The Jesuitness of Pope Francis

charis_logoSo my colleagues at Charis Ministries in Chicago have asked a rather provocative question:

Why Should Pope Francis attend a Charis Retreat?

And so I would like to offer the Top 10 reasons why a Ignatian Retreat and specifically a Charis Retreat would benefit the likes of Papa Francisco.

images-11) A Transition is a Great Time for a Retreat: Pope Francis is in the midst of an unexpected transition. Moving from Argentina to Italy alone has got to be jarring, never mind the move from his simple quarters to the Papal Suite in the Vatican (reportedly, the Pope said it was too large for him and said “You could fit 300 people in here). So I’d like to recommend that he attends a What’s Next Retreat–which is based specifically on the experience of making transitions. You should join him if you’ve gotten a new job, moved to a new city, graduated college or graduate school, entered the job force for the first time, just gotten married or divorced or are expecting a child. Transitions are crazy! And Ignatian spirituality focuses us on the principle of indifference—trying to have the faith that says that no matter what befalls us and no matter how scary things are, God will get us through anything.

2) The Value of Silence: Each Charis retreat really values silence and the opportunity to take time away from the noise that often constantly surrounds us. Do you remember those first moments on the Papal balcony? The Pope actually asked for silence and you could hear a pin drop in the square as people prayed for our new Pontiff. Perhaps we all need just a few moments in our lives to cultivate silence for even just a short time.

3) Simplicity: If nothing else, the new Pope loves being with people and sharing stories of his own. That’s precisely what Charis retreats are based on. The experience of finding God in everyday life is where we all are. So the retreats meet us firmly on that ground and then moves us to consider where God might be in that experience. I read today where the Pope called the newsstand where he got his morning paper and cancelled his subscription. Can we find God in the simple moments of the day like buying the morning paper or riding the bus. It seems to me that the Pope can help others understand this well.

4) For the Least of Our Brothers and Sisters: Charis Retreats always center on the experience of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Pope has seen much suffering in the slums of Buenos Aires and the experience of the global south certainly knows poverty much better than we do in the United States. Do we have the ability to see God in these experiences of poverty and how are we poor ourselves? For the least provides an opportunity to reflect on the experience of serving others who are in need instead of merely doing a good deed and then going on our way. Have we been able to name where we find Christ in these experiences?

5) Ignatius and Francis: Why would a Jesuit take Francis as his name? Well, it’s actually quite appropriate! Ignatius was a big admirer of Francis. During his period of convalescence he read all about Francis and placed himself in the stories of Francis and in his imagination he discovered that he enjoyed imitating the life of Francis much more than the gallant knights that he had tried to become like before. On Charis retreats, you’re able to use these imaginative exercises where you place yourself in the stories of Francis, Ignatius and Jesus and other imaginative scenes. By putting our creative imagination at the service of our faith we find that we meet God more clearly in these experiences and are able to more readily integrate our deepest desires about who we most want to be into action.

6) Contemplative in Action: Ignatius implores us to be people in the world but not of the world. To be contemplative in action, to not merely experience our lives by living them but also by reflecting back on our experiences. With the number of stories we’ve already heard from Pope Francis, I am certain that he shares that value and has reflected deeply on his more than 75 years.

7) Forgiveness: Charis retreats always center on the experience of being a “loved sinner.” And Pope Francis has clearly talked about a God who always forgives us in the early days of his Papacy. I often lead the reconciliation service on the retreats that I coordinate with one of our team members. And it’s always a moving experience to see people come back from the sacrament of reconciliation renewed and refreshed in the forgiveness of God’s love. Imagine being able to go to confession to the Pope?! And imagine being a priest and hearing the Pope’s confession?!

8. Servant Leadership: Charis retreats are run by young adults for young adults. They are based in peer leadership where we serve the needs of one another. We now have a Pope who is doing that with his brother priests and more importantly, brother Cardinals. His spirit of collegiality would fit in well on a Charis retreat and while he’s not a young adult, I could see him leading us as spiritual director and showing other priests the importance of being with young people.

9) Magis: The great Cardinal Tagle of Manilla once reminded us that we don’t just work for the glory of God, but rather we work for the GREATER glory of God. We stretch ourselves beyond our usual modes of participating in life, to become somewhat uncomfortable, to reflect on matters we often have no time for in our busy lives. We do so in order to define what the Magis is for each one of us. We discern, rather than simply decide who we are to be. The Pope has been echoing those words in the early days of his papacy and it’s pretty clear that he’s working not only to fulfill the demands of the Papacy, but also to show each of us where greater glory resides in the experience of fulfilling our roles in life. Sitting on a weekend with Charis Retreats, we hope to find that greater glory that calls to us, that helps us become all that God calls us to be.

