Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Body of Christ ? Definitions Vary Yet Agree It's Vital and Awesome

By Robert R. Schwarz

Call it a doctrine,  a religious entity  or metaphysical  concept,  the  term Body of Christ has been infused into Christendom  for centuries without  unanimity  about its meaning and how it functions.  This is expected , considering  the  two billion Christians  in the  world  ( according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public  Life  )  make up an estimated 41,000 denominations world-wide ( according  to  the Center for the Study of Global Christianity ) .  Nevertheless, there appears to be common agreement among church leadership that   every Christian should be aware  that he or she is a  member of this Body and of the role he has in it.
What  will follow  are comments  of several active Christians who take their given role in  this Body seriously.  First, we should perhaps cite from Webster's  New World College Dictionary  two of its definitions of a Christian:  1 )  a person professing belief in Jesus at the Christ, or in the religion based on the teachings of Jesus;  2) having the qualities demonstrated and taught by Jesus , as love, kindness, humility, etc. 
And second, we  cite  these  few Biblical verses so you  know  the sources from which these inspired  comments come.  ( As  for an analogy these individuals  might use to explain the benefits of "membership" in this Body  of Christ where each members knows his role and carries it out for the common good,   think  of a champion athletic team—say, this year's  Chicago Blackhawks. )

For as in one  body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function, so      we, though many, are one body in Christ. (Romans 12: 4, 5 )

Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us,let us exercise them. (Romans 12: 6)

For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, as we were all given to drink of one Spirit. (I Corinthians 12: 13 )

The eye cannot say to the hand," I do not need you, " nor again the head to the feet, " I do not need you. "  Indeed, the parts of the body that seem  to be weaker are all the more necessary, and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, whereas our more presentable parts do not need this. (I Corinthians 12: 21-24 )

Living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into Him who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love. ( Ephesians 4: 15, 16 )
          Last,  a few words  from theologians to help not only to visualize the  Body but also to explain,  again by analogy, how God can respond  simultaneously to the prayers of millions of Christians who live and breathe in this Body.  In his book, " My Meditations of Saint Paul ," The Rev. James E. Sullivan, writes: " When one of their [ Paul and Barnabas ] fingers was infected , their whole body went into a fever to help the injured finger fight the infection.  That's how a living, healthy body reacted…Distance meant nothing. "  Another Christian  made the case of    God's ability to  instantly orchestrate the unified functioning of millions of cells in one human body .  He gave the example of how a loving  touch of a mother upon her baby's body can, with the speed of light, communicate joy, love , and comfort  to the entire body and mind.  As for  how God can and  does reply simultaneously to an infinite number of prayers,  this Christian gave the example of an employee at an electrical power plant who ,  with one tug on a master switch, lights up an infinite  number of light bulbs. 

            Here, in alphabetical order ,  are the thoughts  of individuals who were asked to  contribute—in brief or in length—to this article: 

Diane Adam, long-time, very  active member,  St. James Catholic Church, Arlington Heights,  IL … God has told us we are all one with Him. He is the vine and we are His branches.  We are one with all of our brothers and sisters in Christ living and dead. Thinking about and then believing these words is comforting. We are never alone and with Christ in us we become stronger. The Eucharist is our and my identity. It centers me and joins me with Catholics all over the world and even in heaven with my parents and other loved ones.

Dr. Mike Atella,  Christian psychotherapist,  Schaumburg , IL… The concept of the Body of Christ hasn't nearly achieved its potential. It has an amazing potential, more  than any other organization in the world. There is plenty of room for the  church to  flex its muscles constructively to help our world become a better place for  us all. 

Julia DesRochers, PhD , food scientist , Downers Grove, IL… I think of the body of Christ ….[as]  the body that extends to all Christians who proclaim Jesus as Lord and follow Him.  I believe it also helps us have tolerance for  people who do this  in  many different ways.  Paul's description as the body parts all having different but equally important roles is a very good way to grasp that.  When you understand what your role is in the body of Christ, it allows you  to lose  envy of others because we each have separate gifts to bring, and they are all important, no matter how small or big, subtle or well- recognized. This understanding helps us be humble and also more loving and tolerant. The hard part is discerning what your "body part" is! If you're an arm, but convinced you're the eyes, well ...many things can lead you off course if  you think eyes are more important than an arm. While you may compensate and learn to be a decent eye, you'll never fulfill the full potential that God created for you.  
Another thing that makes it hard [to  discern our particular part ] is that God places us in situations to use our gifts, and perhaps those roles change over time and with different circumstances. Praying  to discern this is critical.  Be open to how He wants to use you as a part of the Body of Christ to further His kingdom!  My role continues to grow and unfold, which is pretty cool.

Fr. Matt Foley, pastor , St. James, Arlington Heights…
Q. How do you visualize the Mystical Body of Christ in human terms ?
A. We are all connected  through Christ and the Sacraments.  When I look out into the congregation during Mass , I see the face of God collectively as all the individuals at Mass.
Q. Who's in it,  who's not ?
A. For me,  I include everyone  . I believe in Matthew 25;  Jesus is the ultimate judge of who will be in  the eternal Body of Christ.  My role is to make sure all are welcome to be with Christ and in Christ.
Q. Is it important for all   " bona fide" Christians to  know that they exist in  this body and also to know what their role or function is in it ?
A. The mystical lends me to believe that not all is answered during our life on earth.  I prefer to live in the mystery.
Q. Can you describe any experience in your life—pastoral or not—where you were an active member in this body and how it might  have achieved its goals—secular or spiritual—more effectively ?
A. Every time I have the honor to celebrate Mass I feel connected on various levels with the community of believers.  When I invite the worshippers to go in peace, I feel we are sending each other out to be the body of Christ in our world today.  Being nourished and fed by the Word and Eucharist compels us to go out and create a new world.  

