Thursday, January 4, 2018

Remembering a Dear Friend: Maureen Farnan

Words of Remembrance for Patricia Maureen Farnan
3 January 2018 
St. Henry Catholic Church
Maureen (right) with two of her best friends.
Denny, Sean and Stephanie and their families asked me to say a few words about our friend Maureen.  I have known Maureen most of my life, ever since Sean and I were in pre-school together.  Since then, Maureen has always been present in my life.  A presence that all of us gathered here today, will surely miss.

I remember the day my own father passed away.  Maureen came running through our front door with a look of concern on her face.  All she wanted to do was to be with us and take care of us in our time of grief.  Denny, Sean and Stephanie and family: as Maureen was there for us, know that we – all of us gathered today - are here for you with our love, support and presence.  Because, after all, we learned how to do it from Maureen.

I recently came across an article that was written on friendship.  Quite fitting, it was published in the Irish Times.  The author wrote: “The quality of your life is determined not only by who you are but who you have come to know and the people you surround yourself with.  That is the essence of friendship.”

If this author is correct, and I believe she is, then each of us gathered here must have a pretty good quality of life  - not because of who we are – but because each of us has known Maureen, and we have been surrounded by Maureen’s love and presence….as wife, mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, coworker and above all as friend.  And if you were to ask anyone who knew Maureen to describe her, I would guess that they would all say that their lives are better because of Maureen’s friendship: her care and compassion; her kindness and ability to make us laugh; her love for each of us. 

Over the past several days, many of us have reminisced and told stories about Maureen.  Each of us has a favorite Maureen story that speaks of who she was and what she meant to us.  Maybe it’s a story about Maureen as a dutiful nurse or hospice volunteer.  Maybe it’s how she lovingly and generously took care of her children and grandchildren, and each of us.  Maybe it involves her sipping white zinfandel or snacking on cheese and crackers.  Maybe it’s about Maureen’s unique way of taking pictures: closing one eye with her finger and the other eye on the view-finder – and being a little confused when she got a digital camera.   Maybe it’s about her love of all things sweet (especially M&Ms and ice cream.)  She may have never finished a whole meal, but she always had room for dessert.  Maybe it’s about her cinnamon rolls or her crescent rolls.  Maybe it’s about her ability to suggest you go shopping and not buy anything herself but convincing you to buy half the store.  Maybe it’s about Maureen’s love of gathering a group of friends around a dinner table.

But no matter what your story is, I’m sure we can all agree on two things.

First, Maureen always had a kind word and a compliment for everyone.   Maureen would always greet us with a smile and say something to lift our spirits.  Maureen took great delight in all her family and friends, and she reminded us of her love for us in every moment by her kind words and beautiful smile.

Second, Maureen always went out of her way to do something for others, and was always willing to lend a helping hand.  This past Thanksgiving, a group of friends gathered.  And even though Maureen was tethered to an oxygen line, she wouldn’t sit still. She insisted on taking care of our needs…clearing the dishes, filling our cups, replenishing the food.  When we suggested that she let the kids take care of things, you could tell that it was difficult for her because helping and taking care of us was just who she was.  In doing so, she showed that each one of was special to her and she reminded us to always take care of each other. 

Perhaps this is all summed up in the Irish concept of (Ah Num Car A) “anam cara.”  While it is best translated as “soul friend” it can also be described as a friendship that is characterized as a compassionate presence.  Maureen embodied this idea of compassionate presence in all moments of her life. A presence that radiated kindness, generosity, gentleness, warmth, and love.

According to Irish poet John O’Donahue, “When you are blessed with an anam cara, the Irish believe, you have arrived at the most sacred place: home.”  Each of us were blessed to have Maureen in our lives because she always made us feel at home by her compassionate presence.  In doing so, I believe she gave us a glimpse of that eternal home where she now dwells.  We know that we will surely miss her compassionate presence on earth, the anam cara, of Maureen.  But our faith reminds us that this presence has not ended, but is only changed.  Maureen is smiling as she looks down upon us, with her parents, siblings and friends who have gone before us.  The love that she showed us and our many memories will remain with us and remind us that one day we will be reunited with her in that most sacred and eternal home.   The quality of our lives are truly better, because they have been touched by our friend, our anam cara, our Maureen. 

