Living the Vocation of Love

Chiara Petrillo was seated in a wheel chair looking lovingly toward Jesus in the tabernacle. Her husband, Enrico, found the courage to ask her a question that he had been holding back. Thinking of Jesus’s phrase, “my yoke is sweet and my burden is light,” he asked: “Is this yoke, this cross, really sweet, as Jesus said?”

A smile came across Chiara’s face. She turned to her husband and said in a weak voice: “Yes, Enrico, it is very sweet.”

Servant of God Chiara Petrillo, January 9, 1984 – June 13, 2012

The nature of love has been debated by poets and philosophers since the beginning of history.  The ancient Greeks had six words for love:

  • Eros, or sexual passion. …
  • Philia, or deep friendship. …
  • Agape, or love for everyone. …
  • Ludus, or playful love. …
  • Pragma, or longstanding love. …
  • Philautia, or love of the self.

Myself, I once stumbled  into my own definition of love working back from quantum physics!*  Recently, I made the mistake of walking into the middle of a discussion of the nature of love: “True love“, I interjected, “will always include suffering“.  At that point, my high hopes of an interesting philosophical reflection abruptly ended when the person I was engaging stormed away, vehemently denying my premise.  Earlier, this same person said that “love is an exchange of mutual benefit between two beings.”  At that point I asked how could God, who needs nothing from us, could love us according to that definition?  That discussion didn’t last long either.

But I don’t totally blame him from walking away, suffering isn’t something we like to dwell on and at first glance it doesn’t make sense that suffering, which means pain, is intertwined with love, which brings us happiness.  Suffering and Love...   I did indirectly touch on this in an earlier post on my grandfather’s relationship with his ill wife: “I Love” A sanctifying Response to Adversity

My grandfather was not the only example of this kind of heroic love.  I’ve known my Uncle Dave for over fifty years, ever since he married my mother’s sister Phyllis.  A gentle and patient man, he always had time for us grand kids when we were growing up.  He was the adult who would literally stoop down to listen to us children, caring about what we had to say.  I never saw him impatient with anyone or angry.  If I had to describe him to someone who didn’t know him with one sentence it would be: “Uncle Dave loved his children, his grandchildren and his nephews and nieces unconditionally and as kids growing up we knew that  instinctively.” 

My Uncle David Sale lived the vocation of the meaning of true love when he took care of his wife Phyllis during her final illness.  For the last couple of years of her life my Aunt Phyllis developed a devastating and debilitating illness.  As the illness developed,  Uncle Dave took on more responsibility as a caretaker.  By watching him tenderly care for Aunt Phyllis, Uncle Dave’s  true inner strength was reveled to all.

My mother helping her sister Phyllis, November 1969, North Attleboro MA

At times, he was exhausted, other times frightened.  In the end, it was tragic to lose his wife just months after celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.  Uncle Dave bore it all with patience and above all else with love.  Did Uncle Dave experience suffering?  Yes, Uncle Dave did suffer but he was never miserable.  How can that be?  The key is to understand that suffering and misery are not the same thing.  Misery is always coupled with despair, without hope.  Misery is filled with self pity and doesn’t think of others.  Quite often misery is angry and lashes out.  In the end, misery never has meaning and it is never heroic.

Suffering though, has hope and trust, it understands that all works for the greater good of those who love God and who love others.  Suffering is never inwardly focused but is always putting the needs of others first.  The suffering person is wiling to sacrifice himself, even including his life.

When I visited Uncle Dave and Aunt Phyllis during the illness, he would sometimes let his guard down just a tiny bit and confess that he was tired and a bit sad.  Even in this very human moment, Uncle Dave still radiated out inner peace, love and at a deep level, joy.  Through it all, Uncle Dave modeled for all of us how heroic suffering can be.

So how are suffering and loved linked?  Well if they are not linked then my uncle’s deep love for Aunt Phyllis and every thing he did for her during her illness would be incomprehensible.  When we are  willing to suffer for the ones we love as an act of love we participate in the very life of God, who is Love.

Without God, without Love as God, love is reduced to just an economic exchange “… of mutual benefit between two beings.”

Without God, love is incomprehensible and suffering to bring about a greater good is ultimately futile.

Without God, only misery remains when we are confronted with pain and loss.

Pain and loss in our lives is unavoidable but seen in the context of love, we can have peace and even joy in within suffering.

True love can be difficult, especially when we are called on to suffer and sacrifice for others.  Not everyone can do it or even know how to do it, and we need examples to follow and Uncle Dave was, and is, one of those examples.

Thank you Uncle Dave…

Simon and Garfunkel: Book Ends

John Michael Talbot: Eternal Light

Postscript: 

For more on Servant of God Chiara Petrillo:

Servant of God Chiara Corbella Petrillo: Shining a Light on the Value of Life

*  I was reading once how the further you go back in time close to the Big Bang there exists higher energies and higher densities.  At these higher energies and densities the four fundamental forces collapse into each other.  Those four forces:

  1. Gravity
  2. Nuclear Strong Force
  3. Nuclear weak force
  4. Electromagnetic force

would combine into a single “super” force just after the Big Bang.  All of these forces act on particles both fermions and bosons.  As the universe cooled after the Big Bang the super force would break down into the four forces we know today. So I asked: “This primeval super force right at the Big Bang, is there a force even more fundamental than that?”  Well, it seemed to me that there should be a more fundamental force.  A force that creates ex nilo everything that which it acts upon.   At that point it seemed to me that this “creative force” was just another description of the creative attribute of God: creating all from nothing. ”  Of course, God is love, everything that exists was created out of and from love.

 

The Continuity of Time and the Event Horizon of Information

Time Stand Still

I’m not looking back
But I want to look around me now
See more of the people
And the places that surround me now
Time stands still
Summer’s going fast
Nights growing colder
Children growing up
Old friends growing older
Freeze this moment
A little bit longer
Make each sensation
A little bit stronger
Experience slips away
Experience slips away
The innocence slips away
Lyrics by Neil Peart, Performed by Canadian rock band Rush

 

I recently stumbled on a remarkable video:

The TV show was called “I got a Secret” and this episode’s guest from February 8th 1956 was Mr. Samuel J. Seymour, the last living witness to the April 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  Born in 1860, Mr. Seymour lived through through 4 depressions, the Spanish flu pandemic,  2 World Wars, witnessed the invention of the light bulb, the automobile, invention of aircraft, and saw President Lincoln alive.  Dying just a few months after this show was aired Mr. Seymour just missed the launching of Sputnik.  It’s a good assumption that in his long life Mr. Seymour met some young children growing up in the 1950s, some of whom would be in their 70s today.  So in the year 2020, there are people alive today who can say they knew someone who actually saw the assassination of President Lincoln, 155 years ago.

