A Catholic existentialist philosopher named Gabriel Marcel is not generally well-known.

Yet, many of his ideas are captivating. Gabriel Marcel was born in Paris on December 7, 1889.

His mother died when he was four years old. One of the things Marcel wrote about was how, although his mother had died, he always felt her presence and influence in his life. Fifty-four years later, after a 38-year happy marriage, his wife died. Marcel again wrote of how he continued to sense his wife’s presence along with that of his mother. They were gone, yet still with him.

During the First World War, Marcel served with the Red Cross, and it was in connection with his work there that he experienced some of the most life-changing encounters of his life. His job with the Red Cross was to act as liaison for the families of soldiers who were missing in action. He had to try to find out what might have happened to soldiers classified as “missing.” He was constantly besieged by distraught relatives – wives, parents, etc. He spent endless days trying to obtain some jot of information about a missing soldier so that he might be able to offer some glimmer of hope to an apprehensive family. Too often, Marcel was dispatched to announce to the next of kin the death of a dearly loved one. The “missing” soldiers became real human beings to Marcel, and he sensed how terrible were impersonal generalities. He saw how the soldier’s questing loved ones were undergoing one of the most traumatic experiences allotted to human beings.

Marcel’s approach to philosophy is sometimes called “Phenomenology.” This is an approach which begins with a concrete individual experience and tries to describe the experience in greater depth.

Marcel writes about various significant events in human life. For example, Marcel reflects on truth, and speaks eloquently of how truth is holy, and makes demands upon us. Marcel spoke of how we are obliged to testify in a court of law if we hold a particle of light that would otherwise remain hidden. We must manifest the truth which is known to us and allow it to affect the situation at hand.

Fidelity occupies a central place in Marcel’s thought. Marcel underlines Nietzsche’s saying that “a human being is the only being who can make promises.” For Marcel, fidelity is the foremost expression of love for another. Fidelity is maintaining presence no matter what. A faithful friend is someone who does not fail us. We feel that he is with me. Fidelity is distinguished from constancy or obligation, which can be devoid of love.

Marcel points out that marriage is the place that most involves Fidelity. When one makes the marriage vows, s/he assumes an obligation, gives to the other a claim over oneself; one binds oneself to some future actions.

Fidelity implies presence, continual responsiveness. It involves patience and humility. Fidelity enables the married couple to face life’s deepest crises with courage. Fidelity in marriage is not coercive. There are the marriages where one spouse is faithful to the other only out of a feeling of duty; fidelity is reduced to constancy, a grudging perseverance in a static, stale relationship. The other person perceives this.

Many people today devalue life commitments and fidelity, claiming that the future was unknowable. Marcel thought they were incorrectly thinking of the future as though it were like the weather, something that happened to a person over which the person had no control. Marcel believed that to some extent, not completely, but to some extent we create our future by the choices we make.

He claimed that a certain level of maturity was necessary for a person to be able to make a life commitment, but he also claimed that such a level of maturity could only be achieved by making a life commitment. One can suffer from guilt knowing that one is breaking the promises s/he solemnly made. Fidelity involves a choice. I can refuse to remain faithful to the other, Marcel writes of how lovers are loyal not only to one another as separate individuals but to their love, to their union, which is something more than either of them viewed as distinct individuals. Marriage constitutes a new reality – US. There is a fidelity to fidelity, a loyalty to loyalty.

Marcel goes so far as to say that, in many ways, the essence of this world is perhaps betrayal. There are all the divorces, the annulments, the domestic violence. The novels and short stories of John Updike are modern commentaries on fidelity. Updike is preoccupied with the failure of fidelity, the refusal to stay. Updike’s characters hurt each and seem to lack to ability or means to do otherwise.

Fidelity involves a relationship, a presence, that even death cannot destroy; it is supra-temporal. This is the experience of many who have undergone the test of death.

Marcel writes that fidelity is a major factor that gives our lives meaning. Overall, Fidelity should tell us what to do in doubtful cases. The deciding factor is loyalty to our covenants; fidelity, or loyalty, should decide our consciences.

Finally, one can note that Marcel studied the piano, and eventually attained proficiency as a concert pianist. He stated that after a Bach concert one could have the assurance that it is an honor to be a human being. He attributed to music, especially to Bach’s music, his understanding of religious experience and his own religious development. Marcel was also a playwright of some significance.

The pandemic has forced us to slow down. For many, this has been a challenge, especially when we were still in a state of not knowing, unable to see family and friends, and unsure of what was to come.

Now that cases have gone down, we have slowly been able to gather in small groups again, especially outdoors. This has been a saving grace for many.

I don’t want to down-play the seriousness of the pandemic, and I recognize how fortunate I am not to have lost a loved one or a job or anything else of great importance to me. I feel grateful for that every day. I will say, though, having extra time to reflect and slow-down has truly been a blessing for me.

I have learned so much about what I truly value and what is important to me. I have learned that there were things in my life that were no longer serving me.

If I didn’t have this time, I probably would have just kept blindly going on without realizing that I was carrying things that I didn’t need to anymore.

I feel like God tries to tell us these things in small ways, but when we are too busy, we tend not to notice His messages.

When we don’t stop and listen and take stock of what we’re feeling, we can get caught up in things that He didn’t intend for us. Paths that He may not have cleared for us but that we forced our way through anyway.

I don’t know what life post-pandemic is going to look like. I’ve gotten used to wearing a mask. I actually kind of enjoy it because it provides a convenient disguise when I’m running errands in sweatpants and don’t want to be seen.

I’ve been able to take stock of where my priorities lie. The question of “do I really need to go there or do that thing?” or “is it worth risking my life or the life of a loved one for that particular activity?” have helped me cut my schedule down to what is more manageable for me, which makes me a lot happier in the long-run. Things that once required a drive and a meet-up can now just be a quick phone call or an e-mail, which leaves us all with so much more time to devote to meaningful connection (for all us, “that meeting could’ve easily been an email” folks, this is a welcome relief).

I know it’s the introvert in me speaking (I’m sorry extraverts, I know this time is probably ten times more difficult for you! I hear you, I see you), but I just feel like this slower way of life is more suited to intentional living.

I don’t think He wanted us to thrive in the rat race. I think He wanted us to live our lives with intention and purpose, taking stock regularly of whether what we are doing is serving Him or whether it’s just useless noise.

