Til Death Do They Part

Deacon Greg pointed me to this amazing story today of a couple who had been married 72 years and who tragically died from injuries in a car crash.

The amazing part is that Gordon and Norma Yeager died in the ICU holding hands.

Dennis Yeager said the couple left home last Wednesday to go into town, but they didn’t make it.

At the intersection of Highway 30 and Jessup Avenue just west of Marshalltown, state troopers said Gordon pulled in front of an oncoming car. The Iowa State Patrol crash report said the other driver attempted to avoid the crash but was unable to stop in time.

“I rushed from Des Moines where I was working and saw them in the hospital,” said Dennis Yeager.

In the intensive care unit of Marshalltown’s hospital, nurses knew not to separate Gordon and Norma.

“They brought them in the same room in intensive care and put them together — and they were holding hands in ICU. They were not really responsive,” said Dennis Yeager.

Gordon died at 3:38 p.m. holding hands with his wife as the family they built surrounded them.

“It was really strange, they were holding hands, and dad stopped breathing but I couldn’t figure out what was going on because the heart monitor was still going,” said Dennis Yeager. “But we were like, he isn’t breathing. How does he still have a heart beat? The nurse checked and said that’s because they were holding hands and it’s going through them. Her heart was beating through him and picking it up.”

“They were still getting her heartbeat through him,” said Donna Sheets.

At 4:38 p.m., exactly one hour after Gordon died, Norma passed too.

This reminded me of two stories not quite as profound but nonetheless ones that would be reflective for married couples.

The first comes from a Deacon friend of mine from graduate school who was widowed. When asked what was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of his life he didn’t hesitate, “Being with my wife when she died.”

He went on to say that the moment was only shared with each other and was filled with love. While he was sad to lose his wife to death, he was also quite moved at how intimate the moments shared between them were.

The second comes from my own family. About three years ago my father’s heart rate soared and he nearly passed out. My mother thought he was having a heart attack. My father spoke only a few words during this time.

“Evelyn, don’t leave me, just stay here with me.” He held her hand tightly and didn’t want to let go. He was willing to die right there as long as his wife of more than 60 years was by his side.

My mother sensing his devotion also knew that she had to call an ambulance. She quietly whispered, “Mike, you’re hurting my hand.” And when he released it she bolted for the phone called 911 and returned to his side until the paramedics arrived. Turns out that some kind of airborne virus pushed his heart rate up. Once eradicated, he was back to his old self.

Meaning he went right back to holding my mother’s hand.

Today, hold the hand of the one you love. You won’t get to hold it forever, as none of us will escape death. Yet, we have each other in this present moment and that is more than enough to keep love alive forever.

Any Idiot Can Have a Blog

Deacon Greg has shut down comments on his blog, The Deacon’s Bench, for some time as it seems that the comments have gotten out of hand since he moved from blogspot to Beliefnet. I can relate to the following comment:

I’m a deacon, not a referee, with a demanding full-time job and a part-time parish ministry to practice. I don’t have the time to mediate every fight or catechize every stranger who wanders by and wants to know what all the screaming is about.)

Among the deacon’s first words in the mass are “Lord have mercy.” His last are “Go in peace.” As those words frame the celebration of the Eucharist, I want them also to frame my work here.

Indeed blogging can be a full-time job all it’s own. A friend of mine is hoping to do just that in the sports world–another actually does just blog for a living. Comments load up quickly and the nature of the internet is the participants “need” for immediacy. People expect a response to their comments, especially the most rabid amongst us.

Since I started a media ministry (BustedHalo.com) and now have this blog, I have come to wonder if there is a huge difference between being a ministry and being a media outlet based on religion. I’ll make several points here:

1) Ministry takes as its starting point the spiritual well-being of individuals who come to us for spiritual guidance. People entrust priests, religious women, deacons, brothers and lay ministers with their lives. Media does not necessarily do this and if it did it might be quite boring for the average “lurker,” someone who reads a blog but doesn’t necessarily make comments on them.

2) Unless it’s explicitly stated, Blogging and other Media ministry outlets is not equated with catechesis. Meaning that blogs and other media outlets serve to entertain, to engage others in an argument that is happening, or to further some agenda’s point of view in some cases. Usually, blogs are told from a specific point of view, namely the blogger’s–which could mean they come from a certain place on a variety of spectrums and therefore don’t really express the fullness of any one tradition. Blogs take what Rush Limbaugh did for radio and placed that mentality into a new delivery system. Rush states: “I will interpret the news FOR you.” So what blogs do is simply express the entertaining voice of one person (sometimes more). They aren’t usually meant to teach, they are meant to further the OPINION of the blogger and when they do try to teach, they usually fail to cover the fullness of the church’s tradition. In short, any idiot could have a blog and any idiot can comment as well. It doesn’t make them a catechetical expert or even a teacher. Even looking at Deacon Greg’s blog the subtitle lets you know that this is a commentary–“where a Roman Catholic Deacon ponders the world.”

