Sunday, April 22, 2007

"Seedling Prayer" Contest Results

Congratulations, Christine Trollinger!

Christine's entry, entitled "The Park Bench," will be featured in the July/August issue of Canticle. In this story, Christine shares about her devotion to Venerable Father Solanus Casey.

On behalf of all of us at the magazine, I would like to thank those of you who participated in our first writer's contest. We had about a dozen entries to choose from ... and after last week, it was such a pleasure to sit and read about the "prayer seeds" in your lives that are producing such a ripe harvest of faith, hope and love!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Zora je, Tony

A small gallery of photographs greeted us as we entered the church, a sea of faces and celebrations and other intimate moments that those who love him can continue to hold. This shot was my favorite: he was a handsome college graduate, she a high-school senior in loopy braids. "They were very fashionable at the time," Johnnette smiled.

It was the moment of young love, frozen and preserved for the decades to follow. At that time, they were blissfully unaware of the rough road that lay ahead of them. And yet, the looks on their faces say it all: We are in this together. Together through the happy times. Together in the dark.

Together they built the kind of life that Father Ed spoke of in his homily: "In our darkest hour, we believe there is a purpose even in our suffering, and that purpose is love. Even the unbearable becomes bearable ... from that darkness, comes light."

His children recalled a man who lived the way he spoke: direct and honest. "He had a way of taking things down to basics," said Thea. "When Simon died, Dad said to me, 'He belonged to God -- your Mom and I were his parents, and guided him while he was here. But he belonged to God, and so we must be willing to give him back when God comes for him.'"

Jessica observed, "We always knew it would end like this, because of that wicked disease. Dad showed us so many things, and he even showed us how to say good-bye. There have been baby steps all along the way, which he grieved along with us."

When it was time for her to speak, Johnnette did so with her unfailing eloquence ... and yet, the magnitude of her grief was palpable. "He was always my champion, always my advocate. I know he will remain so. I told him in those last moments, 'Anthony, I am weeping, but my heart is full of such joy for you. And now I must go to confession, for I feel such envy!' And with that he went into the arms of Our Lady, with her Son standing by."

Later, we gathered at the cemetery to lay Tony to rest next to his son. As the family gathered one last time to say good-bye, Ljubica (Libby) Fill, an elderly Croatian woman and a close family friend -- celebrated Tony's heritage with "Zora je" (When the Sun Comes Up), a folk song that summed up all too well what the rest of us were feeling:

Zora je svanula, suza je iz oka kanula
Zora je, nema te, čuješ li, ne mogu bez tebe

Sanjam te, sanjam te
Sve me još, sve me još
Sve me sjeća na tebe
Samo pjesma moja čuje se
Al' nema te

Each time the sun comes up,
And we know you’re with God,
We’ll keep listening for you,
It’s going to be hard to do without you.

We’ll keep dreaming about you.
You’re our everything, our everything.
Our whole life was wrapped around you.
When we sing these songs,
We know you’re with God.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Calling Home

Today as I was reading through the entries for our "Seedling Prayer" writer's contest, there was one that fell out of the pile and clamored for my attention. Since it was five pages long -- far more than the 500 word limit in the contest -- I almost set it aside. But something made me stop and take a closer look.

In her contest entry, Elizabeth Schmeidler -- mother, singer, songwriter -- shared a story about a time she (with great reluctance) allowed her teenage son to go to Mexico on a missions trip. Elizabeth remembers receiving a phone call from the young man and hearing the exhilaration in his voice. "Then I knew I had to be happy for him, even though it was hard for me to let him go." Later, when she had to comfort a grieving mother who had lost her autistic son, who used to call her cell phone dozens of times each day, she remembered what it was like to get that phone call from her son, and penned the lyrics to a song for her friend, written as if her son were speaking to her from heaven.

Elizabeth has generously agreed to share her song, "If I Could Just Phone Home," which is a cut from her CD Walk On. Please do not copy this song without permission -- to order copies of her CD, go to her website
P.S. To those of you who entered the contest, I hope to announce the results early next week. Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Eternal Light Shine Upon Him...

Tony Benkovic entered eternal life last night at approximately 7 p.m.

I have no additional details yet. However, I will post them here as I have them.

Please continue to pray for the whole family. I leave you with this prayer of John Cardinal Newman:

O GOD of the spirits of all flesh, O Jesus, Lover of souls, we recommend unto You the soul of this Your servant Tony, who has departed with the sign of faith and sleeps the sleep of peace.

We beseech You, O Lord and Saviour, that, as in Your mercy to him You becamest man, so now You wouldest hasten the time, and admit him to Your presence above.

Remember, O Lord, that he is Your creature, not made by strange gods, but by You, the only Living and True God; for there is no other God but You, and none that can equal Your works.

Let his soul rejoice in Your light, and impute not to him his former iniquities, which he committed through the violence of passion, or the corrupt habits of his fallen nature.

For, although he has sinned, yet he always firmly believed in the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; and before he died, he reconciled himself to You by true contrition and the Sacraments of Your Church.

