Sunday, December 26, 2010

Brief Thoughts on Christmas So Far

Winter makes me tired.  I wonder sometimes if I have seasonal affective disorder.  So, as I write, even after having slept well last night, and having napped well today, I am still worn out.  Today, however, it is a good sort of tired.

In the last week, I have hosted two Christmas parties, shared Christmas in the homes of four parish families, celebrated four birthdays, held my new niece, celebrated three major Masses (and sung the prefaces for two of them), eaten prime rib twice, lobster once, and caviar for the first time (it is alright, but not exactly the sort of thing that I can see myself craving), sang all of my favorite Christmas Carols, seen innumerable people that I have not seen since summer or longer, and been hugged by a vast array of people.  I have very clearly been among family, even though they are not the family with whom I grew up.  And they have worn me out. 

Besides all this, the kitchen counter is covered with cookies and other sweets, and we have a very nice selection of wine to accompany dinners for a while.  People have been exceedingly generous to me, and I plan to be exceedingly generous to Cabelas.

To top it all off, I will see both of my brothers, their wives and children, and my parents on Friday when we gather for our two-day Christmas celebration.  I will celebrate Mass with them, give them gifts, and receive their gifts as well.

And in all of this, I am filled with an overwhelming sense of peace, of love for my people, and thanksgiving for the God who became man so that he might make all men like God.
 
For many years I was something of a Scrooge, but these days, I must admit it: I love Christmas as a priest. 

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What is a Boy?

I am not in the habit of simply copying and pasting the writing of others on this blog.  But I really enjoyed this post from The Art of Manliness. The following, written in 1945, was recently republished there.

What Is a Boy?

By Alan Beck
Between the innocence of babyhood and the dignity of manhood, we find a delightful creature called a boy. Boys come in assorted sizes, weights and colors, but all boys have the same creed: to enjoy every second of every minute of every hour of every day and to protest with noise (their only weapon) when their last minute is finished and the adult males pack them off to bed at night.
Boys are found everywhere—on top of, underneath, inside of, climbing on, swinging from, running around or jumping to. Mothers love them, little girls hate them, older sisters and brothers tolerate them, adults ignore them and Heaven protects them. A boy is Truth with dirt on its face, Beauty with a cut on its finger, Wisdom with bubble gum in its hair and the Hope of the future with a frog in its pocket.
When you are busy a boy is an inconsiderate, bothersome, intruding jangle of noise. When you want him to make a good impression, his brain turns to jelly or else he becomes a savage, sadistic, jungle creature bent on destroying the world and himself with it.
A boy is a composite—he has the appetite of a horse, the digestion of a sword swallower, the energy of a pocket-size atomic bomb, the curiosity of a cat, the lungs of a dictator, the imagination of a Paul Bunyan, the shyness of a violet, the audacity of a steel trap, the enthusiasm of a fire cracker, and when he makes something he has five thumbs on each hand.
He likes ice cream, knives, saws, Christmas, comic books, the boy across the street, woods, water (in its natural habitat), large animals, Dad, trains, Saturday mornings and fire engines.
He is not much for Sunday school, company, schools, books without pictures, music lessons, neckties, barbers, girls, overcoats, adults, or bedtime.
Nobody else is so early to rise or so late to supper. Nobody else gets so much fun out of trees, dogs and breezes. Nobody else can cram into one pocket-a rusty knife, a half eaten apple, three feet of string, an empty Bull Durham sack, two gum drops, six cents, a sling shot, a chunk of unknown substance and a genuine supersonic code ring with a secret compartment.
A boy is a magical creature—you can lock him out of your workshop, but you can’t lock him out of your heart. You can get him out of your study, but you can’t get him out of your mind.
Might as well give up—he is your captor, your jailer, your boss and your master–a freckled-faced, pint-sized, cat-chasing, bundle of noise.
But when you come home at night with only the shattered pieces of your hopes and dreams—he can mend them like new with the two magic words—”Hi Dad!


Read more: http://artofmanliness.com/2009/12/19/manvotional-what-is-a-boy/#ixzz18a7gWaXL

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Flashback

I recently had a flashback.

Almost immediately upon my arrival at St. Paul Seminary, I began to hear talk of a program called Clinical Pastoral Education, otherwise known as CPE. From all accounts, CPE would be one of the most torturous processes I would be required to undergo in my theological career. CPE, in a nutshell, was the program in which we would spend an entire summer functioning as hospital chaplains. As part of this process, we would gather regularly with other Christian seminarians also operating as chaplains, and we would share our feelings about our experiences, whereupon we would be viciously attacked by angry, man-hating, militant, feminist, lesbians (this is not an exaggeration).

Needless to say, I was less than interested in attending any such program. As I would often find over the course of the years, however, my desire to avoid such a thing only reemphasized my need to do so in the eyes of my formators. So it was that beginning on Memorial Day, I took up residence at Christ the King Parish in Sioux Falls to begin my ten week stint as a hospital chaplain.

As I expected, I hated the experience and I believe that those who perpetuate this program should be tried for War Crimes violations. Nevertheless, the time spent in the hospital was actually pretty helpful. I got used to the sounds and smells of the sick and dying, and I developed a certain familiarity with some of the medical lingo. The dreadful part, however, was to be experienced three or four days each week when my CPE classmates and I gathered for didactics (I still don't know what this word means). The group was comprised of four men and two women, among whom were three Catholic and three Lutheran seminarians. At each gathering, one of us would be required to present a type-written verbatim interaction with one of the patients we had recently encountered. From these, apparently, we were supposed to be able to discern all of the horrible fears and character flaws of one another. Luckily, we didn't have any angry, man-hating, militant, feminist lesbians in my group. From the reports of my classmates, however, I ascertained that it would have been during these verbatim reports that, in any other group, we would have been attacked.

All in all, I found these events to be a superb waste of my time. Once in a while, we would learn a technique that would help us minister more effectively to other people. Mostly, however, we spent several hours a day emoting. I found it excruciating.