10) Open to Questions: Don’t you get the feeling that you could just ask Pope Francis anything and he’d answer you with love? That’s a great principle of Ignatian Spirituality, being open to the questions and exploring all facets of them. We come to God with all of who we are: our hopes, our dreams, our gifts…but also our fears, our doubts, our insecurities. Charis retreats offers a non-judgemental sacred space to explore those aspects of who we are.

Lastly, the Pope should come and join Charis Retreats in the great spirit of Ignatius, not merely because he’s a Jesuit and not merely because Charis expresses much of his own personal spirituality and not even because the Pope needs to be around young people. Rather, the Pope should be able to take some time for himself and renew his own sense of where God is calling HIM! Young people in their 20s and 30s are eager to share their journey of faith and have been moved by the Pope sharing much of how he sees God working in his life even in the simplest of ways.

Be it a bus ride, a morning paper, a visit to the slums, a phone call or even a simple kiss and hug, Papa Francisco is able to share with his actions and his words just how vibrant God is working in his life.

And that’s exactly what happens on a Charis Retreat.

So I’m conducting Charis’ What’s Next Retreat in the Buffalo area on June 7-9…that’s the one focused on transitions. Perhaps the Pope will need a mini-break from this whirlwind tour he’s been on and I would love to provide him with an opportunity to be with us….even if just in spirit. (Email me for information: mike.googlinggod@gmail.com)

ignloyAfter all, he is and always will be a son of Ignatius. That spirit has made him all that he is.

And now it inspires all of us as well. Seeing God in all things is our challenge and taking just a bit of time to examine that in our lives is something we all should do and need to do.

And if that’s good enough for the Pope, than it’s good enough for all of us.

Change Me, Lord

Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes us. Kathleen Norris, the great spiritual writer was featured in the BustedHalo Fast, Pray, Give calendar today and she mentions that when we pray we ask to be changed as opposed to asking God to change something with no effort on our part, as a kind of magical being who performs at our beck and call.

Lent indeed is the stuff of this attitude. What is it that needs to die in order for us to move into a new way of being. To change for the better is what lent calls each one of us.

For myself, I have a tendency to jump to negative conclusions. I often move into the half-empty mode before gathering enough information or clarifying what others say to me.

When we begin to change attitudes, we start to see healthier options and options that lead us to more greatly respect ourselves as well as others. We begin to see how wasteful some of our energies are spent. The people we failed to forgive our of our own vainglory, the ideas we held onto too tightly that were inventions of our imagination, the times we misjudged or failed to give another the benefit of the doubt and the times we just failed to bother to care at all.

Prayer, listening to the quiet parts of our innermost being, where God resides in our hearts, closer to us than we could imagine, brings us into a place where we not only can hear what God is really trying to tell us, but where the truth can no longer hide from us.

Or rather, where we can no longer hide from the truth.

The truth about us is that God loves us more than we could imagine. And that truth is enough to change us. It can make the most hardened criminal become a proverbial good thief, asking only for Christ to remember him, even the bad stuff and trusting that God could look beyond that into forgiveness to see more than the evil that he has committed.

Can we see the same in ourselves, seeing beyond our darkness, our most vulnerable parts to see what God sees in us? In fact, can we see that God touches all of who we are, even our most vulnerable pieces of our darkness, changing it, but only with our cooperation.

Prayer invites us to change. To see what is true about who we are and who we most hope to be. Today, I tried to be most satisfied with the person that I am. To know that I am enough as I am. To not assume the worst about myself or that others assume the worst about me. Fasting from the negativity that I most often entertain.

I spent time in prayer hoping to see and hear others as they are. To hear their concerns and be able to be there for them, to be present in the way that Christ is present to me in prayer, revealing to me what I most need to see and hear.

And I was able to spend some time to help another see God a bit more clearly in their lives, hoping to see a glimpse of God in them myself.

And it was more than enough.

It always is.

Remembering Arrupe

Today is the Anniversary of Pedro Arrupe, S.J.’s death. He was “the General” of the Jesuits during the changes of the Second Vatican Council and is one of my heroes. Not merely because of his great leadership of the society, but because of his great witness.