O Gracious Lord, we beseech You, remember not against him the sins of his youth and his ignorance; but according to Your great mercy, be mindful of him in Your heavenly glory.

May the heavens be opened to him, and the Angels rejoice with him.

May the Archangel St. Michael conduct him to You. May Your holy angels come forth to meet him, and carry him to the city of the heavenly Jerusalem.

May St. Peter, to whom You gave the keys of the kingdom of heaven, receive him.

May St. Paul, the vessel of election, stand by him.

May St. John, the beloved disciple, who had the revelation of the secrets of heaven, intercede for him.

May all the Holy Apostles, who received from You the power of binding and loosing, pray for him.

May all the Saints and elect of God, who in this world suffered torments for Your Name, befriend him; that, being freed from the prison beneath, he may be admitted into the glories of that kingdom, where with the Father and the Holy Ghost, You livest and reignest one God, world without end.

Come to his assistance, all you Saints of God; gain for him deliverance from [the] place of punishment; meet him, all you Angels; receive his holy soul, and present him before the Lord. Eternal rest give to him, O Lord. And may perpetual light shine on him. May he rest in peace. Amen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Editor Appreciation Day

The last several posts have fallen in the "inspirational" category. However, I also want to make this blog something of practical use to you as well, and so for the rest of the week I've culled a few nuggets that I hope you will find helpful as you polish your own prose.

When I left Servant, my boss and mentor-friend Bert Ghezzi gave me a copy of William Zinsser's On Writing Well (Harper Perennial, 1998). This classic guide on writing nonfiction, as it turned out, would have been of tremendous help to me on my first day of work at Servant ... but better late than never.

Today I'd like to share a passage in Zinsser's book about the value of a good editor that may be helpful for you to keep in mind the next time you are trying to negotiate what can be one of the most delicate ... yet, when it's done right, most satisfying, types of non-familial human associations: the relationship between an author and her editor. It's more of an art than a science, intricately tied to all kinds of intangibles such as personalities, expectations, past experiences, and future hopes. But when it turns out well, the results can be breathtaking. And so, I leave you reading from page 290.

Editors ... are they friends or enemies -- gods who save us from our sins or bums who trample on our poetic souls? Like the rest of creation, they come in all varieties. I think with gratitude of a half-dozen editors who sharpened my writing by changing its focus or emphasis, or questioning its tone, or detecting weaknesses of logic or structure, or suggesting a different lead, or letting me talk a problem through with them when I couldn't decide between several routes, or cutting various forms of excess. Twice I threw out an entire chapter of a book because editors told me it was unnecessary. But above all I remember those good editors for their generosity. They had an enthusiasm for whatever project we were trying to bring off together as writer and editor. Their confidence that I could make it work kept me going. ... There is no end of ways in which an editor can improve a manuscript: pruning, shaping, clarifying, tidying a hundred inconsistencies of tense and pronoun and location and tone, noticing all the sentences that could be read in two different ways, dividing awkward long sentences into short ones, putting the writer back on the main stage if he has strayed down a side path, building bridges where the writer has lost the reader by not paying attention to his transitions, questioning matters of judgment and taste. An editor's hand must also be invisible. ... For all these acts of salvation, editors can't be thanked fervently enough.
The author goes on to describe how a bad editor does considerable harm by insinuating himself or herself into the author's content or style ... something for another time. (Or perhaps something to get you to pick up a copy of the book and read for yourself!)
In the meantime ... Is there an editor in your life who has been especially helpful to you? Why not forward today's column on to that person, and thank him or her for the work done on your behalf? (Thanks, Bert!)
UPDATE on April 20: I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank Kate Wicker for the lovely tribute that I found today on her new blog. Thanks, Kate!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Turning Easter Clods...

Happy Easter! When I entered the Church in 1994, I took “Amy” as my confirmation name, after Amy Carmichael (d.1951), a Irish Presbyterian missionary who was both a warrior and a poet. Amy’s biography, A Chance to Die, has been one of the most influential books of my life … It inspired me to consider carefully not only how I wanted to invest my life, but by what terms I was going to define “success.” It convinced me to think deeply, observe carefully, and to write fearlessly. All these things, Amy did without exception.

As my Easter gift to you, I would like to share with you two selections from Mountain Breezes: The Collected Poems of Amy Carmichael. The first is one of my favorite hymns, which I clung to as a candidate on my final hesitant steps toward the Vigil. There came a point when I realized that there were some questions to which I was going to receive answers only after I had been received into the fold. God was calling me to trust … and, in the end, I’m glad I did. I'm happy to say all those niggling questions are gone, gone, gone ... and oh, the riches I've discovered instead!

The second selection is a poem Amy wrote in memory of one of her "treasures"; little "Pearl" had been sold by her own parents as a child prostitute to a Hindu temple in India. Pearl was rescued by Amy, who determined to raise the little girl at Donavur Fellowship -- and then the girl died suddenly. Though Pearl was one of dozens of children who lived at the orphanage, Amy's expression of love and loss in the poem is heartfelt. Reading it again, as the mother of two adopted children, I find my love for this woman as fierce and devoted as ever it was.
This week Amy's poem about loss seems especially appropriate, though I have nothing concrete to report about Tony. I share it with you anyway as a reminder for you to continue to pray for the Benkovics.