Even more tedious was the weekly meeting with Peter. Peter was (is, I assume) a British expatriate who was also apparently an ordained minister for the United Church of Christ. Over the course of the summer, I would come to discover that the UCC does not necessarily believe anything, and they seem to be comfortable with that. Peter looks uncannily like a monkey with rounded ears protruding from the side of his head, and tufts of whiskers on his cheek bones from where he forgets to shave. I actually witnessed him place an entire handful of dried fruit in his mouth once, only to spit it back into his hand after nearly choking. From week to week, we were required to visit him individually in his office and present to him a "significant incident report," wherein we would describe something that had happened in the past week and why it was significant to us. He would then lecture to us for the better part of an hour leaving us utterly baffled because he made no sense. God forbid, if in the course of a week, nothing especially significant had happened. We were in a hospital after all, with tragedy all around us. How could something significant not have happened. So, as with my peers, I found myself exaggerating some rather mundane hospital interaction in order to make it seem significant while meeting with Peter. I was not disappointed when my ten weeks had expired, and even as I write, I find that I harbor certain vestiges of resentment for having been forced to participate in so ridiculous a program.
But, CPE is not the point here.

Last week, I was standing in the hospital waiting for the elevator and thinking about this blog and what I would write, when suddenly I realized that I was looking for a significant incident. I chuckled to myself, but not in the, "Oh What a Happy Memory" way. It was more in the "Hell Has a Special Place for Those Who Perpetuate CPE" way. That thought makes me smile even now.

From the mouths of infants and babes


Last night was the last night of Middle School Formation until after Christmas Break.  I arrived in the Church Hall to have dinner with the kids following Mass and found myself seated with a group of seventh and eighth grade boys and girls.  This sort of combination often amuses me, if only for the unadulterated awkwardness between the kids.  Last night was funnier than usual however.

The conversation at the table was about annoying songs (of which there are apparently a great many these days) which play repeatedly on the radio.  I made some comments about similar songs from when I was their age, but the conversation suddenly made an about face, and we found ourselves discussing the flat screen television that hangs in the rectory's living room.  One of the kids asked the person who brought up the topic, "How do you know that?  Are you stalking him?"

I responded, "There's a song about that too."

One of the boys looked at me oddly and replied, "Did you say that you are stalked by a fat Jew?"

Middle Schoolers . . . .

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Unlikely Prophet

December 8 passed as a day largely unnoticed this year.  What with the busy-ness of the season, it comes as little surprise, I suppose.  Of course, there were a few particularly zealous people who arranged their lives so as to give the day its due, but for the vast majority of the world, it was of little consequence that last week, December 8, marked the thirtieth anniversary of the death of John Lennon.  

All diatribes about hippies aside, I like the Beatles.  I have six CDs in my car's six CD changer.  One of them is a sung version of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, another a recorded version of the Rosary.  One is a talk delivered by author John Eldridge.  One is a collection of tunes performed by a local Christian Rock group and another a compilation of various songs that a friend passed on to me.  The one I listen to most often, however, is a collection of my favorite Beatles hits.  I am not much into their psychedelic stuff from later in the band's career, but I love a lot of the lighter songs - "I Want to Hold Your Hand;" "Here Comes the Sun;" "Life Goes On."

I am not much into Beatle Lore, and could not tell you about when or why they broke up.  I don't know much about the careers of the various members following the dissolution of the band.  I do know, however, that John Lennon managed to be fairly successful as a soloist, and that among the most popular songs from that part of his life was "Imagine."

As Advent moves along toward its culmination in the Feast of the Nativity, that song has come to mind several times.  The Utopian world that Lennon imagines without war and filled with peace and harmony among men is deeply resonant with the readings that we hear throughout this season.  His ideas are not far from Isaiah's prophesies of the lion bedding down with the lamb and the child playing at the den of the cobra.  There is a major difference, though.  Lennon, by the time he performed this song, was a communist, and deeply convinced of the possibility of man achieving a perfect world by means of his own power.  Time has demonstrated that such political views are profoundly unrealistic and almost impossible to achieve even in the best of settings.  The world that Lennon longed for all too easily became the disastrous world Orwell predicted in Animal Farm.  Man alone cannot arrive at the peace Lennon describes.  It is, as it were, the peace the world cannot give (John 14:27).  Such a world is possible, however, and it is for this world that we pray during this Advent season.

Herein, however, lies the difference.  My sin, the decisions I make daily, prevent such a world from existing.  Now multiply that reality by about six billion, and then multiply it to the Nth power to take into consideration the long lasting effects of the past sins of others that have developed into systemic evils in the world.  In doing so, one quickly realizes that we are utter failures as regards fixing things.  Insert, however, the cross of Christ into the equation, and everything changes.  In this season of Advent, we are called to consider anew the real need each of us has to allow Christ to apply the grace won by his death to the sinfulness that exists in each of our lives.  Already he has begun the work of bringing about the vision of Isaiah and John Lennon.  We can see this in many ways and places, but its completion depends upon man's willingness to be redeemed and to pursue holiness, and even these require the workings of grace.

Advent, with John Lennon, invites us to imagine.  It invites us to seek forgiveness.  It invites us to become holy, knowing that it was this that Lennon imagined without knowing it was called holiness.     

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Anticipation

The anticipation is killing me.

One of the best parts about Christmas, especially as a priest, and especially since I am no longer in school is the fact that everyone comes home for Christmas.  The seminarians will be home.  Young people from previous World Youth Day Pilgrimages will be home.  Last year's senior class will be home.  Friends from high school will be home.  My brothers and their children will be home.  And eventually, after enjoying all of the previously mentioned aspects of this season, I will be going home.

The whole of Advent is about waiting, longing, and the quiet expectation of the glorious coming of the Lord.  As I wait for Him, and as I wait for everyone to come home, I recognize that these two things are related.  In both cases, I long for a new and deeper revelation of the love of God revealed in his Son.  With those returning to celebrate the holidays with their families, I will know a taste of that.  With the coming of the Lord, I will one day know it in full.

And the anticipation is killing me.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dilemmas

Though it is a frustration to her, I kind of appreciate the fact that my mother works at a job which requires her to work on most of the big holidays.  Inmates at the county jail aren't released for holidays, so those corrections officers charged with their oversight don't necessarily get the holidays off either.  As a result, of late, it has become the custom of my family to celebrate the major holidays sometime other than the calendar date upon which the holiday falls.  For instance, my family celebrated last Christmas on the Monday and Tuesday following December 25.  As it turns out, such a practice is a great convenience for me.  

