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You can’t find joy if you’re ignorant of the world, hiding from the troubles and the rot.
You can’t find joy hiding in your home, pretending all is right when it is not.
You can’t show joy when you’re drowning in your sorrows, making misery your spouse or your best friend.
You can’t show joy when doom is all you see, and all you are awaiting is the end.
Joy is not the reckless son, as he feeds ungrateful swine, wishing he could dine upon their waste,
And Joy is not the sullen son, as he watches through the window at his brother, but he will not join the feast.
Joy is the penitent son, in the Father’s strong embrace, with rings and robe and smile upon his face.
Joy is in the now, as we watch the crazy world asunder, and know the Father keeps us in his place.

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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.

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.

The “Mom’s Out of Town, Dad’s In Charge” Morning Checklist

1. Pants on backwards? Check.
2. Socks don’t match? Check.
3. Breakfast of cookies and chocolate bars? Check.
4. Hair brushed? Nope. That’s too hard. Besides, it’ll just get messed up again.
5. 9am field trip to Chuck E. Cheese? Check.
6. All 4 kids accounted for on departure from Chuck E. Cheese? Ummm… wait a minute…
7. 11am field trip to hardware store? Check.
8. Assistance from two-year-old in den painting project? Check. Put that down!
9. Pantry door propped open so two-year-old can get herself a snack while Dad cleans up the spilled paint? Check.
10. Lunch fed? Oops. I knew I was forgetting something.
11. Kids bribed to smile for “we’re having fun” picture to send to Mom? Check.
12. Gone running to Grandma for assistance? Check.
13. Bedtime prayer for Mom to return really soon? Check.

Back to Blogging – And Thoughts on Spending Time with Our Children

After two months away, I am finally back to the blog. All of my spare time has been taken up with, of all things, performing in a musical (South Pacific, to be specific). No, it’s not a mid-life crisis, though it did bring out the kid in me. Rather, it was an opportunity to take involvement in my eldest daughter’s life to a whole new level.

I applaud parents who support their kids and get them involved with sports or music or dance or martial arts. Such activities are crucial supplements to the education of our children, and they help to keep them away from the TV, the video game, and the shopping mall.

Better yet are those parents who take the time to watch their kids in those activities, to cheer them on, to ask them about their experiences. This kind of communication is critical in the parent/child relationship just as intimate communication is critical in the marriage. If the kids learn to communicate at a young age, they just might find it easier to say what’s on their mind during the more difficult teen years.

I found, however, that I truly hit pay dirt when I take part in my children’s activities. It becomes a shared experience that brings us together in a unique way. It helps to build trust and comradery that I don’t know any other way to create.

Of course, we can’t be active participants in everything our kids do, but here are a few examples of where some can:

1. Coach your child’s rec league team.
2. Join your child in martial arts or dance class.
3. Teach your child a hobby that you can share together, such as fishing, crafting, or gardening.
4. If you play an instrument, practice a duet.
5. Send your child to cooking class and then cook dinner together.

It is easy for a modern parent to become a taxi service. It is an extension of the “married but single” lifestyle that is prevalent today. We have to resist that tendency, as it is an often fatal sickness to families. Being a parent is not the same as being a combination bodyguard, chauffeur, and concierge. It means sharing your life with your children.

Sunday Snippets–A Catholic Carnival

This is a post for the Catholic Carnival. This week I posted a big thank you to all the mothers that influenced my life. You can find it here.

5 Things I Think I Think (week ending Feb 4)

1. I think the majority of “news” publicized by the networks and papers consists of :

  • manufactured stories designed to titillate the most vulgar of our appetites
  • political us vs. them pieces designed to influence the next election
  • scare stories designed to make us too anxious to miss the next update
  • entertainment “news” that reads like twitter updates from a soap opera

2. I think that in two weeks of not following the news, I have missed nothing. The three big stories – revolution in the Middle East, the big winter storm, and the cyclone in Australia – I absorbed through conversations with others.

