Steve Timm's Blog
MOM’S FATAL DIAGNOSIS
When my mother was seventy-one years of age, she received the medical diagnosis that most of us fear the most. She had an aneurysm of the aorta that descended deep into her heart.
The aneurysm was discovered during the course of her annual physical. The incredible part is that no doctor could tell her how long she’d lived with the aneurism; she was told that she might easily have been born with it. Or the “balloon” might have popped up a week before her exam … nobody knew.
When Mom asked her heart specialist about her life expectancy, Doctor Payne said, “You’ll live until it bursts. You might live to be one-hundred years of age or you might die in the next two minutes.”
The year was 1990 and cardiovascular surgery was not as advanced as it is today. She was informed that two large surgical centers, Mayo and Stanford Medical, operated on descending aortal aneurysms, but the results were less than ideal. About fifty percent of the patients died on the operating table. And of the fifty percent who lived, fewer than half every returned to a normal life.
In the end, Mom decided to leave the aneurism alone and live out the days that God gave her. I remember Mom saying, “God is in control and I’m just going to let Him sort it out.”
A Change In Attitude
I can honestly say that receiving the “death diagnosis” changed my mother’s attitude about life. During the next couple of years, Mom told me many times that having the aneurism had made her free. She adopted the attitude of living each and every day as if it was the last day of her life.
Mom accepted the fate God gave her with grace and even a bit of joy.
During that time, my mother was more generous than she’d ever been. She seemed to value possessions less and she treasured friendships more.
On the negative side, she often said things that were hurtful to those around her … I always equated that to the fact each day on earth absolutely could be her last and she didn’t want anything left unsaid. That would not have been the way I would have handled the situation, but it was Mom’s way … perhaps of coping, maybe of mourning for herself.
One thing that changed was the importance of keeping gifts wrapped until the precise day of an occasion. Mom had always been a stickler for opening birthday gifts on the exact day and no sooner. After the “death diagnosis,” once she bought a gift, she was likely to give it instantly. Suddenly, giving the gift and seeing the joy on the face of the recipient was much more important than waiting for a date … a date that she might not live to see.
My birthday is June 18th. On June 10th, 1992, Mom asked me what I wanted for my birthday. I’d recently built a deck off of our kitchen and I really wanted a patio set of a table and chairs.
That evening, we went shopping and my mother bought the patio set that Karen and I absolutely loved. Rather than have it delivered to our home, Mom insisted that we load it up in my pickup truck and take it with us. Further, she really wanted me to assemble the set that evening and to call her when it was finished … no matter what the time.
It was about nine o’clock when we got home and after midnight when I finally had the last chair put together. I really hesitated to call the old gal, but I did. Mom answered on the first ring and said, “Well, it took you long enough. I’ll be right over and see what it looks like.”
She greatly approved. She sat down in one of the chairs and said, “This is really, really nice; may you and Karen enjoy this patio set for many years.”
By that time, it was almost one o’clock in the morning, but Mom was not in any hurry to go home. We’d recently signed the paperwork to hire a closeout firm liquidate our jewelry store. In addition to that, Karen and I were planning to retire and move to Joseph or Enterprise after the store was gone.
At that early hour, when all of us should have been asleep, Karen and I asked a very heartfelt question, “Mom, would you think about moving to northeastern Oregon with us?”
She answered in a split second, “Well, I do not have to think about it … I absolutely WILL move with you.”
Mom was absolutely willing to move and give up everything she’d known for the last forty years, just to be with her son and daughter-in-law. It would be a new life, but sometimes love requires change. But, it was not to be …
Two evenings later, my mother died as she was preparing for bed. Karen and I found her body the following morning; she was apparently undressing when the aneurysm burst. My Mom died in just a few heartbeats.
On Mom’s kitchen counter, we found a fully filled-out Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes form. My mother had even put a stamp on it so, just for kicks, we mailed the envelope. We never heard back from Publisher’s Clearinghouse, so I assume that Mom lost that one, too … just like the previous 500 Publisher’s Clearinghouse Sweepstakes she’d entered.
Things To Ponder
My mother was from Protestant stock and I’m not sure that she ever set foot in a Catholic church. Having said that, she was fully in favor of my initial interest in becoming Catholic over five decades ago.
Mom had a firm and unshakable belief in God and His son, Jesus Christ but, like many Protestants, she almost never went to church.
Do I worry about my Mom not going to Heaven? Nope, not a bit; God understands, He knows about her background and how much she loved Him. And that’s all that really counts.
I learned a lot by watching Mom’s changing attitude about life and death after she received her diagnosis. In those last two years, Mom tried to make every single day special in its own particular way. Indeed, she was the personification of the saying, “Live every day as if it is your last.”
I found it interesting that she did not make an attempt to reconnect with a Protestant church of some kind. Looking back on it, however, a sudden “run to Jesus” would have been hypocritical. Basically, Polly Timm loved God and Jesus all of her life and, according to her Protestant upbringing, that was enough. In a very real way, Mom was incredibly honest with God.
Even when under a death sentence, my mother truly LIVED those last two years. I’ve often wondered if I would have had the courage to face each day under such circumstances. For a fact, none of us really knows how we would react to such a medical diagnosis.
Mom has been dead for twenty-five years and, in my mind’s eye, I can still see that plucky little lady. I didn’t always agree with her, but I loved her with all of my heart … and I always will.
May God Bless You,
BUCK, FIREFLIES AND THE SAINTS
My friends, there’s no doubt that we all have our own mental image of the saints. These images are shaped by our personal experiences during our lifetime. Let me tell you about one of mine.
During my youth, I spent several summers with my maternal grandparents. Grandpa Hank and Grandma Vista owned a small dairy farm that was situated a few miles east of Corvallis, Montana. Many of my most pleasant childhood memories came from living on the farm.
One summer, when I was working on the farm, my grandparents and I actually took two weeks away from the dairy farm. Please bear in mind that any time a farmer in our community took a break, the neighbors did all of the chores on the farm. The unspoken expectation was that they assumed the farmer would reciprocate in kind. Because of this, the decision to leave the farm, even for a few days, was never taken lightly.
However, this trip was the vast exception. My Grandpa Hank’s old Army buddy, a man by the name of Buck, was dying of lung cancer and Hank wanted to see him one last time. Buck and his wife lived in a small town out of Fremont, Nebraska. And so it was that one incredibly hot July morning, Grandpa, Grandma and I started our road trip.
In 1955, the cars and roads were not what they are today. It was insufferably humid and hot all of the way to Fremont and, of course, this was in the days before air conditioning. If memory serves, it took us four loooong days to drive the twelve-hundred miles across Montana, South Dakota and to the far-eastern border of Nebraska.
Eventually, we got to Buck’s ranch. It was a beautiful little spread, with a creek and brushy marshes for me to explore. It worked out that while Gram and Hank visited the dying man and his family, I was free to roam the ranch. In a word, I was in Heaven.
And Buck? Oh my gosh, Buck was the real-life personification of the actor that you and I know as Sam Elliott. Buck was a man with steely hair, a long mustachio that dropped to his chin and a slow gravelly voice.
In an instant, the man was my hero and I loved him totally. And he was dying …
Buck’s wife, Mary, was a total joy. She hoovered over her husband and loved him as if every moment might be his last. Mary’s love of God was obvious; every other sentence ended with “Praise God On High” or Thanks Be To God.” She was beyond wonderful.
I loved the stone ranch house, too. Buck and Mary were devout Catholics. They had crucifixes in every room, a small votive candle rack in their living room and pictures of Jesus, Mary and the saints everywhere.
The ranch house even had a small chapel with a beautiful stained-glass window, a couple of pews and kneelers. The home was like a family-sized version of the many Catholic churches I frequented in my youth.
The first evening we were at Buck’s ranch was a revelation.
After supper, Grandpa Hank, Buck and I were sitting out on the front porch of the ranch house drinking strong coffee and making man noises. After the sun had set and the land grew dark, the crickets started to chirp and the occasional coyote howled. And it was then that I saw something absolutely marvelous … fireflies.
Of course, I’d never seen a firefly before, much less hundreds, perhaps thousands, of them.
They were enchanting.
Then Buck, the dying Catholic man, said to me, “Stevie, our Catholic saints are like fireflies. Most folks go through life trying to do their best, but they are unnoticed. The firefly’s beauty gets your attention and so does the incredibly holy life of a saint.”
Buck continued, “Tomorrow, before supper, I’ll have one of my ranch hands walk down into the coulee with you. Between the two of you, I’ll bet that you can catch at least fifty fireflies and bring them back home. Ya wanna do that?”
Of course, I answered, “Heck yes, I’ll bet fireflies look like little angels.”
Buck said, “Well, Stevie, tomorrow you will learn something else about fireflies and saints.”
The next morning, I was exploring the home and I happened to walk into the chapel. Buck was kneeling in front of a large crucifix, praying to God. His form was backlit by the stained-glass window and the scene was incredibly faith-filled.
Then, Buck looked straight at me and said, “Son, come pray with me.” I knelt beside the great man and I could feel his body tremble.
Buck was crying, as he said, “I don’t want to leave Mary, but that is not my choice. God has a plan and it is for us to follow Him every single day of our lives. Will you remember that, Stevie?”
I assured Buck that I would remember that advice until MY dying day. He smiled and said, “Good.”
That afternoon, one of the ranch’s cow hands, a man named Jesse, walked me down into the coulee. As soon as we entered the high grass, Jesse started picking beetles off of the wet leaves and dropping them into a Mason jar.
I asked Jesse what he was doing and he replied, “Catching fireflies.”
I answered, “But they are beetles, icky-looking brown beetles. I thought that they’d look like angels.”
Jesse laughed aloud and said, “I cannot help that at all; these critters are what we call fireflies or lightning bugs. They are just plain ugly beetles during the day and magnificent at night.”
After we’d gathered a bunch of the beetles, we placed a piece of cheesecloth over the jar mouth and secured it with a canning ring. That way, the critters could breathe.