As a priest, holidays present me with a certain dilemma.  As with most people, I want to be with my biological family for the celebration of Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and the like.  As a priest, however, I also want to be with my people.  Last Christmas, for instance, I was thrilled to know that I had all of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to spend with parishioners because I would be celebrating with my family later.  There was no mourning of the fact that my family was absent.  I would be with them in due time.  There was no rush to finish Mass and get to the ranch.  It was an absolutely beautiful celebration of the Nativity of the Lord, the winter storm notwithstanding.  

This year, for Thanksgiving, there was a change.  Mom managed to get time off on Thanksgiving Day.  Though I was glad of the fact that I was able to be with my family on Thanksgiving this year, I was also a little deflated.  The forecast was predicted foul weather, and I was afraid I was going to be stuck in Rapid City if I didn't leave on Wednesday.  Max Daniel was to receive his First Holy Communion on Thanksgiving day, and I wanted to be there.  How was I to do both.

As it turned out, the weather was fine and I left after morning Mass on Thursday.  I was able to be present for Max and for my own family.  Such will not always be the case, though.  As time goes on, there are sure to be times when I will be required to choose between my family at home and my family at the Church.  My heart is torn by this, because I want to be both places, and to be in either place would be good.  

In a way, though, I find a beauty in this.  This is one of the wonders of the priesthood.  I really have found a family, a people of my own in my parishioners.  Rather than trying to escape them, as happens in many jobs, I want to be with them for those meaningful days, those holidays, those holy-days.  This is one of the ways in which I come to experience God's love.  And it is precisely this that such holidays are about. 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"You Can't Take It With You"


I was a "theater geek" in high school.  Early in my freshman year I was introduced to Oral Interpretation, and soon thereafter, to the One Act Play competition.  I was immediately hooked.  The lights, the make-up, the costumes, the almost unbearable, nauseating tension, tangible, crackling backstage as we waited to make our first entrance.  Taking the first step onto the stage, and the exhilaration as that tension flooded away as I delivered my first lines of the show.  The energy of the performance, sharp like a razor, honed by the tight-stretched nerves of each of the other actors.  Feeding off of the response of the crowd, our characters expanding and overwhelming our true personalities with each laugh or gasp from the audience, and feeding off of the other actors as the same happened to them.  And the applause, oh the applause, as the cast bowed at the curtain call, each of us trying to catch our breath as our character disappeared and we returned to ourselves.  To be on stage was to empty myself, pour myself out in front of a crowd.  It was like running to end of the highest diving board and jumping, without looking, into the coldest, deepest water, then struggling back to the surface and gasping breath after breath of sweet life-giving air.  And then, the surreal quality of having finished the day following the last performance.  A part of me was dead and gone. 

Though I did not receive a part in the One Act play and though I was only an extra in the spring production of "Grease," I was at every audition for the rest of my tenure at Wall High School.  As a Junior, I was recognized at a district competition as a superior actor for my role in "Dragons," but the climax of my acting career came that same year when in the spring, I played Milky-White, a cow, in our school production of "Into the Woods."  This part was supposed to be played by a plastic cow on wheels.  I begged the director to let me play it; it was by far my favorite role in a play.  A year later I graduated, and I never gave a second thought to the stage.  I had no interest in acting in college theater, though I remained then, as now, a patron of the arts.  My interest in performing was momentarily piqued when I was required to don makeup and wigs for our summer production of 5th and Broadway, but other than that, I find I remain little inclined to mount the stage.

I am not altogether certain why I was able to give up theater so easily.  I was never really an incredible actor, but I took a lot of pleasure from my time on the stage.  Perhaps I was burnt out by the end of high school.  Regardless, I have had, since then, little desire to act.  In fact, I have become extremely self-conscious about it.  These days it is very hard for me to play a role in a skit.  And yet, last night, as I watched the St. Thomas More High School production of "You Can't Take It With You," I was a little envious and more than a little nostalgic.

The show was very good.  The set was relatively simple, but the script was fantastic, and the casting was inspired.  Each of the characters was well played, and every actor appeared to be having fun with his part.  Along with the rest of the audience, I found myself laughing uproariously as the plot wound its way toward its inevitable resolution.  It is no wonder this play won a Pulitzer Prize in 1937.  I would have loved to have played any of the parts in this production, from a firecracker making father, to the drunken actress who spends most of the second act sleeping on the couch.  Eccentricities abound among the characters of this play, and I suppose in the end, that is the thing that makes me nostalgic.  

Theater is the refuge for those who find themselves a little odd.  It is a place where one gets to be a different person for a season.  In high school, this was a blessed relief.  Trying to figure out who I was, theater freed me to be any number of people, and to try on a variety of different lives -  a British intellectual, a disturbed teenager, a nameless member of a high school gang, the cruel husband of an adulterous wife, a swordsman dressed in black, an evil henchman, and a lovable cow.  On the stage, I could do and get away with things I could not do and get away with in real life.

In the seminary, a man necessarily discovers who he is, and it becomes less and less pressing to want to be like someone else.  Along the way I guess I discovered that real life was far better than the scripted life of a character on stage.  True self-giving was far deeper and more meaningful than to pour out a pseudo-life through a character.  To be truly alive as me was far more sustaining than to feel tingly and alive with the energy of a show.  But, theater helped me get there.  I pray it does the same for the cast of "You Can't Take it With You." 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Words


"I tell you, on the day of judgment people will render an account for every careless word they speak.
By your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:36-38
Not to pudify them, but when one spends an inordinate amount of time amongst teenagers and young adults, one begins to forget how to speak English.  While I have noticed this before, the phenomenon arose once again to my consciousness on Saturday after driving three teenage boys around central South Dakota in search of pheasants foolish enough to allow themselves to be shot.  We found twelve such birds, and while doing so, I discovered that "sick"  has nothing to do with one's health nor does it imply (as it recently did) something unattractive, unseemly, grotesque, perverted, or nauseating.  Rather, "sick" has become an adjective emphasizing the good quality in some other thing.  For instance, "Did you see that snowboarder make that jump?  It was sick!"  Likewise, "You should have seen how sick that one spot was.  There were birds everywhere."