My father, who was born in 1939, remembers seeing Civil War veterans marching in parades growing up in Attleboro Massachusetts.  I remember in 1970 seeing Spanish American Veterans from 1898 marching in similar parades.  The oldest person that I ever personally met was born in 1879.  Of course, I never knew anyone born in the 1700’s but is it likely as a small child this man who was born born in 1879 did.  This would make me one degree removed from someone born in the 1700s.

Pocket watches belonging to both of my grandfather’s  paternal grandfathers

Our deep connections with the past show up in other ways.  My brother Davy was the spitting image of our Great-Uncle George Savoie (Brother Donald).  Even the way my brother smiled was an echo of our uncle who died before we were ever born.  My daughter resembles my mother’s sister.  A cousin of mine resembles our great grandfather.

My daughter and my mother’s sister taken at about the same age

 

Jim and Granny’s father Adelard St Goddard

Each of us have felt the surprising disorientation looking at family and catching a glimpse of long dead relatives .  Other times it could be just a quick look, a habit, a quirk or even they way they walk that connects them to someone long gone.  Even our talents and interests seem to circle back to our grandparents and great grandparents.

Modern technology enables us to reach even father back.  I have had the DNA tested of my mother and five of her siblings.  All of them have a small amount of native American DNA.  Our Native American ancestors all lived back in the 1600s and early 1700s and yet, 300 plus years later, they literally live on in us.  In truth, the past is always present with us.

We can run this thought experiment forward too.  I took my daughter to a Ringo Star concert a couple of years back.  The highlight was singing “We all live in Yellow Submarine” lead by Ringo himself.  I remarked to my daughter that when the 100th anniversary commemorations of the Beatles come around she can tell her grandchildren she saw one of them perform.

There are millions of people alive today that will be alive in the year 2100.  One of those future residents of the 22nd century will be the grandchild of one of those young children who met Mr. Seymour back in 1956.  Amazingly,  there will be a person alive in 2100 who will be able say that they actually met someone who knew a live witness to the assassination of President Lincoln, an event that will have occurred 235 years earlier.

All of this may tempt us to believing that the our connections to the past is durable and always accessible when we need it.  But is that so?  Much of the information about the past is lost forever behind the Event Horizon of Time.  Most historical records from antiquity have been lost with the destruction of the Library of Alexandria.  Advanced civilizations have disappeared under natural disasters, disease and war.  Languages are disappearing across the world.  Recent history is not immune to this either.  Many early films have decayed or have been destroyed by fire.  Books no longer in print fall apart or just discarded.  No medium for storing information lasts forever.  This process has only accelerated in the computer age as we have gone from vinyl records to CDs to cloud based services and data streaming.  Unless that information is continuously transcribed to the latest up and coming new format or media it is inevitable that it will be eventually lost.  Within our families, we have only limited stories of our grandparents and great grandparents.  Whole lives are reduced to just a few anecdotes, if that, especially if generations don’t take the time to talk to each other.

Perhaps the truth is that some connection to our past may be durable but without our intervention and effort those connections may only be trivial and random.

What can do about it?  Value the past and our history.  Record the stories and achievements of our parents and grandparents.  Encourage our children and grandchildren to take an interest family history.  Go to the library and read good books with true stories.

Oral stories are important!  Much of the ancient knowledge we have was past down to us over thousands of years without the benefit of a written language.   Oral communications are just as important today.  My Aunt Phyllis recently passed away and during the Memorial Mass my cousin’s husband Ian gave a wonderful remembrance of his mother-in-law. The presiding priest in his homily captured the wisdom of my aunt.  Both stories illuminated a unique part of my Aunt Phyllis’s life  I am glad I was there to hear them both.

At a family gathering the night before my aunt’s funeral, my Uncle Jack held court with a group of his grand nieces and nephews, all of whom are in their twenties.  As I listened to Uncle Jack,  I took a moment to remind my nephews and nieces how lucky they were to have a Vietnam veteran share his stories.  I asked them to carry it forward forty plus years from now during the centennial of the Vietnam War and share with their grandchildren the stories of Uncle Jack.  Perhaps, in the year 2100, someone will gather around a group of youngsters and say: “My grandfather (or grandmother) knew a man who fought in the Vietnam War and here is his story..”

Make the connections, remember the past, and carry forward.

Postscript:

What is an Event Horizon? It is the one way  boundary around a black hole.  Matter, light and information can cross the boundary from the outside but nothing from within the black whole can cross over the event horizon to the outside.  What ever is within the event horizon is lost forever. But this applies to us too.  Everyday we pass through an Event Horizon since yesterday with all its opportunities are lost to us.

Uncle Jack’s story

Do not go gentle into that good night
Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Poem by Dylan Thomas

 

Plutarch the Historian acknowledges Humanity’s Ancient Enemy

Plutarch is among my favorite authors within the Britannica’s Great Books of Western Civilization Series.  His biographies of the Great Lives of Noble Grecians and Romans are filled with deeply touching observations of the human condition with its heroic virtues and tragic failings.  Like another Greek historian, Herodotus (the father of history), Plutarch will flavor his dramatic prose with observations of the cultures and beliefs of his time.  One could blog full time on the treasures Plutarch has buried in his writings.

Great Books just taken out of the box and laying on my living room floor.

I’m almost finished with Plutarch, and one of his last biographic sketches is of the Greek philosopher and general Dion.  Dion was a student of Plato and in this bibliographical sketch Plutarch describes Dion and Plato’s efforts to instill,thru education virtue and justice in a young dissolute tyrant of Syracuse,  Dion’s nephew Dionysius.

The young Dionysius himself was the son of an evil tyrant, the elder Dionysius. The elder Dionysius  deliberately withheld an education from his son out of fear that the young man would learn to love and emulate virtue, justice and love, and seeing his evil father as the man he was, overthrow him.  Not unexpectedly, Dionysius the younger took the reins of government after his father’s death terrorizing his subjects, ignoring his duties and spending his time with his friends “drinking, singing, dancing and buffoonery…”

Dion seeing his nephew “deformed and spoilt in character for want of teaching”  secured the best education he could for the boy by persuading Plato himself to be Dionysius’ teacher.  Plato saw this as an opportunity to demonstrate that nurture could overcome nature in instilling virtue.  Think Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady.

Tragically, Dion and Plato’s efforts were ultimately violently rebuffed.  Their failure was not in their own virtue, or their patience in trying to reach the young Dionysius but in most part to the bad influences of other older “mentors” that wanted to see the young Dionysius remain in his unconstrained and licentious condition. Why?  Mostly because they were envious of virtue but also because in his weakened nature, the young Dionysius was easier to control for their own evil ends.   Another reason was the weak and mercurial human nature of the people of Syracuse who would in turn support their tormentor Dionysius to the determent of their liberator, Dion.