That evening was a repeat of the previous one. We had a wonderful dinner and, while Grandma Vista and Mary cleaned up, we menfolk went out on the large front porch. And again, at the time of long shadows, we drank strong coffee and made man noises.
After it got fully dark, the fireflies were once again active and even more enchanting than the first evening.
Then, Buck turned to his left and pulled a small piece of black cloth from an object … it was the Mason jar with the fireflies still in it. With a grin in his voice, Buck said, “Stevie, I’m gonna show you something that is pretty darned amazing.”
With that, he shook the jar and the fireflies immediately lit up. Basically, Buck had created an organic lantern, with fireflies supplying the light. It truly was, as Buck had said, “pretty darned amazing.”
After a while, Buck commented, “Jesse told me that you were surprised that fireflies were beetles, just plain brown beetles and in your words, ‘icky’.”
I allowed as how that was true. It simply seemed so strange to me that an insect that was so ugly in the daylight could be so beautiful at night.
Buck commented, “Remember last night when I told you that the fireflies were like our Catholic saints? The firefly is a common brown beetle during the day and it’s only in the darkness that we can see their real beauty. In a similar way, saints are often not recognized as holy and wonderful men and women during their lifetimes. It is usually after their life’s journey is over that we grow to appreciate their total spiritual beauty.
Then, Buck groaned and wheezed a bit and he called for Mary to put him to bed. As the pair left the porch and were shuffling through the lighted doorway, Buck turned and said one more thing. “Stevie, please turn the fireflies loose now and pray to the saints that they find their way home again.”
And with that, Buck left.
The next day, Buck never left his bed. He was spitting up nasty stuff and it was obvious that he had taken a turn for the worse.
We stayed another day and then it was time for us to return home. Many members of Buck and Mary’s family were starting to gather at the ranch and they needed their privacy as Buck’s health rapidly failed.
On the morning we left, Buck and Mary’s Catholic priest arrived at the ranch house. It was time to give Buck what was then called the “Last Rites.”
The priest asked if I wanted to watch as he anointed Buck and gave him the Viaticum … literally, Food for the Journey.
Of course, I did. I wanted to be with Buck and share his incredible Moment with God.
I’ll never forget those beautiful several minutes. Here was a wonderful Catholic man who was actively dying. And, by his side was his priest. The only thing that was important at that point in time was preparing Buck for the Ultimate Life’s-End Journey. Soon, very soon, Buck’s soul would be returning to the Very Presence of God in Eternity.
I’d seen movies in which the actor “priest” administered the Last Rites to the actor who was playing the “dying man.” But, this was different. This was a devout Catholic man who was dying and this was a real Catholic priest ministering to his soul. And how very precious that was … I cannot find the words, I simply cannot find the words.
Since that blessed morning, every time I’ve thought about our incredible Catholic saints, I find myself also thinking of fireflies, thousands of fireflies … and Buck.
And Thanks Be To God for all three.
May God Bless You
AN OPPORTUNITY TO LOVE
I’m writing this blog in the Surgery Area at the Portland Adventist Medical Center.
In less than an hour an orthopedic surgeon will start doing a shoulder joint replacement on my wife, Karen. The procedure will take about two hours and her time in the Recovery Room will be another hour.
Meanwhile, I sit and worry. And write, of course.
Karen will be in her hospital room around noon and her long recovery will start at that point. We’ve been told that the initial recovery, basically return to normal life, will take about six months, with full healing in about one-year.
Karen’s left shoulder has given her an enormous amount of pain for the last several years. The problem is Stage 4 osteoarthritis. Basically, the cartilage is gone and the joint is made up of two heavily arthritic surfaces grinding against each other. OUCH!
The surgery fixes that. Both the head of the arm bone (humerus) and the socket of the scapula (shoulder blade) will be replaced with brand-new surfaces. The procedure has been done, in one form or another, for over a century, so it holds few mysteries.
One aspect of the surgery that is pretty scary is the fact that several of Karen’s arm and shoulder tendons will have to be severed during the operation. And, after the new shoulder joint is in place, the tendons will be reattached to the bones.
The tendons need time to heal down, so Karen will be limited to lifting ONE POUND for the first two months of her rehabilitation. For all practical purposes, she will be a one-armed lady for quite a while … no driving, no lifting and absolutely no activities that put any stress on the freshly-reattached tendons.
It will be a time in our lives when I’ll be taking over many of the usual chores that Karen usually does herself. I’ll be dressing her, doing all of the laundry, folding clothes, making the bed, cooking and doing many tasks that I normally don’t do.
And I’m totally fine with that.
AN OPPORTUNITY TO LOVE
One thing that “The Golden Years” have taught me is that being a caregiver is a wonderful thing. I’ve been in that position a few times in the last decade and it’s always given me an “Opportunity To Love.”
I’ve felt so helpless, watching Karen suffer from her arthritic shoulder. Now, after the surgery, I’ll have the opportunity to make her recovery easier. I’ll be able to actually DO SOMETHING, rather than merely sympathize with my bride’s painful condition.
Literally, every time I help her dress, wash a dish, make the bed or do any of the seemingly endless chores at home, it will be an act of love. It will be my way of helping my wonderful bride of fifty-three years return to a fully fruitful life.
So what does all of this have to do with God and why am I writing about it in a Catholic blog? That’s simple, God is in control of everything.
It was God who gave Karen and me to each other and who joined with us in the Catholic Sacrament of Marriage. It was God who allowed us to enjoy each other’s love for well over five decades.
And it is by literally being God’s Hands, in my role as Karen’s caretaker, that I can better appreciate and understand God’s Incredible Love.
After all, God is the Ultimate Caregiver … a Caregiver to each and every one of us.
May God Bless You
P.S. Please join me in prayer for Karen’s recuperation and her total healing. Thanks and God Bless … Steve
This story begins in mid-January of 2011. I remember that Karen and I had worked hard that day and we were both very tired. It was about 7:30 in the evening, it was a moonless, very windy winter evening and the outside temperature was 26º.
Karen had cooked a wonderful dinner and she was in our big game trophy room playing a game on her computer. I was in our living room, relaxing in my LazyBoy recliner, watching an elk hunting television program.
I was set for the evening; I’d had a couple of Coors Light beers, I was in my stocking feet and my lap was covered with a warm polar-fleece lap robe. Libby, our Scotty dog was in my sound asleep on my lap.
THE PHONE CALL
Then, the phone rang. The caller was Bev, one of our neighbors from down our street.
Bev’s message was simple. She said, “Steve, Woody was out trying to put seed the bird feeders in his back yard. He fell down over thirty minutes ago and he is freezing out there. Maxie is trying to get him up and into the house, but Woody is simply too heavy. Woody is going to die … COME NOW!!!”
This was a serious situation. Woody and his wife, Maxie, lived about four homes down Naef Road from us. Woody was elderly, suffering from a state of ever-worsening dementia and he got around on either a walker or two canes. Woody weighed well over 250 pounds and it was up to me to save his life. Obviously, if I didn’t do something immediately, Woody would die of hypothermia.
So, I put Libby on the carpet, yelled to Karen that I needed to leave, “NOW.” While I would have normally taken time to totally explain the situation to my dear wifey, Karen, I just did not have time. An extra three minutes delay could easily kill our friend, Woody, so I launched out the door.
I remember being shocked by the cold, dark night. My gosh, I was in a tee shirt and jeans and stocking feet. It was amazingly cold and I must have stepped on every single little sharp rock along my one-hundred yard run.
As I rounded the back corner of Woody’s home, the scene was like something out of a horror movie. Woody was lying on his back, screaming like a wounded wild animal and thrashing. And Maxie, all 85-pounds of her frail little body, was trying her best to drag Woody towards their back door.
I remember praying aloud, with a prayer I’ve not heard before or since … “LORD JESUS, BE MY STRENGTH.” I have no idea where that prayer came from, but if I ever needed Our Lord, it surely was now.
Somehow, only Our God knows how, I picked Woody up in my arms. Then, I carried him across the yard, up the back ramp, into his home and carefully placed him in his easy chair. After getting him settled, for some reason, I felt compelled to kiss Woody on the top of his bald head and tell him, “God truly loves you, my friend, God truly loves you.”
Then, equally strange, I simply had to get out of there. So, I made sure that Woody was comfortable in his chair, said “See you later” to Maxie and bolted for the door.
When I got home and told Karen where I’d been, what I’d done and that Woody was okay. She commented, “Well, that’s something a person doesn’t do every day. Thank the Good Lord you were able to help.”
As time went on, however, I became more and more convinced that it was God who saved Woody and that He simply used me as an instrument. After all, even with a giant dose of adrenaline, it would have been impossible for me to have lifted Woody, much less physically get him entirely in my arms and cart him across the yard and into his home. Yep, it was totally a God-Incidence.
WOODY AT THE ADULT CARE FACILITY
After spending a short time in the hospital, Woody was transferred to an adult care facility. Woody was a devout, very traditional Roman Catholic and it was pretty obvious that he would not be able to go to church again.
With this in mind, we asked Mary Ann Holliman, the lady who manages Christ the King’s Eucharistic Ministry to the Homebound, if we could take the Eucharist to Woody. Of course, Mary Ann was thrilled and after a couple of hours of training, we were official card-carrying Eucharistic Ministers to the Homebound.
Woody loved the fact that we visited him every Sunday and that we always brought the Body of Christ with us. Even in his dementia, and even though he was taking psychotropic drugs, Woody never forgot the Confiteor or the Our Father.
WOODY’S LAST HOLY EUCHARIST
After seventeen months of taking the Eucharist to Woody, we visited him on the last full day of his life. On that day, Woody could not speak and he was weak beyond description.
He mouthed the Confiteor and the Our Father. And when it came time to receive the Body of Christ, Woody opened his mouth and I placed a small piece of the Host upon his tongue. Then, he smiled and a look of eternal peace came over his face.
Woody needed a little water to wash the Host down his throat, so I brought a small glass to his lips. A little water rolled down his whiskered chin, so I wiped off the dribble.
Then, Woody mouthed the words “Cross, Cross, Cross.” I finally understood that he could not lift his hand and that he wanted me to do the Sign of the Cross for him.
