Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival

A happy and holy Sunday to all the carnies!  Thanks to our hostess for throwing this party week after week.

I have two posts to submit this week:  first, I ended the novena to St. Francis de Sales on his feast day, January 24th, which happened to be the same day as the March for Life in Washington D.C.  In the reflection I considered the words of our president and contrasted them to the words of our beloved saint.  As you may guess, there was a bit of a difference. 
Second, I submit a post that reflected the extremes of experiences and emotions of the week and my wary eye that dictated my response...as inadequate as that may have been.

May God  bless you this week - I look forward to surfing the carnival later this afternoon!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Seven Quick Takes: January 28th, 2011


“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do,” Jesus gasped during his agonizing Passion. Martyrs throughout history have repeated those words with courage and conviction. I recently read a blogger’s post about the killing of a young boy in a Catholic Church in Iraq…and I was filled with anger. As stories of martyrdom, torture and abuse of Christians pour out of the Middle East I am troubled by my desire for a retaliatory response. How did the martyrs remain true to the words of Christ? I am afraid my faith is too weak. Does the Holy Spirit provide in the moment of need, or is there more to it? I suspect forgiveness is natural to the recollected soul. Miles to go before I sleep…



Among the most difficult words for a parent to utter to a child: “I’m sorry”, especially when we are young and full of ourselves. I am aware of many circumstances in my own life where it was not only appropriate but even imperative, yet I wavered. The older I get, though, it seems to get easier…maybe with the passing of the years I see the effect of my behaviors and words more acutely. It has taken years to begin to see that asking my child for forgiveness did not diminish my authority but rather provides invaluable example. Now if I could just control myself BEFORE I need to apologize, there’s the rub.


My blog has been featured on a nursing web site for those exploring specialization in emergency nursing…and I am at once flattered and puzzled. So little of my blog features emergency nursing posts; did they really read it, or did they just run with the subtitle? Whatever the reason, I have changed a few things to accommodate those looking for posts from a nursing perspective. Located in the side-bar are posts that I considered might be of interest to nurses, and I promise to add to that every few weeks or so. And to those thinking about becoming an emergency nurse: GO FOR IT! It’s amazing work.



As an adult learner, I look awfully funny in the college library among all the youngsters…and I’m ornery, too. Nothing worse than trying to get a paper done while a bunch of late teens are giggling and carrying on over stupidity, the doggone whippersnappers. I told ‘em no good would come from that crazy rock and roll.
Just tryin’ to live the part, kids. Go with it.





Am I the only one looking at the floods in Australia, the craziness in Egypt and Tunisia, the mudslides, the cold snaps, the snow in the deep south, Korean sabre-rattling and the deteriorating world economy and thinking that I really need to get to confession just in case?



I love wine; I blame Chef Peter of Pranzo who years ago had each of his wide-eyed young waiters (I was an eighteen year old pup) sample and learn about the subtleties of good wine. My wife gave me a wine refrigerator for Christmas, and the OCD in me wants to keep it full to look good and justify the extra electricity. And for drinking, of course. For those who like a good Cabernet Sauvignon, I highly recommend Park Lane, 2007. Amazing bottle for a steal at around fourteen bucks. You will NOT find a red that good for that price anywhere else. Give it a try.


I absolutely LOVE historical fiction.  Hence my love for Louis deWohl.  I am re-reading Citadel of God about St. Benedict.  I think de Wohl is one of the finest at the art...and the fact that his books feature some of our most beloved saints, all the better.  I am intrigued at his characterizations; it is as if he had been there, at that time, carefully observing.  While he has a bit of a cynical view of society, his portrayals are powerful, and the saint's life is the focus of what is actually right with the world.  The fact that other figures familiar to us weave in and out is icing on the cake.  I am also a huge fan of Michener...same ilk, different venue; perhaps another post one day.  On the internet, there are none better than Christopher on Three Hundred Words.  Bite-sized with BIG flavor.  Check it out.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Extremes

Monday morning I went outside and my innards froze with the first breath I took; it was eight degrees below zero. By six in the evening it was thirty-eight degrees warmer; the very next morning I dodged rain.

Tuesday evening I basked in the glow of my eldest daughter's success: she received a standing ovation in a packed hall for her documentary on civil rights in the Deep South. On Wednesday morning I contemplated my son's three failing class grades.

Early in the week a committee of nurses praised my commitment to making 2011 a great year. A few days later I was accused of trying to assassinate someone's good reputation and ruin their career.

It's no wonder my sinuses are acting up. It has been a week of extremes.

I am often stoic in times of great celebration. I am definitely NOT the one dancing on the table, or wearing a lamp shade. I suspect it is related to my unwavering belief that life tends to balance out; times of great joy are usually, in my experience, tempered with sorrow and loss. So when everyone is throwing their proverbial hats in the air, I am considering where the shoe will drop.

This isn't something I am necessarily proud of, nor recommend. I would much rather celebrate when celebration is due….yet when I look at the joy in the faces around me, my heart worries about sorrow like a parent for a child. I don't want their joy to end, but I know it will, eventually. Sorrow and suffering will come, as inevitably as snow in Buffalo. My heart longs to avoid it, alleviate its effect.

Sorrow and suffering are inevitable; I have intellectualized the opportunity they present for sanctification, but that cognitive understanding seems to waver in its journey to my heart. I envy those who embrace joy and pain with equanimity and poise, taking each for what they are worth.

My aunt once adopted a monstrously large dog who was as gentle as a lamb…unless you stepped on his paws. He was abused for much of his early life; his original owner beat his paws with a broom handle. He remembered that pain, and everyone had to respect that by walking gingerly. I suppose many of us are like that dog, nursing memories and holding on to fears.

I think it's time to loosen up a bit.

Jesus is about joy: a joy born of love, promise, and hope. Despite the pain and suffering so prevalent Jesus came to fill us with a joy so great that it elevates our sinful, distrustful natures to a greater plane, one marked by confidence in the promise and hope our faith guarantees. One that allows for rejoicing and celebration, no matter how extreme life can be.

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. John 15:9-12
Now, to get that down to my heart…

Monday, January 24, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales, Day Nine: to LIFE!

Let us consider the words of our current President, spoken in regards to the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion:

Today marks the 38th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that protects women's health and reproductive freedom, and affirms a fundamental principle: that government should not intrude on private family matters.  I am committed to protecting this constitutional right. I also remain committed to policies, initiatives, and programs that help prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant women and mothers, encourage healthy relationships, and promote adoption.  And on this anniversary, I hope that we will recommit ourselves more broadly to ensuring that our daughters have the same rights, the same freedoms, and the same opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.

I have heard pundits refer to the president, this and prior office holders, as "the most powerful man on earth." That power includes the ability to encourage or discourage life. This one has made his choice.