A similar evolution has been taking place with the word "sweet," albeit for a longer period of time.  Sweet might describe the quality by which the taste of coffee is changed by sugar.  Seldom does it describe a girls cheery disposition these days.  More often, it functions as modern shorthand by which one expresses one's approval of a thing or an event without suffering the indignity of adjectives with more than five letters.  A typical conversation with a high school student proceeds like this:  "How was the concert last night?"  "It was sweet."  I don't necessarily disapprove of this use of the word.  It mitigates the extent to which I am responsible to remain literate in youth culture.  I get what sweet means, and I do not have to ask a great many succeeding questions trying to grasp the relative value of the experience, and almost anything can be sweet.  I have personally heard this word used to modify each of the following nouns:  Taylor Swift, skiing, snow boarding, my gun, various cars, football games, various universities, several university professors and an interminable collection of other nouns.

I indubitably support those who decry this vilioration of the English language, and am vehemently on the side of those who insist that each bastardization of a word leads us one step closer to a fully Orwellian society.  Such a rant, however, is ill suited for a blog inasmuch as it requires only one sentence.  Kids should be required to read more in school, and they should have to read good literature.  The end.  My principle concern is for myself.  Inundated, as I often am, by this lackadaisical approach to proper spoken English, I worry that I will eventually become incapable of speaking like an educated adult.  

Such silly worries, one might chide, but I hear our language used in utterly indefensible ways in the most inappropriate of circumstances.  An example of this occurs each time I hear someone say to another, "Don't take it personal."  "Personal" is an adjective employed to modify such nouns as hygiene, trainer, and problem.  A well trained English speaker would remark, "Don't take it personally," a sentence wherein an adverb is used to modify the verb "take" by defining the manner in which a thing should be taken.  People even swear badly.  To whit, "Those damn kids!"  Damn is a verb, the action of which is to eternally separate a person from God and his love.  Using the word as a verb, one might say, "Damn those kids!"  In the prior case, however, the appropriate expression would be "Those damned kids!"

Even more exasperating, though, is when one misuses a simple word.  For instance, unsuspecting penitents might bear the brunt of Father's vexation with the misuse of the English language.  I expect that they will never bear the "blunt" of the same.  Such a mistake would not constitute a faux paus, though, unless one were to misuse this idiom while, for example, eating one's salad with the wrong fork.

Luckily, the always pretentious NPR came to my rescue to today with a charming story about a new wildly popular internet site.  I invite you to visit www.savethewords.org.  I am sure you will agree that this webpage is pretty sweet.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Thumbing My Nose at England

Guy Fawkes

Remember, remember the fifth of November,
The gunpowder, treason and plot,
I know of no reason
Why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below,
Poor old England to overthrow;
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, make the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!
Hip hip hoorah!
A penny loaf to feed the Pope.
A farthing o’ cheese to choke him.
A pint of beer to rinse it down.
A faggot of sticks to burn him.
Burn him in a tub of tar.
Burn him like a blazing star.
Burn his body from his head.
Then we’ll say ol’ Pope is dead.
Hip hip hoorah!
Hip hip hoorah hoorah!

- Traditional Guy Fawkes Day Rhyme 

"V for Vendetta" aside, Jolly ol' England can bugger off as far as I'm concerned.

It is, to my mind, impossible to have a good grasp of history and remain a Protestant.  This thought has been on my mind today as England celebrates the notorious foiling of the "Gunpower Plot" of 1605 when authorities, after being tipped off by a letter, discovered Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators in the act of setting explosives to blow up Parliament.  What is left unsaid is the evil perpetrated against Catholics by Queen Elizabeth and her successors.  Likewise, few care to recall that even the apostate Henry VIII (he has previously received the prestigious title of "defender of the Faith" from the Pope) maintained a certain Catholic Orthodoxy in the midst of his heresy.  It would be his successors who would wholly eviscerate what vestiges of Catholicism remained in England.  The Gunpowder Plot was the attempt of desperate men to be allowed the freedom to practice the faith demanded of them by their conscience.  

I do not condone terrorism.  I do not think blowing up the British Parliament was a good idea.  It is helpful, however, to consider what drives a man to consider such extreme action.  England claimed to permit a great deal of "tolerance" towards Catholics in those days.  It is a mantra almost identical to the message of tolerance we hear today.  By my estimation, this country tolerates faithful Catholics about the same way that England did in 1605.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thanks Mom and Dad

Divorce sucks.

I was chatting with my mother and grandmother this afternoon, and as seems to inevitably happen these days, our conversation turned to various tragedies of which we had recently become aware.  A failed suicide attempt leaving a young man in a persistent vegetative state, relatively young women overdosing and dying, etc . . .  Somewhere along the way, my mother mentioned gang violence and wondered aloud how to address it.

I don't wonder at all.  I have written at length about fatherhood, and true fatherhood is the cure to that disease.  Between that and reading J. Thorp's latest blog entry I began speculating about marriage and fatherhood and all varieties of things associated with it.  As I did so, I was reminded of just how grateful I am that my parents have been faithful to one another and to their marriage.



It would be a lie to say they did not fight, that all things were always good, and that they lived their marriage perfectly.  I remember very tense times in our household.  Though I didn't really know why, I knew things were bad.  One thing that never occurred to me, however, was that my parents might divorce.  That was never an idea that I entertained.  I had no idea what a firm foundastion that created for me until I started meeting people whose lives had been so severely shaken by the divorce of their own parents.

I knew a girl for a while who often spoke about her boyfriend and how she really loved him and wanted to marry him.  The one thing that prevented her from making that commitment, however, was the divorce of her parents.  She did not think that she could enter into a lasting marriage, and she was terrified to hurt her own children in the way that her parents had hurt her.

Even as I write this, I realize that there are lots of people in terrible marriages and that things are falling apart.  This isn't a blog post about them and their marriages.  It is about the fact that regardless of how bad it is and how much better things may be after divorce, there are going to be casualties.  By the grace of God and sometimes the pure tenacity of my parents, I am not one of them - a fact for which I am supremely grateful.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shades of Aeolus


Aeolus, according to the ancient Greeks, was the Father of the Winds.  Legend has it that he gifted Odysseus with a favorable wind and a bag in which he had confined all of the ill winds.  I get the impression that as that famous Greek mariner did on his sojourn home, so he has done once again.  The ill winds seem to have escaped.

These winds have been blowing both literally and figuratively.  A low pressure system covered all of South Dakota and much of the Midwest - I heard on the radio that this sort of pressure system causes hurricanes on the Gulf of Mexico.  We just don't  have the warm water to create the full storm.  Trees fell in Rapid City.  A newly constructed wall fell where the Central School addition is happening.  And, I was able to shoot only one bird, which is perhaps the greatest tragedy of all.

