Sunday, December 31, 2006
Stay tuned; 2006, I hope, will be much better.It was. But it had to get worse before it did.
Obviously, that was the low point of the past twelve months. The apex was just a few days later. And about two weeks after that, the intercession of St. Anthony of Padua was answered.
What an amazing, incredible, merciful (literally, full of mercy) three weeks. Everything else pales in comparison.
Yes, I did Go Forward. Small steps, but in the right direction.
The fear of which I spoke is still there. This dragon must be slain.
So, again, I continue with the same New Year's resolution of the past two years.
And why not? God is not finished with me.
I make no bold predictions. As it is in the "Our Father," we are only given "us this day." All I pray is that I may continue to listen for the voice of God as did Elijah.
They are the hardest four words of Christianity: "Thy will be done."
"Be it done unto me according to thy word."
See you next year!
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Here are the clues:
EXAMPLE: Bleached Yule=White Christmas
- Boulder of the Tinkling Metal Spheres
- Castaneous-colored Seed Vesticated in a Conflagration
- Singular Yearning for the Twin Anterior Incisors
- Righteous Darkness
- Arrival Time: 2400 Hrs. - Weather: Cloudless
- Loyal Followers Advance
- Far Off in a Feeder
- Array the Corridor
- Bantam Male Percussionist
- Monarchial Triad
- Nocturnal Noiselessness
- Jehovah Deactivate Blithe Chevaliers
- Red Man En Route to Borough
- Frozen Precipitation Commence
- Proceed and Enlighten on the Pinnacle
- The Quadruped with the Vermilion Proboscis
- Query Regarding Identity of Descendant
- Delight for this Planet
- Give Attention to the Melodious Celestial Beings
- The Dozen Festive 24-Hour Intervals
Sunday, December 24, 2006
I have heard of homilist using the technique of putting yourself in the story. So, to those who read this entry, my question to you is simple. As you hear or recall it, ask yourself this:
Who are you in the beginning of the "greatest story ever told"?
Are you Caesar Augustus or Quirinius? You have some position of authority in the world on some level, in some small capacity. Somehow, you rule. Perhaps news of this birth and its circumstance has reached your ears; but, with your status of "eliteness," you quite don't know what to do with it. Dismiss it? Investigate it? Leave it to Herod?
How does it affect you?
Are you one of the myriads who went "each to his own town"? Wanting to be an individual, you still are lost in the crowd. You follow along, sometimes going along just to get along. You are just a number to someone. You hear of this story as well. It awakens echoes of what you were taught as you studied your religion.
How does it affect you?
Are you Joseph? Caught between doing what is right and doing the right thing, which are not necessarily one and the same, you perhaps trust your head too much and your heart not nearly enough. Yet, you do what is your duty to God and others in a spirit of obedience and loyalty. You are right in the middle of this tale. Intimately.
How does it affect you?
Are you Mary? Somehow having to endure the physical challenges of pregnancy, you also have "to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" brought about by your saying "yes". The echoes of "how can this be" reverberate with every action. Yet, you are consoled by the words of Gabriel and Elizabeth as well as what you carry deep within your body and soul. You are even more in the middle of this tale; in fact, it wouldn't have gone forward without your assent.
How does it affect you?
Are you the innkeeper who couldn't provide room for even one more traveler? You are not mean-spirited in any way, shape, form, or regard. Your accommodations were stretched to the limit and perhaps beyond. Practicality had to take precedence. Perhaps, many years later, you heard a rabbi tell a parable involving another innkeeper in a small way and thought, "Was this directed at me from way back then and when?"
How does it affect you?
Are you one of the shepherds to whom the angels spoke? Considered somewhat outcasts in society, in a job nobody with any "dignity" would want, you wonder in your night watches where your place is in the world. Your reputation is soiled somewhat by "the company you keep," others who are only hired help and not true keepers of the flock. The "glorias" you hear that night ring in your ears and your hearts.
How does it affect you?
The answer to the repeated question is the same, no matter who you are. "'Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.'" (Luke 2:15b)
Venite adoramus, Dominum.
Hodie Christus natus est.
This should be our response when we meet the newborn King. We should welcome the Christ Child with open arms and open hearts. He does nothing less.
The Word was made flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we have seen his glory: The glory of an only Son coming from the Father, filled with enduring love.But the better question is not who are we at the beginning of the story.John 1:14
It is who we are at the end.
1. Favorite devotion or prayer to Jesus?
I have to admit I don't have one. To me, this is an indication I have a long way to go to see Him as a Person close to me rather than Someone far away.
2. Favorite Marian devotion or prayer?
The rosary is part of my walk to and from church (all 20 mysteries). I also try to recite the "Angelus" at least at noon every day.
3. Do you wear a scapular or medal?
I have worn a cross, a four-way medal, and a St. Christopher medal at points in my life. I would like to return to that habit of wearing something around my neck.
4. Do you have holy water in your home?
5. Do you 'offer up' your sufferings?
Since I recite the "Morning Offering" the first thing before my feet hit the floor, I am covered (I think).
6. Do you observe First Fridays and First Saturdays?
7. Do you go to Eucharistic Adoration?
When offered during Lent. There is also a parish which offers Perpetual Adoration, which I should utilize more.
8. Are you a Saturday evening Mass person or Sunday morning Mass person?
As a cantor/song-leader at my parish, I have to be flexible. Right now, with my work schedule, I am restricted to Sundays for availability.
9. Do you say prayers at mealtime?
What Julie D. says: "Yep. 'Bless us O Lord and these Thy gifts....'"
10. Favorite Saint(s)?
St. Joseph (my baptismal name), St. Anthony of Padua (my confirmation name), St. Cecilia.
11. Can you recite the Apostles Creed by heart?
I had better be able, after reciting the rosary as much as I have. Better challenge: the Nicene Creed.
12. Do you usually say short prayers (aspirations) during the course of the day?
I have been reciting the "Jesus Prayer" quite a bit as a form of meditation. I also have recited the prayer given by the angel to the children of Fatima ("Oh, my God, I believe, I adore, I hope, and I love Thee....") at times.
13. Bonus Question: When you pass by a automobile accident or other serious mishap, do you say a quick prayer for the folks involved?
If I remember, something short about granting grace to all involved.
Again, play along if interested.
1. Egg nog or hot chocolate? Egg nog. Straight. Usually Christmas morning breakfast. But I also enjoy hot chocolate as well.
2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree? I wrap, but very poorly.
3. Colored lights on tree/house or white? White, if I had a tree.
4. Do you hang mistletoe? No. No one with whom to utilize it. (But, then, I wouldn't need an excuse like that.)
5. When do you put your decorations up? I have very few decorations. They ususally will displayed starting Christmas Eve.
6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? Don't really have one; Christmas dinner looks a lot like Thanksgiving (turkey and trimmings).
7. Favorite holiday memory as a child: Christmas Eve supper was soups (chili, oyster stew, and potato), a relish tray, meat/cheese/cracker tray, and cookies and sweets made by my mother.
8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? When I noticed the handwriting on the packages were the same as my father's.
9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No.
10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree? I have never had a tree to decorate since I have been on my own. Someone has sent me a two-foot tall artificial pine (the kind that requires one to pull and arrange the branches) with lights and ball ornaments.
11. Snow! Love it or dread it? I still enjoy winter, save for the bitter cold. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
12. Can you ice skate? No.
13. Do you remember your favorite gift? Received or given? No favorites received. Quite a few given. (A future post?)
14. What's the most important thing about the holidays for you? The celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ.