The call to recommit ourselves to insure our daughters are given the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as our sons causes me to pause and consider his meaning. What rights do our sons have that our daughters do not -- the right to behave with abandon without the burden of life? What freedoms do our sons have that our daughters lack -- the liberty to engage in licentious behavior without consequence? What opportunities are we protecting by destroying the unborn children of our daughters that abstinence and chaste choices cannot insure? Are these the rights, freedoms and opportunities we want for our daughters? Surely not.

We have the liberty to do good or evil, but to choose evil is not to use but to abuse liberty. Let us renounce such misguided liberty and subject our free will forever to the rule of heavenly love. (St. Francis de Sales: Treatise on the Love of God, Book 1, Chapter 17)
We who revere the sanctity of life and honor it as gift must persist in refuting the temptations of a freedom that does not respect the will of God or the good of our neighbor. We must be example to a world that honors license, not freedom. We must promote life with charity and love, by example.

Once charity is ours, free will wears the wedding garment. We can keep it on by doing good, or take it off by sinning, just as we please. (St. Francis de Sales, Treatise on the Love of God, Book 4, Chapter 1)

It would be wonderful if the "most powerful man on earth" revered life. He does not; but that is not cause for despair. We don't really belong here, anyway...and so we reject the folly of the world and embrace the truths of God. As we complete our novena today to our beloved Saint Francis de Sales, let us ask his intercession that we might reject the temptations and folly of the world and embrace the will of our Heavenly Father, who is all perfect and all love. God has "cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly" -- rejoice!

If the world despises us, let us rejoice, because there is reason for it; let us realize that we deserve it. If it esteems us, let us despise its judgments. Its esteem for us is blind, without foundation of knowledge or truth. Do not worry about what the world thinks. Despise its esteem. Let is say whatever it likes, whether good or bad. What is desirable is that we keep our eyes fixed on Christ, going about our work no matter what the world thinks. Truly the world is a great charlatan and always talks too much, both about what is good and what is bad. (St. Francis de Sales, Letters 331; O. XIII, pp. 150-151)

St. Francis de Sales, PRAY FOR US!



Novena Prayers

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales, Day Eight: Slow and Steady

It seems to some that perfection is an art which can be learned quickly. They think that it is easy once you have found its secret. They fool themselves completely. In fact, the only way to perfection is to work hard and struggle faithfully in the exercise of the love of God. One must unite oneself solely with Him. (Spiritual Treatises IX; O. VI, p. 152)
"Slow and steady wins the race."

The story of the tortoise and the hare is a study in irony: the speedy hare, haughty and self-confident, loses to the slow and steady tortoise…with a lesson that sober persistence is the key to success. The concept is so foreign to our present thought.

Even within the confines of our Church, there are clear signs that slow and steady wins the race. Following the Second Vatican Council new movements and organizations sprouted and flowered based on divergent interpretations of the documents. Many religious congregations threw off conventionality and tradition and embraced the age. The Church, they stated, had thrown open the doors to reform, and the faithful in droves embraced the new and novel. Those heady days of reform have proven short-lived as their aging proponents slowly succumb to time and the demands of succeeding generations for Tradition, devotion, and orthodoxy. Congregations that embraced modernity are dying; only those embracing the truths as divested by the Magisterium thrive.

As balance returns, we who cling to the Rock must be vigilant in our resolve to draw our strength from the Church. Even at this time, there are distractions and divergent paths. Modern-day "prophets" claim apparitions and messages; some have turned popular devotions into near-idolatry. Others insist that a return to the Latin Mass or turning the priest away from the congregation is the answer to the woes of the Church; a fair portion believe the Second Vatican Council was illegitimate and every pope since. We have a penchant for extremes. We must defer to Mother Church.

St. Francis de Sales encourages us to sober persistence: slow and steady wins the race. The Church has faithfully guided us, as promised, and will continue to do so. Our faithful obedience and humility will win the "race". Why is it so hard? Why do we rush from this to that, with itching ears? There are no spiritual "Cliffs Notes"…we have to read the book, pray the prayers, and turn our hearts to God day after day. We have to face the challenges of life with sober persistence. There are no Gnostic "secrets", no shortcuts; no easy answers or solutions.

As we near the feast day of our beloved saint let us ask for his intercession that we may humbly and obediently embrace the Magisterial teachings of Mother Church, recognizing that in the Body of Christ lies our strength and hope. May we be protected from the waves of dissent and divergent opinion, seeking the gifts of wisdom and discernment and the guidance of the Church.


Novena Prayers

Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

My resolution to post at the very least twice a week has been easily achieved, though I must temper myself with the reminder that the new semester begins in about a week…I am taking nine credit hours this semester, and am fully aware that my resolution will be put to the test.

This has been a week of prayer: novena prayers and reflections on the words of St. Francis de Sales as we continue to his feast day tomorrow, January 24th. This great saint is a hero of evangelization among the wayward and deceived, an evangelization of epic proportions conducted with gentility, intelligence, and devotion. What better example for us? There are two reflections I would submit today for your review; Day Three: Shame and Contrition, and Day Four: Keeping away from "Namby Pamby Land".  You are cordially invited to join the novena at any time.

Just for fun, I did submit Seven Quick Takes on Friday afternoon, the first in a while...a needed moment of levity in a week of prayer and sacrifice. 

Thanks and admiration to our hostess; my prayers to all for a good week.  I ask you all to keep those descending upon Washington D.C. for the March for Life in your prayers...including my daughter Mary and son, John Paul, that their journeys are safe and fruitful.  May the Holy Spirit use us to turn hearts to life.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On That Road

My wonderful daughter Emily, a senior at Canisius College, along with Sarah Zamer (a recent graduate) had traveled the south last summer with a group of students to walk in the places marking the fight for civil rights in the U.S.  Sarah and Emily filmed, edited and produced an incredible documentary to be premiered at the Montante Center at Canisius College this coming Tuesday at 7:30pm.  Following the screening there will be a panel discussion.  Here is a trailer for the film:




Novena to St. Francis de Sales, Day Seven: Without Counting the Cost

We should never tire of making good resolutions, even when we know that we will not keep them. Even if we should feel absolutely certain that it will be impossible to put them into practice, we should not immediately give up. We should hold on until we have sufficient courage to say to the Lord: It is true, Lord, I haven't the strength to do it or suffer this, but I rejoice in this fact, that Your strength will work in me. With this support I will go ahead to face the battle, and I will win. (Spiritual Treatises IX; O. VI, p. 155)
Every Monday morning I make my way before work to the hospital chapel to pray the morning office and offer my week of work to God. I have been doing this with varying degrees of success for somewhere near six months. I use that time to prioritize my work, and to ask the Holy Spirit to help me to be a better nurse and manager. I don't reveal that to "toot" my own spiritual horn; on the contrary, like the peaks and valleys of my journey with Christ, a certain level of "dryness" has crept into my Monday morning sessions with Jesus. Nonetheless, each Monday I leave with something to meditate on that week, whether a scripture passage, the writings of a particular saint, etc. This past Monday was no exception.  As I read the intercessory prayers from the morning office the following struck me profoundly:


"May we seek those things which are beneficial to our brothers, without counting the cost, to help them on their way to salvation."
I stopped in my tracks and spoke out loud: "I count the cost all the time".

