The park is the destination dinner location for tonight and hon was so excited to test his portable grill he got from Craigslist that he met me on the street to bring us to Weequahic Park, pretty much the only place in the Newark area legit for grilling. The place has grills and metal tables to put our own grill, which had evidence of being used in the same way. The man next to us had his chicken roasting and is enjoying his beer. Families had their coolers and pets and games. Teenage girls practiced football with the coach. Elsewhere in the east side of the park, Muslim families had booths and tables to celebrate Eid. That was the part of the familiar to us for we used to picnic there when we were new to Newark. The scene I remember from then were the muscle men were practicing pulling cars in the lot, the loud ice cream truck and the weekend athletes doing the obstacle course around the reservoir, which according to old timer pals used to have carriage horses circling it but now only have fountains flowing from the center. The planes flying in to Liberty flew frequent and low. Hon had salmon and turkey burger patties, corn, even drinks, dessert, the fixings and proper plates. I would breath in gratitude at all this and thought two things: How could I be such a dodo to not know the basic premise of being a wife before? For a basic aspect of a wife whose husband gave his heart for you to have and to hold is for that woman to accept that offering of love by one's spouse. Meaning his offering to house, protect, shelter, in this case, feed and entertain you. I was so feminist and thought I will do those things, buy him all the goods, bring him to such places. But that will be antagonistic to the very core of their initiative and their pleasure, which is to pleasure us. So, women, learn to receive. This is written in the body as well as in the Word. We are Christ's betrothed, so we have to learn to be accepting and grateful, almost to the point of total yielding that everything good, bad, ugly is a place of blessing. I would just rattle that women who are Type A's or have the higher income would be in a more challenging place to go to a humbler, more submissive route, but that is where dying to ourselves and self-denial comes, which is Christ's very message Himself, so there... Secondly, I was hoping that some of the young women within a ball's throw of us would somehow find their soul mate and husband too and not go for counterfeits (shack-ups/hook-ups that will just leave them exploited, impoverished and used as all evidence goes). There are some young women of color whom I have talked to who said, "Nobody gets married here" (referring to Trenton, Newark or their own urban circles). This becomes crucial because the trifecta according to social scientists on personal satisfaction or mobility is premised on marriage, education and work. I pray that those who discover these happy avenues and/or a walk in Christ will realize that the Good News and its fruits are worth sharing. The Bible contains the tips towards a happy, not miserable life. All beauty and goodness is in God, says St. Faustina in her diary. Earlier God let me miss my usual stop in the second train I take and let me comfort a homeless man who comforted me right back (it always happen that way, this is the mutual beneficence, the true solidarity that Pope Francis says marks a genuine evangelization moment). I had told him about another shelter that he could go to, another type of worship that he, as a fallen away Catholic, can be revived by (There is a NeoCatechumate Mass where the Sisters of Charity has their soup kitchen as well.) He may have been homeless, having chosen to leave another shelter because of too many bedbugs, but he is richer than most people. At the end, former alcoholic/ addict M. exclaimed, "I have been high on cocaine, so I know what it is to be high. But nothing. Nothing. Can ever equal the high we get from the Father. My Father, Your Father."
Hon and I ended the day with an appointment with our parish priest for a prayer and catch-up moment, he who was in the Vatican recently and showed us his video when the Pope passed in front of him during the reception for this charismatic conference with priests. He told us to stay being a witness, to succor to the wounded especially among the morally liberal, and to present the picture of God's Divine and happy plan. He blessed us in front of the Blessed Sacrament and I cannot help but whisper, "Thank You dear God for Your holy priests, Your great good church, Your infinite mercy. " The dramas involving Planned Parenthood, same sex marriage, city violence and assisted suicide vanish in the bosom of the altar. All these things may have some sliver of good (in their participants' and supporters' minds) but "something is always off," Fr. Joseph says, so carry the full truth, carry love. Where love is, there is God also.