15. What is your favorite holiday dessert? Fudge.
16. What is your favorite holiday tradition? I have to start one.
17. What tops your tree? Nothing at the moment. One of these years, I will be able to decorate as I would like.
18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving? I have been trying to take over for Santa for years.
19. What is your favorite Christmas song? "Silent Night."
20. Candy canes: In moderation.
21. Favorite Christmas movie? The original "Miracle on 34th. Street."
22. What do you leave for Santa? Not a thing. He gets plenty from other homes.
As is my custom, play along at your 'blog or in the comment box.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos Domine Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our King and our Law-giver, Longing of the Gentiles, yea, and salvation thereof, come to save us, O Lord our God!
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered, "I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!"
Then he said: Listen, O house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary men, must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
Friday, December 22, 2006
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the Gentiles, yea, and desire thereof! O Corner-stone, that makest of two one, come to save man, whom Thou hast made out of the dust of the earth!
Rise up in splendor! Your light has come, the glory of the Lord shines upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth, and thick clouds cover the peoples; But upon you the LORD shines, and over you appears his glory.
Nations shall walk by your light, and kings by your shining radiance.
Raise your eyes and look about; they all gather and come to you: Your sons come from afar, and your daughters in the arms of their nurses.
Then you shall be radiant at what you see, your heart shall throb and overflow, For the riches of the sea shall be emptied out before you, the wealth of nations shall be brought to you.
Caravans of camels shall fill you, dromedaries from Midian and Ephah; All from Sheba shall come bearing gold and frankincense, and proclaiming the praises of the LORD.
All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered for you, the rams of Nebaioth shall be your sacrifices; They will be acceptable offerings on my altar, and I will enhance the splendor of my house.
Thursday, December 21, 2006
O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Dayspring, Brightness of the everlasting light, Son of justice, come to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death!
Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness; for there is no gloom where but now there was distress.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; Upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.
You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, As they rejoice before you as at the harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils.
For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, And the rod of their taskmaster you have smashed, as on the day of Midian.
For every boot that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood, will be burned as fuel for flames.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and Sceptre of the house of Israel, that openeth and no man shutteth, and shutteth and no man openeth, come to liberate the prisoner from the prison, and them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death.
Thus says the Lord, the GOD of hosts: Up, go to that official, Shebna, master of the palace,
Who has hewn for himself a sepulcher on a height and carved his tomb in the rock: "What are you doing here, and what people have you here, that here you have hewn for yourself a tomb?"
The LORD shall hurl you down headlong, mortal man! He shall grip you firmly
And roll you up and toss you like a ball into an open land To perish there, you and the chariots you glory in, you disgrace to your master's house!
I will thrust you from your office and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe, and gird him with your sash, and give over to him your authority. He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, when he shuts, no one shall open.
I will fix him like a peg in a sure spot, to be a place of honor for his family;
On him shall hang all the glory of his family: descendants and offspring, all the little dishes, from bowls to jugs.
On that day, says the LORD of hosts, the peg fixed in a sure spot shall give way, break off and fall, and the weight that hung on it shall be done away with; for the LORD has spoken.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, which standest for an ensign of the people, at Whom the kings shall shut their mouths, Whom the Gentiles shall seek, come to deliver us, do not tarry.
But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, A spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD,
and his delight shall be the fear of the LORD. Not by appearance shall he judge, nor by hearsay shall he decide,
But he shall judge the poor with justice, and decide aright for the land's afflicted. He shall strike the ruthless with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
Justice shall be the band around his waist, and faithfulness a belt upon his hips.
Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; The calf and the young lion shall browse together, with a little child to guide them.
The cow and the bear shall be neighbors, together their young shall rest; the lion shall eat hay like the ox.
The baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair.
There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea.
On that day, The root of Jesse, set up as a signal for the nations, The Gentiles shall seek out, for his dwelling shall be glorious.
Monday, December 18, 2006
O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.
O Adonai, and Ruler of the house of Israel, Who didst appear unto Moses in the burning bush, and gavest him the law in Sinai, come to redeem us with an outstretched arm!
Now will I rise up, says the LORD, now will I be exalted, now be lifted up.
You conceive dry grass, bring forth stubble; my spirit shall consume you like fire.
The peoples shall be as in a limekiln, like brushwood cut down for burning in the fire.
Hear, you who are far off, what I have done; you who are near, acknowledge my might.
On Zion sinners are in dread, trembling grips the impious: "Who of us can live with the consuming fire? who of us can live with the everlasting flames?"
He who practices virtue and speaks honestly, who spurns what is gained by oppression, Brushing his hands free of contact with a bribe, stopping his ears lest he hear of bloodshed, closing his eyes lest he look on evil--
He shall dwell on the heights, his stronghold shall be the rocky fastness, his food and drink in steady supply.
Your eyes will see a king in his splendor, they will look upon a vast land.
Your mind will dwell on the terror: "Where is he who counted, where is he who weighed? Where is he who counted the towers?"
To the people of alien tongue you will look no more, the people of obscure speech, stammering in a language not understood.
Look to Zion, the city of our festivals; let your eyes see Jerusalem as a quiet abode, a tent not to be struck, Whose pegs will never be pulled up, nor any of its ropes severed.
Indeed the LORD will be there with us, majestic; yes, the LORD our judge, the LORD our lawgiver, the LORD our king, he it is who will save us.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae!
O Wisdom that comest out of the mouth of the Most High, that reachest from one end to another, and orderest all things mightily and sweetly, come to teach us the way of prudence!
"The LORD begot me, the first-born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago;
From of old I was poured forth, at the first, before the earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water;
Before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet the earth and the fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world.
"When he established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;
When he made firm the skies above, when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;
When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command;
Then was I beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day,
Playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of his earth; and I found delight in the sons of men.
"So now, O children, listen to me; instruction and wisdom do not reject!
Happy the man who obeys me, and happy those who keep my ways,
Happy the man watching daily at my gates, waiting at my doorposts;
For he who finds me finds life, and wins favor from the LORD;
But he who misses me harms himself; all who hate me love death."
Ruth went to her mail box and there was only one letter. She picked it up and looked at it before opening, but then she looked at the envelope again. There was no stamp, no postmark, only her name and address. She read the letter:
Dear Ruth,Her hands were shaking as she placed the letter on the table. "Why would the Lord want to visit me? I'm nobody special. I don't have anything to offer."
I'm going to be in your neighborhood Saturday afternoon and I'd like to stop by for a visit.
With that thought, Ruth remembered her empty kitchen cabinets. "Oh my goodness, I really don't have anything to offer. I'll have to run down to the store and buy something for dinner."
She reached for her purse and counted out its contents. Five dollars and forty cents. "Well, I can get some bread and cold cuts, at least." She threw on her coat and hurried out the door. A loaf of French bread, a half-pound of sliced turkey, and a carton of milk, leaving Ruth with grand total twelve cents to last her until Monday. Nonetheless, she felt good as she headed home, her meager offerings tucked under her arm.
"Hey, lady! Can you help us, lady?"
Ruth had been so absorbed in her dinner plans, she hadn't even noticed two figures huddled in the alleyway. A man and a woman, both of them dressed in little more than rags.
"Look lady, I ain't got a job, ya know, and my wife and I have been living out here on the street, and, well, now it's getting cold and we're getting kinda hungry and, well, if you could help us, lady, we'd really appreciate it."
Ruth looked at them both. They were dirty, they smelled bad, and frankly, she was certain that they could get some kind of work if they really wanted to.