It was a moment of revelation that most certainly could come from no other source than the Holy Spirit; I was acutely aware that in much of my day I am counting the cost: the value of time taken away, the infringement on my prerogatives and desires, the interruptions in my "peace"…I realized that in many ways I am like a spiritual accountant, trying to balance my "budget" by offsetting sacrifice with consolation. I keep a register of transactions, and in that moment realized I am a miserly scrooge more often than not.

I have meditated on the words "Without counting the cost" since that day. I printed them and attached them to my computer monitor to remind me to be resolute in my desire to give freely without recognizing the sacrifices I must make -- and have proceeded to forget the words in some sense each and every day. Despite that, I read them anew each day and resolve to seek those things which are beneficial to my brothers, without counting the cost. When I fail I have resolved to try again. For in my weakness, I think only of myself, my needs, my comforts, my desires; but with the strength of the Holy Spirit I can rise above all of that and become what God expects and what my brother needs: a vessel of His love and Mercy.

As we continue our Novena let us ask St. Francis de Sales to intercede that our resolve, though weak and limited by our humanity, may be strengthened by the Holy Spirit.  Let us pray for courage, perseverance, and humility, ready to seek forgiveness for our failings and to try, try again. 


Novena Prayers

Friday, January 21, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales, Day Six: Creating our own "Disasters"

When Our Lord corrected Saint Martha, He said, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and upset about many things..." [Lk 10:41] Note that she would not have been troubled if she had been merely diligent, but she was overly concerned and uneasy; she was hurrying about and all stirred up. Rivers that flow gently through the plains carry along large boats and rich merchandise. Rains that fall gently on open fields make them fruitful in grass and grain, while violent storms devastate fields and pastures. A job done too eagerly and hurriedly is never done well. "He who is in a hurry should go slowly,: says the proverb. We perform actions quickly enough when we do them well. Drones make more noise and work more eagerly than worker bees, but they make only wax and not honey. So also, people who hurry about with tormented anxiety and solicitude never accomplish much, nor do they do anything well.
- Introduction to the Devout Life
One of the very first duties I was given when serving as a missionary at St. Luke's was to coordinate transportation to and from Sunday Mass. A large proportion of our congregation has no access to transportation except the bus, and the schedule on Sunday is rather limited…enter me. Each morning I would go through my list: "Are you going to Mass this morning? Okay, I will be there at…" After an hour of calls, my schedule was set. If I made it by the gathering song with the last van load I considered myself blessed.

Though it was rather time consuming and took me away from my family, there were perks; I did get to know the congregation quickly, and forged many relationships I still enjoy today, many years later. It allowed for some interesting and compelling conversations, and thrust me into the fabric of the Mission rather quickly.  It even afforded opportunities to evangelize and comfort those searching and suffering...a privilege I enjoyed.

Despite that, there were days I just wasn't in the mood. Perhaps I was under the weather, or stopped at too many addresses where no one came to the door. Perhaps I was desiring my warm home and time to relax. Maybe I was just cranky. No matter the reason, I did a fair share of complaining. One particular afternoon looms large in my memory…

Mass was finished at 2:30PM (1pm Mass) and my rides were voluminous; my assistants were unable to help with drop-offs, so the work was left to me. The minutes turned to hours. "Can you drop me off at my sister's?" "Can you take my granddaughter to my son's house?" "Can you drop me off at WalMart?" The requests were irritating me, and I drove like a maniac. I was angry that no one was helping ME, no one was concerned about MY time, no one was worried about MY hunger and MY schedule…I grew more and more anxious and angry with each passing moment.

I finally dropped off the last person at 6:30pm, FOUR HOURS after beginning the process. I was angry, anxious, and exhausted. I was on the phone with my superior expressing my displeasure when another vehicle pulled out and hit me broadside.

I wasn’t hurt, nor was the other driver, but she was hopping mad. "It's your fault! You are supposed to see me backing out of my driveway! I had the right of way!" The day couldn't get worse. I was completely and utterly defeated. I sat in my car while the woman yelled at me through the window, soon to be joined by various family members…when the policeman arrived, he took pity on me, filled out my report, and told me he would deal with my new-found friends. I thanked him and limped home.

That day was a disaster. There were no edifying conversations, no discussions of Jesus, no opportunities for empathy and friendship...not because of the lack of drivers, or the volume of rides. Not because of the hours driving or even the accident. It was a disaster because I made it that way. I did not do my job well at all because it was all about me. A big dent on the passenger side would remind me of that for years to come.

As we continue our novena let us examine the anxieties of our day, the irritations and moments of "disaster"…what part do we play? Let us ask St. Francis de Sales to intercede that we may be present at every moment, attentive to the needs of the day but peaceful in their execution. May humility and peace be the hallmarks of our work, play and rest, and may God grant success to the work of our hands.


Novena Prayers

Seven Quick Takes


The Marciniak family is fanning the globe as of late…my eldest spent a week in NYC volunteering, daughter #2 was in NYC and Baltimore for an acting competition and seminar, and daughter #3 will be accompanying son #3 in Washington DC this weekend for the March for Life (aka: the Massive March that is Curiously Only Seen by Cameras Purchased by EWTN). I love love love love to travel, and am envious of all of them. The trip to NYC in December feels like a lifetime ago, and I am itching to roam…

We have been challenged by our host to consider the top eight people we would like to invite for dinner…my list (not including any individuals both fully human and fully divine; such a person is a given):
     1. The Blessed Mother (just gotta have Mom there)
     2. David (sans Goliath) (this guy likes a good party!)
     3. St. Francis of Assisi (every word is compelling to me)
     4. St. Ignatius of Loyola (INTENSE)
     5. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (I want to hug her)
     6. Pope John Paul II (MY HERO)
     7. St. Damian of Molokai (my MODEL and intercessor)
     8. St. Francis de Sales (SO smart!)

There has been some skepticism from a certain blogger from a group of islands near Southeast Asia (who will remain nameless) whether I was truly a guest in the house of one Sanctus Christopher (aka Three Hundred Words Christopher) this past September after an incriminating photo of yours truly in said host's family room was posted. There was a challenge some months back that apparently a proof of such a visit could be verified by an image of this die-hard Sabres fan wearing a Washington Capitals sweater as given to me by one Christopher Yurkanin of Austin, Texas (no, the whole Caps thing makes no sense at first glance…or second).  I cannot do that.  It would cost me dearly here in Buffalo, frankly.  It appears necessary I will be required to arrange a re-visit. Christopher, please let Aisha know I would like more quail. Thank you.

I am a HUGE fan of Jazz FM91 out of Toronto. I even sent a small donation now that the local NPR station stopped its jazz format and switched to talk (as if we really want to hear more NPR talk. Yeesh.) I have discovered a few new artists not played on U.S. stations that are worth a listen: Emilie-Claire Barlow (who I will be going to see in Toronto next May, God willing, with my brother Tim and Sister-in-law Renee), and Nikki Yanofsky, who will be broadcast live on the station Wednesday, January 27th at 8pm from the Blue Note in Manhattan. Ho boy, I wish I was live at the Blue Note in Manhattan that day…anyhoo, if you love jazz, tune in online.