I turn to one of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite saints, St. Francis de Sales (the patron saint of writers and journalists, which explains why he is very near and dear to my heart). He writes, “Never be in a hurry; do everything quietly and in a calm spirit. Do not lose your inner peace for anything whatsoever, even if your whole world seems upset.”

The whole world does seem upset. And some of that is for very good reason. And there is a time to engage in that, for sure. We have a duty as members of society and humans on this earth. But we can always return to our inner peace. We can find that grounding within ourselves and go back there when it all seems to be too much. Because only if we begin with the steadying of our own selves, can we then go out and make a difference in the world.

If we examine our personal histories, we will find a story of relationships. In a real sense, we are the sum of our relationships. The human person was created, designed, to be in relationship with others. We cannot be truly ourselves by ourselves. I read somewhere that a thing that does not exist in relation to anything else cannot itself be said to exist. To really grow as a human being, we need other people. We only become who we are through the relationships that shape our lives. There is Martin Buber’s famous conclusion that “all real living is meeting.”

Lately I’ve been trying to think of all those whom I’ve met in my life in one way or another; those who went with me along the path of life. Not too many came in a way that I planned or contrived. Most relationships sort of found me. There’s a mystery to it. People come into our lives and go out of our lives, sometimes only for a few minutes. For example, I remember, from many years ago, an early Saturday morning on the DeKalb Avenue subway station. I was standing on the platform. She was wearing a black coat. She had jeans on and was drinking coffee. One strand of her hair blew across her cheek, touching the corners of her mouth. There was some eye contact, glances. We got on the same car. We both got off at Grand Central, and then I lost her. In retrospect I wish I had approached her.

There are all the people to whom I must by now be the merest memory.

When I think back over my own life, I recall the relationships that were formal and distant. My main emotion with some people was unease. There were relationships in which we took an immediate dislike to each other. Saint Seraphim of Sarov addressed each person who came to him as “my joy.” My response to too many people was, “You again?” There were the relationships that did not stand the test of time.

Writers and philosophers of our time speak of existential isolation. They take the view that no relationship can surmount loneliness; no one has access to the real depths of another.

Albert Schweitzer said we are each a secret to the other. Freud stated that every encounter, beautiful as it may seem, only dulls the incurable wound of loneliness. Flannery O’Connor wrote “I love a lot of people, understand none of them.” (Spiritual Writings, p.161). And W.H. Auden wrote:

“I’m beginning to lose patience
With my personal relations:
They are not deep,
And they are not cheap.” (Shorts)

I don’t think life is exclusively like this. A number of people became very dear to me. As Carson McCullers stated, they became “the we of me” (The Member of the Wedding, p. 137). I can’t imagine the world without them. They’ve got to be there just as naturally as trees or birds or clouds. Without them I would be incomplete; I would no longer be me. A dear friend like this moving out of your life is almost as much of a loss as a death.

I think all people’s lives involve such we-relationships. They are among the best things God handed us.

I can’t help thinking that I didn’t have a real biography until my wife entered my life. After a while, I often tire of being with other people. I could be with her for hours and hours and not be tired for an instant of her.

I die as often from thee I go,
Though it be but an hour ago. (John Donne, The Legacy)

Many happily married people feel this way.

The elderly often develop relationships in which the two of them complement each other wonderfully. There are the long years of affectionate understanding between them. Hurts and annoyances that might otherwise end a relationship no longer have the last word. They’ve grown very close, close to death and close to each other. They sort of fuse together in these last years.

All of us, as we age, tend to be able to discern more and more when to act, how to act, what to say, and often more importantly, what not to say. We learn not to strike the wrong note.

John of the Cross tells us we are like a stone that must be chiseled and fashioned before being set in the building. Our relationships are instruments which God uses to chisel us. They are part of God’s plan. By means of these chiseling interactions we become more the self God wants us to be. We should think of some of our relationships as artisans, present there in order to improve us.

Overall, I believe there are people God has given us. I wonder if there are any accidental meetings, or is grace and providence at work in all of them? Some people do come to us at crucial times. There are certain people who come to us like a gift from heaven. Most of our hurts come through relationships, so does our healing.

We develop an ever-deepening gratitude and wonder for all those who have loved us.

I have two particularly poignant memories. One is how I felt my throat tighten when I watched an elderly woman reach for her husband’s hand as they strolled down the sidewalk. The other is a memory of how my wife would make room for me beside her on a couch and spread a quilt across our laps and rest her head on my shoulder.

Avery wise man, or maybe it was a wise woman, or it could possibly have been Yoda, once taught me an important lesson: The only person you can change is yourself. And only then with extreme difficulty. Changing for the better is hard, but changing for the worse is pretty easy. Just look at the world around you.

If you’re not working at spiritual improvement and trying to become holier (such a stodgy, politically incorrect word!) by trudging up that steep, narrow path, you’ll find yourself with the multitudes on the wide and heavily trafficked highway that leads to darkness. There’s no standing still in the spiritual life.

Not too many of us say, “My goal in life is to be holier.” That doesn’t sound as enticing as “My goal in life is to be richer… or more popular…or wittier… or prettier.” But eventually God has a way of bringing us closer to him through a tragedy, an illness or a loss, and we discover very quickly that holiness is what life is all about.

Countless people are looking to improve, and they believe they have the key through self-help and self-transformation. It makes me wonder: If self-improvement is such a popular pastime in modern society, then why is society so messed up?

If you walk into a bookstore, while there are still some left, and go to the “Personal Transformation” section, you’ll see hundreds of titles like “7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience,” “Awaken the Giant Within,” “Think and Grow Rich,” “Design Your Life: Build a Life That Works for You.” “Best Self: Be You, Only Better.” Sounds appealing, doesn’t it?

However, when it comes to spiritual growth, there’s a fundamental truth: You can’t truly change yourself by yourself. It requires that mystical gift called “grace,” the power of God that changes everything for the better. It sanctifies us, it strengthens us, it revives us, it inspires us to virtue. And if you want it, all you have to do is ask.

Father Lawrence Carew, in his book “Six Simple Steps Into Healing Prayer,” cites the example of St. Therese of Lisieux, one of the most beloved of saints, a Carmelite nun who died at 24. Like all of us, she was burdened with human imperfection.

