Thursday, November 26, 2015

standing on the shoulders of giants

Dear family and friends,

Yesterday I visited my great Aunt, my grandmother’s sister. My grandmother passed away years ago, and I loved her dearly, so it was quite a treat for me to be able to see her little sister.

For a long time I’ve been wondering where my calling came from. I mean, certainly God can call anyone He wants, whenever He wants. But I believe the great graces God gives us in life come often as a result of the goodness of others, especially our own families. The good in us isn’t due to our good decisions alone, it’s also due to theirs.
My sister Monica
I’m a priest, and my sister is a Franciscan Sister. Those are two little miracles right there, so I’d always wondered where they came from. My grandmother’s second cousin, Sister Marguerite Marie, was a cloistered Visitation nun in Annecy, France for over 60 years. I went to visit her once and was amazed by her goodness and grace.

Sister Marguerite Marie
But it was my great Aunt yesterday who filled in one of the great missing links. We were talking about her father, my great grandfather. She told me how he was a medic in the first World War, stationed in France. While on guard duty one night, peering through the fog, he caught sight of a figure moving about. My grandfather shouted “halt!” But the person paid no attention. Now my grandfather was the type who never had the heart to shoot any living thing – that was why he was the medic. So he went closer and realized that the figure in the night was a nun. She was bent over the soldiers’ garbage heap, scooping out the coffee grinds of the day. She was going to reuse them at her convent. It was then that my grandfather realized the sisters were starving.
my great grandfather

Going back to the camp, he filled his arms – he had huge arms – with the extra bread from the soldiers. He brought it to the sister and gave it all to her. From then on, as long as he was stationed there, he would bring the bread and place it behind a statue by the convent. When it came time for his unit to move on, he left a note to tell the sister. The last time he went to leave bread, she had left a rosary as a gift for him.
my great aunt

Later on, when everyone in his unit was getting wounded or worse, they were stationed by Domr√©my, France – Joan of Arc’s hometown. He went to the parish Church one day and prayed to Saint Joan, promising that if he made it back alive, he would name his first daughter after her. That daughter was Joan, my grandmother.

Bernard of Clairvaux said that we are “Standing on the shoulders of giants”. I certainly am: my parents, my grandparents, my great grandparents, Saint Joan, and certainly so many others whose names I’ll only know in heaven. My vocation, my priesthood, is such a gift, but it is not my own.

Makes my heart swell with gratitude. A thanksgiving, not just for the gifts of food and plenty, but even more a gratitude for the gift of those who’ve gone before us, and those who surround us, our families and friends.

Father Kevin

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Big Mac

Big Mac in his element
Dear Family and Friends,

I never thought something so small could make so many people smile. Let me explain.

My friend raises dogs - long-haired daschunds. I went over to visit her and her family one Sunday afternoon and she showed me a litter of puppies.

Now there were five pups in this litter, 4 girls and one boy. As I stooped down to look at them, all the pups scooted away except one. He let me pick him up and hold him without fussing. “That’s Big Mac” my friend said, “He’s the boy.”

The funny thing is, “Big Mac” was my nickname back in High School. I was a little bigger than most of the guys, and my last name is McKenzie, so somebody thought that up and it stuck.

Little Big Mac and big Big Mac got along quite well from day one, to say the least.

So it was that a few weeks ago, I “dognapped” Big Mac for a day. I couldn’t help it! He was so adorable! He gave no complaints, just wanted to sit in my lap all the way home.
Big Mac as a little pup

I took him for a walk, but, well, walks aren’t his thing. His short little legs can’t move fast at all and then his walk is more a zig zag than a line, so it was all I could do to avoid stepping on him about every three steps.

Walking back inside, my old backpack called to me from the corner. It was Big Mac-sized. The little daschund let me slip him inside backwards. Just his head stuck out, and the backpack was a perfect fit.

Happy doggy
I slung him on my shoulders and jumped on a bike. He just smiled and stuck his head out, now by my right ear, now by my left.

We went to the park. I go to the park quite often. It’s where I’m writing this story right now. When I go for a jog there, some people say hi as you pass them, some might even wave… but with Big Mac in my backpack, everything changed.

Before I even got there two people struck up conversations with me. At the park, people waved and laughed. Mothers pointed him out to their children, “Look at the doggy!” Everyone smiled. Everyone. Dog owners stopped to chat, as did several others. Some wanted to pet, “that adorable dog” as they called him. Big Mac was a star!

And I was flabbergasted. All Big Mac had done was, well, nothing. He had let me put him in my backpack, and then he just smiled. And he spread so much joy! It was a totally different bike ride, I’ll tell you that much!

Big Mac at Prayer
There is much more to love about Big Mac. I went to the little chapel in our house and knelt down to pray, and in he came and put his little paws up on a kneeler too, like he knew exactly what he was doing! Then I went to celebrate mass, and he sat by my feet the whole time. Praying, I suppose!

Big Mac made friends with everyone. And he really didn’t do much. Reminds me of the kind of person that pleases God most, the childlike. What a lesson such a little dog can teach us! In many ways, we please God more by who we are than by what we accomplish. Instead of the harsh judge who at times we make Him out to be, perhaps we should let Him be the gentle and loving father, “Abba” as Jesus calls Him.

Hoping you are enjoying these last days of fall,

Father Kevin