It’s not often that I get the chance to write “poetry.” It’s even less often than that, that I share what I write with others besides a spiritual director or close friend.
This Fall, I had a rather unfortunate encounter which led me to a beautiful period of prayer. As I sat with the Lord I wrote this “poem.” It’s mostly free verse with a little bit of rhyme. As I start my retreat today, I share it here in the hopes that it too might speak to you in a similar way that it spoke it’s truth, love, and beauty to me.
When love burns so much it hurts.
The fires of love they burn within this vessel made of clay.
Baked hard and fast with flames of pain, heartbreak, doubt, sadness, hurt, and loss.
This vessel though hard and strong, tried and true feels weak, chipped, lost, abandoned, alone, broken.
The achilles heel, the pressure point, the vessel could not hold.
Stretched, stressed, politicized, berated, worm down by violent use.
This vessel seemed a simple shell, a lonely shell, of what it once had been.
And yet within deep down inside the vessel knew it well.
The loving hands which had taken it, molding it from clay.
It felt the potters hands of love, the tender, gentle hands.
It felt the softness of the hands, the tender touch of care.
It remembered the beauty He saw in it, the joy He had taken in its creation.
It remembered the look of the Fathers eyes, the piercing beauty of His love.
It remembered too the callous hands, scarred, bruised, and torn.
For the Fathers hands were broken too with pain, heartbreak, hurt and loss.
The Fathers hands…the potters hands were the same hands of love.
And in the midst of sadness, hurt, pain, doubt, and loss…
The little vessel remembered the love with which he had been created…
The love for which he had been created…
The hope for which he had been fashioned.
For the vessel was not broken, nor was he even chipped. He had been cast in the fire of the Potters love, so that he might emerge new, beautiful, and strong.
The Father’s love was the fire in that kiln. It was the fire, tried, and true.
The fire which burned so much it hurt, for it was making all things new.
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.”
“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land…” Thus began my scripture passage I had found during my Lectio time the morning we began our journey to the Rio Grande Valley aka…the Border Trip.
For those who don’t know, I was blessed to spend 2 weeks with my Second Theology Classmates in San Antonio, Texas completing a workshop and cultural immersion on Hispanic Ministry in the 21st Century at the Mexican American Catholic College (MACC). Our time in San Antonio was extremely blessed and I truly treasure those memories and the bonding experiences my classmates and I had there. Besides our 5ish hours of class each day the middle of the trip included a visit to the Rio Grande Valley, known as the Border Experience Trip.
We began our journey to the border with a morning of reflection with one of the MACC faculty members on immigrants, refugees, and the experiences she had working in refugee camps for a very long time. We read and reflected on Scripture passages…one of which was that poignant passage from Leviticus that had graced my morning prayer time. After lunch we packed up, boarded the bus and drove south to the Basilica Shrine of our Lady of the Valley, where we would stay in their pilgrim hotel for our few nights there.
I am a huge fan when traveling of not judging others, their culture, their experiences, and the experiences I have while there with thoughts and preconceived notions from back home. I like to immerse myself in a place and experience life as a “local” of sorts. So, I prayed. Thanks to the great idea of my classmate, Brother Simon, OSB, we had a Holy Hour on Wednesday evening to pray for our experiences. And so we prayed!! I prayed that the Lord would bless this experience, that he would bless my classmates and I with open hearts, eyes, and ears, that we might listen to what the Lord was asking of us on this trip and that we would be able to leave the largely politicized language, and stories of the Border behind so that we could see what it truly was like. As I shared that Levitical text on my Facebook and Twitter, it so happened that President Trump was on his way down to the Valley at the same time and that our time there would overlap. Sure enough, I had a group of folks who began to comment and reply back about “pro-wall this” and “that.” As I responded to some of the claims being made, I found that I had to remind myself to be patient…quiet…kind…and to not let my ideas and pre-concieved notions get in the way. That was hard. My german-blood pressure was rising and I wanted to speak, but instead I chose to be silent…mostly.
Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. Each of us no matter our walk in life, our relationship with the Lord, etc. is in need of daily, personal conversion. I experienced a conversion of sorts at the wall, and since that’s the point of this post, I guess I should get to it!
We had what I would call five “main” experiences at the Border. The first consisted of home visits with ARISE, (a group of immigrant women or others assisting them and working to make better, safer, and cleaner communities there in the Valley), several visits to pray and visit the Border wall, volunteering at a Respite Center, Mass at the Basilica, and a conversation with Bishop Daniel Flores, of Brownsville Texas.
The Arise visit gave us the opportunity to hear from local immigrant families about their experiences and lives in both the USA and wherever they came from in South/Central America. My home visit brought me back instantly to my time in Guatemala. I got to practice my spanish, enjoy the wonderful hospitality of an Abuela, and hear of the struggles, joys, and faith of a woman who was deeply invested in her new home, city, and country. It was a wonderful experience.
We also got to hear from a young woman who was a DACA recipient about her journey, the fears of being brought as a young girl to this country by Coyotes, the fear of losing her family…we cried with her as she shared with us the pain of not being able to go home for her Grandmothers funeral, her Uncle’s funeral, not being able to see family members who were instrumental in her young life ever again. I can’t begin to imagine what my life would be like if my parents had taken me and my triplets siblings as children to run to a foreign land just so we could have food on the table and a chance at a life of peace and joy.
When we went to the Border wall, I was struck by how unnatural it was. I was struck by the fact that beyond the wall was a beautiful texan/dessert America at times for several miles, but I as an American couldn’t go there because the wall prevented me. I was struck by the humor and the kindness shown by those we encountered there, the border agents getting into their vehicles to go home to their families after a long day. The ones who waved at us and smiled. This dichotomy of welcoming, hospitality, and refusal, denial was stark. The fence was cold. It was concrete, metal, and the top was covered in freshly installed barbed wire. It felt surreal. Almost like a war zone of sorts. I couldn’t wrap my mind around all of the emotions and feelings that I was experiencing. It just didn’t make sense.
As we saw a ladder fashioned crudely out of 2×4’s on the American Side of the fence, I thought of and I prayed for whomever used it the night before to climb the wall and come to America. I prayed for their family, for their peace, safety, for their faith. As we continued our walk around the border wall I couldn’t help but be grateful. Grateful for the life I’ve had, the privileges (and believe me… they are privileges) I enjoy as an American, grateful for being born in the family I was, in the land I was, the faith I was given. Let there be hope. Hope. HOPE. We just celebrated the birth of our Savior at Christmas into the world. We remembered the message of love of hope that he brought. For those families we visited with the USA stands still as a beacon of light, of freedom, of safety, of peace, and the one thing EACH person said: “of HOPE” for them, for their loved ones, for the world. And Hope I felt. Hope I encountered in the women working at ARISE. Hope, I encountered in the girl crying as she shared her story of seeking freedom. Hope, was found in the Stations of the Cross we prayed our first night at the Basilica. HOPE, was found in almost every moment, because our HOPE was not based in just our country, in just our world, but in the Hope of a Life eternal, where there will be no division, no sadness, no pain, no fear…a future of Hope, as Isaiah the prophet spoke. Christ, Jesus Christ brought, was, and IS that Hope.
Our visit with Bishop Flores was one of the highlights of the trip. He is a captivating speaker, doesn’t mince words, and was great at challenging us as future pastors to speak for those in need in our midst. He said many challenging things to us, two of which stood in my mind:
“The Church does not ask for legal documentation because Christ did not ask for it before helping the stranger. She asks Are you hungry? Are you cold? Do you need shelter? She asks and she provides care. She asks and she acts. She asks and is the feet and hands of Christ”
“Your job as future pastors is to invite to the Eternal Banquet everyone, in a society which sadly prefers to eat alone.”
I’ll reflect on these in a couple paragraphs at the end…
After our visit with the good Bishop, we headed to a Respite Center to volunteer. This center was opened by Catholic Charities to assist those who have come into the Rio Valley seeking asylum with food, showers, clothing, and help in boarding their bus to wherever they are headed. Each person (except for the children) has a tracking device locked around their leg. That was unnerving. I understand the reasons the Government had placed it on them, (so that they could make sure they show up for their immigration court date) but it seemed cruel, cold, and inhospitable.
