Perseverance

“He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.                                                                                           Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.”  –  Isiah 40

I first met Don by way of a newspaper article. As an officer with The Polio Outreach Of Connecticut, Don had written an article explaining the group’s mission. The article provided Post Polio survivors who were experiencing new symptoms and having an interest in becoming a member with contact information. The group provides support by way of advocacy, up to date treatments, lectures by professionals to address concerning P.P.S. issues, and a social outlet for members to gather together and share their experience and simply a good time.

Although I wasn’t able to attend many functions, as I was still employed, Don and I became friends. Not as one would call a friend who is seen often, sharing opportunities of joy and sorrow. But, rather, a friend in fellowship. As two miners on different shifts walking past one another may give a knowing nod in respect for the outer signs of toil that affirm the character within. Our fellowship was born of those shared likenesses forced upon us by polio. At an annual social gathering we were able to spend time discussing the effects of our ever-changing physical symptoms. As I look back, Don seemed to be searching for some confirmation that what he was experiencing might also be true of me.

About a year from that event the membership was informed that Don had contracted A.L.S., aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. First Polio, now this. Disease possesses an ironic sense of humor in its indiscriminate indifference to the life it pursues to destroy. No heart, no mercy. Just the fulfillment of its purpose in a world that allows it to be. The purpose of a suicidal parasite that takes its own life in taking the life of its host. Don’s cross, which no one would make light of, was weighted further with another malady that tests one’s strength beyond what could be considered fair. During that time of anticipation of what was to come, Don maintained a good and positive sense of it. He expressed no anger. He accepted his fate and made the most of his time.

When he entered the medical center where he would be treated, he formed friendships with the other patients, which seemed second nature to him. He would go from room to room visiting them. And I’m sure adding to their day by taking their minds from the challenges that had brought them there. He would tell me of his days there as we spoke over the phone. As time passed so, too, did the ALS progress. It became more difficult to understand Don as his speech was deteriorating. But, his temperament and attitude was one of gratitude for we who would check in on him. Don, through our group president, eventually asked for no more callers. Not out of some resentment, but because he knew how difficult it must for anyone, knowing that he was passing through such dire straights.

Don was never anything but positive, gracious and thankful for the concern of his friends. I, for one, admired him for his courage in the face of such injustice, if justice or injustice can be imparted upon disease. It takes a strong faith to have such a disposition. A faith that is attributed to that which is beyond any confidence one could have placed in a world that would burden him so. Don would pass from his suffering not long after our last conversation. He exhibited the greatest attribute that anyone could hope to possess. For it sees one through life’s most difficult challenges with honor, dignity and the knowledge that there follows such a thing as a greater good. Too many are unaware that the main purpose in life is to prepare for death. One can only imagine oneself in such a circumstance. Would the sum total of our lives loom before us as frightening specter, or, would it be non-consequential as we await one door to close and the next to open. Don, from all outward appearance was prepared.

Christ on the cross bore our ills and sins. He could have come down if He so chose. For He had the power to do so. But, He persevered through suffering for our sakes. It is human to come down, but divine to hang there. Don persevered in like manner. With the exception that he had it not within himself the power to come down from his cross. Without a choice in the matter he found the courage and strength to hold on until the battle was done. There are moments in life when letting go requires great courage, as well. Those who witnessed Don’s manner through it all may have been left with a question: Could I have done the same?

” Blessed is anyone who endures trials. Such a one has stood the test and will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” – James 1:12

Don has shown that when it seems that there is no where else to turn, there truly is still but one turn left. Don, if only in his heart, must have turned to the cross. For there was born the most unimaginable suffering. A suffering which after being endured ended not life, but rather overcame the doubts and fears of mankind. I believe those, like Don, who have endured are now wearing the crown of life.

When I think of perseverance I am reminded of Don, who in the face of insurmountable odds, even unto death, has inspired the hearts of those who once, of themselves, thought it impossible to do the same. How Don handled his life odyssey of hurdling relentless obstacles can best be expressed in the following stanza from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “IF”.

“If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

A diamond is merely a lump of coal that did well under the pressure.”

 

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Revealing Hands

hand to the plowA woman in England was dying of tuberculosis. She had spent the better part of her life in service of her deceased sister’s children. She cared, raised and nurtured them. She took in laundry so that the children would not want nor hinder their education and opportunity for a successful life. As a result of her labors her hands were red and worn from the detergents used in cleaning the clothes of patrons.

