customer leaves, he sees the same young boy coming out of the ice cream store. “Hey, son! May I ask you a question? Why did you take the quarters from the clever barber instead of the dollar bill?” The boy licked his cone and replied, “Because the day I take the dollar, the game is over!”

 Yes, I think the parents and grandparents who sent the announcement of good news point the light toward the innocence and hope of the little ones-Assuredly their beautiful attitude and sticking together in prayer points to an optimistic way for all.

 Deacon Don Grossnickle

What game are we grown ups—choosing to play?

Julie-Julia:Inspirational Message

August 27, 2009

Just returned from the fantastic film:  Julie and Julia”: A tale of two cooks‎ . What a wonderful boost to the heart, spirit, and soul.  I found it absolutely heartwarming. I love it!

Suffering and struggle take such a toll on our outlook in life. When the going gets tough, so often we want to hide, get down and depressed and wallow in the fact that the whole world seems against us.

The deeper message in this film is that everybody faces suffering. Everybody faces oppression, and the ‘system’ seems so big and powerful, and so darn good at beating us down.

Julia and Julie qualify as what I call, ” New Humpty Dumpty Souls”. The two personalities are so different, yet so alike in refusing to be beaten down. They each find a way to captivate the positive energy of friends and family to bounce back when the forces beat them into submission and despair.

They remind me of Damien the Leper priest of Molokai. The have fearless resilience to keep bouncing back against the wind.

My wife encouraged me to attend what from all appearances is billed as a “chick flick”. Wow, am I glad I went.

Each day I find myself fighting against the wind.

Right now, I am trying to form a new organization that reaches out to broken neck high school football players. It seems so futile, the subject is so depressing nobody wants to help me. (Poor me?)

Right now, I am trying to work on a documentary film that recruits young and old to get on the bandwagon to do volunteering as a means of helping others rise in the face of adversity (no helpers, no money-poor me?)

Right now, I am trying to boost the spirits of  those with cancer struggles. It is hard to keep praying for miracles. (Poor me)

Stop it. We each must find the depth of character to persevere-Like Julie and Julia.

I encourage everybody to enjoy the film, study it, learn what entrepenurial spirit is all about.

I pray that every person can be  a , “New Humpty Dumpty” person-refusing to give in, and always be open to reach out for loved ones and community to help raise you out of the quicksand of self pity.

Yes, friends, God works through people. Believe it.

Wishing you the blessings of cooking yourself a positive and optimistic attitude-no matter what!

Deacon Don

Never Alone:Never Suffering Without Resources

August 27, 2009
Stauros USA

Stauros USA

This is my shortest BLOG ever:

Please review my assembly of books I have found to be helpful on the topic of exploring the world of “good suffering”

Enjoy the browse.

I am interested in your feedback.

Thanks to Mr. Jim Ludwig for the assistance in making this annotated bibliography .

Deacon Don
Executive Director Stauros USA

Commitment’s New Horizons

August 22, 2009

Owing to the life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver the founder of Special Olympics and much more: the world knows a little more about how commitment to others works, and how one’s beliefs and actions can have an impact far beyond anything of which we can dream,. Ideally full commitment requires not, 50 or 75% involvement, it seeks the whole heart and soul. Shriver was said to often be, “ a lone voice in a sea of misunderstanding.”  When others saw children with challenges, she always visualized and invested herself in possibilities.

 Eunice Kennedy Shrive knew deeply about personal challenge as her sister Rosemary was profoundly disabled. Perceiving her own gifts and freedom from limitations, Shriver was known to be tenacious and a true warrior for the cause.

Each of our three scripture readings today deals with the subject of commitment.

The first reading deals with the commitment of the people of Israel to God and the difficulty they found in living it out. The gospel points to the difficulty the disciples had in meeting the challenge by what Jesus said earlier about giving them his body to eat. The second reading shines a light on the commitment of two people in marriage. Jesus invites all of us to face our commitments and not to break them.

In preparing young folks for marriage today, I cannot help but offer them the guidance that marriage doesn’t so much cost a commitment, as it so often pays! Following Christ’s ways of selfless love sometimes requires husbands and wives through love and commitment to be a care giver, to comfort and carry the other at tough times. The mystery of married love grows and grows if nurtured in goodness.

 What is so hard about commitment? What do you find hard about commitment?