“While she firmly desired to become increasingly Christ-like, Therese quickly came to realize that high ideals wedded to willpower just couldn’t bring it about,” he wrote. “But by regularly surrendering things, like her imperfections and inabilities to love or forgive, into the Lord’s mercy towards her and love for her, these weaknesses would be transformed into currents of grace carrying her into a better place.”

The formula for success is simple: I can’t. God can. So get out of the way and let him do what he has to do. And if you ask, and keep on asking, he’ll make the necessary changes in his own time, just as he did for the Little Flower.

Your appeal doesn’t have to be grandiose or dramatic. A simple request will do, like “God, please help me with these character defects.” Then, almost magically, the people, places and things in your life will direct you toward spiritual growth. The real purpose of our lives is to become holier. Not richer, not prettier, not wittier.

One last point. You’ll never change if you don’t examine your day at the end of every day. What did you do well? What did you fail to do? Where was God in all this? This regular practice of examining your day wasn’t created by Eckhart Tolle or the Dalai Lama. It came from St. Ignatius Loyola and is called The Examen.

Put yourself in God’s presence and look at your day through his eyes and in gratitude. Review what happened and acknowledge your shortcomings. Look forward with hope to the day to come.

It takes work to move forward in virtue, but you don’t need a library of self-help books. All that’s necessary is a willingness to grow holier and asking Jesus, your “life coach,” for help. He’ll move you forward even when you don’t even realize it.

Coming home from a long night, I was very much looking forward to a good night’s sleep. I was exhausted, emotionally drained, and all I wanted was my bed. Imagine my dismay when I opened my bedroom door to find a huge spider staring at me from across the room.

Let me give you some background. Along with airplanes and heights, spiders are my biggest irrational fear. The kind of fear that sends chills up my whole body. So, after an already difficult night, I called my mom in tears unsure of what to do.

I give her credit for being able to understand what I was saying between breathless sobs of, “I hate it. I just want it to go away.” “You want what to go away? The spider?” she said. As I look back now, it’s funny. But, let me tell you, it was not funny in the moment. And this was before I noticed the hundreds of baby spiders sprawled out on the ceiling…

I may have blacked out in a moment of sheer terror because I don’t remember my reaction to that. But I do remember my mom assuring me she was on her way. To my mom, currently reading this: you came over at 1 am to help me kill hundreds of baby spiders…yes, you can be featured in my column now.

Moms just have a way of being able to make everything better. I don’t exactly know when this transition to womanhood happens, when suddenly you know how to cook the best lasagna ever made and can handle killing spiders in the middle of the night, but moms just know.

I’ve never really had a close relationship with Mary. There was always something about her that seemed unattainable to me as a woman. I think my thought process was I know I will never be that perfect, so it just kind of makes me feel bad about myself when I think about her perfection.

But, still, when I can’t fall asleep or when I’m nervous, there’s something about repeating the Hail Mary over and over that settles me. It’s that peace and comfort that comes from a mother, I think. Like calling your mom in the middle of the night.

I’d like to imagine that Jesus used to call on Mary when he needed help or was afraid. Maybe he needed help killing spiders in the middle of the night, I don’t know, stranger things have happened in Nazareth. I wish we had more of those in-between years, to see those tender moments between mother and son. It helps to think about Mary as a young mother, trying to do everything she could to care for her family. Maybe she’s not so unattainable after all? I’m working on it.

If she’s anything like the moms I know, who would do anything for their kids and their families, even kill hundreds of spiders in the middle of the night, then she’s alright by me.

For most of my life, when I knelt in front of the crucifix to pray, my prayer went something like this: “Lord, help me.” Actually, it went something like this: “LORD, HELP ME!!! PLEASE!!!”

I always remember to say “please,” which seems only appropriate when you’re begging the Lord of the Universe for emergency assistance. And like most people, I’ve needed all kinds of emergency assistance for a variety of personal crises: children straying from the faith, family members suffering the ravages of cancer, friends afflicted with addiction, relationships torn apart, and worst of all, people despairing because their lives were in shambles, and they couldn’t see that the only possible solution was the only one they weren’t considering—Jesus.

Others were dealing with the death of a spouse, or tragically, the death of a child, the loss of a job, emotional abuse—a seemingly infinite number of reasons to look at Jesus on the cross and plead, “Lord, help us!”

Then, something happened. It’s not that the list of reasons to petition Jesus had gotten shorter. In fact, it had gotten longer. Look at the world, and you’ll recognize immediately there are countless reasons to pray harder than ever before.

However, the day came when I knelt before the Eucharist with my laundry list of petitions, and for a moment it seemed that Jesus was saying, “Help me.” What could the Son of God need from me?

My prayer eventually became “Lord, how may I help?” What a curious concept that the God who made Heaven and Earth should need the help of fallen, imperfect creatures. And yet if you look around you, you’ll realize the harvest is great and the laborers are few.

Be assured that Jesus needs our help, and it doesn’t require a PhD or special training or a flashy title, only a commitment to do his will in every moment and to turn your life over to him every morning.

The game plan is pretty simple. If you give him your day, he’ll do great things. He’ll also tell you moment by moment how you can help even if you don’t think you have the ability.

Your deficiencies won’t matter because his grace is all you’ll need. It will strengthen you when you’re afraid, and it will supplement your meager abilities. What he told St. Paul applies to all of us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

When a friend comes to you because her husband died or her child has been diagnosed with cancer or she’s depressed about her family situation, ask Jesus what you should say before you open your mouth, and the Holy Spirit will guide you. Ask Jesus what to do in every situation, and he’ll lead you.

Sometimes, silent compassion is the answer. Less preaching and more listening is always a good rule to follow. Wonderful things occur when we offer to help Jesus. He can work miracles through us without our even knowing.

We live at a critical time when countless souls are being lost— souls that Jesus wants saved. We live at a time when there’s a lot of talk about justice and love but much more anger and hatred. It’s one thing to talk the talk, and another to walk the walk.

Never doubt that you can make a difference. It doesn’t have to be a new program, a major speech or a political rally. When small imperceptible acts are spiritually charged by Jesus, they have a vastly greater effect than highly publicized initiatives with a cast of thousands. Sometimes all we’re called to do is plant the seed and Jesus does the rest. We may never see the results of our actions until the next life.

