A day of prayer for Covid-19

We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, here, and in all your churches throughout the world, and we bless you, for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

St. Francis of Assisi

Two years ago I was in Assisi with a group of United States Veterans as part of a Franciscan pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. That morning the friar leading our pilgrimage celebrated Mass at the Portiuncola. It was a peak experience for me and other members of our group. Now, two years later as we are reeling from the effects of this global pandemic those days come into sharper focus. Pope Francis has designated the entire month of May as a time of prayer for relief from Covid-19. Fr. Kevin Mullen, OFM who is the provincial of Holy Name of Jesus Province of the Order of Friars Minor has designated today as a special day of prayer.

Therefore I’m joining Franciscans and others in a special day of prayer. The crucifix below is a San Damiano Cross I received on the pilgrimage.

Peanut butter and jelly

Almost everyday for much of my life I’ve had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my lunch. It’s a taste I acquired in elementary school at St. Pius X in Delevan, New York. Back then the bread was white and the jelly was almost always grape. Later in life while working at Franklinville Central School my coworkers marvelled at the lack of diversity in my lunch choices. While they enjoyed ham and cheese, egg salad and other choices I had PB&J. The choice of bread varied and the brand varied from time to time but my favorite brand since childhood has remained Monks Bread. Abbey of the Genesee in Piffard, New York is about an hour’s drive from where i live and when we are no longer social distancing it will be one of my first visits. The Abbey was established in 1951 and one of the early Trappist brothers was a former US Navy baker. He began making bread for the community and in time they decided to marked the bread to stores in the area. As a boy I remember they had three flavors. White, wheat and cinnamon raisin.

My first visit to the monastery was in January 1979 and I’ve been returning ever since. My last visit was March 9 of this year. Today I ordered three loaves of Monks bread for my lunch meals. My favorite is sunflower but I also like multigrain and wheat. The monks make a number of other flavors and in recent years have begun to make biscotti in a number of different flavors. My favorite biscotti is dark chocolate. Though I cannot go there whenever I open the package of bread for lunch the aroma reminds me of the monastery and its prayerful presence. If you’ve never been there I encourage you to visit when its okay to visit people again. You won’t be disappointed.

Sought through prayer and meditation

The talk of Coronavirus and an ever active imagination finally got to me today and I decided to run away for awhile. After a quick trip to the dentist this morning I grabbed a coffee at The Coffee Shop and pointed my car northward. I followed a familiar route to a place I go for peace and quiet. I got to Abbey of the Genesee about an hour later and made my way to the chapel. Much to my chagrin there were workman who had covered the altar and the vicinity in plastic. My favorite place to sit and pray was not very peaceful this morning. Nonetheless, I stayed a bit and then walked to the adjoining bread store. I got my wife some wonderful bar soap made by a religious community of women, got a gluten free cookie and some dark chocolate biscotti. I did manage to find a quiet part of the abbey to sit and chill.

The sun shone bright outside and eventually I made my way to nearby Letchworth State Park on my return journey home. I stopped in the park to walk along the Genesee River and to witness the power of the water thundering over the Middle and Upper Fals. It was a balmy 63 degrees today. That’s quite uncommon for March 9 in Western New York. I took some pictures and shared them on Instagram, visited with a friend and then made my way home. I hear the voice of my creator in the silence of the trees, the river and in the quiet of this monastery. The Genesee River gorge is my cathedral. Its quiet beauty is ageless. I thought of the indigenous people who walked this land hundreds and thousands of years before the white man came.

Reluctant Warrior

I love Assisi and the Military Veterans Pilgrimage. It’s helped to make me whole. In the spring of 1972 my life was interrupted by a draft notice. I was opposed to war then and now. I think there are better solutions to conflict and quite frankly it frightened me. The thought of a bullet or bomb ending my life wasn’t pleasant. I like to think I’m as patriotic as anyone else and I get tearful and goose bumps when I hear the National Anthem, America the Beautiful or My Country ‘Tis of Thee. In the spring of ‘72 I had a decision to make. Was I going to war or run away to Canada? Was I going to be a conscientious objector? I chose military service. I joined the United States Naval Reserve as a Hospital Corpsman. 

I left for recruit training on August 23, 1972. I was scared. I thought this was the beginning of the end of my young life. Through the rigors of recruit training I found a way to help as I was appointed “Education Petty Officer.” I got the slow learners through. In the process of helping others I helped myself. I formed friendships and became part of the United Stares Navy. I looked handsome in my ‘whites’ and ‘dress blues.’ I fit in as a reluctant warrior. I did well. I carried the National Ensign at graduation from ‘boot camp.’ I was chosen for my military bearing. Imagine that, a reluctant warrior with poise and bearing. 

I went on to Corps School at Great Lakes where I excelled, finishing 8th in a class of 68 other women and men. Upon graduation I left Great Lakes and my shipmates and over the next two years served with honor and distinction at two Naval medical facilities. I worked OB/Gyn and the newborn nursery at a dispensary at a Naval Air Station that no longer exists. I assisted in the delivery of babies, took care of new mom’s and their newborns. I loved what I did. 