So, with love, I lifted Woody’s right hand and together we did the Sign of the Cross … reverently saying, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Woody died early the following morning with the Eucharist, literally the Body of Christ, in his belly.
May we all be so lucky.
God Bless You
OUR PERSONAL SAINTS
Towards the end of our RCIA, one of the evening discussions was on Confirmation saints. We’d already covered the general subject of saints, patron saints and such, but the thrust of this conversation was advice on how to pick an individual saint for our upcoming Confirmation into the Roman Catholic Church.
During that RCIA meeting, Father Todd Molinari told us that it is common for the saint to choose us, rather than us choosing the saint. He told us that a Confirmation saint is our very best spiritual friend and it’s important that we share like interests and lifetime goals.
Our instructors handed out information sheets on the more popular Confirmation/patron saints and informed us that we could find literally thousands of additional saints simply by doing a search on the internet.
The first thing Karen and I did upon arriving home was to Google “Confirmation saints.” The response was amazing. Believe it or not, I got 1,800,000 “results” from the search and we learned that there are well over 10,000 saints. The first page or two of results normally are the best, so I looked at the various web sites.
At the top of the first page was Catholic Online, so I clicked on it. When the site opened, I clicked on “saints.” The Saints Section opened with the following statement:
“Confirmation saints are chosen as special protectors or guardians over areas of life. These areas can include occupations, illnesses, churches, countries, causes -- anything that is important to us. A saint can help us when we follow the example of that saint's life and when we ask for that saint's intercessory prayers to God. It is for this reason that catechumens and candidates who are to receive the Sacrament of Confirmation choose a Confirmation saint when entering the Roman Catholic Church.”
Catholic Online had lists of saints that could be searched alphabetically, by feast day and by type (Black, male, female, Irish, martyr, etc.). There is also a list of saints that are associated with the various occupations, avocations and physical maladies.
The listing I found really fascinating was the one where the popularity of Confirmation saints is broken down by years. The saint in the number one spot changes from year to year, but the top five always appear to be Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Patrick, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Jude Thaddeaus.
OUR CONFIRMATION SAINTS:
KAREN - At first, Karen was going to choose Saint Francis of Assisi; Karen loves her dogs, cats and critters of all kinds, so Saint Francis seemed a perfect candidate for being Ms. K’s Confirmation saint.
Then, she remembered Father Todd’s parting words. The good padre equated communicating with a saint to internet bandwidth, he advised, “Try to pick a saint who is obscure … those saints will not be as busy as the more popular ones.”
So, after a lot of searching, Karen chose Saint Dwynwen. Saint D is not only the 5th century Welsh patron saint of lovers and sick animals, but her feast day happens to be February 25th, which is two days after Karen’s birthday.
Further cool information is that Saint Dwynwen was the daughter of King Brychan Brycheiniog and Queen Rigrawst. She fell in love with a young man named Maelon who got turned to ice after drinking a potion that an angel gave him … it’s a long, pitiful story.
Anyway, the star-crossed lovers could not marry, him being “on ice” and all, so Dwynwen retreated to the solitude of Llanddwyn Island, off the coast of Angelsey. She lived a hermit’s life until her death in AD 460.
Saint Dwynwen absolutely satisfied Father Todd’s request that RCIA candidates and catechumens choose an obscure saint. And that’s the story about how Karen ended up with a Confirmation saint that almost nobody has ever heard of.
After a few years of searching, I found a Saint Dwynwen medal and presented it to my bride. It is quite possible that her medal might be the only one of its kind this side of Caerdydd (that’s the capital of Wales).
STEVE – I’ve never particularly “played well with others,” so I saw no reason to limit myself to Father Todd’s personal theory about the bandwidth of saints. After the end of my search, however, I ended up with TWO SAINTS; one for my heart and one for my head.
There was no way that I could just ignore Saint Mary, the Mother of Our Savior and the Queen of All Saints, when choosing a Confirmation saint. Interestingly enough, almost nobody chooses the Blessed Virgin Mary and I was a bit surprised when our RCIA teachers said, “Heck, YES, Jesus’ mother would be a fabulous choice.”
The Blessed Virgin Mary was obviously my heart’s choice.
Another part of me, my intellect, totally admired Saint Augustine’s theology and incredible writing. It has been my total pleasure to have read every one of Augustine’s words that survived the ages; that would include all of Augustine’s books and his many great homilies. Saint Augustine lived from AD 354 to 430 and his words are as alive now as they were when he wrote them.
After spending a few weeks teetering back and forth between Saint Mary and Saint Augustine, I finally decided that the choice was impossible. So, I asked if I could have TWO Confirmation saints … the answer was, “YES, no problem.”
And that is precisely the reason why my RCIA Certificate reads, “Steven Mary Augustine Timm.”
SAINTS AS WE GO THROUGH LIFE
As I grow older, I often find myself reaching out to various saints as “prayer partners.” After doing a slow and meaningful Lectio Divina reading of “The Story of a Soul,” I found myself communing more and more with Saint Thérèse of Lisieux.
Also, now that he has been canonized, I find myself drawn to Pope Saint John Paul II and I must report that we’ve recently had some excellent prayer conversations.
My point is this; as we experience different chapters of our life on earth, we Catholics are free to seek out saints who can pray with us along the way. I think of it as making new friends; only these friends have a singular task and that is to help us make it to heaven.
Currently, my personal “Dream Team of Saints” is made up of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Augustine, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux and Saint Pope John Paul II … plus a host of pinch hitters, depending on the need.
Dang, it’s GREAT being Catholic!
May God Bless You
A MATTER OF PERCEPTION
Towards the end of our recent Catholic pilgrimage, we visited the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes near Lourdes, France. Karen and I had heard many glowing reports about Lourdes and our pilgrimage gave us a chance to see it for ourselves.
We’d also read a great deal about Saint Bernadette Soubirous and her eighteen apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Grotto of Massabiele. The story of the healing water that flows forth from a spring in the Grotto is incredibly compelling.
Literally all of the above placed a few days in Lourdes very high on our Catholic Bucket List.
OUR VISIT TO LOURDES
Lourdes is rather small and it is nestled into the northern foothills of the Pyrenees Mountains. Well over six-million Catholic pilgrims travel to Lourdes each year and several trustworthy sources state that the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is the most visited pilgrimage shrine in the Christian world.
It’s pretty obvious that the Catholic-pilgrim industry is big in Lourdes. After all, what other town of 15,000 souls has 270 hotels and 22 Catholic churches, including a HUGE basilica?
Karen and I did what most pilgrims do when they visit Lourdes. We took part in the nighttime candlelight procession, we visited the Grotto and we prayed. Heck, Karen even waited in line for four hours to get a quick dip in the healing water.
We found the “Lourdes experience” to be generally spiritually refreshing and beautiful.
THE CATHOLIC SHOPS; HUNDREDS OF THEM
BUT, there was one thing that “bugged me” about Lourdes.
In this tiny town, Lourdes, there are well over two-hundred shops that sell only Catholic sacramental goods … rosaries, medals, statues and such. Rome and Fatima have some of that, but Lourdes is seemingly wall-to-wall religious artifact stores.
I’m VERY serious about my Catholic faith and Lourdes’ overwhelming commercialism seemed sacrilegious to me.
A MATTER OF PERCEPTION
In the afternoon of our first day at Lourdes, our entire group of pilgrims walked down to the Grotto. On the way, I struck up a conversation with Father Rick and I said, “Father, aren’t all of these Catholic shops gross? I mean, it’s like selling our Catholic faith.”
Father looked at me and smiled. Then, he commented, “Steve, it’s totally a matter of perception. When I look at all of these stores, what I see is prayers, lots and lots of prayers.”
Father Rick went on to say, “Look at that big shop on the corner. There must be a couple thousand rosaries on the racks. Just think of all the prayers to God that will be said when the faithful use those rosaries.”
Finally, Father summed it up, “Yep, it’s just a matter of perception.”
My friends, I was looking at the negative side of all those Catholic shops and Father Rick saw the positive. There is no doubt that Father was right; extra prayers to God are always an excellent thing.
After our conversation, I shopped for a rosary to give to our friend, Pegg. I must have cruised through a dozen stores before I found exactly the right one and during that time I probably talked to a eight or ten sales people.
It was obvious that the folks in the stores, at least the ones I talked to, were no ordinary sellers of goods. The sales people seemed devout and I got the impression that it was their total honor to help faithful Catholics find exactly the right sacramental.
Frankly, I learned a lot at Lourdes and it wasn’t all about the healing water or the Grotto … it was the simple lesson of A MATTER OF PERSPECTIVE.
May God Bless You
PILGRIMAGE … SORTING IT OUT
Many of you know that Karen and I returned from a fourteen-day Catholic pilgrimage a couple of weeks ago. During the course of our pilgrimage we visited many holy sites in Portugal, Spain and France. It was an amazing experience.
Our most recent pilgrimage is either our fifth or sixth and it was markedly different from our first few. Maybe it’s a matter of age, but this time we found ourselves entering into contemplative prayer a great deal more than we did on any of our other visits to holy places.
SORTING IT OUT
Dictionary.com defines the word “pilgrimage” as, “A journey, especially a long one, made to holy places as an act of religious devotion.”
To that excellent definition, I might add that during a pilgrimage, the pilgrim is literally bombarded with spiritual experiences, many of which are beyond normal description or definition.
Personally, I’ve found that I simply cannot return from a pilgrimage with an immediate understanding what I’ve just gone through. Like lots of other things in life, it just takes time to sort it all out.
A good example of this happened just three days after we returned from our pilgrimage.
It was after the Saturday evening Vigil Mass at CTK. I was walking from our pew to the church’s vestibule when a couple of our friends stopped me. The lady of the pair asked me a fairly simple question and, for the life of me, I could not give her what I considered to be an adequate answer.
The lady asked, “Steve, what was the SINGLE MOST spiritual thing you encountered on your pilgrimage?”