A smile, a display of compassion, silent listening, laughter, prayer. These seem to be the smallest gestures but they’re the greatest gestures to Christ, who deserves all the glory. Never underestimate what you can do with Jesus beside you. And never doubt for a moment that he is calling you to serve day to day and moment to moment in situations that may seem commonplace and ordinary. Heed the call.

“Lord, how may I help you?” Say it every morning, and he will answer you.

I couldn’t believe the news. As soon as I hung up the phone I stared out the window for a good ten minutes, letting it all sink in.

A single pipe burst ruined my beach vacation. A little background…my family and I take one week a year to go to our beach house in the summer—and that time is sacred to us, the closest we ever get to true peace.

With the coronavirus pandemic surrounding our every thought, tough decisions to be made and hard conversations to be had at home, I had been looking forward to this vacation since March, even just longing for a change of pace.

But when my family called to let me know of the flooded lower level and the 6-8 week renovation to follow, I couldn’t help but feel devastated, like this lifeline that we looked forward to was being taken away from us. My mom came up with a plan—we would stay a few days at a house down the road from ours that a family friend rented and spend one night at a hotel. This seemed like a good consolation, and at least we would still get to go to the beach. Let’s just say, the rental wasn’t what we expected, but we made the best of it for a few nights! Despite the fact that this was my vacation, I found it extremely difficult to relax. Moving from house to house to hotel, dragging everything back and forth, left my brain little time to fully tune-in to vacation mode. My mind kept returning to all the problems I had to deal with back home. No matter where we go, we take our problems with us, despite our intentions to leave them at the shore.

My brother and dad headed home after the first few days, but my mom and I couldn’t tear ourselves away. With a bathroom hooked up in our newly de-floored beach house, we decided to stay— call it “an adventure.” I was determined to relax, even if I had to force myself.

It turns out it wasn’t all that difficult once I really let myself settle in. We kept saying we’d “play it by ear” …but we ended up staying most of the week.

There is something truly magical about getting to swim in the ocean every day. Salt water has such amazing health benefits and my whole body could feel it. Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the fact that it was just my mom and I, or maybe it was my conscious decision to leave my problems at the shore.

The Sunday following my vacation was the Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. The first reading from Isaiah read:

Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water!
You who have no money, come, receive grain and eat;
Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk!
Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?
Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life. I will renew with you the everlasting covenant, the benefits assured to David (Isaiah 55:1-3).

Come to the water. Water is healing. Throughout Scripture, water is used as a symbol for healing, for being made new. When was the last time you let that healing water wash over you? Whether it be immersing yourself in the ocean, taking a long hike, reading a great book or cooking a nutritious meal? What can we do for ourselves during this time to ensure that we leave our problems at the shore?

Thus says the LORD: All you who are thirsty, come to the water!

“Then I saw the new heaven and the new earth” (Revelation 21:1) My childhood Catholicism involved the belief that unbaptized children could not go to heaven; apparently God didn’t love them enough. They went to a place called Limbo. This was described as a place of full natural happiness and joy. The Second Vatican Council tacitly put to rest the doctrine of limbo. It is not mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

My childhood Catholicism involved the belief that heaven was a place where we would see God and spend a lot of time singing and praising Him. As a child I always wanted to go to Limbo, even though I was baptized.

Maria Shriver wrote a children’s book called What’s Heaven? The book has lots of pictures of fluffy clouds in blue skies. Each page has one sentence in extralarge type. Heaven, says Shriver, is “a beautiful place where you can sit on soft clouds and talk to other people who are there. At night you can sit next to the stars. And Grandma is alive with the stars and the angels, etc. (cf. W.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope, p.17)

This is more or less what many Catholics have come to believe, and to teach their children. What the Bible teaches is very, very different. In the New Testament we hear of a new creation that will transform and perfect all things. Salvation is a healing and transformation of this present world.

Three things make a human being a person: we are bodily, communal, earthly beings.

We are embodied, and God made us for each other, and also for His creation. The world was created for human beings. Genesis 2:15 says “the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” We belong here.

What the New Testament teaches is a central concept in ancient Jewish writings.

Isaiah writes of creation’s eventual full restoration: Isa.42:9: “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare.” Isa.43:19: “See, I am doing a new thing!” Isa.65:17: “For behold, I create a new heavens and a new earth. There are the famous words from Isa.65:25: “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox… They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain,” says the LORD.

The ancient Jewish religious work titled The Book of Jubilees speaks of “the day of the new creation, when heaven and earth will be renewed” (Jubilee 1:29). Another ancient Jewish religious work, the Book of Enoch speaks of how the creation will be made anew to last forever (First Enoch 72:1).

When it comes to the New Testament, the conclusion to the Book of Revelation is a fitting conclusion to the Bible as a whole. As Genesis began with the creation, so the Bible ends with telling how creation will be renewed, transformed. Rev.21:1- 4: “then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying…”and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

In Romans 8:18-25 Paul speaks of the sighing and groaning of all creation. It is not only people who sigh and groan, but the rest of creation as well. It suffers together with humanity. God’s reconciliation does not end with humanity; it embraces “all things on earth or in heaven.” All creation will be transformed.

Some other New Testament references to the new creation would include: Gal.6:15: “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 2Cor.5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” Col.1:15-20: “through him (Christ) God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven”

Thus, eternal life is not unworldly; it is a world elevated, healed, and transformed. Salvation does not involve a completely different life from the one we have now, but the perfection of that life. Salvation involves a new bodily existence in a newly remade world. We are destined for eternal life in the new creation. God remakes the creation, not abandons it. Eternal life is not radically new, it is the completion of what we have lived here. What we can expect after death is not a completely different life but the perfection of what we are already doing. One can take the blessings we enjoy in this life as foretastes and pictures of the joys of heaven. The New Creation will involve a vibrant and active human life. This world will be transformed and set right. This new world will be exactly what we need and want, with the love and beauty of this present world taken up and transformed.

The Second Vatican Council paid special attention to the New Creation. In the Lumen Gentium document it states that the whole earth will receive perfection when the time of renewal of all things arrives. The Council’s Constitution On The Church in The World pro claims that God is preparing a new earth where righteousness dwells, happiness fulfills for all God’s sons and daughters all that arises in human hearts. Love and its works will remain. Death will be conquered.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses the same kind of thinking. The CCC teaches that “the visible universe is destined to be transformed so that the world itself returns to its original state, with no further obstacles.”

