Monthly Archives: November 2016

Living in Poverty

It began last Friday with a scratchy sore throat.

Certainly a sensation I’ve had before, though not in a quite some time. Never a welcome experience.

Predictably, it followed its course: sneezing, stuffy nose giving way to the Great Run and back to stuffy. So cold – extra layers of clothing, blanket, space heater, tea – still so cold. Muscles and joints aching.

Efforts to sleep interrupted with odd thoughts and dreams. Or nose-blowing and coughs. So tired.

Feeling unable to do anything but bored doing nothing. Then sleeping uncontrollably during the day, this “luxury” permitted, having stayed home from work.

Not wanting to eat, gut rumbling. Should eat something. I must have something besides lentils here…

Yes, indeed, I have a cold.

Such a common malady – why bother to write of it? Certainly not for sympathy. Everyone gets them and many have far more serious conditions to bear.

I write because I am reminded by this experience of just how very impoverished I am. Almost all that I had planned to do over the weekend had to be set aside. Not only were my capabilities diminished but I did not want to spread the virus.

Things pile up when I am not well. Stacks of newspaper and other recyclables wait to be taken outside. My dining room table remains cluttered with the junk mail that I had promised myself I would go through. Things needed from the store – well, those have to wait.

A wise priest recently preached at a funeral service how we tend to believe that our lives are our own. But they are not. Life is given to us and life can be taken from us at any time by God. We, as believers, know that there is more to this story – but it is still our reality.

We are not in charge. We are poor.

I am not in charge. And to know that even my life is not my own is a condition of utter poverty.

I am not, of course, writing of the material poverty that many throughout the world suffer – nor am I minimizing how horrendous that is. Rather, that poverty is an outward manifestation, a visible expression of the deep poverty that afflicts us all.

When we have enough things (food, shelter, entertainments, etc.), we can live as though we are in charge and convince ourselves, at least for the time being, that we are not poor.

And it is perhaps this belief that enables us at times to believe that what we have is ours – we’ve earned it and therefore have a right to protect it from those whose need might encroach upon it. Whether it be our land, our jobs, our food or our medical resources, it is ours.

Let those others earn it, like we had to. It’s not our fault if their country is unstable. Their mental or physical problems are not our concern. We cannot go about rescuing everyone who has a problem.

We’ve made our choices and they’ve made theirs.

Or so it seems.

So it seems until God intervenes and reminds us that we are all poor. In just a moment’s time, I might discover that all the control I thought I had was never mine to begin with.

An illness. An accident. An unfair job loss.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, we too are among the poor. And we discover it was not a choice.

This poverty extends beyond the material things we believe are ours to all other domains of our lives.

It takes only the common cold to show me that I am not in charge mentally or spiritually either.

I always hate to cancel my patients’ appointments. I know people schedule them because they need them and that it can often disappoint or upset them to have to wait longer. I struggle with this but I cannot work if I cannot do so competently.

This morning, my mind was in a great fog and I knew I could not perform my job. As I attempted to notify my patients, everyone was gracious – but one dear woman was finding it difficult and needed to tell me what had been happening in her life anyway.

As she spoke, I struggled to make sense of her words. She was speaking standard English but my brain was having trouble interpreting it. Fortunately, she seemed to get some relief from the telling and I tried to sound sympathetic. I think I got the gist of it and the rest will wait a few days.

But my brain was not my own. It wasn’t working the way I wanted it to. My poverty was evident.

Yesterday, I wanted so much to participate in Liturgy despite this virus and so I attended a church nearby where I knew I could find an isolated spot. I did not want to spew my germs upon unsuspecting bystanders.

The words of the priest and Scripture droned on and I waited for them to be over. I knew they were good words but I could not feel their goodness. I knew that communion is and was the most wonderful experience I could hope for – but I could feel none of it.

In my poverty, even my spiritual life was barely my own. All I had left was The Choice.

The Choice? What is this?

