Search This Blog


Monday, May 23, 2016

As Long Nobody Gets Hurt, Really?...

"My desires could never be absolute; they must necessarily be conditioned and modified by contacts and conflicts with the desires and interests of others... You cannot live for your own pleasure and your own convenience without inevitably hurting and injuring the feelings and the interests of practically everybody you meet."

-- Thomas Merton, Seven Storey Mountain.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Comedian Gaffigan Preaching Gospel Through Laughter...

Tired but with a heart full of light...
Mark Twain once wrote that, "Against the assault of laughter, nothing can withstand."

Well, comedian Jim Gaffigan and his wife Jeannie are trying to prove just that.  They're using laughter to, not only entertain but, bring forth a message of faith, love and hope, through the ordinary and mundane.

In their semi-autobiographical television series on TV Land, The Jim Gaffigan Show, where the comedian plays himself and Jeannie, an actress by trade, is his co-writer and co-producer, the couple addresses topics from marriage and parenting their five children to his considering a vasectomy, from a Jeannie-forged friendship with a young priest from their parish to a real camaraderie with Jim's Atheist womanizer best friend, from dealing with negative publicity about his faith for posing for a photo with a Bible and to his undeserved recognition in a magazine article for being a super dad without ever mentioning her role.  While never overt or gratuitous, their Catholic faith is ever present in the way they go about their normal lives.

Their subtle evangelization, humility and self-deprecating and “clean” comedy has gained the attention of many Catholics, so much so that last weekend, the Grammy nominated funnyman and his wife were invited to deliver the commencement address at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC., where, aside from his complaints about her lack of support for his mail order guacamole business, they discussed how faith has influenced their career choices, decision on having a large family and philosophy of life.

Jim Gaffigan:  "Before I met Jeannie I had lived across the street from a Catholic church for 15 years. I didn’t notice it. I never went in it once.
Because of Jeannie that same church became the place I was married, the same church my 5 children were baptized in and the church where once a week I’m reminded to keep focused on priorities;  God, family, then work."
Jeannie Gaffigan: "I can’t take all the credit. My mother has been saying perpetual novenas for 15 years."

In addition, the Gaffigans were awarded with honorary doctorates in fine arts for “bearing positive witness to the Catholic faith in the public square."

Only there an hour and got a degree...
Jeannie:  "Today, after years of hard work, many sacrifices, long hours of classes and studying..."
Jim:  "...And tens of thousands of dollars..."
Jeannie: "...You have come to this moment of incredible achievement: receiving your degree."
Jim:  "Then again, Jeannie and I are getting a degree and we have only been here for an hour."

Jim comes from a large family himself.  He is the youngest of six children and attended Catholic school growing up.  Meanwhile, Jeannie comes from an even bigger family.  She was the oldest of nine children!  Both attended Jesuit universities; Jim attended Georgetown and Jeannie attended Marquette.    

They have been married since 2003, have five children under the age of 12, and are not shy about living in accordance with Church teaching, albeit, humorously. 

Jim says, "I'm Catholic. Jeannie's Shiite Catholic.  There's no goalie."

In one of his two books, Dad is Fat, Gaffigan writes, "I guess the reasons against having more children always seemed uninspiring and superficial.  What exactly am I missing out on?  Money?  A few more hours of sleep?  A more peaceful meal?  More hair?  These are nothing compared to what I get from these five monsters who rule my life... each one of them has been a pump of light into my shriveled black heart."

In September, the couple was invited to meet Pope Francis at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, where Jim performed his stand-up routine and shared the stage with Mark Wahlberg before the Holy Father’s address in front of an audience of about 1.5 million.

Still, being poster children for Catholic Christianity is not something they are comfortable with.  In an NPR interview, he said, "I don't want myself to be presented as somebody who is a great Catholic. The idea of being a practicing Catholic, for me, it's like I need a lot of practice."

At the end of their commencement address to the 1,750 students and their families on the steps of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on Saturday, the couple shared some final words of advice:

Jeannie:  "As you put your trust in God, things that seem impossible will become possible.  The love you are given and the love you give will be the most important force driving you through life. Life is nothing without love."
Jim:  "Remember, happiness is not found in accomplishments, income or the number of Twitter followers you have.  True happiness is found in family.  Living for each other, sacrificing together and enjoying the blessing of fresh guacamole delivered promptly to your door."