When I was a youngster, each of us 4 boys in the family had a job to do to help with mealtimes. Today, I can vividly recall the toil of peeling a mountain of potatoes, nicking my fingers with that darned peeler, and noisily grumbling about the easier lot the other boys had in only having to set the table, or clear the table or wash or dry the dishes. It was only in the youthful too-rare moments of insight when I could see my commitment of time, sweat and blood, was a big help gift, and was a love payback to my mom and more. My mom used to say, Donnie boy, the Lord loves a cheerful giver! Today, I wish I could peel a huge endless mountain of potatoes for my mom and take some of the heavy load from her once again.

 In personal ministry confronting that moment of tension of grumbling, or full giving commitment,  is the picture I hold dear.  How can I meet the challenge of Cheerful giving?

Today, like Eunice Kennedy Shriver we each can see unique personal opportunities for commitment in front of our eyes and are offered a decision to take action, invest ourselves, or, like the saddened faint hearted followers of Jesus in the gospel, head for the easy chair.

 I will close with yet another example mosaic of the kind of commitment Jesus invites us to in eating his body and being connected to God the father, in challenging times and others.

 In this beautiful commitment mosaic: I see the love of moms, dads and families, who care for disabled or paralyzed youngsters. I see husbands care for wives with Alzheimer’s. I see coaches cheer on Down’s syndrome persons and award them with a winning hug. I see youngsters, moms and dads cook, and clean, peel potatoes when no one notices, or is there to offer a little help for them. I see volunteers of so many kinds, I see Eunice Kennedy Shriver as great role model, as a relentless advocate to those that cannot advocate for themselves.

You have made a commitment to be here, and I have a hunch this assembly will not be the ones that run away when asked to peel potatoes, umpire, teach, or pitch in. I am convinced in the long run, commitment doesn’t so much cost, it pays!

Deacon Don Grossnickle

Father Damien is Alive and Well

August 20, 2009

Check out the documentary film trailer the Damien Project has lauched:

I have the great opportunity to help build the documentary which seeks to enliven the Spriti of Damien to reach out to the Anawim-God’s “little ones” and touch them-no matter what!

We are looking for funding for the film that seeks to unleash a new viral spirit of caring and volunteerism.

We are working on creating a school curriculum design that will carry the Spirit of Saint Damien to today’s world via the youth and retired boomers.

(Canonization of October 11, 2009)

Damien enlisted the help of Mother Marianne  and Brother Dutton and so many others. News about Damien’s willingness to reach out and touch the 8000 exiled leper prisoners  of Molokai was a epidmeic of goodness on fire.

What can you and I do to sustain the Spriti of Damien?


More to follow.

Stauros USA: Happy to announce that Stauros is linked closely with the National Catholic Partnership on Disability-US Bishop’s Conference

June 5, 2009
Please check out their web site

Stauros Ministries Invitation: Access to the Land of the Bible

Stauros Ministries Invitation: Access to the Land of the Bible, August 17-28, 2010 is a trip for people with disability. Access to the Land of the Bible is a non-academic program of Bible study made accessible to persons living with disabilities. It is the realization of a dream by Fr. Donald Senior, CP, New Testament scholar, and Stauros U.S.A. founder, the late Fr. Flavian Dougherty, CP.   In the words of Fr. Senior, “For many people with disabilities, their suffering is not their disability itself but, rather, the barriers and negative attitudes society puts in their way. 

We named our program ‘Access to the Land of the Bible’ because we want to demonstrate that people with disabilities should have the same access to the sources of our faith as anyone else.” 

Stauros is launching a campaign to recruit 25 leaders in the disability “no limits” movement who have disability themselves and desire to attend a fantastic study tour of the Holy Land with one of the world’s foremost experts on the bible and New Testament:  Fr Don Senior, the current President of the Catholic Theological Union.

Diocesan/Partner News

What is CUSA?  CUSA is an organization that provides a way for people with chronic illness or disability to care for others like themselves through an online or postal service Christian support group. To see seven video clips from 47 seconds to 7 ½ minutes in length on different topics related to disability by Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, Administrator of CUSA, go to the website at and click on CUSA Videos in the left column.

Stauros has a new free online Journal: Hope and Suffering Notebook.  See a preview at: 
Stauros U.S.A. is a non-profit organization committed to helping people find meaning, hope and peace in the midst of suffering. Their mission is: to further education and dialogue on issues of suffering; to create opportunities for prayer, retreat, and reflection; to advocate with and give voice to persons who live with disabilities and suffering; and to build bridges of compassion among all who suffer, their caregivers, and the helping professions.