101 Years and Filled With Joy

It was a Thursday night. I had been asked to bring Holy Communion to the home of a man named Joseph Macri. All I knew about Joseph is that he was on hospice and was expected to die very shortly. His daughters wanted him to receive Jesus in the Eucharist one last time.

When I entered the home, Joseph was asleep on a bed in the living room. His daughters told me something about his life. He was 101 years old. Born in Italy, he came to the United States at age 11  when his parents finally had enough money for him to join them in Indiana.

He worked in an auto plant (Studebaker) until it closed, then found work in other factories. He built his own home in South Bend, Indiana by himself. He ushered at Notre Dame home football games for almost 40 years.

After his daughters woke Joseph up, he and I had a long conversation. Despite being so close to death, he had a gleam in his eye and a joyful spirit. He spoke lovingly of his wife, Gina, with whom he had shared 70 years of marriage. He said he had never raised his voice to her and that he always tried to fulfill every one of her requests. About his employment over so many years, he said simply, "I worked hard."

At around 3 a.m. on the following Saturday morning, I woke up and reflected on Joseph's life. I thought of how I would summarize the beauty and simplicity of his life. Here's what I came up with:

1. You do what you're supposed to do in every aspect of your life.
2. You do it as best as you can.
3. You experience the joy that comes when you follow steps 1 and 2.

A good prayer is that all of us would be inspired by the life of Joe Macri to live as he did. In our final moments on earth, may we, just like Joe,  have a gleam in our eye and a joyful spirit.


Mary the Stealth Evangelist

We know that our Blessed Mother has made dramatic appearances all over the world, Fatima, Lourdes, and so on. We need to be attentive to what she has done and said in those appearances, as her messages are very relevant and important to us even today. However, in this brief blog posting, I want to mention how active Mary is below the radar and how effective she is as an evangelizer.

A few weeks ago I was involved in a women's retreat, and during one of the lunches I asked a group of the women at the table how those who had not been raised Catholic were drawn into the Catholic Church. One woman said that she and her husband really had no religious affiliation when they married. They decided to at least do some investigating. She went online and looked specifically for what she called "structured prayers," thinking those might be particularly helpful. She came across information about the rosary, ordered a rosary and started saying the rosary on a regular basis. She did not tell her husband about her new prayer resource.

After some time went by, the husband said it was time for them to make a decision. His wife blurted out that she had been saying the rosary, so they might as well become Catholic. And so they did. As more time went by, they learned even more about the Catholic faith and became even more committed to their new religion.

Another woman at the same table had a similar background. I can't remember all the details of her story, but she apparently was something of a jewelry maker as a hobby. In addition to the other products that she made, she for some reason started making rosaries and selling or distributing them. When she also reached the point of wanting to choose a specific religion, she thought how peaceful she felt whenever she made a rosary. That sense of peacefulness she experienced when making rosaries brought her and her husband into the Catholic Church.

These aren't particularly dramatic stories of conversion like Paul getting knocked off his horse and blinded, but they don't have to be. Mary can be very subtle and still be effective. I think there's a lesson for all of us in that.

The Light of a Saint

How would you define what it means to be a saint? I suppose there are lots of definitions, as there are many elements of sainthood and certainly a wide variety of saints.

Here’s one of my favorites. It’s from a relatively obscure book, Life and Holiness, by Thomas Merton.

The saint, then, seeks not his own glory but the glory of God. And in order that God may be glorified in all things, the saint wishes himself to be nothing but a pure instrument of the divine will. He wants himself to be simply a window through which God’s mercy shines on the world. And for this he strives to be holy. He strives to practice virtue heroically, not in order to be known as a virtuous and holy man, but in order that the goodness of God may never be obscured by any selfish act of his.

I once knew a special man, Bill Beuby, who was this kind of person. I used Thomas Merton’s definition of a saint to describe Bill when I spoke at his funeral.

A couple of years later, I attended a men’s retreat outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico. One afternoon during the retreat, the men were driven up a mountain to spend part of an afternoon in solitude in the wilderness. After being dropped off, we hiked up to a beautiful meadow, and then each of us tried to find our own spot for quiet and reflection.

I found what I thought would be a good location and settled in for some quiet time with our Lord, expecting that some insights would come to me during my time there. Instead, my mind was distracted and overactive, bouncing from one thought to another, with no sense of landing anywhere helpful.

When the retreat leader whistled for us to go back down the mountain for the ride back to the retreat center, I was disappointed and frustrated. But then, as I passed by a grove of huge trees, I had a beautiful surprise.

I saw an intense shaft of sunlight pouring down between a group of trees, brilliantly illuminating the iridescent bright green moss on top of a rock that was perhaps 3 feet in diameter and a foot or two in height. I knew that the scene created by the sunlight on the rock was intended for me.

Recalling Merton’s definition of a saint, I stood on the rock for several minutes, bathing myself in the shaft of light coming from the sun. I really didn’t need to say anything or have a conscious thought. I was physically and mentally quiet and very still, just letting the light of the sun represent God’s light and in my heart wanting it to always pass through me without creating any obstruction on my part.

Since that experience, I can’t say that my living out the concept of being a window through which God’s light passes has been a consistent reality. I’ve had some good moments, but I have let the power of the image of light slip away far more often than I have let it inspire me.

My hope is that Merton’s definition of a saint will strike a chord within you, my reader, and that writing about it will help us strive to live out the definition more frequently.