Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Prodigal Son's Mother

One of the professors in deacon formation asked us to give voice to the mother in the Prodigal Son story in Luke's Gospel. Jesus uses this story to hold a mirror up to the Pharisees and scribes of his era.

Many have written that the father in the story is representative of God. Others say Jesus. For the purpose of this story, I purposely chose to have the mother be representative of Jesus Christ as a way of helping the Pharisees and scribes of our time better hear the Gospel message and see their image reflected in the actions of the older brother.

This conversation is best read as a postscript to the story between Luke 15:32 and Luke 16:1.

Then Jesus looked directly to the Pharisees and scribes and said; “Now the mother was watching all these things. Her heart ached when her youngest left home with his inheritance. She told him, ‘Son, you will always be welcome back in this home. My love for you is great and I wish blessings upon your journey. Peace be with you.’

Her older son overheard the conversation and chastised his mother for telling his younger brother he can return whenever he wishes. ‘Father would never welcome him back in this house again.’ But the mother said, ‘loyal son of mine, I love your devotion. But harden not your heart toward your brother. For he is lost and needs to find his way home again. Forgive him. Love him. And pray he returns someday.” But he stormed away in anger.

The father heard what the mother said to the older son and approached her. They gave a knowing look to one another and both heaved a heavy sigh. For how long would it be until the younger son returned? Would he ever come home or would they never hear from him again? The pain of not knowing was almost unbearable, but life goes on.

After years and years of worry, the mother had tears in her eyes as she saw her husband run off to greet the figure growing on the distant horizon. For her heart knew her youngest child had returned home for good. The family was restored. Her heart sang.

She was the first to tend with loving care to her son’s painful blisters on his feet and give him water from the small jug she carried hurriedly out to him. ‘Blessed be the Lord, for He has returned our son home to us,’ she cried as she served him. ‘Forgive me, mother,’ he said to her in a quiet whisper. ‘You are forgiven, my son.’

Later as she was preparing the fatted calf for supper, her older son came to her in the kitchen to grumble about his conversation with his father. ‘Is this house mad? Father is acting like a man possessed. Mother, it is not fair that my brother be treated like royalty after squandering all father gave him on a life of debauchery. I will not stand for this!’

His mother said in reply, ‘my love for you is no different than my love for your brother. He has asked for our forgiveness. Remember son; this is the home of your mother and father. It is not your home yet. But I do love your passion. You should tell your brother how you feel, but do so with love and compassion and don’t be self-righteous. I pray you will find it in your heart to forgive him, too. For he loves you very much and it is your example of being a faithful son he will follow from now on. So, be a good and loving example as your father and I have set for you both.’ But the older brother stormed away in anger.

Once again, his mother had offered wisdom that he would wrestle with for days before finally talking to his brother and reconciling their relationship.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Eulogy To My Sister And Friend

My wife Mary and brother-in-law Danny asked me to do the eulogy at my sister-in-law Beth Gillespie's funeral on Friday. I was honored by their request. Beth died of liver failure last Tuesday at Spokane Hospice House. She was only 41. Beth was a larger-than-life personality who touched the lives of so many people. The eulogy was written on the night of her death, February 14, 2011. I pray it did her life justice.

(Delivered at the funeral Mass on February 18, 2011)

She was born Elizabeth Ann Gillespie on Thanksgiving Day 1969. As most people were stuffing themselves with turkey and watching football, Beth entered this world… and immediately spoiled not only Thanksgiving Day for her older sister Mary, but also Mary Kay’s own 7-year-old birthday three days later.

That’s always been the family joke.

The truth is Beth was the best birthday gift Mary Kay ever had. She told Beth that hundreds of times, maybe thousands of times, over the years.

Beth Gillespie was no ordinary child. She was incredibly precocious. For those who only knew her in recent years this probably comes as no surprise.

Beth was unafraid of anyone or anything. Her uncle Willard, a prominent Spokane judge, used to scare the dickens out of the Gillespie children. But not Beth. She’d walk up to scary Uncle Willard, jump on his knee and just start talking. She melted his heart and turned this strong man into a big ol’ softie.

What a gift she was to everyone she met.

Most of all, what a gift she was to her brother Danny. You might not know this, but Danny and Beth had a bit of a rough beginning. As children, Beth knew just how to push Danny’s buttons. And push them she did. She was downright unrelenting. The two of them fought so much as kids it amazes many people how they grew to be each other’s best friends as adults. They learned how to make each other laugh. What a gift Beth gave Danny when she moved back to Spokane eight years ago.

