The start of the new year feels often like a natural time to kick off new things. We shouldn’t wait until January 1st to start something new or improve ourselves, but since today is January 1st, might as well start today.
The weekend before Thanksgiving, my niece passed away. She was 22 years old, leaving behind her husband and two sons.
I officiated the service and offered a reflection on making sense of her death. A friend of her husband’s family is a pastor in town and gave another one that focused on the afterlife. My reflection is below as prepared, slightly edited to remove her name:
This doesn’t make sense. We’ve now had just over a week to try to make some sense of such a sudden and tragic death, and it doesn’t make much more sense than it did a week ago. We cry, yes, because of how much we loved her and the sadness of not having her next to us today, but we also cry because of how surprised and shocked we are to lose her so quickly at such a young age.
It just doesn’t make sense. Parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. Husbands aren’t supposed to be balancing two babies in their arms while at their wife’s funeral. But here we are.
In the past week, two things have helped me, not make sense of this, but to help me begin my own personal process of healing. First, what we see here today is not what she sees now. As the Old Testament tells us:
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,Wisdom 3
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead,
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
Even as we view her passing with sadness and something that destroyed our world, she has been entrusted to the merciful hands of God and she is now at peace.
And the second is being reminded of how much God loves us, which can be really hard to believe right now. One thing I’ve heard by different friends and loved ones this week is some variation of not understanding how God could have this be his plan, not understanding why God would have done this. Why would such a loving God let such a loving person perish? Why did God’s plan have her taken away from us now?
It wasn’t God’s plan. God didn’t plan out each day of our lives from the beginning and just hoped that we stayed on that path. God’s plan for us is, ultimately, to return to him, he who made us. God so desires this that His plan for us is too powerful—it figures out a way.
I don’t think God plans for us to get sick, to get cancer, to get in that accident. I don’t think God penned a plan that would have us together in this funeral home gathered today around her up here in the front.
God’s plan for us, though, is that we all have the free will to decide for ourselves what we will do today or what we won’t. God’s plan for us is generally for the world will play out with how all of those decisions every day by all of us here impact each other. God’s plan for us is to live in his creation, accepting the scientific rules and realities that have evolved over the eons.
God’s plan for us is to accept the decisions we all make, to accept that what brought us to this point brought us to this point, and then for us to decide to make it better from this moment forward. To use what we have before us—good or bad—and transform it with the grace of the Spirit to something better.
Paul in his letter to the Romans helps us:
If God is for us, who can be against us?Romans 8
He did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all,
will he not also give us everything else along with him?
What will separate us from the love of Christ?
Will anguish or distress or persecution or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
No, in all these things, we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God.
God loves us so deeply, so fully, so passionately, so all-consuming. God doesn’t just like you or thinks you’re okay, or tolerates you only when you’re in a good mood. God loves you. God is like fully obsessed-in-love over you.
God’s love for us is something that God wants us to share with each other. God can not but have his love spill out onto each one of us and, in return, being given such full and complete love, we have to share it with those around us.
And that’s how, maybe, while being here today for this reason still doesn’t make any sense, that’s how it can give us purpose and hope.
She had such a beautiful spirit who shared so much love with us and the world is a worse place for her not being here anymore. She is better off — she is at her peace — but we still have less here with us.
While I don’t think God’s plan was to have her life on this earth end a week ago, I think that, maybe, God’s plan for us today moving forward is to take a moment to pause, realize how much love the world lost when it lost her, and then for us to commit to being that love. To be that extra love for each other–her friends and family, for us to be that extra love for the rest of the world who never will get to experience her love this side of heaven, to be that extra love in some small way for her husband, and to be that extra love for her boys so they will always know their mother by her love.
I don’t think her death will ever make any sense to me, but we can accept love, we can show love, and we can love for each other. And through us and through that love, her light will continue to shine.
I haven’t lost a spouse, but a dad when I was 12 and been touched by grief very recently. She’s hit the mark pretty well.
Thankfully, we did not have any family or friends involved at the recent El Paso shooting, but far too many people are not able to say the same thing today. One family member was there no more than two hours before the shooting and there is no reason why she was spared while others were not.
I am glad and hopeful that President Trump called this senseless act of hatred what it is: racism and white supremacy.
The President, though, needs to do far more to make me believe that he meant it. He needs to do far more to make those who choose hate and for those that choose violence to believe him.
According to researching at the University of North Texas, counties where then-candidate Trump held campaign rallies in 2016 had a 226-percent increase of hate crimes compared to those that did not host a rally.
