heaven is for real…

a true-to-life story of a 3-year-old boy’s visit to Heaven while on the operating table for a ruptured appendix.

Before watching the DVD, Heaven Is For Real, this evening, neither my husband nor I had heard about the book or, for that matter, the incident upon which it was based.

According to Colton Burpo, while out-of-body he saw…the surgeon performing the operation…his dad praying in the hospital chapel…and his mom phoning a church member requesting that she call others to pray for her son whose death seemed imminent.

Colton went on to say he saw the church where his dad was the minister. Opening its door, the youngster entered and sat in a pew towards the front. Instead of an altar he saw the blue sky with clouds that were transformed into translucent angels. They began to sing as a choir. Walking down the aisle towards the boy was a man, clothed in a white robe. He spoke, asking Colton to join him.

The three-year-old explained that the man’s name was Jesus and that he had “markers” on his hands and his feet. Evidently, marks left from the nails which had hung him to the cross.

In Heaven, Colton saw a horse that belonged to Jesus. The youngster also met relatives born before his time…”Pop,” his dad’s grandpa…and an unborn sister who hugged the brother she never knew.

Describing Heaven as a “beautiful place,” Colton never faltered in his belief that he had been there.

A story of faith simply told. It moved me more than many a sermon I’ve listened to on a Sunday morning sitting in church. 

Struggling to reconcile his son’s story with his own adult rationale, Colton’s dad was finally able to find resolution.

When reciting the prayer The Our Father, we recite, in part,on earth as it is in heaven.

In speaking to his parishioners, Colton’s father explained that Heaven is apparent in our daily lives… in a parent’s love for his child…in a neighbor’s going to the aid of a neighbor…in the lifesaving skills of a doctor. The minister goes on to ask why it is  we overlook these acts as evidence of Heaven’s existence. What he said gave me pause.

Why do we as a society dwell ad nauseam upon our transgressions against one another, while giving only a passing nod to the commission of good deeds?

I believe Colton Burpo. I may never share his experience, but that in no way invalidates his. I happen to feel he hit the Powerball Lottery to end all Powerball Lotteries. I feel blest just knowing that…

…someone saw heaven!

………hugmamma.

Click on the following to view Colton Burpo’s story.
http://cbn.com/tv/embedplayer.aspx?bcid=1398887148001

 

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nurturing thursdays: give up the martyr

Some folks continue to believe that suffering is a necessary aspect of living.Imported Photos 00428

It builds character.

Or so they say. They being Catholic school nuns. I’m sure of it.

Religion has a way of rationalizing everything. Nothing wrong with that. We all need spiritual stroking now and then.

However when spirituality hinders us from improving our plight, then it’s time to relinquish the ties that bind.

I believe in the God of my faith, who like a mother wants us to figure out the best use of the gifts we’ve been bestowed.

It may take some longer than others to find their way, but find it they must. 

I no longer buy into suffering for the sake of suffering, especially as a means of living happily-ever-after.

Why wait for heaven in the hereafter, when we can gain entry into something closely approximating paradise on earth.

With God at my side, I’m encouraged to make choices for a pleasanter, more positive life. And when I cross through valleys, She’s there to give me a hand across the precipice.

I wholeheartedly turn toward happiness, and turn away from suffering.  The two are not interchangeable in my book.

My God is one of hope and encouragement…

…for happiness on earth…and in the hereafter.

………hugmamma.IMG_0437

today’s thought…

Treat today as though it’s all you have…

…and spend it wisely.

Then perhaps tomorrow…

…there’ll be no regrets…

about…

…yesterday.

Our beloved Sunkist joined her sibling Fudgie in heaven a week ago.

Seventeen-year-old Sun never let a day go by…

without doing exactly as she pleased. 

And I’m certain…she still is…

………hugmamma.

“turn, turn, turn,” a folk song

Joan Baez was a songstress who epitomized the folk song era. She had the peaceful appearance of the “flower children” who grew like wildflowers all over the 60’s landscape. And her voice lulled those who were listening, into believing that life was beginning to replicate Heaven. I wonder what she thinks of the way things have turned out decades later?

