… una noche tranquila y una santa muerte.

Harry and Helo, Spring 2012

Harry C. Miller and Helo

My father died at about 2 am this morning, January 31, 2013. In declining health for years the past 16 months had seen him pause at successively lower plateaus of health. He turned 91 in early September so decline and passing were not unexpected. It had been a few months since I last visited. Due to my own health issues travel over Christmas and New Year was not plausible.

At the very end of night prayer we ask God to grant us a tranquil night and a holy death, at least that is how I translate the Spanish title of this blog. I pray night prayer out of the single volume liturgy of the hours that Madre Carmen gave to me nearly 20 years ago and so I pray it in Spanish. My 20 year habit had been to pray morning and evening prayer with night prayer coming into my daily routine just this past summer. Fr. Roche closed each day with night prayer as he led the Oakland Catholic girls on their first mission trip. It is a joy.

Lt. Colonel Miller from Sgt Miller

Sgt. Miller thumping newly prompted Lt. Colonel Adam Miller on the chest, 2012

I find great comfort in asking God for a good night’s sleep and a holy death. I expect the request to be honored. This brings us back to my father. The last day was difficult but by the time my son, James, and I arrived Dad was in a tranquil sleep. It kept running through my head, “What more can a person ask than a good rest and, upon a holy death, eternal life.?” It is comforting to believe that my father will have every tear wiped away; that he will be with my mother, wife of 42 years and this time without the cancer. He will be with my step mother, Mary Lou, wife of 25 years but this time without the dementia that came at the end. He will be with my brother Frank and Frank will be at peace as he praises Jesus. I can hope my father will find at the banquet his mother and brothers and perhaps his father who was Jewish. There is no harm in hoping and even reason to believe it can be. It is comforting to believe that my father will be worshiping in the presence of Truth and Holiness.

My father led the most wonderful and most ordinary life that you might imagine. Decorated for WWII service my father never once brought up the subject and always deflected questions. The Great Depression hit hard but you wouldn’t know it from Dad. Harry Miller was a pillar of Hoge Memorial Presbyterian Church and a tireless worker at the Y’s Mens Club. He loved Ohio State football and Cincinnati Reds baseball and I, for one, am happy that the two never competed against each other. He loved his grandchildren with the kind of love that gives me a sense of the vastness and depth of God’s love. I believe that I never made him more proud than when I became a member of the Ohio State Marching Band.

Life was tough. He lost a job with a wife and five kids to support while he was far from home. He made his way back to Ohio and there earned a living selling builder’s supplies. Dad and I came together over paint brushes. I painted my way through college, forming my own house painting business. He sold paint brushes and would give his best samples to me in return for my opinion. We shared paint brushes the way other fathers and sons might share golf clubs. We had rough times and good times. Through all the times he never wavered in his love for my mother. Then, after her death, it was just the same for his second wife as he became Dad to children whose own father died all too young.

In time of greatest need at the missions, when Padre Justi died and there was no money to pay teachers at San Bernardino or to pay the pediatrician who cared for the orphans and the existence of the Patzún missions was in doubt my father stepped into the breech. He was a man of modest means. Instead of holding back he shared the little that he had so that orphans that I told him about would have a roof over their heads; so that San Bernardino could continue to operate.  It was the widow’s mite; giving without counting the cost. It was WWII all over again when Sgt. Miller, not armed for battle, led the men in his charge into the gap to face a German battalion that was not thought to exist. He faced them with nothing which was everything that he had. Bronze StarHe never spoke of it but the citation that came with the bronze star that he never touched or even mentioned was unambiguous.  This business of living is difficult. My father did it well. I am content, blessed to have had the parents that I had. I am especially happy that my father’s death came with a tranquil sleep and though I don’t get a vote in these matters I believe it a holy death. I pray for the repose of his soul.

James Miller-Marquez lighting candles for Harry Miller at the Cathedral in Columbus.

James Miller-Marquez lighting candles for Harry Miller at the Cathedral in Columbus, January 31, 2013.

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I’m not a religious person.