Sr. Joanne Grib, Sisters of the  Living Word … 

Q. How  do you visualize the body of Christ in human terms?

A.  You're talking about 3 different  bodies: When He was His physical body;  then as  us Christians—every last one of us— the communion of saints ;  and also the Eucharist ,  the real Presence of Him.

Q. So, all Christians of all denominations  belong to this body of Christ ?

A. That's right. 

Q. Then, this body  is a universal body , and baptism is sort of a credential to enter it?     

A.  That's right. 

Q. Does it really matter whether  a Christian is aware of  being a member of the Body of Christ?

A. It's important to remember because we are carrying Christ into the world . And whatever we do, people [ if they know we are Christian ] see the act as being done by Christ.  It's one of the most essential beliefs of the church. 

Q. Is  it also  important to know what your role is in this body,   so you can work  for the common good ?   For an analogous example, think of the  Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup: Surely, it was vital for everybody on that team to know his precise role and how  to  coordinate it with all the other team member roles.

 A. Well, the Body of Christ does have so very  many members. But I believe that if we are following the Ten Commandments, we are functioning in Christ's name. Though not all of us may not be aware of being  in His Body, nevertheless  this is    the   truth , which takes hold of us whether we believe it or not.

Q. Can you describe  any personal experience where you behaved as a member of the Body of Christ?

A.  At Mass every morning. We  are a community there. I feel that I'm a part of the life of everyone of those people. There's no doubt about it !

Matthew Hahn , deacon at St. James , Arlington Heights, scout leader,  and former U.S. Marine Corps sergeant…A former commandant of the Marine Corps was fond of saying "Marines do the right thing, especially when they know nobody is watching. We teach the same principle  in scouting: "On my honor, I will do my best , to do my duty to God and my country…to help other people.  " Working together in this way,  both the Marine Corps and    scouting produce fine examples of people who make up the Body of Christ. And, when this happens, wonderful,  marvelous things happen .

Don Knorr, Certified Public Accountant , Christian mentor and member of Opus Dei… The unity of the mystical body , which derives from a  single  life-principle, the Holy Spirit, and tends towards a common same goal, that is, the building up of the Church, means that all its members, whatever their position, have the same basic dignity and the same importance.

St. Paul uses a literary device by personifying the members of the human   body and imagines the nobler members with the lesser ones. This serves to reaffirm the truth,  that members are to  have the same care for one another.

Jesus Christ is the head of the  body, the Church. This image shows the relationship of Christ with the Church, to which he sends his grace in abundance, bearing life to all its members. "The head," St. Augustine says, "is  our very Savior, who suffered under Pontius Pilate and now, after rising from the dead, is seated at the right hand of the Father. And His Body   ( the Body of Jesus Christ ) is the Church. ..For the whole Church, made up of the assembly of the faithful—for all the faithful are Christ's members—has Christ as its head, who rules  His Body from on high. " (Enarrationes in Psalmos, 56, 1 ).

Brian Reynolds, musician and secretary of Foundation for Children  in Need (FCN), an expansive outreach program   serving the needs of  the rural poor in India…
Q. How do you visualize the Mystical Body of Christ, in human terms?

A. The visual I see when witnessing the Mystical Body of Christ is when “love in action” is exercised. Love exercised through prayer, compassion, kindness, patience, tenderness, mercy and in loving service to others. We all have been blessed with many gifts and power from God, Our Father,  and as I understand it, someday these special gifts we have today will come to an end, but “love” goes on forever.

Q. Is it important for all Christians to know that they exist in this body and also to know what their role or function is in it?

A. I believe that that knowing we are all one in His Body brings all believers closer together. (It also strengthens our desire to evangelize to those who may not be part of His Body… and, as St. Francis said,  if necessary , use words.) Our awareness of being one in His Body helps each of us recognize the love of Christ in ourselves and within others. As I attempt to live my life out in the Body of Christ, I believe my role or function is continuously being shaped and directed through every interaction God Blesses me to experience. Our Father in Heaven is constantly pouring His love into our hearts,  and it is up to each one of us to decide how to share our abundance.

Q. How does FCN function as the Body of Christ?

A. Well … we are using our God given gifts to help support the poorest of the poor in Southern India. Each volunteer, board member, sponsor and employee is working to help improve a child’s life through the gift of an education and needed healthcare. As each staff member fulfills their mission role, God’s love is realized through our collective efforts to reach out and help these poor people. For any person that has ever felt alone, afraid or challenged by life circumstances, the living Body of Christ brings believers together in prayer and unity for that person in need. This sincere response from others confirms that God is present in our world and He is realized through our love for one another.