My beloved and I took to this Bloomfield, NJ park because it was offering fireworks early and with a free concert by a Neil Diamond cover band to boot. We mistook a nearby park for this one and ended up arriving when the band was already playing. But what a sea of summer pleasures awaited us. Kids playing in the playgrounds, in the full-sized track, in the fields, then in the main open space hundreds of multi-generational families and friends have laid out their folding chairs, blankets and cushions, and in our case, a little woven mat ("banig") and piled on the food with the full moon on the horizon. We had called ahead for some Liberian food from our friend's place and hon packed as usual like a pro additional stuff, like fresh veggie sides and drinks (Coke emblazoned with "Soulmate"!). Because we were by the periphery (honey, being ever considerate to place me within stone's throw of a porta potti) we were able to stretch to the length of the mat so when the fireworks came and the band ended with "America" and "Sweet Caroline" (the only songs they would likely end up with, says hon) we were lying on our mat, eyes to the sky but cheeks nuzzling each other. The sky lit with the dazzle and splendor as fireworks go--spirals, hearts, corkscrew tails, fans, trails of giant glitter dust. The little girl behind me squealed, "My soul is going to burst!" It was as if we have the whole sky to ourselves. From our vista, the showers of color were popping for us like an overhead umbrella. We were parasoled in light, my beloved and me, lying as we do like in our bed, with no intervening space. In the finale, they bumped up the grandeur with layers of fireworks atop and inserted one another but fusing into a galaxy-like sphere. It became so bright with large pops of light at one point that I had to close my eyes. It was a spectacle like all good fireworks shows but there was something nagging. Around me solid families milled and danced and gamboled about. The family next to us was one of the cops assigned to the area and he sat along side his wife and son for a bit before he patrolled. A whole nursing home contingent from Woodbridge thirty minutes away brought the delighted elderly in wheelchairs. Families or school friends strolled in and out to the park for their homes are right next block. It was a scene from Main Street. Happy America.
I remember when I lived in New York and I detested thinking of moving out elsewhere simply for the homeliness of it (this is very grandstanding for a rural-born person as myself, but...). But where there are normalcy, happy loving families, it is a breath of God indeed. I was too stuck up in fancier desires then to aspire to what is core to our human nature, simply to have and to hold or be held.
I would imagine that the Macy's fireworks would use this time to have a nod on the recent same sex marriage ruling--perhaps rainbow hearts. This icon shocked me somewhat today when looking at kayak.com, the "airports' name" field were automatically tagged with this. I know some 300+ companies put a show in support for same-sex marriage but this is so blatant I immediately shifted to Google flights who at least didn't have this rainbow flag just yet. I thought when the band sang part of a song that says "look to the Man above", will there not be crosses from fireworks anymore in such public displays? What right does a rainbow flag ever to take its place? A rainbow is sign of God's covenant to not ever destroy man. What should inspire us to gratefulness has been appropriated for literally, pride.
There are falling stars and there is the Fallen Star. All the flash and bang that came with the fireworks ended up in smoke in a mere thirty minutes. Such is any worldly power, such is worldly gain. Heaven and earth will pass, save Me, says the Lord. The saints in heaven, it is written, is so bright, brighter than the sun, Mama Mary says to St. Brigid in "Revelations". One can see this in the Vilnius painting of the Divine Mercy, since restored by the Marians. Jesus parts His white robe, letting the rays of Blood and Water radiate, but it allows a peek at his heart, which is blindingly bright, a solid plasma of light. It was a reminder for me to stay in ever greater praise for He who saves, He who is infinitely powerful than any puny speck of a creature He created. We know that persecution comes to those who follow Him, so we thank God for every moment for it empowers us and offer any anxiety in trust. I walk, like I did, trusting hon to lead us in the maze-like paths back and even there is a detour, we ended up happy and on target. I even see that as his trials that day as mine, (helping someone sick in our church or learning about NaProTechnology respectively) we ended up getting rewarded lovingly in the end. The macro view point of this is can be gleaned from older folks who were interviewed by social scientists and by people already in heaven who shared these thoughts with Sts. Faustina or Brigid. One may be discouraged in the short term, but the regret that happen in old age or in the soul stage is they could have done more risk in doing more good in life and thus, according to the saints, gaining higher levels in heaven, for there is such a thing. A priest succintly told us the other day and homily on the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul one theme mentioned in the Diary of St. Faustina: If one knows what is the Will of God (from His Word and Church and from prayer and godly counsel), you are beholden to follow it. If God tells you to do something, just cooperate. God had already justified whom He has called so do not sweat it. Then he quotes Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta to the delight of her Missionary Sisters there, "We are called to be faithful, not successful." It is our labor, suffering and love that will win us crowns.
