Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pizza and other harsh realities...

Tuesday evenings are reserved for my little religious education class. Generally, there are only five boys who attend. Each comes with a history: the son of a single addicted mother, the nephew who watched as his uncle was gunned down in the middle of the afternoon right in front of him, the illegal immigrant brothers who have moved from place to place, the son of an abusive father...

Each of these young men comes with baggage, more than I can help unpack in the few classes we share together. Learning is not easy for any of them. Two are learning disabled. All of them are failing one class or another. My little class comes with big challenges. I have been teaching this class for several years, and have seen young men come and go. For a good part of those years I tried desperately to fill their heads with knowledge about the Church, doctrine, the Scriptures, and so much more. Experience has taught me that these boys need knowledge much more fundamental.

Our classes, while orthodox in content, are unorthodox in structure: I pick the boys up, and we go "somewhere". One class we went to the Underground Railroad sites in Buffalo, and talked about slavery to sin. Another time we went to the Botanical Gardens and talked about the beauty of creation, and our place in it. Still another class was in the hospital looking at the little newborn babies in the nursery, wondering what their future held, and explaining the truth that God has a plan for each of us from the moment we are conceived. We even walked in the Naval and Servicemen's Park looking at the monuments, and talking about the duty of a man to his family, country and God. Once every couple of months we all go out to dinner and then some fun event, but the entire evening is a celebration of the life of one of them. Andre Day, Diego Day, Matthew Day, and many others over the years have helped us to see the dignity in each one of us. Not to mention the incredible amount of food teenaged boys can eat at a buffet...

Today's class was a little light in the attendance category...two brothers, one fifteen, one thirteen. They have been in my class for a few years, and I have a soft spot for them. This evening the oldest informed me that they are about to be deported back to their home country, Argentina. The fear and anxiety in his young face was heartbreaking. We drove in silence for a few minutes. Then class began to take shape.

I took them out for a pizza, and as we ate I asked them about their recollections of life in Argentina; since both were quite young when their parents brought them to the U.S., their memories were cloudy. Nonetheless, stories about grandparents, cousins, and friends began to flow. Camping trips and adventures with their father were shared (Diego and his dad are in the picture above, to the left and right of the cross), as were many laughs. I talked about my own family, and shared stories of my own.

After we finished eating I took them to meet my mother and father. It was a beautiful time; mom and dad were warm, welcoming, and shared funny stories and photographs. The boys really seemed to enjoy themselves. I took them to the yard and showed them the setting of many of the "tales" I have shared with them over the years, and they felt like they knew the place. It was just wonderful. As we were about to leave I shared their impending deportation with my father in private. Sometimes when we put a face on the illegal immigrants we have a change of heart. He was visibly shaken. We drove toward home in silence for a few minutes; then I reminded the boys that no matter where we live, no matter what situation we find ourselves in, the love of our family and the love of God is more important than anything else...more than houses, schools, cities, or even countries.

After dropping the boys off at home I prayed for their safety. I prayed that the family would remain together. I prayed that the Church would always be the glue that keeps them strong. I prayed that God would send consolations and grace for all of them. And I prayed for me. I am going to miss them very much.

The beauty of Spring...

Just a few scenes from the Marciniak garden...enjoy!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Oprah surprised in the Land of Oz!

Oprah Winfrey, the queen of daytime liberal drivel, had Michael J. Fox on the program recently. True to form, Michael gave the pitch that embryonic stem cells are the answer to his disease, and we who oppose it are nothing more than Neanderthals. Then Oprah called out her Doctor du Jour, Dr. Oz, to comment. The resulting explanation from this medical professional are worth noting. Watch the video and excellent commentary:

Finally, someone who is actually paying attention. While we were supposedly in the dark ages during the Bush administration it was assumed that we fell behind in research. Reality is, embryonic stem cell research continued throughout the world. There has been very little to even get excited about. All the major advances have been acheived from adult stem cells. No babies.

We need to stop listening to the Christopher Reeves and Michael J. Fox's of the world. I truly empathize their situation, but they are not experts, they are not scientists. They are people desparate for a cure. In that desparation they have truly hung their hat on the wrong technology.

Happy 17th birthday, Elizabeth Grace!

Honorable daughter number two hits the big one-seven today, and will celebrate with some friends at Applebee's while mom and dad feast on a Snack Sampler a reasonable distance away. Seventeen! I'm getting old...

"Caritas in veritate" expected June 29th

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to release his next encyclical, Caritas in veritate (Charity in Truth), on June 29th, the feast of SS. Peter and Paul. Our Holy Father has actually been working on this encyclical since 2007, according to reports, but has delayed it's promulgation to make sure our current economic crisis and the realities of it's effects are reflected in it.

I am very excited about this particular encyclical. The encyclical will focus on globalization and it's effect on the poorest in our world, and our duty as Catholics to those in need. As a missionary in the poorest area of Buffalo, our focus is on our duty to the poor; we are anticipating a confirmation of our efforts and new insights to assist us.

I look forward to presenting my thoughts on the encyclical after it's release. Stay tuned!