The end result is universal tragedy for all.  Dionysius is only removed from his tyranny through military force.  Syracuse itself is devastated, it’s people murdered by Dionysius’  vengeful  henchmen.  Dion, for all is sacrifices in trying to save Syracuse, is betrayed by a man named Heraclides and murdered.  The grievous irony is that Heraclides betrayed Dion not once but twice before.  Dion, who believed in his heart the virtue he was taught by Plato, forgave Heraclides.  In each case, Heraclides begged Dion for his forgiveness and to spare his life.  Plutarch states that Dion, ever the optimist of human nature when lead by virtue and justice, had hoped that clemency to Heraclides would lead him to redemption.  As Plutarch explains:

The malicious humor of men, though perverse and refractory, is not so savage and invincible but it may be wrought upon by kindness, and altered by repeated obligations.

Now, almost to the end of his Lives you would think that Plutarch would have moved toward a cynical view of human nature after watching time and time again great and virtuous men fail because of their own weakness and the weakness of those around them.  Far from it.  For Plutarch and other ancient Greek Philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle etc, Virtue, Truth, Justice, Love, Beauty, Benevolence and Wisdom have a reality above and independent of the ever changing whims of human fashion.  These Philosophers taught that living theses Virtues was the key to human happiness and that they are part of what we would call today the Natural Law.

As Plutarch explains, a person’s happiness comes from conforming  “his nature to the truths of virtue, and living, after the likeness of the divine and glorious model of Being, out of obedience to whose control the general confusion is changed into the beautiful order of the universe, so he in like manner might be the cause of great happiness to himself…”

So there it is: happiness comes from conforming our thoughts and actions continuously toward the Divine Natural Law of the universe.  Although few of them admitted it directly, ancient Greek philosophers knew from reason that there was an overall, singular divine Being over the universe, the source of all Good.  To read the ancient Philosophers is to understand that this belief permeates their writing.

But is human nature only to blame for our failings and self inflicted sufferings?  Nearing the end of  his book, after years of close examination of triumph and tragedy, Plutarch offers a hint that something else that maybe at work in human history:

I know not how we can avoid admitting again the utterly exploded opinion of the oldest times, that evil and beguiling spirits, out of envy to good men, and a desire of impeding their good deeds, make efforts to excite in them feelings of terror and distraction, to make them shake and totter in their virtue, lest by a steady and unbiased perseverance they should obtain a happier condition than these beings after death. 

Wow, I was shocked to read this last night from a man who wrote it at the end of the 1st Century AD.  Plutarch never mentions Christianity or Judaism in any significant detail his Lives .  And yet, the above statement could have been written by Saint Thomas Aquinas himself in his chapter on Angels and Demons in his Summa Theologica.

Here Plutarch is talking about a personification of evil active in the world.  He is not referring to the flawed Greek gods who would sometimes torment human beings.  Plutarch’s evil spirits are not  a “fill in the gap” attempt to explain natural disasters.  Reading it again we can see Plutarch makes some rather interesting claims about these evil spirits acting in our world:

  • Belief in them is ancient, even in his time
  • Belief in these evil spirits is universal among human societies
  • They are personal beings, who act against humanity out of envy
  • The frequent targets of their hatred is good people in order to discourage them from obtaining eternal happiness in the afterlife
  • That good and virtuous people need perseverance in order to over come the feelings of “terror and distraction”  that evil spirits may subject them too

This theme is echoed in the Old Testament’s Book of Job, where Satan elicits God’s permission to torment a good and virtuous man, Job, in order that Job would curse God.  Satan fails in breaking Job, but even so, Job suffers tremendously thru no fault of his own but at the hands of this evil spirit.  Saint Paul in his Epistles warns us of a personification of evil that seeks us out to devour us like a hungry lion.

Now belief in demons today seems to swing between two extremes. On one hand is an over fixation on them manifesting as extreme fear or obsession with the occult.  On the other side is the belief that evil spirits are relics of a superstitious age and are a way for people to personify the fully human evil in the world.  The better approach is to acknowledge that while much evil is of a human origin, there are beings of far greater intelligence and and malevolence that can and do act upon us.  For all of us,  that action may only be temptations to sin.  Rarer still, people maybe harassed by evil spirits, both physically and emotionally and maybe even a manifestation.  In extremely rare cases, possession.  In all situations, we can do as Plutarch implies and persevere with the understanding that as powerful as demons try to make us think they are, they can not overpower us with out our consent.

But there is an even better way: by Prayer, Confession, Mass and and Eucharistic Adoration.  I can speak from experience on this. Without going into details that some may find sensational, I will admit that I have experienced what I believe is harassment.  It was through, the Rosary, Confession, Mass and Eucharistic Adoration that it would come to an apparent end.  I also know of a family member whose honesty I trust that has told me that they experienced evil manifestations.  I mention this not to encourage fear or idle curiosity but rather to inspire a turning to God in love and trust as a small child would do with their loving parent.  Jesus in his great love for us has given us the tools to overcome and persevere to include our Guardian Angels.  Just don’t under estimate the maliciousness of our ancient, envious enemy.

PostScript:

George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”

Patrick Cassidy : Na mBeannaíochtaí (The Beatitudes I)

Patrick Cassidy : Na mBeannaíochtaí (The Beatitudes II)

 

See also: plutarch-ancient-philosopher-reflects-on-even-more-ancient-heroes-and-their-virtues

Hippocrates-on-social-justice

The Loudest Quiet Girl: Messages of Hope in a Dark World

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.– Saint Paul

It is a wonderful mystery that God has not only created us dependent on Him, but also dependent on each other.  We need each other not only for our physical well being, but for our spiritual growth.   All of us are tasked by God to drag each other over the finish line to Heaven.   Out of love for us, God will often place in our path those who can help ease our pain.  When we are open to the love of God and the love of our neighbors, tragedy can transform and heal.

Every year my brothers Pete and Patrick and I spend a “Brother’s Weekend” together as a way to remember our brother Davy who died of ALS in November of 2013.   This year we spent it in Foxboro Massachusetts and on Sunday we went to Mass at Our Lady of La Salette Shrine in Attleboro.  See National Shrine of Our Lady of La Salette

Walking into the Shrine conference center before mass,  a poster featuring a portrait of a beautiful young woman caught my eye.  As I started to read it, a man quietly came up and invited me to join a presentation on his daughter, Erin Rodriques.  Erin’s parents, Abel  and Kathy Rodriques, have just published a collection of their daughter’s journal writings from her teenage years.

Erin is their only child and she died at the age of 23 on December 9th, 2013,  just months before her marriage.  I cannot imagine the pain and sorrow of Abel and Kathy.  Yet, out of our brokenness, God can craft something beautiful.  For Abel and Kathy Rodriques, that beauty was a long forgotten collection of Erin’s journal writings.

