Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mr. and Mrs. Nied. "My son take care of your father when he is old."


“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”
               -Mark Twain

As a great man once told me you can never tell someone you love them enough.

As I was praying over the readings for this Feast of the Holy Family I kept being drawn to the first reading from the Prophet Sirach.  There was someone from my last parish that kept coming to mind.  I remembered him always brining his elderly parents to the Saturday Vigil mass.  He faithfully brought them for every mass and sat with them in the front pew.

I was always impressed by the way that Greg cared for and attended to his parents and also know of the great respect that he has for them.  So I gave him a call and said "Hey Greg, I've been thinking about you and praying for you.  How are your parents?"  He went on to tell me of their latest struggles and then made sure to sincerely ask how I was.  "I answered briefly but said Greg this is why I'm really calling.  Do you want some homework?"  (This was a Friday afternoon by the way).  Greg, without hesitation, said: "Father, you know I will never say no to you."  So I asked him to pray with the first reading from this Sunday and share with me what it is like to take care of your parents when they are old.  Greg, instead of going to the movies Friday night, spend the evening doing just this.  As I hoped it turned out to be a very beautiful reflection.

God sets a father in honor over his children;
a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons.
Whoever honors his father atones for sins,
and preserves himself from them.
When he prays, he is heard;
he stores up riches who reveres his mother.
Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children,
and, when he prays, is heard.
Whoever reveres his father will live a long life;
he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;

grieve him not as long as he lives.
Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him;
revile him not all the days of his life;
kindness to a father will not be forgotten,

Greg's Reflection in his own words:

I am my father and mother’s son

"Watching my parents grow old makes for the the hardest moments of my life that I have faced to date.  It is such a contracts to the family memories of my youth, and of the family my wife and I are raising today. Remembering my early family event’s puts smiles to my mouth, and a few tear behind my eyes, more often than I want. My earliest memories of my dad are going to 8 am mass every Sunday morning, we were ushers at that mass, greeting and seating people, taking up the collection, releasing each pew to go to the rail in front of the altar to receive Holy Communion, and handing out the bulletin after mass. My mother and four sisters would go to a later mass because we only had two small bath rooms for seven of us.  During the mass dad and I would sit in the back of the church, dad would give me his rosary to occupy me when me during the reading’s or homily. I would pretend that the rosary was a semi and I was driving it up and down hills. I also played with my dad’s leather gloves, I very vividly recall just how large the gloves were, both of my hands would fit into one glove with plenty of room to spare, I wondered if my hands would get that large.

My mother was a tuff as nails type person, like Betty Davis or Barbara Stanwyck... full of love, but 'Do as I tell you or else!'  I confess I have grown to admire that quality in people today. Oh, by the way mom and dad are 100 % polish, 'good stock' as I like to call it. Mom did all the raising of me because Dad owned his own business and was always at work and I am the last of 5 kids by just how many years I am not allowed to say. She wanted the best for us, as I saw it, I say that because there 5 of us and I am sure each one of use has a different story or side of it. Together they made me who I am today and I never will be able to thank them enough or repay them. Mom was a great cook she would make great meals for all of us when the whole family was at home, and when it was just dad and myself, we never had cold food for lunch, I never thought about it until my wife brought it to my attention after one great hot meal with candles lit.

Dad started a garden center back in the early 50’s and he was never home, mom ran the show she took all the responsibility of raising me. When I did have a problem and went to my dad I would tell him what was on my mind and all I would get was one of this famous one liners like: 'Tomorrow is another day.' 'It will all work out in the end.'  'Love many, trust few always paddle your own canoe.'  'If it’s not one thing it is another.'  When you are going through teen problems or are asking questions you want more than that. I can say now, my father was the greatest person in my life though, in the fact that he let me do for the most part whatever I wanted to do within reason knowing, trusting that I would learn from it, and if I didn’t he would be there to help me. No one can tell you how hot fire is, dad would also make wise recommendations and I could do what I wished. THEY TOGETHER MADE ME WHAT I AM TODAY, I CAN NEVER THANK THEM ENOUGH OR DO ENOUGH TO REPAY THEM FOR THERE UNWAVERING LOVE AND SUPPORT.

