Category Archives: Daily Life

Valediction

A “valediction” is defined as an act of saying “farewell”. Last night my daughter gave the Valedictory address at her 8th grade graduation.

It was definitely a farewell for her. She was saying goodbye to friends, teachers, and priest, many of whom she had known since the age of four. She reminisced about all those little memories that make life so special – the jokes, the laughter, the anxieties – and it all seemed so foreign to me, her own father. I realized as she spoke and her friends laughed, that although I was with her every evening for those 10 years, asking about her day, providing advice, sharing with her our own tears and laughter, that she had all along been building and living her own life there, a life I could only possibly know from the outside.

It was a sobering thought, that my little girl, who only a few short weeks ago had received the Sacrament of Confirmation, was her own person and had been this whole time. When she was an infant, we controlled when and what she ate, what she wore, and even whether or not she would giggle. It is so easy to see a child as an extension of you, as a creation of you, but the reality is that she is an ongoing creation of God. I am at best a facilitator of His creation, trying to help provide the best possible environment for this creation of His that my daughter herself is the number one cooperator in.

I love her so much that I want to be a part of every little joy, every little setback. But I can’t, and I shouldn’t be. I have to give her my own little Valediction, my own farewell to that childhood that I was so deeply a part of. I have to embrace a new role as she marches off to high school, to more little memories I will never even know about. It is a special role, to be sure, a privileged role, and I am deeply honored and moved to be so entrusted.

Good-bye my sweet baby girl. Hello beautiful young woman, assisting in God’s creation. I am more proud of you than you will ever ever know.

16 Ways To Be a Radical Catholic Family, Because Pope Francis Wants us to be an Apostolic Nuisance!

Today in his Thursday Mass homily, Pope Francis called on each and every one of us to make ourselves a nuisance. To be annoying Catholics!
No, I am not kidding. He was talking about St. Paul:

“Paul is a nuisance: he is a man who, with his preaching, his work, his attitude irritates others, because testifying to Jesus Christ and the proclamation of Jesus Christ makes us uncomfortable, it threatens our comfort zones – even Christian comfort zones, right? It irritates us.”

But our pews today are not full of St. Pauls. They are full of St. “Bland”s who annoy no one:

“There are backseat Christians, right? Those who are well mannered, who do everything well, but are unable to bring people to the Church through proclamation and Apostolic zeal.”

Our Holy Father is praying for something else, something far grander for us:

“So let us ask the Holy Spirit for this grace of Apostolic zeal, let’s be Christians with apostolic zeal. And if we annoy people, blessed be the Lord. Onwards, as the Lord says to Paul, ‘take courage!'”

So how can we as Catholic families, become “nuisances” like St. Paul? I am far from where I need to be, but here are sixteen ideas to get us on the path:

1. Be annoying to your kids and get the smut out of your home. Cancel cable TV or satellite TV or whatever you have. Get all TVs out of bedrooms, leaving only one TV in a family area. Police movie rentals and keep away anything with negative morals. Now go tell everybody at work.

2. Let your faith show in public. Wear prolife tshirts, crucifixes outside your clothes, crucifix rings. Put Catholic bumper stickers on your car. Hang a crucifix in your cubicle.

3. Write letters to the editor defending religious freedom or prolife values.

4. Say grace before meals at restaurants just as loudly as you do at home.

5. If someone is telling you about their divorce, be sensitive to them, but don’t pretend as if it is a good thing. Show sadness and ask if there is anything you can do to help them get back together. (Three times this has resulted in us being asked to help them, and divorces have been averted.)

6. If you have a big family, take it places and let people see the joy that choosing life brings.

7. If someone asks you to donate to a charity that funds abortion, population control or other immoral causes, refuse and tell them why.

8. Learn your faith so that you can share and defend it under any circumstances.

9. Be the person at work who always has something nice to say, always a good deed to do, and never complains about his work.

10. When people ask you how you succeed (at anything) give the credit to God.

11. Make regular use of the sign of the cross, no matter where you are.

12. Say “God bless you” not only when people sneeze but even as a way of saying goodbye.

13. If someone shares a misfortune with you, don’t just say “I’m sorry”. And definitely don’t say “I’ll be thinking off you”. Tell them you will keep them in your prayers. Better yet, tell them you’ll add them to your nightly prayers.

14. Be the person at work around whom people aren’t comfortable using 4-letter-words. Show them you don’t like their dirty jokes.