In the midst of that my father died. I still remember the senior chief delivering the sad news. I remember walking back to my barracks that night in tears. The chief told me I could go home early but I chose to complete my shift in the newborn nursery. The little people assuaged my grief. Emergency leave followed and then back to duty. Soon after that a Middle East war put us on full alert. DEFCON 3, all leaves and liberty cancelled. I was frightened. The specter of war, combat and death became very real. I spent most of my waking hours in the chapel praying.

Eventually the emergency passed and there was a stand down from the alert. A no cost transfer put me closer to my mother and home. I spent the next year at the Naval Submarine Medical Center in Groton, Connecticut. I worked in the surgical clinic, drove ambulance, made petty officer third class and was named Command Sailor of the Quarter in July 1974. January 1975 I returned to civilian life. I stayed active in the Naval Reserve for two more years and did well their too. Eventually I was honorably discharged in June 1978. Despite my record of service I always felt less than, I’d never been in combat. I answered my country’s call in time of war, but in my own mind I was conflicted. I felt like an impostor. I joined the American Legion briefly a couple of times but didn’t seem to fit. I looked for peace and worked whenever I could to promote it. Few people ever thanked us Vietnam era veterans for our service. In fact the first time I got publicly recognized and thanked was in 1999 at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner in Erie, PA. The speaker was Clebe McClary, a highly decorated double amputee who was the dinner speaker. It felt good to stand and be applauded. 

The Gulf War in 1991 changed that. Americans began demonstrably show their respect for veterans. I was opposed to the War in Iraq and wrote President Bush a number of letters asking him to reconsider. One day I got a reply from the White House stating that the President appreciated my letters but knew what was best for the country. I continued to advocate for peace and took part in a number of prayer vigils to that end. I never disrespected the soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen who took part. I felt a kinship with them that only veterans can full appreciate. I frequently prayed for young men and women in our community who answered the call to serve.

Then came late April 2018 when a neighbor suggested I join some area veterans who were part of a pilgrimage to Rome and Assisi. Even though I signed up only two weeks prior to departure I was soon on a plane to Rome where I met the leaders of the Military Pilgrimage for Veterans. I met the leaders, Fr. Conrad Torganski, OFM (a veteran US Navy Chaplain who served with the US Marines. Bill Reese, a Lutheran minister and combat veteran of Vietnam and Greg Masiello a PTSD specialist and combat veteran. I met fellow veterans who served in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. Still the impostor syndrome persisted until I met a veteran from Maine who said, ‘You got nothing to be ashamed of. You took the same oath of enlistment as the rest of us. You put your life on the line for your country but you just didn’t end up in a war zone.’ Slowly that powerful statement began to change me. Returning home from the pilgrimage last year I read Greg Masiello’s book about PTSD. In the past year I’ve had a number of health challenges and after one of them I became determined to return to Assisi.

I contacted a fellow veteran who also wanted to go and we began to plan. Returning to Rome and Assisi occupied my focus for most of the winter and early spring. I read more books about Assisi. I traveled to Arizona to visit family and while there read The PTSD Solution which the author believes is not a disorder but an moral and psychic injury. In the process I’ve come to believe that I too have the post traumatic stress injury and that my service was not less than but equal to everyone else. It’s been an epiphany, a homecoming. It took forty-seven years for this reluctant warrior to accept that my service put me on the same footing with everyone else. I owe those insights and liberation to the Veterans of the Military Pilgrimage. I recommend it to you or anyone you know who served in the military.

The Good Journey

As we parted company this morning my friend John said, ‘Donald, this has been the good journey.’ Indeed it has and in the space of nine days we traveled over ten thousand miles via jet aircraft, taxi, bus and on foot. In the process we became united with a group of American veterans whose ages spanned at least sixty years. The oldest member of our group was an octogenarian and the youngest were in their mid-twenties.

We are veterans of Vietnam and that era, Iraq, Afghanistan and everything in between. Geographically we came from all over the Unites States. We were diverse in every way and yet we shared the common bond of military service. We who have experienced the horrors of war enjoyed moments of peace that were beyond words. People who never met prior to nine days ago are now united by a common experience of pilgrimage in some of the most beautiful areas of Rome, Assisi and its environs.

Already we are planning how we might share this unique pilgrimage experience with others. If you’re a veteran of military service and you are searching for healing then Veterans of the Military Pilgrimage should be on your radar. Peace and all good.

A journey toward healing

Beyond PTSD: A Spiritual Journey into Wholeness and LoveBeyond PTSD: A Spiritual Journey into Wholeness and Love by Gregory J. Masiello
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a wonderfully insightful book which I read in less than a day. I simply could not put it down. There are many great insights about healing and wholeness for anyone who has experienced PTSD or trauma in their lives. This author uses personal experiences and everyday language to deliver keen insights and hope for recovery from traumatic stress and depression. Having just spent five days in Assisi with Greg and the staff of Franciscan Pilgrimages made the book all the more meaningful.