During World War II Fr. Arrupe was serving in Japan, just outside of Hiroshima. When the atomic bomb was dropped although they were a distance it was still powerful enough to knock them to the ground and cause damage to the Jesuit residence. What happened in the days that followed was horrifying. They went into the city and found people trapped under houses, others brought people to the residence with burns and wounds that the Jesuits did their best to attend to. Many, many died from those wounds and many more died from radiation poisoning in the weeks ahead. It was a time that tested Arrupe’s faith and he writes of it hauntingly.

He loved the Japanese people. Here we see him shining the shoes of a boy who had just shined his.

If this guy is not a saint, then I’m not sure who is.

My favorite lines of Arrupe, which sit above my desk at work always touch me each day when I recite it to myself:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Rest in Peace, Fr. General. Your love truly decided everything for you.

Can One Experience Change Us Forever?

Heather Mallick has a haunting article in the Toronto Star today that several colleagues have forwarded to me today. The mother of one of the children in the Newtown shooting insisted on an open casket. She hopes it will change people’s attitudes about gun violence.

Noah Pozner, 6, was one of the 20 child victims in the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. All the dead were shot between three and 11 times. Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.
You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.
“There was no mouth left,” his mother told the Forward. “His jaw was blown away.”
She put a stone in his right hand, a “clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.” She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.
Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.
“I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.”
When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.” The governor wept.

Seeing for one’s self indeed can change us for life. For myself two incidents in my life changed me for the better:

The first is growing up in Yonkers in a working class neighborhood. When I was about 12 or 13, a young man was shot in my neighborhood, three houses away from my own apartment building. Ricky, who I didn’t know personally, had broken up a fight between two kids who were arguing over a baseball bat. The kids went home and told their father what happened and the father came out with a shotgun and killed him. It was horrible. From my window I watched them lift the stretcher into the ambulance. Ricky, still alive, barely, lay there mouth agape. I looked at my dad and said, “What the hell? This guy is going to die over a baseball bat. And why does this guy have a shotgun in his house anyway?” The guy beat the rap. Got off on self defense and received community service. I made a decision at that point of my life that I wanted to make sure that nobody would ever be robbed of justice again, if I could help it.

And sometimes, I feel…well…powerless to help those caught in injustice.

The second was my experience of Nicaragua. I made four trips to Managua, to work at an orphanage. We also went to a place called Chureca, the garbage dump. People lived in Chureca and I have never imagined such poverty. Cardboard used for walls with the word “Basura” on it. Animals roaming free, dogs, chickens, pigs in people’s houses. Many died of malnutrition and stomach cancer was also prevalent. I thought to myself, “I’m trying to live in solidarity here, but nobody should ever have to live this way.” It robbed everyone of their dignity, and they grasped on to whatever they could to retain it. We brought supplies, baby formula, foodstuffs and more…but it would never be enough.

My journal entry as I travelled home, said a simple phrase,

“Poverty shouldn’t exist. And in a country as rich as ours, we don’t come close to knowing real poverty.”

I took pictures that day in Nicaragua, like the one above and the picture of Ricky burned in my mind continues to remind me of the senselessness of needless death and destruction.

St Ignatius reminds us that we need to revisit “the pictures” of our previous day and then let those moments lead us into deeper contemplation over the consolations and desolations of our lives. Then, and perhaps only then, we can make a firm amendment to change for the better.

Today we pray to remember the pictures that change our lives. May those who see the violence have their heart changed, especially as we remember these children, Noah in particular. We remember those who die needlessly in war, war that our country has sanctioned and continues to destroy peace. And we pray for the poor, who suffer needlessly because of greed. May God teach us to solve the problems of peace and justice because we have seen injustice. May that experience bring us to work harder for the dignity of humankind. Amen.

We Must Not Stay Silent

Close to 30 dead…most of them children…Suburban Connecticut…

The words haunt us all. Children somehow makes this worse as if killing an adult makes it somehow easier to take. Newtown…a place people move to because it’s supposedly safer.

None of it makes sense to any of us. A sadistic person, apparently only 24 years old is the killer. Someone known to those inside the school. A man the same age as many of my students, with a name close to a student who dropped my class earlier in the year. Who knows why, as if knowing why might make it easier to understand. It doesn’t…it never will.

When things are senseless to us we ask the question “Why?” Why does God allow such horror? HOW can God allow such loss of life?

Friends on Facebook write words like “speechless”, “too early for words.