I went to the American Academy of Fertility Care Practitioners (www.aafcp.org) pre-conference in St. Petersburg to hear the co-developers of the Creighton Method/ Naprotechnology speak for the first time the nearly 40-year journey in their research and work took. When I heard about this Naprotechnology for the first time from Liliana Soto-Cabrera of the Archdiocese of Newark I was clueless what it meant, but because my prolife OB at the Gianna Center for Women at St. Peter's Hospital, Dr. Karl Beiter, had been trained by its founder, Dr. Thomas Hilgers, FACOG, I decided to hear Dr. Hilgers and his collaborators Diane Daly, Ann Prebil and Sue Hilgers speak on their life and work journey and successes to make it truly the groundbreaking way to naturally achieve or avoid a pregnancy. These are all very scientific and affirmed by science, even foreshadowed by the Billings method which is simply ovulation.
Here are my summary of my take home from this outstanding prolife group:
1. THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD, I SHALL NOT FEAR.This is God's work, as they often affirm. Thus despite persecution, stress, lack of acceptance by many peers, they have grown and flourished. They are also the darnest charismatic Catholic set of doctors and providers I have so far come across in a conference setting...alluding to the feast days of the saints that their publication or conference dates chance upon, being guided by a Vatican document, Humanae Vitae and Dr. Hilgers almost had a mystical experience reading it the first time in the 60s and knew that the Pope / God was talking to him through that document and made it his life's work--the scientific study of fertility and natural family planning methods.
2. BE DEAD TO THE WORLD AND TO SIN. One will encounter pushback, in this case from Dr. Hilger's own Catholic medical center and Catholic peers. He even got flak from the Billings themselves and more so from secular professional groups who really don't even give him mind (of course, birth control and abortion and IVF bring in bucks at the great expense of women's, children's and marital health.) But does it all matter when God Himself has blessed and followed closely his work, with the none other than St. John Paul II sending blessings of congratulations to the ground breaking of the Pope Paul VI Center and and Popes inviting them on numerous occasions to various commissions and personal audiences. They didn't even have support of clergy initially as there were many moral theologians sympathetic to Frs. Charles Curran and Bernard Haring, lead dissenters to Humanae Vitae. (Imagine what these two unleashed into the world, they set against the Holy Father and the Magisterium itself, claiming that a leaked Vatican birth control commission conclusion favoring contraception makes sense and preempted that this is also the Holy Father's final decision. When it was not so, they rallied 200 of the finest theologians to publicly oppose and reject the Holy Father,making it a very tumultuous Vatican II moment. But this is simply their rejection of a greater and higher wisdom, which Blessed Pope Paul VI beautifully explained in his encyclical, but few of them bothered to read it and just got in their mad drive to make the rest of the church side with the pill without regards for its lifestyle and societal impact--ex. divorce, abortion, premarital sex.)
3. IF TWO OR THREE ARE GATHERED IN MY NAME, THERE I AM. Dr. Hilgers has his non-healthcare professional wife and two nurses as partners in clinical work, publication etc. for all these 39 years. Because they are all faithful Catholics and desire so strongly to affirm that a wholehearted sexual union is foundational to a happy marriage, family and community, their efforts had been sustained, even spread. The opposition from other collaborators, even institutional support that was denied to Dr. Hilgers professionally was in more ways compensated by the family atmosphere of love, camaraderie that formed among them and their kids and spouses and new loyal staff. They showed a picture of "power sessions" (weekend-long planning for conferences or for their curriculum) but it was peppered with their small children, Doritos and licorice breaks. In the end their yoke was light because it was Christ's. It was also beautiful to see how working as a couple is also the most beautiful thing that one can do for a marriage, certainly not easy, but oh, the fruits!