The Rev. Eldor "Rick" Richter, celebrated author of the book "Comparing the Qur'an  and the Bible " and executive pastor emeritus of St. Peter  Lutheran  (Missouri Synod ) church, Arlington Heights…
[ excerpts from a   previous sermon of his  ]
            The church is not an human institution . It is a living    reality. It is alive, because the living Christ is its head and lives in and through its members...
            As an institution or human organization,  the church can be efficient, successful, well organized ; but unless Christ is its Savior and Head, unless Christ, by faith is living in its members, it is not the church, the Body of Christ…
            You were   born—reborn, once and for all—when you were  united with Christ's death and resurrection in Holy Baptism. There is   one Baptism, one faith, one Lord, one God and Father. That is what the Scriptures say. This is our   unity in the  Body…
            We should say to ourselves,  [ our church  ] is  the Body I belong to. The Body needs me. I may be only a little finger, but  I am important to the Body. We are not to consider ourselves inferior or inadequate. We are not to   despise our gift and be discontent with our contribution. The Lord has place you in the Body and He wants you to exercise your gift for the good of all. We are interdependent ! …
            This calls for appreciation of gifts which we have among  yourselves.  Some of us are  good at exhortation…acts of mercy and compassion…service…leadership…financial support…evangelism…teaching…craftsmanship…interpretation of the Scripture…hospitality. These are  all gifts mentioned  in the Scriptures. All of us have the gift of love, which is the most important gift of all.
Fr. Paul Wachdorf…pastor, St. Gregory the Great , Chicago…
Q. How do you visualize the Mystical Body of Christ in human terms ? Who's in it,  who's not ? Does it have any real form ?

A. The Church , which is the Mystical Body of Christ , can be found in three different forms. It exists on this earth and is called the "Church Militant" because its members struggle against sin, evil and injustice in the world. The Church suffering refers to the souls in Purgatory who await the fullness of redemption. The "Church Triumphant "is the Church in heaven. The real form of the Mystical Body of Christ is the people who make up the Church and who seek to build up the Mystical Body of Christ in our world.

Q. Is it important for all " bona fide" Christians to know that they exist in this body and also to know what their role or function is in it ?

A. I believe that it is important for all Christians to claim membership in the Mystical Body of Christ and to claim ownership for seeking to build up the Mystical Body of Christ by their words and their actions. Every Christian needs to discern how he or she is a part of the Mystical Body of Christ and what he or she can contribute to building it up. The image of the Mystical Body of Christ reminds us that we are all in this together. We are not lone wolves. We journey towards the Kingdom of God together, and we have an obligation to partner with our Christian sisters and brothers on this journey. I think it is very important for all “bona fide” Christians to internalize this and live it out. 

Q. Can you describe any experience in your life—pastoral or not—where you were an active member in this body and how it could  have achieved its goal—secular or spiritual—more effectively ?

A. As a Catholic priest for the past 40 years and as the pastor of a parish, I have dedicated my life to being an active member of the Mystical Body of Christ; and through my preaching and teaching, through my witness and example, I have sought to encourage my parishioners to do the same. Over the past 40 years, I have had countless experiences where this has been the case. And I am always looking for new and creative ways in which I can be a member of the Mystical Body of Christ myself and in which I can encourage my people to do the same. Right now I think that Pope Francis has the right idea … that as good Christians, we need to look out for one another and to pay special care to the least of our sisters and brothers.

Rick Warren, celebrated author of the "Purpose Driven Life"and  founding  pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA…
One reason you need to be connected to a church family is to fulfill your calling to serve other believers in practical ways. The Bible says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27 ).
Your service is essential to the Body of Christ—just ask any local church. Each of us has a role to play, and every role is important. There is no small service to God; it all matters.
There are no insignificant ministries in the church. Some are visible and some are hidden behind the scenes, but all are valuable. Small or hidden ministries often make the biggest difference. In my home, the most important light is not the large chandelier in our dining room but the little night light that keeps me from stubbing my toe when I get up at night.
There is no correlation between size and significance. Every ministry matters because we are all dependent on each other to function.
What happens when one part of your body fails to function? You get sick. The rest of your body suffers. Imagine if your liver decided to start living for itself: “I’m tired! I don’t want to serve the body anymore! I want a year off just to be fed. I’ve got to do what’s best for me! Let some other part take over.”
What would happen? Your body would die. Today thousands of local churches are dying because of Christians who are unwilling to serve. They sit on the sidelines as spectators, and the Body suffers.
God calls you to a service far beyond anything you could ever imagine. He created YOU for a life of good deeds, which he has already prepared for you to do (see Ephesians 2:10). Whenever you serve others, you are actually serving God. 

All comments are welcome.
© 2015 Robert R. Schwarz


Sunday, June 28, 2015


By Robert R. Schwarz

                                    It is love that impels them to pursue everlasting life;
                                    therefore they are eager to take the narrow road.
                                    A  Rule of St. Benedict

            For many of us, monasteries and the lives of monks and cloistered nuns appear other-worldly and  a convenient way to avoid the realities of everyday life;  monastic lifestyles, due mostly to Hollywood movies and the scant number of in-depth media  reports, have  left us  with the distorted  impression that these  lifestyles , though laudable in many respects, are severely strict and  unnecessary  for a Christian life.  As a former newspaper reporter and editor, this once was my perception, too .  But it gradually changed, not due  to any particular religious leaning but rather to  interviewing and writing about  monastic people around the world, including Mother Theresa and her Sisters of Charity  at their Calcutta headquarters.  A few months ago and now retired,  I  decided to update my observations of monastic life and,  with my wife, Mary Alice , drove to the Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey near Dubuque, Iowa. This is a  report of that visit ( with a  bit of editorializing added, I admit ) .  
         As  a journalist ,  I  naturally loved to probe for the truth of the matter.  After my confinement for ten days in  a Czech  prison during the Cold War and later, as president of a mental health agency,  I valued human   freedom to search for truth  more than ever. I also loathed  the loss of one's free will to realize the truth  about one's self.  Nowadays, though much of  my search for truth is still in a cloud of unknowing, I feel unshackled in pursuing it, thanks to these words from  my  favorite Mentor and Life Teacher:  " You shall know the truth, and the  truth shall make you free."

