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Thursday, April 19, 2012


Thanks to all of you who continue to follow my blog, in spite of such sporadic and non-specific posts.

Let me give you a little humor.

Today, Tim the Director of Custodial Services, visited my realm. I heard him come in and as I was heading out on another errand met him in our "foyer"

Tim said to me, "I'm looking for a missing broom, wondering if you have it here somewhere."

I told him, "Oh, I took it and rode off on it last night."

He turned to walk away, tossing over his shoulder, "Well, ya shoulda rode it back!"

Friday, April 13, 2012

What is the Value of a Single Human Life?

This is a fundamental question in our society. It doesn't just touch on the huge moral (and secondarily, political) topics of abortion and euthanasia, but on something far more common:  it hits us all, every single day in every single human interaction.

I recently began re-reading a book series that was beloved to me in my youth: Lloyd Alexander's  The Chronicles of Prydain, beginning with The Book of Three.

Early on in the story, the protagonist, Taran, meets the great Warrior Prince Gwydion, his hero, and upon meeting him is both awed and disappointed. The man in person does not meet his mental image of a "hero" nor does he encourage it. He reveals his humility and wisdom when the passionate Taran suggest the two of them go against the Horned King alone.

"Then we should stop him," Taran declared. "Attack him, strike him down! Give me a sword and I will stand with you!"
"Gently, gently," chided Gwydion. "I do not say my life is worth more than another man's, but I prize it highly. Do you think a lone warrior and one Assistant Pig-Keeper dare attack the Horned King and his war band?"
Taran drew himself up. "I would not fear  him."
"No?" said Gwydion. "Then you are a fool. He is the man most to be dreaded in all Prydain..."

Ahh. What a beautiful dialogue to demonstrate the point. Here we have a lowly commoner (like most of us), and we have a Great Hero, actual royalty, even! And when the commoner wants him on a pedestal and seeks in his own pride to raise himself to the level of his hero, the humility of the hero brings him back to earth, even to the degree of calling him a "fool"!

Can you imagine such a rebuke? (Does it perhaps call to mind Jesus rebuking Peter by saying "Get behind me Satan!" or to James and John by calling them the "Sons of Thunder"?)

I couldn't move on from this passage, especially a single seemingly-insignificant line from Prince Gwydion:  "I do not say my life is worth more than another man's, but I prize it highly."

There it is. What is the value of life? Is there any such thing as one life being more valuable than another? In any give situation, who determines who should live and who should die? In any given human exchange, who is owed more respect or less respect?

Our current society is driven by hero worship. Never before in history have celebrities been such a huge force behind politics and causes. People did not used to follow mere actors, whose trade was to entertain the masses. Now, it matters not if someone is educated; it matters only that they are beautiful and popular and "in".

That is not to say that those who are "celebrities" necessarily buy into this image of themselves; I would not accuse them of valuing themselves above others, but rather, I cast the role of naive and starstruck Taran upon the American public at large.

The problem is we don't see the humility of the Prince in the story in those we as a public perceive to be our "leaders". We don't see moral fortitude (or any solid moral compass at all), and when it comes to celebrities, even the popular spokesactors haven't a leg to stand on when questioned in most cases. They are but straw idols to be cast upon the wind and torn apart by crows when the appetite suits them. They become victims of the same society that elevated them seemingly only to eventually rip them to shreds.

So let us speak directly then, of politics. Every few years it is a tidal wave of politics, a tsunami that never really goes away, but seems to regather and build for an even greater assault every four years.

I am always left scratching my head over the adulation given to certain politicians, and in contemporary society: Obama. I can't understand why he wasn't vetted and vilified as were the other candidates, and I was shocked when he was never forced to answer tough questions in previous presidential debates.  He didn't like the question he just said, "Let's move on." and they did.

I make no apology: I don't like Obama, and I have often thought, and even stated that if I were ever to meet him, I would refuse to shake his hand. His clear anti-life status, his abuse of our natural-law and Constitutional freedoms, his various methods of America-bashing in other countries, his constant prideful faux-pas in "gifts" to other Heads of State, his obvious dismay and outright attempts to crush out any legitimate criticism of himself and his policies, his attempts to crush religious freedom...all for his own power and his own glory. I despise him as a man and I am offended as what he has done to the Office of President.