A number of years ago, there was much discussion as to whether pet dogs would be in heaven. Not only will dogs be in heaven, but all species of animals, along with the sky, the oceans, seed-bearing plants, trees, the sun and moon, the teeming creatures of the sea, etc. Isaiah wrote of creation’s eventual full restoration. Jesus was even more specific. Jesus said that His father does not forget even the lowly sparrow.

What might the New Creation look like? What does the Bible actually teach about the New Creation? The picture offered by the Scriptures include: death and decay will be overcome; the hazards of life will be removed, life will no longer be precarious and uncertain, but perpetual and safe; the new creation will transform and perfect all things, everything will be set right; there will be no division between peoples.

Thus, God is both creator and redeemer, and humans are destined for eternal life in a new creation, in the liberated and healed human world. The Book of Revelation ends with the plaintive cry, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!”

As a white woman I do not have the adequate words to explain how the Black community is feeling right now. So I wish to share some words of both mine and others, to hopefully bring to light different viewpoints and perspectives and create a place for healing and understanding. May we hear one another. May we listen. May we let the words change our hearts and guide our actions.

If I could but carry your cross…

How am I supposed to put words to the pain that you feel?
I don’t know what it’s like, But I wish I could take some of the burden away from you.
Can I help you carry the cross?
Like Simon helped Jesus?
I will do everything I can.
I’ll read, I’ll watch, I’ll listen.
I’ll let your words change my heart and actions.
And tell others to do so as well.
I’ll sign petitions, I’ll vote, I’ll learn.
I will have hard conversations.
I will be open to discomfort,
And know that it will never be enough To take your pain away.
But I will continue to walk with you.
Continue to be your Simon.
In hopes that some day It won’t have to be this way.

Two voices have stayed with me, the first being Debbie Sims, a mom and parishioner of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Bridgeport:

“How do we move on…we can’t. George Floyd’s murder broke all our hearts. It is a call to action, a call to protect the Black Community, the official catalyst for change for our country. What do we do? As an African American Mom, here is what I had to do: I had to sit down with my Black son, nephews and community sons once again and go over the rules of what to do when stopped by the police. I begged them to pray because being obedient is not enough. Even though their physical life is in the hands of the officers, the Lord has the final say. George’s murder is just one incidence that the world saw, injustices like that happen every day in our communities. I’m scared to death of sending my son outside because I’m fearful of the unknown of what lies ahead for him. Last week we hosted a conversation with moms, all hurting because George was everyone’s son, we are all outraged, disgusted, but hopeful. Psalm 139 is all about the characteristics of God. It brings me lots of comfort… we are never alone! As a people we will endure systematic racism, hatred, economic disinvestment, food, health and housing inequities, but it is not okay. ‘America…land of the free’ home of George Floyd, Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor and all people, because Christ our Lord said so!”

The second is our very own Bishop Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport. In his most recent Let Me Be Frank podcast, the bishop and Steve Lee of Veritas Radio discussed the troubling events going on around us these days and what we can do to work for a better society.

“We have structures in society that judge people by the color of their skin or the language they speak that do not allow them the same opportunities as others. The first step in any societal change is the conversion of my own heart. Before I worry about anyone else’s heart, or society, what about me? What about when I look in the mirror? Do I consider everyone equal? Do I have racist tendencies or bigotry tendencies or discriminatory tendencies in the way I speak, the way I act, the people I deal with, how I spend my money? Am I willing to look myself in the mirror and say ‘what do I believe?’ in the end and how do I live? Do I actually live what I claim to believe when it comes to justice and equality and fairness? Because if I don’t then I am contributing to the problem, I am in fact part of the problem. Because racial equality and equal opportunity is not just something society wants because it’s a human good—it is a divine mandate. It’s what the Savior taught us. And if we are going to claim Him as out Lord and Savior and have the same title He had, being a Christian following Christ the Lord, then don’t you think that it’s our own faith that should motivate us to change? And if it does not change us then our faith is not what we’re claiming it to be.” (To listen to the full Let Me Be Frank podcast visit our diocesan social media channels).

The coronavirus pandemic gave me a glimpse into the void, and it was frightening. Not the void in prevention. The void in the lives of family members and friends who have no faith to turn to.

What did I see? Many people, instead of looking to God for comfort and strength, were turning to politicians, celebrities and commentators. One turned to the universe. Now, I’m not taking anyone’s spiritual inventory. I admit the universe has its place—and we have our place in it—but I wouldn’t turn to it for solace when I could have the real deal, aka Jesus.

If there is any lesson this should have taught us, it can best be described in the words of a priest who told me, “God is in charge.” COVID-19 showed us how helpless we really are when we’re stripped of the illusion of self-sufficiency.

Of course, there are many who think they’re in charge rather than God. In a much-publicized press conference, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “The number [of cases] is down because we brought the number down. God did not do that. Faith did not do that. Destiny did not do that. A lot of pain and suffering did that.”

I certainly don’t mean to minimize the efforts of many individuals, but let’s give God his due too. For myself, I’d rather put my faith in God than the New York Department of Health. The proud and the arrogant have faith only in themselves. The humble put their faith in God.

The good news is that several polls showed many Americans turned to their faith more during the coronavirus pandemic. One fourth of all Americans said their faith grew stronger, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center. Sadly, 7 percent of those surveyed said, “I am not a religious person and this hasn’t changed.” As my mother used to say, “Some things never change…or if they do, they change for the worse.”

A poll by Fordham University showed that “62 percent of Catholics had been helped at least somewhat by their faith” compared with 95 percent of Evangelicals and three-fourths of mainline Protestants. Maybe Catholics should work a little harder on that. In addition, the poll concluded that people who attend church regularly got the greatest help from their faith.

Faith doesn’t necessarily solve a crisis, although that could very well happen. But faith helps you get through the crisis because you realize, to paraphrase St. Paul, out of everything comes good because of God.

At one point during our self-quarantine, my wife Sandy said, “We’re so blessed to have our faith,” and for once we agreed wholeheartedly without any reservations.

All my life, I’ve heard people say, “Faith is a gift,” and as simple as that sounds, I never completely understood what it meant.

