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.