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

May you rest in the eternal peace of our gracious God.    

Written by Jennifer Fergus and Robert Jones, SM 

Maureen's Obituary 

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Let It Be Done To Me: Fourth Sunday of Advent

Fra Angelico, the 15th century Dominican Friar and artist, painted several Annunciation scenes.  But one, called the Annunciation of Cortona - named after where he painted it - is most interesting.  Like the others, it depicts Mary and Gabrielle conversing in a columned courtyard.  And in this one, the dialogue between the two figures is recorded between them (in Latin, of course.)  The Angel announces that the Holy Spirit will come upon Mary and that the Most High will overshadow her.  Mary responds, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word."  Makes sense.  It's almost as if Fra Angelico is giving us the closed-captioning version.

But what is most interesting, is that Mary's response is written upside-down, left to right.  To read it, you would have to stand on your head and read it backwards.  It is said that the artist never explained why he did it this way.  One guess is that it is directed to God, and so God, from heaven above, would not have to stand on God's head!  For us, though, I think there might be a more inviting explanation.

Mary utters her Fiat, her Yes, her "let it be done," and her world is quiet literally turned upside down. She was betrothed, probably making wedding plans and dreaming about her future "ordinary" life with Joseph.  But God had other plans for her (and for the world!)  God would send forth a Son to save and redeem; God would make possible what was impossible before; God would do something totally new.  And this would turn Mary's world upside-down because she was part of that plan, and with those beautiful words she says "YES."  Yes to God's saving plan.  Yes to bringing forth Jesus into the world.  Yes to allowing God to turn her world upside-down.
One writer commenting on this scripture notes that "She spoke not from a position of ability, but of availability."  And here is what I think Mary offers us today in this Gospel passage.  Just as Mary made herself available to God and to God's plans, so should we.  Even if that means we go where we might not choose.  Even if that means we are taken out of our comfort zones.  Even if that means our world is knocked upside-down. 

We are invited, like Mary, to trust that the Holy Spirit will also come upon us.  That the Most High will overshadow us with mercy, with peace, with love.  We are invited, like Mary, to say our own "Fiat," or own "Yes," our own "Let it be done."  May we be available to God so that God can turn our world upside-down.

Blessings on your Advent (even if this last "week" is really short!)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

A Voice Crying Out: Third Sunday of Advent

If you have every watched the reality show/music competition "The Voice" you know that the first round is a "blind audition."  The singer begins to perform while the judges are seated in chairs with their backs turned to the contestant.  All the judges have to go by is the voice that they hear.  Not appearances, not stage presence.  Only the voice.  Now if the judges like what they hear, they hit a big button and the chair swings around and they can finally "see" the voice.  (One of my favorite blind auditions comes from "The Voice Italy".  You can check it out here.)

So what does this have to do with the Third Sunday of Advent?  I think it illustrates what we hear in the Gospel this Sunday.  Today, we hear John  the Baptist identify himself as "a voice crying out in the desert, make straight the way of the Lord."  We know from last week that he wasn't much to look at and probably didn't have the best presence: a scraggly camel hair tunic and dining on locusts (imagine his breath!) But his voice must have resonated with people because they came out to meet him, and were touched by his message of repentance and forgiveness of sins.  In a sense, they liked the voice they heard, and decided to "turn around" to see and heed the voice singing out.  Oftentimes in the New Testament, conversion really means "to turn around," to return to God, to turn so that we no longer have our backs to God, but we are able to see God once again.
Constantinople, c. 1300.  From

John's message (his voice) is not meant just for the people of ancient Israel, but also for us.  We have a week left in Advent, our time or preparation for greeting Christ when he comes.  Even if short, that's more than enough time for us to begin to turn around, to hear the voice of God calling us back, to work towards conversion in whatever area of our life we might need it.  Let's all hit the big button so that we, too, can swing around and return to our God.  In doing so, we will straighten out way of the Lord so that we can joyfully receive him when he comes to us.