To everything turn turn turn there is a season turn turn turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
A time to be born a time to die, a time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything turn turn turn there is a season turn turn turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven
A time to build up a time to break down, a time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together

To everything turn turn turn there is a season turn turn turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
A time of love, a time of hate, a time of war a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing

To everything turn turn turn there is a season turn turn turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose, a time to rend, a time to sew
A time of love, a time of hate, a time of peace, I swear it’s not too late

To everything turn turn turn there is a season turn turn turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven
To everything turn turn turn there is a season turn turn turn
And a time for every purpose under heaven

 

return to venice

During a recent visit to Venice I felt a longing to return someday and spend more time, perhaps a month. Living as a local, I wanted to wander the narrow alleyways as if time were a luxury. Traveling the globe as a tourist is not my idea of experiencing the real face of a country. Doing so seems more like being on this side of the glass in an aquarium, observing underwater creatures swimming blithely through their sea world. With eyes wide, face pressed close, my imagination wanders, piercing the “barrier” separating me from them, be they natives of the sea or of the land. Momentarily, I’m one of them. Excitement lures me in, but fear of the unknown pulls me back into the comfort of my own skin. I envy those who can abandon themselves to what’s new, undeterred by the consequences. Like the “I Love Lucy” episode where she, wanting to “soak up local color” to prepare for a small part in an Italian movie, is drenched in grape juice when she wrestles with a villager in a vat of grapes. I’m up to scheming like Lucy, but lack her bravado in following through. What is it that holds me back? Is it my island mentality, older age, my husband’s antipathy for “dancing on the edge,” or my dysfunctional past? Whatever it is, I am fine living within this “moment.” But life has a way of changing things up, so I never say never.

A Thousand Days in Venice is the author’s story of her life-altering, middle-aged marriage to a Venetian. “He saw her across the Piazza San Marco and fell in love from afar. When he sees her again in a Venice cafe’ a year later, he knows it is fate. He knows little English; she, a divorced American chef, speaks only food-based Italian. Marlena thinks she is incapable of intimacy, that her heart has lost its capacity for romantic love. But within months of their first meeting, she has packed up her house in St. Louis to marry Fernando–“the stranger,” as she calls him–and live in that achingly lovely city in which they met.”

There are revealing moments in their relationship. When Fernando makes his first trip to America to see Marlena in St. Louis, she asks why the hasty visit, since she’d just arrived home a couple of days before. In response he explains that he was “…tired of waiting. I understand now about using up my time. Life is this conto, account,” said the banker in him. ‘It’s an unknown quantity of days from which one is permitted to withdraw only one precious one of them at a time. No deposits accepted. …I’ve used so many of mine to sleep. One by one, I’ve mostly waited for them to pass. It’s common enough for one to simply find a safe place to wait it all out. Every time I would begin to examine things, to think about what I felt, what I wanted, nothing touched, nothing mattered more than anything else. I’ve been lazy. Life rolled itself out and I shambled along sempre due passi indietro, always two steps behind. Fatalita, fate. Easy. No risks. Everything is someone else’s fault or merit. And so now, no more waiting,’ …”

Laughing until she cries at something he said, Fernando asks ‘And about those tears. How many times a day do you cry?’ Later Marlena’s thoughts return to his question, “Much of my crying is for joy and wonder rather than for pain. A trumpet’s waiting, a wind’s warm breath, the chink of a bell on an errant lamb, the smoke from a candle just spent, first light, twilight, firelight. Everyday beauty. I cry for how life intoxicates. And maybe just a little for how swiftly it runs.”

My daughter has said more than once that my tear ducts are intertwined with my heart-strings. My tears flow easily when she is ecstatic or unhappy, during old films, when listening to sad, or happy, news. I don’t think I cry as much as I laugh, but it probably runs a close second. During Mass yesterday, I braced myself for a hymn that always brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. “Be Not Afraid” had been a favorite of the pastor who presided over our 100-year-old church in Redding. He’d baptized our 5 month-old, walking her proudly down the aisle, showing her off to fellow parishioners.

