Saturday, October 31, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Friday...the Saturday edition?

Bishop Edward Kmiec, local ordinary for the Diocese of Buffalo, New York (home of the INCREDIBLE Buffalo Sabres hockey club) has issued a directive to all parishes that Holy Communion distributed in the cup is suspended until further notice. He has also asked (not a directive) that the shaking of hands during the Sign of Peace should be avoided as well. Of the two, the congregation of our church seem to understand that in receiving Jesus in the Eucharistic host we are receiving Christ fully. The latter has propelled the “happy huggers” of my parish into touchy-feely withdrawal complete with sweaty palms, nervous twitches, and a bevy of unfulfilled needs. Some resorted to “elbow touching” during the Our Father. I withheld. I sneeze in my elbow.

My beloved wife allowed my eldest son and I to attend the Sabres game tonight (facing the hapless Leafs, who played like a desperate hockey team). It was an impulse decision, she acquiesced, and we had a bang-up time watching the Leafs fans stream out of the arena disappointed. Again. As a reward I intend on sitting quietly with her in Panara’s Bakery CafĂ© sipping coffee and eating bagels tomorrow morning. Will we discuss the weeks events? No. Will we plan our weekend? No. Will we share our thoughts and feelings at all? No. We will be sitting at a booth with our laptops enjoying computer time without interruption. No crying children, no fights over who’s turn it is to empty the dishwasher, no requests for snacks, money or extensions of curfews. Just bagels and wi-fi. Life is good.

Speaking of children, I never thought I would utter these words: My daughter is in a long-distance relationship with a Merchant Marine. There. I’ve said it. Actually, he’s a rather nice young man. It just sounds like a set up for a Cosby episode.

A local health care agency generously donates free seasonal flu vaccines every year for the men and women in the community surrounding the Mission and for those sheltered in any of our houses. The big day for vaccines was to be tomorrow morning…unfortunately, most agencies in the state have run fresh out of vaccines, including our generous benefactor. Apparently New York policy-makers didn’t take into account the fact that if you mandate every health worker to get a vaccine you won’t have any left for the at-risk in our state. Small matter. We’ll just have to step up on the sneeze in your elbow thing. Unless you plan on touching elbows at Mass, in which case you may sneeze in your belly button.

I got the H1N1 vaccine last week and survived, as did every one of my colleagues. Some amazingly outrageous claims have been made regarding the preparation of the vaccine, but none have been proven worthy of reporting here. Everyone came through with flying colors and no side effects (we can’t be sure if the hair that grew on our tongues was related, nor is there any evidence that the skin sluffing or unusual tail growth eminating from our buttocks had anything to do with the shot, either). While many vaccines can have side effects, and some can be quite serious, the nervous inner-turmoil, lack of sleep, and institutional anger and rebellion exhibited by those torn apart with worry over the H1N1 vaccine seems to have been the most serious complication to date. After all that, they ran out of vaccines. Oh well. Back to work.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it earlier, but the Sabres won tonight. I was there with my son. Club seats, first row, posh. The club improves to 8-1-1, and the Leafs continue their slow spiral to the septic tank of the league. Buffalo’s close proximity to the city of Toronto brings many Leafs fans to HSBC, where the average ticket price is about one hundred and fifty bucks less than in their own city. And we’ve got Sahlens hot dogs, far superior to anything our Canadian neighbors have to snack on. Except for those McCain Superfries. Man, those are good. Anyhoo, we beat ‘em. In attendance tonight were five beer-drinking penguins and a dancing bear. Gotta love Halloween.

The bishops are asking our help to stop passage of the health care bill as it is. They’re right. We are not consequentialists; the ends do not justify the means. We cannot allow funding of abortions even if it means delaying the provision of government health care to those in need. Patrick Kennedy, D-RI railed against the Church and charged that the Church’s actions are in defiance of a pro-life stance. Hardly. Each and every day Catholic hospitals, health care agencies and providers throughout the country provide free and affordable care to those most in need. We’ve been doing it for centuries, long before Obama, Medicaid, or the United States for that matter. We will continue to do so. Killing innocent unborn children is an abomination. We won’t pay for it, we won’t condone it, and we darn well aren’t going to do it. Join the fight.

Thank you to our gracious host!  Sorry so late...did I mention I was at the Sabres game?  Yeah, it was cool

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Support a Catholic Speaker Month: Raymond Arroyo

The term “Renaissance Man” is coined for many, rather flippantly, I am afraid. I do believe, contrary to its overuse, the moniker may quite readily stick to Catholicism’s answer to Walter Cronkite: the indomitable Raymond Arroyo. Blessed with many talents that have vaulted him to a position of importance, not only in Catholic circles, but quite rightly among the ranks of the finest journalists and commentators of our day, Raymond is a point of pride for the entire Church.

It is no small matter that Raymond’s voice can be heard in 100 million homes weekly, nor is the trust and respect he has earned undeserved. EWTN’s international news magazine, “The World Over Live”, created and hosted by Arroyo, has highlighted his innate ability to get to the heart of the matter, whether reporting the good work of a loyal son or daughter of the Church, prodding a guest whose opinion is in opposition to Magisterial teaching, or helping Catholics understand the relationship of politics and faith. Talking with a Pope or President, politician or cardinal, Raymond Arroyo’s news and interviews capture the pulse of Catholicism.

True to the term “Renaissance Man”, Arroyo’s success extends beyond the news format. An accomplished author whose books have graced the New York Times Bestseller List, he has the gift of expression on paper that captures the imagination of the reader and expresses his thoughts and stories in engaging and dramatic fashion. He has produced an all-star audio bible, has been featured on major news networks, radio programs, news journals and magazines, and is presently working on a mystery series and an original musical. A musical, you may ask? The theatre was his “launching pad”, and he studied under respected teachers who helped him to hone his presence and craft. He acted and directed in New York and London.