4. BE LEAVEN. OR HAVE FAITH LIKE A MUSTARD SEED. Their 17,000 square-foot clinic has a chapel, sees patients, counsels on ethics, makes research, has surgeries, trains fellows and med students. This was so bare-boned before and now is a whole international network too. That is God's work, indeed, for none of them saw how this work of able to make standardized observations of mucus that is at the heart of their charting was able to grow and expand as follows: a tiny natural family planning clinic at St. Louis, Missouri that resulted in a mucus "atlas" and the format by which they would understand the clients and their needs, a medical appointment at Creighton University that made them continue the work more, trainings on the methods, teaching of educators in the method, supervision of teachers and educators in a systematic way and their branding as Fertility Care Centers (this would be the heart of the Creighton Model Fertility Care System--the growing of manpower with the same knowledge and principles), discovery of natural procreative technology (Naprotechnology) which is the application of Creighton to ob-gyne conditions such infertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, founding of the American Academy of Fertility Care Practitioners and its journal, founding of the Life and Love Conferences to teach the clergy and a fellowship program for OBs, the establishment of the independent Pope Paul VI Institute (after the Blessed Pope) which was founded when Creighton University said no to such an Institute and well, on faith and through faithful donors, it thrives as described above and has exceeded its space.
There is one surprise that I got on this trip. On the light of the recent same-sex marriage bill and my friends grieving and angry at the passage of such a bill, I found myself in a room with numerous happy couples (the developers, practitioners, etc. and their spouses even their babies--the most pro-life convention yet!) or those who just didn't bring our spouse along but are nonetheless happy and strongly Catholic, even charismatic, like my fellow Filipino seatmate. I was brought in by a lady cabbie who was gushing to me about her children who got lucky in love and even lives with her daughter and her husband who loves and adores her, the first who refuses to move anywhere without her and the latter who calls her mama. The grandchildren from all her married children were described and cheered, especially the ones who live with her for they find their way to her her bed every morning for cuddling. During lunch I meet a lady who went into this because she got five children way too fast and thought that rather than commute 2 hours to a practitioner, she would learn it herself and did. She is not even a nurse yet successfully taught through the parish for 14 years. With her husband with whom she is celebrating their 20th anniversary ahead that week, they do marriage prep aside from catechesis together. I was driven to the airport by the new Filipino friend whose spouse was a prolife OB who managed to avoid prescribing birth controls, let alone do abortions, because she was adamant to observe the teachings of the Church, being inspired by an Opus Dei mentor from residency in the same teaching hospital I went. (The Lord told me not worry about spending much on the cab coming in because He will take care of my ride to the airport back and He did provide!) On the flight back, I say next to an older British couple who makes trans-Atlantic flights frequently to hang out with their CT- based daughter and family but they said they will bring themselves and their other daughter and family who lives by their Yorkshire home for a grand family reunion in five weeks. I thought to myself the wisdom of the ages is written with our bodies, in our lives. Man and woman will always come together to celebrate God and love and bear fruit in the way that is blessed. Traditional families are always the happiest, the only enduring form, the ones who are open to life will grow, flourish and nourish its participants.
When I arrive in Newark Liberty, I see more families and their kids, remembering my own frequent hilarious and adventuresome travels with my own family-mom, dad, brother. I get picked up by my hubby and breathe a sign of relief and thanksgiving. God lives, God reigns. He has won. There is nothing to fear. Holy families will always be around as long as there are people of faith, they will even increase and unholy ones diminished. This is the latter's self-fulfilling prophecy for they are anti-life.
I see the Lord's charge to couples in Humanae Vitae alive and well: "the task of making visible to men and women the holiness and joy of the law which united inseparably their love for one another and the cooperation they give to God's love, God who is the Author of human life."
I have been for the past months besieged by temptations to return to my former job which is doing medico-legal autopsies. Actually because my job change was from a disagreement with a new boss that came through a power vacuum in our office, I had hankerings why I left it in the way that I did. But I realize that if not for this I would not even know the greater things that lie outside of what we feel are "rock star" hyped up careers, which could be anything in our minds to be. Because my period of unemployment led to me finding Christ and the Catholic faith, I would gladly recommend the experience to the world--that of being rock bottom (I was so shallow my career was my life and identity and it was taken away...) that it would make you realize, truly realize He Who is that Matters.