Father Conlisk was a close family friend who dined with us regularly. During a visit I asked our toddler to go and find her father, in answer to which she readily climbed up onto the priest’s lap. One particular Christmas morning as we sat in the front pew at church, he asked her if she’d been visited by someone special. Without hesitation she showed him Dumbo the elephant, her new stuffed animal. He held it up for all to see; the congregation broke into peels of laughter.

When Father died as a result of lung cancer, I took our daughter to the funeral Mass at our small church and later, to one held in a larger church at a nearby parish. Both times I allowed her to stand just outside the pew, so she would have a better view of the proceedings. In preparation, I explained that Father Conlisk had gone to Heaven where he would be free from pain, and find happiness with God. We  followed others to the gravesite, where I showed our 5-year-old Father’s final resting place. I think she found closure because from then on, she seemed to accept his absence from our lives. Perhaps it also helped that we became good friends with the priest who replaced Father Conlisk.

So like Marlena, I tend to shed tears for “Everyday beauty…for how life intoxicates. And maybe just a little for how swiftly it runs.” What we may all have in common with the author is “this potentially destructive habit of mental record-keeping that builds, distorts, then breaks up and spreads into even the farthest flung territories of reason and consciousness. What we do is accumulate the pain, collect it like cranberry glass. We display it, stack it up into a pile. Then we stack it up into a mountain so we can climb up onto it, waiting for, demanding sympathy, salvation. ‘Hey, do you see this? Do you see how big my pain is?’ We look across at other people’s piles and measure them, shouting, ‘My pain is bigger than your pain.’ It’s all somehow like the medieval penchant for tower building. Each family demonstrated its power with the height of its own personal tower. One more layer of stone, one more layer of pain, each one a measure of power. I’d always fought to keep dismantling my pile, to sort and reject as much of the clutter as I could. Now, even more, I made myself look back straight into that which was over and done with, and that which would never be. I was determined to go to Fernando, and if there was to be some chance for us to take our story beyond this beginning, I knew I would have to go lightly. I was fairly certain the stranger’s piles would provide enough work for both of us.”

We all seem to emerge from childhood with “baggage.” Perhaps a lucky few escape, body, mind and spirit intact. But spending our adulthood living in the past, wastes what’s left of a good life. As we peel away the layers of yesterday’s disappointments, we make way for tomorrow’s possibilities. Better that we declutter, rather than hoard negative experiences simply to have someone, or something, to blame for our inability to cope or our downward spiral. The process may vary for there are probably as many paths toward resolution, as there are individuals in the world. One size doesn’t necessarily fit all. However the common denominator should be compassion and a positive attitude, toward oneself and others. We all deserve to live our best lives, going forward. Maybe when we disavow our mountains of past pain, we’ll be able to abandon our fears of the unknown, and…return to Venice. 

live our todays and tomorrows, never our yesterdays…hugmamma.

discipline and community

My mind may wander during Mass, I may glance around looking for familiar faces among the congregation, smile when a friend recognizes me, admire Father Brian’s recently purchased vestments, puzzle over the types of flowers arranged in vases around the altar. But when we sit and Father begins the homily, he has my undivided attention. My husband agrees that our pastor has a gift for public speaking.

I’m sorry to say I’ve no idea what the Gospel was about. I was lost in thought attempting to make sense of the previous reading, the Epistle. The woman seemed not to understand what she was reading so she stumbled over the words, saying “disciple” instead of “discipline.” I’m always impressed by these volunteers who must appear to understand the words set in front of them, even though they may not grasp their full meaning. Some may take a few minutes before Mass to familiarize themselves with their task, but it’s not always possible to do so, I’m sure. So while Father was reading the Gospel, I was probably feeling sorry for the previous speaker, and thanking God that I had not been in her shoes. Unlike her, I would have been blushing to my white roots.

My ears perk up when I hear Father speaking “regular” English for it makes comprehending simpler; narratives in the Bible require that I focus. And as I’ve said, my mind is multi-tasking. When Father begins with some personal anecdote everyone seems to straighten up, and tune in to what he’s saying.