As she lay in a hospital bed awaiting her imminent death she was visited by her minister. He spoke plainly about her impending fate and implored her to make right with the Lord before that moment arrived. He asked her what would she say for herself at her judgment before Christ.  She thought for a moment and then extended her hands saying: “I will show Him my hands.”

The hands of service and sacrifice are often worn, rough and  bruised. Hands like these are not very attractive and oft-times cause some to turn away. Christ’s hands were pinned by nails to the crossbar of the cross. The pain radiated throughout his nervous system like bolts of lightning. These bleeding bruised hands, although for the moment, far beyond healing themselves were still healing, in freeing souls from sin. Hands that brought sight to the blind. Hands that made the lame walk. Hands that opened the deaf to the sounds of the world in which they lived. Hands that straightened deformed bodies. Hands that drove demons from possessed souls and made pure those hearts corrupted by sin. Hands that restored health to the ill. Hands that raised the dead back to life. Hands that dismissed the darkness in His claim to be the light if the world.

There were hands that too performed the contrary to good works. The hands that stuck Christ for the truth He preached. The hands raised with clenched fits in persecuting Him. The hands that held the whip that scourged Him. The hands that fashioned a crown of thorns, in mocking honor, as a torturous band about His brow. The hands that drove spikes through His Divine hands and feet. The washed hands of Pilate as he disavowed his part in condemning the world’s savior to death. And the infamous hands that betrayed the Son of Man with an embrace of misguided love.

Each person’s hands perform various functions. The hands of a carpenter and those of a surgeon will not appear the same. The carpenter’s will be rough and firm, while the surgeon’s may be smooth and deft. Each set of hands keeping with the practice of their particular trade. Yet, neither being more important than the other. For each discipline is valuable in it own right. Yet here is not revealed the character of the person in possession of these hands.

The appearance of hands may give an observer some notion of profession and the nature of that profession. Whether one constructs a desk or sits behind it. But what cannot be made known is the character of the hands’ owner. As per the examples above: hands that heal, can harm. Hands that comfort, can upset. Hands that create, can destroy. Hands that protect, can persecute. Hands that perform acts of love can, likewise, perform acts of hate.

The average person cannot by a handshake truly make a distinction about another’s character. Whether their heart is filled with good or evil. But, the One who is beyond the average can do so. That is why judgment is left to God. As the woman in the opening story, we, too, will one day come to judgment. It matters not whether we believe this or not. For the truth is in knowing that it rains and shines on the good and bad alike. God has no lesser love for the non-believer. It is left to the free will of the non-believer to believe that. We will at judgment respond to Christ as the woman who sacrificed much for others had proposed to the minister. We will, as she, offer our hands. Christ then will offer His. Will there be seen a likeness between our hands and His? Will our hands show the marks of sacrifice, or those of the self-indulgent?  In their likeness will be our welcome.

We have but two choices in how we conduct our lives. Our hands can perform acts of virtue or vice.

 

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Mom Forever In A Song

I had difficulty coming up with the words that would best do justice to this Mother’s Day post. I searched my mind but found none worthy. Yet the words not found in thought were found in the heart.

After a nine month stay at a convalescent hospital, recovering from paralysis due to Polio, my mom would sing me to sleep each night. The fears of a disabled five-year old then, and the challenges ahead not yet conceived, were tempered by the security and confidence instilled by Mom’s comforting protective loving voice. The trials of any day melted away with every lyric of the song which she chose as a lullaby that bound us to each other as she lie beside me until I gave way to peaceful sleep. I offer that song here in tribute to my mom’s memory.

“Goodnight Sweetheart – (performed by Rudy Vallee, 1941)

Goodnight sweetheart
‘Til we meet tomorrow.
Goodnight, sweetheart
Sleep will banish sorrow.

Tears and parting
May make you forlorn.
But with the dawn
A new day is born.

So I’ll say goodnight sweetheart
Though I’m not beside you.
Goodnight sweetheart
Still my love will guide you.

Dreams enfold you
In each one I’ll hold you.
Goodnight sweetheart
Goodnight.

