Archive for the ‘suffering’ 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.

Advertisements

The gifts of this land — Masada, Qumran, the Dead Sea

August 24, 2010

With each passing day, we seem to become more aware of the power of this land, the history of the extraordinary people who have lived here for centuries, the faith that has sustained it and sometimes ravaged it, the faithfulness that abides here still, and the reality that the richness of this trip may take quite awhile to fully make itself known to us. We are already aware on so many levels of what a profound experience we are having, individually and as a group, but we also know that deeper truths take some time to settle into our very bones so that we can finally put into words all that we have seen and felt.

The sharing of Fr. Don Senior each day brings a historical and spiritual insight that is unparalleled. It is truly a gift to be gazing at one of Israel’s stark or lush vistas, steeped in history, and listen to a Bible passage that speaks of the place we are in or hear Fr. Don’s historical overview which brings the power of the place even more into focus.

Today we visited Masada, Qumran, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found in 1947, and many of us ended the day with a float in the Dead Sea. These are amazing tourist and pilgrimage sites and experiences to be sure, but in visiting these places we are also participating in a  wonderful community of thoughtful, caring, insightful, faith-filled pilgrims. We drink in each experience like the bottles of water we are replenishing our bodies with, and we continue to support and look out for one another in ways we hadn’t even thought of before we came on this trip.

We are getting toward the end of our trip with just a few days left. A blog is a wonderful way to stay in touch but in so many ways cannot communicate the depth of this magnficent experience. Please continue to keep us in your prayers and know that you are loved and thought of often throughout the day.

Peace, Nancy

SOME PHOTOS FROM DEACON DON: ENJOY!

Richard and street musician: When the Saints Go Marching In

Amazing art abounds:Church of the Primacy

Jesus went into the desert to pray

Merchants abound in the Holy Land-even in the desert

"Politics and borders" Grafiti on the border wall on the West bank

Jericho: Oldest City on earth

Church at Cana in Galilee-Miracle Jars of Water into Wine-Alleluia

Zachias Sycamore Tree He climbed to see Jesus

Masada Lecture: Sad Story of Jewish Courage at the Hands of Roman Army

Dead Sea: Delightful (Strange) dip to escape 105+ heat

Bet Shean (Byzantine City) Amazing Archeological Find

Qumran Caves: Site of Dead Sea Scripture Verifying Scrolls

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?
 

Cancer Brings Out Prayerfulness

February 18, 2010

So many persons of all ages know and love the song: “Jesus Loves Me This I know”. In our childhood, five brothers in our home each sang this song with our mother at sleep-prayer time. The prayer is powerfully affirming and reassuring.

Now as one of our brothers deals with cancer the song comes to mind for our prayer.

I took some liberty and added some new lyrics to the familiar tune as we pray for God’s blessings in the presence of the fight against cancer and the journey ahead. I am glad to share it with the readers of the Stauros BLOG:

JESUS LOVES ME-THIS IS KNOW
 
Adaptation version by Deacon Don Grossnickle
Dedicated to my brother: Roger K. Grossnickle
 
 “Jesus loves me this I know.
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to Him belong,
we are weak but He is strong…..
Yes, Jesus loves me….
The Bible tells me so.”
 
 
…………………..New Updated Version
 
I.
Jesus loves me this I know,
through the cancer, I must go.
 
Little ones to Him belong
We are weak, but he is strong
 
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
 
II.
Jesus loves me this I know
Rough days of faith-testing, I must go
 
Days of struggle, I must be strong
Jesus, helps me all day, and all night, long
 
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
 
III.
Jesus loves me this I know
Some day to heaven, I eventually seek to go
 
I get weak, but my Spirit growing strong
From Him, I came, and always belong.
 
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
 
IV.
 
Jesus loves me this I know
Seeing family love me, tells me so
 
I am weak and they keep me strong
We will always be one, all our live’s long
 
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
 
V.
Jesus loves me this I know
No tears can change that, If I must go
 
Little ones to Him belong
I get ready, and keep being strong
 
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
 
VI.
Jesus loves me this I know
Every day is thanksgiving, loving life so
 
Little gifts I truly, truly love
Come in abundance, from above
 
Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.
 