15. If someone trash-talks the Church, stand up for her. If someone blasphemes the Lord, defend him.

16. Love your spouse, and let everybody know it.

I know, simple stuff, and stuff that won’t make us popular. But if we want to be saints, we have to get started! Because some people will look at all this and go, “Huh? What’s motivating him, anyway?”

A Lenten Penance for Anger

One good piece of advice I have received regarding lenten penances (“giving something up”) is to construct your penance around your most troublesome fault. For instance, I have a problem with gluttony. Put a box of gluten-free (a sad necessity for me) cookies in front of me, and I won’t realize how much I have eaten until the box is gone. To try to help control that, I have given up cookies, cakes and candies for Lent.

A person I know wants to get a better handle on his anger. He feels he is sometimes unjust because of his strong emotional reactions. His idea was to keep a journal and note each person he gets angry with. He then writes down either something to admire and appreciate about that person, something he can do for them, or a prayer for them.

I thought that was a nice and creative approach for Lent that very neatly encompasses the true purpose of the liturgical season. If you have some equally creative practices, I would love to hear about them.

One of the Good Guys

I am taking a musical theater class with my daughter. (I find that participating in my kids’ activities – as coach, helper, or fellow student – brings us closer in a way that’s hard to get otherwise.) My daughter’s vocal teacher, who is leading the class, picked out a song for me: One of the Good Guys from the music revue Closer Than Ever. It is a remarkable song about temptation, mid-life crisis, and the truth about marriage.

Temptation

The song is sung by a self-professed good guy, who dotes on his wife and kids. It quickly becomes a confessional:

But there was a night in Hawaii
On a business trip,
That my mind has suffused with a mystic glow.
She was someone’s friend, and she had this smile…

They become close, but in the end he resists the temptation to cheat on his wife. (Though he should never have been on that beach in the first place!)  And in his reflection it gets interesting:

…one of the good guys
Who trades a flash of heat
To build a warmer fire;
Denies himself a treat
To shoot for something higher
And that’s the part that’s sweet
That only the good guys know.

What is the “something higher”? Of course it is marriage, but it isn’t just any marriage. There are plenty of loveless and miserable marriages out there. It is a marriage that has realized something important. A marriage in which self-sacrifice is recognized as the highest virtue. A marriage built according to this guideline:


Husbands,love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.”

Ephesians 5: 25-31

This is a call to self-sacrifice, a call to the husband to give over his very life for his wife, just as Christ gave up his, a concept out of fashion in our no-fault divorce world. This sort of self-sacrifice, however, which is the definitive sign of real love, is what we were built for, what we are called to, and when we reach it, we have reached something higher. We have reached something holy.

I can honestly say, after twenty years of marriage in which we have seen our share of pain and in which we have failed to love more than I would care to admit, that what you get to after those 20 years of perseverance really is something higher, something transcendent. We have, even in a very imperfect way, attempted to imitate Christ’s love, and even imperfectly it is something wonderful.

But that’s not the end. There is more to the story.

Mid-Life

Fast forward and the singer is now 44 with everything laid out in his life as perfectly as he could ask. But…

Sometimes at night, in the stillness,
Lying wide awake
As the wife I still desire sleeps by my side,
I can feel the wash of the perfumed air
As my mind is drowning in billowing hair…

He is tormented by thoughts of what might have been, of what he gave up, and of the possibility that even now he could seize those fantasies and make them real.

Of course, he doesn’t. After all, he’s one of the good guys. And then he passes on the key piece of wisdom from the song:

It’s not which road you take,
Which life you pick to live in,
Whichever choice you make,
The longing is a given.
And that’s what brings the ache
That only the good guys know.

He has come to realize that no matter how happy you are, no matter which spouse or career or life you choose, you will feel the regret, the questions, the uncertainty, and the temptations. It is just a normal part of life. These things we find ourselves desiring – and the people – are mirages. Worse, they are lies. They promise something they can never give, which is completion. Total happiness.

But why? Why are we built that way? Why can’t we achieve that happiness we desire? St. Augustine understood:

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

We have an emptiness inside us that only God can fill and that will not be filled in this life. We try to fill that need with pleasure; with sex or alcohol or excitement or food or other indulgences. We try to fill it with our spouse. But it is never enough. We always come back to that empty feeling.

Even our marriage cannot fill that God-sized hole, and if we persist in believing that it should, we may be tempted to throw it away and start over. But if we come to understand what marriage is and what its relation to God is, then we can feel that transcendence that I talked about earlier, even while tormented by the longing that never goes away.

