Empty Chairs

Kevin and I are just home from the most incredible week of our entire lives.  We were given a most precious opportunity to go on pilgrimage to the World Meeting of Families 2015 hosted in historically rich Philadelphia.

As the time of pilgrimage passed, joy increased exponentially each day.  My brain seriously had thoughts the name of this blog should be changed.  I thought of more than a few possibilities, every phrase including the word joy.  Yes, it was a week of indescribable J-O-Y!

The Sacred Liturgy was a daily foretaste of the heavenly Banquet.  The Cardinals teachings so solid, beautiful, supportive and …..challenging.  The people, oh the people we met, the new friends now forever friends in our group.  The food, most especially The Philly Cheesesteak our Sam insisted we eat while in Philly was SCRUMPTIOUS PLUS!!  Even more memorable than the delicious food was meeting, and conversing with so many delightful people from all around the world as we slurped all the cheesy peppery yumminess.  We didn’t want the week to end.

I am sure we will be processing, digesting, embracing and sharing all the gifts of the World Meeting for Families 2015 for months to come.  At the same time, there was one story that I am not sure I want to share.  Then I feel the Lord tug in my heart.  Really Lord, you want us to share this?  I don’t really want to speak this.  Will it be percieved as self pity.  It is not.

More than anything it needs to be highlighted that this pilgrimage was nothing short of a miraculous week of heavenly joy!




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Sharing more of all the joy would be the focus of another post.  There is a more compelling story alive in my heart that needs to be written for one reason alone.  If it is not shared, there is the risk that it will remain hidden, buried, barricaded in my heart  becoming an addition to the never ending list of my personal history of “and what I failed to do”.

Reading tidbits here and there of all the press, pre and post Papal Visit, there were two points that really struck me deeply.  First of all, how few people knew that the Holy Father’s visit to America ended with his coming to close the World Meeting of Families on Saturday and Sunday.  The days before his historic arrival were filled, FILLED with religious, laity and family all attending times of prayer, learning, sharing (and shopping!) from Monday thru Friday.  The unity of the two seems to be entirely missing in the press.  While the press releases are absent the beautiful intertwining of these two events, nonetheless it seems the primary focus of the press from many sectors is to work with tireless fortitude to release, spin, promote their perspective.  I end up laughing aloud as I watch different presentations of increasingly divisive labels attached after quotes from this person, this bishop, this news source.   We watched as some even felt the need to be sure to tell us what the Holy Father “intended” ~ including his thoughts, his words, his intent.  Yes, his intent!  Really?  We cannot wait to listen first?

Conservative, right-wing, liberal, progressive, middle left-wing, neoconservative, middle, left, right…..oh my!

Ok, I am just a mom.  No theology degree.  Instead a PHD in diaper changing, open heart surgery and medicine administration.  Not on any Pontifical consultation committee.  Just a doctorate in medical diagnosis of specialized disabilities, including one which is degenerative.  No extra letters after my last name to indicate competence in academic achievement above others.  Just untallied hours working towards ever elusive perfection of achievement extraordinary in culinary, cleaning, cooking and reading aloud.

We entered into this past week attending the World Meeting of Families 2015 with no expectations.  None. (The reality is that we were too busy packing children to go stay with their beloved aunties and cousins to have time to check things out online ahead of time!)

It was all gift.  A very beautiful gift.

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Each morning there was one Keynote Speaker followed by a choice of several of “Breakout Sessions”.  There was one “Breakout Session” that we went to that really shook the ground under my feet.

After listening to Cardinal Tagle’s Keynote on the Wounded Heart, Kevin and I headed upstairs to the smaller ballrooms for a Breakout Session, “Embracing the Struggles and Blessings of Disabilities”.  When we reached the room, there was instant confusion.  The board at the doorway listing the talks showed a different title for this time slot.  Kevin quickly suggested we check our books.  Perhaps we had the wrong day, or the wrong time.  More confusion.  The book confirmed the day, the time, the room.

Quickly we sought the help of a volunteer.  “Oh, they switched rooms, it is downstairs in the main room”.