Ill winds have blown a lot of truly difficult cases my way as well.  It is in part, because of these, that I haven't written sooner.  They have been consuming my emotional and spiritual energy, and I can't say a lot about them.  Suffice it to say that poverty, violence, drugs, alternative lifestyles, a deplorable health care system, and addiction have all taken their toll on me. 

As I write, however, it seems that Aeolus has managed to capture the northwest wind and put it back in Odysseus's sack.  I pray it stays put for a while.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Things You See at the Nursing Home

The Cathedral Parish is responsible for Masses at eight local assisted living facilities/nursing homes.  Of the eight, I have primary care for four of them.  I go every Thursday for Mass.  Today I was at Westhills Village.

Nursing home Masses are notoriously chaotic.  it is not uncommon for the facility to bring everyone to Mass, protestant and Catholic alike, who isn't doing something else.  One of the priests here loves to tell the story of having to stop Mass and rescue a woman who was being choked by another resident who decided to steal her oxygen tank.  People with dementia say a whole variety of hysterical things that are hard not to laugh at while attempting to pray.

The people at Westhills Village are relatively healthy, and most get around quite well.  There is, however, one gentleman who is not very mobile, and he is deaf as a post.  Celebrating Mass with him around is something of a comedy show.  I begin Mass as usual and he shouts, "Who is this priest?"  I proclaim the Gospel, and he shouts, "Speak up!"  I speak up, and he shouts, "Speak up!"  I get to my homily, and I am nearly shouting and he responds, "Speak up!"  By the time I reach the general intercessions, I am hoarse from trying my make him hear me.

All of this would probably really annoy me except for one thing.  After communion, as I purify the sacred vessels, the deaf man begins his own prayers, and because he can't hear, he doesn't know that he prays them audibly.  They are clearly memorized; he has prayed them for a long time.  But he prays them with incredible devotion.  Most of the time, I stop and simply pray with him in silence as he prays aloud.  Here is a man who appreciates the Eucharist. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And That's How I Became a Dinosaur



I left the Cathedral Rectory last night and headed toward the ranch to begin my day off a few hours earlier than usual.  My youngest brother and his wife and kids are home for a few days, and I wanted to have plenty of time to spend with them.  Everyone was in bed when I arrived, so the boys didn't know that I had come.


It should be noted that I have, since childhood, been a notorious snorer.  My mother accuses me of inhaling small mammals in my sleep, and of pulling the curtains from the windows.  I can't say that I have ever noticed this quality within myself, but it is telling that I am never required to share a room when I travel with others.


Last night, after a couple of hours of television, I shut off the lights and fell asleep on the couch.  This morning, I awoke to Hope telling my parents that when she went to get the boys up, they were awake but terrified to leave their room.  I don't suppose I would have left my room either if I thought that there was a dinosaur in the living room.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What's in a Pheasant?

Exodus 16

From my experience, in a pheasant, one finds all of the entrails common to birds, a great deal of millet, sunflower seeds, or corn, and, at least the ones that I have seen, a small quantity of lead shot.

Saturday marked my debut as a pheasant hunter.  This event ran concurrently with the opening day of pheasant season in South Dakota.  Along with two fathers and their sons, I traveled east toward Presho, and arrived in prime pheasant country just before noon when shooting could legally begin.  By the end of the day, five guns had brought down fourteen birds, one shy of our daily limit.  Of the fourteen, I was responsible for two.

In early middle school, I attended a hunter safety course, and that fall acquired my first hunting license.  I drove my father nearly mad asking him to accompany me as I searched for a deer.  It was the youth season, so I was allowed to shoot only does.  Dad required that I shoot his old lever action rifle with open sights.  It was a rite of passage, I guess.  Near the end of the youth season, I finally shot a deer.  It was very young, and my shot was poor.  I hit it in the spine, and Dad and I had to rush the couple hundred yards to it to finish the kill up close.  The ugliness of that kill more or less eliminated any desire that I had to hunt thereafter.  Moreover, I have always been a bit of a softy when it comes to animals, and I just didn't enjoy taking life.  Once, after the deer incident, I shot a skunk that had been wandering a bit close to the house.  I was sick about having done so for days afterward.

 Time, an education in philosophy, and too many near misses with wildlife on the South Dakota roadways have made me callous, I guess.  When I shot on Saturday, I felt no compunction.  It was a beautiful day, and as its end was drawing near, my only concern was that I would not be the only hunter in the vehicle to finish the day without a bird of my own.  In that regard, as I have already noted, I was not disappointed.  Two of the roosters pictured above met their demise at my hand.

Killing is inherent to hunting.  Yet, I find that hunting has little to do with killing.  Let those who suffer a perverted blood lust find satisfaction in the hillbilly brawls called "ultimate fighting."  True, some men are boors who approach hunting of all sorts as an opportunity to kill whatever wanders the earth.  These men are weak, violent, and cowardly.  It is not them of whom I speak.   

There are, instead, men who know hunting to have the power to speak to loftier ideals.  Hunting, they have learned, speaks to men being men together.  It speaks to fathers initiating their sons, of boys becoming men as the elders bestow on the younger news roles as custodians of wisdom and tradition.  It speaks to people remembering that they live only because of the bounty of the earth that God has given them for sustenance.  It speaks to the truth that God never intended the pinnacle of his creation to live his life in an office in front of a computer screen.  It speaks to virtue - to pride, honesty, integrity, patience, perseverance, and endurance.  In a word, in hunting, one finds the first steps toward a remedy for many of the ills that plague men these days. 

A few pheasants doesn't seem bad price to pay for that.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Advice From St. Norbert

I have frequently commented that one of my favorite things to do as a priest is to hear confessions.  This love does not arise out of some sort of prurient interest, but because it has been a powerful sacrament in my own spiritual life, and I love the opportunity to be a part of seeing God at work in such incredible ways in the lives of others.

Hearing confessions is deeply humbling.  How is it that I forgive the sins of those who are far less sinful and far more contrite than myself.  That is one of the great mysteries of Holy Orders.  The most humbling confessions, however, are those of priests.  More than that, I cannot really say, but I am reminded once again how much we need your prayers.  St. Norbert summarized well the situation in which we priests find ourselves.  "Beware, O Priest, lest what was said of Jesus on the Cross should also be said of you. 'He saved others but he cannot save himself.'"

