The Transfiguration –  The Key to Spiritual Success This Lent

 

There’s a movie called Mask that’s based on a true story about a 16-year-old boy named Rocky Dennis.  Rocky had a very rare disease that caused his skull and the bones in his face to grow much larger than they should.  As a result, his face was terribly misshapen and disfigured. His grotesque appearance caused some people to shy away from him, while others just snickered and laughed and, for as long as he could remember, a lot of the kids called him names.

Through it all, Rocky never pitied himself.  He never gave way to anger.  He never blamed God for his problems.  Though he felt bad about his appearance, he accepted it as a special challenge – a part of life that he just had to make the best of.  One day Rocky and some of his friends were visiting an amusement park.  They went into the place there Maskcalled “the house of mirrors.”  They all began to laugh at how distorted their bodies and their faces looked in the mirrors.  Suddenly Rocky saw something that startled him. One of the mirrors distorted his misshapen face in such a way that it appeared normal – even strikingly handsome.  For the first time, Rocky’s friends saw him in a whole new way. They saw from the outside what he really was on the inside: a truly beautiful person.  Something like this happened to Jesus at the Transfiguration.

During his Transfiguration, Jesus’ disciples saw him in a whole new way.  For the first time, they saw from the outside what he really was on the inside: the glorious and beautiful Son of God.  This event occurred right after Jesus told his disciples that he would have to go to Jerusalem and there be handed over to the Romans to suffer and die.  When Peter heard this is cried out, “God forbid.  Nothing like that is ever going to happen to you.”  Jesus then said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!  You are an obstacle to me.  You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.” (Matthew 16:22-23)  Peter, James and John needed a spiritual shot in the arm to strengthen them after that shocking experience.

The-Transfiguration-Of-Christ-300x210In the Transfiguration experience, the three disciples were given a glimpse of Christ’s glory. It was designed to help them understand who Jesus really is, and to strengthen them in their faith so that they would have what to takes to live out their vocation and become what they were called to be.  Peter, James and John were given a moment of grace. Moments of grace are gifts from God.  They can’t be merited.  They can’t be won. They can’t be manufactured.  All we can do is dispose ourselves to receive them.

If we persevere on our spiritual adventure and listen carefully with the ears of faith, the day will come – either here or in heaven – when we too will hear a voice.  It will say to us what the voice on the mountain said of Jesus: “This is my own dear son or daughter, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 17:5) During the Season of Lent, we are especially encouraged to re-visit our priorities, the way we spend our time, and we are promised holy transfigurations when we devote ourselves to God in prayer.

After the Resurrection, Jesus again climbed up the mountain with the disciples and again He was transfigured.  He anointed the disciples with his power and authority, and before Jesus departed, he commanded them to return to the world and to share his Gospel of love.  They didn’t get it in that Transfiguration mountain-top moment.  They didn’t even get it when the resurrected Jesus ascended into heaven.  They didn’t get it until one fearful day they gathered desperately wanting to know what to do, now that Jesus was gone. Seeking to discern who they were to be, they came together to pray.

On that Pentecost day, the disciples finally understood that all along Jesus was teaching them to pray together.  That day they prayed together, and the very power of God came down and filled them with divine glory, light and purpose.  When we pray together, God’s Spirit comes down from the heaven and fills us with the prophetic energy of Jesus.  All of us need the vision of the mountaintop.  All of us need transfiguration experiences, where our entire perspective is changed, where the fog is lifted and we see more clearly.  If we stop and reflect upon our lives, it’s likely that we’ve all already had such experiences.

We can identify with Peter, when he attempts to capture and prolong the moment by asking to make three dwellings for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses.  However, like Peter, James and John, we come to realize that we cannot live on the mountaintop forever.  The valleys beckon us to come down and live our lives as servants with other people, just as Jesus and the three apostles did.  The mountaintop had prepared them for the loving service of others, and the same is true of us.  The three disciples needed this mountaintop experience to uplift, encourage and inspire them, to teach them the importance of prayer, and to strengthen them for the challenges ahead.

The Transfiguration reminds us that when we climb with Jesus, pray with Jesus and listen for God’s Word with Jesus, God’s glory will surround us and we will be guided down the mountaintops into the world, there to be Christ’s healing people.  Jesus descended the mountain into a crowd of people who sought a new humanity, and he immediately proclaimed the reign of God by preaching good news to the poor, teaching by word and deed, healing the sick, forgiving sinners, and calling all to repent and believe in the gospel.  He wanted his disciples (and now us) to do the same things.  Like Moses and Jesus, we are called to be a light in the darkness of our world.  Lent is a time for asking ourselves how well we are living out our calling.