Because there were opportunities that came at a time when I thought that returning was a good thing and I prayed for it and offers were made available to me, I did realize the import of the decision and ran to not one but multiple spiritual directors and consulted again, not one but numerous times. They all gravitated to the good fact that :
1. They do not need my money but holiness. (for truly, there really was not advantage to working more hours for more stress other than there was more pay, but there is no real advantage to that either because of #2)
2. The movement of a life should be towards not sacrifice nor temporal gain but for spiritual ones. Meaning, the blossoming should be not for greater IQ points or ratchets in the power ladder or social influence but for prayer time, relationship with the Lord, holy hours.
The core issue was am I refusing to sacrifice to God in service by being a full-time pathologist or am I refusing to be thankful to God for the new life He has given me. I have had some friends--brothers and seminarians--who returned to the world. I grieve and see how this was a spiritual battle that I feel, despite having some permission or other, a battle that they have lost. But how difficult it is to see that same dilemma applied to me? I would be returning to the world heavily, same toxic office, perhaps, same fallen away or non-God-believing peers, the same temptation to ball-busting behavior and noxious pride.
For a long time because I lived very much in the world, I equated even after my conversion, the necessity of bearing tangible fruits for Christ, which is important, but less than that when we should be grateful for him being God and doing what He does best for us which is to provide for and love us. I am after all in a job situation which is miraculous--all the points I requested from Jesus of a friendly culture with a prevention-minded thrust was granted by Him and more! To throw that away, when I thought returning to my old life as a "new and improved" soul would be the most "fruitful" thing to do for Christ, was met with literally heartache in Church that I felt collapsing. Reading St. Faustina's diary, I got an inkling it was not to pierce my heart and ready it for grave heartaches and sufferings as I have seen from the violently killed, but it was piercing of Christ Himself, who lives in us and not simply outside. He was feeling stabbed and betrayed, for me being so unfaithful, looking back like Lot's wife to what I have left behind. Is it not enough a reminder for me that those who look back from the plow is not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven?
I have to let go of these attachments and need grace, for I never liked a lot of the medical culture, that part of cold and uncaring to both its members and to its patients, yet I was part of it and felt perhaps I could help it be more humane, that is, before it kills me. But I recognized it early one--the unsustainability of a hectic career with a personal life, let alone family life. Now that I value marriage and family life, I am dissuading many young women from the traditional practice of medicine, the calls, the pagers, the ownership of you and the culture that puts itself above everything else in your life, including, sadly, God. Go to public health or part-time work or apply your know-how in volunteerism, science writing, advocacy, research, corporate or non-profit administration or academia. Or better yet, love your husband and stay with your kids. Dr. Gianna Molla was in the process of transitioning from hectic private practice to full-time home life that but she was diagnosed with cancer in her final pregnancy and chose to keep her child to her and her family's great distress but it paved her way for sainthood. Can we even count the number of studies on physician burnout, suicide and dissatisfaction which are all connected to each other as well as to the studies that put work-life balance values with work as always number one consistently and family life third or something. Whatever women do to promote higher status in the workplace--that "lean in" ethos or breaking the glass ceiling--you can ask these women at their death bed to see if it was worth it? Well, older women doctors were asked, and they said if they were to do this all over again, they would spend time more with their family. Well, one's life is but once. All regrets are evident there.
Where am I going in all this? Career should never be your subject of idolatry. Education, power, even family, should not take the place of God or faith or prayer life. If that is not the template of your life now, you are probably not as happy as you can be. For there is satisfaction or success and there is joy. I would take the former anytime because true joy, genuine joy comes from the genuine sources of it, which is a Person not a thing. I would not want to ride one satisfaction after another and ultimately not end up in heaven after all that work. My take now that St. Faustina gave me that powerful paragraph to see how we grieve Christ if we become unfaithful to His graces and the reminder from my priests and spiritual directors (plus my increasing conviction as a rehabbed wife) that God delights in our mutual spousal love with our spouse over any other activity that we do outside of living God Himself. Any life, any schedule or plan, can be remade with having more and more, not less and less God in one's life. No procrastination allowed. That is the better plan, a divinely ordained one, for sure. As Mother Teresa said, prayer, love, service in that order and sequence.