For more on the commencement speech, see here.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

A King's Advice, Manhood and a Boys' Game...

King David by Peter Paul Rubens...
Towards the end of his life, knowing that death was close at hand, King David gave his son Solomon a final word of advice. He said, "I am about to go the way of all the earth.  So be strong, act like a man!"

Manhood, as King David well understood, encapsulates all the qualities that Solomon, his heir apparent, would need to be a good leader, starting with personal responsibility, an attribute as lost in today's world as it is with my children, who, after leaving a towel on the floor of their closet, when I ask who left it, jump up and say, "Not me!"  "Not me, either," a second voice is heard from afar. "I didn't even take a shower," the third may say. After all is said and done, it wasn't anyone who left it, but, the towel remains on the closet floor.

Anyhow, manhood is also about courage, strength, wisdom, faith, integrity, humility, love and service.

I was reminded of the story of King David and Solomon, as I thought about a recent men's retreat I attended a couple of weeks ago.  It's the weekend getaways with the boys that I have written about in the past.  But, instead of drinking, gallivanting and getting tattoos, like men do in Hollywood movies, we disconnect from all the noise and distractions of life, bond, share, pray and grow closer to God!

I could almost hear the naysayers thinking, "Yippee.  How fun!"  But, let me tell you, after ten years of taking part in these weekend retreats, and having made some of my closest friends in the process, Vegas and weekends of carousing have nothing on us!

Mother Teresa used to say that people in India were so hungry that they would eat dog dung just to fill their stomachs.  Unfortunately, many men through their gallivanting, carousing and more, eat a lot of dung to try to fill their emptiness.

In any case, going back to my "deep thoughts" on David and his words on manhood, I think what prompted my reflection was a Facebook photo posted by one of our newer team members with three other new men in our group.

It was like seeing the next generation of men, who will be the future leaders. And, it stirred a sense of pride within me; not for any personal contribution, by any means, but, it struck me, that these guys were building on the legacy we had built on and many men before us had left.  It was being passed on from generation to generation like King David did with Solomon.

In our small way, through our biannual retreats, which attract anywhere from twenty to thirty retreatants and another thirty to forty team members, and bimonthly meetings, we are helping to form men in becoming what they are meant to be!

Not men like the Chase commercial guy, who dresses up as fairy godfather in drag, while Linda Lyndell's What a Man plays in the background, but real men of leadership, courage, strength, wisdom, faith, integrity, humility, love and service that God created them to be.  (Yeah, yeah, the guy in drag is cute because he is doing it for his daughter; thus confusing the crap out of her! Did you see her face at first?)

Last Thursday, I went to watch my son's eight and under team's Championship baseball game. The boys probably played their best game of the season, turning two double-plays, catching line drives and hitting the tar out of the ball.  They won big.

Champions; my son is #8...
At the end of their celebration, after receiving their trophies, they stood side-by-side along the first base line, holding them with both hands above their heads, as the sun was disappearing into the clouds, joy filled their hearts, and the bonds that, at least in this brief period in time, united them through a difficult season, where they endured some ugly losses and scary injuries, but overcame, a thought crystallized in my mind.

Just as these boys needed each other to win the Championship, men need men to achieve the greater glory.  Like iron sharpening iron, as the good book says.  And, the ultimate glory means perfection.

Jesus says, "Therefore, be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

That's what you call setting the bar up high!  Now, while we need to strive for personal holiness and perfection, and let's keep in mind, nobody gets to heaven without being a saint, flawlessness this side of heaven may be as illusive, as me trying to hit the high notes that Philip Bailey hits in Earth, Wind and Fire's 1975 classic, Reasons.

Yet, the key is trying and, I think, the only way for men to keep trying is by helping, guiding, teaching, pushing and supporting each other like a team on a baseball diamond.

Hence, even my son, who's skill set lags behind many of his teammates, because he hasn't been playing as long and I, unfortunately, don't have the time to work with him as other fathers do, was elevated through his team's accomplishment and got to taste the thrill of victory, despite playing a less prominent role.  We could all taste that thrill of ultimate victory by working together.

Edmund Burke once said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Even in these confusing and trying times, when it appears things can't get any worse and men want to be women and women men, as King David told Solomon, if men start acting like real men, the world would change.

Hopefully, through our retreats, meetings and formation of a new generation of men, we're doing our part...