In the poverty of my being, God teaches me that nothing that I believe to me mine is truly mine. All that I have and am are gifts from Him – that He may take back or suspend at any time to serve His glory.  (And how it serves His glory is completely incomprehensible to me.)

But The Choice is the one thing He does not take back.

The Choice is my will, my option of how I respond in whatever circumstances I am in – material wealth or hardship, good health or desperate illness, spiritual joy or aridity.

It may appear at times as though He has taken it back, especially when bodies or minds fail us.

But The Choice is something so fundamental to our being that it does not die with our brain cells. It is deep in our souls.

And He never takes it from us because He wants to always leave us the freedom to give it to Him – to give Him our wills, our entire selves. This Choice is one that only we can make. And we can make it when it seems that there is nothing else left, when we feel nothing and nothing seems to matter.

We can always still choose Him.

And so, I choose Him.

I choose Him knowing that I am utterly poor and destitute.

I choose Him recognizing that I have nothing to give Him but the choice itself.

And I choose Him knowing that He first chose me, loving me in my nothingness.

All glory be to Him.


My King upon His throne

“You do not know what you are asking,” Jesus responded when the mother of James and John made her request of Him (Matthew 20: 22).

Most probably, the wife of Zebedee thought she was quite clear about what she wanted for her sons. After all, her two sons had left everything – most especially the family fishing business – to follow Jesus. She wanted some assurance that they were going to have a special place in His kingdom.

Like many others, this devout Jewish family likely envisioned a King who would overthrow the existing tyrannical order and establish His own rule. She probably imagined Him sitting on a throne and she wanted her sons in positions of honor and power, one on His right and one on His left.

So puzzled must they all have been when Jesus directed His attention to James and John and asked them if they were willing to drink of the cup He would drink. They, of course, did not understand yet what this meant.  But they agreed to do so.


A year ago, on the feast of Christ the King, God gave me a special gift which I posted on this blog about my King.

This year, He gave me an image – an image of my King upon His throne.

Last year, I wrote, “He does not sit on a big throne of gold…”  And, indeed, He does not.

Most would not consider “it” a throne at all. Thrones, after all, are seats of dignity and honor for important people participating in important ceremonies.

Where I saw my King was none of these things.


                                               (image received at St. Stephen’s Church, Cleveland, Ohio)

He wears a crown but it is made of thorns. He has been stripped of His robe and His skin is torn and bleeding. He is dead.

How can I call this Cross a throne? How can I call this dead man my King?

I can only do so because my King Himself is teaching me His Way, as He taught James, John and their mother, Salome.

His Kingdom and its ways are not of this world.

The world conquers by force. He conquers by surrendering Himself completely.

The world kills to gain power. He dies to come into His power.

The world resists suffering and death – even when this results in more death. He enters suffering and death willingly, lovingly.

The world glories in domination and self. He glories in humble gift of self.

But why – why portray my King in suffering and death, enthroned upon the Cross of humiliation? Why not show Him in His glory?

The most obvious reason, of course, is that no one could possibly portray that glory. Any human attempt to do so would fail. It is more extraordinary than we can imagine – and any effort to paint or sculpt it would, unfortunately, look far too much like the glory of this world.

And we need to learn – as James and John and Salome learned – that the way to this glory is completely different. We will not learn and remember if we do not see our King in the fullness of His giving.

Our society has made it safe and easy to be “Christian” in name. Hence, we might too easily forget what it truly means to follow Him, imagining that we can just say “yes, we can drink that cup” and believe we have done so. Having died for us, He will lead us into heaven and we need do no more.

Salome, the mother of the brothers, learned the Truth. She stood at the foot of the Cross as Jesus hung dying.

James learned as well. He was beheaded for the Faith in Jerusalem. But that was not all. Such was the message of James’ words and life that the Roman soldier who led him to execution became a Christian then and there, offering himself to also be beheaded.

And John learned. John is thought to be the only one of the twelve (besides Judas Iscariot) who did not die a martyr’s death. Instead, he lived to be an old man and left us the Gospel of Love. But learn he did.