To my mom I offer a “Goodnight Sweetheart.” Throughout my life I have found comfort, security, encouragement and love within her affectionate arms. I ask now that she has  found perfect peace and joy, of which she is so worthy, in God’s loving eternal embrace.

How blessed is the person whose choice of a mother would be that of God’s too.

 

 

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The Significant Spark

light-600“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. 

And God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. ” – Genesis 1 

In the image above an ultra sound captures the moment of conception. The time lapse photo reveals a spark which then ignites a rapidly expanding bright flash.

The big Bang theory, which is presently the most popular theory of the origin of the universe, theorizes, as its name suggests, that the beginning of everything as we know it happened as an instantaneous violent explosion. It, interestingly, aligns with the opening Genesis passage.

The moment of conception can also be considered an instantaneous action. The flash of light that engulfs the egg is like a lightning strike. As the lightning is suddenly upon us, so, too, is the beginning of human life. Fertilization is initiated by a spark between male and female counter-parts. As a flame can be started with a spark and continue to burn unless acted upon by the deprivation of fuel, oxygen or decrease in temperature; so, also, will the human process continue until that process results in a new-born child. Unless that process of life is halted by natural or unnatural means.

“Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.” – Genesis 2:7

The Shroud of Turin is believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus Christ. The image that appears on the shroud is of a crucified man having identical markings as those depicted in the Passion Story. Research of various disciplines has with more certainty than not intimated that the man in the cloth is Christ.

Dr. Paolo Di Lazzaro is an eminent researcher at the ENEA centre in Rome. This is a world leading research centre in nuclear fusion and laser technology. Dr. Di Lazzaro has demonstrated that the surface properties of the image with the specific changes in chemical structure which are found can be replicated by an extremely high intensity and short duration burst of coherent ultraviolet light. This also explains the ‘photographic negative’ properties of the image.

The image on the shroud is unique in that it has ‘distance-coded’ properties such that the image contains three-dimensional information. This suggests that unlike an ordinary photograph in which light is reflected from the subject, the light which formed this ‘photograph’ actually originated from within the subject. As is true in conception, the life of Christ is, too, restored in a flash.

Any woman who has gone through the rigors of labor can attest that giving birth is anything but passive. It like the hidden function of conception is violent to some extent. That flash of life grabs attention. And in how life comes into being is significant. Whether in the creation of the universe, the function of conception or in the enigma of an empty tomb, a profound powerful impetus is required to bring it to reality. Life then is other than a mundane occurence. It catches one’s attention and wonder. To paraphrase Dr. Marc Siegel: “The fact that a chemical reaction causes this flash of light phenomenon at conception is not in opposition to God, but is, instead, a sign of God’s action.”

All life is of grand importance and should be relished as such. For anything that should so violently come to exist and thereafter violently fight to conserve its existence must be significant.

The unanswered mysteries of life are satisfied by theory or faith. One leaves open the door of uncertainty, the other need look no further.

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When God Calls

“There is a Man on the cross” Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

Whenever there is a silence about me, by day or night, I am startled by a cry. It came from a cross the first time I heard it, and I went out searching and found a man in the throes of crucifixion. I said: “I will take you down.” He said: “I cannot be taken down until ever man, woman, and child come together to take me down.” “What can I do?” I said, “I cannot bear your cry.” And he said, “Go into the world and tell everyone you meet, there is a man on the cross.”

“The Next Voice You Hear;” is a movie that was released in (1950). It starred James Whitmore and Nancy Reagan. (Yes, the former First Lady of the United States.)

Joe and Mary Smith and their young son Johnny live in a modest home in a suburban Los Angeles neighborhood. The Smiths lead simple lives defined by mostly their daily routines: Joe works hard at his steady job at the Ajax Aircraft Plant and Johnny attends school and delivers newspapers, while Mary, who is nine months pregnant, is a homemaker. One evening, while Mary is helping Johnny with his homework, Joe turns on the radio in the living room, expecting to hear his favorite program. However, instead of the usual programming, Joe hears a voice that identifies itself as the voice of God. Though perplexed by the voice and initially believing it to be a hoax, Joe later tells Mary that he heard the voice tell him that God will be broadcasting on the radio for the next few days.

The following morning, Joe reads in the newspaper that three thousand people reported hearing a strange voice on the radio the previous night, and that they all heard the same thing he heard. Later that evening, when Joe returns home from his bowling game, Mary tells him that she heard the voice of God on the radio and that it said that God was planning to perform miracles.