Cruzan tastes SO much better with Coca-Cola than Bacardi. I’m just sayin’.






As unaccustomed to public speaking as I am (insert wife’s voice: “yeah, right”)…I have been invited to speak at a parish mission by an old acquaintance, which I am happy to do, but the topic to discuss is: “Who Am I?” Oh dear; that’s a loaded question. In the outline of requested content there is a mention of discussing the psychology behind what we do and why we do it…a topic better suited to Fr. Benedict Groeschel, to be sure. Nonetheless, as an old ER nurse, I have a few human-interest stories up my sleeve…THROW AWAY YOUR WATCHES, BABY, THE MICROPHONE’S MINE!!
Just kidding.
Mostly.

I love Ceili Rain, and if you haven’t heard of them, shame. They are an AWESOME Celtic-rock Catholic band headed up by Bob Halligan, Jr., song-writer extraordinaire, writing tunes for the likes of KISS, Cher, Michael Bolton, Judas Priest, Blue Oyster Cult, Joan Jett, KIX, The Guess Who, Rik Emmett of Triumph, Helix, Kathy Mattea, and Bob Carlisle, to name a few...Now he’s writing songs about faith, family, and God’s love that really speak to many hearts. My fav album is “Erasers on Pencils”…it’s on itunes, so give it a whirl. If you are going to buy any song, make it “Life is a Polka” (yes, a Polka rock song by a Celtic rock Christian band. Go figger). Highly recommended for obvious reasons. Na Zdrowie.


I don't know that man.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales: Day Five: Love Without Beginning or End

When did God's love for you begin? When He began to be God. When did He begin to be God? Never, for He has always been without beginning and without end, and so He has always loved you from all eternity. - Introduction to the Devout Life
In a world in which love is so often given in proportion to how well the receiver has earned it, the eternal and unconditional love of God is a hard thing to grasp. Our limited understanding struggles with the enormity of it -- how can one grasp forever? How do we put our arms around eternity? It is not possible in our present state; yet God may choose to gift us with glimpses of His love every now and again…and this week he gave such a glimpse to me.

My car, a luxurious (albeit ancient) Nissan Maxima with all the bells and whistles (in Buffalo that means HEAT, RADIO, and REAR DEFOGGER)has been sitting idle in my driveway. It just won't start, and I don't have the money to pay our local mechanic the bankroll he extorts with every visit. The neighbors are getting a bit concerned about the "abandoned car"…and I don't suppose I blame them; it is beginning to look a little like a "Sanford and Son" re-run around here.

I have had ample opportunity to access Buffalo's extensive public transportation options, a treat by anyone's standard (tongue firmly in cheek). A short bus ride links me to the subway, the subway stops quite literally at the door of the hospital. The train is my favorite; it's much quieter than the bus, and the seats are arranged so that we pretty much are all staring at each other the entire way. Not that we do; most bury their noses in books, play with their phones, or lean back while music streams from those teeny little ear buds. A furtive glance is about the most one might consider acceptable in such a situation. Any more than that indicates one of three assumptions, aptly called "the 3 S's" by a co-worker: stoned, schizophrenic, or stupid. Okay, maybe that's a bit harsh…but fairly accurate.

On Monday afternoon I boarded the train and instantly realized I boarded the wrong one -- a transit authority officer was arguing with a woman clearly mentally ill and homeless about the fact that she did not have a ticket. The officer kept telling her to get off the train, she kept yelling no, and begging for mercy, and the train sat motionless. The other riders began heckling her, demanding she get off the train, complaining that they were going to be late. It was a fairly irritating situation. I opened my book and feigned reading.

"Sir, Sir, I need your help, please help me!" I kept reading, even though I knew instantly she was talking to me. I desired anonymity at that moment. It was not meant to be. She kept at it; I looked up, and sure enough, she was looking directly at me.

I am an Emergency Room nurse. I am a long-time volunteer at a homeless shelter. I am not averse to speaking to mentally ill individuals, nor do they frighten or intimidate me. I know God expects me to be loving, and to reach out to those in need…but on the train, I thought? I sighed. "Come sit next to me," I said. The officer looked suspicious. As she settled, continuing her (LOUD) cries for mercy, I spoke plainly. "Please lower your voice, be quiet and listen. I will help you. But you must promise to sit here quietly with me until I tell you. Can you do that?" She held a finger to her lips and nodded.

I asked the officer what would happen when she got off the train. "She's going to be arrested at street level." What if I bought her a ticket, I inquired? "Well, I don't recommend that. She's here causing trouble all the time." But what if I did? "Then she's free to go," he said, looking clearly irritated.

"Let's go", I said. She followed me dutifully. At the ticket kiosk she handed me fifty cents toward the cost of the ticket, and I used it; she looked pleased that she was able to contribute. The ticket printed, and I gave it to her, all under the watchful eye of the officer. "She'll be at it tomorrow, too," he said. Probably.

I got back on the next train with her, and she disappeared in the crowd. At my station I got off as a mother and three little children got on…and that was the moment. That was the very moment that God flooded my soul with the grace to experience one tiny moment of His love for me. He allowed me to see the homeless, sick woman as a child, a beloved daughter, the pride of her family. I saw the way He protected her in her illness. I saw the way he chose men and women to provide for her needs…like me that day. I was his instrument to protect her that very day.

Why was I chosen at that moment? No clue. God's ways are beyond me. He just did. And he showed me. I wept. This woman who appeared so unwanted, undesired, unneeded by everyone around her, was so loved and cared for by our God. Awesome.

As we continue our novena, let us ask St. Francis de Sales to intercede for us that we may be given the grace to recognize God's great love for us, and how He uses us to edify, protect and comfort others. When we doubt our own worth, and feel isolated and alone, let us draw close to the love God gives so freely, a love that has no beginning and no end, a love that finds its way into the hearts of men and women everywhere…even in the subway rattling under the streets of snowy Buffalo, New York.


