“Batter My Heart, God” (The Love Project, Day 36)

Batter my heart, three personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine and seek to mend.
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but, oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend;
But is captive and proves weak or untrue.

Yet dearly I love you and would be loved fain;
But am betrothed unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again.
take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you entrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne

Today’s Love in Action: when was the last time you opened your heart, without reserve, to God?

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The Good Shepherd (The Love Project – Guest Post by Elizabeth Schmeidler)

After posting “The Priest Who Loved Me” series in The Love Project, a new reader contacted me and asked if she could share her confession story. Enjoy!

Just last year, during Advent, I was determined to make a good confession—I wanted to have my heart completely ready for the coming of baby Jesus. I called up to the friary and asked to speak to a priest who would hear my confession by appointment. Father Canice, a 90-something year old priest agreed to meet with me.

To be honest, after I had made the appointment, I wondered if I should cancel. My goodness…how unfair it would be to unload my hormonally-challenged self on a priest who was long past the age of retirement! Still, Father Canice seemed quite sincere when he said he’d be happy to hear my confession. In fact, I felt a connection to him through the phone line, much like I imagined I would feel if my own beloved father, now gone from me for almost 27 years, would have spoken to me.

I am so glad that I kept my appointment! It was like having my own father back—he even kind of looked like him. His smile was warm and his advice and comfort, soothing. I felt that I had found a friend…an advocate. When I got home that night, I wanted to give back to Father Canice an offering of encouragement for all he had done through his vocation; so I used the best way I know how…through my writing:

The Good Shepherd

On a cold wintry eve
Amidst the blustering wind,
You answered the door,
And let my sorrowed heart in.

With patience and kindness
You listened with care,
And in that space and time,
I knew Jesus was there.

A man of the cloth,
a heart filled with loving grace–
Your faithful service and calling
Make the world a gentler place.

One voice with a kind word,
One loving soul who truly cares,
Can ignite a smoldering fire of faith,
To consume sorrow and despair.

You may never quite know
Of the hearts you have reached
Through the Sacraments, Mass,
And countless homilies you’ve preached.

But each hurting soul you calmed,
Every single tear you dried,
Is known by the One Who called you,
The One Who walks at your side.

One day when you’ve finished
Your appointed race here on earth,
You’ll come into His kingdom–
See through God’s eyes, your worth.

You’ll be welcomed by saints and angels,
Rest in the embrace of the Holy One,
Amidst repentant souls whose sins you forgave
In the Name of the Spirit, the Father, and Son.

Thank you, faithful Priest, for answering the call,
For giving me comfort and peace.
And know that I will never forget
The loving kindness of Father Canice.

Elizabeth Schmeidler
12/21/2011
©2012

Elizabeth Schmeidler is the author of The Good Sinner
schmeidler bk

The Confession (The Love Project, Day 34)

confessionalToday I was editing an essay by Father Mike Schmitz about what it’s like to hear confession. He observed that hearing confessions is one of his favorite parts of being a priest because he gets to witness people returning to God, to receive and respond to his love for them.

He has a point. Not long before I was married, I remember driving out to an old country parish. The church had seen better days. The floorboards were noticeably lighter than the pews, from so much foot traffic. A wisened old priest slowly made his way into the middle compartment of the ancient old confessional.

There was no one else in the sanctuary, which was just fine with me. I figured I was going to in there for a while. I was fairly inexperienced as confessions went, and I figured that — since I was getting married — this would be the time when I “cleared the slate” on some old business. A good deal of it wasn’t, technically speaking, sinful. More like “baggage” – the accumulated baggage of close to two decades of single adulthood. Heartache. Brokenness. Regret. Anxiety. I’m not sure how long I was there, getting it all off my chest. But when i stopped speaking . . . there was silence on the other side of the screen. Nervously I waited. Had I shocked the elderly priest? Or had he falled asleep?

As it turns out, neither. “Oh, my daughter,” he began. With a voice full of gentle compassion, he reminded me of the Father who had never left me alone, who had seen my struggle and wept with me in my pain.

Then he blessed me, and sent me off to begin my new life with Craig. There were still plenty of bags to unpack, but the messiest ones were in the hands of God.

Today’s Love in Action: Do you have any relational regrets that you cannot seem to let go of? A clean slate is only a confession away!