The President has consistently referred to the issues at our southern border “an invasion”. The cornerstone of his campaign has been to create fear of “the other”. His Twitter account is full of racially-charged derogatory nicknames. He laughs off when someone at a rally yelled that they should shoot people.
I hope that this is the time that enough is enough and that he will change his behavior—for our country but for his own soul—but I’m not going to hold my breath. Until that happens, I can only assume something from a teleprompter is what his aides thinks he should say and his Twitter account is what he actually wants to say.
Guns are complicated, to a degree. As a society, though, do we need weapons with the disruptive power freely available? The Dayton gunman had an 100-round drum—legal. He killed nine and injured 14 within 30 seconds when shooting on a street. Imagine if he started within the crowded bar he was walking toward? He didn’t have priors, though there were warning signs he had issues a decade ago, nothing that made into a system.
Even treating the 2nd Amendment like a Golden Calf, there are better ways to control guns.
I’ve read on Facebook people say that guns are only tools and we need to dig deeper to the root causes. I don’t disagree with that either—we can still look at the tools while going deeper. As a country, we have plenty of problems, but as long as President Trump uses the amazing power he has to stoke fear and excite those with extreme xenophobic and racist views, we’re going to continue to see more and more weekends like last weekend.
Last month, we welcomed our sixth daughter, Ruth, to the world. The pregnancy and delivery were pretty unremarkable. Everything textbook and nothing really out of the ordinary.
About four hours after she was born, we were in the postpartum ward of the hospital. Vanessa’s parents had just left after meeting Ruth and we were settling into the normal couple days of being in the hospital. Vanessa said she wasn’t feeling very well. Okay, no biggie. Let’s call the nurse.
Vanessa called and asked for her nurse to come down. A few seconds later, “I really don’t feel good.” How so? Vanessa said she felt like she was going to faint. Again, “I don’t feel good”, she kept repeating. I offered her to take a sip of water because doctors always say drink plenty of fluids. I pressed the call button again. She coughed instead of swallowed and then she went unconscious. All of this was within 60-75 seconds of Vanessa saying she didn’t feel good the first time.
This was a new one for me. For a split second, I was in denial. “Vanessa, come on.” and shook her a bit. “No really, come on, open your eyes.” Nope, nothing. It was a strange thing to see, never seeing someone go unconscious before my eyes before. Her eyes weren’t quite shut and her mouth weirdly skewed.
Thankfully, when we were in labor & delivery, Ruth was coming relatively quickly but the team thought we probably had a half-hour to go. One of the L&D nurses told us to hang out, but said if Vanessa felt like the baby was absolutely coming and not slowing down, to pull the call button out of the wall to get people in the room right away. Nurses may have told us that trick before, but this time, it resonated and stuck with me for whatever reason.
Back in postpartum, Vanessa is unconscious and that seemed like a pretty good time to test out pulling the call button out of the wall.
Upon pulling it out of the wall, the chime ringing outside the room kicked up a rapid pace and a nurse we hadn’t met was in the room very soon after that— “Is everything okay?” “No, she’s unconscious!”
Good to Know!
At that point, the nurse called out to another who had come into the room to “get people” and put some smelling salts under Vanessa’s nose. She jolted awake and then looked to immediately pass out again. I took Ruth, who was hanging out in her little bed, to the far side of the room and the room filled with people quickly.
Something newish I think to the hospital we were in, they called a “Code Rover” after the first folks started working on Vanessa. It wasn’t a thing when the twins were born and in the NICU, but from reading a bit online, it is like a Code Blue (for when someone has stopped breathing and heart has stopped), but not that severe. It alerts a team to help someone who is in a life-threatening state, but their heart and lungs are working still for the moment.
At this point, the room filled very quickly! At one point, I counted 20 people in the room and I could see more people in the hallway. With me was a medical student explaining what was happening medically and the hospital’s chaplain to make sure I was doing okay. Vanessa had a nurse at her head administering oxygen, three or four on each side doing nurse-y things, and a doctor at her foot acting as the conductor. There were a couple of nurses taking everything Vanessa had bloodied, then weighing it against fresh versions to determine how much blood she had lost. Someone else was bringing in blood, someone else was running vials down for lab testing.
They worked for awhile giving her various drugs, pushing fluids, and whatnot. I had a coworker lose their wife after childbirth—was this that happening? Both at the time and writing this weeks later, it was the scariest moment of my life.