     As you drive southeast from  Dubuque , you see  rolling land shaped beautifully by the  Mississippi river bluffs . Once you turn off the highway, it' easy to pass the small  Abbey Lane  sign . A  little further down the narrow, winding road is the " Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey"  sign.  It , too,  is obviously not meant to attract  visitors, yet several hundred come here annually;  some (never more than ten)   stay a night or  two in one of the   five , unadorned   guest houses  among the woodlands now in view. Soon  on your right  appears another   narrow road leading  to the abbey's  "candy factory," where the nuns make and process the caramel candy and mints ( 33 tons of it in 2013 ) they ship all over the world t o support themselves.  A few hundred yards later is a road that dips down to a   two-story, stone guest house which, like the others,  has a kitchen with a container  on a countertop for  a free-will donation for your stay.  Near this house is a large barn with a corral , a  vegetable  garden and  an old wooden gate that opens to a dirt road  that transverses 600 acres  of  farm land, more than half  of it  in harvestable  forest .
            Abbey Lane ends at the chapel  and a circle of flowers and gurgling rivulets of fountain water with a statue of  Mary holding the Christ child . The abbey is named after  this statue.  I am reminded of my first visit here more than 20 years ago when I came to produce a documentary  slide program  for retirement  homes in Chicago land suburbs.  The abbey,  I had learned , was founded in 1964 by 13 Trappistine  ( known today as Cistercians ) nuns whose goal was   to continue and extend a tradition of monastic life that had its origins in the early Middle Ages.  The sisters here now  number 17. Their daughter house is in Norway.
Two of the abbey's laborers , Sisters Myra and Rebecca
            After parking my car, I began walking back down the road , enjoying the May day with its loud chirping of  birds and its morning sun dappling upon leaves of trees .  Approaching  me  was an elderly sister  walking a  small dog. She held a cane in one hand and an uprooted flower in the other. We paused  and immediately  struck up a conversation.  She told me she was Sr. Joan and her dog was Pangie, a  seven-year-old rescue dog , part collie and part Shetland Sheep—she thought—and that one of Panjie's eyes was brown, the other blue .  Sr. Joan was 75 and  celebrating her 50  th year of  monastic profession , of  living in an unshared room ( as her other abbey  sisters  did  ) under the  Rule of St. Benedict (  480-543 A.D. ): solitude, silence, prayer, work, and a disciplined life of communal living.  She was amiable and  cheerful and her face radiated contentment. Anyone  would  get the impression she enjoyed speaking to  stranger—church-goer or not-—as much as  she  did to her best friend.
            I asked her about the cane and the flower she was holding . The cane was made by a fellow sister  from a tree branch . " This rose I'm transplanting to the flower garden here , " she said , and again asked Pangie to stop barking  and jumping around so much so I could take a photo of both of them. " He's a nice  dog but he barks," she said.
" Yes," I replied,  that's what dogs  do."  She laughed.
            I told Sr. Joan that before I had left home, I  had asked two nuns from different orders for a  question to ask the abbey sisters , something with an answer  that would  benefit ordinary people.  I asked , " How does one draw closer to Jesus ? " 
            Still holding onto  the rose plant, she leaned heavily on her cane, and looked at  me  as if  I had simply asked her for the time ."Talk to Him in your heart, " she said. "You can draw close to Jesus anytime of the day, any place, while washing, cleaning, or grocery shopping. . The more you do this, the closer you come to Him . "
            I thanked her and suggested she get  some water for the rose. 
" Come on, Panjie," she said, and  headed to the garden…and I headed for my interview  appointment with Sr. Gail Fitzpatrick , the former abbess here .
Wisdom from the Cloister
" Reading the Bible brings us closer to Jesus "
            We sat in a small room adjoining an equally small gift office. At 77, Sr. Gail  was the oldest  sister ( the youngest was  30 ). She was obviously pleased to be interviewed , quick  to listen and empathetic to my needs as an interviewer.  She weighed her  words and spoke  clearly without any pretense . Her nun habit consisted of a black veil  and black scapula and a  blouse with white sleeves. 
She wore glasses , and a  tuft of white hair protruded from her veil . 
     We talked  close to an hour before I asked her what I had asked  Sr. Joan.  I prefaced it with a few remarks  about how ,  as a  roving reporter ,  I had never been be satisfied with what     " having  a relationship with Jesus " really meant . It’s   a common phrase  heard  throughout Christendom ,  and  though I had known individuals  who surely had this relationship—a closer one  than mine, I  surmised—I told Sr. Gail that I still could  not recall any doctrine or individual  defining this phrase   with   street-wise vernacular or with the diction  and semantics that resonated with me. Perhaps it's because  this "relationship" is different for everyone ?  I asked myself .  Maybe inexpressible ?  
      Sr. Gail   replied immediately in a soft voice: " We get closer t o Jesus by prayer,  but a prayer  that is really seeking to know Him. I know this is easy to say but not to people who have had no experience  in praying . And we need to read   scripture about Jesus, to hear  His Word. "
Then she stressed how important—even urgent—it is today  for those who evangelize or give sermons or homilies to " pin point "  the exact Biblical verse or chapter  that applies to the situation at hand .  In her book " Seasons of Grace: Wisdom from the Cloister "  ( can be ordered through one of  the abbey's  website, " " ) ,  Sr.  Gail writes: " I believe that it is this daily fidelity to listening to and reflecting on the Bible that  gives monasticism it vitality and makes it appealing to such a wide variety of contemporary seekers—from parish priests to Protestant pastors,  from faithful Christians to those who are deeply distrustful of the Bible and the  religion it represents."
A distant view of the abbey chapel on a spring day 