The Priest Who Loved Me, Part IV (The Love Project, Day 33)

gertrudeChattering excitedly, six of us moms crammed into a mini-van, ready to begin our day away. We were going to a regional women’s retreat, and were relishing the prospect of spending the whole day together in each other’s company. Although I was good friends with one of the other women, I knew the other four only casually. And so, I did what I always do in situations like this — I start asking questions.

The truth is, I’m by nature an introvert. I hate being turned loose in a crowd of people I don’t know — it exhausts me to try to be funny, or interesting, or articulate. So I usually take the advice of an author friend, a grandfatherly old gentleman, who once told me, “Heidi, if you keep the focus of the conversation on the other person, people will always consider you a brilliant conversationalist!” Good advice, that.

I had recently tried to invite our new pastor over for dinner, and was startled when he declined my invitation. “I have three thousand people in this parish,” he told me. “If I accept an invitation from one family, I automatically get in trouble with a dozen others … Please don’t be offended. I just value my private time.”

Truth be told, my nose was the tiniest bit out of joint. And a tiny part of me wanted to verify that Father had not simply singled us out. “Have any of you ever had Father to your house for dinner?”

As if on cue, they all laughed. Every single one of them. “Father doesn’t do dinner,” said the woman next to me. But when my first husband left me for my best friend, he came to see me every week for three months. I’ll never forget it.” I was shocked at this — I’d never heard her story. It was clear no one else had, either.

“He’s not much of a socializer,” agreed the next one. “But when my son was discerning the priesthood — and later, when he started seminary, and decided not to continue — Father really took him under his wing. He didn’t push — just encouraged. I’m so grateful.”

“When my father was dying in the hospital, Father broke speeding records to get there to administer last rites. And I’ll never forget the eulogy . . . He had spent so much time talking with us about our memories of Dad, it was as if he’d known Dad all his life.”

“He has a temper,” said one more. “Especially when politics enters the picture. I remember an incident with the Knights of Columbus years ago — some power play, one accused of mishandling funds. Father really raised the roof. But when the accused man dropped dead of a heart attack a week later, Father protected his family and treated them with utmost courtesy. One of their children had fallen away from the Church — but after that, he started coming back.”

This was a side of Father I’d never experienced, and I was grateful for having an opportunity to hear of it. That night, I sat down and wrote the priest a letter, telling him what I had heard, and mailed it.

A week later, I got a response. “You will never know what your letter meant to me. It arrived on the 40th anniversary of my priesthood, and I had been asking God what I had accomplished in all those years. I’ve tucked your letter in my Bible, as a reminder for the next time I feel this way. Gratefully …”

Today’s Love in Action: Do you have a priest in your life, whose manner you find hard to love? How can you encourage him?

The Priest Who Loved Me, Part III (The Love Project, Day 32)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFor the past two days, I’ve paid tribute to two priests who greatly influenced my early journey as a Catholic. Both were warm and welcoming, each of them treating me like a daughter — despite the fact that they each of them were pastors of large parishes, with thousands of other souls entrusted to their care.

Soon after Craig and I received our children on our first foster-care assignment, we decided to start going to church at another parish. It was much closer to our home, and had a mother’s program — something I was in desperate need of, given that I had become a mother to three children overnight.

Our first week at Mass, we sat near the front, where Father had a bird’s eye view of three-year-old Christopher squawking for Cheerios and his older sister kicking the pew in front of us every minute on the minute. We had just settled nervously into the homily when Sarah suddenly … required an immediate change of clothing, forcing me to climb over four other people with all three children (since the older two refused to be left with my husband, even momentarily). It was not my proudest moment.

We returned just as it was time for the consecration, and (rather smoothly, I thought), I timed our arrival so we could cut in line just behind my husband as we approached to receive the Eucharist. “The Body of Christ,” Father intoned to me, placing the host in my outstretched hand (the other was holding the baby), and reaching down to trace the sign of the cross on Christopher’s forehead … “Oooof!”

Christopher had punched Father in the breadbasket.

“Brat,” I heard someone behind me mutter. Mortified, I hustled everyone back to the pew and prayed for strength. After church, Craig and I went to explain ourselves to Father — I couldn’t help but notice he kept a healthy distance between himself and our foster son. “I’m so sorry, Father,” I began. “Christopher is our new foster son. He’s just learning that when a man reaches out to him, it can be with kindness. He’s been hurt too many times.”