Ok, now that the back ground has been set, today is a much different story. The first hard moment was about 5 to 10 years earlier when dad and I were talking and I noticed he was looking at me and listening to me!  'My God' I thought, that was a first, who was getting older?  Taking away his driving privileges was another painful moment in time for all of us.  I had difficulty understanding what was happening to our father, the guy with the big hands, that I always wondered if my hands would be like his. I remember one instance when I was helping him try to find the legal he was working with that day, later I found out that this was the first stage of Lewy Body Dementia.

Life is starting to get painful, changes are coming.  My wife is in medical field and she is letting me know just what is up.  It continues to get worse and I know the worst is yet to come.  About two years ago, dad started to shuffle this feet so he lessened the chances of a fall. This past year dad now a use a walker with Christmas bells.  Those two sounds have made me cry more then you will ever know unless you have been there.  I or we could never understand when were your mom and dad’s young children, only time, only time.  I have saved my father best one liner for last.  It is “Old too soon, smart too late”.  

It truly is very painful on both ends. As you can tell, I have spent more time with dad now than my mom, I run the business and try to spend as much time at home with my family, also I love our Lord our God and to spend as much time at Church as I can.  I can never thank him for all the talents he has bestowed on me.  I can never repay my parents for loving me through the growing-up years and through all of the times that I let them down, they never stopped calling me their son.

Mom has lost the ability to talk so we do not know what she is saying.  We now use a dry erase board to try to understand her but that too is becoming a lost cause. Mom weighs 97 pounds, and dad is down to 159, that "rock" used to weigh 220. 

One day I put my hand on dads back to support him and I could not count high enough to count all the bones in his back. I take mom and dad to church every Saturday and consider it a honor for all they have given to me. They still love each other and always tell us to take care of your mother, her first. 

IT HURTS EVER DAYTO SEE THIS but feels GREAT to give back. Looking back at it now thru the eyes of a 56 year old person it hurts the most that I can never say 'thank you' enough and 'just how much I love you.' 

Have you had the privilege yet of taking care of your parents?

Are you right now experiencing the joys and sorrows, the grieving and the pain of watching them get old?  

If you parents have already died, you could consider talking to them in prayer, apologizing to them, thanking them, telling them I love you, and hearing them say it back.  We believe in the communion of Saints.

Would you ever consider being a minister to the homebound and caring for the elderly?

It is such a privileged experience to care for someone who has cared for you, to love someone out of this world who loved you into it, and to realize the sacredness of these movements before they are over.

My son, take care of your father when he is old;

"Old too soon, smart too late."


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Thank you to the Nied Family for your witness and your willingness to share this journey with your parents with all of us.  I love you very much, Fr. Michael

If you are ever in the Northfield area visit The Nied Garden Center!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013



The past week has been classic Cleveland weather. Just last week there were 5...6...7 inches of snow on the ground. I don't like the cold but I try to force myself to enjoy it. I went cross country skiing and the next day I came out to find my tracks covered in snow and made another set of tracks. The next day when I woke up... the snow and ice was totally gone and it was a sixty degree day in December.

And now... "A White Christmas."

The truth is, anyone that knows me knows I don't like the cold... I love the sun and the warmth and the heat. One of my priest friends says that I'm "solar powered."

Disney's "Frozen" deals with this whole theme of a town covered in a perpetual winter snow storm and desiring a spring thaw.

And I discovered a character that I can totally relate too:


Here are my favorite lines of his:

"Oh I don't know why but I've always loved the idea of summer, and sun, and all things hot."

"Some people are worth melting for."

"Hi everyone, I'm Olaf and I like warm hugs."

Olaf grinned. “I've always loved the idea of summer, and sun and all things hot,” he said. “The warm sun on my face and getting a gorgeous tan.” “I'm guessing you don't have much experience with heat," said Kristoff smiling.  "Nope" Olaf replied, come on let's go bring back summer!"

In the movie Olaf plays the comic relief, but he's also an image of revelation, he slowly comes to understand what it means to be frozen, what it means to melt, and what it truly means to love.

What he doesn't realize is that in order for him to experience sun, and warmth, and love... he will melt.

On Christmas we celebrate the birth of our Savior. What we often don't realize is that for God to take on human flesh he had to become poor like us, weak, powerless... He came in the form of a child. In His very love for us and desire for our life, and warmth, and love and to bring us the light, and the warmth and the heat of love he would indeed melt... he would lose his life. The wood which held him as he was laid in a manger would become the "wood" that held him nailed to the cross.