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Courage, Trust and Riding a Bike...

Riding a bike in firemen boots...
"Do you know what courage is?" I asked my 8-year-old son in frustration, after repeatedly trying to get him to trust that I wouldn't let go of his bike seat if he started pedaling.  "It's when you're afraid but you do it anyway."

"Everybody is afraid of something," I continued, "But courage means you trust in God and do it anyway."  (Pot up the Hoosiers or Rudy theme song here!)

Except, the record player would play a few promising and uplifting notes, before sounding like the needle scratching across vinyl (Did I just date myself?).  My son looked at me blankly (like if asking internally, "What the hell is he talking about?"), pedaled once, and put his foot down.  He just wouldn't trust me!

Our younger daughter, who is 11, gave it a shot.  She tried reasoning, telling him that when she learned to ride, I held the seat of her bike and didn't let go until I was sure she was balanced and pedaling.  She then began coaxing him into pedaling over to her, who stood a few feet in front of him.

He couldn't do it.  His foot would hit the pavement involuntarily, sort of like Pitbull saying "Dale" in one of his songs.

Notwithstanding his apparent willingness and determination to learn, it wasn't working.  And, to me, it started to feel all too familiar.

It's taken me several tries to teach my kids to ride a bike.  My oldest daughter learned with my father, after several failed attempts with me.  Our middle girl, also took a couple of tries and frustrated efforts.  And, my son, well, let's just say, the last time, which was about a year ago, ended with him stumping off, yelling, "I don't want to ride a bike!  I don't ever want to ride a bike.  I don't care!" (He's a bit dramatic.  It must be from my wife's side of the family!)

And, so now, here we were again, at his own request, after Sunday Mass.  Yet, no matter how I or his sister tried, he wouldn't trust me to hold his bicycle upright.  

It was exasperating.  My patience was waning (a common denominator in all my failed attempts at teaching my kids to ride a bike!).

Maybe, I waited too long!  I learned to ride a bike on the day I got one, when I was about 5-years-old. My uncle took the training wheels off, put me on the bike and told me to pedal.  I ran into the wall of the front porch of our house but got up, took the bike down to the front yard and started pedaling again.  After falling several times, I learned.  Unlike my son, my parents say I wasn't afraid.

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...
In fact, I was fearless as a kid (not that I knew any better!), to the point where, at about the same age, maybe a bit younger, I thought I was Superman and, thinking I could fly, jumped off the top of the stairwell that led to the roof of my Great Grandfather's house.  I was immediately introduced to gravity, while tumbling on my head, shoulders and back like Peter falling down the stairs in Family Guy.  I ended up with a huge bump on my forehead (but no broken bones!).    

Getting back to our story, I left my son practicing on his own in the driveway, one pedal, foot down, two pedals, foot down, one pedal, foot down, two pedals, foot down, and so on, as I went to light the barbecue to cook dinner.

It was Divine Mercy Sunday and, as I sat there with a glass of wine in my hand and burgers on the grill, thinking about how little trust my son had in me and how little patience I had with him, it hit me.

"Jesus I trust in you."  The words that St. Faustina Kowalska had inscribed on the image of Christ, as He had appeared to her, inspiring the Divine Mercy devotion.  We had just heard about it at Mass.

My son wouldn't trust me and I was too impatient.  Yet, here I was at the tender age of 52, at a crossroad in my life, since soon my kids will be going off to college.  I have thirteen, maybe, eighteen earning years left in life (God willing!).  I have debt up to my eyeballs, like Stanley Johnson, the guy in the Lending Tree commercial (sans the two-story, four-bedroom house and country club membership).  I have little savings, despite a good paying job that, while earning more than my parents ever did (together), will never afford me three college tuition, and wondering, where do I go from here, like the old Alan Parson Project song, Games People Play, queried.  So, I have to ask myself, do I really trust in Jesus? Do I follow His lead, even if it means taking the road less traveled and having to crash and scrape my knees a few times along the way?  Or, do I constantly stop and put my foot down like my son? Moreover, how impatient is God with me, as I am with my son for his lack of trust?

The words of our parish priest that day came to mind, "The Lord is so much better to us than we actually deserve.  He gave up His life for us, even though we offend Him all the time, even though, we killed Him."