Novena Prayers

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales, Day Four: Keeping Away from Namby Pamby Land

Complain as little as possible about the wrongs you suffer. Undoubtedly a person who complains commits a sin by doing so, since self-love always feels that injuries are worse than they really are. Above all, do not complain to irascible or fault-finding persons. If there is just occasion for complaining to someone either to correct an offense or restore your peace of mind, do so to those who are even-tempered and really love God. Instead of calming your mind the others will stir up worse difficulties and in place of pulling out the thorn that is hurting you they will drive it deeper into your foot.
- Introduction to the Devout Life
I know a woman, and I am sure you know her too, who has received the "short end of the stick", so to speak. Just about every horrid and revolting disease has gripped her body at one point or another. She wears her infirmity like a badge of honor, and speaks of it at every chance. She's a great friend to those looking to minimize their suffering. If you tell her you have a cold, she'll reply, "Oh, yeah, I thought I did, too, but the doctor said he's never seen a worse case of pneumonia his entire career." If you mention that your blood pressure has been up, she'll tell you about the stroke she nearly suffered from her malignant hypertension. Need your gall bladder out? She had hers out, and got a staph infection and was in the ICU for six weeks. Nearly died. Worst case the doctor's ever seen. Amazingly, she doesn't look all that sickly…

While we all know someone like that (male or female), we do a fair bit of complaining ourselves…I know personally that I can keep up with the best of them. About a week ago I was feeling very sorry for myself and plopped down in the hospital administration office. "Having a bad day?" the administrative assistant asked, looking concerned. "Yep. I am really frustrated. I am doing the best I can, but it is hard being a boss. I am really tired of being hated by everyone." I put on my most pathetic face. She didn't miss a beat: "Maybe we should chug on over to Namby Pamby Land where maybe we can find some self-confidence for you, you jack wagon!" Point well taken.

Complaining comes easily for so many of us. For some, it is a cultural thing; for others, well, it's just whining. The bottom line is that every one of us is going to suffer. Sometimes it will be our health; other times broken relationships; sometimes we are just, in the words of a famous "puddy tat", a victim of "thircumthtanthe". There are times when it is helpful to raise our voices in our suffering to those who will help us to grow in them. Other times, it's better to just be silent.

"I can't believe the way she just spoke to me," I complained to a friend after a reprimand (well deserved, in retrospect) from my superior. My pride was bruised, and I needed someone to validate my anger and embarrassment. I picked the right person. By the time we finished our conversation I was convinced that my aggressor was not only out of line, but also a big jerk undeserving of respect. Together we diagnosed my superior's thoughts, intentions, childhood history, etc. Despite our commiseration, we were just plain wrong. I deserved a reprimand, my superior was acting out of authority and concern, and I made things worse. My co-conspirator and I were class-A "jack wagons". It would have been better if I had just been quiet.

St. Francis de Sales knew that true devotion has no room for meaningless complaints and whining. As we continue our novena let us ask him to intercede that in those times when a silent tongue is the best course of action we may display restraint and tact. If we need comfort and strength may the Holy Spirit bless us with the ability to discern those best equipped to help us grow in our suffering…and keep us out of Namby Pamby Land. Amen!



Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales, Day Three: Shame and Contrition

To persevere in the devout life it is a matter of deciding upon some excellent and generous maxims, with the right intention. The first I would suggest to you is that of Saint Paul, "All turns out well for those who love God." [cf. Rom 8:28] If we agree that God can and does draw good out of evil, will He not do that especially for those who give themselves to Him without reserve? Even our very sins (from which may God preserve us!) are destined by Providence for the good of those who serve God. If David had not sinned, he would not have learned his deep sense of humility! ... (Letters 1420; O. XVIII, p. 209)
How encouraging those words are to this sinner.

A dear confessor told me that shame was not of God. Contrition, yes; shame, no. Shame leads away from the forgiving love of God, as if that love, that forgiveness, is not ours. It is a deception; God has promised his forgiveness. He has shown His great love, an unending and undeserved love that knows no boundaries. Shame denies that. Shame tells us that we are not deserving of love…of forgiveness…of hope.

Shame keeps men and women away from the confessional. It is a voice that demeans the promises of God and stands between misery and salvation. It is a voice that speaks lies:

"You are a phony. "
"You are not a man of God."
"You are not a good mother."
"If anyone knew who you really were you would be ruined."
"You are a poor excuse for a Catholic."
"You are a poor excuse for a parent."
"Your children are a mess and it's all your fault."
"You are a poor excuse for a daughter, a son."
"If they knew what you really were like, you would be run out of the Church…"

The words are painful, and so many succumb to them. They separate us from prayer, the sacraments, and from the love God so freely offers. They deny the truth St. Francis de Sales tells us today -- a biblical truth, that God uses all things for good when we love Him. EVEN our sin and failings.

As we continue our novena let us ask St. Francis de Sales to intercede on our behalf to change shame to contrition, that we may reap the goodness God has in store for we who love Him. May we have the grace to withstand the lies that shame whispers in our minds and throw ourselves on the Mercy of God in the sacraments and in prayer.

Novena Prayers
Thanks to the Oblates for today's quote!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales: Day Two: Gentle Evangelization

Several years ago I attended a meeting hosted by “Call to Action”, a Catholic dissident group populated mainly aging baby-boomers still hungering for the revolution the Second Vatican Council didn’t bring them. Before anyone jumps to conclusions, I was not a proponent of this group -- on the contrary, I fashioned myself somewhat of an orthodox gadfly, a burr in their saddle, so to speak. I attended primarily to see where my elders went wrong and to make an attempt to refute any dissent. It was not a very loving or charitable mission, I’m afraid, and I believe I may have repelled more than attracted with my twenty-something confidence and brash behavior born of pride and youthful zeal…

I was not without my “cheerleaders”; there were many disgusted and dismayed by the overt disobedience and disrespect toward the Tradition and authority of the Church. They encouraged my zeal, and our camaraderie born from the threat of discord in the Church strengthened us all. Good and holy men and women who had never met suddenly found brotherhood in opposition to dissent. There were silver linings…

Despite that, I was a zealot, and far too na├»ve for my own good. I insulted a “respected prelate” who supported the dissenters and attracted the ire of several priests. I alienated friends whose doctrinal ideations differed from mine. Soon I found myself in a “spiritual bunker” awaiting the next barrage of attacks. The camaraderie of my orthodox friends slipped away as the zeal for the fight waned over time and effort. God used all this for my spiritual growth and humility. St. Francis de Sales taught me that there was a better way.

Early on in his vocation, St. Francis zealously wanted to return Geneva to the Church. The Calvinists had reduced the faithful to a small handful by rhetoric and, at times, brute force. Risking his own life, Francis set forth to restore Geneva to Christ and rescue those duped by heresy. He was young, full of energy and zeal, a true son of the Church. He was eloquent, educated, and insightful. There was a problem: no one would listen to him. Doors were shut in his face or never opened at all. His sermons were not heard. He was rejected.

St. Francis de Sales learned quickly that the traditional approach of fiery sermons and lively debate were not the means to achieve his goal; he needed patience, love, and above all, charity. He showed gentle attention to children and the young; he wrote simple, convincing and charitable sermons (“The Controversies”) concerning the authority of the Church, and slipped them under the doors he passed. He waited patiently and lovingly for hearts to turn…and they did. They recognized in the persistence and patience of the gentle priest a voice that cried out as one in the wilderness, and scores returned to the Church. He provided loving direction to lay men and women, encouraging them to true devotion within their state in life; each moment of one-on-one attention did what fire-and-brimstone sermons could not – restored hearts to Christ and His Church. His intelligence, charity, and holiness finally earned him the ear of the people, and 40,000 are said to have been converted back to the Church by the time he returned from his mission.