As a speaker Raymond Arroyo is captivating, inspiring, and witty. I have had the privilege of attending several of Arroyo’s talks and can personally attest to his ability to recognize the needs of the listeners and to translate that in a presentation that affirms, challenges and brings laughter. Discussing the role of the culture and pop culture and translating that into a force for evangelism and religious expression is his delight, and most recently at the Fr. Corapi conference in Buffalo, New York Arroyo treated the audience to an insightful treatise on the power of the culture that has not been fully tapped as a force for bringing the faith to the forefront of society. Sounds deep, doesn’t it? Throw in an incredibly authentic Dean Martin impersonation and the hilarious and poignant stories of Mother Angelica, and you have the essence of the talent of the man.

I have been blessed to personally speak to Raymond Arroyo on two occasions, and in preparing this story was thrilled to receive his thoughts via email. He is gracious, amiable and inviting, and a true gentleman. The Catholic Church is a better place because of the vocation and ministry of this true Renaissance Man.

Support a Catholic Speaker Month: Thanks to Fallible Blogma for this opportunity!

I need my mom.

Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy.

I have many friends who have a distinctly Marian spirituality.  They have consecrated themselves to Our Blessed Mother and rely on her intercession in all they do.  They have a deep devotion to the rosary and Marian prayers are their predominant form of spiritual expression.  I have great admiration for their religious expression manifested in their deep love of Mary.  Perhaps you, dear reader, share these admirable traits.

While I do, indeed, honor Our Blessed Mother, recognize her as Queen of Heaven and Earth, and ask for her intercession both formally and informally in prayer, I do not consider my spirituality to be distinctly Marian.  There are many like me, and there is room aplenty in our Church for both expressions of faith, and many more as well.  That being said, there are times in my pilgrimage to Heaven that I have leaned on the Blessed Mother more than at others; at present I am in such a mode.  There are characteristics in my life, at given moments, that I can identify as predispositioned to leaning on Mary.  Interestingly enough, they mirror such times when I seek the support and guidance of my earthly mother as well. 

When I am feeling particularly weak, overwhelmed, and defeated I find great comfort in Mary.  As a child those, too, were moments in which my mother was most adept at loving and soothing her son.  I wanted, as most boys do, to please my father and make him proud of my accomplishments; mom was at her best when there was little to be proud of, and was quick to provide love and encouragement.  In my spiritual journey I find that to be reflected in my reliance on Mary during times of trial and defeat, weakness and discouragement.  It is during those moments in which I find comfort enveloped in her mantle, wrapped in her love. 

As my own mother, Mary is ever patient, content to lift me in prayer as I run from task to task, sometimes forgetting or taking for granted the encouragement that has brought me to new confidence.  She is aware that in time of need I will run to her, much as a child who scraped his knee at play runs for the comfort of his mother.  So it is with me, a grown man, who finds there are times when I need my Mother, and I run to her. 

I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother.  In thy mercy, hear and answer me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thank you sir, may I have another?

On occasion after dinner I will recline on my luxurious sofa (as long as there isn't dried cereal stuck to it or the milk spilled between the cushions doesn't smell like feta cheese that has been partially digested).  From my pampered position I will summon my beloved children, one by one, to my side...but they won't come.  They have learned over the years that I merely intend to yank them onto the couch, tickle them mercilessly, and send them unceremonioulsly down to the floor in a crumpled, giggling heap.  Like Pavolv's dogs who drooled at the tinkle of a bell, my children have recognized the consequences of certain behaviors, specifically that approaching a seemingly placid father lying on the couch means ticklepalooza.  But every once in a while, carelessly detatched from impending events, one of them will wander near...and I get 'em.  Oh, boy I get 'em.

The children are not unique to this behavior; I am certain each of us could conjure up examples of personal behaviors we are well aware to be detrimental and yet... For example, I am painfully aware that putting any hope in the Buffalo Bills will lead to bitter disappointment, yet I watch.  I have tasted the bitter gall of telling one's wife that one's mother makes a particular dish a bit better, yet I speak.  I have felt the the burn of the searing gaze of a teen-aged daughter when I comment on the location of her most recent blemish, yet my lips move.  I am Charlie Brown.  I must kick the ball, and so I run, with all my strength, and moments later I am on my back while Lucy howls in laughter. 

Today I am feeling very much like Charlie Brown, spinning in the air and awaiting a fleshy thud as I become one with the cold, hard ground.  Parenting can be like that...I have a child who can't seem to grow up.  This child will not take responsibility, will not commit himself to work, will not recognize that diligence and character define us.  He is neglectful of his studies, his faith, and his family.  Logical, reasonable, rational people would tell me to give up.  They would carefully justify the reasons for throwing up my hands and surrendering responsibility.  They would nod in grim agreement if I simply said, "enough".  But I can't.  I am a father.  And so I will rant, rave, cajole, advise, discipline, ground, punish and plead; but I will not give up.  Believe me when I say that many days I do want to give up, protect myself from disappointment, and abdicate responsibility for a boy who will take none.  It is a struggle.  But what of the father of the prodigal?  What of St. Monica?  What of our Heavenly Father who calls us to Himself despite our unyielding propensity to sin? 

Please, God, give me strength.  One of these times I will kick the ball. 
With my luck it will probably go wide right...

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Thanks. I needed this.

Sometimes I get discouraged with the children at the Mission.  They have behavioral problems, some are fetal-alcohol kids, and all carry heavy crosses.  They act out.  They struggle.  But I just can't count them out.  This video has been around a few years, but today it was my gift, my affirmation to persevere.  Check it out.

I was a mule for a swine.

