Happy Birthday to my Favorite Friar!

Happy Happy Birthday to my sweet son, Brother Peter Joseph!

He is having  his first birthday as an official Dominican.  He is a festive friar today!

And it’s hard to not have him here to hug in person, though over the college years and novitiate, I have gotten to practice that.  But, this year, I’m sending emissaries on my behalf; Tom and three of the girls are on their way to deliver my hugs and wishes, loaded right on top of theirs.

Birthdays for your kid when they are a religious are a little weird, for us at least.  Because what with that vow of poverty and all, we are not really supposed to give presents.  Hmmm.  Which seems to be harder on us than him.  He’s doing that detaching from worldly goods thing pretty well it seems.  Us? Not so much.  That urge to GIVE to your kid to mark the day is really bigger and more ingrained than I ever realized.  Poor Tom struggles with it even more as one of his love languages is gifts.  He is a giver.  He just wants to GIVE something.  So, he’s giving presence this time, in lieu of presents.  Which is, of course, the best gift of all.  {Unless, of course, the visit slips into crazy-making zone…which is likely, every time.  Family, gotta love us, but we are a burden in our own way…ha!}

So, today I will instead of wrapping up a new soft sweater or the perfect quirky something I will be wrapping up a spiritual bouquet of prayers for my son.

And, there might or might not just be a cake, special courier delivery (dad), on the way…..

Happy Happy Birthday Peter Joseph.

We love  you so.

Fledging Friars, or, The Vows

The Novices have stepped out of the nest.

Now, they fly.  They are a flock of fledging friars!  Sorry, guys, no disrespect. Just a little mom fun.

Seriously though, as you all know by now, last Wednesday, on the Feast of the Assumption, my son and his nine novice brothers took their First Vows.

These are also known as Simple Profession.  They are the vows to the Dominican Order and religious life as a Student Brother for the next 3.5 years.  They are the last step of serious discernment before Final Vows, aka Solemn Profession – where they will (God willing) take a vow to God himself to live the religious life with the Dominican Order, until death.  Yeah.  Read that one again! Wow.

Even these First Vows, seemingly much smaller (3 years versus the rest of their lives), are so big.  Because if they weren’t awfully sure that they were called to this life, and loved it, until death, they wouldn’t have taken First Vows. They are that big.  In fact, Peter Joseph (my Chris) told me after the Vows that the Final Vows are rather considered a confirmation of their first vows; that First Vows are the ones that are marked with the anniversary.  !! Yeah, good thing, I suppose, that he told me that after the Vows, because I was leaky enough….if I had known, I would’a been UNDONE.

So, I have much to say and describe (of COURSE I do).  But, I think the best way to start this off is to link to the most excellent homily given by Father Brian Martin Mulcahy OP, Prior Provincial of the Province of St. Joseph. Permit me this excerpt, because I cried through this part, so I’d like it more focused (literally) in print, here (go read the whole thing for the full context):

You and I should see the Religious Profession of our ten brothers this day not as some isolated incident in their lives, which we may or may not understand, but rather as a further unfolding of the Paschal Mystery in the life of each of these ten men in all his individuality. What do I mean by that? Their act of vowing themselves to the Lord in poverty, chastity and obedience, which they will do in a few short minutes, one after another, is a further manifestation of the Mystery of Christ’s Life, Death and Resurrection being revealed in the life of each of these ten men, this Mystery into which they were incorporated through their Baptism, through their Confirmation, and through their faithful receiving of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.

 

To the parents and godparents and families of our ten brothers, present with us today: as you watch your son kneel down and make his vows as a Dominican friar, see in this act, freely chosen by your son, a flowering, a blossoming of the gift of New Life in Christ, which you asked to be bestowed upon him when you brought him to the waters of baptism. It is the Lord Jesus, in His fidelity to the promises He made to your sons on the day of their baptisms, who today draws them more closely to His own Heart through their profession of the evangelical counsels and who exhorts them to “run in the ways of perfection.”