As I walked at the back of the line through the old Nursing Home turned respite Center I came outside the back door where my classmates were walking around handing out “carritos” “Hot-wheels” and stuffed animals to the little children. I started to cry. Seeing these men, my brothers many of whom don’t speak a lick of Spanish besides “Hola” reaching out and encountering these people filled my heart with such joy. I remarked later to them that in that moment I saw them each as priests and I was filled with such joy thinking of the good they were going to do in the future as pastors to a world so in need of the Lord’s love and mercy.
I met a gentleman who was my age. MY age. 24 who had brought his 4 year old son from Guatemala…left his wife and daughter behind so that he could live without fear and danger with the hope of one day having them reunite and be able to live in peace. We laughed. We joked with one another. And we reflected on the beautiful country and family he was pained to leave. I spoke with several other gentlemen there about life in the states, their lives and families they left behind, and gave them weather updates for where they were going. One of them asked me where I learned to speak Spanish. I explained my summer immersion in Guatemala. With tears in his eyes he thanked me. He a non-Catholic (who was quite surprised when I said I didn’t have a girlfriend or wife) thanked me for taking the time to learn his language so that I could share with him the love of God in that moment and bring a moment of peace and joy to him and the others there.
That made my entire summer worth it. To encounter one man and be able to listen, to joke, to share with…That made my entire summer experience and the struggles of learning Spanish incredibly, wholly, worth it.
I prayed for those folks every day I was in Texas and I still pray for them now. The words of thanks on their lips to Catholic Charities for reminding them of their dignity, of their creation in the image and likeness of God, of sharing compassion, food, comfort, with them broke my heart. Listening to children…little children under 8-11 years old tell you thank you for a hot wheel car, tell you how glad they are to have food, warm clothes, and to be with their families in a warm place after being detained in the giant “refrigeradores” (refrigerators) for days touches you and it moved my heart with pity and love. Misericordia, the sorrow of the heart was felt. But yet, there was HOPE. And for that I am grateful.
At Mass on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, the Rector invited some of my brothers who are instituted Acolytes to assist with the distribution of Communion, after the Prayer after Communion, welcoming us again, he and the parishioners and visitors applauded for us as they promised prayers for our Vocations, and the communities we will one day serve.
Is there a solution to the Border?
You might be wondering what my thoughts on the Wall and the border and immigration are. I’d like to go back to the two comments Bishop Flores made that stuck with me:
Bishop Flores reminded us of our job as pastors is to invite ALL to the Eternal Banquet table. I don’t get to choose who I invite to the Heavenly Banquet. I as a future priest of Jesus Christ HAVE to serve ALL. Specifically, like Christ, I have to serve those in need. I, like the Church do not ask for legal documentation before helping someone in need. I ask, what do you need? Food? Shelter? Clothing? And I strive to meet that need. No questions asked. Why? Because my job is the care of souls. I am called daily to make Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross my own. I am called to deny what I want, for what Christ asks of me. I am called to daily conversion. Which for me, includes welcoming the stranger and seeing them as friend. I am called to be the hands of Christ to a broken world, to help each person to know that they are loved, that they are valued, in whose image they have been created, and by who’s blood they have been purchased and redeemed.
My job, my role, my calling is to welcome the stranger-for in the Church, ALL have a home. Not just a select few. Not just those born in this land. Not just those with a passport or green card. Not just those who have a job. ALL. EACH and EVERY person has a home and is welcomed in the Church as if they’re Christ-himself. Because… they ARE. Our Theologies of Incarnation, elevate the human person. Because Christ, the living-God humbled himself and became man, he raised our human flesh to the dignity and honor due to God. We are the people he has claimed as His own. And because of that we MUST strive to always uphold the dignity of every person.
