Pathways of Our Fathers: Two journeys of love, sacrifice, and family

Welcome to my first published book: Pathways of Our Fathers: Two journeys of love, sacrifice, and family

 

And in French!!

It is a collection of two stories that emphasis the importance of fathers.  The first story, The Prayer of Atsena, shows the importance of:

– Our Guardian Angel’s role in our life

– The reality of Purgatory

– The importance of praying for the souls in Purgatory

– How the souls in Purgatory in turn help us with their prayers

– And how death does not separate us from the love of our family as part of the Communion of Saints

The Prayer of Atsena: In 1916, a young childless French-Canadian couple desperately pray a for a child of their own at Sainte Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. In the Shrine they are observed by their First Nation ancestor seeking closure to his own two hundred and fifty-nine-year journey of redemption leaving all their paths irrevocably altered.

The second story is a tribute to my father framed within a re-telling of a hike he took my brother and I on as young boys.

Frankenstein Cliff: A Father’s Love from Strength: After fifty years, a middle age man returns alone to the White Mountains of New Hampshire to where his father took him and his brother hiking as young children. Standing at  the trail head with the memories of that day fading, he tries to reconnect with his father’s life of heroic virtue and love.

What makes this book unique is the fifteen color full page illustrations by Los Angeles based artist Masami Kiyono. The book is in a sense a hybrid between a traditional text only book and a full graphic novel.  In effect, the words and illustrations work hand in hand equally to tell the story.

The book is available in English and French
and French:

 

I created a video of The Prayer of Atsena using Masami Kiyono’s illustrations.

 

 

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)

Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré: The Prayer of Atsena

Early evening, Beaupré Quebec, December 1916:

Atsena dit Du Plat Great Bear Chief of the Huron Wendats stood in the church sanctuary of Sainte Anne de Beaupre transfixed with awe and love at his son Adelard. His son was kneeling beside his wife Eva in front of the statue of Saint Anne.  The red candle flickered and in its quiet light he could see Eva’s eyes closed, lips moving ever so slightly in prayer.  Adelard’s eyes were open and glistening in the dim light. They were kind eyes, patient and perhaps in a better time playful, but now sadness, not mirth shown in them.  It was Adelard’s eyes that reminded Atsena most of his beloved daughter, Ouenta.

Adelard was not Atsena’s son exactly, more like his 6th great-grandson.  But he loved him as a son because he was a descendant of his daughter Ouenta.  She was gone now of course, living in the Great Father’s Longhouse along with his wife Annengthon.  But now, kneeling in front of him, was a part of Ouenta still living in this world, and Atsena loved him for it.

Adelard’s toolmaker hands, rugged and callused, fidgeted with a black rosary.  He would in turn glance down at it, twisting and turning a dark rosary bead, then looking up at the statue of Saint Anne.  Eva was to his right and he was careful to not to disturb her, only moving his head slightly for an occasional, concerned glance.  Eva’s delicate hands were tightly clenched with her rosary intertwined in her fingers.  She still prayed, or was it pleading.  They have been married for over ten years and although their marriage was happy, it was not blessed with children.

Prayers, Novenas, candles nothing brought forth the miracle of a new life into the world.  Adelard resigned himself that he would never be a father and unlike other men of his time he did not blame Eva.  He loved her, and he would do anything to heal her pain.  For Eva, growing up in the noise and hustle of a French-Canadian family of nine children, the lack of even one child in her home with Adelard was unbearable.  So now, here they prayed at the church in honor of Saint Anne, the mother of Mary and the grandmother of Jesus.  Eva was devoted to Saint Anne, and so now she pleaded, mother to mother, woman to woman… for children of her own.

As Atsena watched his son and his wife he became aware of Elder Brother standing beside him.  Elder Brother was what the Black Robes said was his guardian angel, given to all people as a special protector by the Great Father. Atsena remembered the first time he saw Elder Brother after he died at the end of a Mohawk warrior’s club in the Iroquois village of Canajoharie, two hundred and fifty-nine years ago…

***

Early morning, before the dawn, Canajoharie, August 1657

At that point he had been a prisoner of the Mohawks for a full moon, captured in Quebec by a Mohawk raiding party and dragged to the Mohawk River far to the south.  Enduring ritualistic humiliation and slavery, he was mocked especially for his Christian faith.  But the worst suffering was reliving his last memory of Ouenta, not yet a woman, sleeping contently in the arms of Annengthon.

On a moonless night, Atsena warily snuck out intending to go north and return to Ouenta and Annengthon.  Atsena did not leave unobserved and mercifully he was only briefly aware of the pain and flash of light in his head as the club swung around and hit the right side of his temple.