   I asked Sr. Gail to describe a typical day for the  sisters.  " We have a buzzer at 3:30 a.m. that will knock you out of bed, " she began with a smile. "Then there's vigils  that sets the tone for the day. This is the reading of the Psalms and  the Bible  and singing of  hymns. Then after  30 to 90 minutes of quiet prayer and meditation in our  own rooms or the chapel,  we have breakfast .   We go  to the kitchen and help ourselves to cereal or toast, nothing cooked. At 7:15 we have morning prayer , followed by mass . "
     From 8:30  t o 11:30,  the women work at cooking, cleaning, secretarial duties, making candy, and garden work . This is followed by  30 minutes of doing whatever a sister  needs to do, such taking a walk or washing their clothes. Just before lunch , which they call "dinner" because it's their  main meal—all vegetables—they have a five-minute prayer, their  "little hour ".  Siesta time is 1 to l:35 p.m. , then another "little hour" , followed by abbey tasks time until 3:45. 
     "Until 5 p..m ., we do things that are enjoyable, " Sr. Gail said , " such as studying, writing, or going for a walk."
      I couldn't suppress the question  "do you ever go into town to see a movie? "
   " No, " she replied, muffling a chuckle. We go into town only to see a doctor or   shop for things  we can't have delivered or buy online ."
            They gather in the chapel at 5 for vespers, then head to the kitchen for their "pick up"  meal , a sandwich or whatever  an individual sister can find there.  From this hour until  7:15  is their  "grand silence," meaning no talking,  no business. A night prayer sung in the chapel ends the sisters' day.  " A lot of visitors come to hear this prayer, "  Sr. Gail said. " It's short and melodious . Everyone is in bed by 8 p.m.  But we don't have a bell that says you have to have lights out. "
            "  And you keep this schedule Monday through Friday ? ! I asked. 
            " No. Seven days a week," she said,  rather casually, I thought. 
            "You wrote in your book [ " Seasons of Grace " ] about the great value your abbey places on communal living . " Do you ever have spats, conflicts, disagreements ?"
            " We do. Our communal living is just as  difficult to maintain and grow as marriage or any other environment where you have more than one person. The difference is we have a vocation  to love. We here are all trying to live like Christ, a life of love. "
            " Would you mind telling me what kind of conflicts you have and how you resolve them?"    I asked  politely, for  I was beginning to like Sr. Gail as a woman with  CEO-like responsibilities.  .
            " Sometimes it's talking too much, coming in late always to meetings, making too much noise at  night. Or our liturgy committee might not agree on how  the " Gloria  should be sung on a    feast day.  The key [ to resolving our conflicts ] is  to respect one another's opinions, to listen to the other person.  "
            " And what is your  advice to Mr. and Mrs. Jones on Main Street regarding  conflict resolution  ? " I asked .
            "We have to bring a deep respect to our communications with each other. I need to respect you as a person , who you are at this moment, not who you were or what you've done. I'm not the one to judge or call the shots. I need to have inner humility .  "
            We agreed that having true humility requires a  realistic honest   view of  who your are and who your are not. 
Beauty and Gratitude
            I told her I was  anxious to revisit the abbey land I hadn't seen in many  years.  " We used to do all the farming ourselves but it became a little bit  too much for us," she commented.  "Now we rent the fields .  A couple of times we had livestock but it became too much  to handle . But in our garden, we still grow tomatoes , lettuce, carrots, greenbeans, squash, raspberries and  pumpkins for salads , you know. Oh, and  this year we had a marvelous crop of asparagus. "  
Panorama of the abbey's bountiful square mile
            We rose from the table. Sr. Gail had several tasks awaiting her . We exchanged a few spontaneous words about "gratitude"  and then parted  company.  Our words about gratitude and her words about coming close to Jesus  lingered with me as I walked to the field gate below and opened it to a  mile-wide panorama of wheat, calf-high  corn, alfalfa ,  haystacks here and there and, beyond all that the abbey's woodlands.
            I began walking slowly  down a  wide dirt  path shaped by years of tractor wheels running over it. The sky was puffed with white clouds,  and  birds—most often  orioles— kept flushing  up from  patches of  wild  flowers.  Gazing upon this land and the life it was nourishing  as I breathed in part of it,  made me think of those life-lesson parables  Jesus told his disciples about humankind interacting with nature.
            I continued walking until , on my left and about a hundred yards down a gentle slope  of corn ,  I saw a pond with  a cabin on its far bank . A few tree branches , tall weeds, and bulrushes obscured most of this setting  as if nature itself had requested it so. I walked to the pond  down a furrow of corn and stood on a bank opposite the cabin , a stone's throw away.  It was a simple log  structure with windows without  any covering and an interior  empty of furnishings. I recalled being told that it was built without nails by pioneers  and that the sisters sometimes came here to  meditate and pray—as I did now,  sitting on earth and listening to frogs and crickets.
            Those thoughts about gratitude which Sr. Gail and I had shared  came to mind.  "Another thing about knowing God better, " she had said,  " is gratitude, and  gratitude for me is constantly around me when I look at  nature .When I walk around here there is so much beauty and so much life and so much gift that my heart is filled with gratitude. And that comes back to me in prayer.  I have so much to be grateful for: life, love, opportunities to know God in other people. " 
            Her words had  stirred me to say, "This may sound simplistic, Sister Gail,  but I am often grateful   just to have been created   as a human , to be given life instead of no life. "
            Sr. Gail smiled  and nodded her head.  " You know," she said, "the closer we get to God, the simpler  our thoughts about Him and Jesus will be."
            I  kept listening to frogs and crickets.
The founding sisters ( with a visiting priest  ) on Oct. 18, 1964. Holding the
new monastery cross is the abbey superior, Sr. M. Columba.  