In our family, I’m the “emergency” captain. I own situations like Olivia’s various emergency room trips and hospitalizations. Every birth, I’ve owned that I need to manage the situation since Vanessa has more important things to do. The twins were a high-risk delivery that put them in the NICU for almost two weeks and then re-admitted when they were a month old. I’ve handled all of these situations without letting emotion in, beyond a bit of dejected frustration at 4:30 a.m. of Olivia’s first asthmatic ER trip.
Except for when my dad died, this was the first unexpected immediately life-threatening situation I’ve handled. I worry and play random worst case scenarios through my head literally all the time, but losing Vanessa while holding our newborn wasn’t one that I had prepared myself for.
Not wanting to be the guy flipping out on the other side of the room, I was able to hold it together enough to tell myself Ruth needed me to keep her calm and to text Erin, a dear friend of ours who had been a L&D nurse. At first, I expected her—or at least wanted her—to tell me something about how this was all really normal and not to worry. Her first response was to sit down if I needed to, which validated that I was legitimately in a situation where it was okay to be flipping out a little. I suppose the hospital’s chaplain being paged to stand with me was validation enough, but I digress.
It was about 30 minutes before I could see Vanessa moving and she finally was able to open her eyes and look at me. In her telling of the story, she was awake ever since the smelling salts, albeit too weak to even open her eyes, but to me, she looked limp and unconscious for a long time.
The worst I heard them announce her vitals, she had a blood pressure of 60/30. She lost enough blood where they gave her a transfusion and, all said and done, took about an hour before most everyone besides a couple nurses left the room.
In the end, we were pretty lucky. Lucky that she started bleeding when she was awake, so it was obvious something was wrong. Lucky that I was in the room. I could have easily been taking something to her parents’ car with them or checking out the gift shop. Pulling the cord may have been enough to get her attention fast enough to ensure we had a happy ending.
It wasn’t until we were home for almost a week before Vanessa and I processed it together. She agreed not to scare me like that again.
I got caught last night offering a brief opinion on +Vigano’s memo and Pope Francis’ response on Facebook last night while sharing yesterday’s post about bishops who need to resign. In the Facebook post, I offered that Pope Francis’ response was underwhelming and I stand by that.
To catch up, Archbishop Vigano was the Apostolic Nuncio to the United States from 2011-2016, the end of Pope Benedict’s papacy and the first few years of Pope Francis’ papacy. The Nuncio has a dual function—they are the governmental ambassador of the Holy See to the United States and he is the Pope’s representative to the United States.
The Nuncio does not have any real administrative power over the Church in the U.S. He isn’t the head of the Church in the States (nor is the USCCB in most areas as far as that goes).
Anyhow, +Vigano wrote a memo stating that, among other things, Pope Benedict XVI had secretly restricted then-Cardinal McCarrick’s ministry and Pope Francis reversed it.
Yesterday, while in transit back to Rome after an Apostolic Visitation to Ireland, Pope Francis took questions aboard the papal flight. Here is the relevant section from Catholic News Agency‘s translation:
Greg Burke: Thanks, Holiness. Let’s go to the question from the English-speaking group. Anna Matranga from the American television, CBS.via Catholic News Agency
Anna Matranga, CBS: Good evening, Holy Father. I’ll return to the subject of sex abuse about which you’ve already spoken. This morning, very early, a document by Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano’ came out. In it, he says that in 2013 he had a personal talk with you at the Vatican, and that in that talk, he spoke to you explicitly of the behavior of and the sexual abuse by former-Cardinal McCarrick. I wanted to ask you if this was true. I also wanted to ask something else: the Archbishop also said that Pope Benedict sanctioned McCarrick, that he had forbidden him to live in a seminary, to celebrate Mass in public, he couldn’t travel, he was sanctioned by the Church. May I ask you whether these two things are true?
Pope Francis: I will respond to your question, but I would prefer last first we speak about the trip, and then other topics. I was distracted by Stefania, but I will respond.
I read the statement this morning, and I must tell you sincerely that, I must say this, to you and all those who are interested. Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment. I will not say a single word about this. I believe the statement speaks for itself. And you have the journalistic capacity to draw your own conclusions. It’s an act of faith. When some time passes and you have drawn your conclusions, I may speak. But, I would like your professional maturity to do the work for you. It will be good for you. That’s good. (inaudible)
Matranga: Marie Collins said that after she met you during the victims gathering, that she spoke with you precisely about ex-Cardinal McCarrick. She said you were very tough in your condemnation of McCarrick. I want to ask you, when was the first time that you heard talk about the abuses committed the former cardinal?
