Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

Thanks to My Patron Saints

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

(Today is my birthday, so I thought I would re-post a blog that I wrote several years ago, for the same occasion)

If you’re like me, you have lots of favorite saints, and lots of saints who you think are looking out for you and helping you.  That’s one of the best things about being Catholic — a regular, daily awareness of the communion of saints. And also, if you’re like me, you had the good fortune to be born on a day on which the Church honors the memory of particular saints.

I’m old enough to have been born when the old Roman Calendar was still in effect.  As a result, I was born on the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas.  I have received many graces through his intercession, including a keen interest in theology and my middle name.  Thomas led a fascinating life, and he wrote so beautifully and deeply on all aspects of the faith that he has been a great gift to my faith.  I am particularly mindful of one of his final thoughts, after having some kind of mystical experience.  He ceased work on a project, and upon being asked by his secretary why he didn’t finish the work, replied “all that I have written seems like straw to me.”  That’s a good reminder that nothing that we could do in this life could ever stand comparison to the glory of God.  As St. Paul said, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3:7-8)

When they reformed the Roman Calendar in the Sixties, they decided to move Thomas’ feast to January 28.  Oddly enough, they chose the day that they “translated his relics” — that is, the day they dug up his body and moved it from one resting place to another.

Although I still have some hard feelings about them taking Thomas from me, I have to say that I lucked out again when the Church restored the ancient feast day of Saints Perpetua and Felicity to their proper day.

If you aren’t familiar with Saints Perpetua and Felicity, you should immediately drop all that you are doing and correct this.  Perpetua, a Roman noblewoman, and her slave Felicity, were martyred in 203 A.D., in Carthage.  Perpetua was nursing her baby when arrested, and Felicity was pregnant. Perpetua’s child was taken from her by her family, but Felicity gave birth while imprisoned and the child was adopted by a Christian family.  Perpetua wrote an account of their ordeals in prison with other Christians — one of the earliest written records by a Christian woman.  The story of their witness to Christ is vivid and moving, and should be required reading for all Christians who want a glimpse into the heroism of our ancestors in faith.

The night before their martyrdom, after having celebrated a “love feast” (the ancient name for the Mass) with her fellow prisoners, Perpetua had a dream about being led to the arena by one of the men who had already been martyred, who beckoned her to come and join them.  In the arena, she was beset by a mighty enemy, but she vanquished him and was called to enter the Gate of Life.  Realizing the significance of this dream, she wrote, “I understood that I should fight, not with beasts but against the devil; but I knew that mine was the victory”.

The next day, March 7, Perpetua, Felicity and their companions were taken to the arena, whipped, attacked by wild beasts and slain by gladiators.  They have been honored ever since.  As Tertullian said, “the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians”.

I certainly do not consider myself to be in the intellectual ballpark of Thomas, or anywhere near as courageous as Perpetua and Felicity.  But I feel very close to them, as if they were my friends, but just separated from me for a short time.  Perhaps one day, if their prayers for me are heard, I will meet them, and I can thank them for their help and friendship.

Our Unconventional Christmas Tree

Thursday, December 25th, 2014

If you were to visit my home this Christmas season, you would be met with a most unusual sight.  Instead of the traditional pine Christmas tree, this year our tree is very unconventional, and you might be tempted to laugh at it as weird or silly.  But there’s a story behind it, and it might make a little more sense out of our strange Christmas tree.

Here’s a picture of it:

20141224_233204-1 (1)

Very odd, indeed.  Here’s the story:

This autumn has been very difficult for us.  My wife, Peggy, is getting close to finishing her Masters degree in Library Science, and she’s been slaving away at her final project.  For the last month, it’s pretty much all she’s been able to do.  This has been a particular challenge for her, because she suffers from fibromyalgia, an unpredictable and debilitating disorder that gives her acute pain at unexpected times and usually leaves her exhausted and unable to concentrate.  The fact that she has been able to do masters-level work with this condition is amazing to me.