And there, those last words, that's what stop me. Office. Office of President.

Many years ago I considered the Secret Service, researched it a bit and pondered for myself the role the Agents take. They agreed that they would take a bullet for the President! What a noble cause! How beautiful a way to die!

Except that ultimately, I didn't want to die for the President. I thought it would be a nice idea, but, no, no, if I was going to die for someone, I wanted to die for someone I cared about. Someone more  Someone who came from my community, lived their life and perhaps had something terrible happen to them. Someone..normal. Not someone whose life was "more valuable" than that of the average person.

I was raised to respect authority, and certainly, I do. I also learned through trial and error that respect may be owed to a particular position, but the person who holds that particular role may not be worthy of that respect; but one gives it anyway. Not for the person, but for their Office.

This is why those Secret Service Agents who protect the President can do so even if they disagree with him or even personally despise him. They do it because they defend NOT the man, but the Office. They can recognize that his life is worth no more or less than their own. What IS valuable is the office he holds, for if the Office falls, so does the country.

I have to realize, because of this, that if I ever do meet Obama and am in a position to shake his hand, I must do so, not because I respect him as a man (for I don't), but because I respect the Office of President of the United States, and it is right and just to give it and him as a human being, simple respect. I respect the fact he was created in the image and likeness of God, no matter how he has chosen to distort that image (for I am a sinner, too, and am also distorted.)

Ah! But What of Life? For Anyone? What of the Everyday?

Most of us won't meet political heavies or celebrities or royalty. Most of us just go about our lives every day and try to eke out our existence, work with people professionally and of course, simply try to keep our heads down and shoulders to the grindstone.

But if we're pressed and if we really think about it, we DO tend to give more value to certain lives than we do to others.

Think about it. In the workplace, do you treat EVERYONE with the same respect? Or do you treat the CEO with more?  How do you speak to the CEO in comparison to the IT guy locked in the basement? How to you treat your Pastor versus the Mechanic doing your brakes? How do you treat the Parish Council member versus the elderly confused lady who asks random questions and speaks about random things you know nothing about?

How many average human interactions every single day cause you to change your level of respect and interior admiration or desire for approval according to the person standing before you?

Whose life is worth more?

Is any life worth more than another?

Do the wealthy deserve more respect? Or should we not give the same respect to the poor?  To the person we dislike? To the person we like? To the person who is lost, the person who serves us in some way, the person we serve by employment or other obligation?

The issue of Life isn't to be compartmentalized; it's not just about abortion and euthanasia, but is part of our everyday lives, in every moment, every interaction.

It doesn't mean we have to like or approve of everyone. It doesn't mean we have to "respect" someone in the sense of placing them on a pedestal. What the call to value life means is this: we must hold ALL to the highest standard, we must give ALL basic human respect and it should not matter whether we are speaking the Pope, the President, the CEO, the Janitor, the Stable groom, the Housekeeper, the Pastor, the Mechanic, the Cashier, the Religious Sister, or the homeless guy on the corner. (Hint: learn his name!)

Life is life. In Genesis, we learn that blood, the symbol of Life, belongs to God alone. So it was that God Himself, through His Only Son Jesus Christ offered His blood so that we might live for eternity. Jesus gave us the example of holiness we are all to live. He did teach to respect Civic leaders, but in practice, to be like Himself.

Personalities and politics are not part of God's Kingdom; they are of the world. We are called, through Baptism to bring about the Kingdom of God in word and deed, and foundational to this is respect for all Life, and to know that every human being is willed and loved by God. It's not a matter of political action, but in how we all live our lives. It matters not if we pray outside an abortuary and then return to our regular lives and bash our neighbors and coworkers.

We have to catch ourselves when we find we are caught in the trap of valuing one life over another, and remember to find Christ in them, somewhere, recalling they, too, are known and loved.

I fall very, very short of this, every single day, and pray one day I may finally practice what I am incoherently trying to preach.