"Sir, I'd like to help you, but I'm a poor woman myself. All I have is a few cold cuts and some bread, and I'm having an important guest for dinner tonight and I was planning on serving that to Him."
"Yeah; well, okay lady, I understand. Thanks anyway." The man put his arm around the woman's shoulders, turned, and headed back into the alley.
As she watched them leave, Ruth felt a familiar twinge in her heart.
"Sir, wait!" The couple stopped and turned as she ran down the alley after them. "Look, why don't you take this food. I'll figure out something else to serve my guest." She handed the man her grocery bag.
"Thank you, lady! Thank you very much!"
"Yes, thank you!" It was the man's wife, and Ruth could see now that she was shivering.
"You know, I've got another coat at home. Here, why don't you take this one." Ruth unbuttoned her jacket and slipped it over the woman's shoulders. Then smiling, she turned and walked back to the street, without her coat and with nothing to serve her guest.
"Thank you, lady! Thank you very much!"
Ruth was chilled by the time she reached her front door and worried, too. The Lord was coming to visit and she didn't have anything to offer Him. She fumbled through her purse for the door key. But as she did, she noticed another envelope in her mailbox.
"That's odd. The mailman doesn't usually come twice in one day." She took the envelope out of the box and opened it:
Dear Ruth,The air was still cold; but even without her coat, Ruth no longer noticed.
It was so good to see you again. Thank you for the lovely meal. And thank you, too, for the beautiful coat.
The king will answer them: "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me."
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me; The carriage held but just ourselves and immortality.I am no stranger to death. The past six months have brought notice of the deaths of three of my uncles, two by blood (paternal) and one by marriage (maternal). My only memory of my paternal grandfather was his funeral. There was the untimely death of a cousin via an automobile accident in 1979. And the anniversary of my maternal grandfather's death is later this month.Emily Dickinson, 1830-1866
While all remind me of the words of John Donne, there is one which casts its shadow a little darker than the rest. It is the one which reminds me of the lesson I still need to learn: learn to love before it is too late. It is the one which leaves a void. It is the one which makes me ask at times, "What if...?"
I speak of my father, Francis Joseph Rolling. It has been fifteen years since he passed from this world. The memory of that day still lingers.
Expect The Unexpected
December 5, 1991 was a rather routine day for me at that time. I was working for a family-owned sporting goods store in Sioux City, Iowa in their trophy and engraving department. It was only a part-time position, but as a sports official, the advantage of being able to leave work by 2:00 PM was a big help. I had a junior high basketball double-header to work in Ida Grove later that afternoon; after a brief stop at my apartment to grab my gear and a bite to eat, I was on my way.
The first game started at 3:45. Late in the first quarter there was a time-out. I was standing on the opposite side of the benches, holding the ball. I looked up at a clock on a wall beyond the basket at that end. The time was 3:53 PM.
The second was done about 6:15. I returned to Sioux City about 7:00 and went back to the store, which was open later that night during the Christmas shopping season. The newer road salesman, a guy in his early 20s, was still there. After he finished processing an order and closing the store, we went out and grabbed a pizza, played a few pinball games, and basically "shot the breeze" the rest of the night.
It was 10:50 when I unlocked the door to my apartment. At that moment, the phone rang. Having not been home all day, I needed to answer it. The first voice I heard was rather unfamiliar to me; it was my younger brother's wife, who then passed the receiver to my brother who broke the news to me.
My first reaction was one of incredulity. "Is this a joke?" was the first thing I asked. Assured it was not, he and I made arrangements to meet when he arrived in Sioux City via airplane. My next call was to a member of the church choir which I was directing, letting her know the news and asking if she would keep me company for a bit. We visited for about an hour; then I was ready to sleep as best as I could.
The next morning found me preparing for the journey home. I went to work for an hour, making sure some things that needed to be done were completed and being told I had whatever time off I needed. Next was a trip to the pastor's office of the church, where I informed him of the situation, as was my contractual obligation as director of the choir. Then there was a stop to a social worker who I had seen for counseling, who graciously saw me on very short notice. Finally, back to my apartment to finish packing and wait for my younger brother's family. They came; we left my place at 12:30 PM for the two-and-one-half hour drive.
(Some) Details, Details
Due to a problem getting the body released, the funeral Mass would not be until Monday. During that time the family was told of the nature of my father's death.
He had suffered a massive coronary. Not meaning to sound callous, this really was not unexpected. He was overweight, at least a pack-of-cigarettes-a-day smoker, may have had a milder heart attack a number of years earlier, and has a family history of heart disease. From all accounts, he was dead before he hit the floor of the auto body shop where he was working. The shocker was it happened sooner than anybody would have guessed.
The estimated time of death was 3:53 PM.
The days in between were unremarkable. There were a few moments which I recall:
1. A visitor on Saturday, a nun as it happened to be, has asked me how I was doing. While my mother would have the community minister to her and my siblings were married, I was going at this alone. I replied with the opening lines from Psalm 121.
2. Saturday afternoon was the first chance I got to get out of the house and be alone. As I had done when I was living there, I took a long walk around town. The route was still very familiar to me, even after leaving there five years earlier. The only person I encountered was the gentleman who would be the organist for the funeral.
3. Saturday night, after my mother finally had literally cried herself to sleep, the four siblings gathered around the table to discuss her financial situation. Despite my remembering seeing a policy, there was no life insurance or any means of support. She would hold an auction five months later to raise cash and eventually work two jobs as a waitress to support herself. The four children would eventually pay the funeral expenses.
4. This was the time I seemed to perfect the ability to shut off my mind mentally and emotionally and sleep. Despite using a recliner for a bed, I seemed to have gotten about six hours of sleep a night.
I had two roles in my father's final preparations.
The first was the night of the wake. Along with my paternal aunt, who is a Fransican nun, we lead the Rosary. It was not hard to kneel by the open casket; in fact, having seen him in it was the beginning and end of the denial stage of my grief. My aunt made the comment about the dirt under his fingernails. And there was a string of Rosary beads in his hands as well. I thought I remembered seeing him use it when I was a child, but I could be wrong.
The second was my choice to be the Reader for the Mass. Despite my twin brother's wife trying to dissuade me (for I was the Reader for their Nuptual Mass), I was resolute; this was part of my grieving process. The Readings chosen were the Old Testament verses which included the text, "For my ways are not your ways," Psalm 23, Rom 8:31b-35, 37-39, and John 11:21-27.
With that and Sunday Mass (with December 9th. being the Feast of the Immaculate Conception that year, I don't remember it being offered), all I could offer in prayers was a heart groaning only as the Spirit could know.
I was able to leave for home about 3:00 PM that day. I made one last stop at the cemetary where he was buried, remembering my twin brother had put a pair of his Air Force wings on top of the casket before it was lowered into the ground. In my solitude I was still asking, "Why did this happen?"
While my body was caught in the physical signs of grief, I never did publically cry during those four days. A deluge was coming though, if I had seen the signals.
I went back to work the next day, asking only not to be called to the main floor. My request was not honored in the last hour. I was asked to help someone find a pair of athletic shoes; I really was too numb and self-consicious to be of help.
Wednesday found me in front of the two groups I directed. Early in the bell choir rehersal, I had to pause to keep control of my composure and did make mention of my father briefly. It did catch someone by surprise, as she was not around when the announcement was made that Sunday.
Thursday found me on a basketball court. I got through the first game OK. I got through the first quarter of the second game OK. But then for parts of the second and third quarters, I acted like I didn't want to be out there. The game didn't get out of control, but I was not there mentally.