Glad to have direction, we headed back down the escalator.   As we entered the main event room, people were still milling about.  It seemed there was at least a thousand people sitting already.  We continued to walk towards the front of the room.  Then it happened.

A woman approached the podium up on the stage. “I am sorry.  There has been a room change.  The talk for…. is now being held upstairs……”

In perfect unison, most of the people in the room stood up and left.

There is no description for what my heart felt at that moment.   I could try to put words to it.  But that is not the point of this writing.  So I leave what my heart felt veiled.

What I want to focus on, the entire reason I share this experience of this very small, inconsequential snippet in time in an otherwise radiantly joy filled week ~ is this.

That moment in time, for me, represented everything the Holy Father is trying to say to us all.  ALL. OF.  US.

While so many want him to promote this, allow that, reinforce this teaching, highlight this crisis in the culture of our time, address this and that difficulty…..I think he keeps gently, persistently, with fatherly guidance……..trying to get us to open our eyes.  Open our hearts.

I was so impacted by the mere fact that as were walking forward into that room, clearly 99% of those present (some voicing an audible moan) made it very clear they did NOT want to stay as they stood up, and as a huge mass of humanness walked out.

Well, Lord, that about sums it all up.  We are not strangers to this feeling that the masses walk right past us, and do not see us.  We know all too well what that beaten man in the story of the Good Samaritan must have felt.  How it feels to be a parent of a child who has a disability. Where is this Church we love so dearly?  She just got up and left, Lord.  Yes, alone.  So alone.  So unseen…..

The reality is that a really good bishop or cardinal packed that room to overflowing with 20,000 plus people eager to listen.

The truth is that the talk on pastoral care of families who have a child with a disability barely had 30 people in attendance.

Numbers speak painful truth.

Empty chairs to our left….


Empty chairs to our right…….


Empty chairs behind us….


Lord, the pain of empty chairs wanted to swallow me up. The pain that I must be quick to remind myself is similar to what Our Lord must have felt…Is this what the elderly feel?  Refugees?  The homeless?  Immigrants?


The emptiness of empty chairs was all around……


Does the Church even care?  Is there really such a glaring disinterest in the pastoral care of families who have children with disabilities?  It all made me want to cry.  Here we are again.  Alone.  Or, does this need to be shared?

Geesh, here is exactly WHY I really did not want to write this post.  I would never want to make people uncomfortable.  It is not intended to make anyone uncomfortable.  Really.   It is just that this happening during the family congress really spoke volumes to me.  It opened my heart to what the Holy Father intends, the golden thread I am beginning to see showing itself each time he speaks, each time I hear his guiding words.

Below is beautiful Janice Benton, speaking as if there were 20,000 in attendance ~


Here are a few of the slides from Ms. Benton’s presentation, some statistics even surprised an old timer like me ~


IMG_1263  IMG_1264

IMG_1262  IMG_1261








Yes!  That is a young adult who has Down Syndrome and is a Eucharistic Minister!




So what is Pope Francis saying to the world?  While so many out there are feverishly putting this or that intention into people’s heads before he even speaks?

Sometimes, our eyes and our hearts are only opened in pain.  My dear sister, Ellen often uses a phrase that seems so fitting, “they have scales over their eyes…”.  Sometimes it is the result of the culture we live in; sometimes blindness of the heart is the result of our self-centeredness, a natural condition of our broken human nature.  It can also be the unnoticed consequence of our overly busy lives; we are just so busy we fail to notice something that is very, very important.  Sometimes the reality is that old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”  I will give when I have more money.  I will do when I have spare time.  We go on and on and on, never acting.  We see it all as something that needs to be handled by those with more…..more money than I, more free time than I.  The clearest admonition of the World Meeting of Families?  It is time to ACT.  I think I am beginning to see, just a little.  As God pulls the scales from my eyes.