“I’m not a religious person but I decided that my family and I will spend Christmas day atAndrew-FB an orphanage in the slums”, explained Andrew Lewela Mwanyota to a group of people who gathered at the pilot offering of the Software Developer Certification in late December 2012. A little context will surely help. Andrew is project manager with the Kenya Information and Communication Technology Board and he is managing me.  I lead a team from Carnegie Mellon University in building a professional certification under contract to Kenya. There is so much here. Let’s start with slums. Nairobi knows slums like few other places in the world know slums. The Kibera slum to the left, just one of several in the city, Kiberais estimated to have as many as 2 million residents. What is it that animated this, “not religious” person to to pass on the traditional week-long family reunion at the ancestral home that is Christmas in Kenya? We’ll get to that but frist you need to know that I love Kenya and Kenyans. I do. I went to pursue my life’s work which seems to be equal measures of computer science education and service to the poor. I found Kenyans relaxed with easy smiles and great senses of humor. I found families of size, faith and cohesion. I found a country committed to lifting itself out of poverty, in part, by claiming leadership in information technology. I found the Catholic Church, don’t I always? I found it packed on Sundays and heavily attended at any Mass at any time on any day of the week. Andrew-2Eucharistic Adoration, which in Nairobi is every day, is the never solitary Holy Hour that I know from the Oratorio in Pittsburgh. Andrew, as others with whom I have worked in Kenya, is well educated, articulate and dedicated to doing a good job. He is proud of President Obama and the school shootings in the United States sicken him. He knows that I serve the Franciscan missions in Patzún and find my way to Mass at Holy Family Basilica most mornings when I am in Nairobi. Words help but Andrew had something more. He had India. In India we saw the Basilica where the remains of Saint Thomas lie. This is not just any old Saint Thomas, this is the “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands  … ” doubting Thomas. He saw that church sitting across the road from the massive Chennai beach. He knew the 2004 Tsunami that took lives in far away Kenya and that on that beach in

Andrew-India

Andrew with Salesian Sister Superior at Mercy Home, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Tamil Nadu we were near the epicenter. As St. Thomas commanded, the sea did not rise to the height of the Basilica, not this time not any time. He saw this and more. He went to Mercy Home, an Indian mission to the dying. He saw the old, claimed from the streets by Salesian Sisters. He saw the elderly living their last days in dignity and comfort. Here we peeked Andrew-day-careinto the day care, safe harbor for children of the poorest women in Chennai. We bought lunch for everybody, less that $100 US. We prayed before Christ at Eucharistic Adoration on the premises. He could see my excitement and my feeble attempts to help. Nearly a year later, that December day in Nairobi when Andrew admonished me to “fix America first” he allowed to those with us that he and I were supposed to meet in India to visit the mission and the Basilica. Andrew is not a religious man and yet gave food to the hungry and comfort to the poor. He gave up a most special holiday and turned it back into a Holy Day. Some times you have to go all the way to India to know what you should do for a day or an afternoon back home. I may have caught you in the act of giving your heart to Jesus Christ. Fair warning my friend, once that happens He doesn’t give it back.

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They all bore witness to the Word: she bore the Word.

Our Lady

Nuestra Señora

It had been a few years since I visited Mary at her Basilica in Mexico City, maybe 3 years certainly not yet 5 but way too many for sure. It seems there is nothing I can say or do for my unbelieving friends to let them in on the delight that is faith in Jesus Christ. Even more I am helpless to share my passion for Mary. Not even my evangelical brothers and sisters get it. Not to worry, the day was December 12th 2012 and I was at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the very ground where María showed herself to Juan Diego on December 9th 1531 (make that San Juan Diego, first indigenous American saint – as of 2002) . My first visit was in late 1998. I returned to the site of the apparition  on nearly each of my dozens of trips to Mexico City, usually attending Mass, occasionally offerring confession and always praying to Theotokos, the virgin bearer of God. Here I am at home and at peace. The image above the Mexican flag was and is and

always will be burned onto the tilma worn by San Juan Diego during his second and decisive encounter with the Blessed Mother on December 12th in 1531. This cactus fiber poncho has survived the 482 years and at least one direct hit by a bomb. Our Lady, loving the indigenous as she loves us all, left from the eternal the above picture of herself. Let the faithless mock Truth itself as we enjoy reverie – basking in the presence of the one who bore and suckled God, never abandoned Him even to the foot of the cross, held the lifeless body of Jesus the Anointed, encountered her resurrected son and finally was assumed bodily into heaven where she reigns today and always. ¡Amen!

