Friday, March 25, 2011

Mary's YES!

I wrote this a while ago and it seemed an appropriate post on the Feast of the Annunciation.....

"For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her."
Lk. 1 : 37-38

A newborn infant shivers in the cold. His small family has traveled many arduous miles. His parents are scared and confused. For when they arrived at their destination, they were not able to find a place to stay. They find shelter in a barn, where the mother gives birth to this helpless bundle. They wrap the baby the best that they can to protect him from the cold, and lay him in a trough of hay that not long ago, animals were feeding on.
This infant does not seem special. He, like any newborn, cannot yet lift his head. He is crying and cold.
His parents, like all new parents, are anxious about the duties ahead of them and how to care for and protect their son.
The scene is fairly typical, with the exception of the location. A child is born to anxious parents and they wonder what they have just gotten themselves into. But this couple has added stress.
In a time when women were stoned to death for being adulteresses, this mother was found with child before she had even lived with her husband. When he found out, he could have had her prosecuted and killed, but because he didn't want to shame or harm her, the worst he had considered was quietly divorcing her. Then, in a decision that must have baffled everyone around him, he decided to take her into his home and accept her as his wife, and her child as his own. Surely the gossip of the town was all about them. And many people probably shunned them or ridiculed them. But they stayed there until it was almost time for the baby to come and they were forced to take a journey on foot and by donkey.
Parents, think about when your child was born. Think about how frightening it was. And most likely, your experience involved a car ride to a hospital full of medical equipment and trained medical professionals. Still, the first time that you held that helpless baby in your arms. This tiny being that depends on you for everything. Isn't it one of the most wonderful, scariest things ever?
Yet this is how God decided to come and walk among us. The creator of the universe and all life therein, came into our midst not even able to lift His head. Came into our world the same way we all do, totally dependent on others for all of his needs.
Think about what that moment was like for Mary and Joseph. The anxiousness of new parents magnified by their situation and the journey they had just taken, and then further, the knowledge that these two poor and humble people were going to be responsible for raising a King. Knowing how I worry about raising my children, I can't imagine the heroic faith that they must have had to even accept this task. But every day, I'm glad that they did.
Our church has a carving of Joseph standing beside Mary while she is with child, that we put out during Advent. When my wife was pregnant, I would look at it and pray for our small family. One day I realized that from where I sat, in a direct line behind and above this carving was the crucifix. And I wondered if Mary knew all she would see happen to her child. I wondered if she knew how he would be tortured and nailed to the cross. My heart aches each time I think of her watching her child suffer through that. It makes me think of all those who have to watch their children fight through disease or chronic illnesses. But I cannot fathom the strength of faith someone would have to know ahead of time that this child she was bringing into the world would be so violently persecuted, and to respond to God's messenger, “May it be done to me according to your word.”

We should all strive to be like Mary and say 'YES!' to God's plan for us even in times when we don't quite understand where He is leading us or when it looks like it may be difficult. If He takes us there, then that means He is there with us, right?

Happy Annunciation all, let's celebrate the day that a brave young girl said 'Yes' to life, for all of us!

God bless!

Sunday, March 20, 2011


This is a (very) short story that I wrote a while ago about the Eucharist and transubstantiation, the Catholic belief that during the liturgy, the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ. It is one of those things that you either accept on faith, or can never have proven to you, and I don't wish to debate it here. But I have been noticing at any Mass I attend away from my 'home' parish, that people walk up and receive the host much like they would receive a Big Mac, large fry and a chocolate shake. So I got the idea for this story whereby a man of great faith comes to this deeper understanding of the Eucharist through a young priest's homily, and what happens when he realizes what an awesome gift it is.....


It was after Mass on a cold, rainy evening in November. Father Peter was returning from the vestry and noticed him there. His name was Stanislaus Pirok. He wasn’t a mountain of a man, but you could tell he was solid. You would guess he was almost sixty, but he was actually only forty-six, wrought by a life of hard work. Stanislaus now sat in the last pew, with his head in his hands, crying.
Father Peter was headed toward the Sanctuary to extinguish the candles and stopped to see what was wrong. He put a gentle hand on the man’s shoulder and asked. “Stan”, he said, “what’s got you so upset?”
“Oh Father,” Stan replied, through a thick Polish accent, “Your homily was so beautiful tonight.”
Father stood silent a moment, not sure how to take this compliment.
Stan continued. “In my country, where grew up, we had much faith, but not lot of teaching.”
“I understand.” said Father Peter, encouraging Stan to continue.
“Tonight you say that Eucharist is like miracle. That bread and wine are really Jesus’ Body and Blood.”
“Well that’s true.” said Father, “That’s why it is always important to treat the host and the wine with reverence.”
“Exactly,” said Stan, his eyes welling up with tears again, “Look at these!” he finished, thrusting his hands palm up toward Father Peter.
Stanislaus had worked with steel for decades and his hands showed the wear of countless cuts, abrasions, scars, calluses and the occasional burn from a piece of metal not yet cool enough to touch. His hands, like the rest of his solid frame, were tougher than the steel they had shaped for years.
“For years, I have been receiving Communion in these hands, not knowing real value of what I was handling.” And as he thrust his hands forward again, he finished, “What kind of throne is this for a King?”
Father Peter suddenly remembered that Stan had not come up for Communion. He stood thoughtfully for a moment, and then smiled gently.
“Stan”, he said, “you know, you may receive the host on your tongue if that's how you feel. But I know that you are very smart when it comes to the life of our Savior and before you decide that is your only option, there are a few things I'd like you to think about”
Stan looked at him, puzzled.
“Who came ahead of Jesus as His herald, to tell the world He was coming?”
“John the Baptist.” Stan answered.
“And wasn’t he the voice, crying out in the wilderness? Living off the land, eating locusts and honey?”
Leaving no time for him to reply, Father continued.
“And how many of the apostles were fishermen?” he asked.
Stan went to reply, but Father Peter went on.
“Lastly, Stan, and most importantly, what was Joseph’s occupation?”
Stan smiled slightly, putting the pieces together.
Softly, Stan replied.  “Joseph was carpenter.”, he said.
“So Stan, surely, John the Baptist’s hands were worn rough from scraping his survival from the wilderness. And the Apostles hands must have been cut and scarred by the fishing nets and the knives. And when Jesus was an infant, a helpless child, he was carried in hands that had been worn rough with work, struck with a hammer and gashed by tools a million times.”
Stanislaus looked down at his hands again, then at the Crucifix behind the altar. And finally, back to Father Peter.
“There is no doubt in my mind.” Father spoke. And cupping Stan’s hands in his own, he continued, “This is the perfect throne for a King. You see, God entrusted Jesus to hands like these throughout His whole life.”
Stan let out a visible sigh of relief and Father motioned for him to follow.
The two men walked up to the Sanctuary, knelt and then continued on behind the altar. Father Peter opened the tabernacle and took out the host.
Holding it up for Stan he said, “The Body of Christ.”
Stan held out his hands and proudly said, “Amen.”

