Ten years ago today 20 little kids in their school and six adults who dedicated their lives to education were brutally murdered by gunfire. Some of the parents bereaved that day, and always, have devoted their efforts since to seek to diminish heartbreaking and cruel incidents like that which took their children. Their work bears good results today. And they continue to work at it, and we all should with them, for there is so much more to be done. The number of shootings in our land, the number of school shooting incidents is obscene. I can think of no other word.
If you or I believe that we have a duty to work for justice; if we believe that peace is worth the effort, we must place the issue of violence in this society, particularly gun violence, among those needs crying out to heaven for attentive, committed, loving attention.
May those little ones who died December 14, 2012 rest in God, along with their teachers and helpers. May those young people, 17 years old now, who survived that day and whose memories must be stark, be blessed throughout the rest of their lives by a society and culture that grows continually more just and more peaceful. May the moms and dads who lost so much that day, and who have given so much leadership since, powered by love, continue to show us the way. May we walk with them, unafraid and strong.
Two years ago today we lost for a time the company and conversation that, in significant measure, shaped the lives of my sister and brothers and myself. I knew as the call came that Mom had died peacefully during the night that we had lost one irreplaceable. It’s true in every such occasion, I know. Every person is indeed irreplaceable. And that in no way blunts the trauma of the going-forth of any one of them.
No lines of words could do her justice. I’ve tried. Living with fierce determination for the causes and the folk and the hopes that you know matter: that will come closer to paying fitting tribute to her life, to the life she gave to us. To the life she shared with us.
This year, as I remember and thank God for Mom, I am thinking with gratitude of the closest companions she gave me for life: Joe, Jim, Tom, Terry, Ann Marie. And baby Michael who was with us so early and so briefly. (And whose name shines again in another Michael McGinty, Joe and Carol’s son, my nephew).
‘Sibling’ comes from the old and Middle English ‘sibb,’ which meant “kinship, relationship; love, friendship, peace, happiness.”
Through much time and many places, in a manner shared by our American first cousins, Séan and Alice, we siblings have been all those gifts to one another I love those gifts, through thick and thin. Each one so real, so unique, so beautiful. And each one refreshed more and more deeply as a gift through beautiful times and through wrenching painful times as well.
Today, on the 2nd anniversary of Mom’s death, I give thanks to Mom and Dad for the living gifts of my sister and brothers. First gifts, first blessings. Thank you Mom.
Words from the day of Mom’s death …
Our Mom, who has carried full life since the day of her Baptism, now lives that life completely. She was called home during the overnight. The nurse who called was crying. They loved her so well. I sat with Mom this morning before the funeral home came. I prayed out loud, tearful words of loving gratitude. She was entirely Love in her motivation, even when she was telling you what-for! I love my Mom with all my heart. I don’t know what it will be like to live on without her ear, her voice, her loving eyes. I am so grateful to all of you who read this, who have held her in prayer. Pray once more, a prayer of gratitude that God graced this earth with such a woman. And pray for us that we carry on in her own spirit. As she said to me yesterday as I left her room, the same last words I was moved to receive from Dad 20 years ago, “Thank you.”
I’ll be grateful as long as I live to my brother Tom who took this picture. Somehow it captures much.
Mary Sweeney was born on Saint Patrick’s Day in Ireland. She died on American soil on the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, patroness of the Americas, 91 years later. Here are words from Our Lady of Guadalupe’s message which comforted me two years ago and tonight as well …
And finally this … (thinking of all who you have been given to love) …
“Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”
My phone rang around 3am with the news of our mother’s death. I feel that moment tonight. God bless this strong and remarkable woman. I give thanks to God for her daily, even now. I’ll be reflecting on this anniversary. God bless the losses you, reader, have known. May the blessings we have known sustain us.
From this date two years ago … “This morning I was able to visit with Mom. They’re called ‘compassionate visits.’ She is very weak. Leaving, I touched her arm and she opened her eyes. Bright, fluid, deep as the sea. I said, ‘We are all praying for you constantly Mom. I love you, always.’ She smiled and replied, ‘Thank you.’ Whenever I die, whatever is listed as cause of death, it should really say … whatever it took to leave that room today.”
A letter from John the Baptizer on the reality of joy deep in wilderness …
3rd Sunday of Advent 2016 Homily/Sermon Matthew 11:2-11
Struggling to find the joy of Gaudete Sunday in this Sunday’s Gospel text, I dreamt John the Baptist wrote me a letter. And I wrote it down . . .