It’s common knowledge that we have a broken immigration system. It is under-funded, under-staffed, and does not always honor the dignity of each human person. At the same time, neither does our healthcare system, education system…the list goes on and on. For us…this side of Heaven we have to strive to build up a better world each day. That means a lot of reforms. Our country is incredibly blessed and I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, but…but that doesn’t mean that we still can’t and still shouldn’t do better!
Should we have a wall? I honestly don’t know. Part of me says yes. Part of me says no. I don’t think it is my place to get into that argument in depth here. If you want to know, feel free to ask me my mixture of thoughts in person. However… as a Seminarian and God-willing future priest I think, I believe, I know that the Church has the ability, authority, and mandate to speak on the basic topics of immigration and immigrants. Her job is to safe guard and help us recognize the dignity of others.So what does she say? The Catechism lays out two main points on this topic meant to balance each other.
The more prosperous nations are obliged, to the extent they are able, to welcome the foreigner in search of the security and the means of livelihood which he cannot find in his country of origin. Public authorities should see to it that the natural right is respected that places a guest under the protection of those who receive him.
Political authorities, for the sake of the common good for which they are responsible, may make the exercise of the right to immigrate subject to various juridical conditions, especially with regard to the immigrants’ duties toward their country of adoption. Immigrants are obliged to respect with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, to obey its laws and to assist in carrying civic burdens.
“So, the Catholic view is thata prosperous nation such as ours should be generous in receiving immigrants, especially refugees and the poor, but that there are legitimate limits the nation can apply. In particular, the receiving nation has a right to expect things of immigrants: that they follow its laws, respect the country’s way of life, and contribute to the shouldering of civic responsibilities. (A nation also has the right and duty to defend and promote the common good of its citizens — see CCC 1910.)”
Mons. Charles Pope
Yes, that’s right it’s the good old Catholic “Both-And.” Nations have the right and duty when able to assist those in need, to require something of them, and to defend themselves. It’s a balance and truthfully, it will be very hard to find a solution that fits both perfectly. But we must try to do such.
Monsignor Pope puts it well in the above linked article:
“Do you want the wall to be built? Fine, but be sure that your support is based on national security and the common good of our citizens rather than a rejection of the generosity required of a prosperous nation such as ours.
Do you oppose the building of the wall? Fine, but be sure that you can articulate the conditions on the right to immigrate so that “the common good” is protected. Be certain that your plan ensures that immigrants fulfill their “duties toward their country of adoption” (“respect[ing] with gratitude the material and spiritual heritage of the country that receives them, … obey[ing] its laws, and … assist[ing] in carrying civic burdens”).”
My experience at the Border was one of joy. One of sorrow. One of hope. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done. There’s a lot of humility that needs to be received by both sides of the discussion. And there’s a lot of conversion of our hearts that needs to take place…mine included! May the Lord bless us with the grace to welcome the stranger, the immigrant, those in need as if we were welcoming himself…the Christ child, into the world on that Christmas night. May he, the child of immigrants, who showed us in his lowly birth how he came for ALL, help us to serve all, to love all on this walk of beauty, so that at the end forever we might be with Him in Heaven.
We’re all on this journey together. The immigrant walking their own way of the Cross to a better life. The natural born citizen walking toward racial equality. The woman walking toward equal pay. The man walking to find a job to put food on the table for his family. Our life can be a living set of the Stations of the Cross if we let it. If we let Christ in… If we let Christ walk with us… IF we let Christ lead us to Calvary with him, will we have the courage to stand up, to speak peace, love, mercy, and forgiveness as he did? Will we have the courage to defend the widowed, the orphan, the stranger, the naked, the hungry? If we won’t be the hands and feet of Christ on this walk of ugliness, of sin, but yet of beauty, of human fleshiness, of messiness, who will?
It’s up to us as future pastors to deal with the care of souls. To welcome all to the Eternal Banquet of Heaven, to build community among a culture which prefers to be detrimentally-individualistic, and to help others to see the face, the hands, the feet, the heart and body of Christ in each person we encounter.
Today, I drove my Grandma and my Mom up to Aurora, Illinois so that my Grandmother could visit her sister one last time. Aunt Carol has been struggling with several different illnesses lately, but as her breathing has gotten harder and harder, the doctors and she, think that her remaining time here is short.