H1N1 is in the Marciniak house, and I can't come to any other conclusion other than I was a mule for the swine.  For those far removed from the drug trade, a mule is an individual who personally smuggles illegal substances into the country, either strapped to themselves, smuggled in luggage or in cars, or ingested and retrieved later in a mode that needs no explanation.  Usually a mule is a person down on their luck and  willing to put themselves at risk for meager compensation.  Emergency nurses reading this may recognize themselves in the previous statement, PPE  notwithstanding (PPE is medical techno-speak for personal protective equipment - you know, masks, gloves, gowns, tiarras, pumps, whatever).

My house sounds and looks like an Adirondack TB hospital.  The children are sitting around wrapped in blankets coughing like emphysematic smokers while their dutiful nurse scurrys from patient to patient dispensing antipyretics like precious shots of Kentucky bourbon.  Thankfully, none of them are exhibiting severe or troubling signs beyond elevated temps and yucky coughs.

The Bishop of our diocese, Most Rev. Edward Kmiec, has directed his flock to refrain from dispensing the precious blood and to omit the Sign of Peace from the liturgy in an attempt to protect us from passing the nasty virus like a green bean cassarole at a parish pot-luck.  He has also advised those who are ill that their obligation is lifted; it seems obvious, but there are those who so dearly love the Lord that they cannot imagine not attending Mass on Sunday, and will drag themselves in on a respirator and dialysis machine if necessary.  While admirable, in a pandemic it would be prudent to stay home.  So stay home.  Really.  Bishop said so.  It's okay. 

In the meantime my guilt consumes me.  And so I endure the coughing, the whining, the demands for this and that, the sound of Nintendo DS's game after game...praying for their health, expressing gratitude that things are not worse than they could be, and lifting mothers and fathers in prayer who have lost their children in the last few weeks to this insidious virus.  He gives and takes away.  Blessed be the Name of the Lord.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival XVI

I began the week that was with observations and reflections on the new kitten and her love / hate relationship with the reigning feline of our castle, particularly on temptation and avoiding sin.  Closely on the heels of that submission came a celebration of this week's momentous gesture of our beloved Pope to the Anglican community.  "Fr. Stan Fortuna Not Welcome Here", my most "provocative" blog title judging by hits, documented reflections while walking my neighborhood.  I penned my second "Seven Quick Takes" and finished the week with a walk in the park, experiencing a "Sabbath Moment" according to our good friend  and expert in such matters, Colleen!

Be sure to visit our host, and join us if you care to - for carnies we are a pretty nice bunch!

Of Trees and Flannel Shirts

We had great plans for today.

It has been a rough week; I have been working overtime assisting my colleagues with the H1N1 onslaught, Michelle has been taking care of sick kids and her responsibilities at the Mission, and the condition of the home reflects our absence. Last night we made grandiose plans to get the kids up early, do a complete home-makeover, and get the place in ship-shape. It didn’t happen.

Our plans also included taking my vehicle to the Mission “mechanic” (a title proudly bestowed on any auto repair shop owner who will bill us rather than demand payment at pick up). We have a running joke that every Mission vehicle (most are donated) must have at least five major problems to qualify as a St. Luke’s car, and mine well-exceeds that number. Here are but a few of my vehicular woes in no apparent order: No rear-view mirror: check. Brakes shot: check. Check-engine light blaring: check. Screaming belts: check. Bald tires: check. Heater fan inoperable: check. Dropped off at the mechanic: nope.

I picked up a morning paper and read that the leaves were at peak colors this weekend in the Western New York area. I considered all the projects that required my attention, and quickly realized that I needed to get in touch with the great outdoors. Now I am not the kind of fellow that jumps in my Subaru and speeds off into the country to become one with nature (nature would reject me anyway); but when I read that story I felt an inner compulsion to look at trees. I knew not where, but the colors of fall were beckoning, and who was I to turn a deaf ear in their leafy direction?

Just before noon I donned the appropriate denim and flannel and informed my beloved that I was going out; when she asked where I felt sheepish and reluctant to answer. Oh, what the heck, I thought. “I’m going to look at leaves.” There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as she considered my statement. She was folding laundry, and had that “I’ve got a million things to do” look that women sometimes get, accompanied with a chiseled scowl that could have been a transplant from General Patton. I broke the silence: “Do you want to go with me?”

After promising a breakfast sandwich and coffee from Tim Horton’s she consented. The issue of child supervision had to be addressed first. The young ones were up at the crack of dawn and already running amuck (I got up with them to let my sweet babboo sleep in, a move I suspected would come in handy later…perhaps a nap?). The teens were still drooling on their pillows at the crack of noon; I awakened the seventeen-year-old and asked her to keep an eye on her siblings. She responded with a reasonable amount of seventeen-year-old-emotional-roller-coaster-daughter disgust, and we were off.

After fulfilling my role as hunter-gatherer in the drive through of the local Timmy’s we drove away eating biscuit and egg sandwiches while sipping French-vanilla cappuccinos (definitely not a lumberjack breakfast, but those are tough to come by in the city). All the while Michelle was relating in minute detail the challenges of her students. I enjoy listening to her stories; I like the little ones she teaches and I love to hear about their progress. We pulled into the park and I continued to listen. I realized that this was a conversation that might not end any time soon. The leaves were no longer calling. They were screaming. It was time to enter the present.

“All right, the time has come to be in the present moment. We are no longer discussing our plans, our week, our frustrations, or anything else. We are here to look at leaves,” I said, trying to look stern but gentle at the same time. “Agreed, but I’m bringing my coffee” she replied, and we ventured out into the cool fall air. We entered by the Japanese garden near the Historical society, and walked along the park lake; later we viewed the park from atop the pedestrian overpass. We finished at the Elmwood Farmer’s Market, an outdoor affair every Saturday in autumn in the midst of one of Buffalo’s most vibrant neighborhoods.