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why I should be Busy

I am a big fan of video games.  From the time my parents introduced the first Nintendo into our home when I was a child until now, I have enjoyed playing electronic games.  Though I no longer possess a game system of my own (the reasons for which will become apparent in a moment), there is a vast array of games to be played on the internet.  I first discovered this in college, and I have been hooked ever since.

Of late, I find that I have a lot of work to get done.  Most of it involves sitting at my desk making telephone calls asking people for money.  There are benefits to this.  I speak to people I would not otherwise meet, I learn about things going on in their lives that the parish would not otherwise know, and I have the opportunity to minister to people who didn't know they were in need of ministry.  Regardless of these things, making phone calls to ask for money is not something I enjoy.

I also need to train several people to be altar servers.  That part is fine.  But I need to call or email and find a time when they can all do it.  I have been planning a prayer group for high school boys which I am almost ready to initiate.  I just need to sit down and write my plan and advertise it.  I should also spend some time promoting a variety of events that will be happening in the diocese in the next few months.  To do this effectively, I need to make personal phone calls to people.

My desk is a mess, as is the top of my dresser.  There are some errands I should run.  There are some old friends that I should call. 

There are a hundred things that I should be doing, and because there are a hundred things, I don't even want to begin.  So, instead, I decide to play a game until the mood to get my works done comes upon me.

I'll let you know how that works out.

For clarification, I have also been gone, first to Caritas last week, and then to Clergy Days this week, which has prevented me from posting much.  In the interim, I have also been in the midst of one appointment after another, as well as preparing lessons for religious ed and RCIA.  I don't spent the whole day playing computer games . . .

Friday, October 1, 2010

Newsweek is a Dirty Liberal Rag

It seems to me that American Society is finally acknowledging that something about the nature and quality of masculinity as demonstrated in the lives of American men has gone deeply awry.  While this is a topic that has been on my own heart for some time now (I have written about it on this blog repeatedly), I tend to think that Newsweek is probably the publication least well equipped to deal with the question.  A publication that almost weekly derides traditional religious values and relishes every event that tarnishes the reputations of those who subscribe to any traditional religious practice (except Liberal Protestantism, which is hardly even a religion anymore, and Liberal Judaism, which resembles real Judaism only slightly) can hardly be expected to offer a sustainable, realistic, and most importantly, true vision of what shape masculinity ought to take.  

Newsweek, with its recent cover story on the topic, can take a flying leap.  Until Newsweek is prepared to admit that almost every social ill facing this nation can be traced to a failure of men to be men and fathers to be fathers, every move to address questions of masculinity will be necessarily impoverished and often dangerously wrong.  Until such time that Newsweek acknowledges that abortion, gay marriage, liberalized attitudes toward sex, and the glorification of the masculinization of women while simultaneously downplaying traditional femininity only exacerbate this problem, they will remain a part of the problem with nothing to offer as regards arriving at a solution.

Until that time, I suggest the following alternatives:


As St. Joseph's Covenant Keepers, we are not just concerned with our own families. We will also strive for a Christlike concern for the spiritual and material welfare of other families in our community, in our parish, and in other localities throughout the world.

These eight commitments are not easy to follow, just as following Christ in any area of life takes one down a narrow road. The broad way appears easy. In reality, it only serves to lure the unsuspecting down the path of heartache and overwhelming hardship. Watered-down attempts to prop up contemporary family life are doomed in the face of modern pressures against marriage and the family. The solution to the family needs of our day begins with a call to husbands and fathers to follow the high calling of Christian fatherhood.

The Art of Manliness: Reviving the lost art of manliness 

Includes blog posts, a podcast, and tips about everything from family and relationships to personal grooming.  This is not a Christian site, but it is a helpful one.


The author of Wild at Heart runs this site.  It also has blog posts, a podcast, and a wide variety of other helpful resources for men and fathers.  Though not Catholic, this man should be. 


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Abandonment



About a week ago I had the opportunity to address a number of young mothers about the vocation to motherhood.  Among other things, I described the beauty and holiness of living their lives sacrificing for the good of their children, recognizing that the future in which they invest so much is a future over which they have no control.

It occurred to me yesterday, after a conversation with a pregnant mother that this phenomenon is most especially pronounced during pregnancy itself.  A woman is given a life to protect, and yet, even though she might do all of the right things, she has little control over the outcome of the pregnancy.  There is nothing she can do to ensure that she will carry the baby to term, and that it will be born healthy.  She must simply abandon the pregnancy and the baby entrusted to her to God's care.

As a result of this, the mother must hand over her entire pregnancy to God, and adopt a deep trust in his goodness, love, and providence.  There is something we can all learn from this fact.  We are all called to live, as it were, like pregnant women, trusting in God and hoping in his goodness.  

This is just one more thing that we all learn from our mothers.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Life That Mattered

Charles de Foucauld, a failure by any worldly standard, died faithful to that to which he had been called.
"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do." Luke 17:10

It was my great pleasure to celebrate the Sunday Masses in Ft. Pierre over the weekend.  I have been there several times previously as a priest, and I was there on a number of occasions as a seminarians.  Over the course of these visits, I have come to know a particular couple relatively well.  Like a feral cat that is tamed by the regular ministrations of a kindly old woman, these two have wooed me into a quiet comfort in their presence.  I had not expected this, as they have some rather vehement convictions which they are ready to share with whomever is around to listen.  I don't necessarily disagree with their convictions, but I am sometimes intimidated by the fervor with which they hold them.  Regardless, as I say, I have grown rather fond of them.

On Saturday evening, I was invited to join them for dinner.  While in their home, they told me that the husband is suffering from pancreatic cancer.  It is terminal, though it remains unclear exactly how long he will abide in this earthly dwelling among the Church Militant.  As we talked, he spent a great deal of time thinking aloud about how God would choose to use him in these final days or weeks or months.  That conversations drew me into reflection about our desire to lead meaningful lives.

All of us, I think, want our lives to be important.  All of us want to die believing that we did something significant, and that the world is better because we were in it.  It is not uncommon, as I talk with the elderly and the lonely, that they spend a great deal of time talking about who they once were and what they used to do.  I am often saddened as I leave to realize that the duration of the conversation has been an exercise in finding significance.  "Was I important?" they all seem to ask.