3) Ministry, however, needs to go beyond the mere blog post. In other words, minister’s who use media should hope that they get further comments from their audience and therefore, they have a responsibility to answer those comments, perhaps even off-site. I know this blog often opens a conversation with some of the students here. It has also allowed me to engage more deeply with friends who are struggling with the church and who turn to me as a “public” minister to help them understand the church’s point of view and their own personal struggles. In short, media opens the door for a minister, but it is the minister who needs to go beyond the media forum to further engage the individual. This is a point sorely missed by many who use media but also by those who comment on blogs and it leads me to my last point:

4) Bloggers need to choose how engaged they want to be with their “fans.” For me, I place my students as my priority in terms of interaction. Why? Because that is who I am called to at this time as a minister (as well as my primary means of employment!). I also engage with those who don’t really want to argue a point but who seem to be struggling with their faith. If they are nearby me, I may even invite them further into conversation or spiritual direction, if they are open to that. For some, remaining anonymous is held at a high value and for others my invitation falls on seemingly deaf ears. Sometimes the lost, stay lost.

Still, sometimes blogging leads bloggers to simply try to entertain and to be provocative. Getting the eyeballs to look at a blog or video or website is, in fact, the point–sometimes it’s the end point. Comments allow people to become part of the conversation and in that conversation we might stray from simply presenting the teaching of the church and engage in all sides of the arguments that are out there. That’s what we call entertaining, but it may not include teaching or pastoral care of individuals. That comes later.

Lastly it should be noted that I love Deacon Greg’s blog and I think he does a great job of interacting with his audience. He wrote a great piece once for America about a teacher who read his blog and after being so engaged with it, decided to share with him that he had lost a student that day. He felt like he knew Deacon Greg because he read his blog and viewed him as someone he could trust. So he emailed him looking for pastoral care. I can’t tell you the number of times that has also happened to me over the last 10 years.

In many ways, that’s a great thing…but it also reveals to us ministers something quite sad:

Many people are lonely, scared, alienated and in great need of pastoral care.

And so they reach out to a blogger for pastoral care because they have nobody in their lives that they can trust with their most intimate pastoral questions.

And that is daunting for all of us who spend a lot of our time producing content for blogs, podcasts, videos, etc. I like Deacon Greg’s attitude this week. Keeping the conversations charitable, gives us the all the opportunity to keep that door open–that door that opens us all to meet Christ.

Perhaps even in a blog post.

Helping the Poor Deemed Not Good Enough

Deacon Greg points us today towards a NY Times headline about St Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan, the last Catholic hospital standing in NYC. Today that last bastion of Catholic Healthcare in the urban jungle is in danger of closing.

“We are not going away,” said Sister Jane Iannucelli, vice chairwoman of the hospital board, standing in the light of the stained glass windows.

“One of the things that’s so crucial to the Sisters of Charity is serving the poor,” she said after the Mass.

It was that very calling, some industry executives suggested, that may have helped make the hospital obsolete.

“Helping the poor is indeed the mission and the cause célèbre,” said Kenneth E. Raske, president of the Greater New York Hospitals Association, a trade group. “Therein lies the dilemma.”

While other hospitals emphasize high-tech care and rush to invest in the fancy equipment and celebrity doctors that attract patients with the means to pay for them, St. Vincent’s stuck to its motto of “compassionate care,” rooted in its origins as a place that trained nurses and that was under the auspices of nuns.

As the Village changed, becoming home to middle-class and affluent families, by many accounts St. Vincent’s failed to change with it. In 2007, several years after an ill-fated merger with other Catholic hospitals, St. Vincent’s management proposed to begin selling off its maze of outdated buildings around Seventh Avenue and 12th Street to build a new, state of the art high-rise building across the street, to be designed by Pei Cobb Freed & Partners Architects, famous for cutting-edge projects like the glass pyramid expansion of the Louvre museum in Paris and the John Hancock Tower in Boston.

But some said it was too late.

It’s a sin when helping the poor is shoved aside in favor of vanity–for lack of a better term. It seems that money is given to the places with the latest cutting edge tools while meanwhile an underserved population –who is probably unwanted in that neighborhood these days–are left to fend for themselves.

That, in a word, is shameful.

Read here for more.

Brooklyn Diocese: Currents Studio Collapses

The holidays often bring with it unexpected disasters. In this case I received this horrible note from our friend and fellow blogger Deacon Greg Kandra, who I often refer to on this blog as “the good deacon.” Deacon Greg recently left CBS TV where he worked for many years to take over a budding new TV operation with the Brooklyn Diocese at Net TV as their news director. He has been producing a show called Currents on the diocese’s NET TV (New Evangelization Television). As opposed to many other efforts in “Catholic TV” Currents’ set looked extremely professional and their staff were the consummate broadcasters. Read below and be heartbroken.