The views were nothing short of stunning. The air was cool but not cold, the sky was steel-gray, but the leaves were like fire. How often this week did I drive by these sights and not notice them? How was it that our conversations were so in-depth that we were unable to see beyond our thoughts and cares? Why did I allow the worry and concerns of the day blind me of the splendor from God’s almighty hand?

We are a people on the move, constantly running from task to task. We have accomplished so much, but we have likewise lost much. Our ability to wonder in God’s handiwork has been lost, and moments such as these seem so magnanimous precisely because we have lost touch with nature. Living in the present moment is a challenge, a discipline that must be practiced. There is much to be gained: peace, silence, and gratitude.

St. Faustina knew that well. She penned this prayer in her first diary:

O My God,
When I look into the future, I am frightened.
But why plunge into the future?
Only the present moment is precious to me,
As the future may never enter my soul at all.

It is no longer in my power
To change, correct or add to the past;
For neither sages nor prophets could do that.
And so, what the past has embraced I must entrust to God.

O Present Moment, you belong to me, whole and entire.
I desire to use you as best I can.
And although I am weak and small
You grant me the grace of your omnipotence.

And so, trusting in Your mercy,
I walk through life like a little child,
Offering You each day this heart
Burning with love for Your greater glory.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Friday II

Last week was so much fun I decided to try again.  In true OCD nursing fashion I broke down the seven takes into categories to help keep it all orderly and organized: faith, marriage, family, ministry, work, sports, and a "whatever" post.  Thanks to our host, and join us if you'd like...

I am amused at the liberal outcry against the historic move Pope Benedict XVI made in providing a means to welcome our Anglican brothers and sisters home. NPR decried the Pope’s actions as a breach of the “unwritten rule” keeping denominations from “fishing in each other’s ponds”. “Catholics for Choice” lamented the re-incorporation of “traditionalist Anglicans” in the Church as a bolstering of archaic prohibitions against women’s ordination, homosexual acceptance in Church leadership, and other such drivel. Still others have stated that ecumenical progress has been set back several decades…Ecumenism; do they mean empty dialogues that produce nothing but plans for future empty dialogues that keep mid-level Church bureaucrats gainfully employed while accomplishing nothing of lasting value? How DARE Pope Benedict do this without their input, several years of consultation and discussion, official position papers, and the utilization of committees, sub-committees, and advisory boards? The nerve of some pontiffs.

Though I am not a fan of contrived “holidays” created by greeting card companies to increase sales, any explanation as such about “Sweetest Day” comes across as insensitive and unfeeling to the fair sex, and the man who does not observe the rites of this hallowed day is quickly recognized as a boob. Truth is not an issue here. Unfortunately, I was stricken with the dreaded Swine flu during this storied and beloved holiday (I hate calling it a holiday; I think “hallmarkday” is more appropriate) and was unable to shower my Sweetest with flowers, expensive jewels, champagne or that new Lexus she’s had her eye on. Nor will I be able to do so this week either as pay-day is not until NEXT Thursday, and I am currently lacking in fundage. My plan is to postpone Sweetest day one more week in hopes that it will suffice, though I suspect I am running out of time. I will gladly take helpful suggestions from the womenfolk.

My son John Paul (age 11), named after someone you may be familiar with, is a very talented young man. He is witty, creative, energetic, avenue to channel these qualities was clearly needed. That avenue has been chosen, to the chagrine of my poor ears: drum lessons. A regular volunteer at the Mission is an accomplished drummer, and he offered to provide lessons. Today was day one. “He’s got it”, we were told. I assume he meant rhythm. John Paul shared highlights of his first lesson and also informed me that he was shown the “drummer’s hand-shake”. I asked for a demonstration but he stated that because I am not a drummer he would have to kill me after he showed me. I opted out. We then had a discussion among the family as to who we would classify as the “Holy Trinity” of drummers. My picks: Lars Ulrich (Metallica), Gene Krupa (drum pioneer and jazz great), John Bonham (Led Zepplin). Your picks are welcome.

St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy is getting ready for the big holiday season. We will begin with the Thanksgiving food give-away. The Saturday before Thanksgiving is packing day, when over 500 volunteers descend on the Mission and help pack nearly six thousand bags of groceries. It is an INCREDIBLE sight to see. Youth groups, businesses, Church organizations, sports teams, you name it – they are among the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. My job on the big day is to welcome them, lead them in prayer, and give a history of the Mission, then to sign service sheets for the students doing their community service projects. I love that job. I get to meet them all!

H1N1 has become the bane of my existence. It ruined a perfectly good spring, and is now making autumn miserable. I have worked twenty-four hours overtime in the last seven days and could have worked quite a few more if there weren’t these darn labor laws. The ED is swamped, the staff is getting sick, and the patients seem to be sicker than in the spring…I think we did a good job keeping the mildly affected folks out of the ED, but the ones that are coming are fairly ill. Some are dying. Keep us in your prayers; we are knee-deep in this and it’s getting deeper.

My frosh son Jacob finished the soccer season with a 9-2-1 record; this from a team that was not expected to break .500. So few boys tried out that all who did made the team, and expectations were low. They all played hard, learned how to work together cohesively, and finished with an incredible record. I am very proud of my defenseman. As my older boy says, offense is exciting but defense wins championships. Congrats, St. Joe’s Marauders!

Oh, and how ‘bout that Ryan Miller? That man is a BRICK WALL!