As we pray on this second day of our novena let us ask St. Francis de Sales to teach us charity, patience and true devotion that we might turn others to Christ. Let us remember those we love who have left the Church and lift them in prayer, asking St. Francis to intercede on their behalf that one day they, too, may join us in faithful devotion to God. Most importantly, let us pray that by God’s grace we may exemplify the love of St. Francis de Sales and bring wandering hearts home.

 
Novena Prayers

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Novena to St. Francis de Sales, Day One: It's Personal

"This is business, not personal…" Mario Puzo

"The Godfather" holds a certain fascination for me. I am mesmerized by the incredible acting and compelling story. What most intrigues me is the way the author juxtaposed the external life of affluence, influence and gentility with the violence, lies and crime that marked their livelihood. One of the most disturbing yet compelling scenes occurs during the Baptism of one of the family's children, interrupted with scenes of revenge enacted upon the enemies of the family. How is it that a man could take on the responsibility of being a Godparent in the sacred rite of Baptism while knowing full well that during that very ceremony heinous crimes were being committed at his command? It is unconscionable, even absurd, and rightfully repugnant.

As extreme an example as this is, it is not far from our own penchant for sin. We are surrounded by temptation and often succumb. Our "hidden lives" are in opposition to the life we present for public view. What begins as a small diversion can grow to proportions seemingly uncontrollable and engulfing. In the day-to-day realities of business and work there are lies, cheating, stealing, deceit, greed and broken trust, even among those called by Christ. It's as if we say, day after day, "this is business, not personal," implying a separation of holiness from the mundane realities of the lives of the laity.

For St. Francis de Sales, and for us, there is no separation of the call to holiness from the businessman, the housewife, the student, or the laborer. Virtue, prayer, and devotion are not solely the domain of the religious and ordained. We are called to elevate our work, our labors and our duties through true devotion to remove the painful realities of sin. He called the faithful to be acutely aware of their sins while courageously and consistently replacing them with grace and virtue. He encouraged slow, methodical purging of the effects of sin by first identifying them, then confessing them, and finally replacing them with holy devotion.  First and foremost, we must examine our conscience:

"How can we fight against them unless we see them, or overcome them unless we face them? Our victory does not consist in being unconscious of them but in not consenting to them, and not to consent to them is to be displeased with them." (Introduction to the Devout Life)
As we begin this novena let us follow the direction of the beloved St. Francis de Sales by calling to mind our sins and expressing true contrition to God. Let us consider our work and business dealings, our duties and responsibilities and discover where sin has tainted them. Let us lift up our voices in asking the Holy Spirit to help us conquer these sins through grace and devotion. Most especially, let us realize that our vocation in life is lifted up by humility, prayer and devotion, sanctifying our own lives and the lives of those we come in contact with.

"It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic's shop, the court of princes or the home of married people. [True devotion] not only does no injury to one's vocation or occupation, but on the contrary, adorns and beautifies it." (Introduction to the Devout Life)
It's not just business. It's personal.


Novena Prayers

Sunday Snippets: A Catholic Carnival

I have resolved to write a minimum of two posts per week in 2011 for my own enjoyment and as a means to reflect on the corporal and spiritual joys and challenges of my life...this week I challenged myself to live gratitude more fully, as inspired by Anne.  I also recounted a frivolous but enjoyable trip to the birthplace of the chicken wing with a group of hungry crumb-crunchers, all in good fun...

I invite anyone who would care to join me in a Novena to St. Francis de Sales beginning tonight, ending on the Doctor of the Church's feast day on the 24th.  I will post a reflection and have linked the novena prayers.  He is the patron of writers and journalists, so how fitting bloggers may pray for his intercessions!

Thanks to our Carnival hostess, and prayers to all for a grace-filled week.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hot Sauce on a Snowy Evening

As you might imagine, we take our chicken wings fairly seriously here in Buffalo, NY. While other cities tout fame born of industry, finance, glamour, and culture, we hang our hat on deep fried fowl appendages.

Not to say that Buffalo is as backwater as most would consider…we have produced two (albeit universally unknown) U.S. presidents, were the terminus of one of the most famous canals in history (ask my mule, Sal), and once boasted more taverns per square mile than any other city in the nation. Canal Street and the surrounding environs were at one time considered the most wretched and vile stretches of real estate on the planet, with a murder rate that kept life expectancy so low that no one ever qualified for a senior coffee. Oh, and we get some snow every once in a while.

We are the home of second place: we are the second-largest city in New York…we are the second poorest city in the nation…the Bills came in second four times in one decade…the Sabres (no goal) took second to a town that hasn't seen ice in centuries…we have the second oldest zoo in the country…we hosted the second largest World Juniors Hockey Tournament this year…but we do come in first on cholesterol levels and heart disease. Oh bother.

Back to the chicken wings.

I took the youngest five of my little dumplings and the esteemed son of one "Ellen from Buffalo" to Frank and Teresa's Anchor Bar this evening for a meal fit for a cardiologist: fifty hot wings smothered sauce, chicken fingers, french fries, blue cheese, celery (gasp - vegetation?!?), and two pitchers of cola. We ate everything save about five wings…they were like ravenous little children of the corn, devouring anything that smelled deep fried. Their saucy smiles and sticky fingers spoke of culinary satisfaction…with good reason: Frank and Teresa's Anchor Bar is the birthplace of the chicken wing, the very cradle of coronary catastrophe. It is steeped in Buffalo history, the walls covered with the autographed images of the famous and infamous who saddled up to a table and gnawed on some chicken bones. This hallowed hall of gluttony is a rite of passage for Buffalonian youth, and my children were about to dive into a huge vat of historical spicy sauce. It makes a dad proud.

Of course, all things in moderation.

My Teresa, age five, was initially puzzled; "Why do we just get water?" she asked as the waitress brought glasses of H2O to the table upon arrival. I explained that in restaurants where the spokesperson is not a clown water is often brought to the table for the patrons when they arrive. "Why? What if you like pop?" I had no answer.

While we waited for our food we played "Questions", a beloved tradition in which age-appropriate trivia and general knowledge questions are posed to each in order at the table with absolutely no prize or winner save the love of the game. Math, Social Studies, Church History, and Spongebob episodes are the most frequent categories, and I function as a reasonable facsimile of Alex Trebek. My son John Paul and "Ellen from Buffalo's" esteemed son are classmates and requested European history. I agreed. First question: "What nationality are you if you drink 100 glasses of iced tea? " Answer: "European."

It brought the house down. Props to Helga from "Hey, Arnold".

The wings arrived in what seemed far too short a time, to everyone's delight, and the festival began. They were truly delicious; crispy, hot, with just the right amount of sauce (hot, of course, we don't live in Namby Pamby Land). The fries were crispy and delish, and the chicken fingers were perfect. There were protracted moments of silence (highly unusual) as eating took priority, interrupted only by an occasional burp and the crunch of a celery stick. Then, as we began to feel the fullness only wings can produce, suddenly every child needed to use the bathroom. It began with Teresa and became an unstoppable cascade, and the table was suddenly empty of all but me; a moment of quiet, a silent sliver of time in which I wallowed like a basking hippo in a mud bath. It was all too brief, though…within moments they returned, one with an open fly, another with TP on their shoe, and all of them talking simultaneously. We elicited a great deal of amusement from nearby tables.