Saratoga Springs, Part II

What a difference a day makes.

Day two of the NYS Emergency Nurses Association's annual conference was wonderful, for several reasons. First, we got to brass tacks - we discussed emergency nursing, what we do best. Gone were the political references and baloney of night one. The speakers were not policy makers or folks with a political agenda - they were nurses, experts in their fields, teaching us how to do our thing better. Second, the food was yummy. Okay, it was the day before too, but I had to mention it. Third, the sun was shining and it was warm, which can only help. Last but not least, the conference was closed out by a speaker who blew us away. He is the focus of my submission today.

Terry Foster, RN, MSN, CCRN, CEN (lots of letters; you will not be quizzed) is an emergency nurse from St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Kentucky. Terry's presentation was titled, "Emergency Nursing: The Sacred and the Profane All Rolled Into One". I was nervous about that title, I will admit. But the talk was incredible. He made us laugh and cry and laugh again. Part of the focus of his talk was the reality that what we, as ER nurses, find funny, most others definitely do not. But the rest was a celebration of the role we play in the lives of our patients. He did a great job focusing on the impact compassion and presence play in the care we deliver, and mentioned God and Jesus many times...thank you, Lord! He made it clear that what we do is a God-given grace, and we need to reflect that. Incredible.

Overall, day two was awesome. There is hope!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Saratoga Springs

This morning a colleague and I made the trek down the Thomas E. Dewey Thruway, the longest toll roadway in the U.S. (makes one so proud), to Saratoga Springs, home of quaint shops, trendy restaurants and horse racing (for six weeks a year). There are no horses in my itinerary, though. I am attending the annual New York State Emergency Nurses Association conference.

The conference has been pleasant enough; the vendors room had a lovely beef-carving station with some finger foods that would have made the Catholic Foodie salivate a river...I then went across the street and enjoyed three lovely lamb chops with a mint-brown sauce and fingerling potatoes. A glass of Merlot rounded out a fine evening. A good food day, indeed. Skipped dessert, though...pity.

Notice I have not mentioned anything about the content of the conference.

Today I have once again been reminded how counter-culture I am, and what a battle we who espouse the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church are up against. On the trip down I listened patiently as my colleague talked of her distaste of pro-life demonstrations, her position on abortion ("I am against it but who am I to tell you...you know the rest). At the conference I have heard several mentions of the positive impact President Obama is going to have on health care, the beauty of homosexual married couples, and other comments that made me, well, squirm just a little.

I am feeling dwarfed in this place.

I fear the nursing profession is moving farther and farther away from truth. Please don't misunderstand -- I am in awe of the compassion, skill, and patience of my colleagues --nonetheless the political agenda of the professional organizations representing nursing are at times not only in opposition of Catholic teaching, but are often aggressively antagonistic. Despite this, we who represent the Faith in our profession have the law on our side, protecting our right to refuse participation in procedures that our consciences will not allow. For now. Our President is working very hard to take that protection away.

As I muse here in the city horse racing built, I am conscious of a race of our own, a race to turn as many hearts and minds to God. Right now my horse is stalled in the gate. Pray for me! Most of all, pray for my colleagues and professional peers.

Tomorrow is the main portion of the conference. I will report back then...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Happy Ninth Birthday Joseph Daniel!

Hot showers, roller coasters, and streaking toddlers...

Sunday morning in a house of eleven is comparable to Penn Station during rush hour. There is no rest for the weary in my home on Sunday. I occasionally will look out the window and watch the neighbors sitting peacefully on the porch, sipping hot coffee, reading the morning paper and discussing the day's plans quietly; then a stark naked three-year old will run by dripping from the tub water and my quiet escape collapses around me.

Lest I appear ungrateful, there is nothing that puffs up this father's pride as much as a pew-full of well dressed children smelling fresh after their mandatory pre-mass scrubbing (those with pre-adolescent boys know the necessity of making showers mandatory - if left to their own devices they would bathe monthly, if at all). We do make a handsome picture when it all goes well...then I look up with pride at my oldest son, serving on the altar, complete with alb, hands held in pious prayer, and - what! - black Chuck Taylor's. Apparently he never got the mass / dress shoes memo. We'll try again next week.

I am usually the last one to get ready on Sunday mornings. By then the hot water tank is lying on the basement floor wheezing, and when I turn the hot water on it mumbles something sarcastic under it's breath, makes an obscene gesture, and dies. Another tepid shower.

There is nothing pleasant about a lukewarm shower. I finish as quickly as i can. I miss the warm water that loosens my creaky joints, eases my low back pain, and relaxes the stiff neck I sustained slipping on wet linoleum after a wet, naked three-year old ran into the kitchen. Hot water feels comforting; it makes me linger. I enjoy the warmth and feel better when I'm finished. A lukewarm shower is all business, an unpleasant task to be completed quickly. There is no comfort, no cause to linger; it makes the act of shower utilitarian, a task to be completed.