The early writer, Tertullian, tells us that this younger brother did face martyrdom, being plunged into boiling oil in the Colosseum. However, miraculously, he emerged unharmed. All in attendance saw and believed.

Our beloved King chose that one of His apostolic martyrs, one who was an eyewitness of His Transfiguration, Crucifixion and Resurrection, should survive to tell what he knew.

And so John did. But he did not just repeat the facts of the other Gospels. In fact, he left many of them out, assuming them to be already known.

Instead, John tells us that Jesus, the Word, was “in the beginning” and was with God and was God, with all things coming to be through Him. He shares with us the seven “I AM” statements of the Lord Jesus, bringing into focus His right to use the Name. And more intimately, John allows us to partake of the final words our human Jesus had with His closest friends before He died.

John leaves us no doubt about Who he knew Jesus to be. And he leaves us no doubt as to the meaning of what God did for us in Him.

In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him.

In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins.

Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another.

No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.

                                                                  1 John 4: 9-12 (NABRE translation)

This my King.

Suffering, dying, living and loving from His throne in my heart.

Let us follow Him. Let us love as He has loved us.

Seeing in color

I wonder how many times in the course of a day I say or think to myself, “I’m going to do this,” or “I want to do that.”

It may not be exactly those words – and it may not even involve words, but it is there in my consciousness as My Plan.

One of my patrons, St. Catherine of Genoa, was given the message in the course of her spiritual journey that she was to no longer use the pronoun “I”. Whenever a plan or intent was considered, it was always, “we” – her and Christ.

Many of those whom God chooses for great holiness seem to experience something like this. It is as though they have no will, no self, apart from Christ.

Recently, I was reading from the writings of Mother Teresa (now St. Teresa of Calcutta) and learned that she had taken a private vow early in her consecrated life. Her vow was that she would never say no to Jesus.

The immensity of the suffering she endured in keeping this vow was never known during her lifetime, except to her spiritual directors.

Being chosen to live a life of holiness at this level is not at all easy or glorious. To those watching from afar, it may seem that they enjoy great favor from God – and sometimes even considerable acclaim from the world for their holiness and good works.

Little do we know about such holiness and the cross it is to the soul that bears it.

As I reflect on this, I wonder how one comes to so totally lose oneself in God. How one arrives at the point of being able to genuinely proclaim with St. Paul, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

I certainly do not know, except that it is by grace.

And yet not by grace alone. For God does not take a man’s will from him; He does not rob a woman of her self without her voluntary surrender.

And so I am brought back to the opening lines of this post. My Plan. What I want to do. Or what I do not want.

It is a regular feature of how I relate to others and the world and God. And one that creates a great obstacle to the grace God offers me as He beckons me to become “we” with Him.

I have been abundantly aware of this in recent times. Some physical discomforts come my way – no, I don’t want those. My thoughts turn ruminative about these discomforts – no, I don’t want that. I am so tired. I don’t like that – and I don’t like my complaining about it either.

In the midst of these minor issues (yes, they are minor), it seems that God took art away from me. Whether to be like one of those sabbaticals He occasionally gives me from writing – or something permanent, I cannot know.

Throughout this time, I have found myself able to look at all of the colors in my pastel box and feel indifferent. Ideas from unfinished projects have flashed before my eyes and “Maybe another time” is all that comes forth.

As many of you know, I have loved my photography and painting rain barrels and making ink-on-glass projects. And yes, climbing onto the counter so that I could color my kitchen windows with markers.

For weeks and weeks, I have been in the desert, wondering, “Perhaps this is it.” But strangely, I knew that if it was over, it was all right.

I have been blessed with so much – and none of it belongs to me. God wants me to learn this. My body is His. My mind is His. Every little and big gift and opportunity He has given me are His to do with as He pleases.

And, if I wish to follow Him, I must surrender so completely that I accept – no, that I desire that He does with me what He pleases. And this may very well not be what, if left to my own devices, I would choose.

Following Him means doing what He did. And thus it is so: I surrender. It is the only path I can take.

