Earlier this week, for example, 18 of us gathered for a picnic here at Transfiguration Center. Half of the group consisted of guys who began high school together 60 years ago. The other half were their wives. (One of our friends was taken from us a few years ago by esophageal cancer, but his wife, gratefully, is still part of our group. All the wives, in fact, seem to have seamlessly joined our group.) The evening was such a delight: conversation that included lots about the "good ole days" but also about our future, including our deaths; reflections on the blessings of those 60 years and also the failures and struggles of those years. 60 years of friendship is indeed a deep blessing.
Then there was this weekend, which I spent with 9 Sisters and Associates of the Congregation of St. Joseph. (I was, of course, the only guy! Smile happily.) They came from around the Midwest all the way to Ludlow Falls so that Jeannie and I could be with them. It was a whole weekend of retreat-like conversation about the state of our hearts, the values and longings and laughter and hurt that shapes our God-given selves. We prayed together, had Eucharist together - joined in a very conscious way to all those youth currently living in cages at our border, those mothers separated from their children, all those refugees around the world living in camps, some for 20 or 30 years. We feel so grateful to be part of a Church that begs the people of the world to recognize the horror inflicted upon these people. All in all, what a wonderful weekend we had.
St. Aelrad had it right: there is "nothing more sweet" than friendship. Here is his whole statement:
I do not presume that I can explain it in a manner befitting the dignity of so single a good, since in human affairs nothing more sacred is striven for, nothing more useful is sought after, nothing more difficult is discovered, nothing more sweet experienced and nothing more profitable possessed. For friendship bears fruit in this life and the next.
It manifests all the virtues by its own charms; it assails vices by its own virtues; it tempers adversity and moderates prosperity. As a result, scarcely any happiness whatever can exist among humanity without friendship, and a man is to be compared to a beast if he has no one to rejoice with him in blessing, no one to whom to unburden his mind if any annoyance crosses his path or with whom to share some unusually sublime or illuminating inspirations. … He is alone who is without a friend.
But what happiness, what security, what joy to have some one to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self; one to whom you need have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known what progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart and before whom you can place all your plans! What therefore is more pleasant than to so unite oneself to the spirit of another and of the two to form one, then no boasting of one by the other to cause pain, no praise on the part of one to bring a charge of adulation from the other.
Amen to all that!!! Thank you to all of you who have been providing such rich friendship through your cards and notes and visits after Mass - - and to your wonderful participation at the Masses I have been able to have at St. Helen or Immaculate Conception or Ascension.
Ups and Downs. It is ironic that, just as I received such good reports about the help my chemo has provided (better cancer marker numbers in my blood tests, tumors made smaller and softer), I began to feel lousier. For the past month I have had more fatigue, more of a sickish feeling, more soreness at cancer sites. On top of this, a week ago new pains appeared across my stomach, which bulged in the shape of a football. This bulge has turned out to be an accumulation of fluid (whew! I was thinking it was something much more drastic!), which was drained at the hospital a couple days ago. Because of all this I was unable to have Mas at Ascension last week and I have had t cut back on some of my activities. Nuts! I meet with my doc on Thursday, when I hope to learn more about what is happening.
Birthday. Speaking of Thursday, that is the day I will celebrate my 74th birthday. My family - the locals, at least - and I will celebrate with a great dinner at Prima Vista in Cincy. Another wonderful blessing, even if I won't be able to eat much -- or drink much ...
Sunday Masses. Finally, let me mention the amazing joy I experience in returning to "my" 3 parishes in Dayton. As you know, my bucket list consists almost exclusively of relationships - with God, with family and friends and parishes. the three words that ground this bucket list are gratitude and forgiveness and love. As I prayed with this bucket list, I decided to ask Fr. Satish and Fr. Ed if I could return one last time for each of the scheduled weekend Masses at each of the parishes. Ohmygosh, what a blessing. I am so grateful for the opportunity to thank these people for what they have meant to me. Even more simply, I am so grateful just to be with you, to love you and be loved by you, to be in Eucharist with you. Ohmygosh, indeed! I still have 4 of these Masses to look forward to: 7/21 at St. Helen at 10:30, 8/3 at IC at 4:30, 8/4 at 8 at St. Helen and 8/18 at Ascension at 12:15. Oh how I hope I will be able to be there for each of thee Mases.
Thanks to all of you. I love you.