VII.
Jesus loves me this I know
Filled with joy, I tell you so
 
Little ones to Him belong
Hope springs eternal and ends this song.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Yes, Jesus loves me, Yes, Jesus loves me
Yes, Jesus loves me, the Bible tells me so.

 

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?

Can Damien, Mother Marianne and Brother Joseph Inspire Saintly Work from Us?

October 12, 2009
OK, the ceremony is complete, the world now has affirmed the work of Saint Damien. Now, what is the rest of the story? Who is ready to step up and accept the Spiritual boost the Saints offer us toward action? The posting above is offered as a reality check. We in Chicago, we in Stauros USA know some things that Saint Damien knew. We both know God is asking each one of us to pursue a destiny. For now, Stauros USA and local celebrity Wayne Messmer are on a mission. We want Saint Damien to come alive and touch people. We want Saint Damien via the play: Damien by Aldyth Morris to awaken the story of Damien in Hawaii. More importantly, we want the play to inspire, invigorate, provoke, and otherwise move people to live in the light that brings hope to the hopeless. Who are the lepers who need our touch? Look around, and it is easy to see. Damien took care of 8000 men women and children, all abandoned and left to die. Are there 8000 more that are destined to be without God, unless–, we act? We must act now.
Wayne Messmer as Saint Damien

Wayne Messmer as Saint Damien

Check out this video about Wayne:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dATFUbrZw7Q

Wayne Messmer was shot in the neck by a robber. The bullet ripped and tore his throat. Wayne is well known for his reputation for being one of the greatest singer of our country’s national anthem. God healed Wayne to once again sing after his brush with death. Wayne is inspired to use his gifts reaching out to the “anawim”, those on the margins and the fringe. Wayne is teamed up with Stauros USA to tell the Father Damien story. Wayne knows deeply the frustration that can come when nobody cares. His gradndaughter suffers from a food allergy that forces her to adapt her life. Quietly, she suffers. Quietly behind the scenes researchers are trying to find a way for the struggle she endures to be cured. Wayne accepts the pain and struggle and uses the struggle and the suffering to empower a sense of action. THIS IS THE ESSENCE OF DAMIEN-GET BUSY FOR OTHERS–WHY? BECAUSE WE CAN, WE SHOULD, WE MUST–WHY? BECAUSE GOD LOVES US AND SENT US ON A MISSION TO SHARE LOVE, AND HOPE AND LIGHT.

Yes, We must study Damien and try to understand what made him tick. However, the studying must give way to action, get busy, get inspired, get motivated, get ready to tocuh even the lepers who are “unclean”  Damien refused to become a victim to the “system” Damien refused to give in to oppression from; government, from the powerful and strong prisoners in Molokai that were preying on the weak and vulnerable, from the Church and Chruch leaders that were apparently, not yet ready to step up and serve with him. Damien stood alone and with God’s Spirit and his mission and Holy Orders-that was sufficient to fuel his passion.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Gandhi and you and I internalize the gift that Damien gives in whispering to us now:

“will you help me touch the “little ones”, the broken children of God….those with AIDS, those who have cancer…those who are sick and dying,  those who are considering suicide, those depressed and those abandoned with no one to love them?

Check out the mission of Stauros: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSg7c7pnkLM

We pray: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of the faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your spirit and we shall be recreated and renew the face of the earth.”

Hugs, and thanks, now let us give God the glory. Saint Damien, pray for us.

Amen. Deacon Don

Saint Damien is Alive and Spirited

October 9, 2009
Saint Damien is Alive and Spirited

Saint Damien is Alive and Spirited

Click below to watch a video that should change our lives

Anawim Damien-Saint Damien is Alive

Saint Damien is Alive: Celebrate!