God is born for us, he gives Himself to us, He is born at every Eucharist on the altar... and placed into our hands, vulnerable, weak, powerless, so that our hearts may melt so that we may experience the light of life. He comes to transform our kingdom of ice, and cold, and sin and death into a kingdom of love.

"For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.


Elsa is the older sister and she discovers early on she has been given this "gift", this "power" to freeze things at will.

The movie begins with a magical scene of two sisters playing in the snow.

Elsa and her baby sister Anna build a snowman together. Anna begins to run and jump while Elsa delights in freezing slides under her and platforms to land on. But Anna begins running, jumping, and sliding too fast and Elsa can't keep up. Elsa slips as she sees Anna jump from a great height, she shoots the ice to try to help her but ends up blasting her in the head.

Haven't we all experienced this? As kids playing and daring and pushing our limits... and the line we know by heart... "Your not going to be happy until someone gets hurt."

After she hurts her sister and realizes her power and not wanting to hurt anyone ever again she locks herself up in her room and later in an ice castle.

Elsa's theme becomes: "Conceal, Don't feel, don't let them know."

One of the gurus in the film warns her that: "your power will only grow. There is beauty in it, but also great danger. You must learn to control it, fear will be your enemy."

Her parents assure her that she can learn to control it... "but until then we'll lock the gates we'll reduce the staff, will limit her contact with people and keep her powers hidden from everyone, including Anna."

Anna's eyes sadden as the door closes. Elsa's power only grows stronger and more out of control in her isolation. Until she finally gives in and gives herself over to the power. She no longer identifies herself as a sister, or a daughter, or a princess... all she can identify with now is "Frozen". And her power to freeze becomes unmanageable... "let the storm rage on - the cold never bothered me anyway. it's good to have some distance makes everything seem small the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all its time to see what i can do to test the limits and .... I'm free... let it go. I am one one with the wind and sky.... you'll never see me cry here i stand and here i say let the storms rage on." She runs away to build her own castle of ice.

And realizes she created "the kingdom of isolation and it looks like I'm the queen."

The truth is we are all born with the power to freeze or thaw, we have all of these drives and urges and energy. The temptation is to try to control them ourselves, to lock ourselves up, to isolate ourselves, to keep others from knowing about it, to try to control it, conceal it. But we can't... we were never meant to do it on our own. If we try to do it on our own we find that what we try to control ends up controlling us.

Sadly, from time to time we will hurt people, from time to time we will allow our own hearts to become frozen, we will shut others out and even shut God out. But there is a way to thaw what was frozen, there is a way to heal what was hurt, and there is a way to redeem what seems beyond repair.

Is there anything in your life that you are trying to deal with on your own? Is there any power that you can't control? Is your heart frozen?

If you have been baptized then the thawing has already begun.

When the kindness and generous love
of God our savior appeared,
not because of any righteous deeds we had done
but because of his mercy,
He saved us through the bath of rebirth
and renewal by the Holy Spirit,
whom he richly poured out on us
through Jesus Christ our savior,
so that we might be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.


Anna is constantly knocking at the Elsa's door inviting her out of her isolation, inviting her out to play, inviting her to share her life with all of its blessings and curses.

"We used to be best buddies and now were not I wish you would tell me why."

She sings this song every day outside of her door for years: "Do you want to build a snowman?" "It doesn't have to be a snowman. I never see you anymore come out the door, it's like you've gone away. Elsa, please I know your in there, people are asking where you've been. they say have courage and I'm trying to I'm right out here for you just let me in, we only have each other its just you and me what are we going to do? Do you want to build a snowman?"

"Three Years Later"

Elsa is still in a self imposed isolation. "Don't let them in don't let them see be the good girl you always have to be. conceal don't feel put on a show make one move and everyone will know. it's only for today. "For the first time in forever." Elsa continues even stronger her theme: "Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know."

Anna pleads in song:

"You don't have to protect me,
I'm not afraid.  
Please don't shut me out again, 
please don't slam the door, 
you don't have to keep you distance anymore."  
You don't have to protect me I'm not afraid
Please don't shut me out again,
Please don't slam the door
You don't have to keep your distance anymore
'Cause for the first time in forever,
I finally understand
For the first time in forever,
We can fix this hand in hand,
We can head down this mountain together,
You don't have to live in fear
Cause for the first time in forever,
I will be right here."  