As I consider my Sunday morning escapades and the differences between hot and lukewarm showers, it reminds me a bit of my faith over the years...there have been times of warmth, comfort, even heat; invariably there have also been moments where my faith was tepid, utilitarian, even lukewarm. I have heard others describe their faith metaphorically like a roller coaster; great heights followed by deep plummets. I can read the signs when my roller coaster is on the way down -- I become too busy to pray, too wrapped up in tasks and the cares of the family, my career, my concerns. Faith calls us to linger, to receive graces like a hot shower over our aching, tired bodies; a lukewarm soul does not linger with the Lord. There is too much to do.

One of Satan's greatest accomplishments in a soul is to bring indifference to our faith lives. We are surrounded by indifferent souls who do not know the warmth of faith, and do not seem to care. They are near to us, they sit near us in church, they work with us, they join us at the dinner table. They do not linger in the love of Christ; their faith is utilitarian, a task to be completed quickly. Faith has little meaning to them. They go from task to task directionless. Our only recourse is to be loving, persistent, and inviting, "that they may see the good that we do and give glory to God."

As I grow older the ups and downs seem to be evening out -- they are not quite so dramatic. gone are the depths of darkness, but the great heights don't seem to come quite as often, either. In their place is a peaceful, quiet, trusting faith, and perhaps that is best. But I may be just rounding the corner of some big hill, so I guess I will just wait and see. In the meantime, if I look a little frazzled on a Sunday morning, you know why. Cut me some slack! And I'll try to get those Chuck Taylor's off the boy.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Divine Mercy Sunday

May God bless you and your loved ones this Divine Mercy Sunday!

At St. Luke's Mission of Mercy this is our Feast Day. Our community of lay missionaries, the Servants of Divine Mercy, are committed to the performance of the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy under the patronage of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. On Divine Mercy Sunday we renew our promises (as lay Servants we do not take vows) of poverty, chastity, obedience, mercy and charity. There are presently 14 lay Servants of Divine Mercy who make these promises. We also have an Associate program, which numbers over one hundred, who make a simple pledge to model the spirituality of the lay Servants and to assist us in the day-to-day tasks of the Mission. Our wonderful Junior Associates are high-school aged and follow a modified rule.

The Mission is like a mini-city! We have a full-service church with daily mass, RCIA, religious education, and adoration. Our chaplain is Father Jack Mattimore, SJ. Our school building has three uses: the kitchen serves two meals a day to as many as 650 individuals daily. The first floor is termed "the Mission Mall" and houses a food pantry, a baby supply room, and rooms with clothing for men, women and children, as well as household supplies. The upper floor is used for our school, Pre-K to 8th grade. The former Rectory is a home for men in recovery. The former convent houses men in various stages of addiction and recovery, as well as for emergency housing for men. We own many homes in the area, and have specialized homes for teen boys mandated for supervision by the courts, a home for women and children, and homes for refugees and homeless families.

This day is one of great joy for us as we celebrate the great mercy of our Lord. Fr. Mark Noonan, who lived at the Mission for a time during his discernment prior to ordination, delivered a beautiful homily on the nature of Divine Mercy during the Divine Mercy Novena this week. He described it as "the depths of the heart of God", that thing in the very depths of God's heart, that is our gift, undeserved but poured out freely, that calls us to be one in Him. Today we celebrate mercy, "miseracordia", the depths of the heart of God, given to us through the Passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the call to bring that Mercy to those we serve. It is a great day!
Click on the Divine Mercy image to visit our website.
God bless you!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Teenage Angst and German Shepherds

I have four teenagers, and in four months that number climbs to five.

Cards and letters of support can be mailed to my home address. In liu of flowers send donations to the Research Department of Premature Graying, c/o Grecian Formula.

For those who have teenagers or are survivors, you know the struggle. I have heard many erudite explanations of the phenomena: hormonal imbalances, myelinization irregularities, etc. I commend researchers as they attempt to find a cause for behaviors currently unexplained. Unfortunately, no one has found a cure.

Nothing helps. My wife used to tell me to let them sleep in on the weekends, with the naive idea that a good night's (or morning's, and perhaps afternoon's)sleep is all that is needed. Nope. The angst is pervasive. They call into question everything, from their faith, the meaning of life, and the value of putting laundry in a hamper. They question authority as they maneuver to discover their place in society, believing inheritantly that they truly should be Emperor of the World. Time is immaterial and is measured only in relation to social activity and "how incredibly long it took me to do the inhuman household chores you have forced me like a Hebrew Slave to complete on a SATURDAY, my Day of Rest". They look at life through relativistic lenses, believing that all points of view are of equal merit and value. Well, not quite; they believe that THEIR point of view is of merit and value, whether that changes daily, hourly, or in the space of a few seconds. Your point of view is irrelevant if it is even remotely in opposition.

As a parent I have to constantly check the atmosphere of my home in the midst of the battle, to insure that MY influence is not relegated to obscurity in the face of the struggle. Not for the weak of heart. Add to the fray the little fact that you love them with all your heart, and there is potential for hurt, misunderstanding and anger. In many families one can recognize early on that the teenager rules the roost. I'll go down fighting. Without vigilence it is inevitable that the culture of the home will embrace a sense of anti-authority and relativism. Not to mention the phone bill...

