On the road to Assisi

The day began at 5:30 am as I rose to pack my bags and get ready for the bus. Then Eucharist in the chapel at Casa Tra Nois with Fr. Conrad celebrating. Then a quick colazione (breakfast) and boarding the bus. We left Rome and headed north stopping first at Poggio Bostone. Fr. Conrad shared the story of St. Francis and his journey to self forgiveness which is why he was attracted to Poggio Bustone and the Rieti Valley. Then he explained the significance of the Franciscan Tau Cross and invited each of us to come forward to receive our own crosses and the acceptance of ourselves symbolized by the cross. It was a poignant ceremony. Fr. Conrad and Rev. Bill Reese were available to hear those who needed to speak their truth and claim that forgiveness. There was a lot of healing on thst mountain this morning.

After a 90 minute visit we were on our way to Greccio and the site of the first celebration of the Nativity of the Lord. I love the chapel at Greccio. A sumptuous lunch followed in the nearby village. We ate a rich meal and the conversation flowed. Now we’re on the road to the Spoleto Valley and Assisi.

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Gratitude for the journey

It’s been only three days since our pilgrimage began and yet so much has happened. Thirty-five people who were only names on a roster have become formed together in a beautiful group with a shared memory. Our common bond as sisters and brothers of a shared experience of soldiers, sailors and marines has been the catalyst. Already there’s a kinship kindled and this unique group have become a band of sisters and brothers. There have been some highlights already for me. Yesterday at St. Peter’s I was overcome with the joy of the journey. Standing near the tomb of St. Peter and gazing as sunlight streamed through the windows I was overcome with a sense of awe and beauty. I knelt at “Peter’s Pence” facing the main altar and remembered our grandson Theo in prayer as well as his parents. I prayed for my brothers and sisters and their families as well as all creation. I wondered in the presence of the Holy Spirit that filled this place whether it would allow the destruction of our world with the climate crisis. I prayed for peace and felt a sense of hope and peace that surpassed my understanding. Perhaps my experience was more poignant having survived a pulmonary embolism last year. That’s certainly been on my mind. I’m grateful we got to share the Eucharist in this holy place. Pilgrimage is much different than a vacation. It’s been a time of restful, peaceful solitude. It’s been a balm for my soul.

Today we begin the day with Eucharist here at Casa Tra Nois in Rome and then we’re off to Assisi wandering through the Rieti Valley with stops in Poggio Bustone and Greccio I’ll have many wonderful memories of Rome among them our shared moments of peace, reflection and laughter. This has been the bona venture, the good journey of peace

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Next stop Rome

Next week I’ll be in Rome for the second time in my life. Last year I was able to attend a wonderful pilgrimage for veterans that took us to Rome and Assisi. I’d never visited either before and it was incredibly fulfilling to see Pope Francis, tour Rome, get lost in the Roman hills, see the Lateran Basilica and much more. It was the trip of a lifetime. When I looked out over the Spoleto Valley on the morning of May 21, 2019 I took a mental picture and one with my iPhone too. I was grateful to have spent the last week visiting Italy and trekking on this sacred ground once walked on by the apostles in Rome and St. Francis and his early companions in the Assisi and Tuscany.

While I was there last year I called a fellow veteran and long time friend and told him that he should go on this pilgrimage. He told me then. “I’ll go if you go Donald.” I filed that conversation away and it lay dormant for about six months. In late November of last year I survived another pulmonary embolism and atrial fibrillation. That first night in the hospital I said to myself, “I’m going back to Assisi.” I’m fortunate to have survived not one but two pulmonary embolisms in my life. I called my friend while still in the hospital and said, “I’m gong back to Assisi.” He replied, “I’ll join you.’ In the past six months we’ve been planning and anticipating and next week we’ll be there.

I’m filled with anticipation, excitement and gratitude. I’m praying that my friend John will have a blessed time on this pilgrimage. While I’m looking forward to Rome I’m really excited to be returning to Assisi and returning to Casa Papa Giovanni where we stayed last year. I’m longing to walk again the footsteps of St. Francis, St. Clare and the early Franciscans. Last year’s pilgrimage was deeply moving and sparked a spiritual and emotional transformation. I came to understand St. Francis not only as the seraphic father of the Franciscan order of which I am a part, but also as a fellow veteran and person who suffered from post traumatic stress.

I’m looking forward to meeting the many other veterans and their spouses who will be joining us. I’m eager to renew relationships with the leaders of the pilgrimage and with the wonderful hosts and people of Rome and Assisi. I’m eager to greet my companions with Buongiorno buona gente.

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The real national emergency is climate change and gun violence

I just heard on cable news and Twitter that the president of the United States is going to declare a national emergency to get the necessary funding for his vanity project which is a wall on our southern border. Nearly every intelligent source I’ve read or listened to knows that there is no emergency on our southern border. Mexicans and other groups who are fleeing dangerous countries in Central America are legitimate refugees. For years I’ve listened as primarily Republican politicians politicize immigration and never do anything to address the issue. It’s another one of their divisive issues designed to split the electorate and mask the real issues facing our country.

Today is the one year anniversary of the horrific massacre of school children and their teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. There approximately 300 million guns in the United States today and though many of them are owned by law abiding citizens however those guns are designed for one purpose and that is to kill and inflict physical harm. Worse still the kind of gun that was used at last year is an assault weapon which is designed to be a weapon of war and is not at all necessary to hunt game animals with. Following the tragedy of Parkland and the countless other gun violence incidents which have occurred over the years at schools, theatres, shopping malls, fast food establishments et cetera there has been no national emergency declared nor any substantive legislative action at the national level. There is a real emergency. Every time I sit in a public place like a movie theatre I wonder if there is some kook in the audience who has an agenda. There are no safe places in America anymore. Even churches, synagogues and mosques have been invaded by gun violence.