You remember that I spent most of my life, that I did my work, in the wilderness. It is a dry place most of the time, tumbling brush and arid air. There was wilderness all around me, but in me there burned a fire for the coming of the Messiah and the Kingdom.
Now the wilderness, somehow, is inside me, deep in my heart. I am in prison day after day in a dark, damp, room under Herod’s palace. There is usually silence around me. Sounds of laughter, of meals being prepared way above in the kitchens: these reach me from time to time. But most often there is only silence around me.
Inside though, where the wilderness lives in me now, there is a voice. It is a voice that wonders whether I was right or wrong. It is a voice that wonders whether that fire that burned in me burned to clear the way for the reign of God or only ultimately to destroy me. There is no fire here. No warmth in this room. There is a window high in the wall where I can see a little of the light and here the rains falling. This is the wet and the cold time of year. The climate and me, we match.
Some of those who heard me preach by the River, who have stayed near in spirit, come to that window now and then. There are no official visits, but thank God, there are unofficial ones. One day I shared with them a question that is posed by that voice deep in me these days. It was a question for Jesus. I asked them to find him, to see him, to let him know of my state, and to ask: are you the One who is to come, or shall we wait for another? In this unbearable silence, I just had to hear him. I had to hear what he would say. I had to know what he would say to that question.
And then, I waited in the silence. I waited as the rain drops fell at the window above, like measurements of the passage of time. Time passes slowly here. But I know there is not a lot of it left for me now in this world. I bother Herod. I tell him the truth. He can’t help asking for it, but he doesn’t want to hear it. Someday soon, I don’t know how or when, he’s going to decide that he doesn’t want me here anymore. That he doesn’t want me anywhere. And then my time here will end. I know that and I accept it as my fate. But before that moment comes, I needed to hear again from Jesus. I needed to hear what he would say to that question.
They found him. They talked with him. They carried the question to his ears and, just like he always does, he let the question flow to his heart as well. They knelt the other day above me at the window and they spoke his answer. He answered with a question. He asked them what they saw, what they saw happening around him there, around them as they stood there. I don’t know how long they talked there, or how long they stayed, or how long they looked around them to really see. But I do know this. What they saw – blind men seeing, deaf hearing, lame leaping, the destitute hearing the first encouragement of their whole lives – these things are all restoration. They are all movements and moments making things as they are meant to be in God’s sight.
And all these things have been promised before. Isaiah the prophet spoke of these events as evidence of the saving presence of God. I don’t have the scroll here with me. Jesus knew that it is written in my heart and that I would recognize what is happening and what it means. I studied these words in my youth. The prophet wrote:
‘Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’ Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.’
These are the signs of the presence of the living God. This is God’s work when he comes among us to save. I know what he is saying, and I know how to read the signs. I just had to hear him say it.
The last word of Isaiah that I just quoted, do you remember it, is ‘joy.’ I have been reminded, since my friends returned from Jesus, of what joy is. It is not happiness. Happiness, by comparison, is a weak and passing thing. Happiness comes and goes. It does not last. A bad day, one hard event, one deep loss, can send happiness scurrying away like a wild rabbit or disappearing like morning dew before the sun.
But joy is different. Joy is a gift. It comes only from the heart of God directly to the human heart. And it endures. God’s hands dig deep in the human heart to plant joy. It lives underneath the challenges of our days, deep below the sorrows in all their terrible variety that we suffer as human beings, sooner or later. Joy is not wiped away by any loss. It is the knowledge, written on the heart, that we are loved without beginning and without ending; that we are loved right through doubt and pain and disappointment and hunger and yes, through death as well.
Isaiah said that the “tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” And I realize that that is me today. I was a prophet, a man of word. Now I am a man of silence and the wilderness is within. But my tongue still sings for joy. Here, in unexpected and terrible ways, I discover for the first time the gift of joy.
I remember that just before and just after those words of the prophet talking about the gifts given to human lives when God comes as Savior, there are other words. They talk about my dear, harshly beautiful, spare and empty wilderness; the wilderness I once lived in and the wilderness that lives now in me.
‘The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom . . . For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; . . . A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way.’
I speak these old words aloud here alone in the silence, and I am in joy. The wilderness, my wilderness, within and without, will receive God’s good rain and will bloom. They are, now, blooming. Where there was only dryness, a fountain now runs. And the Holy Way, the one that I thought I was building, it is there now. It is there for you to walk along, in joy that outlasts sorrow, until you reach Jesus. Until you stand before him as my friends did and ask your question of him, heart to heart. But know that his answer will be the same, whatever the question. He will invite you to look around, to see what is real, what is happening and to know what it means. In the end, ultimately, it all means joy.