A Vail Of Tears
After almost eleven days of holding my emotions in check, the floodgates of my eyes opened. A week after the funeral, I was sitting in a pew my home parish, waiting for the beginning of a communal penance service during Advent. Playing over the speaker system was a recording of a flute. Its melody to me seemed to be one of peace, something my soul was craving. That was all it took. For the next few minutes, I was crying without end in sight. Despite my plea to God not for it to be in public, I was finally overwhelmed by grief. In my confession that night, I also asked for the grace to be healed of this.
After that night, I was able to move along with my grief. About a month later I was in the same gym. Another time out. I moved to the same spot as I was the last time. I looked at the clock.
3:53 PM. I said a prayer.
It was about eleven months later when I felt I was finally over the loss.
The last time I saw my father alive was July 28. I had made my way home to see if he could repair the latch to the driver's side door in my car, as I could not open it from the inside. No such luck. I learned to live with it.
The last time I heard my father's voice was a week before he died, Thanksgiving Day. Wanting to make it home for the holiday, my car wouldn't start that morning but did later after a jump. I called him later that night for his advice. He thought it was the cable; he was right.
The final irony I discovered was while I was taking a graduate level music history course on the Classical Period. Heavily focused on Mozart and Haydn, I discovered a fact I did not know.
Mozart died on December 5, 1791. Two hundered years to the day.
I prayed for my father's soul at Mass today, as part of my intentions as I recited the Rosary, and around the time he died, I recited the Our Father, Hail Mary, and Requiem prayers.
I wish he was still among the living.
"But my ways are not your ways."
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Someone using a computer on the campus of East Stroudsberg University in Pennsylvania became the 10,000th. visitor to my humble musings late Friday night. My guess it was a student looking for material for a term paper.
I have never worried about traffic coming here. If your 'blog remains on the internet long enough, you will get there eventually. And I know the numbers increased because of my little predicament in late March/early April.
I can only hope what I say is doing good.
I can be encouraged to continue.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.
Music's golden tongue
Flatter'd to tears this aged man and poor.
O Music! sphere-descended maid,
Friend of Pleasure, Wisdom's aid!
Music is well said to be the speech of angels.
If music be the food of love, play on;
Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
That strain again! it had a dying fall:
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour!
Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie.
There is no truer truth obtainable
By Man than comes of music.
After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.
Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!
Music like religion, unconditionally brings in its train all the moral virtues to the heart it enters, even though that heart is not in the least worthy.
For the beauty of the earth,
For the glory of the skies,
For the love which from our birth
Over and around us lies.
For the beauty of each hour,
Of the day and of the night,
Hill and vale, and tree and flower,
Sun and moon, and stars of light.
For the joy of ear and eye,
For the heart and mind's delight,
For the mystic harmony
Linking sense to sound and sight.
For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild.
For Thy Church, that evermore
Lifteth holy hands above,
Offering up on every shore
Her pure sacrifice of love.
For the martyrs' crown of light,
For Thy prophets' eagle eye,
For Thy bold confessors' might,
For the lips of infancy.
For Thy virgins' robes of snow,
For Thy maiden mother mild,
For Thyself, with hearts aglow,
Jesu, Victim undefiled.
For each perfect gift of Thine,
To our race so freely given,
Graces human and divine,
Flowers of earth and buds of Heaven.
Lord of all, to Thee we raise,
This our hymn of grateful praise.
Happy Thanksgiving Day!
Monday, November 20, 2006
A number of years ago on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend I was enroute to Mass. My walk took me through the campus of the local university. While going through the heart of the campus, I noticed an envelope lying on the ground and picked it up.
It had rained earlier in the day and was starting to dry, but the contents within were noticeable. Cash. Some student had withdrawn $400 from his savings account at a credit union housed on campus. The name of the individual and the institution were written on the envelope.
It was a no-brainer for me. I waited for the branch office to open on the following Tuesday, where I gave the envelope and its contents to one of the customer service representatives. I don't know if the money was returned to the proper owner or not, but I knew it wasn't mine to keep.
Last Friday, I was downtown running errands. As I was crossing the street, I notice something lying on the ground and picked it up. Inside a small plastic sleeve was a pamphlet containing Catholic prayers. Inside that was an expired driver's license, some credit card receipts, and a credit card.
Again, it was a no-brainer. When I got home, I found the telephone number, called the owner, and told him of my find. When we spoke, I informed him where and when he could find me at work.
We missed connections Friday night and Sunday afternoon, but I still contacted him with my availability. Today, around noon, he came into the store and retrieved his items. He left a thank you card and a reward. I thanked him for his generosity; he thanked me for my honesty.
Do you wonder if that happens more often than not?
I have never thought silence to be a bad thing. I have learned to live with it. I have a certain level of comfort with it.
I think it necessary to ignore the noise in our lives. While physiologically we eventually screen out external background sounds, it does take practice to eliminate what one hears internally. The prophet Elijah is our role model in this regard.
My life seemingly had not had a laser-like focus the past few months. Between my part-time job, my feeble attempts to find more work, and my officiating commitments this past fall, I seem scattered. Lots of busy-ness. Some productive reading, which has whetted my appetite for more books. A dryness in my prayer life. The routineness of life.
Restless? Somewhat. Lazy? More than I want to admit. Isolated? Yes, considering my default method of handling things when I feel overburdened is to have a bunker mentality.
But as I said in the beginning, when this "infinitisimal corner of the universe" came into existance, I do not live to 'blog. And, yes, I miss the musings of those on my sidebar. "No man is an island unto himself."
I have needed to gather myself. To find the will and the way to get back to this. Back to taking small steps to make progress.
Time to emerge from the shell.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
To give the victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary.How fortunate I was to have my eighteenth birthday in the year 1980. With the exception of a school board election or two, I have casted a ballot in every general election since I became eligible.Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
Two observations which amaze me:
1. I was working in a keno bar in South Sioux City, NE the night President Bill Clinton was elected to his first term of office. I was speaking to a patron who held the opposite political viewpoint than I. While we agreed to disagree (and very politely, I may add), I made the comment that even after over two hundred years, this country is still able to change its leadership in a peaceful manner. It still holds true. To me, this is the greatest testiment to the foresight and faith of our Founding Fathers.I wrote an article for my high school student newspaper before the 1978 general election. At the time, I commented on the lack of voter turnout in this country compared to others. I think those comments would be as valid today as they were 28 years ago. Why do some other countries have voter participation rates of 60% and greater when we struggle to get 40-50% in the booths?
2. The state of Minnesota has been a leader in getting out the vote. They have led the nation in the percentage of eligible voters who have cast a ballot the past few general elections. I shake my head over those who don't bother.
I don't subscribe to the notion those who don't vote are "voting" for the winner by default. In my opinion, some of the apathy is brought about by the way campaigns are run. Thirty second sound bites and buzz words don't begin to get to the essense of a person's stance on issues. While I don't want to get into nuances, I do want more substance than what I see or hear. Also, I want to know where the candidates honestly stand; I can do the comparing and contrasting myself.
Does part of the apathy come from the attitude of "I am only one vote; mine doesn't matter"? I think it does. My antidote to this malaise is a quote attributed to President Andrew Jackson, "One man with courage makes a majority."
As my parish priest reminded us, God is not to be omitted from the voting booth. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have given us a document regarding our responsibilities on participating in the voting process. It's worth the time to read, even today.
Voting is our greatest privilege and responsibility.
Get your sticker today.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Shot Over The Bow
It was October 15, 1976. Shortly before I left for school that day, my mother posed what seemed to be at the time a very odd question. She asked my siblings and I what we thought about moving.