I am but a beginner. I still have a great deal of will of my own. But He is teaching me and leading me.

And it is a priceless thing…


Today, quite unexpectedly, I found art in my soul again. I had dropped a bit of ink a couple of weeks ago without a lot of feeling and yesterday a poem began emerging to accompany it.

Of itself, it is nothing much – just as I am nothing much. But I share it with you to sing God’s praise. How kind and loving of Him to allow art back into my soul, even if only for a moment.

I do not know if it will be there tomorrow – and it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that I follow Him.

To Him be glory.




sun drifts pale in blue

as earth bleeds red-orange joy.

life hides its shadows. 


Politics and the Christian

It is a touchy thing to discuss politics with friends, even in the written word. Yet this evening, the day following a very contentious presidential election, I feel called to do so.

Some Christians I know felt there was no conscionable choice in this election. How does one vote when both candidates appear deeply flawed in their characters or policies (or both)?

Other Christians backed one candidate or the other with differing levels of enthusiasm, ranging from “the lesser of two evils” to hearty endorsement. Interwoven into these responses were perceptions, true or false, as to the extent either candidate would defend or endanger the unborn, the poor and international peace and security.

The inevitable happened.

Someone won and someone lost.

It happens every time. And, as happens most times, the outcome is viewed as disastrous by some and as an immense achievement by others.

And so it was with great consolation that I opened the Scripture readings for today and found awaiting me the following passage from St. Paul’s letter to Titus (3:1-6):

Remind your people that it is their duty to be obedient to the officials and representatives of the government; to be ready to do good at every opportunity; not to go slandering other people or picking quarrels, but to be courteous and always polite to all kinds of people. Remember, there was a time when we too were ignorant, disobedient and misled and enslaved by different passions and luxuries; we lived then in wickedness and ill-will, hating each other and hateful ourselves.

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior for mankind were revealed, it was not because He was concerned with any righteous actions we might have done ourselves; it was for no reason except His own compassion that He saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and by renewing us with the Holy Spirit which He so generously poured over us through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Jerusalem Bible trans.)

In the contemporary America, being “obedient” to the government has not been a popular concept – or even a thinkable one by most, at least since the 1960’s when everything fell apart with the Vietnam War, Watergate and the revelation that the emperor wore no clothes.

This is not to say that every citizen respected the government before that or that all disagreement was orderly. Far from it. But it seems that that time period in particular began an era in which many people became particularly disillusioned not only with government, but with such traditional notions as authority and obedience.

Were Paul’s words about the duty to obey intended only for the flock served by Titus? Or must we heed them as well?

It is a fascinating irony that I am posing this question at the same time that a very different Scripture cycle is being read in the Divine Office of the western Church. In the last couple of weeks, we have been reading from the book of Maccabees where many of God’s people were tortured and killed because they refused to abandon the Law and obey King Antiochus.

Then, just yesterday, in the Book of Daniel, we read of the three young men being thrown into the white-hot furnace because they refused to obey King Nebuchadnezzar and worship his idols.

Hence, we have an admonition to obey government while given accounts of highly esteemed followers of the Lord who disobeyed their governments unto death. What sense can we make of this?

And, of course, to add to the confusion, we must consider the enigmatic words of the Lord Jesus when such a question was posed to try to trick Him, “Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God,” He said in response. (Matthew 22:21)

These words of Jesus are our first instruction. The Latin origins of the word “obey” mean literally “to listen”. And, before all else, we know we must listen to Him. For our world is at war and He is our Commander.

And so what belongs to God? We do. We belong to a Kingdom not of this world and we always owe our first allegiance to it.

Should our government tell us to violate the laws of our God, we must obey our God first and always because we belong to Him.

But we know this is often not so easily carried out in the complex world of the 21st century. If my government uses my tax money to fund activities that violate God’s laws, how can I obey God? (As a former tax resister, I can testify that the options are few.)