Where would any of us be without faith in Christ right now? If you don’t have it, ask for it. If you see someone who doesn’t have it—and there are many— ask God for them. If your faith is weak and you want it stronger, sit in front of the Blessed Sacrament and you’ll be given the graces you need. Simply say, “Jesus, I trust in you.” And say it often.

Yes, faith is a gift so cherish it…and ask for more. Ask for a stronger faith. Say thank you every day for this gift—that rare pearl of inestimable value— because only with faith will you be able to endure challenges, crises and suffering and still be joyful, hopeful and peaceful.

There’s nothing more precious than our faith. Out of that faith flows everything. Through that faith, we inherit eternal life.

Faith helps us trust in Jesus even though the rest of the world thinks that trust is misplaced and foolish. It’s a fact of faith that God is with us on our best days and most assuredly on our worst days. Having faith in Christ doesn’t insulate you from suffering, but at the end of the day, it’s the only security you need. It ensures you that even when you are confronting trials and tragedies, you will have the peace and joy that only Jesus can give.

Yes, faith is a gift…and all you have to do is ask for it.

“Life is a chance of learning how to love” (A.E. Brooke). When he was very ill, St. Francis of Assisi asked that a message be sent to a certain Countess in Rome, asking her to come and bring some of her honey-cakes which he so liked. She came.

There is a lovely simplicity about this story. I see it as an example of what Gerard Manley Hopkins called “delicious kindness.” The distance from Rome to Assisi is 109 miles, or 174 km., a long trip in the days before cars, trains and planes. The Countess comes with her honey-cakes and affection.

That tale is contrasted with something Claire Booth Luce told when she was 75 years old and was asked: “Do you have any regrets?” She answered, “Yes, I should have been a better person, kinder, more tolerant. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I remember a girlhood friend of mine who had a brain tumor and called me three times to come and see her. I was always too busy, and when she died I was profoundly ashamed. I remember that after 56 years.”

As I get older, faces come back to me from the past. There are tears I would like to dry and ask forgiveness for the favor that I didn’t do that I ought to have done. There were the opportunities for charity that I put off.

It is the small everyday kindnesses which count for so much; kindness expressed in small things, in the quite ordinary, banal daily life. As someone put it, it’s our “little nameless unremembered acts of kindness” that are so important.

There are two explicit dictums given by Christ. The first is that ours is not to judge or condemn, but to love and be merciful. The second is that whenever our neighbor has need of us, he or she takes on a mysterious likeness to Christ.

Let me string out a series of quotations that relate to the demands of charity.

Ephesians 4:32: “be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another.”

2Timothy 2:24-25: “Act kindly to everyone…forbearing, correcting an opponent with gentleness.”

“You must become gentle; never any harsh words, never a harsh tone; never take on a harsh look, always be gentle.” (Therese of Lisieux)

“Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity.”
(St. Vincent de Paul)

“Charity consists in bearing with those who are unbearable.”
(St. Alphonsus Liguori)

“Try never to say an unkind word. It can do so much damage.”
(Father Walter Burghardt, S.J.)

Related to that last quote, one can note that the word “benediction” means to “speak well.”

When we speak well of someone we bless them. How important an encouraging word is. We are all starved for affirmation. One of the deepest of human needs is the desire for acceptance and approval by others. What a kindness it is to make people feel they are important. We can do this by giving a person the spotlight when we can. Find something right about things she or he says or does. Support someone’s dreams and plans. Say words like “right”; “sure”; “of course”; “you’re right”; “good idea”; “I’m with you.”; “you bet.”. (Cf. Patricia R. Madison, Improv Wisdom, p.31)

It takes so little to compliment. Mark Twain said “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” There is the Spanish proverb: “one compliment can warm three winter months.”

St. Benedict put it this way: “One complimentary word is more valuable than the most precious gift.”

“Be kind” wrote Philo of Alexandria, “for everyone is fighting a great battle.” There are those private worlds of suffering around us, there is the suffering that inevitably touches all human life. We can come to the point when having seen so much unhappiness and misery in the world that we can’t bring ourselves to cause any more sorrow, even a minor sorrow.

It was Sigmund Freud who said “If we cannot remove all suffering, we can remove some, and mitigate some.” A wise woman said to me, “in times of suffering, don’t say ‘call me if there’s anything I can do’; make concrete offers.”

Listening attentively is an important part of Christian charity. “If you do not close your ear to others you open God’s ear to yourself” (St. Peter Chrysologus).

Christian charity is not an easy matter. Here are some of the demands of Christian charity.

We do not get even; we take no opportunities for small revenges; we do not reciprocate; we let go of resentments; we forget insults; we bear wrongs patiently without causing more suffering and evil; we bear no grudges; we don’t indulge in the luxury of “feeling hurt”; we make excuses for people; we are not envious, we rejoice in the good fortune of others without envy; etc.

Sometimes charity shows itself if one just doesn’t make things any worse, and sometimes it shows itself by learning when to let other people alone.

The Catholic writer, Hillaire Belloc, wrote someplace that we must be unfailingly courteous.

Courtesy is something less than courageous holiness yet it seemed to him that the grace of God is in courtesy. Much the same could be said of good manners, it shows respect.

To end: two more quotes. Pope John XXIII, when asked what his most important function was, said “I learned that my most important function was to be a steady source of kindness.”

And finally, John of the Cross wrote: “In the evening of life you will be judged on love.

The only question asked will be ‘have you loved well?’ Learn then to love and forget yourself.”

Steve Lee had no idea what he was doing.

It was a Monday morning in July. He’d just arrived at work and was sitting in his car in the parking lot. A moment earlier he’d punched some numbers into his cellphone. Now it was ringing.

A voice came on the other end. It was a deep voice. Resonant. Steve recognized it as the one that had been coming out of the speakers a moment before: “If you think the Lord might be calling you to bring Catholic radio to your community, give me a call.” For reasons Steve still doesn’t really understand, he did.

“Hello, this is Jack Williams,” said the voice, which belonged to the head of EWTN Catholic Radio. Steve hesitated. Silence. “Hello?” said the voice again.

“Hi, Jack. My name is Steve. I don’t really know why I’m calling you.”