All who read Erin’s writings were stunned by the depth of her love for Jesus and compassion for others.  Erin’s style of writing was unusual: she seemed to be addressing a future reader rather than herself.  She expressed a simple, trusting love of Jesus.  Her prayer life with God was conversational, friend to friend:

“I really need to work on my relationship with God.  I am still totally religious and spread the word but I think that I have been trying too much to help others with their relationship with God that I have been barely been paying attention to mine.   I think tonight, instead of saying the Rosary, I’m going to just talk to Jesus and pray for peace, strength and help.  I know he will not abandon me.  Lord, I know you can read this and you know me better then I know myself, please know that I love you more than anything in this world and my desire for you is so strong that when I feel like I haven’t talked to you for even just one day, I feel dead. I need to remember to place all my stresses and worries into your hands and have you help me and guide me along my life’s path. I love you Lord and I need you. Please always be at my side and help me even when I do not think to ask. I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for me. ”                                                                             Erin Rodriques December 20, 2005

On March 4th 2017, Erin’s mother Kathy found a previously unknown journal  that Erin started on March 14th 2014.   Inside were  letters by Erin to her Mom and Dad, written nine years before she died.  Below are some excepts from those letters.  Keep in mind these letters to her parents were written nine years before she died.  Her parents only saw them two and a half years after the accident that took Erin’s life.

For Mom:

…I love you so much! I’m so sorry for all the times I made fun of you and said you were stupid, crazy and uncool. You were really as cool as cool could be! I would ever trade you in for all the riches in the world. You are the best mom ever and I will miss you so much until we see each other again! All the times I spent with you were the best times of my life! I’ll be missing you and praying for you! Anytime the sun shines on a spring day, know that it’s me smiling and laughing.  Love you!! Love from your daughter, Erin Kate Rodricques”                               Erin Rodriques, 2004

For Dad:

Dear Dad, First I want you to know how sorry i am that I have yelled at you and treated you badly alot. It’s hard to say but, it was like the more I did, the more I loved you… I’ll always remember the great times we had together.  I can’t wait for the day that we see each other together again and all  the wonderful times we’ll have together again. I’ll be missing you alot and will always be thinking of you…                    Erin Rodriques, 2004

There’s much more to these letters and to the book as a whole.  I cannot do it justice and it’s not my place to re-tell Erin’s story.  That belongs to her parents.  I will say that Erin’s story and her journals have been a blessing to me as I deal with the loss of my brother and my father.  It certainly was not a coincidence that I had a “chance” meeting with Abel and Kathy Rodriques at La Salette Shrine in Attleboro.

So, who needs to hear Erin’s story?  All of us, but most of all our young people.  Like Erin, they are constantly bombarded with messages about how faith is “uncool” or “backward.”  This is the book for the young person in your life and it should be read together, one copy for them and one for you.  And please, talk about it and above all else, give that young person that extra hug… today.

Eventually after waiting and holding on to what little hope I did have, things worked out. My prayer life began to get stronger and I started noticing God quietly working in my life. In fact I noticed he had been working in my life the whole time but I just wasn’t opening my eyes to it.                                                                                                                                                        Erin Rodriques, late 2010 (twenty years old)

 

Abel, Erin and Kathy Rodriques

You can order the book thru Amazon in color, hardcover or kindle format: The Loudest Quiet Girl Book by Kathy Rodriques

http://www.kathyRodriques.com

Brother Donald: A letter to a grieving parent

We are on earth to earn heaven and all else really does not matter if we achieve this aim.  Brother Donald Savoie, Brother of the Sacred Heart

Brother Donald (George) Savoie with two of his sisters, Florence Savoie and Rita Savoie

On November 1st 2019, All Saints Day, I unexpectedly received a letter from saint.  It came via a cousin on the Meunier side of my grandfather Roland Savoie’s family.  The letter was from my grandfather’s older brother , Brother Donald (George) Savoie who passed away back in 1961 at the young age of 48.

It all stated that morning, November 1st;  my Meunier family cousin Nancy Conlon reached out to me on the death of her grandmother:

“I believe I met you at Charlie Meunier ‘s funereal. I misplaced your contact info. I am interested in working on my ancestry tree. Is there anyway I can link what you’ve found to my tree. Mary Lou (Bing’s wife) my grandmother passed away recently and my mother was telling me about Brother Donald Savoie writing a letter to her after Bernie her oldest child died. Which started some research on the family.”

by 11:47 PM that night I had the scan of that letter in my inbox.  The experience to be honest, was perhaps a bit unsettling.  Why? Because on all Saints Day, I received a letter from a long dead uncle,  a member of a religious order, who many consider a saint, a letter that was written as a missive of hope on the one thing we must all face: our death and the deaths of those we love.  Oh and by the way, the Savoie family had a reunion the next day November 2nd and I was able to share the letter personally with my great-uncle’s nephews and nieces.

It is too much of a coincidence.  I believe that my great-uncle Brother Donald wanted this  letter to be read by his family and others for their spiritual benefit.  The fact that it came to light on All Saints Day was intentional in order to remind us that we are part of a family known as the Communion of Saints and that our family members in Heaven still care about us and look after us.

Brother Donald in his letter makes direct and clear points:

  • Jesus grieves with us when we loose a love one
  • Heaven is our ultimate goal and nothing else will matter if we don’t attain it
  • God’s will is paramount and the ultimate good of heaven is God’s will for us
  • Sometimes an early death is a mercy in the sense that God will take us home to heaven early when staying longer on earth would only put us at risk us of failing to attain heaven later in life
  • God heals all wounds and in Heaven we will be reunited with our family members who have gone before us

THE LETTER FROM BROTHER DONALD

Sacred Heart Academy 918 Broad Street Central Falls (Rhode Island)

June 11, 1959

Dear Bing,

I had heard from Jeanette, and now from your mother, of the accident which caused such sadness in your family.   As I did not at the time (neither have I yet) your address, I prayed for the repose of his soul but without writing a letter.

Our Lord was once saddened at the sight of a widow who had lost her only son.  Our Lord cried, says the Gospel, at the tomb of his friend Lazarus.  He understands our sadness and he is sad with us.  But He gives us the reasons to hope, to be consoled.  The lives of pure and good ones, He promised us, are only changed to better ones, they are not lost forever but saved forever when death strikes them.  They now see Him face to face, without any danger of evil things or of sufferings.

We are on earth to earn heaven and all else really does not matter if we achieve this aim.  Our Lord alone judges when we have earned heaven, which we can do very early.  At times, as at the moments you are passing through, we may forget that “only important thing”, which, if successful, makes all else a success.  There is a saying which reads: “He has lived a long career in a few short years”.  Sometimes, in His mercy, God calls us before we had time to lose Him, or He calls us before certain sufferings and trials, where we would fail Him, have happened to us.