In related news, this appeared in the National Catholic Reporter on April 14th:

The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has initiated a
doctrinal investigation of the largest U.S. women’s religious leadership
organization, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

Sounds to me like our Holy Father has recognized that there is a metaphoric "teenager" in the Church, anti-authoritative and relativistic; the Church has made a move to re-exert it's influence in it's house. Check out this link for some in-depth analysis:


Let's pray for the leaders of our Church that they may persevere in the battle! I can relate; oh, how I can relate...

Did I mention that I was the model of perfection as a teenager? Don't let my parent's abundant gray hair and nervous tics fool you. That was probably from my brother...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Soul Wow!

The Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Center produced this awesome video to let the faithful know of a special day for Catholics to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation during Lent. This is AWESOME! Check it out!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

My fifteen minutes of fame cut down to three seconds.

In light of some recent events I was interviewed, along with Dr. Doug Hickox, about the challenges encountered in the care of the morbidly obese and ways in which our hospital has responded to those challenges.
I gave ten minutes of wonderful answers...watch it all condensed to one sentence! My moment in the spotlight littered on the cutting room floor. Check it out:

Of Frozen Turkey Slices and Something Like Gravy...

I have not laughed as much as I did tonight in a long time...

A dear old friend, Father Dennis Mancuso, visited the Marciniak mansion for dinner. This was once a frequent event, sometimes multiple times a week, but since he has become, as he states, a "simple country priest", we don't get to see him as often. His parish is in the hinterlands of the diocese, and a trip for dinner to the Marciniak's is now an all day event. Nonetheless, he has been staying in Buffalo this week to celebrate the Divine Mercy Novena with our community and was once again sitting at our table enjoying dinner and conversation.

Fr. Dennis comes from a large family, so the shock and overwhelming noise of a family of nine children is not an issue for him; so many guests get a glazed look on their face as the din of the supper table approaches the decibals of a sonic boom. I recall one Thanksgiving reminding a guest to eat; she was so entranced by the conversations and goings-on that she had scarcely picked up her fork. Fr. Dennis joins the fray, gets up, serves toddlers, cuts chicken for the little ones, and generally keeps up with the fracas.

Fr. Dennis is not a picky eater; on the contrary, he is quite happy with just about anything we serve. There was a dinner not so long ago that consisted of Swanson's Turkey Croquettes as the main protein. Anyone who has ever partaken of this delicacy knows that there is very littel resemblance to anything that may have come from a turkey floating in the pale brown liquid some have termed gravy. The children were horrified and ate the bare minimum. Fr. Dennis ate as though it were filet mignon. Ever since we have warned that at any given moment "flesh of dubious origin" may be on the menu again; he replies with a smile and growling belly.

Fr. Dennis and I were classmates for a short time in the seminary. As I informed my daughter's boyfriend at dinner tonight, I didn't make it. Fr. Dennis chimed in, "I did." We shared memories and laughed heartily throughout the dinner. The older children looked at us with the face many of you parents with teens have seen - the "You people are really weird and nothing you are saying seems funny to me so I am going to look at you with suspicion" face usually followed by a long, drawn out "oooooooooookay." Made us laugh even harder.

I thank God for Fr. Dennis. He is a good, holy priest, faithful to the magisterium, and full of the Holy Spirit. He is an example of the joy and love of the Church to my family and a treasured friend to me. I praise God for raising up such a fine priest to be "persona Christi" - in the person of Christ - to all of us.

He said he's coming for dinner again tomorrow. I think we'll serve Turkey Croquettes...

A great day is coming...

My hero since young adulthood is going to be canonized a saint in October by Pope Benedict XVI. Fr. Damien de Veuster, also known as Fr. Damien of Molokai, has been an inspiration to me for many years. I can't begin to tell you how very happy I am to know that his name will be added to the Canon of Saints!

The Roman Catholic Church in Hawaii is understandably thrilled and has posted information on his life and the canonization process:

I am planning to be in Rome on October 11th to witness this wonderful event. I have no idea how this poor missionary will get there, but I trust God will provide. Pray for me!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Four Years Old!

Teresa Jean (the little angel in the orange shirt) turned four years old on Holy Saturday, and what better way to celebrate than over a heaping pile of McNuggets! Happy Birthday to my little googly-moogly!

(Left to right / back row: Tyler (honorable son number one and obsessive-compulsive sports nut), Joe (the boyfriend of Emily), Emily (my oldest and the girlfriend of the weird-looking kid to her right - by the way, check out his blog, it's in my favorites), Elizabeth (honorable daughter number 2 and talented song and dance girl), Michelle The Mother of Many, Jacob (honorable son number two and artist extraordinaire). Front row: John Paul (honorable son number three and resident comedian), Teresa Jean the Cute (and honorable daughter number five), Amelia Terese (honorable daughter number four, five years old, cute as a button, and testing my will to remain sane at every moment), Mary (the calm, cool and collected honorable daughter number three), and Joseph (honorable son number four and a boy who goes to confession just to chat because I can't think of anything he's ever done that would require a confession...)

