Sunday, February 9, 2014

Wounded Healer


One of my favorite spiritual authors, Henri Nouwen, wrote on and became known as "The Wounded Healer."  His whole premise was that we cannot heal our own wounds.  Our wounds rather, are meant to be shared.  Our wounds, actually if accepted allow a place of vulnerability for others to enter.

So it is important that we are in touch with our wounds.  What are your wounds?  Is it physical, emotional, spiritual, psychological?  That wound is sacred and to be reverenced because it creates a place in you of hospitality.

He encourages us to "be more concerned with others than we are with our own wounds."   

The Prophet Isaiah gives us a glimpse into this reality.

Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;

Mother Theresa is one of our greatest icons of a woman of faith who literally did all of this.

When an American reporter asked Mother Theresa which is the poorest country she had ever been to. She said, “Yes, yes, yes. I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” Somewhat shocked, the reporter informed Mother Teresa that America was one of the richest countries and questioned how it could be the poorest. “Because”, she replied, “America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.”


“You, in the West, have millions of people who suffer such terrible loneliness and emptiness. They feel unloved and unwanted. These people are not hungry in the physical sense, but they are in another way. They know they need something more than money, yet they don’t know what it is.

“What they are missing, really, is a living relationship with God.”

Mother Teresa cited the case of a woman who died alone in her home in Australia. Her body lay for weeks before being found. The cats were actually eating her flesh when the body was discovered. “To me, any country which allows a thing like that to happen is the poorest. And people who allow that are committing pure murder. “Our poor people would never allow it.”


“We picked up about 40 people that day. One woman, covered in a dirty cloth, was very ill and I could see it. So I just held her thin hand and tried to comfort her. She smiled weakly at me and said, ’Thank you.’ Then she died. “She was more concerned to give to me than to receive from me. I put myself in her place and I thought what I would have done. I am sure I would have said, ’I am dying, I am hungry, call a doctor, call a Father, call somebody.’ “But what she did was so beautiful. I have never seen a smile like that. It was just perfect. It was just a heavenly gift. That woman was more concerned with me than I was with her.”

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
Mother Teresa, A Simple Path: Mother Teresa

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life

Are you aware of your own woundedness?  Have you tried to heal it yourself and found only more suffering?  Who are the people in your life who have been with you to face the reality of your powerlessness?  Who are the friends that care for you?

Finally, who are the poor in your world, in your life, in your home?

You are the salt of the earth and light of the world.  Your wounds are sacred and are not meant to be hidden but shared.

Healing will come not by trying to heal ourselves but by caring for others.

Thus says the LORD:
Share your bread with the hungry,
shelter the oppressed and the homeless;
clothe the naked when you see them,
and do not turn your back on your own.
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your wound shall quickly be healed;

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Are you afraid of dying? Morrie Schwartz's Lessons on Living

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What's the greatest fear of Americans?

I asked this question at mass and someone came up to me after mass and told me she thinks it's time to get hearing aids because she thought I said "Whats the greatest beer in America?" She thought to herself: "Well, it is Super Bowl Sunday and Fr. Michael always to relate to what's going on in the world." So She shouted out "Miller!" It got a good laugh.

But in answer to what is the greatest fear, it's often said that the greatest fear for anyone is death (Shortly behind public speaking).

Are you afraid of dying?

Are you afraid of being with people who are dying?

This fear is addressed in the Letter to the Hebrews.

Since the children share in blood and flesh,
Jesus likewise shared in them,
that through death he might destroy the one
who has the power of death, that is, the Devil,
and free those who through fear of death
had been subject to slavery all their life.

that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest before God
to expiate the sins of the people.
Because he himself was tested through what he suffered,
he is able to help those who are being tested.

It was the Ted Koppell interview that made Morrie Schwartz famous and reintroduced him to his student Mitch Album who would go on to write The New York Times Best Seller "Tuesdays with Morrie."  Which stayed on the list for four years.

Below is an article Mitch Album wrote for the Detroit Free Press shortly after Morrie’s death in 1995.