Lent is a time for asking ourselves how well we are letting our light shine before others, so that they may see it and give glory to our Father in heaven.  If we aren’t doing as well as we could, Lent is a time for repenting and beginning anew to live out our calling.  Let us realize that there is, indeed, more beyond what we can see on the outside.  Let us be transformed and changed as we resolve to do better this Lent.

Deacon Greg Ollick teaches sacred scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online. He is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Atlanta and runs The Epiphany Initiative website.

Jesus the Gardener (or Mary of Magdala Is Always Right)

 

Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did now know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?” Thinking that he was the gardener, she said to him, Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned and said to him in Hebrew: “Rabbouni!” (which means teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to my brothers and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Mary of Magdala went and said to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her (John 20.14-18).

Few casual readers of the Gospel of John realize that it is rife with riddles, a favorite type of fun for ancient folks. And we all know them even now: “John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’” Jesus to Nicodemus, “you must be born again!” and to the Samaritan Woman: “I will give you living water to drink.” And perhaps the most famous line and most overlooked riddle: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

JG and MMHow can the Word be with and be at the same time? Are the Word and God, in other words, two or one? We are so accustomed to the grandeur, and the received meaning, of the first verse of the Fourth Gospel (4G) that we no longer hear the inherent riddle. Riddles were a popular form of entertainment in the ancient Mediterranean, just as they can be for us today; if we don’t recognize that, we miss a lot of the fun in the 4G.

The 4G relishes the use of riddles, much as the synoptic gospels use parables (of which there are none in the 4G), to “reward” the reader who already “gets it” and to help the readers who don’t see the world around them in a new way. Not only is the wordplay unfortunately and unavoidably often lost in the English translation, the irony is often lost on those who want an either/or answer: to “get it,” one must often be open to a “both/and” solution. The joy is that the riddles themselves, like parables, are designed to help one open us to a new way of seeing the world, often one that is less either/or than both/and.

While most readers pick up on the creation references at the beginning of the 4G, may miss the use of creation symbolism at the end. We begin the end, so to speak, with the creation motif and the final (7th) sign: the resuscitation of Lazarus (11.1-44), again emphasizing the theme of acts of creation, of giving life. Jesus’ resurrection could be counted as an eighth sign, foreshadowed in the seventh and beginning the time of renewed creation. In the 4G, however, the crucifixion and resurrection are one moment, as it were, indicating renewed creation.

That context lies in the background of the 4G’s narration of Jesus’ death on the cross, which is distinct from that of the synoptic gospels. Jesus’ final words here are “It is finished” (19.30), placed to repeat the narrator’s assertion in v. 28, “when Jesus knew that all was now finished” (teleo). The Greek word translated “finished” is best understood not as “ended” but as “brought to completion” or “fulfilled,” and just after Jesus dies, we read immediately that the Sabbath is about to begin (19.31). Jesus’ doing the Father’s work of bringing “life” as he completes stages of that work (see 4.34 and 5.36) and fulfilling it by his voluntary offering of his life “for his friends” ushers in the Sabbath renewal.

This new creation is underlined again in 20.1 as the resurrection narrative begins: “Early on the first day of the week [sabbaton].” The garden setting of the resurrection appearance to Mary of Magdala, like the “in the beginning” and other symbols that open the 4G, points us back to Genesis. When Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener, and that’s a both/and: she is literally wrong but spiritually correct, and that points in itself to a symbolic meaning: the portrayal of Jesus as the new Adam, a motif present in other early Christian literature. Jesus is the Word, fulfilling the creation, and is also the new Adam, ushering in a new human participation in that creation. It’s then a short step to think of the Creator God of the garden, the earth.

Mary’s own awareness comes when she hears the voice of her shepherd speak her name (recalling Jn 10.3). This scene is, without a doubt, one of the most intimate scenes of the Bible that can lead each Christian to ask: by what name does Jesus address me? How do I know Jesus’ voice? And in her great love, Mary does what all of us do: she tries to hold on, to freeze the happy moment in space and time. (“Touch” is a very poor translation.) But Jesus instructs her not to hold on to this experience: she is to be open to the new experience of Jesus not physically present but freed from the  bounds of space and time and so always present in eternal life now in the context of the entire creation, permeating the whole cosmos. The encounter between the risen Jesus and Mary is clearly a message to and by the community: do not only look back at the so-called “historical” Jesus, but be aware of his constant presence now in each other as you live and breathe in the universe. Be aware of the eternal and life-giving presence of the Gardener.

