I drove to Rapid City, South Dakota last Wednesday to lead a retreat for the staff of St. Patrick's Parish (Casper, Wyoming). Most of that five hour drive was spent going over the material I would be presenting at the retreat. It is my desire when I give retreats to have the material solidly in my mind to utilize my notes as little as possible. A five hour drive certainly lends itself to making that happen.
After leading the retreat from Wednesday evening through the day and evening on Thursday, I was prepared to head out for my next commitment. While I had to skip Mass and breakfast on Friday morning to make an early departure from Rapid City, I was truly blessed with the 36 hours I had at Terra Sancta Retreat Center with the good people of St. Patrick's Parish. I left Rapid City at 3:00 A.M. on Friday and headed back to Cheyenne.
After arriving in Cheyenne at about 8:30 A.M. I quickly unpacked my suitcase and repacked it. I went to the office and worked for a couple of hours to take care of things that had arisen while I was in Rapid City. My son was finishing classes at noon, my wife was leaving work at noon, and I was also able to get away at noon. We met at home, finished packing the car, and were on our way to St. Louis, Missouri.
We were headed back for a Memorial Mass for my brother-in-law Glenn who had died the week before. This trip of 900 miles, which I have now made nearly 40 times in eight years, meant that I had 14 hours in the car to "think" about the homily I would preach at the Mass. We drove all night and arrived at our hotel at 5:00 A.M. This allowed just enough time to relax for a couple of hours and then get ready to leave for the church. I was exhausted from the trips, but I was prepared for the homily and grateful that we could be present for the Mass. (Rapid City to Cheyenne and then Cheyenne to St. Louis meant that I had covered just over 1,200 miles in a little over 24 hours. Thankfully, I had two other drivers to help with the trip to St. Louis.)
As I age, a number of things become quite apparent. First, I cannot do some things that I was able to do when I was younger. (For example, I will never dunk a basketball again the way I did when I was twenty years old.) Secondly, I do not have the physical stamina I once possessed. The 900 mile drive back to St. Louis was significantly easier even eight years ago than what it is today. However, the obvious aspect of all of the physical limitations is that I have adjusted and continue to adjust as needed.
The other thing about aging is that when I walk through the cemetery of my childhood church, I recognize the names of many, many people buried there. The reality of life and death seems to stare at me more directly with each passing year. That is okay. Having been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 25 put me ahead of the game in recognizing the fragile nature of life. The gift of faith has been a blessing to help process the difficult components of life such as illness, suffering, and death.
Death has been a part of the picture several times recently with extended family members. A few serious illnesses have also been diagnosed with relatives, friends, and co-workers. We truly are only on this earth a short time, and there are significant struggles during some of those days. I assure my family and friends of my prayers for each of you during your time of sadness, sorrow, or illness.
The photo above shows one petal of the flower laying on the ground. Much symbolism can be read into that depiction. I'll let you reflect upon it as you see fit. However, I will ask these questions:
1. If God is the Vine and we are the branches, how securely are we attached?
2. If we all must face death at some point (petal falling from the flower), how do we live until that time arrives?
Coping with grief and loss can be a painful process. If we experience multiple losses in a short period of time the grieving process can become even more complex. Being surrounded by family and friends can certainly aid in the process of healing from grief. However, sometimes even that is not enough. It really is okay to seek help when we struggle with the circumstances of life. My dear readers, if you ever find yourself unable to cope with the challenges and difficulties confronting you, please seek out a trusted friend, clergy person, or professional counselor. You do not have to struggle alone. There is help available. I simply offer those thoughts as a gentle reminder to those who are hurting profoundly.
The trip back home came at a more leisurely pace. Stopping more frequently to stretch my legs increases the amount of time the trip takes, but that is one of the adjustments I make to accommodate the realities of life. (Visiting restrooms on a more frequent basis while traveling may also be part of the equation.)
Once again, I offer my condolences to the Maschmidt family. Thank you for giving me the privilege of preaching at the Memorial Mass. May you find strength, peace, and comfort in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Thank you also to the pastor, staff, and volunteers of St. Ferdinand Parish in Florissant, Missouri. Your hospitality and kindness was truly appreciated.