3. I think that too many parents really don’t care how their kids do in school. I was at my son’s karate studio recently.  A mother who clearly hadn’t seen her son all day showed up at 6:30 to pick him up. (They run an after school care.) She glanced at a homework or test summary and said, “Wow! That’s the worst you’ve ever done!” The boy, probably a first grader, answered, “Sorry bout that”. The mother responded, “Me too” and shoved the paper, crumpling it, into his backpack. Neither of them seemed particularly “sorry bout that”, though I hope I’m wrong.

4. I think that the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is way cooler than I had realized. It is also called, though most don’t realize it (I never did) the Feast of the Purification of Mary.  This link about the Presentation of the Lord is interesting reading. Makes me wish it were a Holy Day of Obligation.

5. I think I still don’t miss cable TV. In fact, I think I am still happy about it!

Advent – On Getting Those Decorations Up Early

We often complain about the commercialization of Christmas, and note with disgust how Christmas displays start taking over store floor space in mid-October. (I remember as a kid when they started going up before Thanksgiving – everyone complained then, too.) And I am in whole hearted agreement that corporate America’s concept of Christmas is, for the most part, sickening.
Some individuals of very strong faith take the issue to the other extreme. They put up no decorations until shortly before Christmas. Even until Christmas day. As a husband and father, I am not too keen on that approach, either, and not because I enjoy trees, tinsel, and exorbitant electric bills.
No, I like to decorate early – as early as the day after Thanksgiving – for spiritual reasons too. And this comes from how I view Christmas.
Christmas is, of course, the commemoration of the birth of Our Lord and Savior. It memorializes His first coming. But it is more than that. Read the Mass readings for the last few weeks. We have been reading from the Book of Revelations. We have been reading eschatological passages from Thessalonians and Matthew. We have been reading about His Second Coming.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops describes Advent as “a time of preparation that directs our hearts and minds to Christ’s second coming at the end of time and also to the anniversary of the Lord’s birth on Christmas.”

So we are not just memorializing, we are preparing. We are preparing for Christ to come again. And we WANT Him to come again – preferably without the earthquakes and antichrist. We are excited about the prospect. At least I am. If my beloved were to be gone for an extended trip, I would be prepared for her return long beforehand. The house would be ready, the welcome home signs hung, the balloons inflated days before she was scheduled to arrive. What more Christ?

The lights on my house represent the light of Christ’s love that I want, in my own little way, to shine on the world. The music and singing in my home are invitations sent up to Heaven, saying Maranatha! Come, Lord!

So I don’t feel bad about having my tree up, the lights blazing, the carols on the stereo. I don’t feel bad about feeling joyous all Advent long. It really is the most wonderful time of year! Christ is coming!

The Disciple Who Christ Loved

While praying the rosary recently, I found myself meditating on two somewhat ambiguous figures in the New Testament: Theophilos, and the Disciple Who Christ Loved.
Theophilos is the Christian to whom Luke addressed both his Gospel and the book of Acts. In Greek, Theophilos means “one who loves God”. While it is reasonable to imagine that this is a proper name of a real person, I prefer to think that Luke was addressing these books to ALL lovers of God, you and I included.
In John’s Gospel, John frequently refers to the disciple who Jesus loved. Everyone I have ever read says that this refers to John himself. It occurred to me, though, that perhaps John was also using a device. Are we all not also disciples whom Christ loves? Could John have been trying to bring us into the Gospel?
In Luke’s writings, he endeavors to teach us who Jesus is, from the Annunciation to the Ascension and beyond. As ones who love God, we want to learn details of the person we love. Luke helps us to do that.
John’s Gospel is different. It is full of imagery and emotion. There is no birth narrative, no geneology, but there are more personal descriptions. I would argue, and will go into detail in future posts, that John was trying to illustrate how much Christ loves us. If we are the disciples whom Christ loves, we want to know how He loves us.
Why is this important? If John meant us to identify with the disciple whom He loved, then we should take that into account when we read Chapter 19 Verses 10 and 11:
“When Jesus saw his mother 11 and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”
So the question becomes, have we taken her into our homes?