As the government begins an investigation into the mysterious radio voice, which is now being heard all over the world, the talk of the town is the voice of God. The next time that God addresses the world, a fiery thunderstorm suddenly advances upon the city, sending Mary and Johnny into Joe’s arms for comfort. Joe tries to calm them by insisting that the storm was a coincidence, but Mary is not convinced. As all scientific attempts to explain the voice fail, people all over the world begin to conclude that the voice really is God.

Joe eventually decides that the voice is real, too, and that he has been given a sign from God to respect his boss, Fred Brannan, and to be kinder to Mary’s sister, Ethel. On the fourth consecutive day of God’s radio broadcasts, the world is instructed to perform miracles of kindness and peace. The following day, while drinking in a bar with his friend Mitch, an intoxicated Joe has a epiphany and realizes that the time he spends with Mitch in bars is wrong. Before staggering out of the bar, Joe tells Mitch that he is the “voice of evil.” When Joe returns home, Johnny sees his father drunk for the first time and is ashamed. Joe quickly reforms his ways and, the following day, apologizes to Ethel for his past behavior. Johnny, however, becomes disillusioned and runs away from home. Joe finds his son at Fred’s house, and their frank discussion leads to a reconciliation.

The next day, the Smiths attend a special church service to hear the voice of God speak on the radio, but on that day, the seventh day, no voice is heard. Their minister concludes that God must be resting, and with that pronouncement, Mary goes into labor. Hours later, Mary gives birth to a baby girl, and Joe and Johnny are overjoyed.

The two examples above prompt a question. Is it in us to do such a thing? That thing being, the turning of the totality of humanity’s ear to God’s beckoning call to unity. A Divine unity calling us to love God and our neighbor. Yes, it is in us to do such a thing. Even, if only for an instant, can perfection be achieved, when humility overcomes pride. For it has not a thing to do with evolving to such a point, but rather it has everything to do with an act; an act of the will. Is it not possible to will ourselves to anything? Cannot a thought become an act? Of course this is possible. When a throng of sports patrons are asked to stand, in respect, for the playing of their county’s national anthem, is that not accomplished? So then, if we can all will ourselves to respond to a call to stand in unison; we have, even, for but a moment, found perfection. Image the immeasurable joy experienced if we were to will ourselves to let our baggage drop from our grips to heed the call of God.

Every one of us can change. It can happen in a flash. As with Joe Smith, and in Saul’s transformation to Paul. Nothing is impossible where there is willingness. Anyone who has ever walked the earth has had an ability to decide; hence everyone has a common will. And it is in this common shared will that we possess the capacity to act in concert at any given moment.

God’s call, whether heard as a cry from the cross of salvation to bring Him our love, or as a divine entreatment on some form of mass communication to love one another, should draw the attention of all. For His voice resounds in, and is familiar to, every heart that He loved into being. As the apple falls not too far from the tree, neither are fallen men and women so far removed from paradise that they cannot hear the call of their Creator to come home.

 

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A Picture of Health

In Oscar Wilde’s novel, “The Picture Of Dorian Gray,” Dorian Gray is the subject of a full-length portrait in oil by Basil Hallward, an artist who is impressed and infatuated by Dorian’s beauty. He believes that Dorian’s beauty is responsible for the new mode in his art as a painter. Through Basil, Dorian meets Lord Henry Wotton, and he soon is enthralled by the aristocrat’s hedonistic worldview: that beauty and sensual fulfilment are the only things worth pursuing in life.

Newly understanding that his beauty will fade, Dorian expresses the desire to sell his soul, to ensure that the picture, rather than he, will age and fade. The wish is granted, and Dorian pursues a libertine life of varied and amoral experiences, while staying young and beautiful; all the while his portrait ages and records every soul-corrupting sin.

Those who know him become puzzled, as the passing years that taint with grey and thin the hair, while adding creases to the face, seem to have overlooked Dorian. He is as unchanged as is his portrait. Yet, when he ends his engagement to his fiancée, so that he can become fully engaged in his life of debauchery, he notices a hint of cruelty evident on his image in the portrait.