Father spoke of his early days as a seminarian, and how difficult it was to learn discipline. He did not relate well with the first person charged with instructing the novices. He did better with the next person, the “student master,” who would explain the reason for leveling discipline upon those in his care. When students at the UofW Newman Center asked Father Brian to join them for a weekend retreat, the ‘student master” denied the request. When Father asked if he might attend the wedding of friends elsewhere, he was again denied. The explanation given for the denials was that he needed to focus on the vocation he had chosen, and the community in which he lived. He needed to learn discipline, understanding that he could not have his way in everything. As Father’s words washed over me, I pondered their meaning for me.

Over breakfast my husband and I discussed the homily.  I explained that as Father spoke, I could feel myself turning inward, humbling myself as Catholics of my era are wont to do. Talk about “glass ceilings,” I think Catholicism cornered the market on that centuries before it ever occurred to feminists trying to work their way up the corporate ladder.  Throughout the 12 years I was schooled by nuns from Boston, we students were constantly reminded about our need for humility. So I wondered if I was confusing the need for discipline with the need to be humble, as taught by my religion. 

I was interested in my husband’s perspective since, having been a seminarian, I assumed he’d had more theology than me. Ever the pragmatist he replied that his theological schooling had not exceeded mine and furthermore, every person needed discipline within himself, that it had nothing to do with religion. He was right.

Without self-discipline, we usurp the rights of others, including other species which share our natural resources. Without self-discipline, personal happiness eludes us because we are never satisfied unless we have more. Without self-discipline, we set ourselves apart from our community. Without self-discipline, we are unable to teach our children the values necessary for their evolution as good citizens. 

I think having humility might make it easier to learn self-discipline; but having self-discipline doesn’t guarantee humility. Being a Catholic raised in the 50’s and 60’s, I have to be careful not to mistake being humble with self-reproachment. Catholics of my generation bought into the guilt trip, “hook, line and sinker.” So while I humbly acknowledge my gift for writing, I realize that with it comes the need for discipline, knowing that I have a responsibility to my readers in what I say, and how I say it. I think all writers have that responsibility, though some may not think so.

While I paid no heed to God’s gospel, I think I got Father Brian’s homily. I think I’ll need him as a middle-man to gain entrance to Heaven. Father speaks my language, “regular” English.

pray for me…hugmamma.

out and about

Just spent a nice day out and about, with my husband. Great to step away from the keyboard and enjoy life first-hand. Reminiscences are wonderful, but so is creating fresh memories.

Heading east we enjoyed clear views of the mountains, and the evergreen landscape that stretched for miles toward the distant horizon. The weather is cooling down, a signal of fall’s appearance. While not as abundant and colorful as the seasonal change in New England, we’re still blessed to bear witness to Mother Nature’s handiwork here in Washington.

We stopped in a small town to lunch. Instead of our usual choice, we decided to eat at Twede’s, a diner that serves breakfast all day. Not a fancy place by any means, but booths filled almost to capacity meant the food was good. Allowed to seat ourselves, we chose the only available booth toward the back, left-side. Once seated, I noticed that the lighting was poor so we moved to a table in the middle of the floor. Shortly afterwards, a wedding party filtered into the diner.  As they mingled near the entrance, it was obvious the bride and groom, and their bridesmaids and groomsmen would be occupying most of the other tables around us. Wanting to give them elbow room, I decided we should move to a booth that had become vacant. At this point my husband, and I were feeling like the Ricardos and the Mertzes in the episode of “I Love Lucy” where she changes tables at a restaurant. The first move was for a better view, and the second, because of an overhead draft. Having watched the sitcom countless times throughout the years, I am probably Lucy Ricardo, reborn. Our daughter agrees.

From the booth I had a perfect view of the wedding party. I gave my husband a running commentary on their attire. Probably in their 20’s and 30’s, the young men and women seemed suitably attired for their ages. The gals wore black cocktail dresses in varying styles that flattered; the guys, black pants held up by suspenders over white, long-sleeved shirts. They might have looked a tad like the Amish. The groom was dressed similarly, but with a vest, and tweed cap pulled low over his brow. The bride wore a strapless gown sporting a vintage look in off-white tule, sprinkled with something glittery. From afar I wasn’t able to decide what gave the dress its bling. The bouquets were simple, large mums in shades of plum, creme and eggplant. I didn’t glimpse the bride’s.