Some years ago, up in Canada, I knew a 15-year old boy very well.  He was a fine chap, only a bit hasty at times.  The Lord called him to religious life.  Soon, the parents insisted that the boy abandon his vocation.  Against God’s will, and the boy’s, they almost forced him to quit, promising him all kinds of favors if he left.   The parents substituted their will for God’s will, without realizing what they were doing.  A week later, Johnnie was riding on his new bike when a truck hit him and killed him instantly.  After quite some time, the parents realized that God’s will is always done.  God, as is His right, takes what is His and what we try at times to refuse Him.  But He graciously accepts and rewards what we offer Him, He rewards our acceptance of His will as He wants it.  And He knows better than we do what is for our good, since He loves us.

Your mother speaks about your sadness at your son’s not receiving the Last Rites.   A Saint, John Bosco, gives an answer to this. One day, as he was visiting the boys at play in his orphanage, he met a youngster to whom he asked this question: “What would you do, if you were to die in an hour?” The boy thought over the question a few seconds and said: “I would continue to play.”  And why would he change occupation since he was prepared to die well at any time.  The Lord takes when He pleases, and how He pleases.

A poor beggar women who sees her son be taken for a wonderful vacation trip by a good rich person is sad to see her son leave but happy to know that he will enjoy himself.  That is, God willing, what happened to your son.  He is happy, he has no more worries  and would like to see us happy and no longer grieving since he is happier where he is.

I am not writing you a sermon, that is not my intention.  But since religion teaches us all the above things, it is time when in suffering to remember these things.  What the Lord takes, He is entitled to and He will take good care of.  What we give Him, or accept from Him, he rewards in us and in those we have lost temporally.  What He takes he can return in one way or in another.  And he does not fail to do that.  Your son has gone to his true Home, the true Home of us all.  It is there that he awaits you.  The reunion is temporarily put off but be sure that it will come.

Hoping that it will then be a general reunion of us all, I remain

Sincerely yours in the Sacred Heart,

Bro. Donald, S.C.

Brother Donald Savoie

 

Brother Donald Letter

POSTSCRIPT and notes:

See also: Brother Donald and the Mystery of the Eucharist

Young Brother Donald recovering from Typhoid Fever
Brother Donald with his nephews and nieces. Top row from left to right, Sr Florence Savoie, sister Jeannette Savoie,  Sr Rita Savoie Sister-in- Law Claire Savoie (St Goddard), brother Roland Savoie (my grandfather) Brother Donald (George) Savoie. Siting in the center is Phileas Savoie, the father of Brother Donald and his siblings. Savoie kids, L to R: Paul Savoie, Jean Savoie, Phyllis Savoie, David Savoie, Tommy Savoie, Marian Savoie, Frankie Savoie, siting Jean Savoie

My Uncle Dave Savoie (the boy almost center in the photo above) remembers how Brother Donald would give his undivided attention to his nephews and nieces.   He would listen to what they would have to say and respect what they wanted to say.   Brother Donald was never patronizing and always loving.

My Aunt Jean Savoie,  sitting on the far right above, told me that  an outbreak of Typhoid Fever broke out in the monastery when Brother Donald was young.  His mother Isala Meunier journeyed up from Woonsocket Rhode Island to Quebec to treat him and other members of the monastery during the outbreak.

Isala Meunier, the mother of Brother Donald

Lastly I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my great -uncle is an 8th great grandson of Henri Membertou.  I cannot help feeling when reading Brother Donald’s letter that I am also hearing a distant echo of Henri Membertou, who passed on his faith by oral tradition to his children who in turn passed it on to their children and onward until that wisdom came to rest within the heart of Brother Donald.

My ancestor Henri Membertou on Canadian stamp

Henri Membertou: to love and be loved

The Crucifix worn by Brother Donald in the photos above. My Thanks to my Uncle Dave Savoie for providing the photo

The Truth Points to Itself

“The Truth Points to Itself”

J Michael Straczynski ,  American screen writer quoted from his television show Babylon 5

Savoy Mountain in the Berkshires has become a place of rest, remembrance and reflection.   A couple of posts ago, I wrote a blog inspired by the Mountain’s beauty and the pictures I took of the sunset view from the top of the Mountain.  See: And then, he was Answered

I reflected on the adventures we all had here among the Berkshires with my father, my brother Davy and my grandfather Roland Savoie. The experience not only generated another blog post, but I made a decision to retire and refocus my life on finding a proper balance.   As with the traveler in the Moody Blues song “The Balance,”  I too reflected on my life up until this point and how the change begins within myself before it begins with others.

A few days ago I was again on Savoy Mountain camping with my daughter and I took this picture at sunset:

When I looked at the photograph later I immediately thought: The Truth Points to Itself.  Like the sun in the photograph, Truth is independent of human thought or acknowledgement.  It is self reverential and it’s existence is not conditional upon anything else.  I could turn away from this view and the sun and its reflection would still be there.  Like sunlight illuminating my eyes and warming my body, Truth comes from without, not from within.  It is discovered and then internalized, not created.  Truth is beauty to contemplated.  God is truth and beauty itself.

A Meditation:

Jesus looked over the crowd gathered around Himself and His disciples.

In His Divine Nature He knew them all from the moment He called them into existence so that they could share in His happiness forever.

In His Human Nature Jesus loved each of them as perfectly as one human being could love another human being.  His Heart ached at the thought of leaving them, they were His sheep, His children.  However, His time was growing short but yet He had one final gift to leave them… a way that He could always remain with them and be available to them always, from now until the end of time.

He said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.  Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.  For My flesh is real food and My blood is real drink.”

Jesus pointed to Himself for emphasis, trying to help them understand.  “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood remains in me, and I in them.  Just as the living Father sent Me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread that came down from heaven.  Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

On hearing it, many in the crowd said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  Many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed Him.

Since He loved each of them perfectly, He felt the pain of their rejection as perfectly as a human being could feel pain.  This pain of being rejected by those He loved was a foreshadowing of His Passion to come.  Jesus felt no anger, He didn’t berate them for leaving, after all, He respected their freedom, but it broke His Heart to see them go.

He turned to the Twelve, there was sadness in His voice, not reproach: “Do you want to leave too?”  The Apostles didn’t know what to say and they didn’t fully understand either.  Some of them looked at the others leaving, they knew many of them, they were friends, family, neighbors.  They also felt a sadness at their abandonment.  The Lord continued to look at them with a mixture of sadness and love, awaiting a response.  Dumbfounded, the Apostles turned to Simon Peter as they always have when they didn’t know how to respond.  Peter looked down as he kicked a small stone in the sand, giving himself time to find the rights words.  Wisdom he didn’t have, at least not yet.  However, when he looked back up, he did have conviction: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Some last thoughts…

I have heard it said from time to time that  “The Eucharist is a pointless Catholic doctrine.  After all, isn’t Jesus present everywhere, what’s so special about the Eucharist?”   Or “There really isn’t a need for me to go to Church since I can worship God anywhere since He is everywhere. ” 

It is true that Jesus, as God, is present everywhere in the universe but that was certainly true when Jesus walked around Palestine 2,000 years ago .  It is also true that 2,000 years ago Jesus could have saved Himself a lot of time and effort if He just waved His hand and cured every ill person in the world and forgave everyone’s sin all at once without having to deal with people one on one.  In his Divine nature Jesus could have done that but He didn’t.   However, the Gospels tell the story of a Jesus that intimately interacted with those around Him in His full  Divinity  AND Humanity.   How many of us, when we read of Jesus visiting Lazarus’s sisters Martha and Mary wish we could have also lived 2,000 years ago and sat at His feet listening to Him as Mary did.  That one on one time with Jesus was so desired by Him and Mary that Jesus would not let anyone or anything take that away from her.