Anna was sure they could figure it out together, but Elsa grew more upset and frustrated. She cried: "I can't!" An icy blast shot across the room and hit Anna in the chest.

Anna remembers the only way that she can ever be saved is by a true act of love. Now remember this is a Disney Movie! So she begins frantically seeking a prince charming to kiss her and fall in love with her.

It is not until a couple of failed attempts she tries with one more final attempt...

Anna nearly frozen moved slowly across the ice towards Kristoff but she saw something else out of the corner of her eyes. Hans was about to strike Elsa with a sword to take over the kingdom.

With all of her remaining strength Anna threw herself in front of Elsa. Hans broughtt his sword down just as Anna was about to turn to solid ice. With a resounding clank, the blade shattered.

Elsa spun in surprise and threw her arms around her frozen sister. "Oh Anna..." She sobbed.

Anna began to thaw.

"Elsa?"  Whispered Anna.

Olaf suddenly exclaims: "An act of true love can thaw a frozen heart."

With her sacrifice Anna finally helped her sister realize love was stronger than fear. And Elsa's fear faded, love filled her heart and the winter snow began to melt.

Elsa weeps over frozen anna holding her crying... weeping, holding and then the mist from her heart begins to thaw.... from the inside out anna is thawed the sisters embrace.

"You sacrificed yourself for me, I love you."

Elsa looks at her hands and realizes with great joy: "Love will thaw? Love of course Elsa love she looks around love.... and she begins to use her power to thaw and everything is once more swept in the beauty of steam as love thaws. the love pouring from her heart and her hands transforms and redeems the entire city."

Frozen Arendelle seasons

Elsa says: "I like the open gates... we are never closing them again."

The truth is Christ has been born into our world and the thawing has already begun.

So how do we live this out?  

1. Olaf: Realize that God is wiling to humble himself, to allow himself to "melt", to hand himself over to us as an infant. To enter our world of sin. To come into our frozen, dark, sinful world. Realize that you are deeply loved this Christmas day. If you have been baptized the melting has begun, your heart is already thawing. Every minute you spend in His Presence your heart is thawing... Every Sunday that you receive Jesus in the Eucharist... you surround yourself with the love and the support of the community and the communion of Saints. Jesus was born into our world... Let him be born in your heart once more.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone.

What came to be through him was life
and this life was the light of the human race;
the light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness has not overcome it.

2. Elsa: If your heart is frozen. If you have shut anyone out of your life. If you have shut God out of your life... This Christmas... "Let him in." Like Anna he knocks at the door... asking over and over again as you grow older: "Do you want to build a snowman?" He's asking you... Do you want to build your life with me? Do you want to play and love and let others in? Jesus, like Anna is knocking on the door of your isolation. Let him in. Open wide the doors to Christ. If you have been away open the door once more to your faith.

For a child is born to us, a son is given us;
upon his shoulder dominion rests.
They name him Wonder-Counselor, God-Hero,
Father-Forever, Prince of Peace.
His dominion is vast
and forever peaceful,
from David’s throne, and over his kingdom,
which he confirms and sustains
by judgment and justice,
both now and forever.

3. Anna: An act of true love can thaw a frozen heart. Instead of searching for someone to love you... love and serve and give yourself to another. You can't make anyone love you, but you can love others and that love is what will save you and them.

But to those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God,
to those who believe in his name,
who were born not by natural generation
nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision
but of God.
And the Word became flesh
and made his dwelling among us,
and we saw his glory,
the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
full of grace and truth.

This Christmas: Know that you are loved, Let Jesus in, and remember that you can't make others love you, but a true act of love can thaw a frozen heart.

You don't have to remain "Frozen" any longer: This Christmas let Him in.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Make Firm the Knees that are Weak... Ooh Child Things are Going to Get Easier


There's a book called "A Father's Legacy" and the whole idea behind the book is that you spend time interviewing your father so that you can hear some of the stories of his life. I've been doing this with my Uncle Jim, who is actually my Grandfather's brother.  Since all of my Grandparents have died he is the closest thing that I have to a grandfather now.  It has been a privilege to hear him tell some of the stories that I've never heard before, some make you laugh and some make you cry.  He's finally opened up and began telling some of the stories from the war.  My Uncle and Grandfather served in World War II, but neither of them ever talked about it.  I found out that he was shot in the leg and received a purple heart.  Coincidentally I also found out he has had 4 complete knee replacements.