Frankly, I stood there with mental snapshots flashing through my brain and nothing coming from my lips. I saw visions of Fatima, Santiago de Compostela, Avila, Alba de Tome, San Sebastian and more. Then, I experienced the mental image of praying in the Grotto at Lourdes and actually kissing the Black Madonna at Montserrat. But, I simply could not come up with the one-word answer that our friend wanted.
I finally said, “Mary, the SINGLE MOST spiritual thing Karen and I experienced on our pilgrimage was … PRAYER, AND LOTS OF IT !!!”
Mary looked somewhat confused at my answer … but it was the plain, unvarnished truth.
A TINY REFLECTION
Friends, it’s now fully two weeks after the end of our pilgrimage to Portugal, Spain and France. Believe it or not, I still haven’t sorted out the many spiritual experiences that Karen and I had on the journey … it’s still a blur of mental snapshots that almost defy classification.
Yes, we saw a lot of incredible holy places during our pilgrimage and I’ll be sure to share each and every one in upcoming blogs. For now, however, I simply need time to sort it all out in my mind.
Having said that, it’s looking more and more like the answer I gave Mary was the perfect one … that “the SINGLE MOST spiritual thing Karen and I experienced on our pilgrimage was … PRAYER, AND LOTS OF IT !!!”
Truly, prayers are what pilgrimages are all about.
May God Bless You
My father was born and about half-raised on a farm a few miles east of Ridgefield, Washington. I say “half-raised” because Dad packed up his meager belongings and ran away from home at the tender age of twelve.
It was because of Grandma Timm’s constant hateful attitude that my father left home at such an early age. It was also why my grandpa, Harry “Poppy” Timm, spent most of his free time in the farm’s woodshed listening to KEX on an ancient radio and smoking Velvet tobacco handrolls.
And, it was Grandma’s constant raving and love of hurting people that caused me to become intimately familiar with Poppy’s Woods.
Let me explain.
My Grandpa Poppy was everything that his wife was not. Poppy was quiet, incredibly thoughtful and truly a Man of God. He didn’t go to church much, but he was a Catholic who lived his faith every single day of his life.
I loved Grandpa Poppy and I pray for his beautiful soul to this very day.
SUNDAY AFTERNOONS AT THE FARM
Apparently, Dad and my Grandmother mended the family fences by the time I came along. Anyway, as far back as I can remember, my Mom and Dad, and the rest of the small Timm clan, gathered at Grandpa and Grandma’s farm for dinner almost every Sunday afternoon.
And, of course, Grandma, being Grandma, invariably initiated a family battle-royal every Sunday. The fight usually started with an unwarranted insult by Grandma Bertha, followed by her throwing of objects. Perhaps her greatest glory was the time she threw fresh-baked turkey at my Dad, but that’s a story for another time.
When the battle started, Grandpa Poppy and I naturally headed for the woodshed, as did anyone else who had a lick of sense. And it was there that we stoked up the wood stove, sat on tree rounds and quietly enjoyed the peaceful solitude.
One Sunday afternoon, while Poppy and I were in the woodshed, he suddenly said, “Stevie, you’re a lot like me … you love the quiet, you don’t feel the need to create a lot of meaningless words and you are very comfortable being alone. Would you like me to show you where God Lives?”
I responded with a one word answer, “YES.”
I was about seven years of age at the time, but I still remember Poppy and me walking hand-in-hand, down the lane, by the ancient wood barn and down into what the family called “Poppy’s Woods.”
For the next several hours, Poppy showed me how wonderful a simple forty-acre swampy woods can be. He showed me a spring that bubbled out of the ground and the tiny year-around creek that flowed from that point. We sat on his favorite rock and he taught me how to blend into the scene quietly and watch the animals come out again.
During that afternoon, we saw a couple of deer, a pair of raccoons, a coyote and birds and squirrels beyond number. I loved it.
And as we slowly walked out of the woods, Poppy and I turned around and he quietly said, “Stevie, it’s really true … God Lives Here.”
ON MY OWN IN POPPY’S WOODS
Over the next many years, every time we went to the Timm farm, I stayed indoors for only a few minutes and then headed for Poppy’s Woods. It’s the way I learned many truths about life … the Woods taught me … God taught me.
It was truly Heaven, sitting on Poppy’s Rock with my back against the tree and listening to God’s Breath whispering through the trees. The spring belched and burped nearby and deer often came for a drink. And it was there that I witnessed my first birth … a fine young doe dropped a fawn within fifteen feet of me while I watched in awe.
And I cried afterwards at the beauty of it all.
Indeed, God Lives There.
The last time I saw Grandpa Poppy was the day before he died. Poppy had suffered a major heart attack and he was not expected to survive. He was literally on his deathbed in the Coronary Care Unit at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Vancouver.
Because of Poppy’s precarious physical condition, my Mom and Dad visited with him and, after several minutes, I was allowed to see the great man alone.
I’ll never forget our conversation. And, in truth, it was one of the most wonderful visits we’d ever had. First of all, he wanted to share with me that he was so very happy that I loved the same things he did … quiet solitude and passing time with God in Poppy’s Woods.
The second item of conversation was downright amazing; so amazing, in fact, that few people would believe it. Poppy shared with me that Jesus and Mary and a Host of Angels had come down out of the large crucifix that was hanging on the wall across from his bed.
Grandpa went on to say that he and Mary had a long conversation and she’d told him that everything was going to be fine. Mary said that he was going to die very soon and that he was going straight to Heaven. She also told him that he could watch over anyone he chose while he was in Heaven. And when Poppy asked if it was OK to watch over his Grandson Stevie, Mary wholeheartedly agreed.
As I was leaving Poppy’s hospital room, I turned around for one last look at the man. He was doing the Sign of the Cross and mouthing, “In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” The hospital chaplain, a Roman Catholic priest, was waiting to give Poppy the Last Rites when I left the room. I cried.
Some would believe that Poppy’s vision was the hallucinations of a dying man. Personally, I believe in my heart that Poppy actually saw Jesus, Mary and the Angels. And I continue to believe it to this very day.
My Grandpa Poppy, that wonderful, quiet and faithful Servant of God, died at exactly three o’clock the next afternoon. He was seventy-three years of age; precisely the age that I am now.
A SHORT REFLECTION
Friends, whenever I feel a little down and discouraged, I mentally visit all of the incredible things I experienced during the many afternoons I spent in Poppy’s Woods. God Lives There … This I Know.
Then, I contemplate the fact that Grandpa Poppy is watching over me from Heaven.
And I smile.
May God Bless You
Karen and I volunteered as helpers in RCIA for the first three years after we became card-carrying members of the Catholic Church. During that time, there was one comment that was made by a sponsor that I will remember until the day I die.
Let me tell you about it.
Sara and Cassie
The last year we helped in RCIA was really special; everybody was truly “On Fire For Our Lord.” Head and shoulders above the rest, however, was a standout catechumen named Cassie and her sponsor, Sara.
Cassie and Sara were both single ladies, each about twenty-five years of age and they were just incredibly nice. My impression was that they were both college graduates and career women.
What I really appreciated about both of them was that they did not ignore older folks, like most of the workers on the RCIA Team. We were people, too, and they appreciated the fact that we were trying to help them.
Unlike most sponsors, Sara attended every single RCIA meeting with Cassie. They both asked meaningful questions at every presentation and they mingled with the entire group during breaks. It was almost immediately obvious that Cassie would successfully complete the RCIA process and that Sara would be right by her side every single step of the way.
Sara, the sponsor, had been a lifelong Catholic; she loved Our Lord and she loved the Church. Cassie, the catechumen, was absolutely convinced (as are we all) that the Catholic Church is the original church, the one started upon earth by Jesus Christ, and she very much wanted to be a part of it.
Sara and Cassie were best of friends, both in faith and in life.
What Sara Said
On the very last evening of RCIA, we were all sitting around in a circle and sharing our experiences of the last eight months. The conversation went around the circle and when it came to Sara, the sponsor, she said one of the most profound things I’ve ever heard.
Sara said, “I’ve been a devout and believing Catholic all of my life. I was literally raised in the Church and I love my faith. When Cassie asked me to be her sponsor, I agreed. However, I knew I would learn nothing. After all, I knew all of the responses at Mass. I knew when to stand up, when to sit down and when to kneel. I knew the Confiteor, the Creed, the Our Father and all the Rosary stuff.”
Sara continued, “Was I going to learn anything? Nope. But, did I want to see Cassie join us in the true Church? Absolutely!”
And then, Sara went on to say, “What I learned in RCIA over these last eight wonderful months is something like the relationship between a cell phone and its battery. You know how your phone is working pretty well and you are satisfied? Then, you recharge your battery and your phone WORKS SO MUCH BETTER!!!”
Sara added, “That is what RCIA has been to me. I was Catholic before, but now my faith battery is fully charged and everything works so much better now. My faith, my life, my relationship with Our Lord and the Catholic Church … it has now become the focus of my life.”
Finally, Sara drove it home, “I’ve heard the term ‘God-Incidence’ and that must have been what it was when Cassie asked me to be her sponsor in RCIA. I thought I was doing her a favor by sitting by her side for these last eight months; in truth, it was exactly the opposite. Cassie did me the biggest favor imaginable; by asking me to be her sponsor and, as a result, I became better catechized in our fabulous Catholic faith. I can never thank you folks and Cassie enough.”
When Sara finished talking, there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. As I said earlier, it was truly a moment I will remember until I die.
May God Bless You,
THE FABLE OF THE CRACKED POT
A few years ago, Karen and I spent several very enjoyable days near Lincoln City, on the Oregon Coast. To our total delight, we found that there was a Catholic church within a few blocks of our hotel.
The church was Saint Augustine’s and we felt totally at home there. Even better, the daily Masses were celebrated at noon … perfect for old folks on a holiday.
The priest at Saint Augustine’s was Father Amancio Rodrigues.
The sad thing was that Father Rodrigues was retiring and it was obvious that his congregation loved him dearly.
By sheer luck, Karen and I happened to be at Saint Augustine’s for Father R’s last three or four homilies. His final homily was particularly amazing.