Pamela Hedrick teaches Sacred Scripture for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

 

Do Not Be Afraid

When we talk about mercy, we should remember that it has one range of meanings when talk about the works of mercy and another range of meanings when we speak about God’s mercy. For God, mercy evokes God’s providence, grace, and love. In this Year of Mercy, and at this particular time, we must be careful using military metaphors, although the Lord is presented as a commander in some of the Psalms, “the Lord of Hosts,” and conflict plays a major role in the book of Revelation. I think that there is something inappropriate about singing Onward Christian Soldiers.

“Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
with the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
forward into battle see his banners go!”

The Church is not an army with generals, crusades, marches, conquests, victories, flags, and banners. During the Korean War in the early nineteen fifties, Joseph Stalin famously asked, when he heard about the Pope’s power, “How many divisions does the Pope have?” In fall 1951, I started kindergarten at Saint Teresa of Avila’s in Brooklyn, New York. We thought the Pope had lots of divisions. It was an Irish-American parish, and the Irish-Americans were feeling their oats.  There was a senator out west named McCarthy. We learned a song I still remember.

“There’s a crimson banner flying, there’s a bloodstained flag unfurled.
For the knights of Christ are marching to the conquest of the world.”

That it is not so, thank a merciful God.

We see this theme in the three readings from the Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time. They feature individual persons meeting God, in fear and trembling, humbled, transformed, one on one. Isaiah saw the Lord. “Woe is me, I am doomed! I am a man of unclean lips, living among a people of unclean lips.” Isaiah’s lips are burned. “Here I am. Send me.” He prophesied during the momentous Assyrian invasion of 740 B.C. which destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel. Do not be afraid.

Paul says, “I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been ineffective .  .  . not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.” He was put to the sword in Rome in 64 A.D., a martyr. Do not be afraid.

In Luke’s Gospel, Peter meets Jesus in a sinking boat. “They came and filled both boats Peter sinking boatwith fish so that the boats were in danger of sinking .  .  .”  Peter saw this and said, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Jesus replies, in Luke’s Greek, me phobou, “Do not be afraid;” In 64 A.D., Peter was crucified upside down on Vatican Hill in Rome, a martyr. Do not be afraid. This is motif in the Gospel of Luke. The angel told Zachary, me phobou, “Do not be afraid.” The angel told Mary in Nazareth, me phobou, “Do not be afraid.” The angel told the shepherds outside of Bethlehem,” me phobou, “Do not be afraid.”

Military force overwhelmed Isaiah, Paul, and Peter, but they were enveloped in the mercy, providence, grace, and love of God. The important point is that, even if they were caught up in vast and sweeping historical movements, God’s mercy, providence, grace, and love went one on one with them. Do not be afraid. God’s mercy, providence, grace, and love are particular, individual, unique, and personal. Since God sees us as individuals, each one matters. Isaiah, Paul, Peter, Zachary, Mary, and the shepherds matter. So do I, so does Father John, my wife MaryAnn, Desiree, Reid, Molly, Patty, Eban, President Dlugos and his family, each one matters in God’s sight. Do not be afraid.

Let me end with a long quote from a sermon that Blessed John Henry Newman gave to university students in 1833. Note the old-fashioned “thee’ and “thou.” These pronouns refer to you singularly.

God beholds thee individually, whoever thou art. He ‘calls thee by thy name.’ He sees thee, and understands thee, as He made thee. He knows what is in thee, all thy own peculiar feelings and thoughts, thy dispositions and likings, thy strengths and thy weaknesses. He views thee in thy day of rejoicing, and thy day of sorrow. He sympathizes in thy hopes and thy temptations. He interests Himself in all thy anxieties and remembrances, all the risings and fallings of thy spirit. He has numbered the very hairs of thy head and the cubits of thy stature. He compasses thee round and bears thee in His arms; He takes thee up and sets thee down. He notes thy very countenance, whether smiling or in tears, whether healthful or sickly. He looks tenderly upon thy hands and thy feet; He hears thy voice, the beating of thy heart, and thy very breathing. Thou dost not love thyself better than He loves thee. Thou canst not shrink from pain more than He dislikes thou bearing it; and if He puts it on thee, it is as thou wilt put it on thyself, if thou wert wise, for a greater good afterwards. Thou art not only His creature, thou art man redeemed and sanctified, His adopted son, favored with a portion of that glory and blessedness which flows from Him everlastingly unto His Only Begotten Son. Thou art chosen to be His. Thou wast one of those for whom Christ offered up His last prayer, and sealed it with His precious blood. What a thought this is, a thought almost too great for our faith! Scarce can we refrain from acting Sarah’s part, when we bring it before us, so as to ‘laugh’ from amazement and perplexity.