Pope Francis: This is part of the statement about McCarrick. Study it and then I will say. Yesterday, I had not read it but I permitted myself to speak clearly with Marie Collins and the group, it was really an hour-and-a-half, something which made me suffer a lot. [The Holy Father continued on a different topic discussed during the Irish victims gathering.]
About +Vigano’s Memo: I don’t know. If fully accurate, it is damning. I caution that we seek verification and investigation. The more incredible the claim, the more we should be cautious to accept it or deny it at face value. As lay Catholics or file-and-rank clerics, I don’t think we know enough yet and it is incredibly confusing.
Bishop David Konderla of Tulsa whom I know personally as he was the vocations director for the Diocese of Austin when I was a seminary applicant (I opted to suspend my application shortly before starting). I know him to be a wise and thoughtful priest. He published on his public Facebook page:
I count myself blessed that it was Archbishop Viganò who called me to tell me that I was appointed fourth bishop of Tulsa. The allegations he details mark a good place to begin the investigations that must happen in order for us to restore holiness and accountability to the leadership of the Church. [Emphasis mine]Bishop David Konderla, via Facebook Sunday August 26th
A plain reading of that to me reads that he is offering his own credibility that +Vigano is a solid source.
Even more surprising, Bishop Strickland of Tyler, Texas issued a letter to his entire diocese to be posted at all Masses and on all parish sites/social media accounts where he states +Viagno’s accusations are credible.
+Wuerl’s spokesman has apparently confirmed that he cancelled a meeting of perspective seminarians with +McCarrick. Why would he have done that if, as he said, he wasn’t aware of allugations against +McCarrick, which +Vigano directly states that he did know?
From reactions like this, wow. There must be something to this. Pope Francis has a lot of explaining to do!
But, at the same time, Fr. Matt Malone, SJ, editor of the Jesuit-ran America magazine posts on Twitter a thread of various times that after these sanctions were placed on +McCarrick that +McCarrick celebrated Mass publicly and/or traveled. Some of these times included Pope Benedict and/or +Vigano. Separately, I’ve seen a photo of Pope Benedict greeting +McCarrick during his exit from the Vatican upon his resignation.
Some questions about the Abp Vigano testimony: He claims that Pope Benedict imposed sanctions on Cardinal McCarrick that were "similar" to what Pope Francis has now done. 1/13— Matt Malone, S.J. (@Americaeditor) August 26, 2018
+Vigano, before being nuncio, was, in lay terms, the mayor of Vatican City and ruffled feathers. Part of these disagreements and internal battles were leaked out by Pope Benedict’s butler in an affair reported as VatiLeaks. Some opinion sites have offered that +Vigano is doing this in retribution against other Curial officials who had a hand to play in that affair.
Also being reported is that +Vigano shut down an investigation and ordered letters destroyed concerning Archbishop John Neinstedt‘s mishandling of an abusive priest allowed to stay in ministry after being credibly accused and lying about it. +Neinstedt’s actions led to criminal charges being filed against the Archdiocese, which were dropped after the Archdiocese (under the leadership of a different bishop after +Neinstedt’s resignation in disgrace) admitted wrongdoing. So, +Vigano’s hands aren’t clean either. Why did he wait until now to say something?
So, did Pope Francis knowingly overturned secret sanctions? Did Benedict really put the sanctions on him? Why were they secret? Were they not enforced? Is everything here fully accurate or is there another side not being told yet?
The point: There is far more unknown about what’s going on than known. Allegations need to be investigated and rushing to judgement—that Pope Francis is guilty of cover up, that +Vigano dropped a hit piece, or anything in between—isn’t what we need right now.
About Pope Francis’ response: It is underwhelming. Period.
He doesn’t confirm or deny anything. He says that believing the document—or not—is an act of faith. He throws this back to journalists to figure it out. He wants us to form our opinions and once we do, then he’ll say something? So, if we think he did it then he’ll admit or defend himself? If we think he didn’t do it, he’ll just stay above the fray?
There are plenty of other non-answers that I would have accepted for the time being.
If he would have said “While in Ireland, my focus is on this pastoral trip. The World Meeting of Families was an important gathering and the Irish people have suffered greatly at the hands of the Church. Due to the energy I put into this visit and meetings, I have not reviewed +Vigano’s memo in-depth yet. This is a serious matter and we should investigate all of these accusations.” Okay, cool. Basically a no comment yet, but we should confirm the truth.
I don’t believe the Pope’s response should be read as an admission of guilt or “no content” or anything like that.
But, it definitely didn’t give me anything to think that the Vatican is taking this seriously.