The two men talked for a while and figured it out. Steve, a 47-year-old Ridgefield resident, heard himself tell Jack that he felt called to start a Catholic radio station in Connecticut. Jack talked him through the steps for making that happen. When Steve hung up, he was confused. What was going on? Where had this come from?

That night he started a novena. “I asked the Lord for two things,” he said. “Number one, please let me know if I should be getting involved with this. Should I be trying to start a Catholic radio station? And number two, Lord, if you truly want me to do this, please bring some people into my life who can help.”

Steve went back to his regular routine. Before getting into bed he’d pray, asking God for the same two things. A few nights in, he figured he should tell his wife, Roula, what he was praying for. “When did you lose your mind?” she asked. Steve didn’t have a good answer, but he assured her that he’d tried to shake the radio-station idea. It was refusing to be shaken. Roula said she was on board, with one condition: “If you’re serious about this, you need to speak to a priest.”

Steve called a friend, Father Paul Check, who said he thought the idea was a good one. Prayer number one answered. Father Check then put him in touch with his brother, Christopher, who runs Catholic Answers, a national apologetics outfit with a big footprint in digital media, radio, and publishing. Prayer number two answered.

With God throwing up green light after green light, Steve hit the books. He started researching the business of running a nonprofit radio station. Next thing he knew he was attending a Catholic radio conference in Georgia.

“It was like I was drinking from the firehouse. I wanted to be as prepared as possible. And then I wake up and I’m like, ‘What am I doing? I’ve got a job. I’ve got a mortgage. I don’t have any experience.’”

It was decision time. Roula, who only months before had strongly implied to Steve that he’d maybe gone loco, now encouraged him to lean on his faith: “Just keep going and see what happens.”

Steve took the plunge. He left his job and founded Veritas Catholic Network. He started raising money. Every time it seemed like there wouldn’t be enough, something or someone came through. Every time he needed a benefactor to walk into his life, the Lord made it happen.

“I’m nobody,” Steve insists. “And yet God has done some pretty awesome stuff for this to come about. It’s definitely the Holy Spirit at work.”

The truth is: Steve’s not nobody. He’s a New Canaan native and Boston College grad who earned an MBA at UConn and spent a dozen years working for big money on Wall Street. He and Roula have three sons. That alone makes him somebody in my book.

In December 2018, more than a year after his parking lot moment, Steve plunked down a not insignificant sum to buy a local radio station,WNLK-AM 1370, and a “translator” that will one day put the station on FM 103.9. The Federal Communications Commission approved his broadcast application.

On August 21, 2019, Steve flipped the switch and Veritas went live. The station mostly features EWTN content for now. Its flagship production is “Let Me Be Frank,” Steve’s one-hour weekly conversation with Bishop Caggiano airing Wednesdays at noon. You can also download it as a podcast.

Here comes the commercial: Bishop Frank, as you know, is a great teacher and wonderful talker. He’s funny, inspiring, thought-provoking, and—surprise, surprise— knows his subject matter. He and Steve are a companionable pair. I never miss an episode.

Veritas is hoping to launch a second original program soon. It will be aimed at teenagers. The ultimate goal is to get a morning drive-time show going. That’s good. Faithful Catholics in Fairfield County deserve a healthier option than the trash talk, dirty jokes, and smutpop that typically rule the airwaves.

Steve Lee’s humility may be why the Lord selected him for the job of bringing Catholic radio to the Bridgeport Diocese. God always has his antennae up for “nobodies.”

Years ago, I learned an important lesson about life at my summer job, where I worked the night shift on a factory assembly line that manufactured 50-gallon steel drums.

My first week on the job, a fellow union member pulled me aside and told me a secret about our coworker.

“Psst,” he confided during the coffee break, “Watch out. He’s good friends with the big boss.”

That sounded ominous, and I certainly didn’t have to ask him what the implications were. The other guy got the easiest jobs in the plant because he knew somebody upstairs. He got the good hours because the person doing the scheduling wanted to make the boss happy. Plus, they looked the other way when he arrived at work late.

Being friends with people in high places certainly has its advantages, as I have discovered throughout my career. In fact, when I was a boss, I even exercised my bossly — or should it be “bossy”—executive privileges to help my friends or their kids who were looking for an internship or a chance to see the world of journalism up close. (I hasten to add, they were all qualified candidates and that the people who managed them made the final decision.)

However, I never had the power of, say, Michael Bloomberg or Donald Trump, who with a snap of the fingers could get jobs as campaign workers for their daughters’ entire yoga class. Yes, it’s good to have friends in high places.

I thought of that phenomenon again recently, when I was at a funeral Mass, and the priest gave a homily about the Gospel story of Lazarus. In John’s account, Martha rushes to Jesus to tell him that her brother has died. Jesus goes to the tomb and raises his friend from the dead. Father explained that Jesus will do the same for us someday and then added, “Jesus takes care of his friends.”

The phrase struck me. It’s good to be friends with the REAL Big Boss, and it’s good to have friends in high places…and you can’t get any higher than Jesus, seated on his celestial throne at the right hand of the Father. Jesus takes care of his friends, and what are we, if not Jesus’ friends? To quote him, “You are my friends if you do what I command you.”

You see, so often we think of our relationship with Jesus in purely corporate terms. We’ll get the raise if we perform up to expectations and do well on our evaluations. We’ll get the promotion if the boss likes us, so we spend a lot of time trying to make him like us, appreciate us, reward us…but that kind of behavior is symptomatic of a meritocracy… not a relationship with Jesus, who isn’t a typical CEO.

He loves us even when we don’t live up to expectations, when we drop the ball, when we are predictably less than perfect. Even then, he still takes care of his friends.

Sooner or later, all of us face challenges and tragedies that are part of the human condition, and it’s easy to fall into the deception that Jesus has forgotten us or is punishing us. Entire generations grew up under the misconception that when something goes wrong in life, God is punishing them. Others get angry with God because they think a commitment to Christ means life will be immune from suffering. It’s easy to become angry and resentful when we look at God that way.

He takes care of us, but that care doesn’t shield us from suffering. He is there in our suffering, and our best resource. It is often during those times that we can find the best evidence that Jesus takes care of his friends. If we turn to him for help, he’ll walk beside us in our grief, in our pain and in our despair.