I am now going to sound like a grumpy old fart: I cancelled my Twitter account two days after starting it up. I got all kinds of disgusting “tweets” from people who definitely need to see the inside of a confessional soon, offering services better left unsaid. Even if that didn’t happen, I am just too boring to “tweet”, and I really could care less if someone is shopping for tilapia at any given moment. If I were to rate Twitter on a scale of 1 to 10, I would give it a whopping 1. Any Twitter lovers out there? Fiends.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Fr. Stan Fortuna Not Welcome Here

I recently took a leisurely stroll through my neighborhood, the much-ballyhooed "Little Italy" of Buffalo, New York.  Well, much-ballyhooed here, anyway.  I shant compare it to New York City because NOTHING here compares to  New York City, but as Little Italies go, it's pretty little.  Not to mention marginally Italian: in the two or three blocks to the left and right of my street there is a Greek diner, a Thai restaurant, a Mexican eatery, a Chinese take-out and a Halal market.  Of course, there are Italian establishments as well: a seafood place, a cafe, a gift shop, a tailor, several pasta joints, a head-shop (with perverbial Chevy Monte Carlo's parked nearby), an Italian accountant, and a great Italian consigliere who will defend you if you have too much vino and decide to drive the Monte Carlo into a bus shelter.  Oh, and we have a Walgreens. 

I never thought I would live in the city; I am a suburban boy by birth, but I have come to love North Buffalo for all it's charms and peculiarities.  It's a good neighborhood.  The people are friendly, the streets are clean, and there is little crime to speak of...except at the Credit Union.  The place gets robbed fairly routinely.  I don't know if the crooks think the credit union is too poor to buy security, or maybe they think the place is brimming over with cash, but it is a favorite spot for least three that I can remember in the last couple years, maybe more.  It gives the kids an opportunity to be on TV running around making funny faces behind the reporter being filmed for the six o'clock news.  "Look, it's little Tony!" can be heard on every block when the report is aired; the story is secondary, if that.

The Credit Union decided that evasive action was required.  No, they didn't hire a professional security guard.  They didn't install a new alarm system.  Nor did they teach the tellers jujitsu.  No, they hung this sign on the door:

I'm not privy to any security tapes, so I don't know what the crooks were wearing during the robberies, but I'll bet they weren't wearing business suits, zubazz pants or leotards.  Therefore, if you are wearing a santa suit, kilt, pajamas, fishnets and mini-skirts, Tyvek suit or pantaloons, welcome.  Sunglasses?  Squint or get lost.  Hat?  Let's see that bald spot, punk.  Hood?  Franciscans take a hike. 

It is certainly the right of any business to limit who has access to it based on attire.  Heck, the Vatican will throw you out on your ear if you try to sneak in wearing Bermuda shorts, so the Credit Union is not setting a precedent.  That being said, the situation caused me to think about the way I have been excluded from discussions, events, and even friendships because I was too Catholic. 

I'm sure I'm not alone...friendships lost or drifted apart, discussion taboos among family, passed over in co-worker get-togethers and conversations; all these and more because I fit a pre-determined archetype that didn't fit the circumstances in the minds of the participants.  I consider as well Catholics in the arts, in literature, science and politics who are politely and not-so-politely excluded because of their faith.  All because we belong to the Church that invented the concept of the college and university, fostered art and saved culture through wars, invasions, and Dark Ages, nurtured great musicians, sculptors, painters, and writers, and literally invented the scientific method of study....pretty awesome, huh? 

Heck, we are far more interesting than the rest of the world!  So if we are too Catholic, too bad.  We don't want to be in your dinky little club, anyway.  Oh, and somebody better tell Fr. Stan Fortuna he can't go in the Credit Union.  Thanks. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI: Anglicans, come home!

One week ago the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, was informed by the Vatican of a plan to "fast track" Anglican Christians into the Catholic faith, preserving what is good and holy in their traditions while declaring allegiance to the Pope and integrating into the Catholic Church.  Today that plan was revealed to the world.  In a joint news conference in both Rome and England Dr. Williams may have witnessed what has been termed as the "burial of his communion". 

It has been no secret that the Anglican community has been disintegrating, particularly in response to the teachings on homosexuality and the ordination of women.  Anglicans have been praying in earnest for a means to enter the Church, maintaining what is unique in their tradition, while providing a vehicle for the integration of the clergy.  Pope Benedict made that happen today.  For so many, it has been an answer to fervent prayer.  Traditional Anglicans have petitioned the Vatican for assistance and our Holy Father, THEIR Holy Father, has opened the door. 

Dr. Rowan Williams sent a letter to the Anglican Bishops, excerpted here:
"The Vatican has announced today that PopeBenedict XVI has approved an ‘Apostolic Constitution’ (a formal papal decree) which will make some provision for groups of Anglicans (whether strictly members of continuing Anglican bodies or currently members of the Communion) who wish to be received into communion with the See of Rome in such a way that they can retain aspects of Anglican liturgical and spiritual tradition.

"I am sorry that there has been no opportunity to alert you earlier to this; I was informed of the planned announcement at a very late stage, and we await the text of the Apostolic Constitution itself and its code of practice in the coming weeks. But I thought I should let you know the main points of the response I am making in our local English context– in full consultation with Roman Catholic bishops in England and Wales – in the hope of avoiding any confusion or misrepresentation."
The Archbishop of Canterbury is aware that there can be no healing at this stage of the game, and is deferring to the leadership in Rome.  His aquiesence (with polite yet subtle hints of his unhappiness and sense of powerlessness) to Vatican authority as his communion disintegrates before his eyes is telling.  Henry VIII is turning over in his grave, to be sure...

Behind all the political movement and intrigue lies one incredible, historic, monumental fact:  the Roman Catholic Church, through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, is the true home of all Christians and has welcomed our separated Anglican bretheren home.  Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI has been an instrument of God's healing grace bringing us closer to the unity we pray so earnestly for.

This is big.  REALLY BIG.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pancakes and Temptation

We are not a dog family.  Don't misunderstand - we love dogs, really, we do.  My seventeen-year-old has been begging for a Chihuahua for years, and her thirteen-year-old sister has jumped on the bandwagon.  My two younger sons have been asking for a dog as well, although the idea of a little rat-like dog is not exactly what they have in mind; they would like something of the gargantuan variety, such as a St. Bernard.  I grew up with dogs, as did my wife.  For most of my youth I was the proud owner of Lad, the Wonder Dog (that's fodder for another blog post someday).  So why, you may ask, do we have two cats?