We had a beautiful visit, full of lots of laughs, some tears, and a lot of story telling. I can’t tell you what I felt watching my Grandma reminisce with her sister about their time growing up. It was hard to not cry. When we arrived, Aunt Carol was incredibly surprised as no one had told her that we were coming. Grams and Aunt Carol embraced in a hug with tears in their eyes. I knew that this trip to visit Aunt Carol one last time was important for my Grandma, and watching them embrace, meant the world to me, and probably to them as well.
Grams and Aunt Carol
I wanted to share a little bit from our visit with Aunt Carol, reflect on death and the relationship Mary has with it, and also tell a story about Aunt Carol and myself that I don’t think anyone knows, or at least remembers.
Aunt Carol is ready to go. Watching and listening to her talk of how this is God’s way of keeping her from having a prolonged illness brought tears to my eyes. I have only three memories of Aunt Carol. The first is one time I went to pick up my Great Grandmother with Grams from Aunt Carol and we met at a truck stop. (I had met her before, I was just too young to remember.) The second was at my Great-Grandmothers funeral (we’ll get there in a moment.) and the third was today, after our visit.
Mary, help us to embrace our death!
Most of you know that we produced a Marian Hymn CD at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary this year. Mary has a major role in the lives of seminarians and priests, and as Aaron stated in his little message inside the CD, “It was only fitting…that our cd should focus on Mary, our Mother…”
While we were visiting with Aunt Carol and laughing about stories of her and my Grandma sleeping on comforters and “soaking up the dew” at the state fair, or when they and Grandpa Meyer would go black-walnut hunting, my Grandma gave Aunt Carol a copy of our Mary CD.
The front of the CD has a beautiful image of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on the front. When Aunt Carol’s eyes hit the front she started crying. I don’t know what was going on inside of her, but she said a line that has stuck with me all day:
Without her, I don’t know what I would do. Without Mary helping me and giving me strength, I don’t know how I could do this and be able to embrace it.
To watch a woman, just a few days shy of her young 84th birthday, have this much devotion, trust, and love of our Blessed Mother as she prepares for her end, made me start crying. Turning to the back and reading some of the songs, Aunt Carol looked at me and mentioned about how Gentle Woman was one of her favorite songs, then with her short breath, and with tears in our eyes, Aunt Carol started singing the first verse and refrain of Immaculate Mary.
Immaculate Mary, your praises we sing! You reign now in Heaven, with Jesus our King! Ave! Ave! Ave Maria! Ave! Ave! Maria!
Mary means a lot to my family, and to watch, listen, and sing with Aunt Carol, to our Blessed Mother meant so much.
Death comes for each of us, when we least expect it. I remarked to my Grandma and Mom over dinner tonight after our visit, how humbling old age and death must be. Like when we are born, we go out of this world with nothing, reliant on those around us for our needs. What a beautiful thing death is! St. Francis in his Canticle of the Sun, mentions:
All praise be yours, my Lord, through Sister Death, From whose embrace no mortal can escape. Woe to those who die in mortal sin! Happy those she finds doing your will! The second death can do them no harm. Praise and bless my Lord, and give him thanks. And serve him with great humility.
For Francis, death was simply a transition, a passing into the next part of our lives with God. It was a necessary action which gave birth to life eternal. It was a humbling, and even humiliating action which bestowed so much on us, if we properly embraced it.
For my Great Aunt Carol, I think that she too, like St. Francis is preparing to embrace Sister Death. She praises and blesses God for giving the gift of death to her. Yes, she will miss those in her life, but I bet she cannot wait to be counted among the saints in Heaven.
Mary, always…ALWAYS leads us to Christ. She always points us to her Son. Normally in the Church, we pray that St. Joseph will help us to have a well-prepared for death, a happy death. Watching my Aunt though, I think that Mary surely has to be there with St. Joseph, calling us home to be with her Son. I love my earthly Mom, Sue Bruns. I love my Heavenly Mother Mary, I want her to be there to prepare me, and walk with me on the road to death. I want her there to be able to comfort me. I want to ask, she, who “reigns in Heaven with Jesus our King” to bring me to be with him.
