Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Love Thy Enemies as I have loved You

My father was a Marine and he served in the Pacific during World War II. For the most part, dad rarely spoke about the war. Like most soldiers who served, the subject was one with too many painful memories. Dad generally would keep the subject light and entertaining whenever he did speak about the war. There was one story though, that my father loved to tell my brothers and I whenever we would ask about the war. It was a story dear to his heart.
During the winding down of the war against Japan, dad was serving in the Pacific theater. One night he drew night patrol and was assigned to scout for enemy troop movements in the rough jungle terrain. He had just climbed a tree to conceal himself, when seemingly out of nowhere the entire area beneath the tree was filled with enemy Japanese soldiers. Dad found himself trapped in the treetop for hours on end, as the enemy decided to camp right beneath the tree.
Barely able to breath, for fear of giving away his position, dad said he spent the time praying for God’s protection and asking God to help him. Every prayer he had ever learned, swirled through his mind and heart, as he waited silently in that treetop. He prayed that he would not be discovered, and as time went on he began to pray for the enemy soldiers beneath the tree. He said he could see, in his minds eye, our family back home and he imagined these soldiers were missing their loved ones too.
Up close, the enemy soldiers looked very much like the men in his unit. While their physical appearance was not American, and he could not understand their language, he knew from observing them that they were Gods children too. Men caught up in a war, which had brought them all to serve their country. Each one standing for what they thought was right, according to their upbringing and nationality. Like him, they were ordinary men with families and friends in a country far away. Men who might never see their loved ones again should they perish in the jungles of war. As he prayed and watched them, they sat relaxed around the jungle clearing, laughing and sharing letters and photos from back home, the same as my father and his fellow soldiers did when not on alert.
As night began to give way to the first light of the morning, my father accepted that in the end, he would probably not be returning home. The odds were stacked against him and he knew he could not remain motionless and undetected for much longer. Having made his peace with God, my dad began his final silent prayer. He prayed for the men beneath the tree and their families. He prayed for courage for the necessity, which might mean he must fire upon and kill his enemy. And for forgiveness also, as my father never took Gods commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” lightly.
Just as my father gave the outcome over to Our Father in Heaven and made the sign of the cross, an enemy soldier spotted his hiding place in the treetop. As my father signed himself with the cross, their eye’s locked upon one another in the instance of war and the struggle to survive. To my dad’s utter amazement, the enemy soldier silently made the sign of the cross on his own forehead, and put his finger to his lips as if to say; “Be still my brother. I shall not betray you.” Almost in that very instant, the enemy soldiers began to move out as silently and as quickly as they had arrived. My dad never ceased Thanking God for his protection on that day. And dad always remembered to pray for his brother in Christ whose name dad never knew. Copyright: 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mary My Mother

My mother and I had not always had the best of relationships when I was growing up. Mom was born in New York City and placed in an orphanage at the age of two weeks. Even though she was adopted at the age of twenty-two months by a wonderful German immigrant couple, her birth circumstances had left her a bitter person growing up. In those days, being an orphan was something that other children would torment you about, and it left deep scars in my mother’s life. It was a bitterness, which made it difficult for her to love and demonstrate affection to others, especially her own children.  Mom was verbally and sometime physically very abusive to us when we were growing up. Thankfully, we had a very loving and gentle man for our father. About the only maternal love my mother was capable of sharing, was her love for the rosary and Our Lady. Both Mother and I had taken Mary as Our mother from early childhood. It was a shared devotion that would eventually blossom into a mended Mother-Daughter relationship, in a most mysterious way.


In September 1992, I had a dream about visiting my mother and praying the rosary with her. Just before I woke up from the dream, a voice very firmly said; “Go home and see your mother.” I thought that it was a very strange dream indeed, but somehow, in my heart, I knew it was God telling me something very important. When I got up the next morning, I packed a suitcase and called Mom to tell her I would be home for the Labor Day weekend. It would be the first time I had returned home to Nebraska since my beloved father had died seven years before.  After my dad’s death, I found it difficult to be around my mother for any length of time. Her sharp tongue was not something I had ever learned to overlook. I called her weekly of course, and she visited me many times…but actually returning to my childhood home was something, which I found impossible to do after Dad’s death. It just conjured up too many painful memories.


When I arrived late Friday, Mom was happy to see me and we planned to attend my cousins wedding together the next day. The wedding was a perfect excuse for my unplanned visit. Mom and I went out to dinner and visited with friends that Friday night. It was such a wonderful evening and I was sure God had planned a very special weekend for us. Before it would end, I would know that Our Lady had obviously planned a very special “wedding miracle once again. A Miracle of healing only her loving heart could obtain for us. 


On Saturday morning we went to garage sales, as it was something we both enjoyed and ended up at an Estate sale. We laughed as we picked through all the bargain items for sale when Mom picked up a statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Heart. The poor statue had seen better days, and really should have been discarded. Mom insisted she was buying it for me as a birthday gift. I fell into peels of giggles over that one, let me tell you. It hardly had any paint left on it and it had no nose. But it would become, one of the most precious gifts my mother ever gave me. After lunch Mom and I went to church and prayed a rosary together in Our Ladies chapel. Suddenly, I could sense that this was a special visit indeed. The scent of roses permeated the air.


That evening after attending the wedding, Mom and I returned to her house and settled down for the evening. I was reading my bible before going to bed, and Mom was watching a TV program about child abuse. Suddenly my mother turned the volume way up and asked me if that bothered me. I was puzzled and replied, “Well, it is pretty loud. Are you losing your hearing? “ Mom instantly turned the volume down and with tears in her eye’s said, “NO, I meant the program and what you think about parents who abuse their children.”  Without really thinking, I responded,” Mom, I think it is very sad indeed. You were abusive to us. I forgive you and love you. It’s in the past and doesn’t really matter any more.”  In that instant Mom and I finally came together in a closeness we had never before been able to achieve.  And before the visit was over, I would know that Our Lady had indeed been the Motherly mentor for us both.


The following day, as we were getting ready for Mass, Mom suddenly was overwhelmed with a terrible fit of vomiting. As time passed I got very worried and called the ambulance against her wishes. This was the beginning of a painful journey in our lives. But a journey, which God would bless at each crossroad, we would encounter. By the following day, in hospital, Mom suffered a stroke, which destroyed her eyesight. The next day, an abdominal aneurysm almost killed her. Following surgery for that, she suffered blood clots and more surgery. By the time the medical crisis had concluded, Mom went from a healthy vibrant woman, to being blind and a double amputee. Through the many nights of waiting and praying, I began to work on that poor battered statue. I could not really believe I could fix it, but it gave me something to do. I so wanted Mom to see it repaired. I think in my heart of hearts, I wanted God to repair Mom, but I knew that was not to be. Suddenly, as I painted the face, a nose mysteriously appeared. Then with a few strokes of the brush, the statue became a beautiful and a perfect image of Mary once again. Mary, Our Mother, had miraculously repaired the image of our Mother Daughter relationship and also left a tangible sign of her love for us.


While Mom would never fully recover her eyesight, she would lovingly feel the contours of that little statue, and exclaim how beautiful it was. And together, in the remaining four years of mother’s life, we knew that Our Lady was truly our Mother indeed.