My father for many years, fifteen if I remember correctly, had put off his knee replacement.  I've heard many people say it is the most painful surgery and difficult recovery there is.  Some people say to get them both done at the same time because if you don't you won't go back after the pain of the first one.

I watched as my father began to limp around, miss out on activities and wince in pain from time to time.  I remember times when his knee went out and we actually had to carry him to the car to get him to the hospital.  He was finally mustering up the courage to look into getting his knee replaced so he figured he'd go to the expert:  my Uncle Jim!

He asked my Uncle Jim which was worse "knee surgery or getting shot in the war?"  My Uncle Jim responded without hesitation and in all seriousness "Oh knee surgery for sure, I'd take getting shot in the leg anytime over another knee surgery."

Needless to say this give my dad any assurance to go ahead with the surgery.  Finally when the pain became too great, and the frustration of a bad knee had built up, he went and had the surgery.  It was every bit as painful as my Uncle Jim described, recovery was long and painful, but my dad being the dedicated German that he is did it faithfully and today he gets around fine.

I have a beautiful picture of him from just this fall of him playing in the leaves with all three of my neices and nephew.  Not only was he rolling around in the leaves with them, he was falling and jumping in the pile and throwing leaves up in the air.  He doesn't regret having the surgery.  I've actually heard that consistently from people... "Father it was painful, but I don't regret doing it."

In the first reading we hear from the prophet Isaiah:

Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!                          

The truth is we all have weaknesses, if not physical, then mental, emotional, developmental, spiritual and all of the above.  "Be strong, fear not!"  Weaknesses are not to be feared but embraced, bound, and healed.

St. James reminds us:  "Take as an example of hardship and patience, brothers and sisters,the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord."  

The reality is that we are all broken in some way, we all have need of healing, strengthening, and firming.  It is often during the suffering, waiting, therapy, and setbacks that we are truly healed.

St. Ignatius is one of the greatest teachers in prayer.  He was a mystic who devoted his entire life and founded the Jesuits on the motto Ad maiorem Dei gloriam or ad majorem Dei gloriam "For the Greater Glory of God."  We can thank him in part for our current Holy Pope Francis, who is a Jesuit.  Ignatius left us with some of the greatest gifts for prayer and discernment: The Spiritual Exercises, the Rules for Discernment, The Examen of Consciousness, and the Prayer of Contemplation where he teaches us deep, intimate, profound ways of praying with scripture by actually entering into the scenes by imaginative prayer.  We can actually experience being there with Jesus and encounter him in a very real and intimate way.

He was not always a religious man, in fact before his conversion, he was pretty vain, egotistical, and a womanizer.  He wanted to go off and be a war hero, not because he really cared about serving his country.  It was another opportunity to get the ladies.

Igantius was a charismatic, attractive and passionate man who kept his army fighting even though they were loosing.  That was until the enemy fired a canon ball which took out his legs and at that point they surrendered.

This was the time before anesthesia so surgeries were very serious and there was a high mortality rate.  After Ignatius had his knee surgery to repair the damage he discovered that the doctors had actually shortened one of his legs so he was now walking with a limp.  A bone protruded from his leg and looked unsightly.  He nearly died during the surgery.  His leg was set but did not heal, so it was necessary to break it again and reset it, again without anesthesia.  Ignatius grew worse and was finally told by the doctors that he should prepare for death.  Having a limp was unacceptable for Igantius so he, against the doctors wishes, went in for a third surgery on his leg.

He spent months in recovery and being laid up in bed was bored out of his mind.  He would often ask  his brother for war novels and books about heroes until he finally ran out of them.  So his brother told him all he had left was the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints.  Ignatius was so bored that he read them.  He discovered something very interesting.  When he read the war stories about heroes and conquests he was excited but he found that after he put them down his heart was heavy and the excitement left him.  However, when he read the Life of Christ and the Lives of the Saints he was not only inspired and excited when he read it, but afterwards he realized that his heart remained lifted and there was an increase of faith, hope and love.  He imagined himself doing the things that St. Francis did and many of the other great saints... and thought "suppose I could do this."

