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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...