My own story has a little miracle. I had been serving in the missions, a week or two each year, for nearly a decade and over that time I went from marathoner to cripple. I was the victim of undiagnosed Perthes Disease. It struck me in 1953 when I was 4 years old. The symptoms went away after a few months but came back with a vengeance as osteoarthritis at age 50. After a couple OLG-crowd1of years the pain was more than I could take and my hip was replaced on December 12th 2003. My hip was replaced actually means my leg was pretty much cut off along with the ball of the hip. The femur was drilled out and 6 to 10 inches of titanium were pounded in where moments before there had been only bone and blood. A fresh titanium socket was hammered into place and I was put back together. That this surgery is routinely performed and most people enjoy great mobility and lead pain-free lives is itself a miracle of medicine. My case extended a bit further. I suffered no pain. OK, there I go exaggerating. I olg-medicsactually took a few tylenol and felt something like a mild sunburn. Folks, I was pain free, really. I felt and feel that God was sending a message of both love and sovereignty. The following year I found myself in the Basilica on the night of December 11th back to back and belly to belly with 2 million worshiping pilgrims along with dozens of Mexico’s finest pick-pockets.  I worked my way through the crowd until I was inside the Basilica itself standing with my friend and Mexico City native, Manuel Sandoval. As midnight approached  famous Mexican singer after famous Mexican singer performed. At the stroke of midnight the crowd shouted ¡Viva María! three times, Mañanitas, Mexican Happy birthday, was

olg-images blessed

sung to Our Lady. Next came Mass after Mass after Mass in Spanish and Nahuatl. Beginning in November, after All Saints Day the pilgrimages start from all over Mexico. They arrive at La Via, the Way, with mysteries of the Rosary posted along the avenues leading to the Basilica.  At the plaza of the Basilica many shift to their knees, acknowledging the Holy Ground, their own sinfulness and their love for Mary and her yes that enabled God to enter history. They bring their images of La Virgen to be blessed before the alter and beneath the tilma that bear her image.

It was 2012 and here I was back home again this time on the day of the 12th, this time carrying an image of Nuestra Señora that would grace the home of a friend of a friend, this time, like the last, joyful and thankful, crowded and tired. Thank God I believe.

1. Quote taken from  On Being Catholic, Thomas Howard, Ignatius Press, 1997.

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The Body of Christ

monstrance

Monstrance for San Bernardino

Madre Carmen

Madre Carmen witnessing beneath the image of Our Lady or Guadaplue.

One of the things that I learned right away at the missions is that the faithful in Patzún are quite ernest. Being very Catholic one of the matters of faith is the presence of Jesus Christ, the real presence of Christ, in the Eucharist.  Corpus Cristi – the Body of Christ, you see it in the name of the hospital. Christ is not metaphorically present but there, mysteriously transubstantiated from bread. Being American I took a couple whacks at updating their thinking, “Body of Christ means we the people of his Church.” Madre Carmen gave no ground. “We Catholics believe that Christ is present in the Eucharist”. That was the early 1990s. Today I am completely with Madre Carmen, witnessing to the presence of Christ and spending hours on my knees in prayer, Eucharistic Adoration as it is properly called. The stand above is called the monstrance. Jesus, in the form of the transubstantiated host, is displayed in the little round window at the center. The faithful watch and pray. It is one of the most beautiful and most solemn parts of our faith. In the USA it is attended not by large numbers but by faith-filled people.

Seminarians w Monstrance

Seminarians with Monstrance

The Sisters who operate the mission school, San Bernardino, asked us for a monstrance so the 1,100 students could actually see Jesus at Adoration. The priests on the 2012 mission trips put out a call throughout the diocese for a monstrance. A suitable one, retired from from one of our merged parishes, was located at St. Paul Seminary. It is pictured with seminarians Dan Waruszewski, Alek Schrenk and Jeff Craig. With this gift from the seminary Jesus will be worshiped and adored as He should be in the new chapel. Many hands are coming

Chapel Alter

San Bernardino Chapel Alter

together to complete the task. A group

Pat Brister w Monstrance

Pat Brister of Waynesburg University

from Waynesburg University is making a Thanksgiving working visit to the mission. Their leader agreed they would carry the monstrance with them and present it to Hermana Angela who heads San Bernardino. It is a gift to be able to worship the God who is, who was and who will always be. He doesn’t need our gold yet He delights in our presence. He longs to hear our prayers. “Engrave our hearts with lively sentiments of faith, hope and love, true repentance for our sins, and a firm purpose of abandonment.”*

*Paraphrased fragment from En Ego, Bone et Dulcissime Lesu.