When you meet God, as indeed you already have, and as indeed you will again and again, enveloped in God’s mercy, providence, grace, and love, me phobou, Do not be afraid. Uncle Sam may need an army. You don’t need an army. You do not need a general. Follow in the footsteps of Isaiah, Paul, Peter, Zachary, Mary, and the shepherds. Do not be afraid.

Daniel Sheridan is Professor of Theology at Saint Joseph’s College and former Director of the Online Theology Program. He is a permanent deacon in the Diocese of Portland.

Setting Relationships Right

Worth Revisiting Wednesday – This post originally appeared on March 16, 2014.

Among Catholics who take the season of Lent seriously, I’ve noticed a number of different approaches. There are the subscribers to Lent as boot camp. Boot campers decide to fast not just from one food they love, but from most foods they love. Added to this, they decide to get up an hour earlier than normal to pray or go to Mass, and they are going to give money to anyone they meet who needs help.  A second group makes one serious commitment and day by day spends a little more time thinking about God, remembers they are not eating fried foods and discovers the joy of crunchy vegetables, and starts collecting their change each day so as to make a contribution to a worthy group. A third group is pretty darn casual about the whole thing, happy that, over forty days, they may remember not to eat meat on a Friday or two, will get to confession, and will go all in for the campus ministry or parish hunger awareness campaign.

Many of us, me included, have a love-hate relationship with Lent. It can so easily become more of a contest than a season of prayer. Thomas Merton once remarked that his brothers, in wanting to outdo one another in the severity of their fasts, became a bunch of grouchy, miserable men. Far better, Thomas thought, to feast and give thanks to God for his abundance than to fast and make yourself and others miserable. How is that holy? Thomas wondered.

The ancient disciplines of prayer, fasting, almsgiving which define the season of Lent are about making right the three most important relationships in the life of a Christian, God, self and others. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read that “the interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms,pray fast give fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1434). Rather than a contest with our best and worst selves, we are invited to think about what will make our relationship with God stronger. Where do we need to bring some balance into our lives so as to be healthier and what relationships are asking us to be more giving; emotionally, practically or monetarily?

I’ve learned from my own experience that Lent is most fruitful when I take some time to think about how I can deepen my relationship with God. What am I eating or drinking or doing (or maybe not doing) that is really not healthy or good for me? And where can I be more generous with the people who are part of my everyday life?  Answering these questions opens up a number of practices that will make a difference over the course of forty days. My goal is to make these things a habit, not doing them for forty days and then be done, but rather to discover at the end of 40 days, they have become easier and have found a permanent place in my daily routine. If done well, I also am more aware of the depth and breadth of God’s love and mercy, because whether I am successful or not, I am saved. Jesus died for me so that my own failures and sins are not the end of my story.

Susan Timoney is Secretary for Pastoral Ministry and Social Concerns for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Valentine’s Day: Love is in the Air

February 14th, what an exciting day! Of course it is the date we celebrate Valentine’s Day. There is more to this day than a simple marketing ploy by Hallmark to create a holiday in which a plethora of cards can be sold, along with roses, boxes of chocolates, and candle lit dinners for two. (Wow that sounds nice. I remember now what it was like before I had st-valentinekids). There is indeed a St. Valentine who is on the Roman Catholic list of saints. However, the details of his life are not entirely clear. He is believed to have lived in Rome and to have been martyred there for witnessing to the Faith in the third century. His feast day was celebrated on February 14th until the revision of the General Roman Calendar in 1969 under Blessed Paul VI (cf. catholic.org), and it is still celebrated in some places.

Valentine’s Day is typically thought of as a day to celebrate love. We as Catholics can be especially joyful when we celebrate the holiday as a day of love. First and foremost we call to mind our God who is love (1 John 4:8). God loved us so much that He incarnated His love in the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And St. Paul explains that, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). So if we buy red roses or see others buying red roses on Valentine’s Day, we can reflect on the blood of Christ that flowed from His side on Calvary as a sign of His love for us. We can reflect on the martyrdom of St. Valentine who died because he refused to deny Jesus. If we see people buying chocolates in the shape of a heart, we can reflect on the Sacred Heart of Jesus which burns with love for each of us. And when two people enjoy a candle lit dinner, they can reflect on the sacred meal that is the Eucharist with Jesus who is the light of the world (cf. John 8:12).