Father Rodrigues began his last homily by saying: “When I was a small child, back in my native India, my grandmother used to tell me stories. One of those many tales was one that she called, ‘The Fable of the Cracked Pot.’ Let me relate this wonderful story to you.”
THE FABLE OF THE CRACKED POT
An elderly woman had two large pots, each hung on the ends of a pole which she carried across her neck. She used the pots and yoke to carry water from a stream to her home in the hills.
One of the pots had a crack in it while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water. At the end of the long walks from the stream to her home, the cracked pot arrived only half filled.
For a full two years, this went on daily; with the woman bringing home only one and a half pots of water. Of course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was ashamed of its own imperfection, and miserable that it could only do half of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the woman one day by the stream. The cracked pot lamented, “I am ashamed of myself … this crack in my side causes water to leak out all the way back to our home.”
The old woman smiled and said, “Did you notice that there are flowers on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's side? That's because I have always known about your flaw, so I planted flower seeds on your side of the path. And every day, while we walk back, you water them.”
And, finally, the old woman told the cracked pot, “For two years, I have been able to pick those beautiful flowers to decorate my family’s dining room table. Without you being just the way you are, there would not be beauty and grace in our home.”
Friends, the Christian message that Father Rodrigues related in his homily about “The Fable of the Cracked Pot” is both simple and profound. Let’s take a look at that.
Everything that God makes is perfect. By reflection we, His children whom He made in His Own Image, are perfect.
Like the cracked pot, we see imperfections in ourselves, but we should never forget that we are as God wants us to be.
Where we see imperfections, God only sees differences … and it is precisely those differences that make each and every one of us a unique and important part of God’s Plan.
And Thanks Be To God For That.
May God Bless You
A LETTER FROM HEAVEN
Friends, for the last couple of years, I’ve been plagued by insomnia. I have no idea what causes it; possibly it is yet another symptom of my chronic kidney failure, or maybe it’s simply something that comes from having lived a long time.
Whatever the cause, several times a week, I awake at three o’clock in the morning, only to find that I cannot go back to sleep. Rather than just lay there and waste the time, I often get up and surf the internet for good stuff.
Last night, or rather I should say at o-dark thirty this morning, I was online and I found a poem entitled “A Letter From Heaven.” Frankly, I’m not the type to read poems, but this one really hit home with me.
Yep, I not ashamed to say that a few tears trickled down my heavily-whiskered cheeks as I read the words.
Anyway, I found the poem too good NOT to share. I sincerely pray that you enjoy it.
A LETTER FROM HEAVEN
To my dearest family, some things I'd like to say,
But first of all to let you know that I arrived okay.
I'm writing this from Heaven, where I dwell with God above,
Where there are no tears or sadness, there is just Eternal Love.
Please do not be unhappy, just because I'm out of sight,
Remember that I'm with you, every morning, noon and night.
That day I had to leave you, when my life on earth was through,
God picked me up and hugged me, and said, " I Welcome You".
"It's good to have you back again.
You were missed while you were gone.
As for your dearest family, they'll be here later on.
I need you here so badly as part of my Big Plan.
There's so much that we have to do, to help our mortal man".
Then, God gave me a list of things he wished for me to do.
And foremost on that list of mine, is to watch and care for you.
I will be beside you, every day of the week and year,
And when you're sad, I'm standing there, to wipe away the tear.
And when you lie in bed at night, the day's chores put to flight,
God and I are closest to you in the middle of the night.
When you think of my life on Earth, and all those loving years,
Because you're only human, there's bound to be some tears.
One thing is for certain, though my life on Earth is over,
I am closer to you now than I ever was before.
And to my many friends, trust God knows what is best.
I am not far away from you, I'm just beyond the crest.
There are rocky roads ahead for you and many hills to climb,
Together we can do it, taking one day at a time.
It was my philosophy and please I'd like for you,
To give unto the world, so the world will give to you.
If you can help someone who's in sorrow or in pain,
Then you can say to God at night, my day was not in vain.
And now I am contented that my life it was worthwhile,
Knowing as I passed along the way, I made somebody smile.
When you're walking down the street and I am on your mind,
I'm walking in your footsteps, only half a step behind.
And when you feel a gentle breeze of wind upon your face,
That's me giving you a great big hug, or just a soft embrace.
When it's time for you to go from that body to be free,
Remember you are not going, you are coming home to me.
I will always love you, from that place way up above,
I will be in touch again soon. P.S. God sends his love.
~ Author Unknown
A FEW THOUGHTS
Surprisingly, when I first read “A Letter From Heaven,” I didn’t realize it was a poem. What I saw was darned wonderful subject development and a fascinating view on our first little while in Heaven.
Then, I realized that some of the ending words rhymed … Son-of-a-gun, I was actually reading a poem and totally enjoying it!!!
That is a heck of a compliment from a “non-poemy” kind of guy.
Before we go further, I have to say that I am not a theologian. Also, I have no idea whether or not the concepts presented in “A Letter From Heaven” agree or disagree with official Catholic doctrine.
Still, I loved the thought that after our life journey is over, we can still be with our loved ones on earth. That, in a sort of joint partnership with God, we can still share in the lives of those we love, if only in a passive way.
The concept is lovely.
Just speaking for myself, if I die first, I would truly love watching over my beloved wife, Karen … sharing her joys, commiserating with her pain, crying when she cries and … well, still loving her deeply.
And further, meeting Karen and walking hand-in-hand with her through the Gates of Heaven would simply be incredible.
So, gentle reader, I thought I’d share “A Letter From Heaven” with you.
Hopefully, you’ll find the poem as delightful as I did.
May God Bless You
A POLISHER OF SOULS
Most of you know that Karen and I worked in our family jewelry store until our retirement in 1993. During each and every day as Graduate Gemologists, both of us handled and worked with gemstones.
That’s right, every single day was filled with buying, selling, setting (in gold jewelry) or otherwise handling diamonds, sapphires, rubies, emeralds, amethysts and … well, you get the picture.
And, believe it or not, we never got tired of working with gemstones.
One thing that always intrigued me about gemstones is their almost unbelievable transformation from what is basically a rock to something of incredible beauty.
When a gem is found in nature, what we gemologists call “in the rough,” it looks very much like a common stone or pebble. Occasionally, a piece of “rough” is a pretty crystal, but most gem material closely resembles matrix rock from which was extracted. Indeed, in most instances only a miner with a trained eye can tell the difference.
After being mined or panned from alluvial gravel, the rough eventually makes its way to the craftsman who cuts and polishes it. Indeed, polishing is a true artform and it is only after being lovingly “worked on the wheel” that the gem attains its ultimate beauty.
If there was ever an example of hidden treasure, this is it … the transformation of a crystal that looks for all the world like a common pebble into a dazzling GEM.
Our first Catholic pilgrimage was to Rome and Assisi with the folks from the Saint Paul Center for Biblical Theology. The two directors of the Saint Paul Center, Dr. Scott Hahn and Mike Aquilina, traveled with us and provided nightly lectures. While we were in Rome we were also accompanied by several priests and seminarians who were attending the various local theological institutes.
The priests and seminarians were all relatively young and they were perfect unofficial tour guides. Indeed, their intimate knowledge of the many Basilicas of Rome and the early-Church added a great deal to our pilgrimage experience.
One of the young priests and I hit it off from the very beginning. His name was Father Angelo and he was from Florence, Italy.
During the course of our first conversation, Father Angelo learned that I was a retired goldsmith and that Karen and I were both GIA Graduate Gemologists. Upon hearing that, Father Angelo told me that he came from a family of gem cutters and polishers in Florence. In fact, his family had been voting members of one of the seven major Florentine art guilds back as far as anybody could remember.
During a later visit, Father Angelo told me that his family had always expected him to follow his brothers in becoming a gem cutter and polisher. In fact, the entire family was surprised and thrilled when he announced that he wanted to become a Roman Catholic priest.
FATHER ANGELO’S DECISION
The way Father Angelo explained his decision was something I’ll never forget. It went something like this:
“Steve, one evening I was dining alone with our parish priest. He was a great and wise man and I asked him if I should follow family tradition and become a gem worker. His answer surprised me a little … he asked, ‘Angelo, what do YOU want?’”
Father Angelo went on to explain, “I answered, ‘Father, I have only one life to live and I want to make a positive difference in the world; one that will please God’.”
The parish priest said, “Angelo, if that is the longing of your heart, I would recommend that you become a Catholic priest. My son, you will soon find that there is almost no difference between polishing gems and a priest’s work … except that one is enriching in this world and the other is doing Our Lord’s Work.”
Father Angelo told me that he didn’t understand the priest’s comment, so he asked for clarification. And this is where the tale REALLY gets interesting.
A POLISHER OF SOULS
The priest told young Angelo the following, “Son, I’ve visited your family’s workshop and you basically take ugly rocks and turn them into beautiful gemstones. The transformation is incredible but, in the end, gems are still one-dimensional objects … they look pretty and that’s about it.”
The priest went on to say, “Now compare the polishing of gems to what a priest does. It is every priest’s goal to help their parishioners turn secular lives into godly ones. It is our job, actually our pleasure, to help ‘grind off the dirt’ that the secular world leaves on each of us. This allows us to ‘polish the facets’ of our fellow Catholics and let their beautiful souls shine through. And a Christian with a clean, sparkling soul is on the fast-track to spending Eternity with God in Heaven.”
“So you see,” the priest continued, “Being a polisher of gemstones and ‘Polisher of Souls’ is very similar. However, if a priest prepares the members of his flock well enough, he has done something that is remarkably more important than simply working with gems.”
At that point in time, Angelo knew precisely what he wanted to do with his life … he wanted to become a Catholic priest; a “Polisher of Souls.”
FATHER ANGELO’S “TAKE” ON BEING A PRIEST
During one of my last visits with Father Angelo, he told me the following, “Steve, I’ve done a lot of thinking since that wonderful conversation with my parish priest. And everything that the good Father told me is absolutely true. In truth, it actually goes a bit beyond that.”