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Much to My Surprise

The previous July week was just perfect, among the very best that I ever spent in Guatemala. Fr. Fleckenstein was the first of the Pittsburgh seminarians to return to Patzún after ordination. Young but mature and faith-filled Bob Waruszewski was with me once again as was his fiance Caitlyn. The seminary was well represented by his brother Dan as well as seminary freshman Jeff Craig. Tricia Dougherty, whom I knew from my son’s years at Aquinas, was making her first trip as were Pat Shaffer and Rachel McGrath of Holy Sepulcher. We prayed well. We sang well. We worshiped well. There was just the right balance of real work, visiting the poor, piety and silliness. The Provincial,  my dear friend Sor Balvy, visited from El Salvador. We stayed a night with Madre Carmen at the Franciscan convent in Guatemala City and we even got to see Gladys, a little orphan girl grown up into an marvelous young woman. I loved the trip. I loved the group and I especially loved Fr. Fleck coming back to Patzún, offering Mass in Spanish and English. Nothing, I mean nothing, could touch the experience. I dropped that group off at the airport in Guatemala City and longed to go home with them but instead I waited hour after hour after endless hour for 10 Oakland Catholic girls and their adult supervision.

Oakland Catholic Mission Group 2012

Oakland Catholic Mission Group 2012, Colonial era church Patzún with Padre Juan in the middle.

The group had been, shall we say, less than fully engaged during our year of preparation. The girls were always at soccer or basketball or choir or something and their minds were anywhere other than Dr. Miller and the history of the Franciscan missions or Fr. Stan Rother or helping without hurting. They were completely unprepared and so was I. The facts are clear enough. When they met the poor school kids of San Bernardino our girls

Cachequel girls at recess.

Cachequel girls at recess.

cried. The orphans at Hogar San Francisco moved them to love these little ones who just a day earlier were abstractions, “the poor”, “the orphaned”. I interviewed each Oakland Catholic girl twice during the week, trying to see the mission trip through their eyes. There were two common themes; first that in the face of kids with so little our girls expressed shame, not so much for their plenty as for their feelings of entitlement to even more, and second our girls were overwhelmed by the warmth and love that such poor people showered on them.

Those are the facts that anyone could see and hear. With eyes and ears of faith I tell you something else was going on that week. The Bible tells us that the finger of God  has traced his law on our hearts. We don’t talk much about that in mixed company these days, living in the neo-pagan culture that is America in 2012, but it is still true and we should.

 

God didn’t enter our girls when they went to Oakland Catholic or when they went on mission or even when they attended catechism. The Holy Spirit was there, inside them, all along, placed by the grace of God. Think of it like a tuning fork inside us, still and quiet with us completely unaware. Along comes some event and if it is of God the Holy Spirit tuning fork begins to vibrate. At first we aren’t much aware but it is happening, strengthening and finally, if we are lucky, it wakes us.

 

If things go really well, if the resonance of the Holy Spirit and external events is very strong and if we cooperate then God, who was in us all along in the third person of the Holy Trinity, bursts forth into the world. We have heard our Master’s call. We begin to be the persons Jesus would have us be – not always but sometimes.

Much to my surprise this mission trip was perfect too. It came to pass that I had a ring side seat as young woman after young woman after young woman woke to the Holy Spirit inside her and joyfully allowed it to escape into the world, eleven young women in all. To a woman they vowed to return. To a woman they vowed to collect needed goods, raise funds and raise awareness. They are already making good on their promises. Maria turned 16 a couple months back and instead of accepting the treatment of a princess she asked for donations for the orphanage and the school, including 0ver $300 toward a new computer lab. Julia pushed the total above $400. Additional Oakland Catholic girls have joined the group. Grace briefed students and parents on fundraising efforts, including money to help the young orphan, Denilson who is losing both sight and hearing. Mrs. Goyal and Fr. Michael are organizing the 2013 Patzún Mission Trip. Alora is off to college but she is already militating for her parish to form its own Mission Group.