Atsena awoke finding himself face down in the snow. Lifting his head, he saw a middle-aged Wendat man of his tribe sitting by a fire.  Atsena knew instinctively that he was now in the realm of the dead and although he did not know the man at the fire, his presence felt familiar.  Atsena moved himself to the fire and sat across from the man.  Staring into the fire, Atsena felt no heat nor any cold from the snow around him.

“I believe I may know you… may I ask your name?” Atsena asked.

“Don’t you know me Atsena…? I have always been with you… the Great Father sent me to you while you were still in your mother’s womb.” The man used a stick to move a few logs in the fire.

Atsena lowered his head for a moment, his eyes probing the fire, thinking about what to say next. Listening, Atsena heard none of the usual sounds of the forest, wind, birds, people moving about. Nothing but the crackle of fire.

“Are you now going to take me to the Great Father’s Longhouse?”

‘Yes… but not yet. You are not ready, Atsena, to have your eyes uncovered so you can see the next world.  Now we must ensemble faire une promenade.”

With that the Wendat man stood up, smiled and with his outstretched hand lifted Atsena up.

“You may call me Elder Brother.”

Moving north, it took two hundred and fifty-nine years to finally reach Quebec north of Trois- Rivières.  During their long journey together, Elder Brother shared many things with Atsena about Atsena’s life, where he helped people and when he failed to follow the way of love toward his fellow human beings.  Atsena saw clearly how he hurt others and how sometimes his actions hurt himself.  But Elder Brother remained with him and by helping Atsena understand his life, he began to let go of all that kept him from clearly seeing the next world and entering the Great Father’s Longhouse.

***

Early evening, Beaupré Quebec, December 1916:  

With their long journey finished and standing unseen in the village of Beaupré, Elder Brother announced that Atsena was now ready to go the Great Father.  But it was a final question from Atsena that had brought them inside Shrine of Sainte-Anne-de-Beuapre before they could depart.

“Elder Brother, you told me in our travels together that Ouenta became a woman, took a husband, and had children.”

“Yes… she had children and even now they live scattered about this land.”

“But in our travels and of all the people we have seen together, it was never revealed to me which ones were my children.  On my last day before I go to the Great Father may I see at least see one of them?”

With that, Elder Brother had guided Atsena into Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Church and pointed to Atsena’s son Adelard and his wife Eva, kneeling in front of the of the statue of Saint Anne.

For the past few minutes Elder Brother and Atsena had looked upon Adelard and Eva with love.  But now that Atsena had seen one of his children, it was time to go.  Placing a hand gently on Atsena’s shoulder, Elder Brother said: “It is a time of joy my brother, Ouenta and Annengthon await you at the door to the Great father’s Longhouse.”

Atsena started to turn to go but: “Wait Elder Brother… my son’s wife, Eva, her tears burrow into my heart. What do they pray for?”

“Children… they have no children… now come, see Ouenta and Annengthon are waiting for you.”

At that moment, the doors of the church swung slowly open, reveling an unearthly light, impossibly bright.  Atsena could make out the silhouette of two women just outside.

Still, Atsena could not move: “Will their prayer be answered?”

Elder Brother shook his head, “No Atsena, a child for them will only bring suffering.”

At that, Atsena finally began to turn and go when Adelard’s right hand slowly moved to cover Eva’s hands. The Gordian knot that made up Eva’s rosary unwound and it fell to the floor as Eva now entwined her fingers into Adelard’s.

The rosary on the floor distracted Eva and she did not know what to do next but Adelard reached down, picked it up and wrapped both their hands within the black wooden beads.

“Elder Brother…” Atsena did not know what to say but the tenderness between his son and Eva transfixed him, and again he could not move to the door.  He then moved closer and stood in front of Eva.  At that moment Adelard looked up as the red candle suddenly flickered.  Atsena reached out and gently wiped a tear from Eva’s cheek, but Eva only felt a gentle breeze. “Elder Brother see the love within her, so much love, its bursting through her tears.  She suffers because she loves.”

Atsena finally understood, he suffered these many years with the loss of seeing his child Ouenta grow up.  He suffered because he loved.  But he would rather have known his daughter for just a few short years and suffer centuries without her than never to have loved her at all.

“Elder Brother, you say she will suffer, yes, but in this life, Love and Suffering are brothers, traveling together.  I have seen it over these years wandering the Earth, there is no true love, without sacrifice, without suffering.  It is a poor miserable human being, who has never suffered for love.  I stand with them. I join my prayers with my son and his wife.  My heart stands with them.”

Elder Brother turned to face to Atsena: “Do you know what you are asking brother? Are you willing to suffer with them? Are you willing to stay with them?”