But Jesus wants the same thing for us!  Through the Eucharist we too can visit and sit with Jesus in His full Divinity and Humanity.  The experience is just as real and personal as if we too lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago.

Although everyone in the world during Jesus’s earthly ministry were in the presence of God only those who interacted with Jesus directly were miraculously transformed, forgiven or cured.  Now, in every Catholic Church, we have the same opportunity to experience Jesus as His Apostles did since He is present in the Tabernacle in His full Divinity and Humanity.

It would be easier for the world to exist without the sun than without the Holy Mass.

Saint Padre Pio (1887-1968)

Frankenstein Cliff: A Father’s Love from Strength

“I will guide you in the way of wisdom and I will lead you in upright paths. When you walk, your steps will not be hampered, and when you run, you will not stumble.” Proverbs 4:11-12

In August of 1969, in the days long before cell phones and GPS, a young, athletic, twenty nine year old man stood at bottom of the trail to Frankenstein Cliff in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire.  With him were two of his sons, ages five and four.  The man had grown to love the White Mountains while an engineering student at Northeastern University in Boston and for many years, he would treasure  black and white pictures of him and his college buddies climbing Mount Washington.

The young father loved his boys and wanted to share the adventure of the mountains with them. The older one, who was named Joey after his father, was inquisitive and curious.  Intuitive, he could grasp scientific and mathematical concepts that simultaneously astonished and intimidated adults around him.  Joey though, was forgetful, hated details, couldn’t tie his shoes, and would struggle with the mundane.  The same adults around him, at those times, would find Joey exasperating.  The younger boy Davy,  nicknamed “Muggsy” by his father, loved to throw rocks.  Muggsy also had an uncanny sense of direction in the woods.  Naturally fearless, he always wanted to be the trailblazer on any expedition.  His jet black hair, ruddy cheeks and and dark eyes made him irresistible to the adults around him.  Muggsy would also have a tendency to disappear on his own adventures leaving a trail of broken windows (darn rocks) doors taken off hinges and other expensive household disasters.  It was safe to say, that while Muggsy was irresistibly lovable, the adults around him would also find him exasperating,  just like his brother.  But the young father loved those boys, and that is why he now stood at the trail head of Frankenstein Cliff, in August of 1969.

The father with his two young boys camping in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Muggsy on the left, Joey on the right.

The father studied the roughly drawn map in front of him…

and then with Muggsy blazing the trail and Joey at his side asking questions, the father entered the woods.

Passing underneath Frankenstein Trestle promoted questions from Joey; When will a train be coming? Will we be OK under the track? Will it smoke?  Why do trains smoke?  Muggsy looked around for a rock that would fit into his hand.  Leaving the trestle behind, the trail became steep and the boys scrambled up on all fours.  A small rock would  occasionally kick lose and tumble down the mountain.  The boys should have felt scared but didn’t.  Joey and Muggsy trusted their father and felt safe with him. The father’s strength emanated from him, protecting the boys and they always felt invincible within their father’s love.   As they continued to climb, the father would occasionally reach down and pull up the boys to the next ledge along the trail.  Throughout his life, the father always had a soft spot for the underdog and would reach out to lift up the vulnerable around him.

At the top, the little group stopped to rest and enjoy the view of the White Mountains and Crawford Notch spread out below them.  Joey had to know the name of every mountain, wanted to know if there was a trail up it, which mountain was the highest and how high it was.  Muggsy found a nice rock and tossed it over the side of the cliff and listened for the crash below.

After a snack, the father led his boys further on the trail past the cliff. Did they miss the turn off loop to the bottom?  Did the father over estimate the length of the trail ahead?  No one knows but hours later, the father and his boys would find themselves back on the road many miles north of the campground where they were staying.  With cell phones still decades in the future, the father started the trek south along the road.  Surely,  someone would give them a ride back to the campground and the father would turn around and stick his thumb out with every passing car.

No one gave them a ride.  Car after car would ride on by the father and his two very young sons.  They boys were tired by this time and the father would alternate with one boy on his shoulders and the other by his side, hand in hand.  The father never complained, or cursed the drivers, or felt bad for himself.  In fact, for his whole life no one ever heard him say anything negative about anyone.   But the father never forgot walking along that road, with his boys, mile after mile, with no one giving them a ride.  For the rest of his life, as long as he was able, the father would always give a ride to strangers thumbing it on the side of the road.  Some of them were blind, one in New Hampshire was a philosophy graduate student, another was a British man in his twenties touring  the country with just a backpack and a deck of cards.  Some were just people needing a ride.  In any case, the father never passed anyone in need on the road like others had done to him.

It was many years later and the father was awoken from an uneasy sleep by a chime beside his bed.  His worried thoughts would never let him sleep as deep or as long as he wanted to now.  The chime rang again and the father struggled to sit himself up on the side of the bed.  He put his glasses on and looked at the clock: 1:22 AM.  The father carefully swung his feet on to the floor and balanced himself.

He slept in the basement and his boy’s room was on the second floor and so he readied himself for the climb up the two flights of stairs.  Racked with the illnesses of old age, the man who climbed Mt Washington years ago now struggled to walk across the room, much less two flights of stairs.  But as he did many times over the last few months, the father went up the stairs and made it to the boy’s door.

Cracking the door open he could see Muggsy’s hair by the hall light. His hair was amazingly still thick and jet black for his forty-eight years .  As the door widened, Muggsy’s dark eyes came into view, just barely visible above his full CPAP mask.  Relief was shown in Muggsy’s eyes as he recognized his father.  Muggsy could not throw any rocks anymore, much less walk.  He could barely move his finger to ring the chime to his father’s room.  ALS had taken everything from Muggsy, everything but love, and that love emanated from his father at the door.

Muggsy’s requests  for help would come on all hours and quite often more than once a night.  Tonight, the father had to lift his boy and adjust his position on the bed.  It was tiring but the father never complained and he never failed to answer the chime.  The old father loved his boy, and that is why he sat beside his bed and held his hand, in August of 2013.