November 12, 1995

BOSTON -- The worst part of dying this way, he said, was that he couldn't dance. Morrie loved to dance. For years he went to a church hall not far from
Harvard Square, where once a week they would blast music and open the door to anyone, dance however you wanted, with whomever you wanted. Morrie danced by himself. He shimmied and fox-trotted, he did old dances to modern rock music. He closed his eyes and fell into the rhythm, twirling and spinning and clapping his hands. There, among the college students, this old man with twinkling eyes and thin white hair shook his body until his T-shirt was soaked with sweat. He was a respected sociology professor with a wife and two sons. He had written books. He had lectured all over. But on these nights, he danced alone like a shipwrecked child. He wasn't embarrassed. He never got embarrassed. For him, the whole thing was a sort of introspective journey.
It would not be his last.

Dancing ended for Morrie Schwartz in the last few years, as did nearly every other physical activity; driving, walking, bathing, going to the bathroom, even wiping tears from his eyes. He was hit with Lou Gehrig's disease, a killer that takes the pieces of your life the way a dealer takes the cards off the blackjack table. Your nerves die, your muscles go limp. Your arms and legs become useless. Even swallowing is a chore. By the end, the only thing untouched is your mind. For most people, this is more a curse than a blessing. Most people.

"My disease," Morrie once said, lying in the chair in his West Newton, Mass., study, "is the most horrible and wonderful death. Horrible because, well, look at me" -- he cast his eyes down on his ragged, shrunken body -- "but wonderful because of all the time it gives me to say to good-bye. And to figure out where I'm going next."
"And where is that?" he was asked.
He grinned like an elf.
"I'll let you know."

The art of dying

This is the story of a small, courageous man, who was handed a death sentence and decided, rather than retreat, to take everyone with him, right to the final step, to descend into the dark basement and yell back over his shoulder why we shouldn't be afraid. It was a decision made initially for those closest to him, his wife, his sons, his colleagues at Brandeis University, and his students. He didn't want them to shun him, or to feel sorry for him. So he transformed his horror into something familiar. He made dying his final class.

He wrote every day, while his hands still worked, until he had 75 reflections about living with a fatal illness. He taught these to classes and discussion groups who crowded in his house. He spoke about accepting death as part of nature, about maintaining your composure, about using death as the
ultimate lesson.

"Learn how to die," he said, "and you learn how to live."
Before it was over, his message would spread from that quiet house in suburban Boston to the farthest reaches of the broadcast world -- thanks largely to three appearances with Ted Koppel on ABC's "Nightline." Koppel, like most visitors, met Morrie one day and was hooked. After the programs aired, people flooded Morrie with letters, and some actually flew across the ocean to spend a few minutes by his side. As death approached, and he went from a walker to a wheelchair to eating through a straw, some began to see him as mystical, a human bridge between this world and the next. Others simply felt comforted by his smile in the face of our worst nightmare.
As his days on Earth dwindled, his influence grew.

He influenced me.

But then, he always had.

Ted Koppell Reminded him: Nine million people who are watching you right now...


KOPPEL: And saying what can this old guy tell me that's going to help me when I get to a similar point? I mean, we're not all going to die the same way.

SCHWARTZ: I could give you a number of statements -- didactic, one, two, three four that may or may not be (INAUDIBLE). First, talk about it. Don't hide in the corner. Don't try to conceal it as if it's something horrible, because all it does is destroy your self- esteem. It's very important to keep that self-esteem. Two, accept it. This is you. You are a disabled person. I am a -- I am not ashamed of that; as long as I have my mind and my heart. Three, keep an open heart, and open it up further and further and further until you encompass as much as you can with your love.
Here are some of my favorite of his maxims: 