Only in a humble eatery on a country road would we see a bridal party assemble for picture-taking, without ordering a meal. I think a couple of slices of the diner’s famous cherry pie and mugs of coffee, were shared by the wedding couple and the photographers. Otherwise photos were snapped, and the group was on its way, calling out their thanks as they exited. My husband and I surmised that arrangements had been made beforehand, because the waitresses were not perplexed by the group’s short stay.

It wasn’t long before my husband and I were served our delicious hamburgers, his, the “Southwestern” and mine, the “Philly.” They were accompanied by fries and onion rings. We happily downed our meal with a Red Hook (him) and a root beer float (me). Unable to resist, we shared their cherry pie à la mode. Not a lick was left.

Ambling out the door, we sauntered across the town’s main street to Birches Habitat. What a find! My husband left me to browse leisurely, while he walked further down the street to check out other establishments. The front of the shop was stocked with gift items befitting a mountain lodge: metal figures of moose, needlework pillows of a black labrador resting on a red background, assorted guidebooks of the area, scented candles in glass jars painted with butterflies, fragrant soaps in horticultural paper wrap, and other similar merchandise.

Before wandering further back in the store, I selected a book as a Christmas gift for a friend. He’s 76, and while I have no difficulty finding a gift for his wife, I’m usually at a loss when it comes to him. The gift is actually appropriate for both, i’ll wait in the car – dogs along for the ride, texts and photographs by marcie jan bronstein. It seems wherever they drive, our friends cart their dachshund, Gretchen, along. Their previous dachshund, Schatzie, was also their traveling companion before she passed away. So a picture book of dogs waiting for their owners’ return seemed made for our friends. Some of the captions for the photos read “There are dogs waiting alone, dogs waiting with friends, dogs waiting with relatives, and puppies learning to wait.” 

Paying for the book and a few other trinkets, we left main street heading away from town. A tip from the shopkeeper sent me in search of Bad Sisters, an antique shop. Besides blogging, I also sell antiques and collectibles. I make more money selling old stuff, than I do writing. Truth be told, I earn a little in the former, and zilch in the latter. Does it matter that I’m passionate about both? It’d been a while since I visited  the antique shop, having forgotten its existence. Or maybe it was because the pickings were slim. Today was different. I left the shop with some nice items for resale: a large steamer trunk, giant crock, folding room-divider, plaid print tin basket with handle, a couple of old bottles with interesting motifs, an old sepia photo of a Danish family, a tall pair of shabby chic candlesticks, a small white curio cabinet with glass shelves and a few other things. Luckily, I didn’t purchase a drop-leaf, gate-leg, pine table. It would have ridden in the car, while I walked home or thumbed a ride.

Noshing on bagels with cream cheese, grapes and cups of coffee, we spent the evening playing Bananagrams. Amidst a lot of laughter, my husband and I scrambled to finish first. I think he won one game, and I won the other. It depends on who spins the story. Since I’m telling it, we each won one. 

As you can see I’m at the keyboard, my husband is in his recliner watching James Stewart and June Allyson in “The Glenn Miller Story,” the pets are doing their own thing. “God’s in His heaven and all’s right with the world.” Is that how the saying goes? My husband’s unable to confirm this, even though he was the English major.

do you know?…hugmamma.

cemetery scavenger hunt

On a recent trip to California’s Orange County, to see our daughter perform as part of the National Choreographer’s Initiative, my husband granted my only wish for my 61st birthday, which occurred while we were there. We visited Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. I wanted to see Michael Jackson’s burial site, but also glimpse where stars of Hollywood’s “Golden Age” were buried. I’d picked up a thick paperback from Barnes and Noble, which was like an encyclopedic “map” of historical celebrity sites, hangouts, studios, homes. Hollywood: The Movie lover’s Guide – The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A. by Richard Alleman, even detailed the specific locations where the famous were entombed. Book in hand we went on our very own scavenger hunt, seeking out dead people.