The End…and

The Abbey's Prayer for Discernment

Loving God,
You have a plan for each of us, you hold out
to us a future full of hope.

Give us the wisdom of your Spirit so that we
may discover your plan in the gifts you have
 given us, and in the circumstances of our daily

Give us the freedom of your Spirit, to seek you
with all our hearts, and to choose your will
above all else.

We make this prayer through Christ  our Lord.


17 Cistercian sisters gather for a meeting in the abbey's refectory 
The sisters fill in the grave after burial of a departed sister.


All comments are welcome.

© 2015 Robert R. Schwarz

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Techie Who's Blind , Deaf, and a Family Man

                                     If we should ever feel burdened by the knowledge
of our weakness…let us remember what  the Lord
told St. Paul during his time of trial : "My graces
is sufficient for  you,  for my power is made perfect
 in weakness ." ( from Conversations with God
by Francis Fernandez )

[Note: All spoken or written  words attributed to Bapin
in this article were communicated either by the
tactile American Sign Language or a Telebraille
 machine. ]
[ last of a two-part report ]

His 'Dream Job' , Then Heartbreak

2.          Nine months later, Bapin was working full-time as an adaptive technology instructor at the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths & Adults in Sands Point, New York. "He can take a computer apart and put it back together again," Bapin's  supervisor said. In his Internet-posted biography ( ), Bapin wrote that this  was his dream job, "a perfect opportunity for me to move ahead in my life where I can bring myself  at the hands of every deaf-blind person worldwide who is hungry for golden opportunities." Dinah was never further away than a tug on her  harness .
Bapin, Hook See, and Navin ( as an infant) eating out. 
I didn't hear from Bapin  until  eight years later when I asked him for an update on his life  .  " At this moment," he replied, "Dinah is resting on her bed in one corner of my office."  The two had just returned on a jet from a conference in Los Angeles. "She loves flying all the time. She even went to Kolkata [Calcutta] with me twice, and all of my family members loved having her there.  Dinah is now ten and a half and loves going to work all the time, so I don’t know when she will be ready to retire." He also mentioned that the dog's spleen had to be removed because of a benign tumor. 
            On April 4, 2008, in an email sent at 12:40 a.m. to more than 50 friends, Bapin related how Dinah had collapsed a few hours ago due to a cancerous tumor around her heart. He was now working in the San Francisco branch office of the Helen Keller Center.  "Today, Dinah led me home from my office, which was 12 blocks away….she ate her dinner and soon thereafter collapsed. I am praying and hoping for a few more days Dinah can enjoy living." 
            Dinah spent a few days in an animal hospital  and then was brought home. Another email followed: "I came home during lunchtime to check on her. Dinah still greets me when I get home, and she gets excited with the tail wagging hard, the usual Dinah. I took her outside for her to do her business. She dragged me to walk around an entire block  
            Dinah's veterinarian said the dog could collapse at any time.  Her medical bills so far had personally cost Bapin $3,500. Wanting his companion to live out her last days in a familiar environment, Bapin took Dinah back to New York to stay with his former landlord and co-worker at the Helen Keller Center. To avoid Dinah being left  too long without his master,  he flew monthly , from May until October ,  from San Francisco to New York to consult with a veterinarian .  Bapin emailed me on May 30: "She has not yet shown any decline in the guiding skills as she tries to guide me even on her leash when I am using my cane."
            In October,  Bapin posted on his webpage: "It's very sad to let you know that Dinah, passed away on October 14th. She collapsed at 3:45 p.m. as my co-worker James Feldman was trying to make her stand up from her bed under his office's desk. She would not stand up and needed to be lifted onto a cart by two other colleagues, John Baroncelli and Robert Pena. She was taken to Robert's car and driven away to the Animal Medical Center in NYC. The doctors found that the fluids in the sac around Dinah's heart filled up again. They had to flush out the fluids but 15 minutes later the fluids filled up fast. There was no other option to curing the tumor and Dinah's primary doctor recommended to have her put down. James and Robert were at the hospital with Dinah and I was in my office here in San Francisco. I was on the phone with the doctor with an interpreter and we talked for a long time. We all decided to let Dinah go at 6:30 p.m. Dinah will be cremated and her ashes will be put into an urn."  
            Adjusting to daily living without a Leader dog was slow and demanding  for Bapin , who now navigated with a cane . Demand for  his technical  skills at the Helen Keller Center  increased with  his added  role of  trainer for deaf and blind people. But Bapin remained his  quick-witted  and impatient  self   with any project he undertook; among his several innovations at the Center were Braille-capturing radio instruments that emitted emergency notices on National Public Radio to individuals like himself.  He  terribly missed Dinah,  but his frequent travels as a spokesman  for the Center  offered him a different kind of companionship.   "When you are deaf-blind, technology is an ever-present companion. I travel with a laptop for e-mail, phone and Internet access, " he told me ." I use a G.P.S.-equipped Braille Note note-taker to get information about my surroundings. To communicate with others, I have a Screen Braille Communicator with two sides: one in Braille, which I can read and the other,  an L.C.D. screen with a keyboard for someone who is sighted."