October 8, 2009

 

Damien's Spirit is Alive

Damien's Spirit is Alive

Nearly thirty years ago Robin Pendergrast, current owner of RFP Photography Inc. (Crystal Lake, Ill.) ventured into the rare and unchartered world of a modern day Leper colony. He crossed beyond the stigma and barriers of Leprosy and built a lasting bridge leading to ongoing contacts with the resident-patients located in remote Kalaupapa, Hawaii. Pendergast reached out and touched his friends and they embraced him to the extent that deep personal relationships grew. In particular, Pendergrast befriended Richard Marks, Alice Kumaka, Sister Richard Marie, and Ruth Friedman. As friendships grew, Pendergrast discovered an uncommon, hidden power tucked away in Molokai. Walking the journey over the years, he experienced the joy, pain and hardship stories that were a part of life in this extraordinary community. His kinship with these people illuminated the presence of a Spirit of Father Damien that is all about offering one another unconditional love and acceptance. Pendergrast discovered the universal truth that there is great life-fulfilling power in choosing to “get involved.”

 Pendergast now wants people of all ages to experience important lessons similar to the ones he has learned. He desires for every person to find individual ways to move beyond existing marginalizing stigmas that keep people apart. Pendergrast has assembled a team initiating a photojournalism and curriculum project that seeks to unravel and share the hidden mysteries and the amazing, sordid history and stories of over 8,000 persons with Leprosy who were harshly exiled and left to live and painfully die in cruel isolation.  The eye of the camera wants to reveal what really happened in Molokai. What catalytic actions by a few managed to reverse vile rejection and hatred of Lepers toward eventually forming a solid healing community? Who and what created the avalanche impact that morphed the paradise-gone-wrong-situation into a now classic case study which demonstrates how unconditional love in action can impact and transform even the most terrible disease and social catastrophe?. Can the Spirit of Saint Damien and the people of Molokai be a catalyst of goodness in the world today?

 This is the emerging story of how photographer/videographer, Robin Pendergrast came to know Kalaupapa and its people. His is an amazing tale of serendipity, tenacity and caring. Through a series of more than 15 visits stretching over 30 years, Pendergrast compiled a body of photographic work with more than 2,000 images that honor Kalaupapa’s thousands of residents, all living with leprosy. The photographic works juxtapose the beauty of the lush, secluded peninsula with the stark pain and separation of its past and present inhabitants.

All across the globe the fascinating story of Father Damien and the exiled Lepers of Molokai is already very well known. It has been over a hundred and fifty years since Damien’s heroics came to the rescue for those banished because of their incurable disease forced them to die alone on the remote isolated villages of Molokai. However, renewed interest in this miracle-making story offers fresh opportunity to increase awareness and invite selfless, giving lifestyle.

Just exactly how Damien and the partnering leaders of Molokai transformed a horrific circumstance of fear, epidemic and  chaos, into a grand miracle story of caring and love is a fascinating and captivating saga. The epic drama offers many important contemporary lessons worth learning for the ages. Well- known literary figures like Robert Louis Stevenson, Jack London, Mark Twain and a number of others have already immortalized Damien’s legacy. They leave behind a great body of literature chronicling the virtues of martyred self sacrifice. The canonization of Father Damien by the Roman Catholic Church on October 11, 2009 shines new light on an important story inspiring new hope for addressing suffering in the world.

 In Chicago, the Spirit of Damien is coming alive and catching fire once again awakening humanitarian action. Calling themselves “The Damien Project Team,” four individuals have grasped the powerful and compelling message and spirit of Father Damien. The project will produce an innovative documentary film and create and disseminate a curriculum that be used by schools to enliven volunteerism. The film will tell the great story of how Father Damien and his astounding humanitarian efforts countered and dealt with the hysteria and fear associated with the leprosy epidemic.