Peacemakers among us

Publicly resisting evil and making peace in the world are at the heart of every authentic spirituality. Unfortunately, few of us make the critical connection between the spiritual life on the one hand, and war, poverty and nuclear weapons on the other. Most of us disconnect our private spiritual experience from “the real world” of business, electoral politics, bombing raids, and “national security.” Perhaps we do not want to cause trouble, divide our congregations, or risk the charge of being unpatriotic. Yet, without realizing it, our passivity and silence in the face of global violence renounces the prophetic witness of the nonviolent Jesus. Rather than align ourselves with God’s reign of justice and peace, we opt for the status quo of war and global injustice.” – John Dear

Yesterday on my way home from Binghamton, New York I stopped at Mount Saviour Monastery near Corning, New York. I hadn’t been to the monastery in a couple of years. I discovered that in that time there had been quite a few changes in the brothers who live there. Some of the community that were there for my last visit have gone to their eternal reward. Despite that they have grown to a community of twelve. Yesterday, I was greeted by Brother Justin when I entered the gift shop. We had a nice visit and while I was there I purchased “Peacework”  by Henri Nouwen who is one of my favorite authors. The quote at the top of this post is taken from the Foreword of the book. Besides the book I purchased some honey which is a product of the apiary at Mount Saviour. I also got a couple packages of Dark Chocolate Biscotti which is made at the Abbey of the Genesee. One package for me and another for a friend. Stopping at quiet places like Mount Saviour are restorative.

We don’t get many people like you

In the past week during my stay in Tempe AZ I’ve been traveling around the area on Uber. Uber is a great way to get from point to point. It’s safe, efficient and all the drivers have been very friendly and courteous. For the past two mornings my drivers have said, “We don’t get a lot of people like you.” I said, “You mean guys that are 60+ years old.” Each time they smiled and said, “Yes.” My driver this morning said, most people your age don’t have smart phones. I smiled and confessed to being a geek. I’ve enjoyed my banter with these younger entrepreneurs who are really working as independent contractors out here in the Phoenix area. Uber is great way to get around and is the fraction of the cost of a rental car with the added convenience of not having to invest in a GPS too. When you’re traveling especially around the Phoenix, AZ area I encourage you to try Uber.

Our changing weather patterns

It’s not news to most folks whether you’re a climate change believer or denier that our weather is getting screwy as Elmer Fudd would say. We flew from Buffalo, New York to Phoenix, Arizona on Thursday and our flight was supposed to last about four hours. We were making really good time and would have landed about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. That is until I began to see towering cumulus clouds in the distance from the north side of the aircraft. I began to wonder about the weather. I checked the in flight information on our Southwest flight and to my surprise there were thunderstorms in the Phoenix area. I must admit that I’ve never traveled to Phoenix in November so my perception might be a bit skewed.

Soon after I spotted the clouds and checked the weather I noticed that the pilot had throttled back and I said to my wife.”We’re slowing down.” We weren’t descending but we were slowing down. Our flight remained level but we were definitely slowing down. Soon thereafter one our flight crew said, “You’ve probably guessed that we are circling.” Then the pilot came on to explain the situation. He said we’d be circling for awhile before we’d be allowed to land. The crew was very professional and kept us updated throughout our almost forty-five minute hold. It was a first for me. In over 40 years of air travel I’d never been in a hold before. Our descent was a little rocky but once we broke through the clouds our flight was quite smooth despite seeing rain streak along our windows. We had a great landing at SkyHarbor and our pilot and flight crew are to be commended for our safe arrival.

Many of our fellow passengers were equally amazed at our rainy arrival in the Valley of the Sun. As we stood at the carousel waiting for our bags to arrive a woman next to me said, “I’ve been coming here for thirty years and I’ve never witnessed anything like this rain before.”

Uber in the Valley

Until March of this year I had not tried Uber. On a trip to Tempe AZ in March I decided to give it a try. I was skeptical and reluctant. My first ride in the valley was from my sister’s residence to my Mom’s home which was nearby. I took my iPhone out and touched the Uber app and immediately I was enthralled by the interface. Within five minutes a guy in a late model SUV wheeled up to me and said, “Are you Don?” I got in the car and we were off. I asked him about Uber, where he came from and how long he’d been driving. He told me a lot about Uber and how it worked and he really put my mind at ease about who was driving me and about the system in general. That afternoon was the beginning. I tried Uber several more times on that trip.

Fast forward to last night. I had reserved a rental car prior to our arrival at Sky Harbor in Phoenix and I got all the way to the rental counter, but after hearing about all the extras that I’d need and the extra charges from the rental company, I decided to give Uber a try again. This trip was a bit different and I have my wife along. She’d never experienced Uber before. It was a rainy and windy night and we’d just arrived after a long flight from Buffalo, New York. We were tired and uncertain. After deciding not to rent the car, I used the iOS app again and within minutes our driver appeared. He took our bags and put them in the trunk of a luxury sedan and we were off to our destination in Tempe.  Our Uber driver saved us the from the experience of having to find our way in unfamiliar surroundings on a very dark and rainy night. He provided us with a very safe ride and sold both of us on the utility of Uber.  Later we used Uber again to take us to an area restaurant where we dined and then a return trip too.

We can’t say enough good about Uber in Phoenix.