Pulling through the enormous wrought iron gates of Forest Lawn Memorial Park, we were taken aback by the serenity that greeted us. Yes it’s a resting place for the deceased, but it looked like a park with acres of lush, green grass. It seemed like an oasis in the midst of Los Angeles, for right outside the gates were strip malls as far as the eye could see in all directions. Just inside the entrance was a Tudor style building which lodged a combination floral/gift shop, as well as an information desk and restrooms. From what little I saw during MJ’s private burial ceremony on TV, I expected more security and less warmth from staff members. To my amazement there were no security guards patrolling the compound, and the few workers with whom I spoke, were pleasant and forthcoming with answers to my questions.

Driving on in our rental car, we meandered along tree-lined roads that wound their way through the verdant landscape. I could not stop “oohing” and “aahing.” Along the way we saw a few cars and other tourists, but luckily nothing compared to the likes of Universal Studios and Disneyland, which we vowed not to go near. In his book, Alleman describes Forest Lawn where “there are no rows of ordinary tombstones. Instead, there are acres of gardens and courts, with names such as Slumberland, Lullabyland, Everlasting Love, Inspiration Slope, and Babyland, where flat stone markers scarcely alter the smooth contours of the green lawn. There is a swan lake. There are two mausoleums—one of which resembles a great sprawling Medieval abbey. There are churches that are full-sized reproductions of churches in England and Scotland. Not only used for funerals, these are sometimes the scenes of weddings. In 1940, for example, Ronald Reagan married Jane Wyman in Forest Lawn’s Wee Kirk of the Heather.”

After visiting a couple of the churches and a museum showing works by artist Paul Gauguin, we finally went on the hunt for movie stars, albeit dead ones. At the Court of Freedom, we viewed a 20-by-30 foot mosaic replicating John Trumbull’s famous painting, “The Signing of the Declaration of Independence.” In the nearby Freedom Mausoleum I spied my first celebrity crypts, those of Alan Ladd, Nat King Cole, Jeanette MacDonald and Clara Bow. On the lower level, Gummo and Chico Marx were laid to rest, as was Larry Fine, one of the Three Stooges. Back outside I went in search of Walt Disney’s resting place without success. According to Alleman, “Whether Disney is here or not (and it appears highly likely that he is at Forest Lawn), it seems fitting that he should be remembered in a place that has the same fantasy/reality quality of the great park that his own dreams created: Disneyland.”

The “piece de resistance,” Jackson’s burial site was off-limits to the viewing public. Set apart from the main section of the Great Mausoleum, his body rests in an annex with a guard posted outside the wrought-iron gate. Keeping watch with him the day of my visit, were 3 women in their late 30’s, early 40’s. They seemed contemporary counterparts of the women who watched and prayed on the ground outside Jesus’ tomb. Their eyes hid behind dark glasses. One had brought sunflowers, placing them against a column at the corner of the building where they would go undetected by the guard. I inadvertently drew attention to them when I asked if I could snap a picture, knowing they were MJ’s favorite flowers. Flummoxed, the guard nodded his assent, but added he would need to remove them to another area where well-wishers left keepsakes in memory of the entertainer. I think the woman who brought the flowers was upset that I had pointed them out. Turning on my heel, I heard her plead to have them remain put.

Inside the Mausoleum we were directed to a viewing of the gigantic stained-glass version of The Last Supper, “which is unveiled several times a day at regular intervals complete with special lighting effects, music, and ‘dramatic narration.’” In the same room are reproductions of Michelangelo’s Pieta, Madonna in Bruges, Medici Madonna and Child among others. With a handful or more in the audience, I listened to the beginning of the narration. Antsy to hunt down the stars, I quietly stepped away into the nearby Court of Honor. Unfortunately a metal link chain kept me from moving through the hall for a better view of the names inscribed on the bronze plaques, vertically lining the walls on either side.

Scared that someone would come along, particularly the woman standing at the entrance of the building, I paced the length of the chain struggling to make out names as far as I could, squinting my eyes. I made a preliminary attempt to go around the chain but thought better of it, and returned to where I’d stood. Extremely frustrated to be so close, and yet so far, I tiptoed back to peek at the audience still seated on the other side of the wall from where I was. Hurrying back I sucked in my breath, passed around the chain and raced with determination through the narrow hall, glancing furiously at all the bronze plaques. At the other end was a smaller, separate room where “Gone with the Wind’s” famous director David O’Selznick was buried. Slowly retracing my steps I almost leapt out of my skin with joy, for in front of me were the names of Clark Gable and his wife Carole Lombard. I was in Heaven, absolute Heaven! I raced back out to where I’d left my husband, heart pounding, grinning from ear to ear. He, of course, was not surprised at my antics, but playfully scolded me nonetheless.