And what is this understanding of marriage? Marriage is no less than a relationship, designed by God, to reflect both Christ’s love for his Church and the Father’s love for the son. It aspires to be the perfect and selfless love that is Christ’s love. Paradoxically, the only way to achieve total happiness is through a total outpouring of oneself for another, for in doing that, we begin fulfill our purpose, which is to be an image of God. Likewise, our marriage an family begins to fulfill its purpose, which is to be an image of the Holy Trinity, that most fundamentl and perfect of all relationships.

And that truly is the part that’s sweet, that only the good guys know.

Lost In The Fog

The fog was amazingly thick this morning on the way to work. So thick that my headlights could penetrate 30 feet at most. So thick that streetlights and oncoming cars were invisible if more than 100 yards away.

There were moments where I felt that the entire universe had been reduced to me, my car, and a thirty foot sphere of existence. I was alone in the universe, an eerie and frightening feeling that was somehow exhilarating at the same time.

It is easy to live that way, in such a fog that all I can see is my own existence. Especially (and unfortunately) as a husband and father, it is easy to ensconce myself in my own little world of responsibilities and worries. People, even loved ones, can become objects, providers of my inputs and receivers of my outputs. When they have needs (or I have needs of them), they enter my little sphere of light. When I have met their needs or they have met mine, they depart, and it is as if they are no more.

If I shine, however, with Christ’s light, the fog is dispersed, and I can truly begin to see and love those around me as they really are. No longer do I love someone for what they can do for me or how they make me feel. I love them for one simple fact: that they are images of God.

But I have to keep my guard up. That fog keeps trying to roll in.

Sitting on the Lap of the Father

This morning, in the pre-dawn, as I prepared to go to work, I found my 4-year-old tugging at my pant leg. They had the day off school, so the rest of the kids were still asleep. Mom was downstairs studying.

“What do you need?” I asked.

No answer.

“Did you have a nightmare? Do you need a drink of water?”

He just should his head and mumbled sleepily.

I paused for a moment. I needed to go to work. I considered ushering him back to bed and getting on with the task at hand.

“Do you need to sit on my lap?”

He nodded silently. I sat and gathered him up and onto my lap. We just sat
silently. I held him and enjoyed his presence, happy that I had grasped the opportunity that I so nearly let slip through my fingers. It is so easy to do that as a parent. “Go back to bed.” “Go watch some TV.” “Go outside and play.” “Go leave me alone.”

Our Father in Heaven never says “Go”. He always says “Come”.

“Come sit on my lap.”

Sometimes I need to sit on the lap of the father. I need to enjoy His presence, without asking for anything or complaining about anything.

Baptisms and a Bad Attitude

At Mass this past Sunday there were two baptisms, an unusual occurrence. There were a few good-natured (and not-so-good-natured) groans and sighs as people anticipated Mass running twenty minutes longer. One fellow, however, who entered with his young grand-daughter, was a little more emotional.

“My G_d, this is not what I come to Mass for! Baptisms!”

He was steamed, and those of us around him were more than uncomfortable. I guess his indignation built during the readings, because he left during the homily and did not return.

My initial reaction was to criticize. After all, if all I do on Sunday is make it to Mass, then I have had a successful day. But something else occurred to me. I saw myself in his “righteous indignation”.

How many times have I become impatient when the actions of others threatened to disrupt my carefully planned day?

How many times have I become indignant when people did things to inconvenience me or were inconsiderate of my feelings?

How many times have I walked out of a store or restaurant with an attitude of “they don’t deserve my business if they’re going to do that?”

Now, of course, we should not feel obligated to bring our business to establishments that don’t provide satisfactory service, but how much of those feelings were a result of an attitude of over-inflated self-importance?

That kind of anger, that kind of ego; those are dangerous feelings to nurture. When we cloak our egos in righteous indignation, those egos become stronger, infecting the rest of our life, and they can even raise their ugly faces during the most holy of moments.

Elizabeth Ann Seton and the Little Way

Yesterday’s Office of Readings contained a quote from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton that nicely summarizes The Little Way.

The first end I propose in our daily work is to do the will of God; secondly,to do it in the manner he wills; and thirdly,to do it because it is his will.

For those of us who are married and parents, the will of God in our life, our daily work, is simply to love our spouses and children, to live out our marital vocation, and to teach and raise our children in the faith. It is not to make a bunch of money, move into the nicest neighborhood, or raise a sports star, pop star or otherwise hyper-successful child.