February 14th is also the Feast Day of Ss. Cyril and Methodius. They’re two brothers who were bishops in the ninth century. St. John Paul II actually wrote an entire encyclical letter StsCyrilMethodiusabout the two, stating, “THE APOSTLES OF THE SLAVS, Saints Cyril and Methodius, are remembered by the Church together with the great work of evangelization which they carried out” (Slavorum Apostoli 1). Cyril and Methodius are known for playing a major role in bringing Christianity to the Slavic people. They’re co-patron saints of Europe (Ibid.). I am particularly drawn to their story since my ancestors first came to the United States from Poland. And the first Polish pope, St. John Paul II, explained that while the evangelization of Poland stemmed from a few historical events, “the fact remains that the beginnings of Christianity in Poland are in a way linked with the work of the Brothers…” (Slavorum Apostoli 24). As we reflect on how our Catholic Faith has been handed on from generation to generation, from one person to another under the guidance of the successors to the Apostles the bishops, I can reflect on how the Gospel first influenced those Slavic people in the ninth century. At some point, one of my ancestors heard and accepted the Gospel and would hand it on to his or her ancestors or family members.

February 14th is a special day for me indeed. It is a special day to celebrate God’s love and to recall St. Valentine’s courage in proclaiming the Gospel. It is a day to reflect on how the Gospel was effectively proclaimed to the Slavic people through the brothers Ss. Cyril and Methodius. These two set out to a foreign land trusting that the Holy Spirit would guide them to speak and live the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15). And February 14th is also a special day for me because it happens to be my birthday… but I won’t share which one.

Ss. Valentine, Cyril, Methodius, and John Paul II, pray for us!

Edward Trendowski teaches family life ministry for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

The Three Questions – Being Present for Lent

I have been pondering how to approach Lent in this Jubilee Year of Mercy given that Jesus calls us to be merciful like the Father (Lk 6:36) and that Pope Francis asked that we live this Lenten season “more intensely as a privileged moment to celebrate and experience God’s mercy” (Misericordiae Vultus). I recently read a profoundly poignant metaphor equating God’s mercy to the two reflection pools of the New York 9/11 Memorial where within each reflection pool a huge waterfall drops into the darkness of a lower pool whose bottom you cannot see:

Fawn 1

 

“It struck me deeply as a metaphor for God: mercy eternally pouring into darkness, always filling an empty space…water always falls and pools up in the very lowest and darkest places, just like mercy does” (Richard Rohr, OFM).

 

God’s mercy, thankfully, infiltrates into the darkest corners of our lives, and since mercy was first shown to us, each of us is called to spread, to the deepest levels, “the balm of mercy” to all others (MV 5).  As we begin our Lenten promises, many of us will treat “the Christ in others” through renewed efforts in living out the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. My contemplative practices have taught me, though, that to be successful at such efforts, to make this Lenten season assuredly transformational for ourselves and others, we need to become deeply present to all those we encounter – family, friends, and strangers.

Being genuinely present in body, mind, and heart, however, is not always so easy. Oftentimes, we hardly give our full attention to those with whom we are speaking, inescapably, it seems, distracted by the myriad of daily activities running through our minds. How often do we spend time with someone, but we are not really “there”? How regularly do we stop to reflect that the person we most dislike, or gets under our skin, is as equally loved by God as we are? How frequently do we ponder that God is amongst us and within us? Though we may not shun the sacramental presence of Christ, how often do we shun Christ’s presence through the people he places in our lives? Pope Francis engages all of us in stating, “It is time to return to the basics and to bear the weaknesses and struggles of our brothers and sisters” (MV 10). We all must attempt to go deeper than just the surface, to be undeniably present, to make possible the extension of mercy to others.

I was recently reintroduced to Jon Muth’s children’s book The Three Questions based on the short story of the same name by Leo Tolstoy. Rehearing that story after several years, reminded me of its profoundly simple message and its relevance to remaining present during this Lenten season. Striving to be the best person each can be, the king (in Tolstoy’s story) and Nikolai (the young boy in Muth’s rendition) ask three questions:

 

Fawn 2

 

When is the best time to do things?
Who is the most important one?
What is the right thing to do?