As we all moved to leave the building I stopped at the nearby Sanctuary of Benediction where I could see, leaning over the chain this time, the crypts of Red Skelton and Sid Grauman (of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre). I was unable to see around a wall to the crypts of Jean Harlow and others, who were mentioned in Alleman’s book. During the few hours I was at Forest Lawn, I felt I’d made a special trip to Heaven to meet some of my favorite Hollywood movie stars.

Except for the traffic, I had a “maavalous” birthday,“daahhling”…hugmamma.

a friendly place

Getting up for 8:15 Mass is a struggle. I’m not a morning person, as I’ve said in previous posts. So making it to exercise and church services is a labor of love, or else insanity, maybe both. The “drawing card” for me are the teachers, Kristina at the gym, and Father Brian at St. Joseph’s. Their common denominator is their compassionate, warm, “open” personalities. Neither basks in the limelight, rather they are humbly passionate about spreading their messages, Kristina “speaks” to exercise as essential for our well-being; Father Brian shares the gospel that God loves and cares for all of us.

Probably the youngest priest I’ve ever encountered as pastor of a parish, Father Brian, is a natural-born “shepherd.” He gathers his parishioners, his “sheep,” about him, with concern for our safe deliverance into the hands of God, our Maker. He doesn’t prod us with pokers, rather he relates stories, personal or biblical, which encourages us to think and to decide by what values we should live. The church fills with laughter when Father Brian tells a joke or humorous anecdote. He’s not even above pointing a finger at himself, whether in fun or to confirm that he too is human. His manner is easy, his smiles always forthcoming. He is accepting of ways that are different from his. If there are rules, and there must be, by which the parish operates, they do not seem “set in stone.” Perhaps his youthfulness and relative newness to pastoral duties has him proceeding with caution, allowing himself to blend into the congregation’s routine, to become one with, not one above, us.

Today my ears were extra perked when listening to Father’ sermon. He spoke of our need to focus upon the “small things” in our lives. These, he said, are the building blocks of the kingdom of Heaven. God does not reward us for “flash”, but rather for what we do “behind the scenes.” As stewards of God’s gifts, our services toward and on behalf of one another will be rewarded. Our faithfulness will be recognized. Romans 12:6-8 from The New Testament testifies to this:

“We each have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” 

As an introduction to his homily, Father Brian spoke of witnessing small, but meaningful, human gestures that “built up the Kingdom of God.” Friends from out-of-town were visiting with him. A couple and their 2 daughters visited the popular tourist attractions. In their comings and goings, Father witnessed the loving care bestowed upon the littlest child by her sister and her parents.

On a recent visit with his elderly grandparents at their assisted living facility, Father celebrated the Mass in their apartment, the 3 huddling together. At the “kiss of peace”, his grandparents turned and pecked each other on the cheek, mouthing the words “I love you” to one another. This demonstration of their affection spoke volumes of their 67 year-long marriage.

After weekday Mass one morning, Father Brian noticed a lone woman moving through the pews, collecting congregation booklets, which she would then return to their housing. On another occasion, a parishioner asked Father if she could bring flowers from her garden to place around the altar. Walking over to it, he fingered one of the daisies, lovingly displayed in a vase. Matching arrangements were staged prominently in other areas.

It is obvious that Father Brian is like family to his parishioners. He freely speaks to us of his mother, other relatives, his friends, his love of basketball, his personal impressions of a recent visit to the Vatican, and his own faith journey. And he eagerly awaits us outside after Mass, shaking hands and smiling broadly. He always remembers our daughter, though she’s not a regular. Because he attracts everyone with his charismatic style, I said to Father Brian one day “You could be a rock star!” To which he replied, after letting out a belly laugh, “Jesus is the rock star!”

no “Hell, fire and brimstone” here, only warmth…hugmamma