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We began this blog to discuss faith, social issues, economics, culture and politics. We welcome your comments. God bless you. Susan and Lawrence Fox

Saturday, November 22, 2014

NO DEATH RITUALS: Miscarriage has no funeral

by Susan Fox

My poetry teacher said, "Blues poetry is about being in the hard place. So now we are going to write about death ." 

Death Rituals celebrated in context of community are necessary for healing deep grief over the loss of a loved one. Unfortunately, in a miscarriage these rituals do not take place. I had two miscarriages.  My father died when I was four, and my mother tried to protect me by keeping me at home during the funeral. This was a mistake. 

Lunch at the Space Needle; second child lost.
I was sitting on the toilet, bleeding his loss.
No sitting with the body; no praying for the dead…
My son saying, “Mommie, in your belly, the baby’s dead.”

When my Daddy died, I bounced on his bed.
Got home from New Orleans: “No funeral,” Mom said.
Under a grey blanket, I was left behind.
No sitting with the body, no crossing the line.

The first child came out whole.
Took him to the doctor: they want to know.
They took my baby’s body, his familiar head.
No sitting with the body, no crying for the dead.

Mom had a funeral; came the town.
Amazed, mourners passed me, greeting the crowd;
“Didn’t she love her?’ I wore red.
I was finally sitting with the body and praying for the dead.

"The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one's aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and then transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism. As a form, the blues is an autobiographical chronicle of personal catastrophe expressed lyrically." (Ralph Ellison)

Read another Blues Poem for An American Lost by the same author.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Walk by Faith, and Not by Sight: The True Story of Blind Hiker Bill Irwin

by Susan Fox

“Stand firm, and you will win life.” (Luke 21:19)

By everyone’s evaluation, Bill Irwin was a failure.
Bill Irwin, the first and only blind man
 to hike the Appalachian Trail
with only his Seeing Eye dog Orient

A womanizing alcoholic with four failed marriages, who had lost his sight, Irwin was severely depressed.

Then his son called him, confessed his cocaine habit and asked for his help. Bill spent a week in rehabilitation with the young man, constantly planning his escape back to a mindless alcoholic haze and his five-pack-a-day smoking habit.

Suddenly on the last day of his son’s rehab at the graduation ceremony, Bill Irwin introduced himself, “I’m Bill Irwin, and I’m an alcoholic.” The crowd at the rehab center was stunned as he’d spent the entire previous week denying just that.

He didn’t know how those words came out of his mouth -- except by the grace of God. After that he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and experienced a profound conversion to Christ at the age of 49.

‘When I told people I was born again, it was more than a cliché to me. A part of me that had been dead as a tent peg had come to life. It had changed my entire purpose for living,” Bill wrote in his 1992 memoir, “Blind Courage.” Irwin died of prostate cancer on March 1, 2014, at the age of 73.

After his conversion and after he stopped smoking and drinking, Bill prayed: “Lord, I’m so grateful for all You’ve given me and all You’ve done for me. If there’s ever anything I can do as a way of saying thanks to You, I want you to know I’ll do it, whatever it is.”

Be careful what you ask for because God apparently decided that Bill would be a fantastic model of “walking by faith and not by sight.” In fact, Bill was about to discover that God cannot be perceived with the senses, but He can be seen clearly without them.
White Blaze markings
show you are still on the Appalachian Trail
God was calling Bill to an impossible task: walk the 2,168-mile Appalachian Trail, the longest continuously marked hiking trail in the world. The only problem is that Bill could not see the White Blaze markings on the 14-state trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine, nor could he “see” the majestic views along the trail.

Bill Irwin and Orient, part of the
team they called the "Orient Express"
Nevertheless, accompanied only by his Seeing Eye dog, Orient, he completed the journey in nine months in 1990 and along the way became a symbol of hope for millions of other physically challenged Americans and a witness of patient endurance for all Christians blindly struggling in the Wilderness.   

Now filmmakers Paula O'Neal (Producer) and Clint Ross (Director), are recreating his journey as a narrative film called Blind Courage. The story deserves to be told! Bill’s witness to the value of human life is vitally important in these times when the best medical professionals have begun to define handicapped lives like Bill’s as “futile.”

Increasingly in the U.S., Canada and Europe, handicapped people -- who once fought for special access to buildings and rest rooms – now have to fight to get medical care because their lives are deemed not worth saving.  If you want this movie to be made, go here to donate before Nov. 22, 2014: BLIND COURAGE THE MOVIE The trailer made me weep.
Brittany Maynard
chose to end her life

Nov. 1, 2014 
Sadly, some people agree with the medical establishment that their lives are not worth living. Twenty-nine year old Brittany Maynard recently became a poster child for the Right-to-Die Movement. With incurable brain cancer, she moved to the suicide state of Oregon so that she could avoid a long and debilitating hospice. She chose to end her life Nov. 1, 2014. In one interview, before her death, she said, “Having this choice (to die) has given me a sense of peace during a tumultuous time that otherwise would be dominated by fear, uncertainty and pain.”