A short time later we bundled up against the snow and cold and made our way home. It was an enjoyable trip to the Mecca of munchies…I am proud to say no one spilled their sodas, which is a really big deal, as most parents will attest. We splurged on a little deep fried fun, and shared some smiles and laughter.

And Teresa even drank her water.

St. John of God, patron of those suffering heart ailments, Pray for us.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Gratitude

Anne from "Imprisoned in my Bones" posted a beautiful piece that reflected a holy gratitude. I was moved by her words, and began to consider my own heart - for what am I grateful today? I was first struck by the reality that it took another's gratitude for me to consider my own…a weakness, to be sure. It does not often come naturally for me, nor for many, do I suspect. I must work at gratitude; it is not difficult when presented with great generosity, surely. I recall a Christmas many years ago when I was still a student where a dear old friend arrived with gifts and food for our family - gratitude came easy. I recollect many instances of goodness bestowed upon myself and those I love when gratitude was the very bread I ate…and yet, day to day, it is not so much as a crumb.

Thomas Aquinas considered gratitude to be part of the virtue of justice - giving thanks due for what is received. As I consider my lack of gratitude for the daily gifts of life I realize that I violate that virtue of justice by withholding the thanks due to Him in whom I move and have my being.

To avoid public self-flagellation, I must consider that gratitude has been, at least, a fairly frequent acquaintance in my life; I have blogged as such in the past. I am very grateful for my beautiful spouse, beloved children, Mother Church, my career that provides for us all, my mind, my gifts…yet each day I receive their wonder anew. Why is not my gratitude so reflected? Why is my gratitude reserved for moments of magnanimous giving and absent in the mundane reality of existence? St. Augustine writes:
"People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering... Now, let us acknowledge the wonder of our physical incarnation— that we are here, in these particular bodies, at this particular time, in these particular circumstances. May we never take for granted the gift of our individuality."
In prayer, we so often reserve the bulk of time to personal requests -- not to diminish that, please don't misunderstand, for we are called to depend on God in all things --but I consider the sole leper who returned to Christ with thanks and praise. "Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?" Then he said to him, "Stand up and go; your faith has saved you." He received the greatest gift - salvation - because of his gratitude.

Gratitude is not commonplace, at least in my opinion. I do not see it as a mark of our culture, our present times. Yet history reflects our present predicament; Tacitus, a great Roman historian from the first century AD wrote, "Men are more ready to repay injury than a benefit because gratitude is a burden and revenge a pleasure." The burden of gratitude - to owe thanks, is seen as heavier to man than to seek ill of a foe. I don't suspect there is much change in our collective conscience since that quote was penned. Joseph Stalin is thought to have stated, "Gratitude is a sickness suffered by dogs." Much has been written that equates gratitude with weakness and debt to another.

This does not reflect what we are called to. In reality, our successes, our relationships, our very lives are gifts to be thankful for. Wealth and success that deprives us of gratitude deprives us of the treasures that do not decay; "In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich. It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others."
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), Ethics (1949)

I want to be like the leper who pleases the Lord with my thanksgiving; I don't want to be one of the other nine he inquires about with sadness. I want, like the silly picture above, to live as such that my name is synonymous with gratitude...though I am not sure how. I have read of those who keep "gratitude journals", who consider and record each moment of goodness; but I am most intrigued by those such as St. Faustina who find gratitude even in suffering, and marvel at their holiness:

"Jesus, I thank you for little daily crosses, for opposition to my endeavors, for the hardships of communal life, for the misinterpretation of my intentions, for humiliations at the hands of others, for the harsh way in which we are treated, for false suspicions, for poor health and loss of strength, for self-denial, for dying to myself, for lack of recognition in everything, for the upsetting of all my plans....

"I thank you, Jesus, who first drank the cup of bitterness before You gave it to me, in a much milder form.... I want to drink the cup to its last drop, and not seek to know the reason why.... In You, O Lord, is all good, all is a gift of Your paternal Heart. I do not prefer consolations over bitterness or bitterness over consolations, but thank You, O Jesus, for everything!"
To me that is the height of gratitude. My prayer is that in little ways I aspire to that holiness.

I am thankful for this blog for affording the opportunity to read the words of others and consider my own gratitude…there, a good start. Now, to where?

Sunday Snippets - A Catholic Carnival

The semester is over, Christmas is past, and I am indulging in a bit of blogging.  This week I wrote of Kiszka and culture (yes, my Polish heritage does cause me to ponder life as a sausage...).  I also pondered my daughter's apparent lack of responsibility and considered the lilies of the field.

I am looking forward to reading the posts of some of the other carnies, and wish you all a healthy and blessed week.  Make sure you check out our host's site!

Consider a lily in my field...

Honorable daughter number one left this morning for New York for a week's worth of volunteerism in the Bronx.  She's leading a group of equally honorable compadres from Canisius College who'll be working in various places helping the needy in the City that Never Sleeps.  It's a return engagement; I am proud of her insatiable desire to reach out to others. 

I drove her to the airport at 5:45 this morning; luggage?  Check.  Carry-on?  Check.  Boo-Boo the stuffed puppy?  Check.  Everything seemed in order.  I dropped her off at the terminal, told her I loved her and that I'd pray for a good trip, and drove away.  I was about a mile down the expressway when the thought occurred to me that perhaps I should have stayed a few minutes at the curb...Emily has a habit of forgetting important things, usually at key moments and when running behind schedule.  Her high school graduation was a great example - no gloves, no mortar board, and unbridled panic. 

The thought of staying quickly passed and I continued toward the city, looking forward to crawling back into bed, when like clockwork my cell phone rang.  "Do you see my license in the car, Dad?"  It was difficult to see in the dark of the morning, and since I was already breaking the law by taking the call I thought it prudent to refrain from crawling out of my seat to search the car while speeding along the expressway.  I pulled off the nearest exit but was unable to locate her license.  Panic ensued as evidenced by the stream of words from the phone: "What am I going to do I can't get on the plane I can't even get a ticket my group is waiting oh Dear GOD what am I supposed to do now" etc. etc. etc.  There was  no punctuation in her communication so I omitted it here too.

Honorable daughter number two sleeps with her cell phone Scotch-taped to her ear, so I called and advised her to search Emily's clothing from the last three days, conveniently still located on the floor of her room.  The license was located, and as I returned to the Buffalo-Niagara International Airport I reviewed all the things I would like to say to the little darling.  "You remembered your puppy but not your license?" "Maybe if you'd packed last night instead of ten minutes before leaving..."  "Did you make sure you brought your brain?  I'll wait while you check."  I pulled up to the terminal where she was waiting, looking forlorn.  "There you go.  Have a good flight.  Love you", was all that came out.  All that rehearsing, for nothing.  Oh bother.  She smiled and ran into the airport, and I drove home.  Again.