My wife asks that question daily, though her terminology is not always fit for print.

Dogs are, for lack of a better term, high-maintenance.  They insist on being let out regularly.  They need bathing, regular check-ups, and walks in the neighborhood.  They need to be trained and taught obedience.  They leave gifts all over the yard that need to be cleaned before they squish between toddler toes.  They require attention, praise and affection.  They get lonely.  Buying a dog is like a marriage.  You better be in it for the long haul. 

We are a low-maintenance family; what many hold dear we don't.  House plants come here to die.  We get around to cleaning when company's coming.  The lawn consists of clover and crab grass.  Our driveway has pot-holes deeper than artesian wells.  Our wardrobes would make a great "Fashion 911" episode.  Our important papers are carefully piled in a box.  Somewhere.  Hopefully.  We are constantly on the run. So...a dog just wouldn't work.  The yard would be knee-deep by the time we got to it.

And so we have cats. Cats are perfect for the low-maintenance family.  Honestly, the cats would be perfectly happy if we weren't home at all, as long as they had food.  Of our two original cats, Debbie and Waffles (adopted six years ago from a crazy cat lady who has since been committed to a psychiatric facility - true story), Debbie remains.  We lost Waffles this summer, after which Debbie was clearly grieving.  She lost her verve, her get-up-and-go.  She shuffled around looking like Eyore on depressants.  The vet said the only solution was another cat.  Like a brainless oaf I nodded vigorously and proceeded to the local shelter, impulsively adopting a little kitten playmate for our grieving Debbie; the children named her Pancakes.  She literally breaks the cuteness barrier.

Debbie hates her.

Of course, Debbie no longer shuffles slowly about; she is now vigorously stalking and hunting the new kitten, pouncing, hissing and swiping.  The kitten has laid claim to the affection of the children simply by virtue of her extreme adorableness, and Debbie is really ticked off about that.  Pancakes, though, just wants to be pals, and seems somewhat befuddled by all the fuss. 

Debbie likes to sit on the window sill with her tail hanging down, slowly waving back and forth as she keeps tabs on the local squirrel population.  Pancakes cannot resist the slow undulations of Debbie's tail.  It is like a siren song to her; she knows the instant she touches that tail Debbie will erupt in irritation, chase her, and attempt to dispatch her once and for all, but she cannot resist.  She is drawn irresistably closer, creeping slowly, until all at once she jumps and swipes at it with her tiny paws, and Debbie blows up on cue. 

As I observed the silly little kitten entranced by the tail of her brutish housemate I began to think of my own responses to temptations. I know they lead to nothing but trouble.  I am aware that the consequences can be detrimental.  And yet, like Pancakes, I find myself skulking around, looking in from the periphery, from what I perceive a safe distance, my senses fixed on what I know I should shun - and I pounce. Dumb.  I am just like that little animal, spending way too much time hovering around temptations that deserve none of my attention, that ultimately produce consequences that are detrimental.

It is clear to most that the closer we draw ourselves to God the more interested the Evil One becomes in drawing us off track.  Recognizing that can help us as we seek God's grace. Avoiding temptation, not entertaining it in my mind to draw me in, substituting prayer at that moment for sinful thoughts and inclinations, and begging for mercy; all these and more help in our struggle. Often, though, the very best mode of attack  is to name the temptation, face it head-on, confess it, ask God to give us the grace necessary to defeat it, which can only be done through His power.

In the scheme of things, we understand sin to be a part of our lives: a foreign, unwanted part, but there nonetheless.  Praise God for the sacrament of Reconciliation.  When Pancakes gets herself into too much trouble I scoop her up and hold her close, helping her to feel safe and loved.  Be grateful today that you and I have a Father just like that.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival! XV

The week that began with the thrill of the canonization of my hero, Fr. Damian of Molokai and a horrid loss by the Buffalo ills (B left out purposely).  Later in the week I took a moment to revel in the richness of our faith.  Friday brought a new endeavor: Seven Quick Takes...we'll see where this leads.  Finally, I completed the week with an essay on my penchant for skepticism.

I also began a new feature this week: "You said WHAT?!?"  Every other day or so I am posting some ridiculous statement in my sidebar made by someone who probably should know better...check it out when you have a moment.  If you have any juicy quotes, pass them on!

Thanks to our gracious host...and may God bless us every one!

Pardon if I seem a bit skeptical...

A search of epic proportions for a six-year-old boy who appeared to float away in a big silver balloon took an odd turn when the youngster, reported missing by a sibling, was found safe and sound in a box in the attic of the family home.  Immediately questions were raised concerning the possibility of a hoax; did the family stage the entire event for media attention?  Sounds preposterous, to be sure; I mean, what sort of family would desire that kind of attention?  Perhaps a family that is actively seeking it's own reality show on cable?  Or one that starred in an episode of "Wife Swap"?  Or one that gleefully takes small children on video-taped storm-chasing jaunts lookind to run into a tornado or two?  Hmmmm.  Let us ponder...

My superior has a favorite saying:  "Nothing is as it seems".  Just when you think you have something figured out the truth jumps in your face and makes everyone feel like an ass.  Case in point: Patty Hearst.  Oh, how we worried, but the picture of her packing heat in a bank job helped clear the air.  How about the grieving Menendez brothers?  Could you fathom the pain of losing your parents, even if you did it?  How about the pain of a woman losing sons in a carjacking?  Susan Smith seemed to leave out some important details on that case.  Richard Strandlof, AKA Rick Duncan, has been reaping the rewards of being a sacrificial hero for one's country...too bad he never served.  Finally, two words: Milli Vanilli.  Need I say more?