And the obligatory "everybody make a funny face" picture. Notice Joe the boyfriend's face seems stuck on strange. Mary and Tyler are far too cool for this.

Obama takes aim at Catholic health care providers...

This afternoon I approached a member of the administrative team of the hospital I practice in. I asked if the leaders of the hospital have discussed the push by President Obama to take away the rights of individuals to refuse to perform or participate in procedures that are contrary to conscience and religious belief. He stated that the discussion of this situation has been ongoing, and proceeded to explain facets of it in general terms. This was the first time I recognized the gravity of this situation in the face of a member of the hospital's administration. It cemented in my mind the reality that we are beginning to see the opening salvos of a very serious battle, one that threatens to change the very fabric of our freedom.

It has been reported that upwards of twenty percent of all health care is delivered in Catholic facilities, with much of that concentrated in the Northeast and Southwest. It has been a hallmark of our freedom that our nation has allowed us to practice in accordance with our dearly held beliefs honoring the sanctity of life and the rational reality of natural law. Millions of men, women and children are cared for by facilities that combine the very best in medical care with a holistic approach that recognizes the indivisible nature of the body and soul. From conception to death, each individual is seen as a child of God and worthy of our care and attention. This storied tradition, marked with sacrifice, love and devotion, is now facing its greatest threat to date.

President Obama has repeatedly stated that he would like to take away the right of physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other health care providers to follow their conscience, most especially in the case of abortion, sterilization, the provision of contraception, artificial insemination and in-vitro fertilization. This stated goal is a direct threat to our religious freedom. Religious freedom is time honored and a hallmark of our nation. Our President believes this is negotiable when it comes to health care. We beg to differ.

We need to prepare and arm ourselves spiritually. The battle has just begun.

Happy Dyngus Day!

Happy Dyngus Day to all our Polish friends and family! May God bless us with love and good health. Today we celebrate our heritage and thank God for our ancestors who worked hard, loved God with all their hearts, and came to America to give us the wonderful lives we live. We also ask God to bless our ancestral homeland, that it remain true to the Gospel and continue to provide holy men and women to inspire us all.

St. Stanislaus Kostka, St. John Kanty, St. Maximillian Kolbe, St. Faustina Kowalska, John Paul II the Great, and all you holy Polish men and women, Pray For Us!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christ's Passion and Death in the Streets

St. Luke's Mission of Mercy, located in Buffalo's impoverished East Side, prayed the Stations of the Cross in the broken neighborhoods and streets of the worst area of the second-poorest city in the U.S. It was a moving experience for all those present. Christ's passion and death was commemorated in a community marked with poverty, violence, and death. With each station, though, we remind ourselves of the power of the Cross: "We adore you, O Christ, and we praise You, because by Your Holy Cross You have Redeemed the world". Please pray with us that Jesus may reach out to even these, our brothers and sisters in poverty's despair.

"You who suffered wounds for us, Christ Jesus have mercy on us".

Friday, April 10, 2009

For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Triduum Begins

Fr. Jack washed the feet of a diverse and wonderful group of men today. A recovering alcoholic, a refugee from Central America, a former gang member, a handicapped veteran, a homeless man, and seven others with unique life stories participated in this re-enactment of Jesus washing the feet of the apostles. Most of the men will be baptized or receive the sacraments for the first time during the Easter Vigil. It was a beautiful, moving moment in a liturgy that celebrated the priesthood and the Eucharist as we commemorated the last supper of our Lord. Catholic priests all over the world gave witness to the love of Jesus as they got down on their knees and washed the feet of members of their congregations, calling us to be servants to one another.

As I looked with joy on these men I couldn't help but rejoice in the depth of God's love for us. Many of these men have been forgotten by society. They are non-existent to most of us. They are the kind of people we avoid in the mall or on the street. And yet God chooses them, the lowly ones, to show us His glory and power. He gives them to us as a gift, a gift we don't often recognize and sometimes squander. God waits for us to love them, reach out to them and pull them up. What we often find is that as we do so they lift us up, helping us grow in love and compassion, looking beyond the confines of our wants and needs.

Every day men and women find shelter and comfort in the mercy of Jesus Christ. Today I marvel at His Church, His holy priests, His body and blood given to us, and the simple act of the washing of feet. How great is our God!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Pass the rice cakes...

For the very first time in my life, I am on a diet.
Many are muttering "big deal" right now, and I agree. It is definitely not a big deal. So what if I'm fat; in the words of George Lopez, "hey, I'm married now. I don't care what I look like".

Nonetheless, I am a fat guy...but once upon a time I definitely was not. When I graduated from high school I weighed a manageable 165 pounds, on the low side for my height. I was thin. As a matter of fact, for much of my life I was pretty much skin and bone. When others were sporting six-packs I had piano keys.