 

It is easy for us to be overwhelmed by the enormousness of what these ten men do here today in vowing themselves to a life of poverty, chastity and obedience, especially because we cannot know exactly what road lies ahead for each of them. However, we must not lose sight, either, of the immensity of Christ’s love that has brought them to this moment in their lives, Christ whose voice it is they are responding to, and whose unwavering fidelity toward them is the only thing that makes their desire to be faithful to Him even possible.

 

But we can have every confidence that Christ, the Firstborn from the dead, will, in His Goodness, continue to manifest His life, death and resurrection through the lives of our ten brothers, will continue to call forth from them abundant fruit, fruit that will last for the building up of the Kingdom here on earth, until He returns, when they too, each in his proper order, will share fully in Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

Peter Joseph making his First Profession with Father Brian Mulcahy, Prior Provincial of the Dominican Province of St. Joseph

I’ll post more about the hoopla of the vows.  But this, for today, is the essence of why it’s so big.

The Novices have moved into the next step.  My favorite friars are on their way!

Feast for Dominican Moms, with the FIRST one.

Today is the feast day of Blessed Jane of Aza – St Dominic’s mom!

Thanks so much to Jenna for calling it to my attention! I had forgotten that this feast was here. I had forgotten that last year my Chris (then Chris, still) had called me to wish me a happy feast day.  I had forgotten until Peter Joseph called me again this morning. {I just LOVE it that he calls me on feast days!}  We had a good chat, and we decided that she is a great patron for me and other Dominican moms, and a great grandmother of sorts for him.  Hey, it’s always nice to have another patron saint on your side!

So, for all  you Dominican moms, new or old, here she is! Blessed Jane was the FIRST Dominican Mom.  For a good write up about her, go to the best site: the Dominican Province of St Joseph site and check her out.  She was holy and prayerful, known for her compassion, and for having all three of her sons enter religious life as priests.  I’ll tell you my favorite bit about her: when she was expecting, she dreamt that she was having a puppy and it arrived with a torch in it’s mouth (hence the nickname “Gods dogs…or Godzdogz”).

 Now, I’m not all holy like she was but I dreamt I was having puppies too! Both times with my big boys…though they didn’t arrive carrying torches, probably more like snacks and skateboards.  Even so, I think it’s a connection that makes me smile.  We Dominican’s we are all about finding the laughter and joy…so, it’s apropos of today. I know I’ve got a big smile on my face this morning.

Happy Feast Day Dominican Moms!

St.  Jane of Aza, pray for us.

Novices knocking on our door…

…and so they did!

That visit I wrote about? Well, this past Saturday was the day!

We had ten Novice brothers and their Novice Master, Father James Sullivan, come to visit at our house.  They dropped in to see us, as promised, on their way back up the St. Gertrude’s.  We spent the morning prepping what we could (because some things just can’t be spiffed up in a jiffy, like the balls stuck way up in the high roof gutters…)  Little Gabey was beside himself with excitment, literally bouncing and careening around the house all morning.  They showed up later than expected; once again reinforcing the fact that Dominicans do things their own way (which is part of their unique charm, seriously).  Gabey started some serious whining and sulking and I have to admit to a bit of pacing myself.

Finally, they arrived! Literally, knocking on our door at the same time that Gabey ran out to jump them and we all felt time freeze for just a half second.  Then I ran, (yes, literally) out to see them and ran smack into Peter Joseph for a huge hug.  Maybe a tear or two but all simple grinning clapping happy. I hugged each and every Novice.  They hugged me back.  I hugged Fr. James and whispered my thanks into his ears.  Then they all were tugged and hugged and hustled into the house and more hello’s were said and hugs were passed around.

We sat, we visited, they munched on cheese and fruit and crackers and salami and devoured MamaDo’s brownies and lemonade and iced tea was poured.  Jokes were cracked, stories were told.  Small boys dragged big ones in habits out to play basketball.  Rooms were wandered.

Quiet, private long conversations were impossible but that wasn’t the point of this visit.  This visit was a particular sort of gift.  This visit was to soak in the presence of each other….