In that same vein I have discovered several truths regarding reality vs. fantasy during my tenure in the Emergency Room.  Here's a few: First, if you don't want to be a victim of gun violence make sure you get up in everyone's business, because every poor soul shot up full of holes (that could talk) insisted that they were "mindin' their own bidness."  Second, there are countless men and women who are allergic to Tylenol and Motrin and simply can't tolerate anything except Lortab, and most have missing teeth and several tatoos. Third, more people require notes excusing them from work on sunny days than on rainy days, and on sunny Fridays the entire community seems to suffer from migraine headaches, which can only be treated by Lortab because of a nasty tylenol and motrin allergy.  Oh, and they need a note for work.

Perhaps I have become a bit jaded...okay, the heck with perhaps.  I have a wary eye.  How sad, one might think, to be skeptical, but I have never emailed my bank account to a prince in Nairobi no matter how much I might have stood to gain.  My children probably would have preferred a Pollyanna for a father; instead they got a detective-wannabe who can pick apart their stories like a vulture on a carcass.  It's fun.  For me, anyway.

This skepticism has served me well as a Catholic.  While others with itchy ears throughout history chase this prophet and that miracle worker, I simply fall back on the authority of the Church, a far better detective of all things spiritual than I could ever aspire to be.  While this has been a blessing to me, it has created some tension between myself and those I know seeking contemporary miracles.  For instance, I have no opinion on the validity of Medjugorje.  Alan Ames seems a charlatan to me.  Anne, the ubiquitous Irish housewife, sounds great, but...I just can't be sure.  Weeping statues, miraculous cures, images of Jesus on grilled cheese...all these and more cause my leery left eybrow to rise and wrinkle my brow.  I certainly respect the right of my brothers and sisters to believe what they'd like, but I'll wait for the final word from Mother Church.  While others seem to see a miracle under every rock, I just...don't.

Of course, maybe that's just because one hasn't happened to me...?  Things that make you go hmmmmm...

One last look...

Goodbye Summer.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Seven Quick Takes Friday - My first edition

I grew up in a generic suburban community featuring homes that looked amazingly similar with an occasional strip plaza and several TrueValue hardware stores; street after street of three bedroom ranches as far as the eye could see.  One warm Saturday afternoon I rode my bike down the main road out toward the eastern horizon, and after an hour happened upon an old village lined with turn-of-the-century buildings, an old opera house, and neighborhoods filled with homes that looked as though they hopped right out of a victorian painting.  I wondered delightedly in the frantic heat of discovery whether anyone else knew this Shangri-La existed besides me, and when I returned home breathlessly to relate my experience to my slightly amused parents I realized there is a lot of world I don't know about...

Each time I delve into the blogosphere I feel much like that young boy on his bike, discovering new and exciting avenues to communicate and learn from a community that seems to have no bounds.  Today I rode into a village hosted by Jennifer, featuring a fun new endeavor: Seven Quick Takes.  By the list of participants, I need not wonder if anyone has discovered THIS Shagri-La; and so, trusting on the hospitality of our host I submit my first edition for your parousal.

My diocese is converting the school building of one of the few inner-city parishes to remain open into a museum of the "faith community that was", featuring artifacts from the Polish community that has long since moved out and from parishes that have been given the axe.  As I consider this move a tune comes to mind..."They took all the churches and put 'em in a church museum, and they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see 'em...Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got 'til its gone..."

RCIA season has kicked in high gear, and I am flyin' high that a young man I have invited is attending class.  Converts are so cool.  As a cradle Catholic I am always amazed and enthused by those discovering the faith for the first time.  It is a lot like the excitement I feel when I take my kids somewhere new and exciting - no matter how many times I have been there, seen that, bought the T-shirt, when someone gets THAT excited I can't help but be drawn in.  Props to the converts.

My "birthday retreat" is fast approaching!  I will be spending the weekend with the Cistercians at the Abbey of the Genesee for my annual retreat, and I can't wait.  Pure Silence...not even a sigh allowed.   As a father of nine, ER Nurse, and Missionary silence is a commodity more precious than silver or gold.  I adopt their schedule: bed by 7:30PM, up by 2:30AM for prayer.  Of course, while they go to work in their bakery, infirmary, or wherever they are assigned, I go back to my room and nap.  I love it there - the soft intonation of the psalms, the prayerful silence, the beauty of working the land, the simple rough-hewn pews; I've got to do this more often...

The Buffalo Sabres once again are cashing in on an enormously horrible Buffalo Bills team that can't seem to understand that it is a professional football organization.  The Sabres are playing some incredible hockey, and I couldn't be more thrilled - nor can this city of sports fans eager for effort from their teams.  As if things aren't bad enough at One Bills Drive, a group of knuckleheads are paying for a billboard calling for the dismissal of Dick Jauron, head coach of the Bills.  Why blue-collar workers in a town that knew recession before recession was cool would spend their hard-earned money on this idiocy is beyond me.

The frost is on the pumpkin...Buffalo has enjoyed some warm fall seasons the last few years, but don't count this one.  Global warming seems to have forgotten us as the evenings dip below freezing.  It's fireplace season, but our fireplace is sadly out of commission: the screen keeps falling off (a bummer during actual fires) and creosote build up is pretty bad.  I don't want to risk having those pesky firemen chopping my chimney down with their big ol' axes...the chimney guys can't come too soon.

I soooooo wanted to be in Rome for the canonization of Fr. Damian of Molokai, but it wasn't meant to be.  I lived it out vicariously, though, through a group of scouts from Hawaii who made the trip.  Check out their site.  I can only imagine the great joy of the people of Hawaii...Maybe I couldn't get to Rome because the Lord wants me to go to Molokai.  It would be a tough journey, but if God wants it...(toungue firmly in cheek).  Fr. Damian is my hero.  My entire nursing career is inspired by his love and service. 

