Leaving All Things Behind….

This is a video of First Vows.  This video is from two years ago, it’s the Vestition ceremony (private with the Novice Community only, in their private chapel) where they receive their habit and religious names. Different than First Profession (aka Simple Profession, First Vows), but the concept and reality of “leaving all things behind” is the same and this gives a feel for the Mass that we will be at today.

Today we will watch our first born son take make Simple Profession, aka First Vows.  Today he will become a Dominican Brother, no longer a Novice.  He will now have an O.P. after his name, for Order of Preachers.

Watch, it’s worth the time. The first time I saw it, I knew I’d be watching my son do the same.  And yeah, it made me cry.  Today I’ll see it in real life….filled with happy awe at the wonder of it, heart overflowing, truly, with joy.

Keep these young men in your prayers, they are gentle radicals in our world.

Open Letter to the New Novice Moms

{…and the Dads too….but, most especially, to the Moms.}

Today is the day.  Today is the day that you are taking your son to the Novitiate; or are bidding him goodbye as he sets out.  I don’t presume to know you, of course.  However, I think I might be able to understand some of what you might be feeling.  Not all, surely, as we are all different; our families are unique.  But, even so…I want you to know that you’ve been on my mind and in my prayers and will be.  Your son is setting out on a great new journey; the adventure, literally, of a lifetime.  It’s exciting and wonderful and amazing and scary and nervous making and a little uncertain maybe, and maybe even more…bittersweet.  I get it.

Now you might be just so ready for your son, younger or older, to make this step forward.  You might be able to slap him on the back with a hearty “best wishes” and big happy hug and grin at him as turns.  But, maybe your brow is furrowed and your heart is cracking just at bit as you wonder what this all means – to you and your family, how’s it going to work, will he be ok?

And I want to tell you this: I wish I could sit you down at my table and pour you some coffee, or, even better, some wine, and give you something good to eat and talk with you…compare notes, chat a bit.

I wish I had someone to tell me what it’s like, last year when we opened our eyes, this day.

So, today, if  I could, I’d tell you:  Yes, this might be one of the hard things you’ll do.  God is asking a big thing of your son, a radical thing.  Thus, by extension, he is asking it of you as well.  BUT….he doesn’t ask this of you and leave you hanging.  Grace abounds.  Seriously.  I promise.  Grace abounds.  You do have to walk the walk, you have to make the drive, do the drop off (be it at airport or St. Gertrude’s).  You have to gulp and blink away your tears and swallow your heart as you hug that young man goodbye and kiss him.  But it’s gonna be ok.  It’s gonna be better than that…

To tell you how it went for me {and of course it might be totally different for you!}: Last year, I’m telling you, I was a MESS!!! I was sure of this for him and happy for him too.  But I was also practically sick with tension and tired, eyes swollen like a bullfrog from crying the night before at our farewell dinner…sleep deprived because I can’t sleep with a crying headache and swollen eyes.  I leaked tears as we prayed in the car, I was tense and jangley.  My husband and my son were too, tho Chris was also excited; tempered tho by the difficult family/sibling goodbyes.  So, as we got to St. Gertrudes, I had to remind  myself to breath and then we turned the corner and saw the white tents.  Really, lovely against the bright green lawn.  We saw white splotches against the green: Dominicans in habits meandering about.  Breathe….  Then suddenly, Fr James swooped toward us and shook Chris’ hands, Toms, and tried to shake mine but I burst into tears. He made a joke and we all laughed.  I wasn’t and you won’t be the first to blink tears or force a smile.  Then they took us on a tour of the priory, and all the words slipped past my ears, my heart was scanning every detail: the rooms, the old novices to see how they were, what kind of men, and so on.  Very soon, it was time to go and so we did.  That last hug was searing….but… we did it, we got in the car, we drove off. Were we kinda robotic by then? Um, yeah.  Did we crash the car in our blinding tears? No.  But, Tom was driving.  Ahem.  Still.

I write all this not to ratchet up your emotions, but to confirm them.  I get it.  And to tell you the most important part of this.  Today the worst part of this.  Period.  And it’s fast and it’s done.  Like ripping a bandaid in a way.  YOWCH!  Gasp!  But then, the task is done.  You’ve delivered your son into God’s hands; this priory, his house.  Well done!  Faithful, hopeful you.

All day, especially, grace abounds, only to increase in this transitional year.  I promise.  And your son? Well, he is in [spiritual] boot camp of sorts; but it’s one he chose and it will lead him to be the man he was made to be, either way.  New ways, new folks, new modes, new tasks.  Some of it is so beautiful it made me grin just to hear him when he would call and describe it.  Some of the life is a chore, literally.  (He will develop great expert skill sets: dishes, laundry, mopping, minor carpentry, landscaping, tutoring….)  And, if this life is for him, he will grow into it.  He will.  It’s so very cool, actually.  If it’s not for him, he will figure it out and that in itself is a great gift and part of the process.  This process, this novitiate, works.  It’s our process too, the whole year of loving him and connecting to him in a deeper, more prayerful way.  A process that actually does bring a closer joyful connection.  I promise.