Peggy is very traditional, and loves to decorate the house for Christmas.  She loves to make the place special for us, our children and our guests.  So it was particularly painful to her that she was so busy with her masters paper — which she finally handed in, three days before Christmas — we weren’t able to get out and buy a Christmas tree this year.  Our house won’t be well-decorated, and she’s deeply embarrassed about it. Tears have been seen in the vicinity of our home.

One of the watchwords of our marriage has been that we will always try to adapt and overcome any problem that arises.  So we came up with an idea for a different kind of Christmas tree, the one you see in the picture above.

It’s an umbrella plant, and Peggy gave it to me when we were first dating, way back in 1979.  It was much smaller then, but she’s kept it alive ever since (I have a black thumb).  It’s kind of like our marriage — growing and thriving after all these years, despite all the twists and turns that fate has given us.  So, in a way, this tree is a symbol for the generosity of God that was manifested at Christmas — and the great gift of each other, united and in love, still going strong.

At the base of the umbrella plant, we put another small plant, a Christmas cactus.  It belonged to my mother, and thanks to Peggy’s care, it has bloomed for the first time in many years.  So it, too, is another symbol of something central to Christmas — the fruitfulness of life, and the legacy of our wonderful parents.

The last piece of the story is also important.  I read in the newspaper of the terrible plight of Christians in Iraq, displaced from their homes and unable to celebrate Christmas.  They have no trees — traditional or unconventional — and no gifts.  So we decided that the money that we would have spent on a Christmas tree would instead be donated to the Catholic Near East Welfare Association, which is doing such great work to alleviate the suffering of our brothers and sisters in Christ.  So our odd tree is a symbol of something else essential to Christmas — the vocation to be a gift of self to each other and to all those in need.

So, yes, it’s a very unconventional and strange Christmas tree.  But I hope that the story behind it has helped make sense of it.  If that doesn’t help, let’s look back at the the original Christmas story.  The Son of God emptied himself, and became human in the poorest of circumstances, being born in a cave where the animals lived.  His family suffered to bring him to birth, and they became refugees to protect him.  They sacrificed for the love of each other, and he sacrificed all for the love of us.

I’d like to think that the Lord who came in such a way, and who lived such a life, would like our humble little tree.  I think he’d smile at it, and appreciate what it means.  And he’d feel perfectly at home in its shadow.

Happy God the Father Day

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

Father’s Day has now passed, and many people were kind enough to wish me a “Happy Father’s Day”.   I was very lucky, and had a good father — he was a good man, a solid Catholic, and he loved my mother very much.  He taught me by example, and who was, in many ways, a model of God the Father for me.

Yet sometimes I think that most of what I’ve learned about God the Father, I learned from my children.  Or maybe it would be better to say that I learned about our perfect Father in Heaven by being a very imperfect father to my own children.

Peggy and I have three children — two are now adults, and one is on the cusp of adulthood.  I’ve been a father for almost half my life now.  My children have taught me a lot.

There are the lessons I learned from colic.  We were three for three with colicky babies.  If you have ever experienced colic, you know what it’s like.  Each one of my children, for several weeks when they were only a few months old, would cry incessantly every single evening, for no discernible reason, into the early hours of the morning.  You couldn’t get them to stop, you couldn’t ease their pain, nothing seemed to work, all you can do is walk up and down the hallway and hope that it ended soon.  When it became too frustrating to bear, I would hand them off to Peggy and take a break, knowing that in a little while, it would be my turn again.

Your heart just breaks for them, they are so small and so distressed, and they can’t help themselves.  You want their lives to be perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.

As the children have gotten older, they have grown into their free will, and I’ve learned similar lessons from the decisions they’ve made — particularly the ones I disagree with.  I have done my best as a loving father to teach and model what’s right and wrong, healthy and unhealthy.  But they choose to do what they wish.  I can’t stop them, I can’t ease the pain they sometimes feel, all I can do is watch with sorrow as they make mistakes, and learn for themselves.  I want their lives to be perfect, but it doesn’t work out that way.