The details of the current story of the Father Damien Project begin in 1981.  Robin Pendergrast was a public relations executive and a volunteer firefighter/paramedic with the Northfield, Ill., Fire and Rescue. One day, he read an article in the Los Angeles Times that told of the Kalaupapa volunteer firefighters’ broken down fire engine. The island residents couldn’t get the old fire truck started, so they often had to push-start it with the colony’s garbage truck. They were unable to purchase a new truck; and because of the constant, strong trade winds, residents were highly vulnerable to fire. Pendergrast learned about the hardships of the modern-day Kalaupapa Settlement residents — who now reside in the area because they choose to, not because they are forced — through one of life’s odd coincidences. Many volunteers helped him restore the used fire truck to working order. Once the truck was operational, Pendergrast helped to procure transportation for it from Chicago to San Francisco via cargo plane courtesy of Flying Tiger Airlines.

The truck was then freighted to Honolulu and then barged to Molokai. On the morning of July 10, 1981, Pendergrast and others delivered the “new” fire truck to Kalaupapa. Living in the Spirit of Damien, a small but significant accomplishment continued the work of Father Damien caring for those isolated and cast aside. Pendergrast recalls, “The morning we delivered the fire truck was almost more than I could bear. I found that the event nearly broke my heart. I was happy for the accomplishment but so sad for the ongoing struggle of the people of Molokai. I sensed the pain that so few know about or care for people on the fringe.” Pendergast drove this fire truck off of the barge with great fanfare; and the people were stunned and amazed that this stranger from Chicago would do all of this for them. They felt, on some level, that something magnificent had happened. After the fire truck was delivered and the volunteers were trained to use it, Pendergrast continued to visit Kalaupapa residents and found other means by which to help them live more comfortably.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Pendergrast was able to bring Kalaupapa residents smoke detectors, CB radios, videotapes, VCRs and food. Many of these items were donated by corporations or bought through private donations. In addition, he established the Kalaupapa Fund, which was partially supported by the proceeds of a play, entitled “Damien, the Leper Priest of Molokai.” This one- man play, a soliloquy by Father Damien about his life and times, was produced and performed in several locations. Pendergrast is involved in producing the play and incorporating the photographic images within the story sequence. Through his work, Pendergrast asserts his belief that the inhumanities of yesterday’s leper colony mirrors, in principle and practice, the stigmatization and victimization of today’s AIDS patients.

Pendergrast will not admit that his small actions quantify his experiences at Kalaupapa with the many newspaper article clippings, stacks of letters from federal and state senators and representatives, a story on NBC’s Nightly News, and segment on the 1987 television show “Heroes: Made in the USA.” Pendergast says, “I will not be satisfied until I do my part to get people to get it. I desire for people all across the globe in this great world of ours to get in touch with the power of “The Spirit of Damien.” I believe that each of us has the ability to repair the world and make a difference…right now. It is not somebody else’s job.

“It is, no big deal, we must get off our comfortable spot and get busy. Most importantly we must design and teach a curriculum that helps young people seize the opportunities they have for changing themselves and the world and making needed improvements. Isn’t that why we are here in life in the first place?” Pendergrast continues. Perhaps, we must all learn lessons from Damien, lessons we learn in school and make selfless service our “lifestyle,” simply because it is the right thing to do.

What would the world be like today if hundreds or thousands of individuals were drawn to be aware of the epic story of the people and leader, Father Damien of Molokai, and like him, became empowered to seize personal opportunities in their own back yard attempting to make a lasting difference in the life of others? What kinds of catalysts would it take to be inspired by the historical biographical life of a saint and capitalize on those heroic tales of accomplishment to find a way to mobilize one’s own imagination and take personal steps to invest in selfless service?  What can ordinary citizens do today to overcome evil, disease and bring forth goodness and love? Who, like the iconic Father Damien might be ready to hear the inner call and be ready to step up and reach beyond the obstacles and barriers to touch those who need a bridge over life’s troubled waters?  

