Intentions of the Holy Father for April

Ecology and Justice. That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.
Hope for the Sick. That the Risen Lord may fill with hope the hearts of those who are being tested by pain and sickness.

20 Miles of Miscellany

Ok, so when you run 20 miles, as I just (finally) did, a LOT of things go through your mind. Something I noticed was that as the run progressed and the hours (not that many of them) ticked off, my thoughts got more and more disconnected from each other. They felt more profound, but that feeling hardly guarantees their depth, now does it? So here are a few random thoughts from my little three-hour tour around Bethesda, Kensington, and Rockville. Well, to be honest, some came from the cooling-down and runner's-high period that followed.

Grace is like grass. It is a coincidence that they sound so similar in our language, but the analogy is apt. Running on concrete wears on you, especially your joints. A lot of that wear and tear alleviates immediately, and I mean within just a couple paces, of switching onto grass when it becomes available. Life is like that. It can really wear on you. And modern life is rapidly becoming a hard, concrete paradise like the ones so many of us suburbanites and urbanites live in. Grass softens things, makes them gentle, and lovely. So does grace. It makes life doable, even desirable.

My roommate and I started the run even though it was cool, raining, and promising to get worse - colder and rainier. My reasoning was that the Marine Corps Marathon will be run rain or shine, and I didn't want to bail then, so except in case of genuine physical danger, I shouldn't bail now. Tom isn't running the MC Marathon, so I am not sure what his thinking was. Maybe he did it for the sake of camaraderie. Maybe he's crazy. Maybe a bit of both. I used to be more of a wimp, but feel like less of one after the run. In point of fact, it didn't get colder and rainier. The rain let up and the temperature stabilized at about 60*, perfect for a run. That's how life is. If you can stick through the hard points, exercising prudence and relying on Providence, it pretty much always gets better eventually. At least it has for me.

As I finished the third of four loops, each beginning and ending at my home and measuring five miles, I called into the house, "Hey, Ben, would you do me a huge favor and run to the 7-11 and grab some ice. I'm out it looks like." God bless him, he did. Tom cooked dinner for the two of us and left it in the fridge for me when he went to his (overnight) work shift. My ma has done similar things for me on these runs. All these people have been praying for me, encouraging me, supporting what I am trying to do. It's mind-boggling. During my run I reflected on that a great deal, and prayed for the grace to get better and better at being a loving son, brother, roommate, friend, coworker, classmate... for the grace to make some kind of return on the grace given me. My heart swelled while I ran, and it wasn't just a cardiovascular thing. It is no coincidence at all that the word for grace in almost all the Romance languages is closely related to the word for "thanks." Usually, "thanks" is "grace" in the plural form. "Gracias por la gracia," you might say in Spanish. Thank you God, for the grace.

My second niece, to be born in a few weeks, is named Elizabeth Grace. No joke. I know, it's very thematic, so I offered part of the run for her, too.

In a few moments I am going to eat the dinner my roommate made me, and make myself a milkshake. You wouldn't believe how many miles you can get out of fantasizing about a milkshake. Grace, like the dinner, has to be not only freely given, but also freely received, whatever John Calvin might have said. Otherwise, it's not grace, but some sort of spiritual assault. God never forces the free will He gave us. Holy Mary, full of grace, was free to say, "No," to God, which is why her lifelong, grace-filled yes was so important, so revolutionary, so beautiful.

St. Joan of Arc was the illiterate medieval French peasant who, inspired by the Holy Spirit and numerous saints, took up the banner of the Dauphin and with it and his whimpering armies drove from France their English overlords. She was captured by her enemies and tried for a witch, or a heretic maybe. I can't remember, but it was clearly a show-trial to make Stalin blush, because the Brits were just bitter to be beat by a woman. She was asked by her show-judges whether she was in a state of grace, the state in which the soul is permeated and shot through by the life of God himself, and in moral and spiritual union with Him. It's a trick question though, because you can never know for sure that you haven't offended and parted ways with God, only that you have done so. That's a bit complicated and another story. For now, suffice it to say that the young woman of 19 or 20 years, being glared at and stared down by the hooligan bishops and barons of Burgundy and Britain, calmly walked out of their trap as effortlessly as Jesus Himself evaded the sneakiness of the Pharisees, and with a similar answer. She simply said, "I cannot say, but I pray God that if I am, He keep me there, and if I am not, that He bring me there swiftly." (The paraphrasing is mine. Bear in mind I just ran 20 miles.) The bishops were befuddled. But they burned her anyway.

We can never be sure, but if we have a good reason to doubt that we are in grace, we should hurry to confession, quickly. Go, get back with God. If you haven't been in a while, you've got good reason.

I didn't nearly get hit by a car this time, in fact, most of the cars were unusually (to my mind) careful to let us have the right of way crossing streets. Unusual for the DC area. Grace in action?

A few centuries after St. Joan of Arc, another young Frenchwoman, whose feast is celebrated today, Therese Martin, A.K.A. Therese of the Child Jesus of Lisieux, A.K.A. the Little Flower, wrote a great deal about grace. She is a canonized saint, and one of just 33 doctors of the Church, saints whose lives, thought, and writings have most profoundly affected the rest of us in the Church. She, without so much as a high school diploma and deceased at twenty four, is in the ranks of Augustine and Aquinas. It wasn't because she was a cutie, either. She was sharp. As she suffered in her death throes, succumbing to tuberculosis, she made a very profound comment. "I do not know how our Lord experienced the Beatific Vision [heaven] even while dying on the cross in such agony, only I know it because I myself am experiencing something of the same," she said. Her last words, buoyed up in agony by a joy and love deeper than anything human, and entirely outside herself, she coughed and gasped, "My God, how I love you," and breathed her last. As an interesting oddity, St. Therese wrote, directed, and starred in two plays about the life and death of St. Joan of Arc.

A couple weeks ago, my 8-month pregnant sister fell in the grocery store. While her baby cried for her, "Mommy, mommy!" and she struggled to get up, people came by, glancing down at her in pain and obviously in some distress, and kept walking. Ten, she counted. Ten people did as much. Flannery O'Connor, one of my favorite authors and essayists, wrote in an essay on Southern literature that grace is perhaps best defined by describing its absence.

U2, my favorite rock band of all time, has a whole song named Grace. Several of the members are Christians, and have suffered, and know what they are talking about. Google the lyrics.

To follow Jesus Christ is, as He said, to pick up our cross each day and to follow Him. Rather than to run from it, the Christian life requires that we do our best to take suffering by the horns. Grace, His Life - even to the point of His Flesh and Blood - shared with us, is what makes that possible. And it also provides a measure of joy, like today's huge rainbow, the cool night air along the concrete of Rockville Pike, a warm cooked meal.

Thank you God, Mama Mary, Mom, Megan, Claire, Tom, Ben, saints and angels in heaven who guard over me, and all the rest of you who fill my life with pleasant blessings. Thanks to all who have supported my effort to support our good archbishop and the Church's efforts to give us even more good priests.

Hmm... wait a minute, didn't I say something about a milkshake a while ago?

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