Thoughts At Year’s End

After my siblings and my first year of life, our parents assigned an adjective to us that best described our first 12 months. I was good, my sister happy and my brother content. I’ve always thought this was a very creative idea of my parents.

This concept came to mind as I’ve been pondering the past year as it mercifully comes to an end. What adjective would I assign to 2018? Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad… oh wait, that’s a children’s book title.

2018 began innocently enough but was not even two months old when the darkness began to emerge here in the Diocese of Buffalo. March, April and May were especially dark months for our diocese, but by summer’s end, our national and global Church were facing the same storm of scandal and tragedy. This has been an incredibly painful year for Catholics in Buffalo, the United States and across the globe. It has been emotionally, physiologically and spiritually exhausting.

If I had to choose just one word to describe this infamous year, I would call it the Year of Upheaval. On a personal level, this description definitely works. During the course of 2018, I had 3 jobs, moved 3 times, lived in 4 homes, leaked hundreds of documents and appeared on TV numerous times. For a naturally private person who didn’t even have a Facebook account before this started, it was a jarring change to my normal existence. Upheaval is defined as “a violent or sudden change or disruption to something.” My life has absolutely changed and I still feel that disruption keenly. Yet the challenges I’ve faced are so many ounces to the oceans of suffering endured by the survivors.

On the national and global level, the Catholic Church experienced great upheaval this past year. We Catholics are still reeling from the seismic shock of learning that the clerical abuse scandal of the early aughts was not a thing of the past, but an ongoing crisis. This CNN article gives an excellent (albeit nauseating) month-by-month explanation of the many upheavals of 2018. It is staggering to review the year and realize the many facets of this global scandal.

This has been the worst year of my life. Other years might have been in contention for a few months, but by May they were out of the running for that ignoble title. Yet amidst this year of dark distress, there was still good to be found. Here are the best things about my worst year:

1. I’m still a practicing Catholic. Thank you, Lord.

2. I was able to do something for the victim-survivors, who matter so very much to me, and for the Church that I love.

3. I’ve learned the painful yet valuable lesson of who my true friends are while gaining wonderful new friends.

4. I still believe that there is more good than bad in the world, but I’ve learned that sometimes the bad is where you thought the good was.

5. I have an enduring peace of soul that defies explanation.

All that is good comes from our gracious and loving God. With all my heart, I thank Him for these good things that penetrated the darkness of this difficult year.

jesus pic

In this photo from the crypt of the Basilica of the Assumption in Baltimore, Christ steps out of the darkness with His hands stretched out towards us. I love how this image contrasts His light with the surrounding darkness. Christ’s face is pained as is His Sacred Heart. Long ago in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew that one day the descendants of His followers would hurt and harm the little ones He loves so much. He knew that the Church He founded would be run like a corporation within a few millennia. He knew that in 2018 His people would be suffering in mind, heart and soul. He anticipated the pain of victim survivors and their loved ones. No wonder he experienced hematohidrosis there in the Garden!

Jesus well knew how ugly, evil and horrible humanity would be across the ages and yet he willingly died for us after establishing the Church through which we were to follow Him and His teachings. Let us unite our broken hearts to His and offer our own yes in response: Yes, Lord, I will follow you. Through the darkness, the turmoil, the pain and the upheaval. I need to keep reminding myself that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life even if my way forward is unclear, the truth came at a cost and my life is still unsettled.

During the unsettling months of 2018, a much-listened-to song became a prayer as well. Abide with Me is a hymn written in Scotland in the 1840’s which draws inspiration from this line in Luke where the apostles address Christ: “Abide with us for it is toward evening and the day is far spent.” You can read the lyrics of this hymn below or listen to it sung with haunting beauty by Audrey Assad here.

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away
Change and decay in all around I see
O Thou who changest not, abide with me

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still ​if Thou abide with me

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me
Abide with me, abide with me.

The most poignant line for me is: “O Though who changest not, abide with me.” During this year of such upheaval and so many changes, God was with us. As we cross the threshold of a new year, He will remain by our sides. Abide with us, Lord, and help us never to lose our trust in You. You gave your life for us. May we live our lives for you.