With a incredulous look, my response was, "Why?" Considering my "station" in life at the time, the proposition was unbelievable. I was a 9th. Grader in a small school district in the middle of Iowa that grouped us with the 7th. and 8th. Grades, a true junior high. In my eyes, I had finally achieved a level of success I had been seeking for a long time. I was the top vote-getter in a class-wide election to the Student Council (with 89 of the 93 votes) and was elected President at the first meeting; I was Vice President of the Band; I was Editor of the Student Newspaper, when the technology to print it was the mimeograph.
The titles were important, but more importantly they symbolized the respect I had finally earned from my peers. Ever the introvert, the shy, quiet one who struggled to relate well to others, this was the validation I needed for my own ego. I felt I had finally could believe in myself and build a foundation of true self-confidence from here. I didn't feel I had to try so hard to be in people's good graces; I finally felt accepted as my own person. And knowing I was just starting puberty, I felt I had the security I needed to make "growing up" a little less challenging.
I never gave the query another thought. But the security I had longed to have and keep lasted just two months. The foundation was built upon sand.
The Last School Days
The words I heard the morning of October 25 stunned me to the very core of my being. Even though there was a mention of going to somewhere else in the school district, my instincts were telling me we weren't going to live here anymore. I walked to my first class in a state of shock. It felt like my heart, made of crystal, was smashed into powder.
To this day, I am not very sure why we moved. As best as I was able to piece things together some time after the fact, it was for economic reasons. My father, an independent auto body repairman, was severely hit by the recession of the mid- and late-70s. He wasn't getting the jobs to sustain us, so he found employment with an auto dealership in the north central part of Iowa near where he was raised. It was a valid reason, but try telling that to a 14-year old who thought uprooting him from a place of comfort and security was the cruelest thing you could have done to him.
The hardest part of the scenario was being told we couldn't say anything about this to anyone. Again, why? I needed a release of my emotions and was being ordered to keep them bottled, in a sense. The thought of breaking the silence did cross my mind a couple of times, but filial obedience won out.
Not that I didn't have the chance to say "good-bye."
The school would be holding a mock General Election on November 2. There was a political "rally" the last period of classes on October 29. It was held in the gym, where a raised stage graced one end of the basketball floor.
I was the last speaker. I spoke on behalf of the incumbent from our House seat who lived in the community, the incumbent governor at the time, and President Gerald R. Ford in his bid for a full term. I mentioned you had heard of the Ford automobile and (Kansas Senator and Vice-Presidential nominee Robert) Dole pineapple, but had you ever heard of a Carter peanut? (The beginning of my conservative leanings. I even said something about Demo-rats.)
The bell rang and dismissed school for the day. I exited from a side door near the stage to run my paper route. As the door closed, the thought I never even considered before entered my mind.
That would be the last time I would ever see my old schoolmates en masse. Reality finally stopped for me.
We were told October 28 a new place to live was found and we would be packing that weekend. My younger siblings would stay with my maternal grandparents while my twin brother and I would help with the hauling. I really didn't want to do this, but I thought it would help me cope with the change in reality.
I don't remember if we assisted at Mass that Sunday, Hallowe'en Day. I know we didn't assist the next day, the Feast of All Saints. That Monday afternoon my brother and I emptied the lockers of all four siblings and returned the books to the principal's office. It was then the "news" was broken and the "black-out" lifted. It was a complete surprise to the principal, saddened to see us leave. I tried to put on my best face and look forward to the opportunity, but, inside, my heart was heavy.
And so it came. Everything was packed in a large truck borrowed from an acquaintance, in whose home we spent the last two nights. On November 2, the day Jimmy Carter was voted into the White House, I had to leave mine.
It was that moment in my life when I lost my childhood innocence. I was about to lose my adolescence as well.
November 3 was the first day in the new place, a farmhouse about four miles north of the town itself. November 5 saw me in the principal's office of the new school that morning, registering for classes. And November 8 was the first day as the new kid on the block. I would be literally and figuratively starting from the bottom, as the 9th. Graders in the new school were actually part of the senior high.
OK, I thought to myself. I don't have the titles or the prestige anymore; they were taken from me. But what I still do have is my intelligence. That was the cornerstone of your last success; it is going to be the cornerstone here. Give people a chance here.
It became a millstone. They blew their chance.
The Final Straws
Two incidents ended any hope of wanting to belong.
The first was my second day of classes. I was in 9th. Grade Biology, sitting in a very familiar place (the front row) with my book open and exchanging questions and answers with the teacher. If you listened close enough, you could hear the jaws of the students hitting the top of their desks.
Yes, they were so impressed with my intelligence one of my classmates gave me a nickname which stuck to me for three years. He thought it to be one of flattery; I thought it to be one of mockery. It was supposed to be a name of a computer; instead, it was the company name of the leading photocopier at the time. And when I got tagged with that moniker, I thought, "So, now, I am only a machine."
The sensitivity of insensitive teenagers.
The cherry on top of this bitter cake was a few days later. I kept my gym clothes in a duffel bag in a wire basket in the locker room. Somehow, someone was able to partially open the bag, reach into it, and tear the t-shirt I was using. It was from my old school.
I was already emotionally devastated by the change of scenery, but this was too much. Having no skills to cope with this change and seemingly nobody to whom I could turn for help, I came to only one conclusion. To save me from going through this kind of heartache ever again, I started emotionally withdrawing from my surroundings as much as I could.
Practice makes perfect. It still is my best (?) coping mechanism.
Three things stand out in all this, even after thirty years.
The innocence I lost was my ability to trust deeply enough to be vunerable. I did blame my father for doing this for quite awhile until I grew out of that idea. But I still hold much resentment toward God, first wondering why He did this to me, and now wondering why He allowed it to happen.
This event seemingly destroyed what very little confidence I was finally developing. I felt very powerless when this all happened and really wondered if it was worth the time and effort to achieve something I wanted if it were going to be taken away that easily. Deep down inside, I really don't believe in me that much, if at all.
I still keep my feelings to myself. I still keep to myself. Still waters may run deep, but the emotional tides are strong.
I want to blame all my failings on this. But as Fr. John Powell, SJ, has written in many of his books, "Growth begins where blame ends." I don't have to be stuck where I am; I still have the choice of victor or victim.
But it is hard to break this mold, especially when the One Who can do it is the One you don't know well enough for you to allow access to the places that need healing. I wonder if this was the struggle of St. Augustine. It is a case of "give me your Grace but not yet."
It has been a long "dark night of the soul" regarding this. I know I have held this so tightly in my hands that I am afraid to let go of it. But I can only receive it my hands are open. He can only take it when I am willing giving it.
It is time to "Let Go and Let God."
Thirty years is long enough.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Domineco Bettinelli has been doing a pledge-style drive at his 'blog during the month of October. His efforts formally end on Tuesday.
Dom is certainly one of the most talented 'bloggers at St. Blogs, a heavyweight in his own right. He makes it very clear why he is doing this. This is a great idea; I hope you can support it, if you can.
Friday, October 13, 2006
There was a time when the sheer beauty of Catholicism--its liturgies, teachings, and churches--was enough to attract converts. Knocking on doors was unnecessary. Philosophy's three "transcendentals"--beauty, truth, and goodness--all had a home in the Catholic Church. But many in the Church lost sight of those three values in the confusion that followed Vatican II. We've made progress since then in restoring a healthy appreciation for goodness, and truth has been served by the return to doctrinally-sound catechesis. But beauty, essential to truth and goodness, has proved elusive. Perhaps that is why Pope Benedict made a point of reminding us, in the recently-released Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, that our priceless heritage of Catholic art and architecture communicates to us just as readily as do spoken or written words, that beauty is merely truth reflected.I share his lament.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
You always hear the usual stories of pennies on the sidewalk being good luck, gifts from angels, etc. This is the first time I've ever heard this twist on the story. Gives you something to think about.