This seemingly tragic event in the life of St. Ignatius lead to his conversion and changed his life for the good, and all of us are forever blessed because of it.

It is often through the difficult times in our lives that we discover true joy.  Knee surgery may an fact be a very painful surgery and the recovery seems daunting but it is all worth if it we can have stronger knees and firmer hearts.

St. Paul encourages us:
You too must be patient.
Make your hearts firm,
because the coming of the Lord is at hand.

Maybe you are going through some suffering in your life right now.  It may be physical, back pain, knee pain, or difficulty getting around.  It may just be the difficulty of getting old.  You may be experiencing emotional suffering, depression, anxiety, loneliness, or despair.  It may be a spiritual suffering of desolation or the Dark Night, it may be suffering the loss of a loved one, the death of a parent or spouse or child.  It may be the pain of tension in your family, a divorce, or a child who has separated from the family.  It may be suffering a disappointment, a lost job, a friend who suddenly leaves you out, or some other kind of experience of rejection, isolation, or setback.  

Whatever you are going through is Holy Ground, because "The Lord hears the cry of the Poor."  "Be strong, Fear not!"  God is working in this so "Be patient, make your hearts firm" because this moment of brokenness can actually be your conversion.  The part of you that was so weak and feeble becomes strong and resilient.  

We celebrate and rejoice on this Gaudete Sunday because the Lord is so near.  The suffering will not last as long as you think it will.  The suffering is actually part of your conversion and strengthening in faith, hope and love.  

And like my father who can now play and jump in the leaves again and Ignatius who went on to be one of our greatest spiritual leaders, when you make it through it you will once more be able to enjoy life even more so, the pain will be gone, the weakness will be strengthened, and you may even discover that you have met God in the experience.  

So we too like John the Baptist may question:  "Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?"  

Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see:
the blind regain their sight,
the lame walk,
lepers are cleansed,
the deaf hear,
the dead are raised,
and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them.

We wear "rose" colored vestments on Gaudete Sunday as a sign that the end of our waiting is so near, the time of recovery is coming to an end, Christ's coming into your heart will be sooner than you think.  You will experience His healing and peace, goodness and joy.  We can rejoice because because  things will get better and sooner than you think.

I have no better way to end this than a classic song from the '70s "Ooh Child"

Ooh-oo childThings are gonna get easier

Ooh-oo child
Things'll get brighter
Ooh-oo child
Things are gonna get easier
Ooh-oo child
Things'll get brighter
Some day, yeah
We'll get it together and we'll get it all done
Some day
When your head is much lighter
Some day, yeah
We'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
Some day
When the world is much brighter

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nelson Mandela, The Sound of Music and Harmony.


Freedom fighter, prisoner, moral compass and South Africa's symbol of the struggle against racial oppression.

That was Nelson Mandela, who emerged from prison after 27 years to lead his country out of decades of apartheid.

He died Thursday night at age 95.

His message of reconciliation, not vengeance, inspired the world after he negotiated a peaceful end to segregation and urged forgiveness for the white government that imprisoned him.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison," Mandela said after he was freed in 1990.

Mandela, a former president, battled health issues in recent years, including a recurring lung infection that led to numerous hospitalizations.

Despite rare public appearances, he held a special place in the consciousness of the nation and the world. (CNN)

His philosophy of learning to love instead of hate made him one of the moral leaders of his era. This was a man that went from being a prisoner to being the president, from being a radical to being a man of peace, from a self and a country that was divided to one of harmony.

"I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities."

During his lifetime Mandela inspired us with his numerous words of wisdom, etched in our memories till tomorrow. And his words remain. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
I am fundamentally an optimist. Whether that comes from nature or nurture, I cannot say. Part of being optimistic is keeping one’s head pointed toward the sun, one’s feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lays defeat and death. 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.

Difficulties break some men but make others.

It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.

When people are determined they can overcome anything.

"No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion" he wrote in his autobiography.

"People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for loves comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite."

Finally, regarding the conversion he experienced in prison:

"Let me say first", Mandela said, "It is a great tragedy to spend the best years of your life in prison. But if I had not been to prison, I would not have been able to achieve the most difficult task in life, and that is changing yourself. I had that opportunity because in prison you have what we don't have in our life outside prison: the opportunity to sit down and think."