 He prayed again for a "close friend." 
The author interviewing Bapin  via a Telebraille machine 
      At the conferences where he had been asked to test his new adaptive technology products, he kept running into a deaf Korean woman, Sook Hee Choi. "We were developing feelings for each other," Bapin told me over the telephone.  Sook Hee is a slender Korean woman with black eyes and a melodic voice. She wears glasses, dresses  professionally when working with her husband, and speaks her native tongue  and a bit of English to her son.  
      He must have thought that marriage between a deaf-blind man and a deaf woman  might be more of a risk than that crisis moment at the Rochester intersection where  he had to "let go and let Dinah ." Knowing Bapin,  it was a question of  prudence or love .  Then his  email: "I am now engaged to get married. Sook Hee lives in San Francisco and works at the Lighthouse for the Blind there, and she is a wonderful woman! A wedding date has yet to be fixed. Do you remember that I told you…how I wanted Dinah to help me find a woman? Now, many thanks to her for finding me a girl!" 
     Sook Hee  accepted her fiancĂ©'s invitation to accompany him to India to celebrate his brother's birthday.  That same year, the couple were married in the  San Francisco city hall.  Eleven months later—on Sook Hee's birthday—Bapin and wife became parents of a healthy son, Navin.
His Shinning Moment in Las Vegas
A  shining moment of Bapin's professional life came last August 3 as he took center  stage before an    
 audience of several hundred  people at the first-ever International Deaf-Blind Exposition at a major  Las Vegas hotel. When he was introduced as the CEO of his own adaptive technology company , a not-for-profit firm which provided instruments  for deaf and blind people to schools, government agencies, and businesses around the world , he could not , of course,  hear any of the applause roar . 
      As the applause continued,  Bapin  felt the finger  tips of his interpreter writing on his palm a description of    all that was happening. Then Bapin  reached down to a dog sitting attentively at his side and  vigorously stroked  it  in a display of gratitude…This was  Walter, a five-year-old , 100-pound Labrador Retriever, Bapin's  new and  constant companion.
Family Life and Precious Memories
            It is a May day,  and Bapin , Navin , and Walter  leave their El Cerrito  home and begin a five-minute walk to the train station for a two-minute ride followed by  a ten-minute walk to Navin's public school…
 "He's learning English and Korean in his kindergarten class,"   Bapin said. " He's really smart and loves  technology. "  Some days ,  Bapin and Walter  might also ride a train for 35 minutes to  Bapin's office in Berkeley or travel  to Fremont where Bapin  teaches a deaf-blind interpreting class at Oholone College .  I once asked Bapin if Navin senses that his father is blind . " Sometimes he says to his mother, ' Dad can't see. ' But he knows to clasp my hand for me to get him something. He also knows he needs to guide  me. He has good communication with us and  we make sure he is exposed to a lot of different experiences. With his mother he uses sign language  and is learning to  speak to her in Korean . She also reads his  lips . "  Bapin then paused , I think to probe a thought : " I have a higher priority for him .  We teach him how to be respectful to his parents and other people. But I've got to figure our how to help him more. I have to make more time for him because I'm very busy and want to make a good relationship with him. He's a sweet little kid."
"I  want to make full use of my skills and give of  my self "
        ….The fragrance of lavender and chirping of birds  fills this  May day air .  Bapin, of course, does not hear the chirps nor see the flowers, but is gladdened knowing  that his son does .  All three well know the route , especially Walter, who needs no GPS. As instructed by his parents, Navin does his best not to stray ahead of Walter.  Traffic is minimal at two of the three intersections ; the group easily  crosses all of them.
         On weekends Hook See might travel to her husband's office to manage his company's distribution  But today she is likely in her  backyard garden hoeing out weeds and uprooting some early vegetables. She is planning for a special meal tonight to celebrate the good news that her son will, for sure,  enter the first grade in September.  The sight of a lone seagull flying away from a neighbor's yard  delights her ; she recalls the pleasure of seeing  her son wave at a  gull here  last summer  and ask her  what kind of bird it was. Hook See did her best to name it .  
program .
            For that special dinner tonight, Sook Hee has  decorated the table with colorful , hand-stitched napkins and a table cloth from her native county; they were gifts from her mother when she lived here with Bapin and Hook See to help them through the challenges of their marriage and her daughter's expected pregnancy. The dishware is equally colorful, brought back from India by Bapin and Hook See when they visited Bapin's parents .
            Bapin unlocks the front door  , and he and Walter enter .  Bapin is bone-weary, mind-weary. It's been a tedious, often hectic nine-hour day of communicating many business matters  via  his Telebraille and  the repeated  tactile signing between him and a colleague. There also was his two-hour delay in taking Walter outside to relieve himself and then that  hunt—frantic for Bapin—for  that latest piece of alpha electronic equipment an employee had placed in a remote section of the office , not telling Bapin about it.  Now, Bapin's only desire is  to release Walter from his harness and sink into a  favorite chair. No thinking, no communication, no task.