Father’s face was a study. I would later learn that this particular priest was not very comfortable with small children or crying women. But today, he rose to the challenge. Getting down on one knee, he held out a hand to my son, who gave him a tentative high-five. “I hope I see you again real soon, buddy.”

And every week thereafter, Father had a kind word for us — even when Christopher’s three-year-old hands patted the front of his vestments in an awkward place, trying to get the elderly cleric’s attention. He’d just ruffle our foster son’s head, and chortle, “How are ya doing, buddy?”

Sometimes love shows itself not in sentimentality, but in simple tolerance.

Today’s Love in Action: Have you ever had an embarrassing moment in church? How did your pastor respond?

The Priest Who Loved Me, Part II (The Love Project, Day 31)

Today as part of the Love Project, I wanted to reprise an article I wrote several years ago upon the death of another great priest, whose humble service made an indelible mark upon my life. I miss you, Father Roger.

Memorial Day Weekend is a family holiday at the Saxton House. Four years ago this weekend, Chris and Sarah were welcomed into our family through adoption . . . and into God’s family, through baptism.

We always try to spend as much time as possible together, enjoying each other, on these weekends. And yet this weekend, I confess there is a bit of a pall over our festivities. Yesterday a dear friend of ours passed away — Father Roger Prokop. I wrote a little about him at Mommy Monsters.

Today’s Gospel, then, speaks very clearly to me today, from John 16:

“For the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me
and have come to believe that I came from God.
I came from the Father and have come into the world.
Now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”

I wonder how the apostles felt when Jesus said this to them. Did they know just how little time Jesus had left? Did they contemplate what life would be like without Him? Did they suspect, even momentarily, that they would experience such profound spiritual intimacy with the Eternal One? Or did they simply get caught up in their dread and grief?

It’s been four years now since the Saxton Family became the Saxton Family. It’s been longer than that since Father Roger and I saw each other with any kind of regularity — we joined a parish close to our new home shortly after the kids arrived. And yet, I miss him. I know that, even now, he continues to pray for us — even as we pray for him.

Other priests — good men, all of them — have become a part of our lives. But Father Roger will always hold a special place in my heart. His life was to me a living reminder of the God who loves His children, no matter how far away they move.  Rest in peace, dear friend. 

Today’s Love in Action: Today please remember all those faithful men of God who have gone to their eternal reward. Thank God for how their spiritual fatherhood affected your life.

The Priest Who Loved Me (The Love Project: Day 30)

egg rollsI hadn’t been in RCIA more than a month when I got the summons in the form of a phone call from his secretary. “Monsignor was wondering if you’d have time to let him take you to lunch this week.” My heart pounding, we set a noontime appointment at a local Chinese place a few days later. As soon as she hung up, I called my sponsor.

Well, she was my second sponsor, actually. My first one had quit after just a couple of weeks because I kept asking too many questions. So Dawn — the woman in charge of the program for adults interested in learning more about the Catholic Church — decided to take me on herself. “Don’t worry, Heidi. I’ve been telling him good things about you. He just wants to meet you.”

I arrived ten minutes late to find Monsignor waiting patiently, writing something in his appointment book. He smiled and stood up when he saw me, his Irish brogue warm with sincerity. “I’m so glad you could come.”

Over pork lo mein and egg rolls, he asked me gentle questions until he had heard the highlights of my story: the Catholic boyfriend I was forced to break up with because of his faith; my friend the Baptist minister who resigned his position because of his desire to join the Church; my summer in Poland that had left me groping for God, unable to pray until I found refuge in the last place I ever expected — inside the darkened sanctuary of that historic old parish in South Pasadena.

I had kind of tuned out during my own narrative, telling it as though it was someone else’s story. When at last I finally looked up, Monsignor was studying me intently, his eyes bright. Oh, man, now I’d really done it — I made a priest cry. I glanced at my watch. Two hours had gone by, yet he was clearly in no hurry to leave. He took a sip of tea, and cleared his throat.

“Heidi,” Monsignor Connelly said to me, taking my hand. “You are a gift to us.”

In that moment, sitting there in the middle of that Chinese restaurant, I could not recall the last time I had felt so completely and unreservedly loved and accepted. I was home at last.

Today’s Love in Action: Has there been a priest who has made a difference in your life? Have you thanked him?