Bill Irwin, were he still alive, could relate to that because when he was 28 years old, he too was diagnosed with a fatal eye cancer that was expected to spread to his brain, causing his death in three months time. As a result, he was on board with the death wish, drinking himself to oblivion. They removed one of his eyes. Luckily, they studied it and determined he didn’t have cancer, just an incurable condition that would slowly lead to complete blindness in his other eye. Bill returned to his workaholic life as a corporate executive and all the little vices he used to numb the pain from a very difficult childhood and his broken relationships.

But God got Bill in the end. After his conversion, he kept getting inundated by family and friends planning trips in the Appalachian Trail. He began to think that God wanted him to make the journey too, but he couldn’t understand how God would ask such a thing.

Bill admitted to God that he was overweight, clumsy, didn’t like camping, and he would make a very bad Christian witness because he didn’t like to talk about his conversion. Plus Bill was blind. Only 10 percent of what they call the Appalachian through-hikers actually completes the 2,168-mile journey. And all of them could see.

Most are injured, run out of money, or become discouraged. These are your experienced hikers, who love the outdoors. But Bill was not like that at all.  The conversation Bill had with God about going on that hike was very similar to the ones Moses had with God when He called him to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt.

"’I am the LORD; speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I speak to you.’ But Moses said before the LORD, ‘Behold, I am unskilled in speech; how then will Pharaoh listen to me?’" (Exodus 6:28-30)

In fact, Moses was so insistent that he was a clumsy speaker that God assigned his brother Aaron to speak for him. So Moses would speak for God, and Aaron would speak for Moses.

To march in and tell the leader of Egypt to “let my people go” must have taken quite a lot of trust in God because Moses clearly was not qualified, and besides he might be killed.

So it was with Bill Irwin. He was not qualified for the task that God gave him. And he was almost killed several times. He met bears, got trounced on by an upset moose, fell down every day numerous times, broke his rib on a sharp rock (and there were many of those), was stranded without water, couldn’t find his way back to his pack when the temperatures dropped, and he almost drowned crossing a freezing river. Every single time God picked him up and saved him.
Scene from Blind Courage The Movie
God calls weak men like Bill Irwin and Moses to impossible tasks so the world can never believe that mere men did incredible things. No, in the Exodus and on the Appalachian Trail, we watch God working through the weakest of men.

Starting out on the trail completely unknown in Springer Mountain, Georgia, he was very quickly overtaken with discouragement. In that sense, he was like the Israelites after Moses led them out of Egypt. They faced the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army breathing down their backs. Moses asked, “What shall we do?” God said, “Go straight ahead.” He told them effectively to walk into the Sea, but before they got there, God had parted the waters and they passed safely.
Screen Shot from Blind Courage The Movie
Actor Bill Oberst Jr. will play the blind hiker
In the Blind Courage Movie Trailer, someone asks Bill, “Ever think about quitting?”

Bill answers: “Every day.”

“How do you know which way to go?” the guy asked.

“I don’t.  I just follow him (the dog).  God leads the dog, and the dog leads me.” In fact, the color blind Seeing Eye dog eventually learned to recognize the white blazes on the trees marking the trail.

Bill writes that God sent little witnesses on the trail to befriend and encourage him. Because of these encounters, the man who didn’t want to engage in Christian witness became an effective evangelist, forming deep friendships along the way.

His first encounter was with a lady named Patty. He was hanging his wet clothes to dry. “After only four days on the trail, I was already a few miles behind schedule. I was feeling guilty and a bit discouraged when a woman’s voice said, ‘Hi, how’s it going?’”

A day hiker, she told him that he was doing the right thing getting his stuff dried out, and it wasn’t a sign of weakness, nor a waste of time. The best part was she told him he looked like a guy who would make it all the way to Maine. That was just what he needed to hear.

Like all through-hikers, Bill had packed too much stuff. He met up with a Forest Ranger and his wife, who modified Orient’s pack using an industrial sewing machine so the dog could carry his necessary load. The ranger helped Bill pick what he would take, and what he would mail back home. He also told him to dump his “dead man’s clothes:” Cotton created the perfect conditions for hypothermia.

Bill no longer regarded the strangers’ kindnesses as a coincidence. He called it “God performing a miracle while maintaining his anonymity.” He was beginning to understand the mercy of God. “That was a big departure from the kind of thinking that had governed most of my life.”