Watching, listening, and visiting with Aunt Carol today, made me see Mary at the foot of the Cross, Mary who walked the road to Calvary, and watched her Son be brutally killed upon the Cross. Mary was with Aunt Carol and will continue to be as she continues to progress as we all do, toward Sister Death, from whom no living mortal can escape.
Those who know me and have heard my Vocation story before, know that I first really started considering the priesthood when I was in the 5th grade. My Great-Grandmother had died shortly after I had started thinking about it and the whole family was gathered in Quincy for her funeral. I remember sitting on the fireplace hearth downstairs in my grandparents old house with Aunt Carol. Aunt Carol, and I were having a conversation about what I wanted to do when I grew up. She was the first person that I told besides a priest that I could actually see myself as a priest. We had a wonderful conversation and at the end of it, Aunt Carol gave me a hug, told me to be strong, that I would make a great priest, and that she would pray for me. Being the first person I mentioned that I was sincerely thinking of the priesthood to and had an honest heart to heart conversation with, made her a very special person to me, especially because of her words of support and encouragement after I told her.
Today, as we prepared to leave I bent down and gave Aunt Carol a hug and a kiss. She whispered in my ear that she was proud of me, that she loved me, and that I would make a great priest. I told her that I would have some priests at our Seminary offer Mass for her, when I got back to school and said let’s keep praying for each other. She kissed my hand, we spoke for a few more moments and we said goodbye.
Grams and Aunt Carol hug and say goodbye
I never thought that I would have had such a deep theological encounter with the Lord today. I am so happy and so blessed to have been able to go and visit Aunt Carol one last time. She was one of the first to support me in my vocational discernment of the priesthood and she will be missed by many. In her last few, days, weeks, or however long the Lord grants her here on Earth, I will pray for her each day, that Mary will be with her. That Mary will give her strength and will lead her to her Son. I pray that one day I am as at peace with death and with God as Aunt Carol seemed. May we all have that grace to have a well-prepared for death! I’m thankful for Aunt Carol in my life and for her support of me. I can only imagine what others in the family are thankful for her for!
My grandmother’s name is Mary. I know that Momma Mary had something to do with making sure that Grams (Mary) and Aunt Carol got to see each other one last time. Thank-you Momma for making it possible for that to happen and allowing us to be here! Death is something that I know I will struggle with as a priest. It’s hard seeing someone you love die, but at the same time with a firm hope in the Ressurection, I think, preparing souls for death will be one of the most fruitful parts of priesthood for me. Getting to be with Aunt Carol for a few moments today touched me immensely.
As I come to the end of my time in college seminary and move on toward major, Aunt Carol’s comment: “Without her, I don’t know what I would do. Without Mary helping me and giving me strength, I don’t know how I could do this and be able to embrace it.” rings true in my own life. It’s amazing what our Mother does for us, isn’t it? Aunt Carol is walking the Way of Beauty!
I love you Aunt Carol! Pray for me when you get to see Jesus first! I will be praying for you!
Now that I have tears as running down my face again, I’m gonna wrap up. Will you join me in praying a Memorare for my great Aunt and her family?
Remember O Most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided, inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my mother. To thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful, O Mother of the Word incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.
We prayed a rosary on the way home tonight and offered it for several intentions, but firstly for Aunt Carol. The first luminous mystery is The Baptism in the Jordan. May she who died to a life of sin, and rose with Christ in her Baptism, one day rise too with him to Life eternal. Amen.
Tomorrow evening at the Seminary we will have our Second Day of Recollection. Please pray for us that we may be open to the spirit and what Christ desires of us. Because of this day we will all shut off all technology so as to not provide a distraction. Technology fasts are wonderful! If you need to reach me I will return any calls/texts/etc. after 10:30 am ET on Saturday. Again please pray for us and the Arch-Diocese of Indianapolis as we will be having Installation Activities for Archbishop Tobin this weekend also. Pray for me, I pray for you!