Not so much any more. My washboard abs have three loads of wash on 'em. My size 28 jeans are smaller than my sweat socks. I have to buy suits "special order" at J.C. Penny's. When I tie my shoes I can't breathe. You learn how to tie fast. Somewhere between "I do" twenty years ago and dinner this evening my metabolism slowed down to a crawl, and everything I eat instantly manifests itself on my growing belly. I look like I'm entering the latter part of my third trimester. Lest I exaggerate, I'm not going into the Guiness Book of World Records any time soon; Robert Earl Hughes can keep his crown (see enclosed picture of Mr. Hughes). But I am...plump. Hence the diet. I am now on day five. After carefully looking at my normal intake, I estimated my daily caloric intake at about 4,000. So, I cut it in half. 2000 calories. And I'M STARVING.

I have no idea how much I weigh. I know that sounds a little crazy; I know that most dieters pay close attention to that. I just don't feel real comfortable on a scale these days. It's sort of like that message you KNOW is on the voice mail that you just don't want to listen to, so you leave it blinking for about a week. It isn't going anywhere, and avoiding the message won't make it go away, but avoidance is about the best you can do. That's me and my weight. I have rationalized that I am not playing a numbers game, it's all about how I feel. But the bottom line is I just don't want to know the truth. What I do want is to be able to breathe when I tie my shoes. And I'm willing to eat steamed broccoli and cauliflower for lunch to get there.

My goal is to have washboard abs by the summer. With just ONE load of laundry on the washboard.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Paradox of the Passion

As Good Friday approaches I am reflecting on the suffering of Christ and my own experience of suffering. His suffering, infinitely greater than my own, was sacrificial, purposeful, and an act of love for others. Through His suffering and death he gave us eternal life. He gave meaning to suffering by giving us the ability to offer our trials, pain, and hurts as a gift for others.

Not so easy.

I care for sick and suffering people every day and witness the gamut of responses. Some people in their trials are peaceful, calm, and continue to reach out to loved ones. Others just aren't even in the same ballpark. Been there myself. So many of us in our trials become to enveloped in our misery that we are blind to all but our own pain. Yet we are called to more than that. Everyone suffers, without exception. Loved ones become ill and die, tragedy and economic hardship strike, relationships suffer and crumble, and the list goes on. Jesus doesn't want us to retreat into ourselves; He didn't.

Sister said "offer it up". She was right. Every one of us will suffer. Let's use that pain as an offering for those we love, for the world. Let's offer it up as our OWN sacrifice. This Friday, pay attention to the Gospel. Jesus will tell us how.

Fr. Stan Fortuna, CFR, is an awesome monk in the Bronx. He ran the streets before Christ called him to task, and he really makes an impact through his music.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday has always been a day of mixed emotions and contrasting messages. On the one hand we celebrate the entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem with pomp and circumstance, the people gathered together in excitement and anticipation as Jesus enters in. On the other hand, five days later the same crowd will be yelling, "crucify him!"

It's all about expectations.

The people of Jerusalem had heard of Jesus, they knew he had healed the blind, the lame walked, demons cast out...and Lazarus! He was alive! They hoped this was the one, the messiah they had prayed for and expected for centuries. Yet the messiah they hoped for was not the one God sent.
They wanted a king, a political leader, a warrior who would gather the nation and remove the Roman oppressors, someone who would bring prestige and wealth and the recognition of the world. Someone to make Israel great, and to make their lives easier, wealthier, better. So on Palm Sunday they gathered at the gate and welcomed this prophet, this man who healed and raised the dead, this man who just might be the one.
Five days later they would nail him to a cross.
Palm Sunday is a day of mixed emotions and contrasting messages, and yet we continue to stumble and fall, repeating the mistakes and misconceptions throughout history. We welcome Jesus into our hearts, yet when he does not heal us, fix our problems, answer our prayers as we see fit we turn away. We grow cold and lifeless. He just doesn't meet our expectations.

As a people we need to read and re-read the Gospels over and over. We need to hear the message and understand. We need to recognize that Jesus IS a conqueror - not of kings or principalities but of much greater foes: death and sin. He has freed us from slavery. He calls us to be one in him. There are no promises of comfort, wealth, ease. The promise is salvation for those who love God and their neighbor as themselves.
Two thousand years ago that didn't mean much to those who would crucify him. I'll bet it does now.

A little self deprecation, just for fun...

I’m thinking today about the differences between men and women. I am a man, as you probably are aware because my name is David. Though I was taught in grade school by a Sister David, ninety-nine times out of a hundred most Daves are guys. Anyhoo, I am somewhat of an expert on how to be a man as I have been at it for about forty-one years. I am sure there are aspects of guydom that I have yet to experience as I age: balding is not yet an issue, my prostate is pretty good, I won’t retire for another twenty-six years, no grandkids yet, and I haven’t needed any medication for…ahem…any sensitive problems. Other than that I feel fairly confident that I could hold my own on a panel discussion about guys. Not that there ever would be such a discussion; most guys are not that interested in sitting around and chatting about the intricacies of being who and what we are. We just want to watch the hockey game. If there ever is a panel discussion on being a man it would probably be formed by a woman, and I wouldn’t have to be such an expert anyway as I wouldn’t be talking much.