Only after our lives have ended will we fully understand the countless occasions when our friend Jesus stood beside us…and cared for us. It’s one of the benefits of being friends with the Big Boss.

Many people are apparently untroubled by difficult questions regarding the meaning, value and direction of their lives. Most of us seem to go about our daily routines untroubled by the basic questions of life. But sometimes those questions break through, and here are some answers I’ve heard.

“Does anything matter, except making love and sleeping and eating and being flattered.”

George Jean Nathan, a modern hedonist, has expressed his philosophy of life as follows: “The best that man can strive for and pray for is momentary happiness during life, repeated as frequently as the cards allow. To me pleasure and my own personal happiness—only infrequently collaboration with others—are all I deem worth a hoot.”

Today, many people talk about realizing their “full potential.”

Here are some ideas about the meaning of life from some prominent literary people.

Tolstoy: “The more intelligent we are, the less do we understand the meaning of life and the more do we see a kind of bad joke in our suffering and death.”

John Paul Sartre: “All existing things are born for no reason, and die by accident…It is meaningless that we are born, it is meaningless that we die.

In Sigmund Freud’s perception, life is a struggle that simply ends in the complete defeat by death.

There is Camus’ image of Sisyphus condemned forever in the pointless pushing of that rock. Camus said that life is absurd, but human authenticity consists in living as if it were not.

The alleged meaninglessness of life is dramatically captured by Beckett’s characters waiting, waiting endlessly for the never appearing of Godot.

To be fair, I can recognize the geniuses of some non-religious versions of fulness and flourishing.

For myself, as Joan Baez sings: “every day that passes I’m sure about a little less.” But I do accept the Christian conviction that we are not accidental bubblies upon the great cosmic deep, destined to burst and be forgotten.

There are three principal ideas of human perfection. In antiquity the Barbarians made perfection consist principally in fortitude. The majority of Greek philosophers thought that perfection consisted in wisdom. Christianity teaches that perfection is especially found in charity; in transcending ourselves and living a life of self-giving.

Catholicism affirms that there is more to life than meets the eye. The longer I live, the more I have an awareness of something beyond and beneath the everyday; something especially hinted at in the daily flickers of loving moments. Indeed, I think there is an unseen reality behind everything.

St. Paul, preaching to the Greeks in Athens, said that God created us “so that we might seek God, and find Him: (Acts 17:27)

I think we live in a time where more and more people are asking “is this all there is?” No matter how happy our lives, a certain restlessness never goes away, the nagging restlessness that there must be something more than our day-to-day existence. A man I knew was assigned the job of working to establish a new marketing strategy for a new line of adult diapers. This marked the beginning of his search to find a greater meaning in his life.

There is the abiding discontent, a longing for the “more,” a kind of dissatisfaction, a kind of loneliness. For the theologian, Karl Rahner, to be human is to be an immense longing. Chesterton said “even at home, I am homesick.” Even the atheist, Sigmund Freud, when 66 years old, spoke of a “strange longing,” and began thinking there might be perhaps “life of quite another kind.” Again, there was the sense that there is something missing.

Throughout his life and writings, John Updike expressed intimations of an absence at the core of things. He clearly suggests it is a sign of the longing of the human heart for God. Updike wrote that people “yearn for some religion or spiritual assonance that they are more than a fleck of dust condemned to know they are a fleck of dust.”

The Catholic mystics answer the question about the meaning of life in terms of some kind of union with God. Life is somehow connected with sanctity.

Thus, our faith tells us that the meaning of life is larger than self-aggrandizement. What exactly is it we’re supposed to be doing here? It has to do with the radiant word “Mercy”—“be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

A couple of final thoughts: I think there is danger in embracing the world’s value system, for she is a mother who often eats her young. And finally, I see the Cross everywhere.

My dad and I speak by phone every week. He’s been under the weather so we talk more these days than we have in the past. I get a lot out of our conversations. We chat about sports, my job, the kids. He tells me about the book he’s reading.

We try to avoid politics. If it comes up we find a way to laugh at our differences of opinion. What else can you do?

Last week I was telling him about various household dramas. The usual stuff. Billy has been acting up in pre-K. Sally has been testing limits at home. Paddy’s doing well at banjo but he needs to find a sport to play. Magdalena’s sensory issues are driving us batty. Clara recently changed high schools.

My dad listened quietly and said: “Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.”

“Say what now?”

“My mother used to say that all the time,” he said. “Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems. It was one of her famous sayings. She had a million of them.”

My father is 85. We lived in the same house for almost two decades. He raised me to manhood. Until last week I never once heard him say “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems.” Nor was I aware that my grandmother had famous sayings.

“I’d be happy to hear some of these famous sayings,” I said.

“I can’t think of them right now,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll come to me. You can ask Aunt Claire. She knows them all.” Aunt Claire is 90.

A lot of family information gets closeted away with the passage of time. Not intentionally, of course. It just happens. People are busy. Time flies. Who’s remembering to think of famous sayings?

When you’re a kid you don’t much care to hear stories about the ancient people in the old framed photographs in the upstairs hall. When you’re older you forget to ask. Then, before you know it, it’s too late, and you spend the rest of your life walking around wishing you’d thought to say, “Mom, what was your grandfather like?”

A family is a contiguous thing, it runs together, generation to generation, a daisy chain of people, living and dead, the not yet born. We look the same. We share traits. We laugh the same. Maybe we like the same flavor of ice cream.

Yet most of us have never met. I never knew my paternal grandmother, she of the famous sayings. I never met her husband, my grandfather, either. They both died before my parents were even married. Photos are few, and they don’t reveal much.

Still, when my father tells me something like “little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems,” I think maybe I have met them. Maybe I’ve known them all my life.

She’s him. He’s me. They are all of us—Billy, Sally, Paddy, Mags, and Clara, who even shares a name with her great-grandmother.

What a pity that the generations usually only press flesh with those just older and those just younger. I bet if my grandparents were still here I would recognize everything about them.

Wouldn’t you love to spend ten minutes with those old-timers from the upstairs hall, to compare notes, to see how they moved through a room or hear how they spoke? What would you give to get to see how your children’s children turned out as adults? I suppose that’s what Heaven is.

“Yes,” says my wife, one eye on Billy the Kid, current scourge of the St. Barnabas pre-K3s. “And that’s why we all want to get there together.”