Atsena again turned to Adelard and Eva, “Yes Elder Brother, I will stay with them and watch over them, I will experience their joys, their sufferings, theirs and their children’s.”

The door at the end of the church closed, and darkness returned.

Elder Brother reached out and drew Atsena into his arms: “I can’t stay with you my brother, this journey you must do alone.  Even I do not know how long you must remain, but you cannot follow me to the Great Father’s Longhouse until one of your children remember you in their prayers.” And with that Atsena stood alone, unseen, with Adelard and Eva in Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré Church.

***

For over a hundred years, Atsena stayed and watched over his family.  He watched with joy the birth of Adelard and Eva’s first daughter Vivian, only to see her go to the Great Father when she was only eighteen.

He rejoiced in the engagement of Adelard and Eva’s second daughter Claire to Roland.  Atsena grieved with Eva when Adelard too was taken to the Great Father before their daughter’s wedding.

He stayed with Eva and prayed to the Great Father for her, and soon Claire and Roland had a family of their own.  Atsena could see that Eva and Adelard’s lives were what Elder Brother warned that it would be: a life with suffering.  But there was also great love and happiness, especially with Eva’s grandchildren.

In time too, Eva joined Adelard with the Great Father, but as he promised Atsena continued to watch over her and Adelard’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  He watched with a father’s love because they were his children too through his daughter Ouenta.

He stayed, watched, and prayed until…

Epilogue:  Early Sunday Morning, Our Lady of the Lake Church, Leominster, Massachusetts May 2019:

Atsena dit Du Plat Great Bear Chief of the Huron Wendats stood in the church of Our Lady of the Lake transfixed with awe and love at his son Joseph, the great-grandson of Adelard and Eva.  Today he was to be honored by name in the Holy Mass.  His son Joseph remembered Atsena and knew that he was his son, and in his memory, asked that this Mass on this day be said for Atsena, Ouenta and Annengthon.

A great light burst into the Church at the words of the consecration of the bread and wine: “Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is My body which will be given up for you. Take this, all of you, and drink from it: for this is the chalice of My blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant.”

A few moments later, the Priest continued: “Remember also those who have died in the peace of Christ and all the dead, whose faith you alone have known. Especially for Atsena dit Du Plat, Ouenta and Annengthon, for whom this Mass is offered. To all of us, your children, grant, O merciful Father, that we may enter into a heavenly inheritance with the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God…”

At those words, Atsena felt a hand on his shoulder and turned to see Ouenta and Annengthon standing by his side.  Then looking beyond them he could see Elder Brother, Adelard and Eva and countless other of his children who have passed on to the Great Father’s Longhouse.  Atsena looked at his family, some still in this world, some who have passed on. But they were here together as one family.

Atsena looked at them with deep love because they were his children.  With that, Atsena finally stepped through the doorway.

***

Postscript:

My mother’s maternal grandparents:  Adelard and Eva St Goddard really did go to to Sainte-Anne-de-Beaupré to pray for a child.   As my mother’s sister Aunt Jean explains:

“The basic story is one I know well – that of Eva and Adelard and their journey to St. Anne de Beaupre.  And we know (according to Memere Eva), that she was pregnant on the return trip.   And, then of course, intense suffering with the death of Vivian (January 1936) at the age of 18; and five years and three months later (April 1, 1941) with the death of Adelard.
From there, one year later (April 11, 1942), her sadness was eased and her life renewed, by the birth of your mother . . . followed of course, by ten more grandchildren.  In 1963, your Mom and Dad married, and you were born 9 months later.  And so on and so on . . .
BUT, after so many years of praying and pleading by Eva and Adelard, what made the difference at St. Anne de Beaupre?  It is true that St. Anne and her husband St. Joachim, were barren for many years, and they prayed and pleaded for a child. And, late in life, Anne became pregnant with Mary, who was in God’s plan to be the Mother of Jesus Christ.  So, St. Anne is the patron saint of “barren” women and troubled pregnancies.”
__________________________________________________________________
Atsena Dit Du Plat is  what I call a “Super Ancestor” .  I have found five different paths from his daughter Ouenta  (later baptized Catherine) to my mother and her siblings.  In fact three out of four of my mother and her sibling’s grandparents are descendants of Ouenta.  That includes: Phileas Savoie, his wife Isala Meuiner and Adelard St Goddard.  Only Eva is not a descendant of Ouenta .
___________________________________________________________________
The original St. Anne de Beaupre burned to the ground in 1922.
The exterior and interior pictures of St. Anne de Beaupre within the blog are from the original Shrine and show how the Shrine would have looked like to Adelard and Eva.  The cover photo is how St. Anne de Beaupre looks today.  Here are some current photos of St. Anne de Beaupre:

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!

Because the unexamined life isn't worth living