I am definitely NOT an expert on women. I have never been one. I have, on the other hand, been married to one for twenty years and have five daughters, and a cat named Debbie. Oh, and one gave birth to me and raised me. Other than that I have little experience with women. I have, though, occasionally looked up from the TV and have observed a few things:

1. Women like to talk about their feelings. And most other things.
2. Women talk to themselves a lot, especially when they are cleaning, and especially when they are cleaning around my laz-y-boy recliner.
3. Women like to plan ahead. And talk about it.
4. Women think out loud.
5. Women think we don’t know a boat load of crud about being sensitive and open to feelings and insipirations. Whatever.
6. Women do not like bodily sounds. Like it’s not natural or something.
7. Women will complain about the toilet seat up but think it’s fine to clog up a hairbrush with six pounds of hair.
8. Women cry when they are sad. Or happy. Or confused. Or watching a McDonald’s commercial on Thanksgiving morning.

Now none of this was done scientifically, it’s all anecdotal. But I think it is a fairly accurate list. Other than that I am pretty much in the dark. While for the most part I get along fine with the opposite sex, there are bumps in the road every now and again. Well, maybe more than that. But so far this morning everything’s okay.

It can all be traced back to the very beginning. When God made Adam and decided he needed a partner, he took a rib from his chest while he slept (the first use of anesthesia?) and formed a woman. This explains man’s love for bar-b-cue baby-back ribs. He has been trying to get his rib back ever since. Eve got them both in hot water by eating fruit from the tree of life. Hence a man will always choose pepperoni over fresh fruit at a party. It’s a fact. Eve had a fairly lengthy conversation with the Serpent. Adam pretty much just showed up, took her word for it and ate the fruit. Another example of the dangers of fresh fruit. And talking.

Overall, I am pretty fond of women. Sure, I may appear to zone out when my wife is discussing meal plans for the coming seasons, but I’ll sure enjoy the food when it gets here. Yes, they do get emotional, but, hey, I cry when Ty Pennington yells “move that bus” too. So what if they don’t like bodily sounds…we’ll save ‘em for later. To borrow from a famous movie quote: Women…complete us.

So, guys, get up off that Laz-y-Boy, give your little lady a kiss, and tell her you love her. Then go check the fridge for pepperoni. The hockey games starts in in twenty minutes.

A proud moment: my first audit!

The State of New York, which has about forty-three bucks left in the bank this week, has sent a letter stating that they cannot verify my income or how much I paid for them to spend with abandon and thusly I ain't gettin no moolah. I have to submit my W-2 form, social security cards for my wife and I, my daughter's college tuition bill and reciepts stating I paid them, proof that any man could possibly have nine children, and a photo of my mother when she was sixteen. Okay, that last one I made up.
Once the Big Packet of My Stuff is mailed to the appropriate agency post office box, the State of New York, which recently had to cancel Thursdays and Fridays because they're just too dog gone expensive, will then process my information. How long, you may ask, is the processing period? THREE MONTHS. Apparently if there was any money left they may have been able to process my Big Packet of Stuff sooner, but with Thursdays and Fridays cancelled, what can you do.

Got me thinking...

I am going to send a letter to the electric company. Every month they ask me for money, but how do I know if all that electricity is really coming in my house? Have you ever SEEN electricity? I want an electrical audit.

How about the gas company? Sure it smells like rotten eggs when I turn on the stove burners, but rotten eggs smell that way, too. Am I getting 100% gas, or are they pumping in some bad egg stink? I want a gas audit.

Telephone? I definitely did NOT ask all those telemarketers to call. Am I paying for THAT? I want to pay for things I want, not things that annoy me...I want a phone audit.

Speaking of the State of New York, I pay taxes every two weeks out of my paycheck. I've got a sneaking suspicion somebody is getting paid to process audits and is taking their good sweet time. They might even be playing free cell or something instead of opening my Big Packet of Stuff. I want an audit audit.
I'll withhold payment for processing. Three months.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Florence is NOT in the building.

Some days in the ER are great, some not so much. Today was not so much. No one to blame but myself...Got up late, and was cranky all day.

No, today I did not emulate Florence Nightengale.
Today I was more like her:

Okay, maybe not that bad. But close.
Thank God for the weekend. Time to regroup.

I met with my academic advisor yesterday to discuss coursework for the dreaded summer session. We talked at length about a friend of her husband's who is suffering with extreme back pain and is unable to get out and participate in normal life activities. She talked about her struggle reaching out to him: he was irritable, unapproachable, and bitter. Nonetheless, she ignored the "by-products" of pain and was present in a very compassionate way. Nursing is like that sometimes...our minds and bodies want to RUN in the opposite direction, but our hearts stop us and make us care. Often our patients are repulsive: there are unearthly smells, negativity and bitterness, there can be signs of bodily decay, and non-compliance with medical advice is rampant. As nurses we are called to look beyond to the heart of the person suffering and make a connection, no matter what our instincts tell us (which is usually to get the heck OUT!). Often we are the only ones in their lives who do. Go to a nursing home and see how many men and women sit alone day after day. WE become their family.