…to see the brothers interact, josh, joke, hang out with each other and us too.  To touch base and touch habit, literally.  To feast our, my, eyes on my boy and my other boys by extension…..for I feel something like a mom to them too.  I looked at them with “mom eyes” and hugged them with “mom arms” and got them brownies and milk and coffee just like I do happily for my own.  I’m putting up all our pics, just so you moms and families (if you’re out there) can scour them for your sweet sons….That’s what I’d do too!

Brother Edmund has his eyes on the cheese and crackers…..

Br Allen playing basketball w/ Little Man

Br. Timothy playing with ball with Gabe and Anthony

If any of  you other Novice Mom’s of these boys by chance read this blog…..thank you for sharing your son with us for a few  hours.  It was a pure gift.  And know that I tried to give them a hug with your love in it and a snack with the same care  you might.  I saw them and listened to what they said and what they didn’t say.  And this is what I saw and heard:  These  young men, they are so good.  They are happy.  They are well.  Extrapolating our from my son, and applying to yours:  They have grown into themselves.  They are more themselves,  in a fuller deeper way.  They seemed very bonded together as a community; they seem very ready for first vows.  They are totally ready and excited to see all of their family’s in a month too!  It is so good. It is all good.  I hugged them all again, stand in mom, as they got in the car.  They have phenomenal manners.  And Fr. James is one of the most gracious men I’ve met.

Marta especially loves Fr. James

But, they all left smiling, for what it’s worth.

My stupid grin was on my face all afternoon and softened into a tired happy one later that night.  But it filled my and our hearts.  It gave us all a chance to connect that was everything. Everything.

Two hours, of jokes and hugs and smiles and brownies and wild children scrambling around these great young men.  Bliss.  I am so.  Very. Grateful.

Presenting

It’s the Feast of the Presentation today! Also known as Candlemass.

Oh my.  This day, this feast has such resonance for me, this year.  I’m not sure I can even write it; not fully or well enough.  It’s almost, almost, a little kick in my chest at the same time as a soft smile.

Rembrandt: "Simeon with the Christ Child"

But……this feast is when we remember, liturgically in our Catholic church, but also in our prayers and hearts, how Mary took her son, her baby, to the temple.  She was dutifully fulfilling her obligation, as all good Jewish moms did, to present her baby boy to the temple elders. Little did she know what prophecy she was gonna run smack into.  Little did she know she’d run into Simeon, Anna, and their words.  And I’m guessing she was just gobsmacked by it all.  I would’a been.  I would have been really rattled.  But, then again, I’m just me.  I’m figuring she was held up by a waterfall of grace and maybe a few guardian angels to keep her on her feet and find her breath.

There is so much to this event, this feast.  Go, read.

But this is where it gets a little personal.  Because, this year, I’ve spent, well, the past  year, mulling over this entire concept: presenting.  Presenting my son to the Lord.  Because that’s what I did.  I know, I know, ya’ll will shout at me and say, um, “HE chose this, not you.”  “I KNOW Mary, and you Ma’am, are NO Mary.” “I know Jesus, and I know your son Chris, and he is not Jesus.”  I know.  Shhh.  Stop shouting and pointing.  I’m NOT saying that.

What I’m saying is that I, a regular old mom, literally took my son, my firstborn, and presented him back to the the Lord.  I hugged him tight.  I shook hands with the other priests and novices and hugged them as I choked back tears and yet they welled behind  my sunglasses.  I watched his father hoist his few chosen possessions out of our car and into waiting helping  hands.  I stood aside as I watched him, getting edgy, wait to hug his dad, me.  I watched him  hug his dad goodbye.

The tears overflowed, I bowed my head.  I hugged him tight, kissed him, crossed his forehead, again.  Pressed my cheek to his and then gave him a weak smile as his dad and I grabbed hands and turned to go; letting him go.  I felt that pierce of my heart.  Even as I felt that swell of love too, knowing that he was going to God and to answer his call.

I let him go.  That’s what presenting is, isn’t it? In many ways, I think so.  You present and let go. You don’t present something and wrap it up tight and keep it hidden away. You present it and let go.  Open your hands.  Let go.  We miss him so.  Some days more than others.  But it’s also a great joy to see him happy and taking on a whole new mantle, add a layer to who he is and who he is becoming.  But, my hands are open now; having presented him, I love him, but let go.