Blessings on your Advent!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Prepare Ye the Way: The Second Sunday of Advent

On this Second Sunday of Advent, we are introduced once again to John the Baptist.  And we remember that he was a bit of an odd guy.  He wears a shirt of camel hair and a leather belt aroud his waste.  He eats locusts and wild honey.  Probably not exactly the kind of person we would aspire to be.  (Although, I'm wondering if he could have shopped at Trader Joe's or Whole Foods!) 

But I think that our readings this Sunday invite to be exactly like John the Baptist.  Not that we need to wear camel shirts (although it looks like you can buy them online!  Or you could choose another alternative - see below.) And not that we have to eat locusts and grasshoppers (even chocolate covered.) 
You can find just about anything on
We are invited to be like John the Baptist in that we are called to "Prepare the way of the Lord."  This is John's mission, and ours.  So how do we do this?  I think our readings give us a nice image.  We are told (both in Isaiah and in the Gospel) that John's work takes place in the desert.  For the people of the Bible, the desert wasn't so much a hot sandy expanse as we might think of it, but the desert was a barren, dry, scraggly wasteland.  It was the hideout of robbers and bandits (so it was dangerous) and it was a symbol for a place of chaos and disorientation.  Just think of Moses and the people wandering around the desert for 40 years!

It is to this place of chaos that John - and us - are called to prepare the way of the Lord, to make the presence of the Lord known.  In the midst of chaos and disorientation - maybe someone who has recently lost a loved one or is facing a serious illness, maybe a family whose wage-earner has just lost a job, maybe an immigrant who is scared, maybe a parent who isn't sure if her child will be able to receive much needed medicine, maybe someone who is lonely during this holiday season - in the midst of all these (and much more) we can fill in valleys and straighten out paths and smooth rugged plains by being voices that cry out God's love and hope, by being people of compassion and mercy.  By proclaiming by our words and actions that Jesus is present even in the midst of the desert.  We do this by sitting quielty with one who is grieving or ill.  We do this by giving a gift or some food to an agency that works with those struggling financially.  We do this by uring our elected officials to base decisions on a higher moral authority and not on patisan politics.  We do this by visiting neighbors and friends who don't have much family around.  In these ways (and many more), we prepare the way of the Lord, and we point to the one who will come.
St. John the Baptist at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome

As we continue our Advent journey, let's reflect on how each of us can be like John the Baptist and Prepare the way of the Lord!

Blessings on your Advent!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Be Watchful!: The First Sunday of Advent

Be watchful!  Be alert!

We hear this admonition four times from Jesus in the Gospel (Mk 13:33-37) as we begin the Season of Advent this year.  We know that Advent is a time of preparation  A time to prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ at Christmas.  And also a time to prepare our hearts to celebrate the coming of Christ when he returns in glory in his Second Coming.

So when Jesus tells us to be watchful, does he mean that we should watch the calendar so as to count down the days until Christmas?  Does he mean that we should watch the skies for his coming again so that we are not caught off guard?

I think the answer to both of these is Yes.  But I also think there is something more.

Advent invites us to not only look to the past or towards the future, but Advent also invites us to look at the present moment.  To be watchful and to be alert for how Jesus comes to us right now.  To be watchful and to be alert to the presence of Jesus in our midst in every moment of our lives.  When we open our hearts to Jesus in prayer.  When we try to listen to God's voice in our hearts or God's voice in Scripture.  When we forgive someone who has hurt us or when we seek forgiveness for a wrong we have done.  When we receive an unexpected phone call from a friend or a smile of a loved one or a random conversation with a stranger as we wait in line.  When we receive the grace of patience or courage or perseverance or understanding or whatever we need in the moment.  When we find a moment of silence in the middle of a rushed holiday season.  Even when we struggle with a difficulty or have a bad day.  When...  When... When... Just look around, be watchful, because Jesus comes to us in many different ways every day.  But we need to be watching for it so that we realize it!