And for the practical concerns? Those parishioners are so great! They feed the Novices, take them under their wings like their own sons, they bring them cookies and cakes and hug them.  The priory cook is a great cook, plus terrific and caring and kind.  They don’t go hungry, I’m just saying.  The priory is not plush but it is sufficient, totally, to their needs.  They have medicine and privacy and time to be goofy and exercise, they walk into town together, they can watch a big game in the common room.  They laugh, all the time.  They are funny!  Let me repeat, they laugh, so much!  They study, they pray, they serve, they sing. The rigor of the ordered days strengthens them, even as they adjust. It conditions them, seriously, just as if they were training for a marathon.  They are training.  They are laying the foundation for a Dominican life.  As dear Fr. Benedict told me, “The foundations they lay in the novitiate are absolutely necessary to live a (happy) Dominican life.

And so, they begin.  You do too.  You’re a Dominican mom now. Your sons just increased in number, tenfold.  See, that’s the beginning of it in the most tangible way: Grace abounding.

It’s all gonna be ok.  It’s all gonna be better than ok, it’s gonna be wonderful.  And, for what it’s worth, I’m praying for  you, all the way through.

Michele

ps, if you’d like to reach me, just email {info in “about me”}.  

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.

About Those Beads….

Oh boy, what beads? I love beads! Always have!

I want to talk about the most special set of beads I know or have seen, ever.

These beads are beads from my husband, made for and given to his son.  These beads, they are special ones indeed.

Yup, you guessed it, this post is another in my series on my son’s entry into religious life.  As you all surely know, my Chris is now living this year as a Novice with the Dominican Eastern Province of St. Joseph.  He now goes by the name of Brother Peter Joseph – a whole ‘nother post coming on that one.  {I need to get a sidebar for my posts that are in the ‘mini-series mode’…it would make my life a bit simpler, at the very least. Hmm, site maintenance on my to-do list…}  There is still so much to talk about with this new step in my son’s life.  So much change and so much adjusting going on, for him, for us, for the family as a whole.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s almost all good.  But it’s, well, it’s a lot of adjusting and transition too.

Anyhow, THIS post, this post is about those beads.

When Chris was getting ready to go to the Novitiate, he was given a list of things to bring. (I’ve decided to use Chris when talking about prenovitiate time and Bro Peter Joseph when talking about the time after he took his new name…keeps my head from spinning.  Hope this helps you keep up too.)    It was a VERY short list.  It was the basics, really, because that’s all he really needs. Heck, it’s all any of us really need, right? Right.  But, it was the usual stuff: a set of work clothes and exercise clothes, underwear, socks, tennis shoes, black shoes, limited personal toiletries, a breviary, bible, etc.  Then, there were two “habit specific” items: a 1.5 -2″ black belt and a 15 decade rosary.  That’s it.  That was the list of must bring items, with any additional items strongly discouraged.  Vow of poverty, simple life, and all… These list items were things he already possessed, except the belt (oddly enough) and the rosary.  The belt was an easy get, of course.  The rosary..well, it could have been an easy get.  A quick drive down to St Mary’s bookstore, where they have a lovely selection of rosaries of all types and stripes….

But, in thinking of it, this rosary was kind of special.  It needed, ideally, to be one that can last.  Stand the test of time flying and fingers praying.  Stand the test of wearing, day in and day out, through the bumps and knocks of any given task, however mundane: dishes, serving, laundry, singing, praying, studying, and so on. So this rosary needed to be durable, but also have a good feel.  Not flashy, but not cheap and breakable and something to worry over.   No surprise then, that Tom, Coffedoc, the dad…he had the idea to make one.

Now, permit me an aside: we parents were keenly feeling this move approaching.  But you already know that.  And, as parents are wont to do, world over, we wanted to send something with our boy/young man/beloved son.  I had even made him a small painting of St. Dominic, in case he could bring such a thing for his room.   Chris said he couldn’t take it with him.  Ouch.  But. Ok.  We couldn’t give him money – vow of poverty and all.  We couldn’t give him lovely THINGS – vow. poverty. simplicity.  No  cashmere socks, ha! No fancy watch.  We couldn’t give him electronics – vow. poverty. simplicity.  You get the idea.  I know, I know, it was desperation of the departure taking it’s toll. Foolishly or not, we had the very strong urge to give him a part of ourselves…somehow.    Even though of course, he was and IS a part of ourselves, built in, and that travels with him no matter where he goes.  Still.  The urge was there.  Thus, when Tom hit on the idea to make the rosary, Chris kindly said, ok.  It was a kindness, he was unsure if it was a good idea or if there was time.  But he knew, we all knew, that if it could be done in time, it would be.  So he said, “Ok, Dad, that’d be great.”

