Thursday, November 30, 2006

Both Lungs

Cordial, warm, loving words from His Holiness, Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch Of Constantinople and His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI.

One more small step on the road to unity?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Quotes About Notes

On this feast of St. Cecilia, patron saint of music, some quotes that attempt to explain its essense and power.


Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast,
To soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.

William Congreve (1670-1729)

Music's golden tongue
Flatter'd to tears this aged man and poor.

John Keats (1795-1821)

O Music! sphere-descended maid,
Friend of Pleasure, Wisdom's aid!

William Collins (1721-1759)

Music is well said to be the speech of angels.

Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881)

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!

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Such sweet compulsion doth in music lie.

John Milton (1608-1674)

There is no truer truth obtainable
By Man than comes of music.

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.

Aldous Huxley (1894 -1963)

Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here!

J. K. Rowling

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.

Jean Baptiste Montegut

Hymn Of Thanksgiving

Freedom From Want, Norman Rockwell, 1943

The words are so right for tomorrow. They should be so right everyday.


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

Two Good Deeds

They say it isn't bragging if you have done it. A couple of personal stories, hopefully to inspire people to do the right thing.


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.

...Repeats Itself

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?

Sans Noise

Yes, I am still here.

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

Public Honor

I have done my civic duty (and have the sticker to prove it). Have you?
To give the victory to the right, not bloody bullets, but peaceful ballots only, are necessary.
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865)
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.

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.

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 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?

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

The Move

There are moments in one's life which impact it in such a way that you are never the same. For me, today marks an anniversary of such an event. While the timeline was over a short period of time, I chose this particular day as to when it all crystallized. While my tale pales in comparison to others with much, much, much more horrific ordeals, its echoes haunt me still.

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

"We're moving."

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."

Opportunity Lost

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.

Loose Ends

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.

Begin, Again

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 vulnerable. 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.