Father Angelo went on to say, “God only makes perfect things and each of us has a unique soul that is beautiful beyond description. Sometimes it’s difficult for us to see the beauty of our souls and that is where a hard-working priest comes in; by helping us to lead the devout life, he can help to reveal the beauty that is within every single one of us.”
Finally, Father Angelo said, “Our family parish priest was absolutely correct; being a ‘Polisher of Souls’ is without question the finest vocation that a person can have. Hopefully, I’m up to the calling … God Knows I’m Willing!!!”
Friends, wouldn’t it be nice to know the ending of every life-journey that happens to cross our path? Regrettably, life is not as cut-and-dried as Paul Harvey’s “The Rest of the Story.”
OK, it isn’t going to be perfect, but let’s take a look at the probable path of the balance of our tale.
In my mind’s eye, Father Angelo finished his advanced theological degree in Rome. Then, he was assigned to one of Italy’s many Catholic churches … perhaps as a vicar, because of his age.
By this time, fully ten years after my last visit with Father Angelo, I suspect that he has a good-sized parish of his own. And, if that’s the case, I have absolutely no doubt that Father Angelo is currently shepherding his flock and “polishing souls” every chance he gets.
Hey, it beats the heck out of messing with rocks!!!
May God Bless You
FATHER BRENDAN’S PICKLE JAR
During the formative years of my youth, I learned many of life’s lessons from an elderly Irish priest. His name was Father Brendan Shea and he was the pastor of Saint Agatha Catholic Church in Sellwood.
Father B loved to use physical props in making a point and he was forever bringing out objects to drive the message home.
One lesson I will never forget is what I think of as Father Brendan’s Pickle Jar. Let me tell you about it.
FATHER BRENDON’S PICKLE JAR
One lovely summer evening in the early-1960s, Father Brendan and I were sitting on the back porch of his rectory. We were deep in a theological conversation and each enjoying a Cuban cigar and a wee drop of what the beloved priest called, “The Tears of the Angels.”
During a lull in the conversation, Father B put an empty one-gallon wide-mouth pickle jar on the table. He looked at it with a shy grin on his face and said. “Steve, Old Son, this is your life.”
With that, I knew another wonderful lesson was about to reveal itself and I braced to enjoy the special moment.
So, I said, “OK, Father, the empty jar is my life.”
After letting that sink in, Father B reached into a box and extracted a very large stone. Then, he put the stone in the wide-mouth jar … the stone was so large that it barely cleared the jar’s opening.
With a HUGE smile, the Padre announced, “This large stone represents God. God should always be the biggest thing in your life. And, if He isn’t, there is something radically wrong.”
Then, Father Brendan put several two-inch rocks in the jar and filled it to the brim. With this, he asked me if the jar was full.
I answered, “Yep, Father, the jar is totally full.”
Father B then told me, “Steve, the medium-sized rocks represent the many gifts that God so freely puts in our life. These are reflections of God’s Incredible Love for us. Among those wonderful gifts are your future wife, Karen, your family, your Brothers and Sisters in Christ, your loving Catholic parish community … you get the picture.”
My answer was, “Yes, with God and all of His wonderful Gifts, my ‘life jar’ is totally full. Indeed, these are the important things … things, that if everything else was lost and only they remained, my life would still be incredibly wonderful.”
He grinned at my answer and said, “Old Knocker, I’m glad that you understand the concept … we have to do one more thing.”
THE LESSON OF THE SAND
Finally, Father Brendan brought out a bag of sand. He added the sand while gently agitating the jar. The grains of sand filled every single void that was between the large stone and the two-inch rocks.
When the jar was once again filled to the brim, Father B told me, “The sand is all of the background noise in your life; the things that don’t really matter and can separate you from God. The sand represents hurtful relationships, the bad influences and the emptiness that can enter your life when you are not focused on God.”
Then, Father B added, “Take care to make God the very most important aspect of your life and surround yourself with Godly people and Godly relationships. Do that and you will lead the life that God intended for you.”
He finished the lesson by saying, “Steve, never forget that if you fill your ‘life jar’ with sand first, that leaves absolutely no room for God and His Gifts to us. Be sure to avoid that temptation.”
A VERY SHORT REFLECTION
Friends, it’s been well over five decades since that wonderful evening that Father B and I spent together. I often think of Father Brendan’s Pickle Jar and it always brings a smile to my face.
Father’s message was pretty clear; make God and Godly folks your priority … After all, the rest is just worthless sand.
May God Bless You
THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD
The pastor at our Catholic parish is a superb homilist. Father Rick Paperini normally combines a series of simple stories that, when woven together, illustrate how the Old and New Testament Bible readings at Mass apply to our everyday lives.
This last weekend’s homily was one of the finest Karen and I have ever heard. And one of the stories that Father Rick told was especially beautiful.
The story went something like this:
THE SEVEN WONDERS OF THE WORLD
A grade school teacher asked her students to list what they thought were the “Seven Wonders of the World.” She told the students that there was an official list, but that she wanted to know what THEY thought the Seven Wonders should be.
After a while, the students turned in their lists. No two lists were the same, but when the teacher tabulated the results; the following received the most votes:
1. Great Pyramid of Giza
2. Taj Mahal
4. Panama Canal
5. Empire State Building
6. Basilica of Saint Peter
7. Great Wall of China
It was then that the teacher noticed her youngest student, a girl named Mary, was still busily working on her list of the Seven Wonders. The teacher asked Mary if she was having trouble finishing the lesson.
Mary answered, “Yes, there are so many Wonders that I’m having a problem making up my mind.”
The teacher then asked, “Mary, please read your list aloud and maybe we can all help.”
Mary drew in a deep breath and said, “OK, I believe that the Seven Wonders of the World are:
1. To See
2. To Hear
3. To Touch
4. To Run
5. To Laugh
6. To Hug
7. AND TO LOVE “
Mary’s teacher and classmates sat in awe of Mary’s list of the Seven Wonders of the World. They suddenly realized that the Wonders that really matter cannot be built or bought by man.
Indeed, we don’t have to travel around the world in search of the Wonders … the truly REAL Wonders of the World are those that God so freely gives each and every one of us.
A SHORT REFLECTION
Friends, I tend to view the world through Catholic eyeglasses and I believe that there is a logical extension to the seventh item on Mary’s list.
When Mary said, “AND TO LOVE,” I immediately thought of the Holy Eucharist. GOD IS LOVE and when we receive the Lamb upon our tongues, Jesus becomes a part of us and we become a part of Him.
In other words, we receive LOVE and, at the same time, we are immersed in HIS LOVE.
And it is the Gift of God’s Love that is absolutely the Greatest Wonder of All.
A CHANCE QUESTION
A couple of summers ago, I was enjoying a particularly gorgeous Sunday morning in our front yard. The sun was warming my shoulders, I was deep in contemplative prayer and generally enjoying my time with God.
After a while, a well-dressed man and woman walked up our driveway and indicated that they wanted to talk. It turned out that they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and they were on a daily mission to convert what they called “the lost ones.”
After listening to them for a few minutes, I assured them that my wife of fifty-some years and I were devout in our Catholic faith. I also complimented them on their evangelization efforts … surely a continual “cold sale” took a great deal of effort and faith in their religious tradition.
We passed pleasantries for a while and during the course of our conversation, the lady of the couple made a startling admission. She said, “I was born Roman Catholic, baptized Catholic, confirmed Catholic, attended Catholic grade and high school and thought I’d be Catholic for the rest of my life. BUT, I became a Jehovah’s Witness about five years ago.”
The way she said it was a statement of fact. It wasn’t presented in a way that implied, “But, now I know better.”
We talked for a while longer; then, they bid me, “Have a great day” and walked back down our driveway.
A CHANCE QUESTION
When the JW couple was almost on the street, a question popped into my mind. Our conversation had been so wonderfully civil that I felt totally at ease to ask.
I said, “Ma’am, I have a question … Don’t you miss the Holy Eucharist?”
Her reaction absolutely startled me.
She started crying; not little leaky tears, but a river from each of her eyes accompanied by deep, uncontrollable convulsions. It was like she had just learned that her entire family had died.
The man took her in his arms and she continued to sob. The lady was truly inconsolable.
The pair slowly walked back up our street, got into their automobile and drove away.
For a few minutes, I regretted the question, thinking I had somehow been cruel. A short time later, however, I realized that the JW lady had spent most of her life enjoying the many Sacraments and Graces of the Church that Jesus Christ started upon this earth … and that somehow, she had lost her way.
Truly, it was one of the saddest things I have ever seen. And I wished I could help … and I did so in prayer.
Friends, this Sunday morning visit with the JW couple left me convinced that we Catholics are truly enormously blessed. I cannot imagine living life without the wonderful sacraments of the Catholic Church, and especially the Holy Eucharist.
After all, the Eucharist is literally the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And to be able have Him within our body on a regular basis is the wellspring of our very lives as Catholics.
It is no wonder that the JW lady reacted as she did when I asked the “Chance Question.” She truly knew what she had given up; she truly knew what she had lost and, at least in my mind, she devoutly wished to return.
Ever since that beautiful Sunday morning, it has been my prayer that the JW lady had the will and strength to return to the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Indeed, we should pray for every single one of our lost brothers and sisters. It would be an incredible honor greeting each of them back into the Church.
May God Bless You
FATIMA - A PLACE OF GOD
A little over three years ago, we went on a Catholic pilgrimage that included several days in the country of Portugal. The majority of that time was spent in Fatima.
Karen and I really enjoyed the many things we saw there. Having said that, we eventually concluded that the sights were only a tiny aspect of the Fatima experience. What was exponentially more wonderful was the feeling of holiness that was so obvious at Fatima.
Fatima is what I think of as a “Place of God” … we’ll get to that a bit later.
First, let’s take a very brief look at what happened at Fatima during the first quarter of the Twentieth-Century.
THE APPARITIONS AT FATIMA
Fatima, Portugal, was the site of three Angelic Apparitions and six Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, spanning the years of 1916 and 1917. The Angels and Mary appeared to three shepherd children; nine-year old Lucia Dos Santos and her cousins, Francisco and Jacinta Marto. Francisco and Jacinta were ages 8 and 6, respectively at the time.