Even to know what violates God’s law is not so simple to discern as we might hope. No one asks us under penalty of death to worship gold statues or to eat pork. Rather, money is withheld from our paychecks to fund so many things that we cannot understand or keep track of them all. After a time, what seemed black or white, may begin to seem so gray that we know longer know how to respond.

And it is because of this confusion on the battlefield that we must be both “obedient” and ever watchful.

In obedience, we listen. To listen, we must take time to be silent with the Lord.

We cannot listen to Him if, as St. Paul notes, we are picking quarrels, slandering or being enslaved by passions.

And is this not what we observe in modern politics? Quarrels, slander, passions?

As Christians living in the world, Paul exhorts us to remember our own enslavement – whether to these vices and passions or others. Hence, when we see others enslaved – the candidates that we do not favor, their followers, the government leaders that we think are ill-suited for duty – we are to recall that we did not become free because of our own virtue.

And so, if I have been freed of my enslavement by grace, it is now my duty to be merciful. As a “good citizen”, I am not to live like one enslaved by the passions of this world but as one who loves and respects all, especially those whom I believe to have fallen from truth or to be enslaved by passions.

I must pray for them constantly and with a sincere heart – for I too am a sinner, not saved by myself but by the undeserved grace of an infinitely compassionate God.

Yet I must also be ever watchful. For I may be confronted with decisions like the golden statues of old. When challenged by my government, who and what will I worship?

It is then that I must give myself over even more to listening in silence. For it is not my will or my passions that are to direct my behavior, but the One who redeems and directs every step of my life.

Only in silence can I hear Him. Only in stillness will He speak.

This is my obedience. This is the love I am called to.

Will you join me?

November 5th

It is November 5th and I saw a butterfly.

It is sunny today in Cleveland, Ohio, but cool. The temperature has not yet reached 60 and there is a breeze. Golden leaves are falling like rain. Could have I been mistaken, I thought, when I saw the fluttering from my kitchen window?

I pulled back the vertical blinds from the patio doors so that cell phone and I could waste no time in checking out the back yard. A squirrel scampered away as we headed out. I didn’t see anything.

So I spoke up. “Is there a butterfly out here? I’d like to see you…”

I was pretty sure it was a butterfly I had seen land in the grass and not just a leaf as leaves are not white. And sure enough, no sooner had I spoken these words when the little cabbage white took to its wings again.

I greeted it, of course, and asked if I might receive its image.

It flirted with me, however, touching on my pink cosmos bloom for just a second before flitting into the air again.

It danced around briefly and then took off in full flight, denying my request for an image. “I’ve got places to go and things to do!” its actions cried out, “You have seen me and that is enough.”

And I could hardly argue with that.

Who am I to know what tasks this little one may still have had to complete in its short lifespan? I am not a butterfly and do not know their ways.

Naturally I would like to think that it came only to deliver its message to me. But, more than likely, it had other assignments as well.

Did it have a message for me?

Well, it is November 5th.

How often do we see butterflies in Cleveland in November?

Not often, to say the least. But I saw one on this very same date two years ago. Yes, on November 5th. And I wrote about it. Do you remember? (Here is the image from November, 2014.)


November 5th is my father’s birthday. Had he lived on, he would have been 87 today.

Is it mere coincidence that in this year when butterflies were scarce that my garden had record numbers during that week in June between my parents’ wedding anniversary and the anniversary of my father’s death?

Is it mere coincidence that, even though we have had many unseasonably warm days this fall, only today did I see a butterfly? That I happened to be looking out of my window while gathering towels for the laundry when it appeared?

Yes, it could all be coincidence. But what is coincidence, if not the coinciding of the life we see and understand with the life that is still so completely and marvelously beyond our comprehension?

In our humanness, we cannot help but look upon death with sorrow. No matter how strong our faith, it is a mystery and a parting that leaves us with a deep longing within.

But we are not left alone in our sorrow. When we keep our hearts full of love, they become able to perceive the multitude of little gifts constantly being showered upon us, reassuring us that this sorrow is but for a moment.

Everything is all right. All is most well in the eternal Love. And soon enough, we will experience this Truth in its fullness.