There are lots of ways to answer this question.  From the worldly view, most of us are relatively inconsequential.  Few of us will be elected to office.  Few of us will be famous, and few of us will have someone who visits our grave more than two or three generations from now.  To desire to be important in this way is decidedly contrary to a Christian outlook on life.  It is for this reason that it is essential that we approach life asking ,"What is God asking me to do?"

A priest at St. Paul Seminary preached powerfully one day as the year was nearing its end and as seminarians were undergoing annual evaluations.  He commented that while all of us are naturally inclined to worry that we might be asked to leave formation, it would be worth while to remember that our goal is to accomplish that which God has called us to.  He pointedly asked, "What if God has brought you to the seminary only because your presence here was essential in preparing the man next to you to become a priest?  What if, having accomplished the missions for which he called you here, he permits that you would be asked to leave?  Should this be the case, who are you to complain?"

This is where the question of the significance of my life can really take on new meaning, because it suggests that as long as I have done what God has called me to do, I have lived a worthwhile life  My life has been important.  I have left the world different and better.  And I may never, in this life, know how.

In the end, we must all come to recognize that I serve God not mostly because of what I get out of it, but because he is God and I am not, and as a result of this fact, I owe him my humble obedience.  The paradox of it is that I find, in doing what I am asked only because I am asked to do so, that I am rewarded with peace and joy.  From these, perhaps we will arrive at the conclusion that while we may have only been unprofitable servants, doing only what we were obliged to do, we have merited the most significant kind of life - an eternal one spent in the loving embrace of the master. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wishy-Washy Thoughts on Tarantino

"Kill Bill -- Vol. 1" (Miramax), opens with the old proverb, "Revenge is a dish best served cold." After sitting through the flick's 90 minutes of unabated carnage, one would agree a more fitting maxim would have read, "This movie is a dish best not served."

So write the cinema reviewers for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.  To a great extent, I guess I agree with them.  The films of Quentin Tarantino are filled with gratuitous violence, crude language, and other very graphic imagery from time to time.  These are certainly not films for children, nor, perhaps, as the USCCB reviews suggest, for anyone else.  I think that those who write these reviews, however, sometimes miss the forest for the trees.

Both volumes of "Kill Bill" are graphically violent (decapitations, rape, blood-spurting limbs, etc . . .).  Some people watch the films because they find such violence entertaining.  Perhaps Tarantino himself finds such violence entertaining.  Nevertheless, to entirely dismiss the films as so much trash because of the violence is to overlook a deeply important allegory.  The film critics write in their review of the second volume, "Catholic viewers should not be blinded to the fact that, despite its hip veneer, the film's underlying theme of revenge is incompatible with the Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness."  I think they are dead wrong.  These two films, viewed as a whole, are demonstrative of what happens to the soul of a person who fails to forgive.  The main character of the films, in a desire for revenge, is willing to destroy almost anything that stands in her way.  The desire for revenge has so blinded her that she seems unable to see what she is destroying around her as she hacks, chops, and shoots her way toward her goal.  Yet, how often have each of us, in a desire for revenge, done similar things?  How often have we done serious damage to our relationships with others just to get one up on an opponent?  How often have we trampled the dignity of another to gain an advantage over another person?  It seems to me that Tarantino's violence gives a visual representation of what happens to us and to others when we refuse to forgive.  Don't get my wrong; Tarantino's "Kill Bill" films are sickeningly bloody.  Nevertheless, I suggest that we need to have a look at what our unwillingness to forgive does in our lives and the lives of others.  The result of our own spiritual violence is perhaps less visibly horrifying, but no less destructive, and no less sinful.

I am not sure that we should watch "Kill Bill."  As with St. Ignatius when he read his books about heroes and victories in war, these films left me feeling unsettled.  Likewise, they also made me a little more sensitive to people who confess a refusal to forgive.  Tarantino captures with incredibly graphic imagery, what I cannot accomplish with words alone.  Tarantino's films explore the utter ugliness of sin and the complete emptiness one experiences when one finally attains one's vengeance.  The reviewers of "Kill Bill" are wrong.  The films' treatment of revenge and the true consequences thereof are deeply consonant with the "Christian understanding of justice and forgiveness."

I am not saying that everyone should rush out and rent these films.  I am saying, though, that  when one decides to avoid "Kill Bill," one should do so because the graphic nature of the violence can be very disturbing.  One should be careful to conclude, however, that the films teach no Christian moral.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Spiritual Warts


Stay sober and alert.  Your opponent, the Devil, is prowling like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, solid in your faith. 1 Peter 5:8-9

The Evil One's ways are insidious and terrifyingly subtle.  After weeks of wreaking havoc in my life, I only finally caught him at it today.

If my mother is to be trusted (and I think she is), it has not been unnoticed that I have been uncharacteristically quiet on this blog.  She threatened to stop reading if I didn't start writing more often.  She was right; I have been lax about keeping this place up-to-date.  Unfortunately, the discipline of writing about which I spoke when I first undertook this project, for some time, has been a burden more than a source of insight and consolation.  I have found it difficult to find anything of substance to inspire me to lay pen to paper (or finger to keyboard, as the case may be).  This malaise, however, was not characteristic of the blog alone.  I could feel it creeping through most of the facets of my life.  Bedtime became later and later, and getting up time responded accordingly.  I often couldn't think of anything nice to say, and still felt it necessary to say something anyway.  Temptations to a whole variety of sins were constant, and my constitution weak.  Something was clearly amiss, but I hadn't really figured out what it was.  "Keep your boundaries, seek balance in life, and find someone to talk to," I advised myself.*

 It is said that to remove a wart, one must draw out the core.  Treatments that don't do this will work for a while, but the wart will eventually return.  So it is with a spiritual problem.  Treatments that address only the surface will likely not be lasting.  So it has been with me.  Finally, today, it became clear what was happening and I feel like I can address the issue head on.

It began this way.  After a very stressful meeting with a variety of people at the school, I was taken aside by a priest whose opinion matters a great deal to me.  Among other things, he suggested that my personality was often off-putting to people, that I was intimidating to many, that I was disrespectful to some, and that I had perhaps irreparably damaged a number of relationships with certain people with whom I had believed myself to be making great progress.  I was initially grateful for the frankness of the conversation, but undeniably hurt.  Intellectually, I understood everything he had said and found at least some of it to be accurate.  It was in this moment, though, that the Tempter found a crack through which he could mount a powerful assault.  As I pondered this conversation, he whispered disastrous lies to me, and I bought them, hook, line, and sinker.