Last night my beloved and I watched "Alleluia! Inaugural Concert for Center for Music and Liturgy of Yale University". Sitting side by side we were not exchanging comments throughout the program, merely smiles and elbow nudging and some squeezes. At the end of the night we discovered we were thinking in unison apparently all throughout, for while all around us stood in standing ovation, we stayed in our seats politely clapping and while the others stood to bask in the musical afterglow, we were the first to make an exit and source dinner.
We had high expectations on the program. It was a showcase as well as a fundraiser for an incubation space for liturgical music which we cherish. It involved the premiere of a whole Mass, the Mass of the Good Shepherd, by a young composer. It had a 600 person choir and 200 person hand-bell choir. It involved as honorary patrons four bishops/archbishops serving the tri-state area. It was my birthday gift to my sweet.
There are some elements if they had been expanded could be a complete and better program:
1. The singing of the National Children's Chorus which was very accomplished led by Luke, their hip, young and "on fire" conductor and executive director.
2. The melodic piece by the Finnish composer and conducted very expressively by his own talented and pixieish grandson
3. The "Glory to God" and "Holy, Holy Holy" in the Mass of Divine Shepherd.
4. The plain chant of the "Ave Maria" by Bach by select members of the chorus
Both of us felt the Celestial Liturgy which was a voiceless interlude but an evolving chiming and lyrical polyphony on hand bells could have benefited from a more defined movement. I thought it did have a "plot" for it did start small and tinny then became grand and symphonic but it didn't sink in for honey. What made it more surprising to it was the Mass was supposed to have elements as well as six movements throughout its songs, built around the Psalm 23 "Good Shepherd" motif but we didn't feel the motif in the individual songs nor across them. The performances of the last-minute substitute tenor was strong and passionate, likewise the other conductors. The mezzo-soprano, mined from the Yale community, a cantor of the St. Thomas Moore chapel, suffered from volume for their was a portion in the "Lord's Prayer" which would have her make a counterpoint but it was thoroughly lost in the boom of the choir.
The Lamb of God which was the finale of the mass seemed only an exercise in volume but not in melody. The "I Believe in God" was an outright caricature--ex. the phrase on "judgment" done with bass drums and voices. It was a highly literal, more than emotive, celebratory, experience. I would have liked "Jesus" name to be proclaimed mightily and boldly but only if the elements before and after it fit melodically with its two note-forzanzo delivery. Walking to our restaurant, we debated whether they could have benefited from the equivalent of a dramaturge in theater. Hon thought no way that they could have proceeded in to production without getting consulted on. In my mind, I thought the composer is an individual talent, whose collaborators to see his compositions through is not in a position to revise his already finished work. To my beloved he favors that in develpment, there was always ample opportunity for feedback which should be the case for the later works of the center which also includes digital apps for the genre . We breathed easy that only some, and not all the elements of this new Mass will be incorporated in the Sept. Papal Mass in Philadelphia and prayed it is those elements which we both liked. All in all, my second take home was, even as an auteur, to do so well and check/countercheck before you involve a cast of thousands. Both of us agreed, this is a Mass, the Highest form of Prayer. To be familiar with it so intimately is not coursed through musical training and PhDs but through prayer. I lamented that Yale School of Divinity is not a Catholic seminary for their would have benefited from having an on-campus source of Catholic study and inspiration. I remember more beautiful works of those who do not seek cleverness in composition but simply to praise God; St. Hildegarde is one of them. Meanwhile, I pray that next compositions will be prayed over by many and will be rich in the fruit and melody of the Holy Spirit.
Get a load of these seven-day virtual retreats for marrieds, one by Pope Francis.
Pope Alexander then commissioned Anthelm to travel to England to try to reconcile Henry II of Englandand Thomas Becket. Anthelm's health was such that he was unable to take the journey. Anthelm returned to Belley to help care for the poor and the lepers of the area. (STILL WORKED EVEN THOUGH HE WAS SICK!)
Anthelm died at Belley in 1178. On his deathbed, he received Humbert, and recognized that at that time Humbert truly had repented of his earlier acts.