Today, who will care for those starving? Who attends to those dealing with HIV and other circumstances that have caused them to be cast aside, called, unclean, untouchable and more? Father Damien’s remarkable life and story shines exemplary light on what one extraordinary person can do. However, going beyond a history lesson about a special saint and his legacy today invites each person to examine what he or she might do to make a positive difference. Father Damien alone did not conquer the catastrophic conditions that affected over 8,000 banished persons with Hansen’s disease (Leperosy). Father Damien led by example. He formed a community among those who sought relief from their physical and spiritual pain. Damien rolled up his sleeves and met the problem he saw and set about to get beyond the fear of disease and death. Damien openly confronted the much stigmatized ancient disease most call a fate worse than death. Damien’s one-person-at-a-time strategy worked. He gained solid ground as his reputation and mission caught on.

Looking back, Damien’s determined, persistent and sometimes irritating calls for help did not go unheard. Damien overcame his own depression, overwork, frustration, toil, exhaustion, and sense of futility. Somehow he stood tall and awakened each day, with documented attributions pointing to the power of his faith and conviction. From the time Damien left his home, seeing his family for the final time at age 23 — he accepted a religious calling deep within his soul to offer the gift of God’s abundant comforting grace to every person, Catholic, or agnostic. Damien’s biographies reveal that his mother was a great teacher having the wisdom to teach Damien and all her children about the lives of the Saints. Reading their stories Damien obviously internalized her lessons and put them into practice.

In the remote villages of Kalaupapa and Kalawao, Damien formed a magnificent caring community. Damien somehow transformed anarchy and chaos and so that each of the inhabitants lived with a revived hope. Damien was somehow able to bring to life a spirit of caring, an environment of song, and a place of peace, coexisting with the reality and agony of disease, loneliness and often painful death. After Damien’s death in 1888, some willing souls carried on the traditions he began in Molokai. They bonded together living and sharing in Damien’s Spirit. The legacy of Father Damien, the Leper Priest of Molokai, stands as a great illustrative example of what just one person can accomplish making a difference. Now the proud Church honors and calls him a “Saint.” The Roman Catholic Church and the world acknowledge the many miracles attributed to this rare individual. Tourists flock to the isolated land of Damien to get in touch with the spirit residing there noted with over 8,000 marked and unmarked graves of those sadly lost to leprosy.

Damien’s legacy is an ongoing lesson of tragedy turned to triumph. Religious educators  and civic- minded individuals must analyze what happened in Molokai and offer students an opportunity to see the power of the sleeping giant lying within every person:  the ability to respond to a call coming from without and within to repair the world, with small or large actions, never giving in to malaise, apathy, self absorption, or personal greed. The Damien Documentary Project Team accepts the important challenge of helping to reawaken the Spirit of Damien. The team envisions an awakening of a “sleeping giant” to give energy to birth a new flurry of volunteerism, vocation and caring about others.

Pendergast and the Damien Project Team plan to have the documentary and accompanying curriculum design ready to release in time for the Catholic Church canonization ceremonies in the Vatican by Pope Benedict VI. The hope is that a viable curriculum can be used by students and teachers to raise awareness to the opportunities that exist when people of all ages can live like Damien. The documentary seeks to be a fitting tribute to Father Damien, while casting light on lesser known key leadership figures: Mother Marianne Cope and Brother Joseph Dutton.

In his book, Saints: A Closer Look, Thomas Dubay, S.M. attempts to summarize and describe the constitution of saints. Saints, he says, “are men and women on fire, totally self-giving even to enemies, alive and vivacious, thoroughly honest and authentic, profoundly happy even in suffering, heroic in patience, humility, chastity and love. They surpass our human capabilities, which are why they are miracles of goodness and moral miracles.” Following the great acts of love demonstrated by saints each person is called to the stage platform of life called to be fires of love and beauty alive in an often deeply troubled and suffering world. Each person is called to live as Mother Teresa of Calcutta challenges, “Not to do Great things, but to freely give of themselves humbly doing small  things with great love. When asked if she could use some help by volunteers coming to aid her, Mother Teresa said, “Don’t come to Calcutta, find your own Calcutta and make your own kind of difference there.”

 

See the “trailer”: http://www.youtube.com/user/anawimdamien

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

HOMILY DELIVERED AT OUR LADY OF THE WAYSIDE ARLINGTON HEIGHTS SEPTEMBER 20, 2009

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?