"The Transfiguration" - Raphael (Luke 9:28-36)

John Eldridge describes the various stages through which a man must progress and be initiated in order to truly become a man.  He also acknowledges that much of this initiation must be done by God himself, because human fathers, like all of creation, still suffer the effects of original sin.  A human father, however, plays a role in cultivating the seed bed in which God the father might plant and harvest.  Unfortunately, many fathers these days are ill equipped to do even this with much skill.  As a result, almost all men, to one degree or another, labor to know that they are good enough.  Eldridge summarizes this entire phenomenon by proposing two questions a man asks himself: 1) Do I delight my father?  2) Do I have what it takes?

It is crucial for all men to receive an affirmative answer to these questions.  Without such affirmation, a man is likely wander through life looking for any substitute that will, even for a brief moment, affirm him in his masculinity.  For many men, this substitute takes the form of a desire to control and the carrying of a facade that a man presents to the world.  This facade is often so convincing that the man believes it about himself.  Thus, for a man, one of Satan's most wicked tricks is to slip in when the facade is cracked and to create a facade of his own.  When something occurs to threaten the facade (like a frank conversation with someone), the man realizes that there is some part of himself that is not being entirely truthful.  As a result, he casts about seeking some indication and validation of who he really is.  The Accuser wastes no opportunity to suggest to the man the "truth" of who he is.  As a result, a man who believes himself to be in control, self-possessed, and a gallant warrior for some cause is easily convinced that he is a loser, a weakling, a liar and a coward who cannot control himself, and who does not have what it takes.  The second step of the Evil One's strategy is to then provide temptation to sins by which a man can affirm within himself the lies the Evil One has been telling.  These sins become the mortar that holds the new edifice together, and without some practice in seeing these evil designs, a man will eventually have allowed Satan to establish a fortress within his soul.  I had such a fortress once.  Satan longs to reestablish it.  Over the past few weeks, I allowed him to begin building.
 
"St. Michael the Archangel" - Tadolini

So today, it finally occurred to me that I had allowed myself to be convinced that I was not beloved, and that I did not have what it takes.  I had entered into a pattern of sinfulness that reaffirmed these beliefs.  These things all came together on I90 between New Underwood and Rapid City as I returned from the ranch.  Instead of going right to the Cathedral, I drove out to Piedmont, found Fr. Ray Diesch, and made a good confession.  Tonight I prayed better than I have prayed in a long time.  I feel fresh, alive, and happy.  I am the beloved of my father.  I do have what it takes. 

St. Michael the Archangel, pray for me.

* I am currently without a Spiritual Director, and have been for some time, as Fr. Kroll who previously directed me has moved on to bigger and better things.  This is a very bad situation for a priest to find himself in.  I am without only because I have been consistently reassured by the Chancery that "the Bishop is working on bringing someone in to replace Fr. Kroll.  Just be patient."  The last few weeks of his tenure here were understandably hectic and certain things were to inevitably fall through the cracks.  It appears that Fr. Kroll's replacement is one of them.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

A lady on the local news this evening remarked that Labor Day is a family day.


I decided to take some time off starting on Friday.  That day I spent mostly in bed catching up on sleep and resting.  I joined my father for lunch and a trip to Menards where he needed to purchase wood pellets for the stove at home on the ranch.  I went to a high school soccer game that evening, and then went to spend the night with my next younger brother in Custer.*  The next morning, we left (relatively) early for a day of fishing, between the two of us, we caught enough trout and perch to feed the family. but we threw them all back.  One needn't eat too many fish in a summer.


After collecting an ice cream cake with an image of the Grim Reaper to celebrate Mom's birthday, we met the rest of the family at the ranch.  My sister-in-law had gone to Wasta to collect wild plums.  Sunday afternoon was spent turing them into jelly.  My grandmother came out from Sturgis to join the fun.  All in all, in there were five adults, two kids, two cats, and two dogs in the house as well as a guest living in the unheated, unlit small shed with a bed we refer to as the granny shack.**


As always, time with my brothers and nephews (and a niece in utero) reminds me that, though I love them all, there are many benefits to celibacy.  Among them is the experience of silence.  In truth, I was not entirely disappointed when, shortly after lunch today, the grandkids, the grandma, and my brother and sister-in-law headed back to town.  They had things to finish before returning to work and school tomorrow.


I, on the other hand, will be remaining one more day.  On Wednesday, I will return to the real world, and will hit the ground running.  Middle School formation begins that evening.  It won't be long before I begin wondering if it isn't time to take a vacation again.  Luckily, the ranch is close to Rapid City and I can come here often.


I have never given much consideration to labor day or its meaning.  Most often it has been just one more day when I have to work while the rest of the country rests.  Perhaps the lady interviewed for the news is correct, though.  For us, this year anyway, Labor Day was a day for family.


* All of this very nearly came to nought when Fr, Mike's plane was delayed on the way back from Spokane.  It appeared that i would have to take a wedding for him as well as several other things.  It was a blessed surprise when he called me Friday night to tell me that he was taxiing to the gate in Rapid City.


** The granny shack is so named because my parents have mutually threatened, since the building's creation, to require their respective mothers-in-law to live in the shack whenever visiting the ranch.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Happy 50th


Todays marks the 50th anniversary of my mother's birth.  With all due respect, fifty years seems like a very long time, a full half century, in fact.  In her lifetime, deeply important events have happened: Vietnam, the Cuban Missal Crisis, the Kennedy Assassinations, the fall of Communism, the election of JPII, Watergate, the Challenger, NAFTA, the map of the human genome, etc . . .  There is a surreal quality in recognizing that so many of these events, significant to me only as historical occurrences, were taking place as she learned to walk, to talk, to ride a bicycle, as she began school, as she met my father, and as she became my mother.  There is a way, I suppose, in which all of us sort of assume that the world revolves around us.  As a result, as I write this, I am sort of struck by the fact that even though she has spent the better part of her life as my mother, she had a life before.  I have a hard time trying to see her as anything other than Mom.

On this occasion, there is a great deal that I wish I could write, but somehow none of the words seem proper.  I wish there were a funny story or even a serious one that would make the point.  Such a story won't come to mind.  Perhaps on another day when there are fewer grandchildren and fewer dogs in the house, I will be able to revisit this topic.  For now, however, Happy Birthday, Mom.  I love you.