NOBODY deserves to die at the hands of another, a senseless crime and a horrible death. Deaths too soon, much too soon for children. Sacred life, all. Taken unjustly.

Evil wants us to be muted. Evil hopes fervently that we stay silent. Evil hopes to stun us so violently that we are unable to rise above the violence of today and speak in the name of peace and justice.

It’s hard to believe that God can redeem this…that God can embrace each child, each person, killed and make them whole once again. After all, a violently planned murder, 30 counts of murder, an open and shut case…makes sense to nobody.

Larger than Columbine. Blitzer reports. And we thought evil could not do worse.

We need to believe that evil does not rule the day today. God is greater than all of this. While we are sitting in sadness and parents and families sit with the senseless and horrifying loss, evil laughs at our silence.

So I write…and I hope you will too. Write more than your fears and your stunned disbelief. Write about redemption and hope and light overcoming darkness. Write about how God doesn’t think this is OK. Write about how God cries with us at each murder. God, a victim of murder Himself, hanging from a cross at the hands of another, cried in pain and cries again today.

Write about that. Speak about that. Preach about that.

We need that voice, but often settle for the voice of vengeance.

If anyone understands their pain it is Mary, seeing injustice, even with the knowledge that Christ’s death saves us, the pain doesn’t stop for a mother who watches her child die.

And vengeance is our first reaction, a natural thought. We quote the bible’s “an eye for an eye” forgetting that the line refers to limiting violence not promoting it. It stopped people from butchering others when they were hurt or violated by another to a lesser degree. “No MORE than an eye for an eye.”

Stopping the cycle of violence begins with our voices. Voices of hope, that hope beyond hopelessness. This hope brings us into belief, fervent belief that God can and does redeem all evil, especially when we see how much destruction evil can bring.

Gun control, anti-violence campaigns, cable news will tell us all of these angles. As if evil will be stopped, by any of these political initiatives.

Jesus reminded us that “the poor you will always have with you.” Perhaps he meant that the world will always be broken. A world where parents lose children because they sent them to kindergarten, we’re THAT broken.

My wife works in a school. I can’t imagine her not coming home simply because she taught children. Evil is trying to make us afraid, fearing that we can’t overcome this. That God doesn’t care.

And because our world is broken, it is indeed in need of God’s healing. And it is up to us to speak. LOUDLY…

Because this is not OK. This is not of God. And that God somehow, someway is able to redeem the worst of all of this evil.

Ghandi, a man of peace, reminds us that we need to be the change that we want to see in the world. And may our voices rise today…to remind all that we are not defeated by hopelessness and that in our deepest heart, we long to be a people of peace.

My heart goes out to all of those who lost loved ones today. For Christmas presents that go unopened and for parents who have hearts full of rage and anger at the senselessness of it all. Indeed, God is there longing for peace, holding your child, all the children, all the dead. They now know peace. A peace we can only hope for. A peace that children remind us is within our reach, if we only believe. A peace that is truly awesome to believe can be ours. A peace we need to pray for today so that no child’s voice can ever be stilled again by gunfire, but can instead, sing with great hope.

A St Joseph Advent Prayer

I held him in my arms
While Mary rested
Overwhelmed we were
A long journey behind us
A longer one in front of us

I rested him
in the wood of the manger
with the itchy hay
and a donkey eating his pillow
now and again.

The wood called to me
Working with wood
Is my trade
But this wood
Supports a baby
A baby that is not mine
But that I was called to support anyway

I didn’t even get any lines in the Gospels
A silent saint, who dreams and runs
to and fro with precious cargo.
We were the tabernacle back then.

And when we lost him in the temple
Oy vey! That was frightening!

The carpenter’s son
That seems right

For the night I laid my baby in the wood
I knew that the wood
Would also save me
Not from responsibility
But from my own mistakes
My arrogance and fear
And help me trust that God
knows what he’s doing.

My son is still the savior
Who was nailed to the wood
To save us with his pierced and
splintered hands
And while I was not his father
By any biological means
I was called to be his DAD!
And that was more than enough
To help him save us all.

Outward and Inward Hearts

On today’s feast of Christ the King, Fr. Jack Ledwon, my pastor, reminded me in this morning’s homily that Jesus is really the King of Hearts, a king like no other. The only space that Jesus looks to own is the space of our hearts.

It gave me pause when he asked “How much of your heart are you willing to let him rule?”