Several years ago, a friend of mine and her husband were invited to spend the weekend at the husband's employer's home. My friend, Arlene, was nervous about the weekend. The boss was very wealthy, with a fine home on the waterway and cars costing more than her house. The first day and evening went well, and Arlene was delighted to have this rare glimpse into how the very wealthy live.
The husband's employer was quite generous as a host, and took them to the finest restaurants. Arlene knew she would never have the opportunity to indulge in this kind of extravagance again, so she was enjoying herself immensely!
As the three of them were about to enter an exclusive restaurant that evening, the boss was walking slightly ahead of Arlene and her husband. He stopped suddenly, looking down on the pavement for a long, silent moment. Arlene wondered if she was supposed to pass him. There was nothing on the ground except a single darkened penny that someone had dropped and a few cigarette butts.
Still silent, the man reached down and picked up the penny He held it up and smiled, then put it in his pocket as if he had found a great treasure! How absurd! What need did this man have for a single penny? Why would he even take the time to stop and pick it up?
Throughout dinner, the entire scene nagged at her. Finally, she could stand it no longer! She causally mentioned that her daughter once had a coin collection and asked if the penny he had found had been of some value.
A smile crept across the man's face as he reached into his pocket for the penny and held it out for her to see. She had seen many pennies before! What was the point of this?
"Look at it," he said. "Read what it says."
She read the words, "United States of America."
"No, not that; read further."
"No, keep reading."
"In God we Trust?"
"And if I trust in God, the name of God is holy, even on a coin. Whenever I find a coin I see that inscription. It is written on every single United States' coin, but we never seem to notice it! God drops a message right in front of me telling me to trust Him.
"Who am I to pass it by? When I see a coin, I pray, I stop to see if my trust IS still in God at that moment. I pick the coin up as a response to God; that I do trust in Him. For a short time, at least, I cherish it as if it were gold. I think it is God's way of starting a conversation with me.
"Lucky for me, God is patient and pennies are plentiful!"
When I was out shopping today, I found a penny on the sidewalk. I stopped and picked it up, and realized that I had been worrying and fretting in my mind about things I cannot change.
I read the words, "In God We Trust," and had to laugh. Yes, God, I get the message.
It seems that I have been finding an inordinate number of pennies in the last few months, but then, pennies are plentiful!
And, God is patient.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
His homily on this Respect Life Sunday has a central theme: Violence is not the answer. Touching base with basic Catholic teaching on abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and embryonic stem-cell research, he noted throughout a solution which promoted the destruction of life is not a good solution. He encourage us to speak the truth in love and to help those with who have experienced these traumas with compassion.
With October focused on the rosary (the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is October 7), it is time to renew our spiritual energy on praying for the cherishing of life from conception to natural death and on our dignity as a creature created "in the image and likeness" of God.
O Mary, bright dawn of the new world, Mother of the living, to you do we entrust the cause of life. Look down, O Mother, upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born, of the poor whose lives are made difficult, of men and women who are victims of brutal violence, of the elderly and the sick killed by indifference or out of misguided mercy. Grant that all who believe in your Son may proclaim the Gospel of life with honesty and love to the people of our time. Obtain for them the grace to accept that Gospel as a gift ever new, the joy of celebrating it with gratitude throughout their lives and the courage to bear witness to it resolutely, in order to build, together with all people of good will, the civilization of truth and love, to the praise and glory of God, the Creator and lover of life.Evangelium Vitae
John Paul II
Friday, September 29, 2006
Thursday, September 28, 2006
When the snow lay round about, deep and crisp and even.
Brightly shone the moon that night, though the frost was cruel,
When a poor man came in sight, gathering winter fuel.
"Hither page and stand by me if thou knowst it telling:
Yonder peasant, who is he, where and what his dwelling?"
"Sire, he lives a good league hence, underneath the mountain,
Right against the forest fence, by Saint Agnes' fountain."
"Bring me flesh and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither.
Thou and I will see him dine when we bear them thither."
Page and monarch forth they went, forth they went together
Through the rude winds wild lament, and the bitter weather.
"Sire, the night is darker now, and the wind blows stronger.
Fails my heart I know now how, I can go no longer."
"Mark my footsteps, my good page; tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shalt find the winter's rage freeze thy blood less coldly."
In his master's steps he trod where the snow lay dinted.
Heat was in the very sod which the saint had printed.
Therefore Christian men be sure, wealth or rank possessing,
Ye who now will bless the poor, shall yourselves find blessing.
Details on this saint are here.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
The ultimate in wireless communication.
A call comes through on the customer service line in Heaven.
Customer Service Rep: Yes, ma'am; how can I help you today?
Customer: Well, after much consideration, I've decided to install LOVE. Can you guide me through the process?
CS Rep: Yes, I can help you. Are you ready to proceed?
Customer: Well, I'm not very technical, but I think I'm ready to install now. What do I do first?
CS Rep: The first step is to open your HEART. Have you located your HEART, ma'am?
Customer: Yes, I have; but there are several other programs running right now. Is it okay to install while they are running?
CS Rep: What programs are running, ma'am?
Customer: Let's see, I have PAST-HURT.EXE, LOW-ESTEEM.EXE, GRUDGE.EXE, and RESENTMENT.COM running right now.
CS Rep: No problem. LOVE will gradually erase PAST-HURT.EXE from your current operating system. It may remain in your permanent memory, but it will no longer disrupt other programs. LOVE will eventually overwrite LOW-ESTEEM.EXE with a module of its own called HIGH-ESTEEM.EXE. However, you have to completely turn off GRUDGE.EXE and RESENTMENT.COM. Those programs prevent LOVE from being properly installed. Can you turn those off ma'am?
Customer: I don't know how to turn them off. Can you tell me how?
CS Rep: My pleasure. Go to your Start menu and invoke FORGIVENESS.EXE. Do this as many times as necessary until GRUDGE.EXE and RESENTMENT.COM have been completely erased.
Customer: Okay, done. LOVE has started installing itself automatically. Is that normal?
CS Rep: Yes. You should receive a message that says it will reinstall for the life of your HEART. Do you see that message?
Customer: Yes, I do. Is it completely installed?
CS Rep: Yes, but remember that you have only the base program. You need to begin connecting to other HEART'S in order to get the upgrades.
Customer: Oops. I have an error message already. What should I do?
CS Rep: What does the message say?
Customer: It says, "ERROR 412 - PROGRAM NOT RUN ON INTERNAL COMPONENTS." What does that mean?
CS Rep: Don't worry, ma'am; that's a common problem. It means that the LOVE program is set up to run on external HEARTS but has not yet been run on your HEART. It is one of those complicated programming things, but in non-technical terms it means you have to "LOVE" your own machine before it can "LOVE" others.
Customer: So what should I do?
CS Rep: Can you pull down the directory called "SELF-ACCEPTANCE"?
Customer: Yes, I have it.
CS Rep: Excellent. You're getting good at this.
Customer: Thank you.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
This is what our existence is all about.