** Disclaimer:  I am not stating that the Truth should not be taught  and I am all for condemning the moral attack upon our society, namely abortion, homosexual "marriage", euthanasia, the Health Mandate, the attack upon religious freedom, etc. These things are ideas, not people. In this post I am attempting to focus on basic human discourse, no matter what our position. Every life is a gift from God and we need to treat every life we meet according to that reality, and THEN address the darkness within us that makes us into total idiots.***

Monday, April 09, 2012

The Looming Shadow of the Cross

I get it. I "get" that it's the Octave of Easter and we're all supposed to be joyful and happy and bubbling over with over-enthusiasm because Jesus Christ has RISEN! ALLELUIA!

Yes, I DO believe, and I KNOW, without a doubt, that God condescended to become one of us, suffered the ransom for our sin through punishment and a really torturous, horrible death, and was buried. I believe He descended into Hell to seek out our first parents, Adam and Eve, and all the others who had gone to Gehenna to await the Messaiah, and freed them.

Yes, I believe, but this year, I remain in the Passion. I celebrate liturgically, but personally, I'm not "feelin'" it and let me just say this:  this is exactly why our Faith is not about emotion.

One of the reasons I am Catholic is also because I do not have to "feel" the liturgical season and be smiley and happy just because, for the 2011th time we've celebrated the Resurrection of Christ.  I'm thrilled that others are happy and I am overjoyed interiorly about all the "HE IS RISEN!" accolades posted by my friends an acquaintances online.  One of the cool things about being Catholic is that we know the Cross is always with us and just because we celebrate something liturgically, it is not a requirement to experience it emotionally. Life happens and it is the Cross that makes it meaningful.  It is the Cross and Resurrection that define EVERYTHING.

So it is that we continue to suffer the Passion of the type God gives us even as we liturgically celebrate with the Christian world. We may be crushed by the weight of the Cross, but we always look to the Resurrection, for were it not for that, the weight upon us would be far too heavy to bear. And in that is a kind of joy that cannot be expressed through mere words or smiley-faces or platitudes.


Holy Thursday was beautiful but busy, and I attended my own parish, wishing I could remain for Adoration at the Altar of Repose, but no, immediately after I had to leave due to family obligations.

It had been proposed several weeks ago that we take our mother to a Latin Good Friday Liturgy. On Friday morning, therefore, I loaded the car and went on a long drive to my brother's home in hopes of attending with them. Thankfully we'd done our research and knew the available Latin liturgies and how long it would take to arrive.

That's when the Cross came to us. 

When I arrived at my brother's home, he greeted me with grim news:  Mom was not doing well. He didn't know what was going on, exactly, but explained the previous evening she'd gone to the ER because she felt her throat closing up. She was apparently diagnosed with an allergy of some sort because they gave her Benadryl. Someone drove her home and my brother's fiance' was going to pick her up and drive her to her car, then on to my brother's house in time to leave for Good Friday services.

Well, he was concerned, because Mom was confused on the phone, expressed she couldn't walk, and said she was driving anyway.  I called her and she sounded fine, said she'd realized she hadn't eaten (she'd diabetic and cannot fast on our required days), so ate and was better. As she wasn't slurred, I hung up and didn't order her to pull over and wait for us as I'd originally intended to do.

She arrived some time later and clearly, was having trouble walking. My brother expressed that this was how she'd behaved just after her blood sugar crisis after her angiogram last summer - a crisis that had landed her in the hospital for 5 days.  She insisted she hadn't eaten so we gave her food and made the decision to take her to the Liturgy. It was unspoken that we'd divert or call for help if her condition deteriorated in any way.

Unfortunately, we are like shell-shocked children: we are so accustomed to crisis and weirdness as a baseline that we are completely unable to assess when our own mother should have proper medical care. When crisis is the standard, it takes a great deal to make the decision to involve the hospital...yet again.

As it turned out, we had to nearly carry Mom into the church, give her time to rest in a back pew, find a bathroom for her, walk her there, have her nearly fall in a psychological panic, watch her walk normally when it was convenient for her, deal with her nearly falling over when there were witnesses.  It wasn't a matter of just one thing, but a combination of medical and psychological. I refused to give in to "crisis mode" and became the firm caregiver. I'm sure I appeared quite heartless to people in that particular parish when my mother nearly fell and grabbed onto me. I held her up while stating over and over again, "You're fine."  without emotion and without coddling.