Big sis Mary Kay continued to cherish the gift of Beth. She and Mary Kay talked on the phone nightly comparing their days and and in recent years their careers as public relations directors at Library Systems on opposite sides of the state. They always had funny stories to share from the wacky world of librarians. They also loved to talk to each other non-stop on Oscar night; making fun of the bad dresses, awkward on-stage moments and the like. Beth and Mary Kay loved sharing interesting stories from their day. Beth was the gift that kept on giving for Mary Kay.

And for our two boys (Beth’s only nephews Sean and Connor), she was a second mother, a role she took very seriously except when she was bending the rules on junk food and wildly inappropriate movies. Aunt Beth, or Aunt Beff as she was known for many years by the boys, will live on in their memories for a lifetime. What a gift she was to those two boys, now young men.

Her mother Marjorie meant the world to Beth. When Beth’s father got sick in 2002, she moved home to help mom tend to Jack in the final year of his life. The two of them were opposites in so many ways. But they completed each other. What a gift Beth provided her mom and dad from the day she was born. What a gift her mom gave to Beth in return in carrying for her these past five months. Beth was so grateful for her mother’s strength and compassion. Beth was her mom and dad’s little “Love Bird.”

She was cherished by her many relatives, Aunts Geraldine and Nancy, and cousins Janet, Jimmy, Susie and Robin. And she cherished you.

As Beth grew up, she was joined by more great friends than you could count on a hundred hands. I’ll name just a few: Amy Johnson Harter (Beth's other big sis), Tiffany Jensen (Beth’s look-a-like best friend from grade school), Louise DeFelice (Beth’s connected-at-the-hip, best friend from high school who has been there by her side through life’s ups and downs), Greta Gillesie (Beth’s college roommate and blessed soul-mate in adult life) and Andrea Sparks (Beth’s favorite librarian who was a true friend in deed to a friend in need in these final months). The list is long. I wish I could name all of Beth’s friends. All of you here today.

I’m sure you all would agree. What a beautiful, funny, talented gift we all had in our relationships with Beth Gillespie. She always knew what to say and picked the right moment to say it. She had the gift.

But Beth saved the biggest gift of all for last week. After agonizing over experiencing God’s call home, Beth opened up her eyes wide last week and talked about her life. She shared her hopes, her fears and the thing she would miss most: watching her two nephews grow up.

She wanted us to know that she agonized the day before when she had her moment in the Garden at Gethsemane and sweated blood over her decision to “let go.” The hardest decision she’s ever had to make in her life was to leave all of you behind.

But she said, it was her time. And she had to go. Danny joined us toward the end of her conversation and got to witness this gift, this miracle of clear consciousness. No brain fogged over by a failing liver. No confusion about what was happening. She knew exactly what was about to happen and wanted to share with everyone a message of her love, her gratitude, her thanks for all that you meant to her.

After her time in agony, a peace had come over her. Her passion was beginning, but she was headed to the new Jerusalem, her heavenly home. What an honor to be in the room when she shared her gift of love for all of you.

I am so grateful to call Beth Gillespie my sister.

On behalf of Danny, Marjorie, Mary Kay, Sean and Connor, thank you for being here today. Thank you for sharing in the life of our beloved Beth Gillespie.

Thank you, Lord, for blessing us with the gift of Beth Gillespie.

And thank you, Beth! Thank you for everything! We know this is not goodbye, only “see ya later.”


Monday, February 14, 2011


I can still remember the day God spoke with a loud, clear voice and opened my heart to understand why I was here in this space and time and what was expected of me.

When I tell you the story, you may laugh. I know the idea is amusing, but after you hear it, you may better understand my love for the musical group U2. Perhaps you’ve seen my personalized license plate: LOVE U2. And wondered, “What’s up with that?”

In 1999, when I was desperately searching for meaning in my life, true meaning, I found God. I found God in a simple lyric to the song “Walk On” by U2. Up until that point, my life had been all about success, making a mark in the world, climbing the corporate ladder, running a business… and so on.

But the opening line to the song knocked my stony heart for a loop and has become the true North on my moral compass. The lyrics reads:

“Love. It’s not the easy thing. The ONLY baggage that you can bring. It’s all that you can’t leave behind.”