In addition to that horrific dereliction of duty by our elected representatives we have the emerging climate crisis which threatens our existence and all living creatures on our planet. Recently I watched a congressional hearing where a member of the GOP mocked the seriousness of the Green New Deal which has recently been in the news. Why are both of these horrific tragedies unaddressed? Our government is run by corporate interests who care little about the rights of the citizens of the United States of America.

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It’s cold but it’s a different cold

I finally ventured out of the house today to clean our driveway. Yesterday I drove twenty miles for a medical appointment. After my return home I stayed inside for over twenty-four hours which is very atypical for me. I like walking and being out in the neighborhood. Overnight our temperature went down to -10 degrees Fahrenheit which is very cold to be sure. When I was a young boy it was not uncommon for temperatures to dip below -30F so I’m no stranger to cold weather. I can remember a time in the 1980’s when it was subzero for an entire week.

Climate change is a difficult subject in the United States. Some confuse climate with weather. Others, like our president assume that subzero cold weather is an indication that ‘global warming’ is a hoax. I read Inconvenient Truth many years ago and I’ve subsequently read other works about climate change and they all point to more extreme weather. You’re probably thinking about the subzero temperatures of yesteryear as an rebuttal for extreme weather.

Here’s where the difference lies. Years ago, we’d have a month or sometimes two or three where the temperature never got above 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Sometimes if we were lucky we’d have a January thaw late in that month. This week, we’re going from subzero yesterday and today to more normal temperatures tomorrow followed by unseasonably warm temperatures rising in to the high forties and possibly fifty degrees on Monday. Prodigious snowfalls to our north will become water and cause ice packed creeks and rivers to overflow. Roadways and streets will be flooded and then just as quickly as it thawed there will be a return to frigid weather. Therein lies the difference and it’s a weather pattern that has been repeated time and time again in the past number of years. I believe it’s going to get worse and eventually it is going to threaten our existence in many ways that we can only imagine now.

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It’s the climate stupid!

Yesterday I received an email from my brother who lives in Wisconsin with a link to an article and it’s substance was about the subzero polar vortex which is impacting the mid-west and the much of the country this week. The article explained that this phenomenon is being caused because a mass of warm air had recently moved to the arctic and displaced the arctic air to the south. The warm air that arrived in the arctic was 125 degrees above normal if memory serves me correctly.

It’s become popular for the climate change deniers in our country to point to these frigid temperatures and deride those who speak and write of ‘global warming.’ According to these folks the frigid temperatures belie the existence of global warming and climate change. Recently, Alexandria Occasio-Cortez took some heat from the pundits when she proclaimed that the world is going to end in twelve years. While I’m not sure of the exact timing that she proclaimed it is easy to see that our climate is changing rapidly and our weather is becoming more and more severe. We have had so much rain in our area that the ground is saturated. Recently, due to this hyper-saturation and extreme wind one of our neighbors spruce trees was uprooted and toppled into our yard. It will cost several hundred dollars to have it removed and disposed of.

Yesterday, The Intercept proclaimed that the real national emergency is climate change and not border security. I wholeheartedly agree with their premise. Rising sea levels, extreme heat and drought are already wreaking havoc in the United States and around the world. In the meantime the majority of our political leaders deny its existence or cast shade on those of us who see cause for alarm. One has to wonder how much longer we must endure the ravages of this change coupled with the intransigence of our politicians.

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May the Lord Bless You Theo

Today we bury Theo. He is our grandson who we never got to talk to. He died on December 28 while he was still in the womb. His death has been devastating to his parents and his brother Myles. Theo was born dead on Sunday December 30, 2018. I’m grateful that I got a chance to meet him and touch his plump little cheeks and put my hand on his chest. Though we never talked we got to share a prayer. We know from the autopsy report that Theo had a condition in his blood that would have made him prone to hemorrhages. But, to look at Theo one would never guess that. He looked like an angel. I will never forget looking at his beautiful face nor will I forget the sobs of his mother and father.

We expect the death of older people. Birth, life and death is a cycle common to us all. We don’t expect death before birth. Though we never got to hold him and feel the warmth of his skin we could feel the warmth of his spirit and that is what we will celebrate today at his memorial which will occur in a few hours. That divine spark is within us all from the moment of our conception and it transcends our death. In fact we never really die once we’re conceived.. Our ancestors are never really dead either. We bear all of their light within us and we pass it on to our children and they to their children and so on.

Death is a concept that is man made and maybe more so among western civilization. We know from quantum physics that energy is neither created nor destroyed but merely changed from one form to another. Therefore though we can no longer touch Theo, he continues to touch us. His physical absence is not non-existence. His energy or soul if you will lives on within all of us and I believe that someday we will see him again.

I had a sister, Mary Patricia, who lived but thirty-six hours. I never got to see her, but I remember her still and sometimes I think of her and wonder what she would have been like. The pain of the death of a child is great. These are the times that invite me to wonder. How does this all make sense. Why?

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” – Corinthians 1: 13-12.  Like St. Paul wrote a couple thousand years ago, we see only a reflection but someday we will see fully and know fully that which we cannot fully comprehend now. This is I know though and that is that Theo lives within us all. He is our guardian angel.

We have been given the option of placing something in Theo’s grave and I’m giving him the Cross of San Damiano because I was on a pilgrimage to Assisi when we first learned he was coming to live with us. May the Lord bless you Theo and keep you and make his face to shine upon you and give you his peace.”

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