Under the Mercy.


From prayer that asks that I may be
Sheltered from winds that beat on Thee,
From fearing when I should aspire,
From faltering when I should climb higher,
From silken self, O Captain, free
Thy soldier who would follow Thee.

From subtle love of softening things,
From easy choices, weakenings,
(Not thus are spirits fortified,
Not this way went Thy Crucified)
From all that dims Thy Calvary,
O Lamb of God, deliver me.

Give me the love that leads the way,
The faith that nothing can dismay,
The hope no disappointments tire,
The passion that will burn like fire;
Let me not sink to be a clod:
Make me Thy fuel, O Flame of God!

AC p.223


Dear Master, all the flowers are Thine,
And false the whisper, "ours" and "mine."
We lift our hearts to Thee and say:
"Lord, it was Thine to take away."

And yet, though we would have it so,
Lord, it is very good to know
That Thou art feeling for our pain;
And we shall have our flower again.

So help us now to be content
To take the sorrow Thou hast sent.
Dear Lord, how fair Thy house must be
With all the flowers we've lent to Thee!
AC, 157

UPDATE: Kind thanks to our dear Irish sister Ann Murray, who lives just miles from Amy's birthplace. She sent this link to alert me to the honorary memorial recently installed at Amy's family's estate (November 2006). Thanks be to God!

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

A Sudden Hush

Between now and Easter I will be taking a "blog break" (barring any sudden developments in Tony Benkovic's situation). I leave you with this beautiful reflection, courtesy of Ann Murray, a new friend from Belfast, Ireland, who has agreed to share her beautiful poetry and artwork with us (photography by Bronaugh M.). Be sure to check out her blog.

Good Friday

An impassioned mist enveloped those
Who stood beneath the Cross,
While Jesus’ suffering endured
Until His last breath was exhaled.
No ordinary man was this -
A veil of mourning covered the sun,
The temple curtain was torn from top to base,
The cold earth quaked as
All were plunged into an ecliptic night
When even the wood of Calvary stood
Bereft of heaven’s light

Ann Murray

Monday, April 02, 2007

We Miss You Still, John Paul the Great

It was on the eve of Mercy Sunday, just two years ago today, that he breathed his last. As he drew near the Gates of Heaven, Saint Faustina was there to welcome him, along with his good friend Blessed Mother Teresa. Father and mother, brother and sister -- all are present to greet their Karol, who broke the bonds of earth having accomplished everything his Master had asked him to do...
“Holy Father.” Never had the appellation been quite so apt. One glance into those startling blue eyes, and you could see heaven itself. He spoke eight languages, penned fourteen encyclicals and countless letters, and visited almost 130 countries over the course of his twenty-six year pontificate. And yet he always had time to hug a child, write a letter, or extend a dinner invitation.
When my husband and I honeymooned in Rome, we were first in line to be presented to Pope John Paul II and receive his apostolic blessing on our marriage. There were eleven other couples behind us, and yet he fixed his full attention on us, his hand extended not in cold ritual, but in fatherly welcome.
He was a man of great passion and intelligence. No other pope was so prolific, or so generous in extending himself for the good of his children. He canonized and beatified more saints than all his predecessors put together, and was a tireless proponent for human dignity. This is evident even in the way the Holy Father defined the mission of the Church, in which every person – without respect to age, gender, vocation, or nationality – was invited to share in the great work of the New Evangelization. Without compromising Truth, he extended himself in love to bridge the chasm between Catholics and the rest of the world – Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, and especially other Christians. Time and again, they reciprocated that love and respect.
As a convert to the Catholic faith, I am particularly indebted to Papa John for leading the Church in renewal, so that when I finally got close enough to look inside, I found a faith so vital and relevant, I knew I could never be happy anywhere else. Like the Prodigal Son, I was welcomed with open arms; unlike him, it was not until I finally wandered home that I realized just how lost I had been.
Time and again, reporters spoke of the “legacy” of Pope John Paul II, asking one person after the other to articulate the Holy Father’s greatest contribution to the Church over the course of his pontificate. In reality, I think this is not the correct question to ask. A shepherd’s work is not about personal ambition. It is about keeping the sheep safe. Through his writings, his appearances, and especially by his own example, Papa John led the sheep entrusted to him around the pits and brambles of the world in which we live. Though his intellectual capacity and diplomatic prowess were beyond reproach, his true greatness was in his capacity to love.

And so, dear Papa John, we now entrust you to the angels
with all the rest, like you, poured out in living sacrifice.
May Our Lady take you by the hand, and lead you to our Brother,
And may the Son rejoice to hear her speak your name.
May you adore, in beloved company long anticipated,
and receive your just reward, and dance in jubilation
with the host from every nation, at the love-fest of the Lamb.
Holy Father, our Papa John, please pray for us.

Your loving daughter, Heidi