It's an important vocation. Every one of us struggles. We have good days and bad days. But the bottom line is we make a difference, sometimes in small and seemingly insignificant ways, sometimes in earth-shattering acts of heroism. Every day I ask Jesus, "give me a heart like yours." That's the only way I know how to get the gumption to get up in the morning, put on my scrubs, and walk into the ER. And each new day is a new opportunity to get it right.

Pretty cool job.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Don't break my heart, my achey Reiki heart..."

Several religious congregations of sisters advertise "Reiki" and many other Eastern alternative therapies and types of spiritual exercises. Many of these so-called therapies are offered in health care facilities, retreat centers, and "spiritual houses" administered by their particular communities.
Now I'm not going to make any Reiki jokes; I come from a family that put ground up raw potato on a wound to "help it heal". But somewhere along the line we need to take a good look at these "therapies". Are there any documentable results? Can these results be duplicated in controlled experiments? Does anyone really want a nun running her hands up and down their "energy points"? Not me.
Apparently my skepticism is shared by the Bishops. Here are some excerpts from a recent directive on "Reiki":
"According to Reiki teaching, illness is caused by some kind of disruption
or imbalance in one's 'life energy.' A Reiki practitioner effects healing by
placing his or her hands in certain positions on the patient's body in order to
facilitate the flow of Reiki, the 'universal life energy,' from the Reiki
practitioner to the patient."

The Guidelines state that "Reiki lacks scientific credibility" and "has
not been accepted by the scientific and medical communities as an effective

"Reputable scientific studies attesting to the efficacy of Reiki are
lacking, as is a plausible scientific explanation as to how it could possibly be
efficacious," they state.

The Guidelines note that "Reiki is frequently described as a
'spiritual' kind of healing as opposed to the common medical procedures of
healing using physical means." They assert, however, that there is a radical
difference between Reiki therapy and the healing by divine power in which
Christians believe: "for Christians the access to divine healing is by prayer to
Christ as Lord and Savior, while the essence of Reiki is not a prayer but a
technique that is passed down from the 'Reiki Master' to the pupil, a technique
that once mastered will reliably produce the anticipated results."

In sum, Reiki therapy "finds no support either in the findings of
natural science or in Christian belief," the Guidelines state.
They continue:
"To use Reiki one would have to accept at least in an implicit way central
elements of the worldview that undergirds Reiki theory, elements that belong
neither to Christian faith nor to natural science. Without justification either
from Christian faith or natural science, however, a Catholic who puts his or her
trust in Reiki would be operating in the realm of superstition, the
no-man's-land that is neither faith nor science," they state.

"Superstition corrupts one's worship of God by turning one's
religious feeling and practice in a false direction," the Guidelines state.
"While sometimes people fall into superstition through ignorance, it is the
responsibility of all who teach in the name of the Church to eliminate such
ignorance as much as possible."

"Since Reiki therapy is not compatible with either Christian teaching
or scientific evidence, it would be inappropriate for Catholic institutions,
such as Catholic health care facilities and retreat centers, or persons
representing the Church, such as Catholic chaplains, to promote or to provide
support for Reiki therapy," the Guidelines said.
A quick Google check found many Catholic sisters described as "Reiki Masters". Yikes. Why do so many good religious fall for this stuff? It boggles the mind. It binds my universal life energy up in a big sticky ball. I need to spend some me time in a labrynthe.

Sham WHAT?!?

Sham WOW! It holds twelve times it's weight in liquid! Whatever. It probably weighs less than an amoeba, and twelve times that weighs about as much as a paramecium. As the saying goes, if it sounds TOO good, it probably is.

Now please don't pepper me with insults if you are a disciple of the great and mighty Sham Wow. I'm sure it would have saved my last carpet if I just had owned one. But, come on, the guy takes this little cloth, pours a 55 gallon drum of Kool-Aid on it, and there isn't even a drop to be seen within a hundred yards. Something tells me it's not just the Sham Wow that's getting soaked.

Spills are a way of life in my home. With nine children, four under the age of ten, milk and other sundry fluids flow onto the rug like refreshing showers in a rain forest. The walls and furniture need to be scrubbed regularly to remove the white polka-dots caused by evaporated two-percent. I have replaced several keyboards and a printer because of milky mishaps. One Christmas day we excitedly set up a new computer to replace the sticky mess that kept overheating only to have young Joseph pour Orange Crush in the DVD slot. Proud moment.

Apparently all we needed was Sham Wow.

Life is full of messes, messes we make all on our own. Just like kids, we spill our milk all over the place. We hurt those we love with our insults and by taking them for granted. We gossip about others and whack at their reputations like a pinata full of Tootsie Rolls. We look with envy at other's stuff and fail to appreciate the gifts we have been given. We drink too much. We eat too much. We avoid work and sacrifice and expect others to do it for us. We just keep messing up the place.

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a big Sham Wow that could just soak up all our messes?

There is. It's called CONFESSION. It's free of charge, it soaks up everything you put in it, and you can keep using it over and over and it never wears out. In confession you get to talk to Jesus and dump all the "stuff" out of your heart, and it's gone. No mess, no fuss. Available right now at your neighborhood Catholic Church. Beware of imitations. Get yours today!