Years passed and Joey now stood alone at the foot of the Frankenstein Cliff trail.  As he stood there trying to see the cliff from the parking lot it suddenly occurred to him that he was now old enough to be his father’s father when the three of them stood here fifty years ago.  This thought quickly lead to another one: that he was the last person on this Earth who has any first hand knowledge what happened that day.  Muggsy died from ALS in November of 2013 and his father passed away last January.  The memory of that hike suddenly felt fragile.  Trying to reclaim it, Joey took a few tentative steps into the forest and stood looking up the trail.  He hoped that by standing on the trail and intersecting himself with this place of memory he would also intersect himself with that moment of time fifty years ago…and remember.   Alas, no new memories would come.  Nevertheless, Joey stood there, remembering his father’s love.  The father who loved them enough to drive three hours to the White Mountains to camp and take them on an adventure in the woods.  Joey loved his father and honored him.  And that is why he now stood at the trail head of Frankenstein Cliff, in August of 1969, 2019.

“It is only when you grow up and step back from him- or leave him for your own home- it’s only then that you can measure his greatness and fully appreciate it. “ Margret Thruman

Joey, Dad and Muggsy, 1969

For Dad: Thank you for all your love and for passing on to me your love of the mountains. I miss you…

Postscript:

Davy and Joey on top of mt Mansfield Vt circa 1985
All Things Must Pass
Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day
Seems my love is up
And has left you with no warning
But it’s not always going
To be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
Sunset doesn’t last all evening
A mind can blow those clouds away
After all this my love is up
And must be leaving
But it’s not always going
To be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So I must be on my way
And face another day
Now the darkness only stays at night time
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good
At arriving at the right time
But it’s not always going
To be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away
Written by George Harrison, released by George Harrison 1970

And then, he was Answered

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Saint Augustine

I was born in 1964 and I had a child’s view of growing up in the 1960’s.   Even though it was a time of change and turmoil, my perspectives of the 1960s are to this day influenced by watching and observing  my mother’s ten teenage siblings.   I was the first grandchild and growing up among them I felt loved and protected.  They imprinted on to me with their actions and attitudes a sense of optimism,  hopefulness and compassion.  The expectation was that a new world of love and kindness was on the horizon and that all people were brothers and sisters.
Me sitting on top of the shoulders of my Uncle Paul. From left to right some of Mom’s siblings, Uncle Dave, Uncle Paul and me, Aunt Marian, Aunt Annie, Aunt Teresa, and my brother Davy. Taken in North Attleboro MA circa 1967

My young aunts and uncles shared their music with me.  I was enraptured by the drama of the Beatles; haunted by the character of Tommy by The Who; puzzled by how Alice Copper could by a guy with a girl’s name; and I was curious of the story behind the gnomes surrounding a bearded George Harrison on the cover of “All things Must Pass”.

And now, at 55, I see that it so true, all things must pass.  With the eyes of middle age, I find myself circling back to a song by popular 60’s rock band The Moody Blues: The Balance.

The song is really a poem… a poem of journey,  introspection, understanding…of questions and of answers.  A reflection of it’s time, The Balance addresses the universal struggle of how we relate to our fellow human beings and how positive change begins within ourselves first.  Like other 60s anthems, it ends on a note of optimism and it acknowledges, if only indirectly, that humans are spiritual creatures living in a mysterious spiritual world.

Metaphorically, we are The Balance’s journeyer in the poem.  We are at times tired, our feet are sore and we need respite and time for reflection.

Sometimes, within the coolness of an orange grove,  we can reflect on the magnificent perfection that is life and the world around us. Tasting it, experiencing it, we see and understand that Creation is Good.  Acknowledging this, we then seek to place ourselves in balance  within Creation.

Finding our balance, we are inspired to ask… but the answer is not given yet.  Although we don’t have the answer, the very act of asking opens us to an opportunity of introspection:

And he thought of those he angered,
For he was not a violent man,
And he thought of those he hurt
For he was not a cruel man
And he thought of those he frightened
For he was not a evil man,
It’s painful to see ourselves the way we are, how we have been the cause of the unhappiness of others, even if we don’t mean to be cruel.  But now we have an understanding of ourselves and that empowers us to compassion and empathy.  We can see others with the “eye of compassion” and realize to our joy we can be a source of comfort and happiness to others.  Compassion leads us to Love.  It is only within Love that we are finally answered.
Love is God… God is Love
The Balance
After he had journeyed,
And his feet were sore,
And he was tired,
He came upon an orange grove
And he rested.
And he lay in the cool,
And while he rested,
He took to himself an orange
And tasted it,
And it was good.
And he felt the earth to his spine,
And he asked,
And he saw the tree above him,
And the stars,
And the veins in the leaf,
And the light,
And the balance.
And he saw magnificent perfection,
Whereon he thought of himself in balance,
And he knew he was.
Just open your eyes, and realize,
The way it’s always been.
Just open your mind and you will find 
The way it’s always been.
Just open your heart and that’s a start
And he thought of those he angered,
For he was not a violent man,
And he thought of those he hurt
For he was not a cruel man
And he thought of those he frightened
For he was not a evil man,
And he understood.
He understood himself.
Upon this
He saw that when he was of anger
Or knew hurt
Or felt fear,
It was because he was not understanding.
And he learned, compassion.
And with his eye of compassion
He saw his enemies
Like unto himself,
And he learned Love.
Then, he was answered.
Just open your eyes, and realize,
The way it’s always been.
Just open your mind and you will find 
The way it’s always been.
Just open your heart and that’s a start
Just open your eyes, and realize,
The way it’s always been.
Just open your mind and you will find 
The way it’s always been.
Just open your heart and that’s a start
Lyrics by Graeme Edge / Ray Thomas.  Narrated by Mike Pinder
Released by The Moody Blues in 1970

PostScript:

The pictures in the video were taken by myself over the course of one day this past week. The Mountain is Mt Greylock in Massachusetts.  The sunset pictures were taken from the Western Slope of Savoy Mountain overlooking North Adams and Williamstown Massachusetts.  As I sat on the mountain top watching the sunset I thought of my grandfather Roland Savoie, my father Joseph A Bolton and my brother Davy.   All three of them have passed away and but they are closely tied in my mind with the Berkshires.  My father used to take my brother and I camping at Savoy Mountain, my grandfather lived in North Adams and Williamstown.  He loved the Berkshires and would often drive us kids up Mt Greylock.

As I thought of them, and took the pictures of the sunset, I noticed some unusual pictures.  One has a perfect equilateral  black triangle in the sky over the setting sun. The black triangle faded away but came back later only now it was surrounded by a much larger white equilateral triangle.  Although this was a natural but very unusual phenomenon, it made me think of Dad, Pepere and Davy.  The three sided black triangle reminded me that the three of them were in Heaven.  The black triangle surrounded by the much larger white triangle reminded me that not only were they in heaven, but that they are surrounded by the Trinity, Father Son and Holy Spirit, represented by the white triangle surrounding them.  Take a look at the video again and see for yourself!