 

 

As we embrace and firmly put into action the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, the answers to these three questions supplies our needed framework to remain deeply present to those we encounter – reaching their dark corners and enabling them to experience God’s mercy. When is the best time to do things? There is only one important time – Now. Who is the most important one? The most important one is always the one next to us at that moment. What is the right thing to do? The right thing to do is to do good for the one you are with at that instant. As we embark on carrying out the works of mercy this Lent, if we truly concentrate on doing them now, truly focus on who we come upon, and truly center on her or his particular need at that moment, our practical compassion will dive below the surface to those darkened corners and will shine as the mercy of God operating through us.

My God, open my eyes to your presence around me this Lent, and allow me to be deeply present in each moment, present to my brothers and sisters, present to their needs, and through my presence allow them to experience your mercy.

Fawn Waranauskas teaches spirituality for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Joy and Suffering: Living with ALS

Worth Revisiting Wednesday! This post originally appeared on July 27, 2014.

In January 2011 I was giving a presentation on bioethics at my parish, and just after the presentation started a man hobbled in on a cane. A few months later I was giving another presentation on the same topic, and a man entered the room in a motorized wheelchair. I puzzled for a few moments because it looked like the same man. As I continued with the presentation I realized that it was indeed the same man. It was rather unnerving to be able-bodied, in good health, and speaking about ethical issues so closely related to the suffering of the sick, while this man, who was clearly suffering from a debilitating disease, was there listening intensely. I couldn’t help wondering what it was like to be grappling with these issues “from the inside”—so to speak.

Marty and I met soon afterwards. We discussed our common interests and goals: we were both striving to be good husbands and fathers. Marty recounted stories of work and play around the horse farm where he and his family live. He spoke about arranging horse jumps for his daughter Cecilia, clearing brush from the woods behind the house, laying up firewood for the winter, cleaning out the horses’ stalls, and myriad other chores. In our discussions about bioethics he drew upon his medical expertise, built up over eleven years as a successful, interventional radiologist.

Marty was also interested in my literary and theological background. He asked me to read the rudiments of his spiritual autobiography. I asked questions that prompted him to think more deeply about the meaning of the joys and sufferings he was experiencing. At times I felt as though I was giving him “work” to replace the professional life lost to ALS. And what a “worker” he has been! His spiritual autobiography, Joy and Suffering: My Life with ALS,was dictated through an iPhone into emails, initially, and then into a document that was edited by Christian Tappe of St. Benedict Press.

D'Amore

Photo of D’Amore Family at Lou Gehrig’s Disease – ALS website

In many ways, Marty is a typical American guy, but there is definitely something special about him. He is inspired by the meaningful lives other people lead, for example, by the doctors who first showed him the beauty of a medical career and motivated him to pursue it. He has been given given plenty of natural intelligence and talent, and as a young man he struggled to discover and develop himself. He worked hard at his profession, marveled at the good he could do with it, and reaped its rewards. He has been wildly successful—by American standards—in his profession, family, and lifestyle.

More importantly, Marty demonstrates a kind of spiritual excellence. Not the spiritual excellence of the great ascetics of history, who master temptation with an iron will honed through self-denial. Rather the spiritual excellence of one who has prayed with a child’s trust for a good life, lost himself in the confusion of growing up, found the way his talents could lead to success, and finally, as he achieved success, recognized something missing even before detecting the first symptoms of ALS. ALS focused his heart and mind on another kind of success: developing spiritual maturity. By slowly eliminating his physical mobility, ALS forced Marty to find new ways to love his wife, children, and friends. His book offers Marty’s explanation of what he has learned in the hope that his family can discover, with him, some joy within the tragedy that has befallen them all.

Spiritual conversion is the stuff of great literature and epic poetry, but we are not usually given the privilege of a guided tour of this process unfolding in the lives of our neighbors and friends. We all change profoundly as we move through life, and know that our neighbors change in similar ways, but rarely do we get the opportunity to understand that change from the inside. In Joy and Suffering: My Life With ALS, Marty describes the experience of suffering with ALS, depicting not only the intricacies of the disease but also the hard-won meaning of the suffering it has brought him and his family.

This blog post was adapted from the Foreword to the book Joy and Suffering: My Life with ALS by Martin J. D’Amore.

Grattan Brown teaches Ministry with the Aging, Sick, and Dying for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Update: Marty D’Amore died on January 28, 2015 surrounded by friends and family.  He was laid to rest in Belmont Abbey monastery cemetery, a few 100 yards from the chapel where he often prayed.