What about me, Don Felipe, as I am known in certain circles? I am humbled. God has once again reminded me that He is the potter and I am the clay. I am ashamed because once again I confused myself and what I wanted with God’s plan. I quieted down and trusted God. I became servant to the Oakland Catholic group as I was called to be. Then God was able to roll up his sleeves and turn hearts toward their real home, as only He can do.

Thank you (in order of appearance in photos above) Maria DeIuliis, Allison Walker, Alora Cinicola, Olivia Knight, Mo Deken, Julia Foerster, Lelah McCarthy, Carmen Malloy, Danielle Clark, Grace McHale, Kelly Vigliotti, Meghan Goyal, Fr. Michael Roche and Fr. Thomas Gillespie. It was a pleasure to be in your company.

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Dinner with the Lehman Family

Philip Lehman (He is Philip. I am Phil.) and I have traveled much of the world together first with iCarnegie and now with Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science. What I remember most about traveling with Philip are the stories about his family. Paris France,

Philip and Carolyn Lehman

Santiago de Chile, Manchester England and points north, south, east and west – stories of his mother who always phoned on his birthday at the precise hour and minute of Philip’s birth, stories of his father, stories of his grandfather and stories of the siblings.  The Lehman’s are a New York, Jewish family in America since the mid 1800s. They are a baseball loving bunch who know with great certitude that in 1961 Mantle hit 54 homers and Maris 61. They are a smart bunch, mostly Harvard and Yale graduates with just the occasional Georgetown student. Philip and I drove to Washington DC and he made it known that we would have dinner with his niece, Carolyn. I was happy to agree. So here they are at dinner. I mostly watched a Penguins hockey playoff game and they mostly talked of the Lehman family – fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters and school and travel. I really enjoyed the talk about Passover and the tradition of hiding matzah for the kids, just like our Easter egg hunt. It was just dinner. It was just family. It was just perfect, an uncle and his niece, clearly intertwined in each other’s lives. God was smiling and the pleasure was mine.

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New Clothes and a New Year

I got a Christmas note from Connie Cheren thanking the Holy Sepulcher Mission Group for sending shoes and clothes to Kenya.

Connie Cheren and Child

Connie Cheren and Child

“I wanted you to know all the clothes and shoes you

Jiggers without Shoes

Jiggers without Shoes

sent went to the children of Nick and who live in the CT children’s home. I have learned in Kenya Christmas to a child is a new outfit and chapatis. We made the chapatis and you supplied the new outfits and shoes. It was like somehow you and your church members knew the size of all the children! I will send photos later. The little guys refused to remove the tags from the clothes! … Be blessed this Christmas as we celebrate His birth.”

Jean on Medical Mission

Jean on Medical Mission

The need is real and the child’s foot illustrates a common problem. I didn’t use the shots of naked and starving children. Use can your imagination or web browser. I hope to meet Connie on my next trip to Nairobi but this post is a walk down memory lane. Clothing the naked is something that we Diocese of Pittsburgh mission groupers understand. Connie’s note took me back to one of the early St. Richard trips to Guatemala. Jean Gabor had taken over leadership and Laura Weiland, a college student at the time,

Laura in the Woods

Laura in the Woods

was there. The memory that I cherish was of the day when each girl at the orphanage got a new outfit. As usual we carried as many duffel bags of clothing as the airlines would permit. One fine afternoon Jean and Laura decided to hand out the new clothes. I sat with most of the group in the Franciscan Sister’s dining area at the orphanage. One little girl after another went into a back bedroom with Laura and came out dressed head to toe in clothes that we brought.

Kimberly at the Orphanage

Kimberly at the Orphanage

No words were needed. Beaming smiles showed us how the orphans regarded their good fortune. Laura was radiant. I was content to sip coffee and eat cookies. It was a good day at the mission.

Holy Sepulcher made possible this reprise in a Kenyan orphanage. I wish I had been there to sip coffee, eat cookies and watch. I wish you all had been there, and there that day in Patzún.

Christmas and even Epiphany have passed. Before you know it we will be into Lent in preparation for the central event of our lives. This will be a huge year for the Patzún missions. I am sure that Connie’s mission in Kenya, Partner’s for Care, will flourish.

Paz y Bien

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