Sunday, September 17, 2006
I sat with two friends in the picture window of a quaint restaurant just off the corner of the town-square. The food and the company were both especially good that day. As we talked, my attention was drawn outside, across the street. There, walking into town, was a man who appeared to be carrying all his worldly goods on his back. He was carrying a well-worn sign that read, "I will work for food."
My heart sank. I brought him to the attention of my friends and noticed that others around us had stopped eating to focus on him. Heads moved in a mixture of sadness and disbelief. We continued with our meal, but his image lingered in my mind. We finished our meal and went our separate ways. I had errands to do and quickly set out to accomplish them.
I glanced toward the town square, looking somewhat halfheartedly for the strange visitor. I was fearful, knowing that seeing him again would call some response. I drove through town and saw nothing of him. I made some purchases at a store and got back in my car. Deep within me, the Spirit of God kept speaking to me, "Don't go back to the office until you've at least driven once more around the square." Then, with some hesitancy, I headed back into town. As I turned the square's third corner, I saw him. He was standing on the steps of the storefront church, going through his sack.
I stopped and looked, feeling both compelled to speak to him, yet wanting to drive on. The empty parking space on the corner seemed to be a sign from God; an invitation to park. I pulled in, got out, and approached the town's newest visitor. "Looking for the pastor?" I asked.
"Not really," he replied, "just resting."
"Have you eaten today?"
"Oh, I ate something early this morning."
"Would you like to have lunch with me?"
"Do you have some work I could do for you?"
"No work," I replied. "I commute here to work from the city, but I would like to take you to lunch."
"Sure," he replied with a smile.
As he began to gather his things, I asked some surface questions. "Where are you headed?"
"Where are you from?"
"Oh, all over; mostly Florida."
"How long you been walking?"
"Fourteen years," came the reply.
I knew I had met someone unusual.
We sat across from each other in the same restaurant I had left earlier. His face was weathered slightly beyond his 38 years. His eyes were dark yet clear, and he spoke with an eloquence and articulation that was startling. He removed his jacket to reveal a bright red T-shirt that said, "Jesus is The Never Ending Story."
Then Daniel's story began to unfold. He had seen rough times early in life. He'd made some wrong choices and reaped the consequences. Fourteen years earlier, while backpacking across the country, he had stopped on the beach in Daytona. He tried to hire on with some men who were putting up a large tent and some equipment. A concert, he thought. He was hired, but the tent would not house a concert but revival services, and in those services he saw life more clearly. He gave his life over to God.
"Nothing's been the same since," he said, "I felt the Lord telling me to keep walking, and so I did, some 14 years now."
"Ever think of stopping?" I asked.
"Oh, once in a while, when it seems to get the best of me. But God has given me this calling. I give out Bibles. That's what's in my sack. I work to buy food and Bibles, and I give them out when His Spirit leads."
I sat amazed. My homeless friend was not homeless. He was on a mission and lived this way by choice. The question burned inside for a moment and then I asked, "What's it like?"
"To walk into a town carrying all your things on your back and to show your sign?"
"Oh, it was humiliating at first. People would stare and make comments. Once someone tossed a piece of half-eaten bread and made a gesture that certainly didn't make me feel welcome. But then it became humbling to realize that God was using me to touch lives and change people's concepts of other folks like me."
My concept was changing, too. We finished our dessert and gathered his things. Just outside the door, he paused. He turned to me and said, "Come, Ye blessed of my Father, and inherit the kingdom I've prepared for you. For when I was hungry you gave me food, when I was thirsty you gave me drink, a stranger and you took me in."
I felt as if we were on holy ground. "Could you use another Bible?" I asked.
He said he preferred a certain translation. It traveled well and was not too heavy. It was also his personal favorite. "I've read through it 14 times," he said.
"I'm not sure we've got one of those, but let's stop by our church and see." I was able to find my new friend a Bible that would do well and he seemed very grateful.
"Where are you headed from here?"
"Well, I found this little map on the back of this amusement park coupon."
"Are you hoping to hire on there for a while?"
"No, I just figure I should go there. I figure someone under that star right there needs a Bible, so that's where I'm going next."
He smiled, and the warmth of his spirit radiated the sincerity of his mission. I drove him back to the town-square where we'd met two hours earlier, and as we drove, it started raining. We parked and unloaded his things.
"Would you sign my autograph book?" he asked. "I like to keep messages from folks I meet."
I wrote in his little book that his commitment to his calling had touched my life. I encouraged him to stay strong. And I left him with a verse of scripture from Jeremiah: I know the plans I have for you, declared the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a future and a hope.
"Thanks, man," he said. "I know we just met and we're really just strangers, but I love you."
"I know," I said. "I love you, too."
"The Lord is good!"
"Yes, He is. How long has it been since someone hugged you?" I asked.
"A long time," he replied.
And so on the busy street corner in the drizzling rain, my new friend and I embraced, and I felt deep inside that I had been changed. He put his things on his back, smiled his winning smile and said, "See you in the New Jerusalem."
"I'll be there!" was my reply.
He began his journey again. He headed away with his sign dangling from his bedroll and pack of Bibles. He stopped, turned and said, "When you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?"
"You bet," I shouted back, "God bless."
"God bless." And that was the last I saw of him.
Late that evening as I left my office, the wind blew strong. The cold front had settled hard upon the town. I bundled up and hurried to my car. As I sat back and reached for the emergency brake, I saw them: a pair of well-worn brown work gloves neatly laid over the length of the handle. I picked them up and thought of my friend and wondered if his hands would stay warm that night without them. Then I remembered his words: "If you see something that makes you think of me, will you pray for me?"
Today, his gloves lie on my desk in my office. They help me to see the world and its people in a new way, and they help me remember those two hours with my unique friend and to pray for his ministry.
"See you in the New Jerusalem," he said.
Yes, Daniel; I know I will.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
Yes, I have made it. This "infinitesimal corner of the universe" still exists.
One year ago I started my adventures in 'blogging.
Some days have been easy; some days, not. Some days have been labors of love; some days, a labor. Some days have seen a flurry of activity; some days, dry.
But it has been an interesting first year. I hope I have learned much. I hope to apply the lessons. I hope to do better.
Let the adventure continue.
Monday, September 11, 2006
On September 11, 2006,
2,996 volunteer bloggers
are joined together in a tribute to the victims of 9/11.
Each person is paying tribute to a single victim.
We honor them by remembering their lives,
and not by remembering their murderers.
Mr. Speaker, Mr. President Pro Tempore, members of Congress, and fellow Americans:
In the normal course of events, Presidents come to this chamber to report on the state of the Union. Tonight, no such report is needed. It has already been delivered by the American people.
We have seen it in the courage of passengers, who rushed terrorists to save others on the ground -- passengers like an exceptional man named Todd Beamer. And would you please help me to welcome his wife, Lisa Beamer, here tonight.
We have seen the state of our Union in the endurance of rescuers, working past exhaustion. We have seen the unfurling of flags, the lighting of candles, the giving of blood, the saying of prayers -- in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. We have seen the decency of a loving and giving people who have made the grief of strangers their own.
My fellow citizens, for the last nine days, the entire world has seen for itself the state of our Union -- and it is strong.
Tonight we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger, and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice, or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.
I thank the Congress for its leadership at such an important time. All of America was touched on the evening of the tragedy to see Republicans and Democrats joined together on the steps of this Capitol, singing "God Bless America." And you did more than sing; you acted, by delivering $40 billion to rebuild our communities and meet the needs of our military.
Speaker Hastert, Minority Leader Gephardt, Majority Leader Daschle and Senator Lott, I thank you for your friendship, for your leadership and for your service to our country.