In other words, when we leave this earthly plain, the love we share with others is all that matters. It’s the ONLY thing we can take with us to Heaven. Not our successes. Not our awards or accomplishments. Nothing but love. Love is all that matters.

Love is the true North on all our moral compasses.

Love is the supreme law, the ultimate wisdom for humankind. Love is the guiding principle for how to live a good and meaningful life. Love is the key that unlocks the door to all human happiness. Love rings true in our souls. Love brings about the Kingdom. Love changed the world.

The wisdom of love is what Jesus and Paul are talking about in today’s readings.

Love is easy. And love is hard.

I felt the tug of true love when I asked my wife to share our lives together 25-years ago. I understood pure love when I held each of my newborn sons for the first time and felt an overwhelming desire to do anything, everything for this child’s well-being. The unconditional love we experience for our own children, our grandchildren and our spouse definitely brings us the closest to understanding the love God feels for each and every one of us… and the love Christ has for us and why he died on the cross for our sins. His love opened a door to eternal life.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is addressing his Jewish brothers and sisters who believed salvation came through adhering to 613 laws of the Torah. But Jesus wanted them to see the driving principles behind the Law. Jesus cautioned that following a surface level understanding of the Law was not enough. You have to drill deeper to intentions. Not just surface level behavior. We need to drill into the very core of our own heart. Only there… in the pure, truthful reaches of our human heart… can we get understand what it means to love, what it mean to do the right thing. The wisdom of love dictates that we do the right thing in all we do.

Love is the true North on all our moral compasses.

For Jesus said in Matthews Gospel, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish, but to fulfill.”

Love is that fulfillment. When we fill ourselves with Christ’s love we learn to love ourselves. When we fill ourselves with Christ’s love, we learn to love others as we love ourselves. When we fill ourselves with Christ’s love, we learn to love our God with all our hearts.

Paul’s message to the Corinthians was in part directed at some Christians in Corinth who believed they possessed a “wisdom” that made them “mature” or “perfect.” These Christians believed this gave them the right to look down on others as “children.”

Paul teaches true wisdom comes from God… through Christ… alone. No man or woman can be truly wise by his or her own estimation. We need to rely on God’s loving mercy as we fumble our way in the dark and find the love that fulfills our every yearning.

As Paul quotes Isaiah: “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

If we truly love our fellow brothers and sisters as we are taught, we will NEVER allow ourselves to feel superior to anyone. Christ’s love allows us to find humility. Christ’s love inspires us to look beyond self to others. Christ’s love inspires us to share that love with all we come in contact with. Even our enemies. That’s when love can be hard.

In the first reading from the Book of Sirach, we understand that God gives us all the free will to choose to keep the commandment of love or not.

Author Ben Sira writes, “Before man are life and death, good and evil, whichever he chooses shall be given to him.”

A little over a year ago, a good friend reached out to seek prayer for a family struck by an awful tragedy. Their daughter had been in a nearly fatal car accident. The 17-year-old was in a coma and doctors were afraid she might not make it.

We all lifted up little Mary Drake in prayer. I kept up with the family though an extraordinary online family support website called “CaringBridge.” Every day, Mary’s mother would update us on the latest news. Early on, the news was not good. But after several months, the news got better. Eventually, Mary woke up. This was just the beginning of the journey back from a major brain injury.

The most remarkable thing about the Drake family is the love they’ve shown for one another throughout the entire ordeal. Mary’s mom, dad and brothers each write updates on Mary’s progress and ask us all to pray a special prayer of healing for Mary (see link below). Their love for Mary is remarkable. The website has had over 400-thousand visits. That’s a lot of healing prayers from family, friends and total strangers. And all because we were inspired by the love of Mary’s family to join in the prayer chain. Christ’s love in action.

It may be years before she leads a normal life, if ever. But Mary’s family and Mary are surrounded by love, share this love with each other and this love keeps them from falling into the depths of despair. Christ’s love in action.

Jesus wants us to NOT get too caught up in a litany of laws or pile of rules and regulations. Jesus wants us to keep it simple. Jesus is calling us to understand the greatest commandment … the law of love of God and love each other… and act accordingly.

As it is written in today’s modern poetry, “Love. It’s not the easy thing. The only baggage you can bring. It’s all that you can’t leave behind.”