Bill spent 49 years of his life just giving up emotionally. He spent the next 24 years doing the opposite. Many times in his memoir, he said he asked himself why he didn’t give up a task that was difficult even for a sighted man. Then he would come to the conclusion through prayer that God asked him to do this for a reason, and he would just keep putting one foot in front of another.  Bill was developing the Christian virtue of enduring perseverance.  

Consider the Parable of the Sower: "Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed, which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.” (Luke 8:13-15)  In Bill’s life, God  planted a seed in a good heart that bore fruit in perseverance. 

Once word got out that a blind man was hiking the Appalachian Trail, reporters from every major media outlet mobbed Bill. He didn’t hesitate answering the questions about why he was doing his impossible hike: he expressed his gratitude to God. 
Blind Courage The Movie
“Why are you doing this Bill?” he was asked in the Blind Courage Movie Trailer.
“To say thank you to God.”
“For what?”
“For savin’ my life.”

Bill Irwin was not a Catholic man, but on the trail he walked he learned discernment of spirits. Catholics divide the movements of the spirit into that of the flesh, the evil spirit and the good spirit. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1John 4:1) Bill might have been weakened many times by the spirit of the flesh, when he faced pain and discouragement. But he ultimately welcomed the directions of the Good Spirit. For Bill was led to patience in trial.

Bill speaks of the times God spoke to his heart in silence. It frustrated the people who assisted Bill when they would give him advice on how and when to take certain paths along the trail because Bill would never readily agree to their advice. He always said he would pray about it. The desire for prayer is a sign of the movement of the Good Spirit, leading you in the virtue of hope.  Near the end of his journey he evidenced indifference to human success, willing to give up the journey before the end or continue it as God willed. This is another sign of the action of the Good Spirit in Bill’s life. The evil spirit is opposed to humility and obedience.

On the trail, Bill plunged into silence to perceive God without his senses. Blindness is actually a tremendous advantage in a difficult spiritual journey. One will never see God in His Transcendence inside creation, and creation is perceived with the senses. Think of the Apostle St. Thomas, who refused to believe that Jesus had appeared to the other apostles after His death: "Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." (John 20:25)
St Thomas puts his hand in Christ's side
Christ responded to his apostle’s need for sensual reassurance. Appearing again to the apostles, He said to Thomas: "Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing." (John 20:27) Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20: 28)

But Jesus said to him, "Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed." (John 20:29)

Jesus was speaking about people like Bill Irwin. God called Bill to that kind of faith in which man enters the dark night – the prelude to union with God. Literally, one has to become blind to see. “Oh, night that guided me, 
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, 
Lover transformed in the Beloved!” sang St. John of the Cross in his poem “Dark Night of the Soul.” The night is allegory for leaving the world of the senses to seek God in blindness. It’s not a well marked path, and you might not see the White Blazes.

St. John concluded his poem reclining his head upon the breast of Jesus: “I remained, lost in oblivion; 
My face I reclined on the Beloved. 
All ceased and I abandoned myself, 
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.”

Ah, may we all leave our cares forgotten among the lilies.

May we all take that difficult journey, blindly following the instructions of the Beloved, and listening for the Voice of God, directing us on the trail until we arrive safely nestled in the Heart of Christ at our eternal home.

The real Bill Irwin doing
what he does best
To see a short video clip of the real Bill Irwin near the end of his 2,168-mile hike in Maine:  Bill Irwin Hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 1990

The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross
On a dark night, 
Kindled in love with yearnings--oh, happy chance!--
I went forth without being observed, 
My house being now at rest.
In darkness and secure, 
By the secret ladder, disguised--oh, happy chance!--
In darkness and in concealment, 
My house being now at rest.
In the happy night, 
In secret, when none saw me,
Nor I beheld aught, 
Without light or guide, save that which burned in my 
This light guided me 
More surely than the light of noonday
To the place where he (well I knew who!) was awaiting me--
A place where none appeared.
Oh, night that guided me, 
Oh, night more lovely than the dawn,
Oh, night that joined Beloved with lover, 
Lover transformed in the Beloved!
Upon my flowery breast, 
Kept wholly for himself alone,
There he stayed sleeping, and I caressed him, 
And the fanning of the cedars made a breeze.
The breeze blew from the turret 
As I parted his locks;
With his gentle hand he wounded my neck 
And caused all my senses to be suspended.
I remained, lost in oblivion; 
My face I reclined on the Beloved.
All ceased and I abandoned myself, 
Leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

Monday, November 3, 2014

ALL SOULS' DAY: Priestly Celibacy Witnesses to the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth

 Sermon by Rev. John Paul Shea
Feast of All Soul's Day, Nov. 2, 2014
Saints Peter & Paul Parish, Tucson, AZ

"They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead; and their passing away was thought an affliction and their going forth from us, utter destruction. But they are in peace." (Wisdom 3: 2-3) 

Black Vestments are allowed
on All Souls' Day and
Requiem Masses
Today the Church celebrates the solemnity of All Souls' Day! Yesterday our Catholic Church celebrated the feast of All Saints, those extraordinary human beings who were blessed to be among those who accomplished God’s will in a special way. But today we remember everyone — all the dead -– those who have repented and those who have not, those who were rich and those who were poor, those who were loved by many and those who were loved by few.

We celebrate today’s feast in the fundamental belief that there is a spiritual communion among all in the state of grace, whether they have begun purification in Purgatory, live on earth or are in heaven. 

Today’s feast is a reminder that we are part of a larger community, both living and dead.  We pray for mercy on all souls, including ourselves that we will allow God’s mercy entrance into our lives. We want to allow our Lord to free us from everything that ties us down to this world so that we can fly to the next.

All Souls' Day falls in the month of November when the weather begins to change and the nights become longer. So we are reminded that one day our life here on earth will end and we will face what comes ahead.

Many do not want to think about death. We do not need to fear death, but we should prepare for it. If we strive to keep ourselves pure, we can rejoice in death. 
“The souls of the just are in the hand of God.” That's what we hear in today's reading (Wisdom 3:1-9) And therefore, we remain connected to those who have gone before us marked with the sign of faith. We should pray for them in the hopes that one day we might live in communion with them.

"The souls of the just are in the hand of God, and no torment shall touch them." 

What is the soul? Saint Thomas Aquinas described the soul as “the animating energy of the body.” We could also say that our soul is the blueprint of our existence. Evidence of our eternal soul is that we are self-aware, and this self-awareness lives on after death, perfected in our resurrected bodies. Our soul links us to our future home in eternity. Our soul transcends this world even now.

My brothers and sisters, today’s celebration reminds us that each one of us will live forever! This is why Our Lord in today’s Gospel passage speaks so readily of eternal life, reminding us that He came so that everyone who sees Him and believes in Him may have eternal life.

We also are reminded that our choices now will determine the state of our soul for all eternity! This is why our Lord came into the world, lived and died on the cross -- for the salvation of our souls! 

This is true mercy! But we must respond.  He calls us to live, but not for the world because the world has become a place of immorality and corruption. He calls us to raise our minds and hearts to His eternal wisdom.

Today’s first reading reminds us that if we want eternal life then we must first prove ourselves worthy. We are reminded that the souls of the just are chastised a little, but that
“they shall be greatly blessed, because God tried them and found them worthy of himself. As gold in the furnace, he proved them, and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself."

My brothers and sisters, the Christian life is not easy! Our Lord’s saving mission to restore our soul to communion with God the Father requires work on our part. It requires that we reject the values of the world! It requires that we pray and make sacrifices for our souls and for the salvation of all souls! 

The foolish  do not understand because most want it easy. The world hates sacrifice. Yet, eternal salvation is not born from comfort. It comes by entering into the narrow gate of self-denial! If we do not grasp this now, then we will face it in Purgatory.

Priests take a vow of celibacy at our ordination. This vow is a stranger to our secular culture, and even Catholics don't understand it. We do not see beyond the limitations of our fallen nature. 

Yet, this is precisely why priests take the vow of celibacy! We want to witness in a special way to the reality of the kingdom of heaven in this life on earth. We are to conform ourselves to Christ as a sign of the future resurrection, when our earthly body will be changed into a heavenly body. But you too -- each in your own vocation -- are called to show forth the reality of heaven by the way you live your lives!

"In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble." 

My brothers and sisters, if we are truly living out our Christian life, we appear foolish to the world! But you know what, praise God because this world is passing away, and God is preparing a place for all who seek Him in His kingdom of justice, truth, and love. 

"Those who trust in Him shall understand truth, and the faithful shall abide with him in love: because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect."

As we come together to celebrate Mass on this special celebration of All Souls, let us remember life is short. And let us pray for those who have gone before us. God bless you.
Fr. John Paul Shea on All Souls' Day.
Have you seen a Mass celebrated in a black
vestment? Larry and I haven't, but that's
because it had fallen out of favor among priests.
The younger priests are bringing this ancient
practice of the Church back.
And that's a good sign. 

Did you enjoy this homily. There are more! You might enjoy: FOLLOW THE YELLOW BRICK ROAD: The Most Perfect Path to Holiness