It's like raising an attention-seeking toddler: give in to emotion and turn the incident into a full-blown temper tantrum.

We sat near the front of the church so Mom could see (and so we'd have a quick escape need be), and close proximity to the altar rail as we'd be approaching it twice.

Mom seemed to follow along decently, mostly listened. I knew this was the first Latin liturgy she'd heard for over 50 years. For my brother and his girlfriend it was a first.  Unfortunately, the parish did not have decent guides (most people attending this liturgy were regulars and had Missals - I had forgotten and left mine home).  So it was that we followed what we could, I gave what little guidance I could, and, well, worried about Mom the entire time. I think my brother and I exchanged more glances in that 2 hour liturgy than we ever had at any other point in our entire lives.

When it was time for the Veneration of the Cross, we stood to go, and Mom moved as if to let me by.  I bent down to ask her if she wanted to venerate the Cross. She stared at me blankly. I had to repeat it a couple times while signaling my brother to wait. The line was already moving but that was fine...I was sure they would let us in but we didn't want anyone held up  by our slowness.

Finally she understood, nodded, and my brother and I lifted her and, flanking her, walked her out of the pew and into the aisle. The people were kind and allowed us to enter. We proceeded forward slowly, which was no problem in this particular veneration. The person in front of our trio venerated and moved aside. My brother and I glanced at the woman in the other line, waiting but she stood back, nodding at us to proceed.  We both nodded in thanks (I think?), and brought Mom forward to the Cross so that she could bend and kiss the feet of Christ. The altar servers actually assisted by lifting the Crucifix slightly for her.  Then my brother, then, although my mother tried to turn, by my brother's gentle prompting, she waited so that I could move forward.

I don't ever recall seeing so much detail in blood and nail on the feet of Jesus as I kissed Him.

What was happening was not lost on me.

As we turned and hobbled back at a snails' pace, people lining up behind us, Mom announced she had to go to the bathroom again, so we took her on the long trek in that direction.

I noticed she walked normally between the stall and the sink to wash her hands but the second that was over, she returned to her "helpless" state, obligating my brother and I, once she was in the hallway, to bear her up again and constantly direct her to stop looking at her feet, but rather, look ahead. Yet every time another person approached, she'd panic and we'd be holding her up as one would a person drowning in the ocean.

At one point, Mom's panic aside, I smiled at some children on their way also to the bathroom, stepping aside so that they could proceed, indicating they should go.  We were making a spectacle, holding up traffic everywhere, and not by necessity. Yet...all around us deferred to us, even though we were strangers among them.  It was no matter: we were Catholic and therefore, we were family.  

It was a repeat at Communion and the first time in 50 years Mom was able to kneel at the Communion rail to receive Our Lord. Because of her physical problems I advised her to stand but lean (and said she could lean on me as I knelt) since kneeling would be so hard for her. But no, she knelt and received. Our relatives came behind us not to receive as they could not, but to assist, and again, as we lifted her up and carried her back to her pew, the people of this very reverent, traditional parish waited and moved as they could to allow us to pass.

After it was over my brother got the car to pick her up and we took her home, ordering her to check her sugar, wondering if we should go to the ER or, by then, because she was improving, perhaps "wait and see".

Holy Saturday

Although we'd planned to attend the Vigil together, I went alone out of a personal obligation, and as Mom still had problems walking, she remained home. By the time I arrived back, Mom was in bed although she did join us around 1 am for some time, at which point we learned there was an "aftercare" document given to her by the ER. A document she hadn't shared with my brother and stated, last night, that she "couldn't understand no matter how many times she read it."

The document was clear:  first, she should not have driven at all to my brother's home. (We knew that and had told her to stay home as she was not well.)  All her symptoms required a return to the ER, but because we've gotten so used to both real and psychosomatic behavior as "normal" for her, we did not follow this.  Had we had that document in hand, we would not have attended Good Friday, but would have spent that time in the ER instead.