Emily is learning to prioritize the hard way.  She's not the most thorough person and tends to assume a lot, but I chalk that up to impetuous youth.  As she was packing she held up a bottle of perfume and asked, "Can I put this in my carry-on?"  It was a gallon decanter, and I told her it wouldn't pass.  She then held up a 55 gallon drum of lotion and asked, "What about this?  I mean, c'mon, it's lotion".  No, dear daughter.  Not even the lotion.  I thought, "You are travelling on a plane.  Did you look up the rules or are you hoping for a pat-down?"  Making sure she was compliant with TSA laws to avoid incarceration and cavity searches was just not a priority for her.  That is a frustration for an aging father who suffers from undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder, who despite multiple flights pours over the rules and regulations each and every time.

The funny thing is, the kid is so doggone beautiful.  She is smart, she's happy, she's self-confident...I just love to watch her.  Life is fun for her, exciting 'round every corner.  She's idealistic, stubborn, and the person everyone turns to when they need something.  She's in New York with hardly any money, and doesn't seem to be worried about that at all.  She's never lead a group there, but doesn't seem too concerned.  She'll have the time of her life, I am quite sure.

As I impart my life-learned wisdom and offer criticism to her when asked (and often when not) I pause to consider that perhaps, just perhaps, she has something to teach me...
"So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?'  All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."   Matthew 6:31-34
I got a text later that morning that she made it to NYC safely.  I smiled, and envied her.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Somebody PLEASE steal the Kiszka...

One of the greatest mysteries of my life involves sausage. Hey, I'm Polish. Just go with it.

Every Saturday morning my mother would dutifully rise from her slumber, pull out her trusty frying pan, and remove a sausage from the refrigerator that defied description: bulbous, dark, and grotesque, the sausage (at least five inches in diameter) looked like the innards of a pig. I always imagined it was the pig's spleen, though I have no idea what a pig spleen looks like…but I wasn't too far off, apparently. The sausage was a conglomeration of pig parts: snouts, ears, feet, organs (spleen?), and blood, mixed with seasonings not heard of and a healthy portion of barley, and finally sealed up in the intestinal membrane of something very large. She would break the sausage open as she cooked it and crumble it like ground meat, and as it sizzled the house filled with an aroma that can only be described in terms too unseemly for a genteel blog.

Kiszka. Poland's answer to the blood sausage. A monstrosity to a child of tender years, no matter how much ketchup my father squirted on it, and a perpetual mystery: why would anyone eat the darn thing?  And just as important: who would ever steal such a thing?!? (see video below)

"You don't know what's good," he would say as he scooped up the ground-up pig parts smothered in Heintz 57 on a slice of rye toast. While I would never venture to disrespect my father, I must state at this juncture of my life that yes, I did know what was good. It was not kiszka.

Years later I would learn that children are born with an abundance of taste buds, very sensitive and pristine taste buds that discern the subtlest of flavors. That explains why things that seemed so incredibly putrid as children (liver, cabbage, brussel sprouts, etc.) suddenly are tolerable and even delicious as adults - enough of our taste buds have been fried away by heat, time, hot sauce and Jack Daniel's to kill the underlying flavors. The older we get, the fewer taste buds we have. My grandmother, in the last ten years of her life, only wanted pizza and hot chicken wings, and for good reason - it was the only food the poor old gal could taste.

Despite anatomical realities, kiszka remains elusive to me. Perhaps it is the smell of rotting foodstuffs that repulses me…or the color of bloody gastric extracts that adorn its unseemly appearance. I recently took a mouthful just to see if my tongue is old and tired enough, and discovered it is not. My father, a man who for much of my life seemed invincible and superhuman, remains so as I reflect on my inability to prove my Polish manhood.

Just as the degeneration of our ability to taste allows for an expanded palate, as I age I see the temptations of life deaden my senses and lure me away from truth. I am quite sure I am not alone. Can you imagine the reaction of viewers if some of the programs on television today aired thirty, forty or fifty years ago? What is commonplace today would have been unthinkable then. The lyrics of music, the content of movies, the literature we are exposed to -- we have become numb, it seems, unable to taste the bitterness of it. Violence on the screen and in games have created a generation immune to it - movies must push the envelope to get nary a gasp. Violence, foul language, contraception, abortion, licentious behaviors, adultery - our appetites have changed. We no longer recoil at their bitter taste, their unpleasant odor.

Prayer, fasting, chastity and obedience can reawaken our slumbering senses.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma. Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving. Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient. So do not be associated with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says: "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light."
Ephesians 5:1-14
As we reduce the distractions of life, contemplate the goodness of God, imitate Jesus, and pour over the scriptures our tastes will once again change - but rather than the degeneration our culture draws us to, our senses will conform to God's will and will awaken from slumber and darkness. The goodness of God and his creation will define beauty, not the vanity of the world.

Evil and sin are all around us; may God bless us with a healthy distaste. May our senses be heightened to recognize their putrid odor…and if you need a primer on the smell of evil and sin go ahead and fry yourself a big old kiszka.



Sunday, January 2, 2011

Resolution?

I hold a grudge.

It gnaws at me. I am confronted with it weekly, and cowardly shrink from addressing it. It is a point of angst for me, and I ruminate on my inability to resolve the pain associated with the situation. As time has passed my anger and disappointment in my foe has abated and has been replaced with anger and disappointment in myself. I find myself longing for the friendship, the conversation, the confidences shared…yet week after week I am static.

A part of me fears rejection: I am not the only one angry and disappointed. I am not akin to confrontation, nor my foe, and so we stand off. We share a quick temper and sharp tongue when cornered; mutual self-awareness has impeded reconciliation, I fear. I am acutely aware of the possible repercussions of confrontation -- I fabricate fantastic and horrible engagements. We are similar in many ways, particularly our faults, which has led to prolonged pain and estrangement.

We consider one another men of faith…yet we behave contrarily in this regard.

It's funny how I try to make my grudge seem effortless. My nonchalance is carefully honed. We look face to face in the safety of separation, but in casual encounters I practice avoidance. I have crafted many a speech in which I am blameless, a victim. They hold no truth. I share much blame. I have heard it said that many forget the original wrong when harboring grudges; I have not. I remember the words, the demeanor, the insinuations. At least I think I do.

I chose to minimize the insult. It hasn't worked; it has festered. As time passed the relevancy of addressing the situation has seemed to shift away, and we've simply ignored one another. I made one half-hearted attempt to reconcile, though it was not honest -- choosing instead to pretend that everything was as it was before. It didn't work, and my weak and dishonest advance was rejected. Rightfully so.

And so, here I am, on the feast of "Little Christmas", musing on my failure to fix what should have been long ago, and considering it loss. I want it to end, but at this point have no clue how to begin.

So I pray. I am sure he is praying, too. Perhaps we will listen.

All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. (And) be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. Ephesians, 4:31-32