The truth of much of our lives is that of our quiet desperation to belabor an old adage. Often we go unreflective, not taking much time to pray and just moving from one thing to another…perhaps even one sin to another at times. And we do very little reflection about who we are and how we are living, hoping that matters just sort themselves out.

Recently, I wrote about how we ministers in parish life spend most of out time maintaining. We maintain the programs and existing ministries that we’ve established. We maintain the important sacramental life of the church–those outward symbols of our faith. I argued recently that we need to spend less time looking at these inward matters and spend more time encouraging parishioners to look outward…to spend more time outside of the pews as a community serving the needs of others, especially the poor. How do we convert others to our side? By letting them see who we are and they will KNOW we are Christians by our love.

But how will we know that we are Christians? How will we deepen our experience? How do we take our OUTWARD experience and move INWARD reflecting on what we’re doing and asking ourselves what is going on in our hearts? How much of our hearts do we allow to be touched by our experiences and how have we had our hearts changed by Christ?

How much time do we spend thinking about how our hearts might be and are already being changed by God?

The truth is that our hearts can stretch much farther than we think they can. But in order for that to happen, we have to be willing to look inwardly at the deepest part of ourselves and be unafraid to see where God is touching our hearts and where we shut God out, when we are unwilling to let God or others in.

And that means we must take time to reflect and our parishes need to take some time to encourage that.

I can already hear the groaning from some. Don’t we all have some resistance to looking deeply within our own hearts? Don’t we all complain about not having enough time for all the various activities in our lives already? When will we squeeze in our prayer time?

Perhaps where God is speaking to us most in our busy world is in this uncomfortable space where we know and understand that we need and want to reflect, but that it also isn’t a priority for most of us. And maybe it should be. What if we prioritized that prayer-relationship with God just for the period of Advent?

If God is with us and more importantly within us, then we don’t have that far to go to reach just a bit more often to God in our hearts. In this season where we often believe that we wait for God at Christmas may we realize that God also waits for us.

Let us rush towards God with our whole hearts this Advent and spend more time with God in our hearts.

That might just be enough to change our hearts forever.

On Keeping Vigil

It’s Halloween and nobody knows how to keep vigil better than Linus Van Pelt:

And so I find myself keeping vigil at Roswell Park today for my wife who is having surgery for atypical cell removal from her breast today. The good news is that atypical cells are benign…the bad news is that they’re not normal. So we’re hoping that they don’t find anything else today–or really over the next few weeks. People have been so wonderful here as well as many who have been praying for us this morning.

Halloween is a pretty interesting time to keep vigil as this is the day that the ancient celts thought there was a thin line between the living and the dead. And I can feel all those who have gone before me today, uniting with me in prayer for Marion and all those in harm’s way.

Keeping vigil is no easy task. The disciples couldn’t do it well at all and Jesus scolded them for not being able to stay awake, even for one hour. Feelings of loss, overwhelming fears and doubt may indeed push our attempt to stay in rhythm with the divine. The good news is that God never gives up on us and keeps trying to reconnect with us.

There are many that I keep in prayer today in my old hometown of NYC and for family and friends who keep vigil to get their power turned on. It’s getting cold and many have no heat or electricity. This new first century experience now places them in harm’s way. One friend has been through it before and said that his son caught pneumonia last time and is hoping that it won’t happen again. Someone else showed me a report of homeless people in New York City being pulled from the subway where they sought shelter during the storm only to drown in the waters that flooded the tubes.

Still, I’m even more mindful of people who have nobody to pray for them. I can only imagine how hopeless that must make them feel.

Taize prayer usually helps me at these junctures so I ask that you keep vigil with me, not for the great pumpkin, but for an opportunity to just be in closer union with God today for whatever you may need prayers for.

Or you can pray again today with Haze the Dog who is lonely as he keeps vigil for mom and all those in harm’s way at home.

Let us pray that we are all able to stay awake–not just today, but each day when we forget how fragile life is and how much God loves us.

Today’s Guest Blogger: Haze Hayes the Dog

Hi folks! I’m Haze Hayes the Dog and it’s my birthday! So Dad granted me one wish after I blew out the candle on my doggie burger today. So I wanted to ask him if I could blog on his site. He said, “You might as well since I haven’t been able to blog much lately.”

I used to blog so often and dad’s thinking of leaving me the computer so I can do it again while he’s at work. I type slow but that’s because my paws aren’t very long and it’s hard for me to reach the keyboard sometimes.