Guadalupe Gratitude

The Blessed Mother has so many wonderful titles – enough to fill a year’s calendar! Many Catholics may have their personal favorite titles for her. I’m partial to Mary, Star of the Sea and Our Lady of Knock and of Victory. 11 years ago, rather dramatic circumstances led me to be devoted to her under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

It was a Wednesday evening in early December and I was driving on Route 66 in Northern Virginia near Christendom College, where I worked after graduating. I had put in over 100 hours the previous week and was too exhausted to be driving. My car radio and CD player were out of commission so I was trying my hardest to stay awake sans music. The next thing I knew, I was jolted awake by the impact of my vehicle colliding with another car. I will never know how I got across 4 lanes of fast-moving traffic to the shoulder of that ever-busy highway. My Guardian Angel must have taken the wheel for me.

The gentleman I struck, a military veteran named George who was on his way to a VFW meeting with his sweet wife, was convinced I was intoxicated based on the erratic behavior of my vehicle before it struck his. Fortunately, they were driving a Lexus SUV, which was hardly damaged by the impact and kept them safe. My little Civic did not fare so well and was off its front axle among other injuries, but it had kept me safe. When the State Trooper arrived, he gravely assessed my car’s condition and then surveyed the shoulder where huge cement barrier walls were lined up as part of ongoing construction work. I’ll never forget his expression as he turned to me and said: “You should not be alive right now. If you hadn’t hit their car, you would have ended up hitting one of these. You should not be alive. You are extremely lucky.”

Of course, luck had nothing to do with it. I will never forget the realization that I could easily have died on Route 66 that night. It was both a chilling and heartwarming realization. The former because it made me appreciate how quickly our lives can be extinguished. The latter because it literally warmed my heart and soul to consider God’s generous protection of me. I knew that He was responsible for the preservation of my life that night. Then I remembered what day it was and knew that Our Lady of Guadalupe must have had a hand in it as well. Ever since then, I’ve had a small statue or image of her in my car to remind me of her intercession that cold winter’s night. I will always be grateful for her maternal intercession that evening and always.

This year I met a wonderful woman who has a very special devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Rosa Flores was the first national journalist I worked with regarding the situation in our diocese. I couldn’t have asked for a sweeter, kinder person with whom to work! Her concern for our diocese was only exceeded by her respect for our Church and our faith, which she shares. She also has an amazing story about how Our Lady of Guadalupe influenced her career in journalism. Even Rosa’s full name is a beautiful testament to “Virgencita,” as Our Lady of Guadalupe is called in Spanish, since it reminds us of the Castilian roses that bloomed on Tepeyac Hill in December of 1531. Thank you, Rosa, for being a beautiful witness to the Catholic faith and a true friend to the people you assist through your earnest journalistic efforts.

When we consider the miracle of Guadalupe, the primary figures we think of are Mary and St. Juan Diego, whose feast was this past Sunday. Yet there is another crucial character in this story: Bishop Juan de Zumarraga. I must admit that my view of him used to be pretty one-dimensional… I thought of him as the stubborn bishop who refused to believe Juan Diego until miraculous roses cascaded from an even more miraculous tilma. Then I read about Bishop Juan and realized that his life story is very complex. My initial assessment of him was rather harsh given that I knew nothing of the many challenges he faced and overcame during his life. Based on what I know of him now, it wouldn’t surprise me if he is an undeclared saint who completes the heavenly trio of Guadalupe. Perhaps he can intercede for the bishops of the United States – many of whom are truly obstinate!

How unbelievably generous God was to give us not only a loving Savior, but also a Blessed Mother! Thank you, Virgencita, for your powerful intercession and your beautiful, encouraging words:

“I am your merciful mother, the merciful mother of all of you who live united in this land, and of all mankind, of all those who love me, of those who cry to me, of those who seek me, and of those who have confidence in me.”

Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for us and for your Son’s Church!