The Season of Advent offers us a school of watchfulness, a sacred time when we can stop and learn how to watch so that we can see how Jesus comes to us each and every day of our lives.  To cultivate this attitude of watchfulness, I offer three simple suggestions

1) Spend a few moments of Quiet each day to be aware of and to reflect on how Christ has visited you during the day
2) Encounter the mercy of God through Reconciliation in which Jesus comes and says "You are forgiven"
3) DO something that helps others see Jesus come to them (such as contributing to a charitable cause or standing up for others' rights or just smiling at your coworkers or any of the Works of Mercy.)

As we enter into the Season of Advent, let us be watchful and alert...for the child born in the stable at Bethlehem...for the coming of Christ in glory...for Jesus as he comes to us right now, in our daily living.

Be watchful!  Be alert!

Blessings on your Advent!

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Remembering Bro. Charlie

I am quickly learning a lesson.  The longer I am a Marianist, the more difficult funerals become.  My first few years, we would receive news of the death of a Brother, and he was someone I only knew in name, if even that.  Now, after some 10 years, the names are well-known, and in many cases I knew the Brother personally.

So, this morning, as we prepare for the funeral mass of Bro. Charlie Wanda, there is a pit in my stomach.  Sure, we knew it was coming.  I had visited him at hospice the evening before he passed into his eternal reward.  But, all the same, it's never easy.

Bro. Charlie (right) with Bro. Mark and Bro. Jean

Life can be funny.  Just last weekend, after hearing of the passing of Bro. Charlie, I was sitting on a plane going to St. Louis for the profession of perpetual vows of two of our brothers.  It's the big event.  The culmination of years of formation and the celebration of their decision to make a life-long commitment.  They are great guys, and the party was grand!  And I think it was even more poignant than normal.  As we celebrated their saying "Yes!" we also remember another "yes" that was made to the very end.  

Sitting here this morning, thinking about Bro. Charlie, two stories come to mind.  I think both remind us about saying yes and about our commitment to live Stability as Marianists.  

In early January, I traveled to Dayton to assist with a vocation retreat.  I got in the night before, and arranged to stay in a guestroom of the Novitiate Community where Charlie lived.  I didn't get there until about 11:00 that night.  I knew that the priest in the community was going to be out of town and I had meant to call ahead to see if the community wanted me to say mass the next morning.  Of course, in typical Bob fashion, I never called or emailed.  When I got to the house, I saw that the community message board said there would be mass in the morning.  Charlie heard me and came out to say hi.  I asked, "Oh, is someone coming in the morning for mass?"  Charlie looked at me, and as deadpan as he always was, drolly replied, "You're here.  Isn't that why we ordained you?"  Of course, a smile then broke out on his face, followed by, "No, seriously, you're saying mass.  After all you are a priest now."  

I smile now as I remember that night.  Bro. Charlie lived his life as the person he was.  I think I saw that vividly in these past several weeks as he accepted his illness with grace and peace.  He put his chemo-ridden bald head on Facebook as if to tell us all, "This is who God made me, this is who I am.  I'm going to live who I am until the end."  On that January evening, he called me to live who I was.  And he will always remind us all to be who God has made us to be, to continue to say "yes" to God in all moments of our lives.

Then, a few weeks ago, I stopped by the hospital on my way home from work to visit Charlie.  At that time, he was in a lot of pain, and the cancer was really taking its toll on him. While he was still waiting the results of tests, I think he somehow knew what the outcome would be and that it was coming faster than expected.  At the same time, there were two mutual friends of ours going through an excruciatingly painful family situation, having just lost a child.  In the midst of his weakness and pain, he asked about them.  He was so concerned about them, and was somewhat upset that he couldn't be present to them.