*Be involved
*Be compassionate to yourself and other people
*Treat yourself gently, be kind to yourself, you didn't create your illness so you should't punish yourself for having that illness
*The mourning never stops.
*Get your support system as many people as you can around you.
*Indulge your dependency if you can't avoid it.  
*I'm going to find a way to take advantage of silence.... 
*Don't let go to soon, but don't hang on to long find the balance.  
*I'm letting go bit by bit right now of lots of things.  
*I'm not letting go of the people who love me, that will be the hardest thing for them and for me.  I'm concerned right now with people coming to this house, all of whom are loving people... how could I keep them in line, they are pounding on my door and I don't have enough time to see them all.  
*Be compassionate with yourself and with each other.  to be loving towards yourself and towards others and to take responsibility for yourself and for others.  
*We must love each other or die. 
*"At first I was angry," he had said about that. "But I knew that anger would get me nowhere. So you know what I did? I decided to embrace my dependence. I decided to enjoy being taken care of, having my hair washed, having my feet massaged, even having my rear end wiped.
"And you know what I discovered? We never get enough of that as children. It's inside us, the secure feeling of being handled. I chose to revel in it."
* Talk openly about your illness with whoever wants to talk with you.
* Seek the answers to eternal questions, but be prepared not to find them.
Enjoy the search.
* Be grateful that you have been given the time to learn how to die.
He also said to Koppel, "Soon, someone's gonna have to wipe my ass" -- then asked whether it was OK to say that on television.
*Accept the uncertainties, contradictions and tension of opposites in your life.
*Entertain the thought and feeling that the distance between life and death may not be as great as you think.
*Talk openly about your illness with whoever wants to talk with you about it.
*Resist the temptation to think of yourself as useless. It will only lead to depression. Find your own ways of being and feeling useful.
*After you have wept and grieved for your physical losses, cherish the functions and the life you have left.
*Watch for and resist the creeping urge to withdraw from the world.
*Let sadness, grief, despair, depression, bitterness, rage, resentment -- all the negative emotions that arise in you -- penetrate you. Stay with them as
long as you can or until they run their natural course. But do not brood about them. Become reinvolved in life as soon as you can.
*Be grateful that you have been given the time to learn how to die.
*Accept and indulge your passivity and dependency when necessary. But be independent and assertive when you can and need to be.
*If you can't have large victories or achievements, be grateful and celebrate small ones.
*Find what is divine, holy, or sacred for you. Attend to it, or worship it, in your own way.
*This is the time to do a life review, to make amends, to identify and let go of regrets, to come to terms with unresolved relationships, to tie up loose
*Learn how to live, and you'll know how to die; learn how to die, and you'll know how to live.

Morrie was Jewish so he never made this connection, but I would add:
*Join your suffering to Christ.
*Invite Christ into your suffering.
*Let Christ suffer in you.
*Let this be a time to grow in union with Christ.

The Second Vatican Council dealt with this mystery of death in "Gaudium et Spes"


The mystery of death

In the face of death the enigma of human existence reaches its climax. Man is not only the victim of pain and the progressive deterioration of his body; he is also, and more deeply, tormented by the fear of final extinction. But the instinctive judgment of his heart is right when he shrinks from, and rejects, the idea of a total collapse and definitive end of his own person. He carries within him the seed of eternity, which cannot be reduced to matter alone, and so he rebels against death. All efforts of technology, however useful they may be, cannot calm his anxieties; the biological extension of his life-span cannot satisfy the desire inescapably present in his heart for a life beyond this life.

Imagination is completely helpless when confronted with death. Yet the Church, instructed by divine revelation, affirms that man has been created by God for a destiny of happiness beyond the reach of earthly trials. Moreover, the Christian faith teaches that bodily death, to which man would not have been subjected if he had not sinned, will be conquered; the almighty and merciful Savior will restore man to the wholeness that he had lost through his own fault. God has called man, and still calls him, to be united in his whole being in perpetual communion with himself in the immortality of the divine life. This victory has been gained for us by the risen Christ, who by his own death has freed man from death.

Faith, presented with solid arguments, offers every thinking person the answer to his questionings concerning his future destiny. At the same time, it enables him to be one in Christ with his loved ones who have been taken from him by death and gives him hope that they have entered into true life with God.

Certainly, the Christian is faced with the necessity, and the duty, of fighting against evil through many trials, and of undergoing death. But by entering into the paschal mystery and being made like Christ in death, he will look forward, strong in hope, to the resurrection.

This is true not only of Christians but also of all men of good will in whose heart grace is invisibly at work. Since Christ died for all men, and the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, that is, a divine vocation, we must hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of being united with this paschal mystery in a way known only to God.

Such is the great mystery of man, enlightening believers through the Christian revelation. Through Christ and in Christ light is thrown on the enigma of pain and death which overwhelms us without his Gospel to teach us. Christ has risen, destroying death by his own death; he has given us the free gift of life so that as sons in the Son we may cry out in the Spirit, saying: Abba, Father!