So.  It’s a gift this feast.  For me, I can unwrap this gift in a new and fuller and more meaningful poignant way than ever before.  Even more so than last year, when I knew, I knew, this presentation was approaching.  Now I have done it.  I am not Mary.  My son is just my boy, my dear son, now a man.  But.  Just as any family can model in a tiny fractionated shadowy way the truths in our faith and life, so to can my messy family in our teeny way.  So, today, I get a gift of remembering that other mothers, so many, have given their child back to God.  The Blessed Mother did it, not only because it was prophesied …. but perhaps so we could have the courage to do so as well.

Today I am grateful for this feast.  It means so much.  To us all, yes.  But, oh, so much, to me.

Novitiate, how’s it going?

So, my son has been at the Novitiate for almost four months.  He’s been in spiritual boot camp for almost 1/3 of a year; or, he’s almost 1/3 of the way through his intensive friar boot camp.

He has a new name, Brother Peter Joseph.  He has new clothes, for most of the time, his white habit and black copa (cape).  He has 12 new brothers, and as I’ve now begun to get to know them….they are great guys.  Now, I guess that’s no surprise, they would be, right? Well, by and large, they are.  Which is a comfort to my mom’s heart too.  It’s getting cold up there but I sent up his coat (and cookies).

Brother Peter Joseph spends his days in prayer, study, and service, with time out for basketball and hikes and music as well.  He is choir master, for now.  Halfway through they switch jobs, and they might then make his new job master of the laundry…or maybe not…  They have movie night, dvds from their library, every week.  They have game night, I think.  They walk into town for errands.  He drives now and then; every week he has a day when  his team of brothers works at an assisted living facility, doing whatever is needed to help out.  They do a lot of manual labor, they have some big projects in process around the parish and priory.  They laugh a lot, they are a funny bunch – and that makes me so so very glad too.  The brothers have class most days, but not the test/paper kind of class…more the deeper learning/study kind of class.

It all sounds kind of calm and quiet and routine.  And, in so many ways, it is, I think.  But it is carefully crafted to be so, in order to detach from the noise and distraction of this loud busy world and go into the deep; to turn the heart and soul toward God and the ear to his voice.  To listen, fully, finally, and really.  But that, right there, is where the real rigor begins.  I don’t know about you, but oy, for me to really QUIET, and listen…?  That’s a workout.  I am like a gabbling goose (I know, I know – evidently, right?!) and to actually STILL my body and mind…well it’s a JOB.  It’s actually totally countercultural anymore, really, isn’t it? I think so.  And that, the very rigor in that process, is why this novitiate year is hard.  To come face to face with your attachments, distractions, little idols, irritations and indulgences and set them aside for something so much bigger that you can’t even wrap your head around it fully?  That’s something kind of unfathomable to me.

It’s radical.

So, when my son says he’s “…really good. But it’s hard.”  He means just that I think.  It is a deep, but good difficulty.  It’s time.  It’s his time.  And he is approaching one of the hard seasons of the novitiate year.  Not the most difficult; that would be Lent.  But the next two holidays are big.  Big changes, big adjustment…for us all.  He will miss, for the first time and for onward, Thanksgiving and Christmas (and lent/Easter, etc) at home with his family.  We will miss, for the first time and for onward, having him with us.  Oh, it makes me tear up to even type it, dork that I am.  And it’s not like I didn’t know…I KNEW, even last year, that it was the last.  But, there it is.  It is hard.  For us all.  But, even so, it is good.

He says, “Please keep praying for me.”  So, I ask  you, any or all, to please keep my boy in your prayers; heck, keep all those young men in prayer. Because it’s a tough season ahead.  Jolly, yes. Joyful, yes.  And rich? Beyond description, I suspect.

So, how is it going, that novitiate?  It’s going really well.  It’s going just like it’s supposed to.  It’s hard.  It’s rich, peaceful, bittersweet, lonely, irritating, surprising, funny…it’s good.  It’s radical in the desire and the depth and the choosing of it all.  And, I suspect, and hope and pray, that’s it’s radical in it’s accompanying (divine) light and goodness and joy.