And the slang terminology of many of my patients, "I got the swines".  H1N1, inevitable for ER nurses everywhere, hit the Marciniak household this week; my eldest son, my little rosebud Amelia, and I all experiencing fevers, sore throats, coughing spells, headaches, and the like.  Like most, our symptoms are manageable and we are doing well.  Join me in prayer for those who are suffering severe symptoms, including two young sons of co-workers presently in the ICU at Women's and Children's Hospital of Buffalo, and for all those children who have died, now over eighty in the last few weeks.  Thankfully, most of us just need a little ibuprofen for a few days and we're back on our way.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

I'll have another meatball.

Life is good.

This past Sunday our community celebrated the birthday of one of our missionary sisters, the lovely Sandy. She is a beautiful woman who is so wrapped in joy that she positively radiates it. It was a feast worthy of such an amazing soul: lasagna stacked so high it needed an ordinance from the city, spaghetti parmesan heavily loaded with cheese, meatballs in sauce that would make Mario Batali cry like a baby, chicken breasts pounded so thinly they only had one side, coated with Italian bread crumbs and sprinkled with lemon, a salad with fresh peppers so sweet you could mistake them for candy, and a Cassata cake that simply put us all over the edge of happiness.

We celebrate life with gusto at St. Luke’s. After Mass we call up anyone in the church who is marking a birthday and serenade them in song. It is an important part of our call to celebrate life in a concrete way; and so, whether old or young, hardened sinner or innocent child, if it is your birthday, we will rejoice in it and in the gift from God your life represents.

Parties are part and parcel of our ministry at St. Luke’s. We don’t need too much of a reason to celebrate, and when we do we go all out: food, music, worship, love and laughter, reveling in the gift we are to one another through our love for Christ. What more do you really need?

Some look with suspicion on our celebrations. Perhaps we appear too ostentatious. Perhaps our revelry is seen as foolhardy, or a waste of energy and resources. Perhaps, like those scandalized upon witnessing David dancing with joy before the Lord, we risk appearing impious. We see it differently…we see it as an expression of our gratitude for life. Catholicism is robust and full of joy; we see it in our liturgies marked with beautiful music, heavenly art, poetic prayer…intoxicating smells, sights and sounds that remind us of the richness of our lives and the heritage we have been given. Each soul we meet is uniquely and lovingly made in the image and likeness of God. What more do we need?

Yes, we gather in quiet prayer, work hard, and pray unceasingly. We participate in the daily grind, working hard to meet the needs of our vocations. We suffer illness and want, experience death and heartache. Much of our time is spent on the mundane. But life is full of joy, so when we can we eat, sing, laugh, pray, and love with the vigor of those who are precious in the eyes of God, a people who are uniquely aware that life is good.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

This is a GREAT DAY!

St. Damien of Molokai, pray for us!

Dick is done.

Snapping a ten-game losing streak in a game ESPN  and the Associated Press termed as an "instant classic on Comedy Central", the Cleveland Browns defeated the hapless Buffalo Bills as the Buffalo squad continued circling the NFL drain in a game that could only be described as pathetic.  The Bills have become the laughing stock of the league.

Ralph Wilson, Buffalo's elderly owner (who calls to mind the movie "Weekend at Bernie's" whenever sighted) has been obtuse about any possible change in personnel, but the time has come in the mind of most that something has to give, even if such a move is only symbolic.  Bottom line:  Dick has to go.

Dick Jauron needs to go away.  He has demonstrated that he cannot lead this team anywhere but down.  I am reminded of a certain 1975 Philadelphia Eagles team that fired Mike McCormick (equally adept at being unable to inspire anyone) and hired Dick Vermeil, taking a chance that proved successful.  The Bills organization would do well to revamp the leadership of this team, develop a philosophy, and at least ATTEMPT to win games. 

On a lighter note, go Sabres!

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival! XIV

After a lengthy vacation, I have returned to the blogosphere...I learned in NFP class that periodic abstinence makes me a better man; I don't suppose this applies to blogging, as well?

Anyhoo, I began the week with a short explanation (okay, not really, but still) of my absence, and a video of a young man re-enacting an amazing scene from one of my favorite movies...not to be missed.  I then indulged in a bit of hair-shirting / self-flagellation / Iron-belting penitential reflection on a day that I just lost it.  Finally, I ranted a bit about a web site encouraging clergy to refuse to marry anyone until gays may marry.  These people are real knee-slappers. I laughed 'til I cried.

Visit our hostess, and have a great week!

So-Called Clergy to Hetero Couples: Go Away

A well-designed website with all the bells and whistles can make anyone seem legit...take, for instance, the Refuse to Sign crew.  This fringe-group of so-called clergymen and women have begun a "nationwide" campaign to recruit and train ministers, priests, elders, shaman, whatever to refuse to perform marriages until gay couples can marry.  Their premise is that the state is forcing them to discriminate by dictating who they may or may not marry.  Awesome web site.  Stupid movement.  The Church-of-what's-happenin'-now, including the United Church of Christ, the fabulous Unitarians, and others are gobbling up this stuff.  No suprise: churches that don't commit to anything substantive probably don't have too many members commiting to one another anyway.

An article on Salon in July highlighted the efforts of a couple ministers who are refusing to perform any marriages until they are allowed to marry gay couples.  This tiny fringe movement, with the aid of their site, have gained legitimacy in some questionable circles, highly undeserved.  But I say, You go!  Protest!  Don't sign the marriage certificates!  Turn away ruddy young men and women and stop the madness!

To the ruddy young men and women:  Catholic churches across the country would LOVE to welcome you to the faith and marry you with all the bells and whistles!  We promise a lovely ceremony, classes to prepare, and so much more: life-long grace to keep your marriage strong!  Looking for a faith that honors your commitment?  Call today!