I have also tried to stay in a close relationship with our kids, and I think it helps them to have a father in their daily lives, even as adults.  Yet at times there’s been physical or emotional distance between us — they move away to school, or we just don’t get along for a while.  This distance is painful to me, I wish it would end, but it doesn’t always work out that way.

Of course, there have also been many, many times when I have been able to rejoice with my children.  They each have their own gifts, and I’ve learned to appreciate those differences, and the unique ways in which they are expressed.  I have to hold them each up to certain standards — particularly moral standards — but I also have to let them flourish in their own way.   And so often, it fills me with joy at being their father.

Through all of these highs and lows, my children have taught me the meaning of unconditional love — because that is my perpetual challenge, to love them and stand with them no matter what.  Because of this, I think I have gained a small shadow of insight into God the Father, and how He feels about me.

Like every broken person in the world, I have been hurt and wounded, and I have damaged my relationship with my heavenly Father.  I’ve gone my own way, without much regard for His. I have been too proud, or too blind, to ask Him for forgiveness.  There has been distance between us, not because He has ever rejected me, but because I have kept away.

But I also have felt my Father’s unconditional love for me.  I know that he rejoices when I do his will, and grieves when I do not.  I know that he celebrates when I am happy, and mourns when I am sad.  He is my Father, no matter what, and He will always stand with me.  I know that he wants my life to be perfect, and that He will help me when it’s not.

My children have taught me all of this.  So, when my kids wish me a “Happy Father’s Day”, I can be grateful to them for looking past my imperfections, and I can wish the same to my heavenly Father in His perfection.

The State of the Union

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

On Wednesday, the President gave the annual State of the Union Address to a joint session of Congress.  Since I am known as a political junkie, I was asked by many people if I watched the speech and what I thought of it.

I have to confess that I haven’t watched a State of the Union Address in over twenty years.  I find them almost unbearable to watch — full of platitudes and bromides, with artificial applause lines, and little that is of real substance or interest.  I liken it to an American political version of Kabuki theater — highly stylized and formal dance, with everyone wearing a mask.

In my mind, it would have been much more interesting if the President and Congress had taken a few moments to take stock of the real state of the most important union we have — marriage.

The strength of marriage is an essential measure of how healthy our society is.  Marriage — the life-long faithful union of a man and woman, dedicated to their well-being and the procreation and raising of children — is the foundation of any society.  And by all reasonable measures, marriage is in trouble right now:

  • The marriage rate — the number of people getting married, as a portion of the population — continues to fall.
  • The percentage of the population that is married continues to go down — soon, fewer than half the women in America will be married (as opposed to almost two-thirds in 1960).
  • The number of couples who are choosing to cohabit without marriage continues to rise.
  • The number of children born out of wedlock is still going up — it will be over 40% soon, and is a catastrophic 77% among African-Americans.
  • While the divorce rate has gone down in recent years, it remains true that about 40% of marriages don’t last.
  • All of these measures of marital health are even worse among low-income people and African Americans.
  • By all measures, marriage is in a crisis right now, and one would think that our political leaders would see the problem and want to address it.  The Department of Health and Human Services actually has a pretty good program called the “Healthy Marriage Initiative“.  But that’s not good enough — has anyone even heard of it?

    In fact, think about this.  When’s the last time you heard any significant public official say that we need to start looking at our public policies — taxes, health care, etc. — to see how they impact marriages?  When’s the last time you heard a political leader say that we need to promote marriage?  Did you read the President’s proclamation last fall for “National Family Day“?  The word “marriage” wasn’t even mentioned.

    This is a crisis that needs to be addressed by our own Church, too.  The Bishops of the United States have issues a pastoral letter on marriage, and have set out on a National Pastoral Initiative on Marriage, which is producing excellent resources for couples and those helping to serve them.  Here in the Archdiocese, Cardinal Egan and our priests were very supportive of our efforts in the Family Life Office to enhance our marriage preparation and natural family planning programs.  It is very encouraging that Archbishop Dolan has put such a strong emphasis on marriage as a pastoral priority, calling the state of marriage a “real vocation crisis”.  The promotion of marriage will require a wide effort by all our Church institutions.