What is the manner in which he wills it? We do our daily work as perfectly as we can, with a spirit of self-sacrifice. We don’t cut corners in order to make time for TV, partying, or ladder-climbing. We focus on the task at hand and are grateful for it, even if it involves mowing the lawn or cleaning up after a sick toddler.

We do it because it is God’s will. We don’t do it because it makes us feel good, though satisfaction and joy may come as a grace. We don’t do it with the expectation of gratitude from wife/husband or child. We don’t do it to impress others. Others might not be impressed. Gratitude might not be forthcoming. This daily work might include suffering such that satisfaction and worldly happiness is a rare experience. The fact that God wants it must be enough for us.

So let us today resolve to be an instrument of God’s will. We don’t have to be the next Mother Theresa or Padre Pio or John Paul II or Elizabeth Ann Seton (who, by the way, was a wife and mother). We just have to be a devoted husband, wife, father, or mother.

Elizabeth Ann Seton, pray for us!

Lessons in Spiritual Warfare from a Broken Garage Door

I spent time recently repairing my garage door. On Saturday, one of the pulley cables snapped. Simple, I thought. I purchased a new cable and made the repair. The door worked for about a day and then jammed. A hinge had broken. I repaired the hinge, but still no go. The door would not close all the way. I finally determined that a pulley had lost a bearing and would not turn.

Of course, this was not some grand coincidence or case of really bad luck. The cable, hinge, and pulley were all related. One of them, probably the pulley, had begun to fail first. This put additional stress on the other parts. The cable turned out to be the first to fail completely. The other parts quickly followed suit. In engineering, we call this a cascading failure. It is a feature of any interconnected system.

Our spiritual lives can be like that. When we neglect part of our spiritual life – for instance when we sin – we can quickly find the rest of our life falling apart in short order, and soon we wonder why we feel so empty inside. One sin predisposes us to another and then another, until sinful behavior has become a habit and we start justifying ourselves, saying that such-and-such a sin really isn’t so bad. Sin becomes a part of every aspect of our life.

Now that my garage door is working again, I notice that it is remarkably quiet. I hadn’t even realized it was getting noisy. The pulley must have been getting a little noisier every day, the noise increasing so slightly that, like the frog in the boiling water, I was oblivious to the relentless creeping change.

Again, sin is like that. It can start with such seeming innocence that we barely realize we are sinning. It might start out as too much TV watching. Then watching shows that are morally questionable, that titillate and excite. Then turning to programs not just questionable but objectionable. This is how men get sucked into pornography, bit by bit. When we open the door to sin, it can grow throughout our lives without our even realizing it. And then it comes, cascading failure.

The sin has permeated us. We drift away from our loved ones. We drift away from the faith. Our lives become chaotic. We obsess about appearance, status, money, possessions. Eventually, we don’t even know who God is.

How do we prevent this? When designing a complex system, we first design to avoid cascading failures. We choose parts less likely to fail. We design in backups. We minimize dependencies between parts. And we do preventive maintenance, to catch small failures before they have a chance to cascade. This is why the mechanic, when he changes the oil in your car, always checks the air filter.

In our spiritual life we do the same thing. We design our life to avoid the failures. We call this avoiding the near occasion of sin. In our family, we don’t subscribe to cable TV. In business I have a personal rule not to have lunch or even coffee alone with a woman, no matter how innocent.

We also do preventive maintenance. We pray the morning offering and the rosary. We do a daily examination of conscience. We read the scriptures and frequent the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and Reconciliation.

In short, we can prevent the kind of breakdown suffered by my garage door, but it takes diligence and planning.

It’s Hard to Love Your Neighbor

It’s hard to love your neighbor when he almost runs you over in the parking lot.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when she takes 20 items into the 10 items or less lane–and cuts in front of you to get there.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when she not only talks during the movie but explains to her partner exactly what is going to happen next.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when he tosses an empty beer can out of his car window.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when you have to walk through her cloud of cigarette smoke.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when he lets his dog potty in your yard and doesn’t clean it up.
It’s hard to love your neighbor when the “music” from his car drowns out the conversation in your car.

It’s hard to love your neighbor when he mocks you, spits on you, beats you, pierces your hands and feet and side, and leaves you to die in front of your weeping mother.

Well, ok. Maybe I could try harder to love my neighbor.