Henri Membertou: To love and to be loved

As I have grown in my faith and in my knowledge of my ancestors through genealogical research, the concepts of “Community of Saints” and “family” have merged and overlapped with each other.  In turn, as I have sat in front of the Eucharist at the church, I have become aware, through my eyes of faith, that where Jesus is, so are the saints and my family members in heaven.  At this moment, I feel closer to my family members who have passed away like my brother Davy and my father.

My thoughts move on to other members of my family that I have never met but are present also, some of whom died just before I was born like my great uncle Brother Donald and my great-grandparents.  Others are more distant ancestors who lived hundreds of years ago.  All one family, sitting at the table.

June 24th, (Saint John the Baptist Day) has brought to mind my 12h great grandfather, Mi’kmaq Grand Chief Henri Membertou.  Father Jessé Fléché baptized him into the Catholic faith on this day in 1610 in present day Nova Scotia.  Pepere Henri was a remarkable man; he lived to be 104 years old and even at his advanced age had no grey or white hair.  He was a large, vigorous man who kept his health and sharp mind to the end of his life.  It was dysentery, not the ravages of old age, that ended his life on September 18th, 1611.

Pepere Henri loved his family and the Mi’kmaq culture and saw his faith in the context of Mi’kmaq life.  He insisted that the French learn the Algonquian Mi’kmaq language and signed a special relationship with the Catholic Church, the Mi’kmaw Concordat.  He also wrote music and three songs of his are the first transcribed music compositions that originated in the Americas.  His defense of Mi’kmaq culture contributed to the preservation of the Mi’kmaq language today.

Like many of my other ancestors though, Pepere Henri was a times a contrarian.  He kept a beard throughout his life when other Mi’kmaq men removed any facial hair.  In a society where polygamy was the norm, he had only one wife.  His large stature, good health and incredible age when most people only lived to their early fifties must have seemed super human to those around him.

Above all else, though, Pepere Henri was a man who radiated love to those around him.  At his death, Jesuit Father Baird gave the finest eulogy that any person can aspire to: “They loved him, and were loved by him. He was the greatest, most renowned, and most formidable Aboriginal within the memory of man.”

They loved him, and were loved by him. In that simple statement is the summation of what it means to have lived a good life.  It is family in the broadest sense.  All of us, sitting around the table, with Jesus in the center, loving each other and being loved by Him.

Last, I leave you with a recording of a song composed by Pepere Henri Membertou.  Take a moment, remember this great man, and listen the voice of his heart:

 

 

postscript: here is the Our Father in Mi’kmaq

 

Here is a link to Henri Membertou’s transcribed songs

https://www.flutopedia.com/song_Membertou.htm

Henri Membertou’s last words were directed to his children: It was his hope “that they would live Christian lives”.  I believe that wish has been passed down to every member of his family down to my grandfather Roland Savoie, his siblings and my mother and her siblings.

104 years old? Henri claimed to have met recalled meeting French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1534 as well as  Samuel de Champlain .

The Dream of Lone Tree Hill

In my dream I was sitting under a lone tree on top of a hill.  It was warm, and a gentle breeze blew across the hilltop. Sitting across from me was Jesus.  He smiled, and we sat together, enjoying the moment. I felt peace, joy and a sense of contentment such that I didn’t want to leave.

I began to feel uneasy though, unworthy of the moment. Reflecting back on my life, I knew I didn’t deserve the Lord’s loving attention. I’ve been far from Him, I was certainly a sinner.  Why I wondered, did the Lord seek me out?  Why did he go through so much trouble to find me? I had to understand this… So I asked Him: Lord, why me? Why did you draw me to Yourself… as weak and sinful as I am? I know I have offended You Lord, many times in my life.

The Lord looked intently at me smiling and said simply, as if it was the most obvious thing in the universe, “Because you have sprung from the very heart of my Mercy”  My reaction was “What?? I don’t understand.” I want to ask the Lord more but at that moment I unwillingly woke up, beginning yet another hectic day.

But even in the daily distractions of life, I pondered the meaning of what the Lord told me in my dream.  It was so unexpected.  When I asked Him my question, I was looking for an answer along the lines of: “Because you are My child”…. “Because I love you”… or that it was because of something good that I did that earned His attention.

Because you have sprung from the very heart of my Mercy…. As I continued to reflect on this, some insights became clearer.  God is Mercy and Love itself and therefore our creation and existence is a direct consequence of His very nature. We are not an afterthought of creation, but we have sprung up from the heart of God’s Love like water from a fountain.  As such, God is more father or mother to us than any human parent could be. For God to say to us: “because you are my child” would only do partial justice to the deep level of intimacy and dignity that each of us have because we have sprung from the very heart of God’s Mercy and Love.  It’s for this reason that the Lord is always trying to draw us back to Himself.  As human parents, we would do anything for our children, even giving our lives for them.  Jesus, like a true father, gave everything of Himself, to include dying for us on the cross.

Jesus, as true God and true Man, has a human heart too.  He feels and understands the pains and heartaches of human parents.  Have you lost a child?  Remember that Jesus wept at the death of His friend Lazarus.  Are you estranged from your children?  Remember that Jesus was inconsolable when His apostles, each of whom were loved dearly by Him, abandoned, denied and betrayed Him.  Do you have a child who is struggling with a serious illness?  Think back to Jesus, His heart full of pity and compassion, laying hands on lepers and healing those who had no one to help them.

So what about the dream? It is real?  Is Jesus talking to me through dreams?  Or was it just my deep imagination?  I don’t know… and it’s not important that I know or even worry about.  It would be a great burden if Jesus required us to seek Him though signs and portents and having to sort through what is real and what isn’t.  Thankfully, He makes it easy for us to find Him. 

Before I had this dream of Jesus under the tree on top of the hill I had several dreams of sitting in Church in front the Eucharist.  In those dreams I felt the same joy, peace and contentment that I felt in my dream with Jesus under the tree.  The connection seems clear: whether I see Jesus while sitting at His feet under a tree or kneeling at His feet in front of the Eucharist at Church the experience is fundamentally the same.  This is Jesus’s great gift to us.

There, in front of the Eucharist, we don’t have to wonder if He is really there or if our experience of Him is real.  He is truly present for us.  Kneeling before Him, we can behold the imponderable mystery of our beginning and our end within the very heart of God’s Love and Mercy.  Before us in the Eucharist is the human heart of Jesus, true God but also true Man, who smiles at us because we came to spend time with Him.  Like Martha and Lazarus’s sister Mary, we too can sit with Jesus anytime we wish and we don’t have to wait for a dream or a sign to experience Him.

The Chapel inside the Poor Clare Monastery

As Jesus and His disciples were on their way, He came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” Gospel of Luke

Because the unexamined life isn't worth living