    Let’s be honest — the state of our most important union is troubled.  We have to redouble our efforts to support and promote marriage.

    Honoring Families Without Honoring Marriage?

    Tuesday, September 29th, 2009

    It seems that yesterday was “Family Day” here in the United States.  I didn’t receive the memo, but the White House did.  So, the President dutifully issued a proclamation that spoke of the importance of parents, empathized with their struggles, and exhorted them to keep up the good work.  He even found the time to extoll parents in same-sex relationships.

    But there was one word that was conspicuous by its absence from the President’s proclamation.  Guess what it was?

    There was nary a mention of the word “Marriage”.

    So here we have the President of the United States talking about the importance of family and parenthood, but he can’t seem to bring himself to mention the single most important factor in ensuring a successful family — an intact marriage.  This is incomprehensible, especially for a man who has a very happy marriage and family.  How can he not realize that the same blessing that he has received is also the best situation for everyone?

    The importance of marriage for adults, children, and society is incontrovertable, by all evidence from the social sciences, including:

    • Children born in an intact marriage have a dramatically lower chance of living in poverty than those born outside of marriage. 
    • Boys whose parents divorced or never married are two to three times more likely to end up in jail as adults.
    • Children whose parents get and stay married are healthier and also much less likely to suffer mental illness, including depression and teen suicide.
    • Families with an intact marriage are, on average, substantially more economically secure. 
    • Children whose parents never marry are far more likely to require public assistance.
    • Both men and women who marry live longer, healthier and happier lives. On virtually every measure of health and well-being, married people are better-off than otherwise similar singles.
    • Unmarried women are twice as likely to suffer domestic violence.  
    • Children with married parents are significantly safer — they are a far lower risk of drug use, engaging in sexual activity, out-of-wedlock pregnancy, abortion, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect.
    • Children whose parents divorced or never married have lower grade point averages, are more likely to be held back a grade, to drop out of or be expelled from school, and are less likely to graduate from college.

    If the President isn’t clear on this, perhaps he should consult his own Department of Health and Human Services, which has a laudable program called the “Healthy Marriage Initiative”, designed to promote marriage as the foundation of healthy adult life and family life.  They understand the importance of a good marriage to a family.  In fact, they even have a picture of the President’s family on their webpage. 

    Our Bishops have also been undertaking a major “Pastoral Initiative on Marriage” to support married couples.  Here in the Archdiocese we’ve been working hard on our marriage preparation, natural family planning, and marriage enrichment programs.

    This issue is really not that complicated or difficult.  Marriage is the foundation of a good family.  It is the best place for adults and children.  Most of our social problems are traceable to problems in marriage and the family.

    So if our government is going to recognize and honor families, it should also be promoting and honoring marriage.

    My Son Is My Brother

    Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

    Last night, I had the pleasure and privilege of participating in the initiation of my 20-year-old son, Michael, into the Knights of Columbus.

    I’ve only been a Knight for about seven years now, it is a source of tremendous pride to me. I am a member of the world’s largest lay movement, the most active and effective pro-life organization, and one of the staunchest supporters of the Church and our Holy Father in particular. It is an association of Catholic gentlemen, with a stress on both parts of that — Catholic and gentlemen.

    I can’t reveal the details of the ceremony that brought my son into the First Degree of our Order, but suffice it to say that there was one proud father who was watching his son take an important step into manhood.

    In our fallen society, “manhood” is too often associated with excessive behavior (alcoholic or sexual), or with the chronic shunning of responsibility (see the phenomenon of the extende adolescence). The “masculinity” recognized by our culture is typically seen as strutting, ignorant, misogynistic machismo .

    To be a Catholic gentleman is the antithesis of that. Honor, gentleness, selfless service, patriotism, humility, integrity, kindness, courage, commitment, gift of self, loving, and religious. That is what it is to be a real man. Those are the ideals of a true Knight.

    My son certainly isn’t perfect — how can he be with such an imperfect father? But the other night a transition took place in our lives, and I’m very, very happy about it.

    My son moved further forward towards manhood.

    My son became my brother.