Monday, March 14, 2011

As good a place to start as any.....

This is a letter to the editor I wrote and submitted (unsuccessfully, unfortunately) about my return to the Church. It misses a lot of detail as I was trying to keep it short, but I'll fill in the rest in later days...

In a time when the Catholic Church is getting a reputation in the press for being intolerant and unwelcoming, I felt it important to share the story of my return to the Church and the wonderful group of people who helped to pull me back in.
My return started in October of 2004 when I told my then-girlfriend, now wife, that I would go to mass with her at her Church….once, “then I’m not promising anything after that!”
I was raised Catholic but like many others, I fell away from the Church before beginning a strange journey through Agnosticism, Atheism, Buddhism, etc…
Then I met Kimberly and would have to wait to see her on Sundays until after she had gone to Church. She never pressured me, but I felt a quiet call and went to mass with her….once. And it was okay, so I went again, then again, and again, and again. I felt as if I had come home again and it was feeling very right! Still, I wondered if it was just comfort with the ritual and not a deep belief that made me feel so at home.
So when our parish, St. Kathryn’s in Hudson, NH, (one of the first to pioneer a Coming Home program) offered ‘Coming Home to Catholicism’ that winter, Kimberly and I thought it would be interesting, so we signed up.
What we found was a group of people running a program that took a look at the issues that had taken us away from the Church and explained the meaning behind a lot of the beliefs of the Church. That seven week program provided me with a better understanding than I had achieved in four years of religion classes at Catholic high school.
Most encouraging to any of us, was the fact that the program was not administered by a Priest, or a Brother, or a Nun, but ‘normal’ people of faith who all had their own issues with the Catholic Church at some point, but had returned to what was really important: their faith!
The program wrapped up just before Easter, making the Holiday more special that year. Making that year even more special was that Kimberly and I were engaged, then married before the new year came. Now we volunteer with the ‘Coming Home’ team at St. Kathryn’s and enjoy sharing the story of our rediscovered faith with those who can use our help. For anyone with the desire to come back to the Catholic Church, it’s important to know that there are people reaching out to provide a safe, comfortable chance to return.

Since this time, Kimberly and I have been married and had two beautiful daughters. (one of whom is sitting with me now, doggedly trying to hit these letters on the keyboard) and I can't imagine being a husband or a father without the enrichment and the faith I've gotten from going to Mass as well as the other things I do to attempt to bring myself closer to God. As someone who spent a lot of time as a loner, I'm pretty sure there is no way I would survive, let alone feel as blessed as I do in these essentially sacrificial roles of husband and father, without His grace.

God bless!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is a 'mute zebu'? (or) Why can't my 'about me' be more than twelve hundred characters?

This is what I wrote before I edited it down to 'make weight'....

My name is Tom, and I started this blog to write about my return to God through the Catholic Church and the effect my faith has on my life as a husband and a father.
First, a bit about the name of the blog... the first part, prodigal, is obvious, as it is about my return to the Father, his rejoicing and my rejoicing at the rediscovery of Him. The second part may be a bit more obscure. Dumb Ox, was what St. Thomas Aquinas was called by his fellow students when he studied at seminary. Although I am in no way suggesting that I match his wisdom in any way, we should remember that the word 'dumb' at the time, referred to someone who could not speak. Thus the nickname was given to him not because he was stupid, but because he was quiet, as I tend to be, and kind of 'husky', a term that, although it sends chills up my spine with the memories of my mother taking me to that section of the store to do my school shopping, generally applies to me as well.
And, of course, my name is Thomas, so I figured it would fit.
Most of what you'll find here is my perspective and musings on church teachings as I sort them out for myself, as well as thoughts on current events and other changes in my life and the effect my faith has on them. Some of what I post will be things I've written a while ago, as I have a bit of a backlog, and as I post and edit those, I will surely be filtering in new things as they happen.
With God's grace, my humor will come through so that the writings aren't too dry. And if I'm blessed enough, maybe my journey will help to teach someone, introduce them to a new perspective, or even return to Christ themselves.
Here's hoping and praying!
God bless,

ps- maybe they're right to limit it, now that I read the whole thing it sounds pretty narcissistic.