Basil, in time, confronts Dorian in regard to his distasteful self-indulgent life-style, which Dorian does not deny. Basil inquires why the portrait of Dorian is not on display. Dorian then takes him to an oft not used room where he has locked the portrait away. On seeing it Basil is horrified and bewildered by the grotesque figure that had replaced his once beautiful subject. The lustful vices willfully practiced by Dorian had mutated the portrait to its present state. The distorted portrait of the man, in fact, had become the picture of his soul. Dorian blames his fate on Basil, after which he stabs him dead. Dorian then blackmailed an old friend to dispose of the body. Now, the corruption of the picture is complete, by an act of murder.

Dorian, being motivated by a new love interest, does some soul-searching and alters his behavior. Through that relationship he wonders if his new-found goodness has reverted the corruption in the picture, but sees only an even uglier image of himself. He decides  that only by a full confession will he be absolved of his sins. So Dorian decides to destroy the last remnant of his guilty conscience. In a rage, he plunges the knife, that he used to kill Basil, into the portrait. Upon entering the room, from which they heard screams, the servants find an unknown old man, stabbed in the heart, whose face and figure are withered and decrepit. The rings on the hands of the dead man are those belonging to Dorian, thereby identifying the body as his. Beside him is found the picture of Dorian Gray, reverted back in form as Basil had painted it; its original beauty.

 

Should we have such a picture of our souls, what might its likeness be? As unblemished as at our birth? Likely not. As each sound, image and action can be recorded or recounted by witness, so, too, does any indiscretion of thought, word and deed leave a lesion upon one’s soul. Although a child who steals a candy bar from a store, or a man who robs a bank, are different functions of thievery, is each not still a violation against a neighbor? Levels of culpability can be determined by motivation, yet culpability remains .

When at the moment of death if one is in a state of grace by having refrained from, or attained forgiveness for any mortal sins, there may still exist the stains from any failure to fulfill the two commands; to love God with all our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves, which were left by Christ to those who would choose to follow Him. In the presence of God those seemingly negligible stains on our souls will be seen vividly, as would those imperfections on a portrait when examined in the natural light of day. It is not God’s perfection that bars us from entering heaven, but rather our imperfections in comparison that do so.

But, through God’s infinite mercy, for those acceptable souls that are yet not perfect, a period of purification is granted which removes the stains of impurity as dross is burned away leaving gold purified. Furthermore, through this Divine mercy, accelerated purification is made possible for these longing souls by loved ones still on their earthly journey, who sacrifice time in prayer and especially in offering up the sacrifice of the mass on their behave. Those souls, who have passed beyond death, can no longer of themselves gain forgiveness nor make amends for un-repented sins.  Only when these hungry souls are worthy to be in the presence of perfect love can they become saints. And only those who are saintly shall inherit the joy of unending blissful life found in God’s divine truth and perfect love. Dorian denied himself any chance of purification and salvation. Instead of remorseful repentance and putting his trust in God’s mercy, he took his own life in a suicidal rage.

Thoughts become words, words become acts, acts determine character; a character that can be either built upon virtue or vice. As Basil created an image of Dorian’s beauty, Dorian betrayed that image by his imprudent actions. Only in the end when it was too late did he admit to his guilt. And even then his offer of repentance was a violent expression of vice, as he brutally stabbed the image of his own soul. For only though an act of love, not hate, can a soul be made new.

How directed then are our thoughts, words, and acts. Are they directed as Basil, toward the saintly, or as Dorian, toward the sinner. Prudence causes us to hesitate. A pause to reflect upon the potential repercussions of our acts. Let Dorian’s fate be a lesson. A lesson not needed to be learned by experience.

So then… let us, in every waking moment, prepare ourselves for the ultimate joy. That joy which is accessible by one who accepts God’s will as his own.

May our souls, in the end, be pictures of health.

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THE HOPE OF EASTER

“I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never die.” – JOHN 11:25-26

The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them….The Cross had asked: “Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?” The Resurrection answered: “That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death.”

Thus there emerges the Easter lesson that the power of evil and the chaos of any one moment can be defied and conquered, for the basis of our hope is not in any construct of human power but in the power of God, who has given to the evil of this earth its one mortal wound-an open tomb, a gaping sepulcher, an empty grave.                   – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen 

The way is hard, not easy, that leads to everlasting life. Because it is purchased by a love that can only be secured by a truth that confounds the world.  

                                                                     

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