The “Grand Finale” of the Marian Apparitions took place on October 13th, 1917. On that day, the children were surrounded by a crowd that exceeded 70,000 people. When Our Lady appeared to the children, Lucia asked for a sign. And upon that, Mary caused the sun began to spin and seemingly throw off sparkling colors. The phenomenon lasted for several minutes; surely long enough to absolutely convince everyone in the crowd that a miracle of some magnitude had just taken place.
The principal anti-Catholic publication of the day was O Dia, a major Lisbon newspaper. On October 17th, O Dia reported the following:
“At one o'clock in the afternoon, midday by the sun, the rain stopped. The sky, pearly gray in color, illuminated the vast arid landscape with a strange light. The sun had a transparent gauzy veil so that eyes could easily be fixed upon it. The gray mother-of-pearl tone turned into a sheet of silver which broke up as the clouds were torn apart and the silver sun, enveloped in the same gauzy gray light, was seen to whirl and turn in the circle of broken clouds. A cry went up from every mouth and people fell on their knees on the muddy ground. The light turned a beautiful blue as if it had come through the stained-glass windows of a cathedral and spread itself over the people who knelt with outstretched hands. The blue faded slowly and then the light seemed to pass through yellow glass. Yellow stains fell against white handkerchiefs, against the dark skirts of women. They were reported on the trees, on the stones and on the serra. People wept and prayed with uncovered heads in the presence of the miracle they had awaited. “
WOW, just WOW! Apparently, even the anti-Catholic newspaper reporters were convinced that what they and 70,000 others had seen was absolutely real.
There is a great deal more to the Angelic and Marian Apparitions that took place at Fatima, but this gives the reader a thumbnail sketch of the incredible Miracles of God that took place there almost precisely a century ago.
OUR EXPERIENCES AT FATIMA
During those two+ days, we saw and experienced many things. We visited the area where Our Lady appeared, we attended a nighttime vigil in the Chapel of the Apparitions, we celebrated daily Mass and we even were able to slowly walk through the shepherd children’s homes.
And at all times, both Karen and I felt the incredible Peace and Grace of God. It was a strong presence, without being overwhelming. The feeling was more like a protective and warm loving shield that God placed over us during the entire period of time that we were in Fatima.
During those days, Karen often commented to me, “Steve, I can just FEEL the holiness here.”
And every time Karen said that, I answered with something like, “Yes, I can absolutely feel the holiness, too. This is a very, very special place. It’s a Place of God.”
As we left Fatima, I wrote these words into my Pilgrimage Journal: “There are no words that can adequately describe the downright holiness of this area. The feeling of the Presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary, of Jesus Christ, of the Holy Spirit and of Our Loving God is absolutely vibrant in Fatima.”
A FEW THOUGHTS
Since we returned from our pilgrimage, I’ve often been asked questions about Fatima. The questions are pretty much as follows:
“Is Fatima, the place of the Angelic and Marian Apparitions, all that some say it is? When a Catholic goes to Fatima, does he or she experience anything ‘special?’ And a final question, perhaps the most important of all … Were the Angelic and Marian Apparitions real?”
My response to those questions, and more, would be yes, yes, yes, and a million more yeses.
In very possible way, Fatima is a “Place of God,” a place of incredible holiness set apart from the rest of the world. It is a place where the pilgrim can totally immerse himself into the Loving Presence of God.
And Thanks Be To God for that.
May God Bless You
Scottish terriers have been an integral part of our tiny family for well over four decades. We simply love Scotty dogs and sharing our home with the joyful little critters brings a great deal of happiness to our lives.
Stuart came to us as a total God-incidence. Our first Scotty, a wonderful dog named Mac, had gone over The Rainbow Bridge and we were mourning his death. Then came a phone call; a breeder friend of ours had a dog named Stuart and he was available immediately.
The breeder had sold Stuart, as a puppy, to a dog aficionado in Columbia. Within the first year, Stuart had grown too big to be “competitive” in the South American and Caribbean dog circuit. Apparently, some negotiation took place because Stuart was a little over two years of age when he was air-shipped back to the breeder.
Our friend had way too many dogs at the time, so she wanted to find Stuart a good, loving home. And, of course, that’s where Karen and I came in; she thought that we needed a dog.
I was pretty sure we needed more healing time, but I drove out to see Stuart anyway. I’ll never forget the moment I first saw him.
It was summertime and Stuart was in an X-pen in front of the breeder’s garage. Nobody had trimmed him for a very, very long time, so he looked like a furry black medicine ball. He was barking insanely when I drove up the driveway and I muttered to myself, “Nope, this is NOT going to work.”
In spite of my misgivings, I parked our Suburban and walked over to the pen. Then, he suddenly stopped barking and came as close to me as he could. He looked up at me with those beautiful chocolate Scottie dog eyes, as if to say, “You’re my new dad and I need you soooo badly.”
I picked him up in my arms; he snuggled close to my neck and just stayed there for several long minutes. At that moment, I believe we both knew that he was going to his forever home, a home where he would be loved for the rest of his life and beyond.
Stuart lived with us for the next seven years and he was a wonderful member of our family. He loved to walk and he loved to ride in the truck. Stuart was a master of making little everyday occurrences into things to be remembered.
Stuart loved life and we loved him.
It was around his ninth birthday that Stuart’s time with us became very limited. Karen has always groomed our Scotties and she discovered a grape-sized growth on the end of Stu’s tail and what appeared to be a swollen toe. We immediately took him to the veterinarian and the diagnosis was grim … the insidious cancer, melanoma.
The vet’s suggestion was to amputate the toe and tip of Stuart’s tail. X-rays taken at the time gave us some hope that we’d caught the malignancy at an early stage.
Two weeks later, a follow-up x-ray revealed that Stuart’s lungs and other organs had little white spots. The cancer had spread and it was throughout his entire body.
Of course, during all of this time, Stuart was blissfully unaware that he was rapidly dying. Stuart was still the fun-loving goofball of a Scotty dog we’d loved for so many years.
A little after his ninth birthday, Stuart started to cough pretty regularly. He was not going to be around for long, so we thought we’d give our little Scotty gentleman a treat … a trip to the Oregon Coast.
We took our trailer house down to Pacific City and walked on the beach a couple of times a day. Stu couldn’t walk far or fast, but how he loved digging in the sand and rolling in stinky dead things and doing all of the things that doggy-dogs love to do.
He was off leash and he could do anything he wanted … Stuart was in Heaven.
Back at our trailer house, Stuart slept a lot in his padded dog bed. He was rapidly losing muscle mass by this time, so doing almost anything became an enormous effort for him.
On our last short walk on the beach, we’d just gotten back to the truck when Stuart did a very strange thing. His last effort at the beach was to bring a golf ball-sized pebble to me and drop it on my boot ... then, he got another identical one for Karen and put it in front of her shoe.
Slowly, very slowly, Stuart then collected a little pile of rocks. There were just enough to give one to his veterinarian, Dr. Kirsten Shaw, who took such loving care of him, and all for his favorite vet techs.
Not long after that, our beloved Stuart died.
I took each of the rocks, cleaned them thoroughly and carefully painted Stuart’s name on them. I wrote a little note describing his act of gathering the rocks. And when we collected Stuart’s ashes at Southgate Animal Clinic, we gave Dr. Shaw and the vet techs each a rock and a note.
Karen and I still have those two little stones, Stuart's Precious Gifts. They are cherished and each rock bears his name. The rocks are in a large brass-and-glass display case above our aquarium.
Every couple of weeks or so, I walk up to the glass display case, look at the two rocks and remember Stuart … and SMILE.
One day, both Karen and I will be dead and on our way to Heaven. We have no children, so some stranger will be going through our things and throwing out the junk … our two little “Stuart Rocks” among them. And that’s OK; that person will not have known us and surely wouldn’t know (or care) about a loving little Scotty dog named Stuart.
The rocks will go back to wherever rocks go … but the love, Stuart’s love for us and our love for him … That love will never die.
There probably isn’t a great Christian revelation here. I have no idea if dogs go to Heaven, as Pope Paul VI and Pope Saint John Paul II believed. That’s way above my theological knowledge and spiritual pay grade.
I do know that GOD IS LOVE and that Love Never Dies. We are born in Love, we receive God’s Love every single day of our lives and when we pass on to the rest of our Eternal Life, we bask in God’s Love Forever.
Hopefully, when Karen and I get to Heaven, there will be a few Scottie dogs up there … and maybe, just maybe, one of them will be named Stuart.
May God Bless You
THE TOMB OF SAINT PETER
We’ve been to Rome three times and it was on our last pilgrimage that we were finally able to secure permission to visit the Tomb of Saint Peter. It’s pretty obvious that the Scavi Tour (Scavi is an Italian word meaning “excavation”) is the hottest ticket in town and we were delighted to finally have the privilege of exploring the separate world that exists deep under the Basilica of Saint Peter.
LET’S START AT THE BEGINNING
The Apostle Peter was crucified, Origen tells us upside down, within the oval race-course of the Circus of Gaius and Nero, on October 13th, 64 AD. After he died, Peter was buried in a small tomb in the above-ground Roman necropolis on nearby Vatican Hill.
Later, a small shrine was built over Peter’s Tomb.
In 319 AD, Constantine commissioned the first Basilica of Saint Peter to be built over the tomb and shrine. Eventually, the 4th century church fell into total disrepair and it was replaced by the present Basilica of Saint Peter.
It was probably at some time between the destruction of the old basilica and the construction of the new one that the Roman necropolis (city of the dead) and Saint Peter’s Tomb got totally buried under rubble.
The cornerstone of the new basilica was consecrated on April 18, 1506 and the building was finished in 1626. The tradition of the church was that Saint Peter’s Tomb was precisely under the center of the new basilica’s main altar.