The most difficult task in life is "Changing yourself". This self change brought about a sense of "Harmony" not only in Nelson Mandela, but a harmony that would flow over the entire country of South Africa.

The truth is we can all experience this inner harmony, not by changing others or the world around us, but by beginning with ourselves.

Do we allow ourselves the silence to "sit down and think?"

This is some of the wonder of Advent.  It is a time of waiting, and silence, and solitude... have you taken the time to make this a prayerful Advent?  If you have not there is a great opportunity for 24 hours of silence on a Poustinia retreat that I am leading.  You are welcome to join us.  Click here to enter the Desert.

Are you experiencing inner harmony?  Is there harmony in your families?  Is there harmony in your marriage?  Is there harmony at your work?  Is there harmony with your children?

If there is not harmony, the temptation is to try to change others.  We try to change our boss, our spouse, our friends, our kids, our parents...  but "the most difficult task in our lives is changing ourselves."  When we do this we discover harmony. 
John the Baptist was preparing people for this inner transformation.  
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance,
but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I.
I am not worthy to carry his sandals.
He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

To repent is to feel so bad about something that we have done or failed to do that we are willing to change ourselves.  Ultimately this "most difficult task of changing ourselves."  Is changing our will into the will of God. When our will is aligned with God's will there will be harmony.

This brings me to the sound of music.  "The hills are alive with the sound of music..." 

I go to the hills
When my heart is lonely
I know I will hear
What I've heard before
My heart will be blessed,
With the sound of music
And I'll sing once more.

It was amazing to see this special event on Prime Time TV.  The sound of the church bells, stained glass, nuns in habit, singing vespers... all is well with the world!

I noticed a line that I've never noticed before.  Mother superior is explaining to Maria (Carrie Underwood) that she has to leave the convent and that she is just not ready for this way of life yet.  Maria's whole life's dream has been to enter the convent and she's about to experience this huge let down.  Mother Superior asks her this question:  "Tell me Maria, What is the most important lesson you have learned here?"

Maria thinks to herself and responds with great resolve:  "To find out what is the will of God and do it wholeheartedly."

(Watch it here at 15:50)

The most important lesson we can all learn in life is to find out what the will of God is and do it with our whole heart, mind, soul.  When we find out the will of God and do it, we will experience this Harmony.  

Have you experienced this Harmony?  Have you found the will of God for your life?  Are you living it wholeheartedly?  

Maria is instructed by Mother Superior to go to the Von Trapp family to help bring harmony to a family.  She discovers that this family has forgotten how to sing.  What do we do if we have forgotten to sing?  Where do we begin if we have forgotten our call?  

"Let's start at the very beginning a very good place to start.  When you read you begin with A, B, C.  When you sing you begin with Do, Re, Mi..." 

So how do we find this harmony in our lives?

We must start at the very beginning.  Go back to the basics.

St. Paul to the Romans:
Brothers and sisters:
Whatever was written previously was written for our instruction,
that by endurance and by the encouragement of the Scriptures
we might have hope.
May the God of endurance and encouragement
grant you to think in harmony with one another,
in keeping with Christ Jesus,
that with one accord you may with one voice
glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Harmony can be found through our endurance and by the "encouragement of Scriptures."

How do we do this?

The most profound way that we are encouraged by Scriptures is at the Sunday Eucharist.  When we come to mass every sunday we are encouraged as we hear the word of God and receive His very essence in the Eucharist.  It is also extended as we spend time daily meditating on the word.

We experience the greatest harmony in the Eucharist.  Are you going to mass every Sunday and receiving this encouragement?

Are you enduring in the life of faith and your life of prayer?

These are the very beginning and essential steps for us to find harmony.  Sometimes we need to go back to the basics and start at the very beginning.

If we truly want to find Harmony we need to spend the time as Nelson Mandela did by spending the time to "sit down and think..." to remember that "the most difficult task in life is changing ourselves."  Changing our wills to the will of God.

And what is the most important lesson Maria learned in the convent?  "To find out what is the will of God and do it wholeheartedly."

When we do this we will discover not only harmony in our deepest self, but bring our entire world into this harmony.

May you discover the gift of Harmony by "changing yourself" and discovering God's will in your life and doing it wholeheartedly.