            I saw him once like this after Dinah had been washed out of training and he was exhausted from worrying about  his final college exams  and the anxiety over the  uncertainly of receiving a new Leader dog. I knew his thoughts were similar to those he had once expressed to me :  "I need to learn to deal with  people who don't understand that I don't need them to pity me because  I'm deaf and blind or to treat me any less that any other human or say ,' Oh, he's not very smart because he's blind and deaf. ' "  
            Bapin's two-bedroom apartment is very old. "It is like any other house, " he says  . " It has a stove, oven, microwave, oven. "  Unlike most homes, it has an alarm system which vibrates his pager when the phone or doorbell rings or if there is an intruder.   
          His family greet him with tight hugs. Navin throws his arms around his father's thigh .  Bapin caresses  his head ,  then reaches down  to release Walter from his harness , signaling to the Lab that he's now  off-duty .  Pizza and garden vegetable  ala Korean— his very favorites  he smells but he's too tired to even smile.  " It is special tonight ,"  Hook See signs to  him , "because our son  going soon to be  first grader. We are happy  and want to celebrate ."
            Bapin frowns. He has forgotten all about this event  and , worse, to bring home  that toy gift home for his son. He feels poured out , no emotion left . Yet, for my son's  sake, for a happy Hook See… But he is too weak to celebrate anything .  
     Hook See  and Navin tell him how beautiful the table setting is . Bapin  sits down at the table and  slowly glides a finger across the dinner plate. He hopes his face will not show his emptiness.  
            The family prays .
Could this act of addressing God , Who had given him so much through the years, remind him of  those times  he had ignored God's  prompts to forgive that  rugby team boy who had made him completely sightless?  I  once asked  Bapin about that boy: " I've kind of let it go. I never saw him again. I've never fully forgiven him but have looked at the positive things that have come out of this experience. How I've developed who I am. "  
            During dinner, Bapin visibly becomes restored . He talks to his family , using cheerful and affectionate words about them—and he appears very much aware of his wife's presence . "To marry her would be a risk,  " I recall him saying years ago. Then, a little later in life: " Bob, I found the right woman. She really takes care of me. We cherish each other. Sometimes we'll have bad days and sometimes good days. We really want to be better for our son." 
            During our last interview, I asked him for opinions about the current American culture and his  own spirituality. "I feel bad," he said, that so many people have lost their moral values. Well, you know, as we get closer to the end of the world, as the Bible says, we will see  more and more of that. "  Sometimes I wish I could do things my way, but then God tells me: "No, my way.'  I read the Bible, I pray before I go to bed ,  but I can't go the church very often because in California it's hard to find a good church that has interpreters. "  Encouraging  my friend to say more, he said : " I cherish life every day. I try to do the best things for other people, through God's help. But sometimes I feel I don't have enough power or  energy . Then God helps me. " Two things made him happy: "family and exotic good food."  And sad ?  It's world hunger and people with disabilities who have to live with discrimination.  
            Dinner over, Bapin walks eagerly to a small adjoining room  for an hour of woodwork; this time it's  replacing a broken  chair leg . After, there's an unfinished cabinet he's been constructing. He loves it. 
            Nearing the end  of writing this,   my mind returned to that family dinner and of Walter  fast asleep under the dinning room table , his harness  hanging on the wall by the door. I began to think deeply about Dinah , too,  and the five dogs in my own long life  who have been my  "close friends,"  particularly two German Shepherds  , Luther and Moses . Their   loyalty , obedience, and constancy of disposition taught my late wife and I a few things about what our relationship to God, country, and family should be. Writing more, I recalled asking Bapin   what Dinah and Walter have taught him.  "I understand God better now because of Dinah and Walter. The reason is that God makes wonderful creatures and that gives me compassion. Walter is God's gift to me. And I can see how a dog can understand me. "
I see Bapin  at that same dinner table with Hook See and Navin , all using different forms of communication to express their love each other. It makes me think of that first  Pentecost .   
I  hear in my mind the soft, deep- sleep whimpers of Moses and Luther  and now those of  Walter in Bapin's home , and I hear Bapin telling me , " Sometimes when I have frustrations, Walter helps me calm down and tell myself, Get over it !  Then I feel more positive about life. "     I hear him say , " I want to give of my self . "  It reminds me of an  exhortation of a 19th Century holy man  cited at the bottom of an old email Bapin had sent me : Don't let your life be sterile. Be useful .
 The light which Bapin's life shines on the path through my twilight years path comes from a title of a book written in the 1960's by a former chaplain of a renowned rehabilitation center: LET GO AND LET GOD.  And so I conclude : that at  that traffic-laden intersection in Rochester,  that's  what a blind-deaf  man had to do to become fully alive .               
With Dinah, his first "close friend "

All comments are welcome.
© 2015 Robert R. Schwarz