(Here) you see a photograph taken on the afternoon of Tues, Dec 22, of what remains of our beautiful studio.

At 3 o’clock, just as we were set to start taping the show, the anchors and I were chatting in the studio, going over copy, when we heard a loud “thump” on the roof. Must be reindeer, someone joked. Ha ha. We got ready to start and we heard a louder THUMP, and the lighting grid began to tremble and groan, and it looked for all the world like the roof was about to cave in. “Get out!,” one of the technical directors yelled. We scrambled, grabbed our things, and streamed out into the parking lot. No one could figure out what was going on. Someone called 911 and the fire crew went in and looked around. The rest of the grid had started to come down right after we fled the building. Part of the interview set was damaged. Fortunately no camera equipment was hit. It was a miracle no one was hurt.

Long story short: the studio is out of commission for about three months. Maybe longer.

We’re figuring out a Plan B for continuing to tape “Currents” in the new year.

I’m not one to solicit funds often, and Deacon Greg is probably too proud to ask for this himself. So if you’ve got a Christmas shekel to spare, drop them a donation here.

Men in Black: The Deacon Version

Deacon Greg raises an issue that I’ve heard lots of opinions on: Should Deacons wear a Roman Collar?

As a wanna-be Deacon I have a definite opinion on the issue and it’s pretty simple. Deacons should not WANT to look like a priest. Or perhaps better stated, Deacons should want their own “look.” What that look might be is what should be debated.

In my parent’s parish in the 70s and 80s our Deacon was the DRE (Director of Religious Education) and he wore a collar then. He doesn’t today. But often he was mistaken for a priest, especially by parents who would just drop their kids off at CCD but hadn’t ever been to mass in the parish. The Deacon always said he knew which parents were church-goers because they’d all recognize him as a Deacon and the non-attendees would say “Good Morning, Father.” Even a name tag didn’t help him. People still confused him for the priest.

My thought is simple. Deacons can wear the collar but also should wear something more distinguishable from their priests. Maybe the diaconal stole should be worn over the clerical collar when on official parish business, maybe even one with the word “Deacon” on it? I’ve seen those who don’t wear collars wear a small lapel pin (pictured, right) but I just don’t think that cuts it.

As Deacon Greg notes, wearing a collar definitely changes the perspective of people toward Deacons. You’re not really “one of the lay people” anymore once that gets strapped on your neck. But to add something more distinctive to it might raise the profile of the Deacon as a minister and be useful in helping identify them in hospitals and funeral homes.

Any ideas on a Deacon’s Uniform?

Is Blogging Ministry?

Yes…next question…

But seriously, Deacon Greg thinks so too. And in this beautiful and funny piece for our friends at America Magazine he tells us why.

Then, one night in August, on the eve of the Feast of the Assumption, I decided to check my e-mail before going to bed. There was an item in my inbox titled, “I lost one of my students today.” I sat down and took a deep breath. It was from a Catholic teacher in Newark, N.J. One of his pupils, a 15-year-old boy, had been shot and killed that morning while sleeping in his own bedroom. News reports said a neighbor downstairs had been handling a rifle that had gone off accidentally.

The teacher was devastated. He told me that he wrote because he just needed to get it off his chest. “I am stricken with grief at a time when my heart would otherwise be elated—but I know my young student, my child, celebrates this feast in the arms of the Blessed Mother,” he wrote, and asked for prayers for himself, his students and the boy who had been killed.

I did not know what to say. I wrote back to him, offering a few words of consolation, and told him I would pray for him. But something, I felt, had changed.

The flickering words on a computer screen spoke of something greater, and deeper, and sadder than anything else I had encountered in my months of blogging. In the middle of all the bickering in the blogosphere, I had encountered a moment of unexpected grief and profound grace—beautiful, heartbreaking, soul-wrenching grace.

If nothing else, the Internet makes us acutely aware of this: the world is bigger than we realize and smaller than we expect. We are bound together in ways we cannot even imagine. I have learned a lot since I began blogging, but the greatest lesson may be that we are catholic, which means we are universal, and that we are everything and everyone, for better or for worse.

Indeed he is correct. From my time here and my 8 1/2 years at Busted Halo I’ve gotten e-mail from prisoners concerned about homosexuality, women who have had miscarriages and thought their child had lost all hope for salvation, I even had someone write in who was afraid their son was contemplating suicide. While our retreat program is filled with similar experiences, they pale in comparison to what gets revealed in the anonymity of the internet. It is beautiful and sad at the same time. Beautiful that we are all connected and can reach out to one another and that we can provide some kind of virtual ministry to these people who seek us out. At the same time, the world seems like a lonely place where people have to resort to sending a note on the internet to virtual strangers, albeit people with whom they likely respect and maybe even feel some kind of spiritual or emotional resonance.

The rest of the article is downright funny and poingnant in other ways. So check out the whole thing here.