Just the other day I heard through the grapevine what Jesus said after my friends had left him and were coming back here with news. He said that yes, I have been a prophet, one of the best. But what means much more to me, he said that I am least in the Kingdom of God. What a blessing and what a joy! To be least is to be within, to be a part of it, to be in the blooming wilderness. I know now that all will be well. And I wanted you, whatever be your story, to know the same. All will be well.
From your brother, the least in the Kingdom.
John, Child of Elizabeth and Zechariah
Advent Calendar, by Rowan Williams
Advent Calendar Rowan Williams
He will come like last leaf’s fall. One night when the November wind has flayed the trees to the bone, and earth wakes choking on the mould, the soft shroud’s folding.
He will come like frost. One morning when the shrinking earth opens on mist, to find itself arrested in the net of alien, sword-set beauty.
He will come like dark. One evening when the bursting red December sun draws up the sheet and penny-masks its eye to yield the star-snowed fields of sky.
He will come, will come, will come like crying in the night, like blood, like breaking, as the earth writhes to toss him free. He will come like child.
On December 10, 1958, our brother Michael was born. His coming was his going. Michael Gerard, second child of John Joseph (Jack) and Mary (Sweeney) McGinty, was born with Downs Syndrome and Spina Bifida. The second of those, in terns of the medicine of that day, guaranteed that he would not survive in this world.
I do not know at what time of day he was born. I suppose there must be a birth certificate on file at Salem, Massachusetts. I do not know what he looked like, or who he looked like. Only our Dad would have known, and perhaps Nana and Papa, Dad’s parents. Mom would not have known. As she told the story of that moment, when labor was complete and the baby born, the doctor and nurses recognized the conditions that he carried with him into the world. They determined that it would be better or easier if a bond between mother and child did not begin or develop and Baby Michael was whisked from the room. Mom never held him. His life here on earth was 10 days in length. She was not allowed to see him. And then, he was gone.
Our family grave is at Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in Lynn. The stone on the grave is a depiction of the Holy Family of Baby Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Most of the back of the monument records in stone the entire story of Michael’s life. Since 1958, his little body has been joined there by our grandparents, John Hugh McGinty (+1971) and Beatrice (Kelly) McGinty (+1982), and by his parents and ours, Jack (+2000) and Mary (+2020). All the near witnesses of his brief life are there. And all of them also, faith assures, are together in the Kingdom of God.
Our mother was a hardy Irish farmgirl. She was challenged by many forces in life – physical and emotional – and she withstood them all. More than that, she had enough strength remaining to help many others bear their challenges as well. I am the oldest of the seven children she bore into this world full-term and I can rarely remember her crying. When heavy emotion shook her, it most often emerged looking and sounding like anger. When I was chosen to travel overseas to Rome for seminary studies beginning in the fall of 1979, I remember clearly her voice, “You can’t go there! What will we do without you?” There was determination and pain in her voice. But I did not see her cry. Perhaps I could not see her tears through my own.
There is an exception. In her later years, in her 80’s and coming to 90 years, if I reminded her on this day of Michael’s birth, there would be tears in her amazing eyes, and sometimes the recollection that she had never been able to hold her son in his first moments, and in his need.
When Mom’s own dying day came, early on the morning of December 12, two years ago this coming Monday, I was blessed – thanks to the loving kindness of the night nurse – to go to her bedside at Little Sisters’ Jeanne Jugan Residence in Somerville and to sit by her side to pray, to thank God and her for her life and untiring love, for an hour in the silence. As I sat there, and many times since then, the image came to me of Mom, as she was in 1958, holding Michael in love and singing him to sleep, his eyes alert to her face and his ears to every note of her song for him. At last. Holding him. With no limit of time at all.
That same birth scene, with those same diagnoses or the link taking place today, would look so different. They could treat the Spina Bifida, and he could become all things possible as Downs Syndrome child, teen, and adult. She could hold him numberless times and laugh and sing and hope and live. Thank God for that.
As I write these words this evening, I am moved to urge any who may come across these few paragraphs and read them, not to accept with ease the restrictions, the rules put in place by any of the human systems we put in place as a species. They are never infallible. They may seem justified for a time, but in terms of the eternity of God, they may be quite limited. When you come across a human judgment that restricts or bars the expression of real love, in the name of the God of love, contest it. Push against it. To say it in terms of that labor and delivery room back in 1958, hold the baby. Protest until you are enabled to hold the baby.
Rest in peace my little brother. Give Mom and Dad and Nana and Papa and all the others a big lasting hug from those of us still along the way.