Last night, my brother and I both confronted Mom on her need to give us the documents from her ER and other doctor visits, and reiterated to each other that we HAVE to talk to her doctor and perhaps get her into an Assisted Living facility that has greater supervision than the minimal facility she is in now (which has only pull cords).

It was not an easy conversation and I left it to take my dog out, where I took the time to take a deep breath and say a quick prayer of apology and request for help.

Easter Sunday

He is Risen!

Yes, He is Risen Indeed, but Mom is nearing the end of her days.

This is the part where people feel the need to quote platitudes about hope and the Cross and the Resurrection and such. And this is exactly why such platitudes are so offensive.

In the midst of the Cross, there is no such thing as comfort. The road to Calvary must be walked, it is awful for all involved. This is where we find fortitude, perseverance, and hope - through experience, not through trite sayings.

The Cross does not disappear just because we liturgically celebrate the Resurrection. Easter in the world does not end temporal suffering. It all continues.

What I say it this:  it is the Cross that gives meaning to it all. It is not about emotion or candy or roasting lambs on a spit in the front yard with a red velvet lamb cake decorated with peeps for dessert.

It is ok to enter into suffering even in the most liturgically joyful Octave of our Calender. In fact, perhaps it is this suffering that reveals the Holiness the most, for it is for THIS that Christ suffered and died.  THIS suffering, RIGHT NOW.  For everyone, In all moments, the big and the little ones, ALL.

The Cross looms for all, for none of us will pass into Eternity without first passing through the Cross.

Friday, April 06, 2012


Last night was Holy Thursday, the beginning of our 3-Day Mass consisting of Holy Thursday (Maundy Thursday for some Christian religions who observe it liturgically), Good Friday - the commemoration of the Crucifixion and Death of Our Lord, Holy Saturday which recalls Jesus' descent into Hell to free the Holy Souls from Gehenna, and this culminates after darkfall with the Easter Vigil as we anticipate and celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. It ends finally with Easter Sunday, and each Mass, whether daybreak or later, includes different Biblical readings to set the tone according to historical reality.  It is the most unique Sunday and the most important...and it can't truly be experienced alone, for the Vigil and Easter Sunday are the climax of Holy Week and most especially, of the final 3 days.

It is usually my practice to remain for at least an hour at the Altar of Repose after the Holy Thursday liturgy, but last night I could not. I had to get home to prepare for the next few days, so after a brief visit to Jesus and apologies, I set for home.

Instead of my Adoration time, I watched "The Passion of the Christ", interrupted by laundry and other preparations.

Still, my time in waiting has been spent praying through the movie, bringing the historical and spiritual reality of the Sacred Triduum into my very home, into my very heart and soul, once again.

Although several things have stricken me (as they do every time), this year I have focused my prayer on the intent of Pilate and actions of Christ in response.  Specifically when Pilate brings Jesus before the crowd, after His scourging.

Who can not be moved by such a sight?

Jesus has been scourged and is brought before the people, bound, bloodied from the terrible scourging that hasn't left an inch of skin untouched, a cap (crown) of thorns driven not just into the skin, but through bone. And still he is covered in spit, his face is swollen to the degree of being misshapen, and a soiled cloak (soiled by only God knows what) has been placed over his shoulders mocking him as "King of the Jews".

Pilate, hoping for mercy, pulls Jesus to the forefront, proclaiming to the crowd, pleading, "BEHOLD the Man!

He weeps for Jesus, although does not show his "tears" to the people. He beholds Our Lord and sees what He has suffered, and hopes for mercy..but he does not pray, for Pilate is a pagan and does not believe in God, or the Son of God before him. But he does understand the belief of the people and pleads with them to respond with mercy to the plight of the suffering man before him.

Pilate does not understand what is about, but offers the last option: a revolutionary, a despicable murderer, the worst crime that could be committed in the taking of human life. He compares Bar-Abbas to Iesu, demanding the crowd to make a choice, an obvious one: Jesus, who hasn't fought back, who has suffered silently, or Bar-Abbas as disgusting a person as he actually looks even without being completely beat up and bloodied.

Mark this, it is no mistake that the man whose name means "Son of the Father" was traded to freedom in order to condemn the man who is, truly, the Son of God.