But the reason I wanted to blog is because dad’s been busy lately. Besides running the campus ministry at St Joe’s and doing a bunch of other things there, Dad’s been busy with mom. She’s OK, but they’ve been a bit worried because the doctors found atypical cells and something else on something she called a mammogram. I’m not really sure what it is but I know I go on the breast cancer site to give people free ones because mom tells me that I should.

They’ve been so good to me, so I thought I’d ask all of you to pray for mom this week because tomorrow she gets the results of her breast MRI and while we’re pretty sure everything is benign, we can’t be positive until tomorrow–so we’re keeping vigil until then. Regardless, mom needs some minor surgery even if everything is OK. So that will happen on Halloween. “Trick or Treat—my long wagging tail!” I said when I heard that and licked mom on the nose which made her laugh and get a little grossed out.

So dad’s been a bit preoccupied. So my gift to both of them is to give you readers an opportunity to pray for mom, so that everything will be OK no matter what we hear tomorrow. We know it will be because God will be with us through all of the challenges in our lives, no matter what happens. Like that time that the Horses in Central Park in New York freaked me out and made me bark because I was too afraid. Or when the German Shepherd up the charged me and dad. Or the time I slid into the coffee table. Or when I ate a piece of a brillo pad.

I kinda get into messes sometimes. Dad deals with a lot.

So if you’ve got an extra prayer, send them mom’s way. She’s still a bit worried even after she didn’t freak out in the MRI tube. I think I’d like the MRI tube because it’s like my crate, but I don’t think I’d like the noises it makes. That would hurt my big ears.

So despite all the stuff mom and dad have been through they still had time to buy me a new toy and a Halloweenie Sweater. Sweet! They said I get hamburger for my birthday which is a special treat too! But I only want one thing for my birthday and that’s to be sure that mom is healthy.

So if you don’t know how to pray, I can help you today. Check me out and then do what I do:

And let all the dogs in the church howl: Amen.

Great-Grandma in Her Stockinged Feet Talking to the Moon

I’m starting to hear stories from my father that he’s never shared with me before. Last night we talked on the phone for a long time. I had been worried about him because my mother’s been fairly sick lately and I know that gets him down.

He always has a story for me. And last night was no different.

He began; “I remember when I was home (Waterford, Ireland will always be “home” for him) and I was up at about 9 in the evening and I looked out the window and there was my grandmother outside in the frost with just her stockings on looking up at the moon for herself. I went out to my uncle (My father was orphaned at a young age, he remembers his mother but has no memory of a father) and asked him why grandma was out in the frosty night in just stockinged feet?

He told me I was crazy, “Grandma went to bed at 8PM and has been sleeping ever since.”

“I figured I must have been dreaming and so I went back to bed.” he said.

He continued: “The next morning I awoke and I went and made the tea and toast by the fire which I would bring to grandma every morning. We made toast by the fire then, no toasters at that time, y’know.”

“When I got to the room she was indeed sleeping and I called to her to wake her up but she kept right on. She never woke up. I ran to Mary (his older sister) and my uncle. Come quick! She’s gone! She’s gone!”

Hearing this story, made me think that my Father was a young man maybe in his late teens. So I asked him, “Dad how old were you when this happened.”

“Oh I guess I was about 7 years old.” he said flatly.

My dad is now 84. I’m amazed he can remember the scene with such vitality but then again, finding your grandmother dead in the morning at 7 after seeing a vision of her in the night air isn’t exactly the kind of thing you’d forget.

With the Irish, all of our stories are true and some of them actually happened. However, this is a story that I know is true and indeed it actually happened. It’s now one of the only memories I have of my great-grandmother and I have no personal experience of my grandparents on either side. So I see all this history through the eyes of my parents. My father had to hear stories of his parents from this woman who he found in the “thin place” that night as we Irish say, in the place between death and life, standing up looking at the moon on a cold Irish evening.

I’m often not one for these kinds of stories. But today I am. And I know that when I look to the moon tonight, I may just do so in stockinged feet and remember the woman who raised my father for just a short time, who helped him get over the death of his parents before she died herself. One of his only female role models and who gave my father the spirit of being a man for others, as he has been for me for more than 42 years and for my mother for more than 62 years of marriage.

The moon and my great-grandma will now be forever linked in my mind. We are truly all connected by God to one another. And perhaps when I look and find the moon in the sky I can pray a prayer to God for a woman I have never met, but who moves me to gratitude this day and who probably has prayed for me for decades.

Maybe we’ll even get to sing in the moonlight together.