As I reflected on that visit with Charlie, it struck me that there he was, dying, and yet all he could do was think of others, wanting to "brother" this young couple in their hour of need - just as he had done his whole life.  At the time of perpetual profession, Marianists take a special vow of Stability.  I often struggle to explain it in words.  But it's one of those things you know when you see it.   For me, that moment with Charlie in the hospital room gives us a glimpse of what Stability means.  Charlie showed us what it means to be a Brother and love others to the very end, quite literally.  

Charlie was an artist, and one of my favorite pieces of his is the crucifixion, painted from the point of view of Jesus gazing from the cross upon his Mother and the Beloved Disciple.  "Woman, behold your son.  Behold your mother."  The phrase so dear to Blessed Chaminade, and the core of Marianist Stability.  As Jesus loved his own to the very end, and made sure that they would be taken care of, so did Charlie. 

In his life, in his dying, and still now, Bro. Charlie teaches us about living as a Marianist. For that, we should give thanks to our God.  

Brother Charlie, may the saints and angels lead you into Paradise.  May the holy martyrs welcome you into the New Jerusalem.  May Mary accompany you to your eternal reward.  May you rest in peace. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Holy Thursday: Sharing Life

 Tonight we begin the Paschal Triduum, the great big liturgy that really begins tonight and only ends on the evening of Easter Sunday.  In it, we remember the greatest mysteries of our Christian faith.  And each liturgy is filled with rich symbolism and ritual that helps us enter into the mystery of Christ's suffering, death and resurrection.

We begin, of course, with the Mass of the Lord's Supper.  We remember when Christ gave us his body and blood.  We recall (and re-enact) Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as an act of humble service.  And then we "travel" with Jesus to Gethsemane where he asks us to watch and pray with him.  We are invited to spend time in the quiet church with the Lord, watching and praying.  This is one of my favorite parts.  Maybe it's because I like the dimmed lights and the last remnants of incense that still linger in the air.  Maybe it's because the liturgy gives me so much to ponder and contemplate.  Maybe it's because I just really need some more quiet in my life, and I let myself find it tonight.

Whatever the reason, that's what I did tonight.  I sat in the quiet of the church, watching and praying.  As I was doing this, a group of women came in together to do just the same.  In many places, it is a tradition to travel around to different churches and pray at their altar of repose.  I was first introduced to this when I was in Rome, and as I sat in the church tonight, my thoughts turned to two years ago.

Two years ago, myself and two Marianist seminarians decided to partake in the practice.  After going to mass at our parish, we began walking through our neighborhood, visiting several churches, stopping to say a few prayers at each one.  While the walking and the praying were good, what I remember most is just the fellowship we shared.  As we made our way from church to church, we talked, we laughed, and knowing us we probably yelled a little too (venting frustrations and disappointments.)  And I'm pretty sure we ended up going to the Roman equivalent of a dive - where the pizza was greasy (but oh so good) and the beer was cheap (and actually cold.)  But in doing all of this, we just shared life with each other.

And as I sat in the church tonight and recalled that evening two years ago, I realized that maybe this is one of the messages that Jesus tried to leave us at that last supper he shared with his friends.  At the Eucharist, we gather together around the altar, and we hear Jesus say, "This is my body and blood given to you."  It's as if he's saying, "Look, I am giving myself to you, I am sharing myself with you tonight."  In the Eucharist Jesus shares his life with us.  And then he tells us to do the same.  "Do this in memory of me."  It's as if Jesus is telling us, "Share your life with each other, just as I have done for you."  In the Eucharist we are called to share a apart of ourselves with each other. 

What I experienced two years ago with friends as we traveled on a Holy Thursday night, helped me glimpse what Eucharist is about.  Just as Jesus shares his life with us, we are called to share our lives with others.  We are called to walk with each other and just share life - maybe it involves laughing and talking, maybe even pizza and beer.  Maybe it just means that we understand that we are brothers and sisters, and we treat each other that way, or that we stoop and wash another's foot.  (As we look around the world today, it seems that we could use a little bit more of this, right?)  However we do it, though, we are invited to the table of life, and then we are invited to share this life, our life, with each other.  This is what it means to be Eucharist.