A sense of shame overcame me; not enough to stop grilling or sipping wine, mind you, but shame nonetheless. I prayed for more patience with my son and vowed to teach him to ride a bike and to stop putting my own foot down with God.    

I sometimes feel like the father, whose son Jesus heals of an evil spirit in the Gospel of Mark, who says, "Lord, I do believe!  Help my unbelief."

As for my son?  Talk about God's mercy!  I guess, He didn't want to test my patience any longer.  By the time I got home from work on Monday, he was riding a bike by himself.  He apparently had more trust in my Mom!...

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

We Hurt Because We Love...

"The only mended heart, the only complete heart, the only healthy heart, is the one that's been broken."   -- Peter Kreeft.

I heard this one recent morning on my way to work and thought of the Bee Gees 1975 classic, How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?, where Barry Gibbs sings, "Please help me mend my broken heart and let me live again."

Yet, pain and sorrow are what make us human.  We hurt because we're human.  As the great Author and Philosopher Peter Kreeft points out, a heart that's never been broken, is a heart that has never loved.  And, a heart that's never loved, is a heart that's never lived or experienced a true encounter with God...       

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Fulton Sheen on the Cross and the Resurrection...

"The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them... The Cross had asked: 'Why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree?'  The Resurrection answered: 'That sin, having done its worst, might exhaust itself and this be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death."

-- Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen, in Lent and Easter Wisdom.  Sheen was a priest, author and one of the first televangelists in U.S. history.  He hosted a prime time television show in the 50's and 60's.  His cause of canonization to be declared a saint of the Church was officially opened in 2001, and, in 2014, Pope Benedict XVI recognized him as "Venerable Servant to God," for a life of heroic virtue.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Ignatius of Antioch and the Way of the Cross...

St. Ignatius of Antioch...
It is one thing to say you are willing to die for your beliefs but it's another to actually do it.

As far as I'm concerned, that's the true measure of a man; having the faith and fortitude to stand up for one's beliefs, even at the risk of certain peril.

Knowing, as William Wallace put it in Braveheart, "Fight and you may die.  Run and you will live; at least awhile."

It is a quandary Christians have faced since St. Stephen was stoned to death in the Acts of the Apostles and one many are still facing today in different parts of the world.

Yet of the possibly millions of Christian martyrs around the globe during the past two thousand years, including St. Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in Auschwitz, when he heard the man beg for his life because of his family, and the priests and faithful buried alive in Communist China, who went to their deaths singing and praising the Lord, as the dirt was thrown into their graves, there may not be a more legendary symbol of faith and courage than St. Ignatius of Antioch, the first century bishop, who was instructed in the faith by the Apostle John and was ordained a priest by the Apostles Peter and Paul.

St. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch, one of the most important cities in early Christianity, for almost 40 years.

During the Christian persecution of the Emperor Trajan, St. Ignatius, being the leader of the Christians in Syria's capital city, was arrested and condemned to die in the Roman amphitheater.  He was chained and marched overland through Asia Minor, then put on a ship and, after various stops, finally brought to Rome to be fed to lions.

What made St. Ignatius forever woven into the fabric of Christian history is the seven letters, or epistles, he wrote to the different communities of faithful and to his loyal friend St. Polycarp (who was also later martyred), as he was being taken to his certain demise in Rome.  The letters were preserved (and still available today) and considered by some as inspired writings before the canon of the Bible was assembled.

In the letters, he dissuaded Christians to try to stop his martyrdom because he was willing to die for Christ.  In fact, he encouraged them to pray for it, "Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God."

The great Anglican convert John Henry Cardinal Newman, who led about 100 Anglican clergy into the Catholic Church, once wrote, "the whole system of Catholic doctrine may be discovered, at least in outline, not to say in parts filled up, in the course of his seven epistles."

St. Ignatius, who was the first to record the term, "Catholic Church," which means universal, when referring to the Christian Church of the First Century, in his writings, wrote, among other things, about Church hierarchy, the importance of the bishop in the lives of the faithful, the sacraments, and most especially, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

At this time of year, as we commemorate Good Friday and venerate the Cross and Jesus' ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of the world, may we consider St. Ignatius of Antioch, most of the Apostles, St. Stephen, St. Maximilian and all the Christian martyrs through the annals of history, who have imitated Christ to the fullest by way of the Cross, in giving up their life for their faith.

As St. Paul wrote in the Letter to the Philippians, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."...