THE ARCHAEOLOGICAL EXCAVATION
Now, let’s fast forward to the Vatican-sponsored archaeological excavation under Saint Peter’s in the years 1940-1949. The excavation was done at the request of Pope Pius XI who wished to be buried as close as possible to the Apostle Peter.
In the course of the excavation, the archaeologists found a buried Roman road, lined on both sides by two-thousand year old above-ground crypts. At the end of the road was a small tomb that was marked with the Greek words, “Petros eni”, or “Peter Is Within.”
A variety of bones were found in the tomb; they included pieces of a skull and jaw, vertebrae, pelvis, legs, arms and hands. After careful study, the forensic anthropologists concluded that the bones belonged to a 1st century man between 60 and 70 years of age; about 5 feet, 7 inches tall; and of robust constitution; an apt description of the fisherman, Saint Peter.
Some of the bones had been wrapped in a purple fabric with gold threads that dated back to Imperial Roman times. The cloth was befitting the first Pope of the Church.
SEEING THE TOMB OF PETER
The Scavi Tour was a real adventure. At dawn, we passed through a side door of the Basilica of Saint Peter and descended about thirty feet down a stairway. Then, we entered a humidity-controlled area that was surrounded by glass.
Once inside the glassed-in area, we slowly walked along the ancient Roman road. On each side of us were large rooms where the remains of many Roman patrician family members had been interred. The paintings, frescoes and mosaics were incredible.
What a treasure this was … looking into the highly decorated crypts of early Christians (and a few pagans, too).
At the end of the Roman street was a humble tomb marked by a red-painted lentil. This was the Tomb of Saint Peter. And there were actually several small bones at the entrance.
We stopped before Peter’s Tomb and knelt … each praying in our own way … Prayers of Thanks to Jesus for His Love of Peter and of Us.
After a while, I had an epiphany, an overwhelming sensation that was almost like the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear. The message went something like this:
“This man, Peter, was the very first Vicar of Christ and it was he who sent Christ’s salvific teachings to every corner of the earth. Untold billions of Catholics span from Peter’s time and our own, yet the Plan of Salvation remains the same.”
It was a watershed moment for me. Praying in front of Saint Peter’s Tomb and seeing his bones. Here was the physical link between the very-early beginnings of the church and our time, two-thousand years later.
Friends, the definition of FAITH is believing in something for which there is no physical proof. Most of us have lots of faith; we’ve never seen God, but still, we believe. And we’ve not seen Jesus or the Holy Spirit … still, they are very real in our minds and faith in them refreshes our very souls.
Seeing the Tomb of Saint Peter, complete with his bones, was a solid and tangible thing. Indeed, seeing the Tomb of the Prince of the Apostles is something I will remember and cherish for the rest of my days.
Truly, it was a Gift From God.
May God Bless You
THE LEGEND OF TWO LETTERS
Friends, there is a Christian legend that has fascinated me for many years. The legend is about two letters; one sent by King Abgar V, the ruler of the Kingdom of Osroene, to Jesus Christ and the answering letter, dictated by Jesus to a scribe and delivered to the King.
Like all legends, the story is undoubtedly based on truth. Having said that, there are most likely threads of untruth woven into the fabric of the tale.
We also need to keep in mind is that the legend of King Abgar’s letter and Jesus’ return letter is just that … it’s a legend. We should be ever mindful that any legend, however compelling, is NOT the Gospel; the Inerrant and Inspired Word of God.
Still, I find the Legend of the Two Letters to be totally intriguing. Let’s take a look at it.
The “Father of Catholic Church History”, Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea tells us that King Abgar V of the Kingdom of Osroene contracted an incurable illness (probably leprosy). Apparently, the King had heard from travelers about a man called Jesus who performed miraculous healings, so he decided to contact Jesus via a letter carried by a courier.
According to the legend, after Jesus received the King’s letter, he dictated a letter of reply to a scribe and sent it to King Abgar.
The earliest complete version of the letters and the accompanying story was discovered by Eusebius among a cache of Syriac documents in the Archives of Edessa. The city, Edessa, was the capitol of the ancient Kingdom of Osroene. Today, the city is known is now known as ?anl?urfa and it in Turkey’s southeastern Anatolia Region.
Eusebius relates that he personally examined both King Abgar’s letter and Jesus’ letter of response, both of which were well-preserved, in the Archives. He translated the letters from Syriac to Greek and published both letters in his book, “The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine”.
Eusebius’ translation of King Abgar’s letter reads as follows:
“Abgar Uchama the Toparch to Jesus, who has appeared as a gracious savior in the region of Jerusalem – Greetings.
I have heard about you and the cures which you perform without drugs or herbs. If the report is true, you make the blind see again and the lame walk about; you cleanse lepers, expel unclean spirits and demons; cure those suffering from chronic and painful diseases, and raise the dead. When I heard all of this about you, I concluded that one of two things must be true – either you are God and came down from Heaven to do these things, or you are God’s Son doing them. Accordingly, I am writing to you to come to me, whatever the inconvenience, and cure the disorder from which I suffer. I may add that I understand that the Jews are murmuring against you and are plotting to injure you. But I have a very small yet noble city which is great enough for us both.”
Eusebius translated Jesus’ letter of reply in the following fashion:
“Blessed are you who believed in me without having seen me! For it is written of me that they who have seen me will not believe in me, and that they who have not seen me will believe and live. But in regard to what you have written me, that I should come to you, it is necessary for me to fulfill all things here for which I have been sent, and after I have fulfilled them thus to be taken up again to Him that sent me. But after I have been taken up I will send to you one of my disciples, that he may heal your disease and give life to you and those with you.”
JESUS KEEPS HIS WORD
At some time around 30-33 AD, after Jesus’ Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven, Saint Thomas sent Thaddeus (also called Addai) to Edessa. Thaddeus was called “One of the Seventy,” meaning the seventy disciples (or 72, depending on tradition) sent on missionary work by Jesus. (Luke 10:1-24.)
Eusebius relates that when Thaddeus arrived in Edessa, he began to heal people in the name of Christ. When word of this reached Abgar, he suspected this was the follower Jesus had promised him.
A short time later, Thaddeus was summoned before the King and, upon this, Abgar saw a "great vision." He asked, “Are you, in truth, a disciple of Jesus, the Son of God, who said to me, ‘I will send you one of my disciples who will heal you and give you life’?”
According to Eusebius, Thaddeus replied, “Since you have a great confidence in the Lord Jesus who sent me, on this account have I been sent to you. And again, if you believe in Him, in so far as you believe, the requests of your heart shall be yours.”
At this, Abgar testified to his faith in Jesus and Thaddeus healed him of this life-threatening ailment. Others were healed at the same time and Thaddeus continued to preach and heal in Edessa with the support of King Abgar V.
Thaddeus became the first Bishop of Edessa and remained there until he was martyred by a pagan after King Abgar’s death.
EUSEBIUS, EGERIA AND MOSES OF CHORENE
Eusebius wrote his incredible book, “The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine”, in 325 AD. It was the first history written about the Church and it is an absolute “must read” for all Christians, Catholic or not.
By the way, Eusebius of Caesarea was the bishop who baptized Constantine. Eusebius was also Saint Helena’s spiritual director. In truth, Eusebius was a bit of a scoundrel and he was definitely a political player, but he was also an excellent source of information about early-Church history.
My favorite Holy Land pilgrim, Egeria, went well out of her way to visit Edessa in the mid-380s. Egeria specifically traveled to the city with two distinct purposes in mind; she wanted to visit the Tomb of the Apostle Thomas and she wanted to compare her copies of the letters between King Abgar and Jesus with the original ones in the Archives of Edessa.
In her book, “Egeria’s Travels”, the nun-pilgrim from the Roman province of Galicia describes being guided around Edessa by the local bishop. The bishop showed her the Abgar/Jesus letters in the Archive and after careful inspection, undoubtedly using a Syriac translator, Egeria declared that the letters essentially matched her copies.
The only discrepancy that Egeria found was that the Archive letter from Jesus to Abgar was a little longer than her copy. The longer version contains the following promise from Jesus at the end of the letter; “thy city shall be blessed, and no enemy shall again become master of it forever.”
Egeria gave an incredibly detailed account of her visit to Edessa. She meticulously described the thriving Christian community in Edessa, the Tomb of the Apostle Thomas, the great cathedral dedicated to Saint Thomas, the Palace of the long line of kings named Abgar and the ornamental fish ponds that graced the palace. Egeria even mentioned that the fish in the ponds were, “… large and brightly colored and tasted so good.” (I get a huge belly laugh every time I read that)
Moses of Chorene (410-490 AD) was called by his Armenian countrymen the “Father of History” and the “Father of Scholars.” Moses studied in the Library at Edessa for several years and was articulate about the history of the area. In his book, “The History of Armenia”, Moses wrote about the letters between King Abgar V and Jesus Christ. He also includes the full text of both letters and several comments on each.
Moses of Chorene wrote that after King Abgar’s conversion to Christianity, he did not force his subjects to convert to his new religion. He did, however, put cloth covers over the many pagan statues that were present in Edessa.
There are several solid facts that are related to the Legend of the Two Letters. Among them is the fact that King Abgar V was one of the first converts to Christianity. Further, Abgar must have been a very fine Christian because he is considered to be a Saint in both the Eastern Orthodox and the Syrian Orthodox traditions. His feast days are May 11th and October 28th.
Also, it is a fact that parts of the letter reportedly written by Christ were occasionally used in Roman Catholic Mass Collects until the 11th century. This tradition made it as far west as the British Isles.
So, my friends, that is the Legend of Two Letters.
Obviously, the Legend leaves us with more questions than answers. Did King Abgar V actually write a letter to Jesus and did Jesus answer the back? Did Saint Thomas, at Jesus’ request, send Thaddeus to Edessa after Our Savior’s Resurrection? And, finally, was King Abgar miraculously healed by Thaddeus?
Truly, all of these things could have happened and we have no evidence that they didn’t happen. And, of course, we have little corroborating evidence that they did happen.
So, in the end, for most folks, the Legend of Two Letters will forever remain simply that … a legend … but, a tantalizing one.
May God Bless You