And on behalf of the American people, I thank the world for its outpouring of support. America will never forget the sounds of our National Anthem playing at Buckingham Palace, on the streets of Paris, and at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.
We will not forget South Korean children gathering to pray outside our embassy in Seoul, or the prayers of sympathy offered at a mosque in Cairo. We will not forget moments of silence and days of mourning in Australia and Africa and Latin America.
Nor will we forget the citizens of 80 other nations who died with our own: dozens of Pakistanis; more than 130 Israelis; more than 250 citizens of India; men and women from El Salvador, Iran, Mexico and Japan; and hundreds of British citizens. America has no truer friend than Great Britain. Once again, we are joined together in a great cause -- so honored the British Prime Minister has crossed an ocean to show his unity of purpose with America. Thank you for coming, friend.
On September the 11th, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country. Americans have known wars -- but for the past 136 years, they have been wars on foreign soil, except for one Sunday in 1941. Americans have known the casualties of war -- but not at the center of a great city on a peaceful morning. Americans have known surprise attacks -- but never before on thousands of civilians. All of this was brought upon us in a single day -- and night fell on a different world, a world where freedom itself is under attack.
Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking: Who attacked our country? The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda. They are the same murderers indicted for bombing American embassies in Tanzania and Kenya, and responsible for bombing the USS Cole.
Al Qaeda is to terror what the mafia is to crime. But its goal is not making money; its goal is remaking the world -- and imposing its radical beliefs on people everywhere.
The terrorists practice a fringe form of Islamic extremism that has been rejected by Muslim scholars and the vast majority of Muslim clerics -- a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam. The terrorists' directive commands them to kill Christians and Jews, to kill all Americans, and make no distinction among military and civilians, including women and children.
This group and its leader -- a person named Osama bin Laden -- are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. They are recruited from their own nations and neighborhoods and brought to camps in places like Afghanistan, where they are trained in the tactics of terror. They are sent back to their homes or sent to hide in countries around the world to plot evil and destruction.
The leadership of al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country. In Afghanistan, we see al Qaeda's vision for the world.
Afghanistan's people have been brutalized -- many are starving and many have fled. Women are not allowed to attend school. You can be jailed for owning a television. Religion can be practiced only as their leaders dictate. A man can be jailed in Afghanistan if his beard is not long enough.
The United States respects the people of Afghanistan -- after all, we are currently its largest source of humanitarian aid -- but we condemn the Taliban regime. It is not only repressing its own people, it is threatening people everywhere by sponsoring and sheltering and supplying terrorists. By aiding and abetting murder, the Taliban regime is committing murder.
And tonight, the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban: Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of al Qaeda who hide in your land. Release all foreign nationals, including American citizens, you have unjustly imprisoned. Protect foreign journalists, diplomats and aid workers in your country. Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist, and every person in their support structure, to appropriate authorities. Give the United States full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.
These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act, and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.
I also want to speak tonight directly to Muslims throughout the world. We respect your faith. It's practiced freely by many millions of Americans, and by millions more in countries that America counts as friends. Its teachings are good and peaceful, and those who commit evil in the name of Allah blaspheme the name of Allah. The terrorists are traitors to their own faith, trying, in effect, to hijack Islam itself. The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends. Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists, and every government that supports them.
Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.
Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber -- a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa.
These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us, because we stand in their way.
We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions -- by abandoning every value except the will to power -- they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history's unmarked grave of discarded lies.
Americans are asking: How will we fight and win this war? We will direct every resource at our command -- every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war -- to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.
This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.
Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.
Our nation has been put on notice: We are not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans. Today, dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security. These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level. So tonight I announce the creation of a Cabinet-level position reporting directly to me -- the Office of Homeland Security.
And tonight I also announce a distinguished American to lead this effort, to strengthen American security: a military veteran, an effective governor, a true patriot, a trusted friend -- Pennsylvania's Tom Ridge. He will lead, oversee and coordinate a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard our country against terrorism, and respond to any attacks that may come.
These measures are essential. But the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows.
Many will be involved in this effort, from FBI agents to intelligence operatives to the reservists we have called to active duty. All deserve our thanks, and all have our prayers. And tonight, a few miles from the damaged Pentagon, I have a message for our military: Be ready. I've called the Armed Forces to alert, and there is a reason. The hour is coming when America will act, and you will make us proud.
This is not, however, just America's fight. And what is at stake is not just America's freedom. This is the world's fight. This is civilization's fight. This is the fight of all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom.
We ask every nation to join us. We will ask, and we will need, the help of police forces, intelligence services, and banking systems around the world. The United States is grateful that many nations and many international organizations have already responded -- with sympathy and with support. Nations from Latin America, to Asia, to Africa, to Europe, to the Islamic world. Perhaps the NATO Charter reflects best the attitude of the world: An attack on one is an attack on all.
The civilized world is rallying to America's side. They understand that if this terror goes unpunished, their own cities, their own citizens may be next. Terror, unanswered, can not only bring down buildings, it can threaten the stability of legitimate governments. And you know what -- we're not going to allow it.
Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.
I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.
I ask you to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions. Those who want to give can go to a central source of information, libertyunites.org, to find the names of groups providing direct help in New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.
The thousands of FBI agents who are now at work in this investigation may need your cooperation, and I ask you to give it.
I ask for your patience, with the delays and inconveniences that may accompany tighter security; and for your patience in what will be a long struggle.
I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today.
And, finally, please continue praying for the victims of terror and their families, for those in uniform, and for our great country. Prayer has comforted us in sorrow, and will help strengthen us for the journey ahead.
Tonight I thank my fellow Americans for what you have already done and for what you will do. And ladies and gentlemen of the Congress, I thank you, their representatives, for what you have already done and for what we will do together.
Tonight, we face new and sudden national challenges. We will come together to improve air safety, to dramatically expand the number of air marshals on domestic flights, and take new measures to prevent hijacking. We will come together to promote stability and keep our airlines flying, with direct assistance during this emergency.
We will come together to give law enforcement the additional tools it needs to track down terror here at home. We will come together to strengthen our intelligence capabilities to know the plans of terrorists before they act, and find them before they strike.
We will come together to take active steps that strengthen America's economy, and put our people back to work.
Tonight we welcome two leaders who embody the extraordinary spirit of all New Yorkers: Governor George Pataki, and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. As a symbol of America's resolve, my administration will work with Congress, and these two leaders, to show the world that we will rebuild New York City.
After all that has just passed -- all the lives taken, and all the possibilities and hopes that died with them -- it is natural to wonder if America's future is one of fear. Some speak of an age of terror. I know there are struggles ahead, and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.
Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom -- the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time -- now depends on us. Our nation -- this generation -- will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.
It is my hope that in the months and years ahead, life will return almost to normal. We'll go back to our lives and routines, and that is good. Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day, and to whom it happened. We'll remember the moment the news came -- where we were and what we were doing. Some will remember an image of a fire, or a story of rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.
And I will carry this: It is the police shield of a man named George Howard, who died at the World Trade Center trying to save others. It was given to me by his mom, Arlene, as a proud memorial to her son. This is my reminder of lives that ended, and a task that does not end.
I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.
The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.
Fellow citizens, we'll meet violence with patient justice -- assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.
Perhaps you think there is a better way to accomplish the objective, if at all. Perhaps you disagree with how things are progressing or even if we should in some way abandon the fight. I encourage you to think long and hard about that. I don't have answers, either. But I do have a question all need to individually answer, even if it is in the quiet of their being.
What are you willing to do to remain free?