And the crowd demands the blood of Jesus. Violently. 

Pilate didn't want Jesus to go to his suffering and death, but his sin was this:  allowing it. He feared so much for his own standing that he allowed an innocent man to die. Yet Jesus still freed him, for Jesus himself pointed out to Pilate that the sins of those who sent Him (Jesus) to Pilate were greater. He didn't let Pilate off the hook, but rather, pointed out the gravity of sin and the fact that actually, Pilate's sin was weakness (venial), whereas those who sent Our Lord to the Cross by accusation and advocation were guilty of a GREATER sin. Mortal sin, actually.

Look again, and look hard.

Pilate brought Jesus before the crowd, holding Him there,


Behold Him indeed!  Behold Him, to takes away the sins of the world! Behold Jesus, who suffered this and more for YOUR sins!

Pilate SCREAMED these words, ECCE HOMO! for all to hear, for this was long before sound systems existed. He screamed with his voice, his entire being, to reach the crowd.

It wasn't screamed in gloating, but in desperate pleading. Final pleading.


But it WASN'T enough. By human terms it WAS enough, but by the screeching of the crowds, it wasn't anywhere near sufficient. They screamed all the more,


And they didn't know it, but even by their screeching for His demise, they were saved...if they chose to accept Him later.

Jesus didn't die "for all", as some would have by the human-created doctrine of comfort,  but rather "for many", for our own cooperation is a requirement of our salvation. The God who created us without our permission does not save us without it.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Unless A Grain of Wheat

For a couple weeks, actually, I have been pondering the Gospel for last week, the 5th Sunday of Lent.

Jn 12:24-27
"The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies,
it remains just a grain of wheat;
but if it dies, it produces much fruit.
Whoever loves his life loses it,
and whoever hates his life in this world
will preserve it for eternal life.
Whoever serves me must follow me,
and where I am, there also will my servant be.

This spring has come early, and even though our Association has redone the landscaping, I am determined to grow Sunflowers this year. In spite of the un-neighborly ducks and deer and bunnies, I am going to have Sunflowers following the sunshine and eventually providing a wonderful feeding roost for finches and any other birds that happen along.

This year, because I can't beat the Association, (and plant stuff in the actual ground), I was THRILLED to find a "Sunflower kit" from a local store. It was a bucket filled with dirt, a pack of sunflower seeds, and a plastic "greenhouse" lid. Although it's been very warm here, the moment my sunflowers germinated, a cool front was ushered in, such that I cannot transplant them into a far larger pot to be placed outside quite yet. And I am further concerned because it's now been so cloudy and my house has so little direct sunlight that, sunflowers are wilting.

But it doesn't matter. Not really.

The fact that I can't yet take them outside brings the Gospel message home to me ever more deeply, for because life takes place before my eyes, I have been able to witness exactly what Our Lord is trying to convey. As my seeds germinated, I saw what had attracted the ducks a few years ago: the shells of the sunflower seeds. In fact, they are still hanging on even though now they are nearly 6 inches high or more. I see how new life does violence to the "grain" that was planted, and that the incredible beauty that is to come must first be broken into pieces. No matter how hard those pieces try to hang on, they will be forced away so that the leaves can unfurl to receive the life-giving rays of sunshine and both give shade to and allow the roots below to send water to make them grow.

Growth of any kind is violent; there is nothing delicate about it. I watch my little plant orient itself towards the sun, and I watch it wilt when the sun is not forthcoming. I am watching my little plant struggle to survive and because I know it must thrust away, for itself, the seed casings that were once it's own womb, I do not intervene other than to try to provide as much light and heat as possible in our erratic spring, but also the right amount of water And I am always getting it wrong.

Still, this flower is a living metaphor and I cannot help but look upon it while pondering the Gospel of John and why we must all be willing to fall to the ground like the "grain" and be broken apart for the sake of eternal life. That is what holiness is all about. It is what it means to embrace the Cross, and in fact, it is what we must suffer, all of us, in the end, to enter eternal life. We are all that little seed and in spiritually dying or physically dying, it is all the same; it is what allows us to enter into holiness and eternity.