We have watched Pope Francis.  We have listened to him over and over.  He is trying to help us take the scales from our eyes.  And poor Holy Father, he sure has quite a bunch of dense children of God to lead doesn’t he?!  Who, me?  Is he talking about what he wants of me?  Um, yes.  I think it is time we can show him we can be attentive children of God, responsive children of God who hear what he is trying desperately to get us to see.  Who around us do we not see?  Who are those halfway around the world I do not see because they are so far away?  We think we are such a modern world. Are we?

Yes, some of the issues people want Pope Francis to highlight are very important.  But.  There are also other issues that need highlighting too.  And so he keeps gently prodding us, teaching us, redirecting our eyes.  Literally.  Bringing before the lens of media, and thereby the world, those who we would rather not have to see.  We would rather not look.  We sometimes even settle for looking at things that are afar to avoid what is right before us.

For our family, including three significantly handicapped children ~ we have watched in delight as the Holy Father keeps bringing the handicapped into the field of the world’s vision.  If his vision of the Church is a “Field Hospital”, I think Pope Francis is showing us there are some pretty big battlefields unattended in our time.  The handicapped, the elderly, the poor, the homeless.  Not just the unborn.  I do not say this lightly.

For those of us in the world who have the privilege of the freedom allowing the great gifts of a rich Faith life ~ our reception of the sacraments, our participation in the Sacred Liturgy, our Eucharistic Adoration should lead us, strengthen us, pull us out of self, shedding all excuses that formerly held us back in fear or complacency and impel us to walk into these fields with compassionate hearts bringing comfort, help and brotherly love.

Blessed Mother, through the heart of your Divine Son, obtain for our world the kind of love our Pope Francis dreams of for us all!

We belong to an Apostolic Movement in the Catholic Church called Schoenstatt and our founder lived with his “ear to the heart of God and his hand on the pulse of time”.  We went into this pilgrimage with open hearts, eager minds and a willingness to listen.  Learned a ton.  The Church is alive.  She has not wavered.  She is more beautiful than ever!!!!   Gosh, Her beauty takes my breath away!   She still keeps all She has always taught.  The gates of hell shall not prevail.  I believe, through Pope Francis, God is calling us to live our Faith more deeply than ever in a world so hungry for love.

I think the Holy Father is so holy that what he is saying is very simple.  We need to wake up, stop circling around self, and love more.  Especially, loving outside of the comfortable circle we have enclosed ourselves in.  Giving from our substance, not our spare.  Thinking the best of people instead of giving them “the look”.

As I was typing this post, a song from Les Miserable came on Pandora……

“There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung
No wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
As they turn your dream to shame……”

When the Holy Father hosted the Town Meetings with David Muir, how much I cried for that sweet young girl Elissa, who tearfully shared with the world the pain and shame she had felt as she watched school children go into their homes at the end of a school day, while her family lived in a homeless shelter

Holy Father wants us to love, to really give of ourselves and love.  Is that so bad?  Really?  Really……..

What would happen to our world if each of us were to share a little time, a little money, a little kindness with someone who feels alone? They are there.  They are there if we can peel the scales from our eyes and have courage.

In one of the talks by the cardinals, it was said, “we have come to expect division”.  I think God is trying to ask something else of this world, through Pope Francis.

Could be quite a Tsunami of love and joy, couldn’t it?

7 thoughts on “Empty Chairs

  1. thank you for sharing Maureen! Especially for those of us who weren’t able to attend conference and fed these insights and graces directly. A beautiful reminder to take the blinders off. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is really a beautifully written post that brings to light the family with special needs and the struggles that often cannot even be verbalized. In a sense, ‘the smallest of these’ in their deepest human need can only be recognized by those who are closest to them and in the family. They have no way, except through the love of another, to communicate their needs. This is the place of the family for all of us. I think coming to know the heart of a child with a disability is to know Christ in a child. These are the smallest refugees (from the fast paced, crises ridden world around us) who find they are loved in the family most of all. Father, mother, special child ~ a precious mystery of God’s love given for our sake ~


  3. Those empty chairs make me sad. I have a dear friend whose 17 yo daughter has severe autism. She cannot go to classes and therefore has not received Communion or Confirmation. It is one of the strongest reasons my friend has left the Church. She feels her child is not loved and accepted. It breaks my heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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