Thus began a kind of lovely intense time leading up to the departure for the novitiate.  Chris and Tom spent a lot of time together…looking for the crucifix, selecting the right one.  Finding a crucifix prayed over by another Dominican, a sister from years ago, worn just right and with the heft of time and prayer.  Simple, lovely.  They pondered what made a good feel to a rosary, the materials used to string it: wire, links, string…what would be best, lasting, have a good feel.  What size beads, what material, what heft, what feel?  It sounds like a lot of fussing, but it wasn’t fussing, it was a joint project and it was time together, talking, evaluating, hanging out.   Chris didn’t want it too precious, needed to pull back his father’s natural urge to find the most amazing special coolest ever parts of this or that….remind dad again of the simple life he is thinking of, being possibly called to.  Nudge, pull, push…listen, understand.  Both of them.

Finally, the parts were in.  All materials needed to be and ended up the simplest, not expensive, but strong.  The crucifix and centerpiece found and arrived, agreed that they were “just right.”  The beads arrived, wooden black beads, just right.  The cord to string it all, finally, located and brought home (harder than it would seem, that one).  The length determined, adjusted, fixed.  The knots practiced, tried, adjusted.  Different knots for between the beads, then the decades. Special knots for the crucifix and the centerpiece; complicated beautiful and secure.  Thus, finally, the actual making of this special rosary could begin.  This sweet dad, he stayed up into the wee hours many nights, he knotted and he pulled and measured and tested, knotted, reknotted, redid it to perfection.  Almost.  Tom would point out, here, “No, not perfect.”

But it was perfect. It IS perfect.  The entire process was pure gift of himself.  To his son.  It makes me cry to type it, it means so much to each of them, but so too, to me.  The hours put it, a prayer over each bead, each knot, for his boy.  Each time our son, now Brother Peter Joseph, prays that rosary (which is daily) his fingers slip across the same beads and knots that his father too held in prayer and love.  He carries that, all that, tied to his belt with him, at all times.  That very rosary stays hooked on his belt and habit.

Thus, my son, carries a huge piece of his father’s heart and love with him, always.

And  yes, of course, he does anyhow.  With or without that particular rosary.  We know that. He knows that.  But, those beads.  Those deep brown black beads…. They are a tangible touchable reminder, for him and for us…that we are linked through prayer and beyond time.  That particular rosary – I can say because I only watched the whole deal, I have no personal glory here – it is stunning.  It is simple.  It is beautiful.  Not only because my husband can tie knots like nobody’s business, not only because he is a master craftsman.  But because that rosary is the tangible embodiment of a father’s deepest love and prayers for his son and entrustment to our Blessed Mother through those seemingly simple brown beads.

Now, Brother Peter Joseph, receiving the habit and with it, the beads

So, yeah, it’s about the beads…in so many ways, they are kinda special.

Brittle

Well, I don’t want to beat this to death.  But I think for me to really, honestly, track this process from the parental standpoint, ok, the mom angle, I’ve gotta just put a quick blip up on blog.

This is hard.

This giving your son to God, it’s kinda hard. Oh yeah, it’s joyous and deep and profound and all that…. But the clear hard fact is that we are saying goodbye for reals, and he is not only moving far away, he’s giving up his worldly life.  Which means, learning to detach from us too in many ways.  And it means us learning to detach from  him.  And I type that and feel the hot tears.  I hold myself tighter as I blink hard to keep typing, fast, get it out before the flood hits and/or to let me blink even FASTER to push that tide back, again.

And I know, this is all a personal pity party in many ways.  It’s all tangled, happy sad proud amazed worried:  I am truly deeply tap dancing happy for him as he enters, for  this beckoning call, his ability to recognize it and respond.  And I know that many a mom has said goodbye to her son to go to war across the world, with legitimate fears for his safety. I get that.  Utterly.  I mean, I’m sending by son to Cincinnati, for heaven’s sake. Not Afghanistan.  The irony is not lost on me.  My dork factor and wallowing ability makes duck my head in shame even as I can laugh at the/my stupidity of it all.  I know that my fears for his times of lonely and spiritual struggle are something each of us go through, no matter our circumstances in life. Some of the loneliest times can be IN a marriage.  So, I cannot protect him from any of it.  Nor should I try. And while I want to, I know that I can’t and really, shouldn’t want to because it’s part of the process he, we all, must go through.

But anyhow.  I’m bad at goodbyes.  We are in the countdown weeks now.  And I’m feeling the pressure, brittle, tired, leaky.  I can still savor these days and  hours with him, and I do.  But, another part of me wants to drive him straight up to the Novitiate house right now so I can get him there safely.  It feels like battles are afoot.  Spiritual battles, even.  But that’s a whole ‘nother post and I just heard the few  readers I have click away anyhow, because now they know I”m a nutcase.

But, I  need to say, for any mom going through this too….it’s amazing but it is hard.  And it’s a loaded few weeks ahead.  And I’m a bit brittle and holding tight, carrying myself carefully as I walk through these days so I don’t fall to pieces.  I’m leaking…feels a bit like the little dutch boy……holding back the dam.