Thursday, December 31, 2009


The year 2009 is now history. And with it, a decade that all who are old enough, will remember for the rest of their lives.

It now seems years and years ago when, on that picture perfect September day in New York City, the world changed forever. We were awakened to the fact that America had enemies that used faith as a cover for their burning hate. We were plunged into an atmosphere of hate that this society has seldom experienced. The fear runs so deep that the terrorists would have to do nothing more but sit back and watch us squirm at the least perceived threat.

All of us have, in one way or another, been affected by this cruel and brutal act of unspeakable violence. None of us looks at the world in the same way we did on September 10, 2001. We have come to see the world filled with shadows. They are shadows, indistinguishable, yet, real, plotting to do us harm. We look at our children and grandchildren differently and envision for them a world much different from the world in which we grew up. Ever since that fateful morning, everything seems to be in chaos. Nothing seems settled. We try to go about our business as usual, but the specter of another attack looms darkly, always on the horizon.

But the decade was also filled with many life transitioning events. I was blessed, as was our family, with the arrival of the two newest members, Aliyah and Keirah. They are beautiful little girls who are reminders that no matter what the present may be delivering at any given moment, there still is the hope of the future. These bright, charming and delightful little ones breathed a breath of fresh air into our lives and delivered more smiles and laughter than anyone could ever imagine. To fall in love with your grandchildren is a special gift from God that simply defies words.

Just as birth is a natural part of life, so, too, is death. And during these past ten years we have bid farewell to a number of elderly family members who had led full productive lives. They are surely missed but have really never departed from us. They linger in our hearts and memories only to become an even greater and, perhaps, more meaningful part of who we are. We know that one day we shall be reunited with them in ways unimaginable to the human mind or imagination. We still miss them but the hope of that one day of reunification propels us forward.

Now it is 2010. Our thoughts naturally turn to what the future might bring. Those two little grandchildren who are now seven and three will, in another ten years, grow exponentially toward adulthood. They will be young ladies busily planning out their lives with the energy and enthusiasm that only the young can muster. Our children will be in middle age, becoming more and more confident of who they are and what their roles mean. They will understand more deeply what it means to love another person on so many different levels. They will also realize that life is very finite and that to truly live a full life, they must earnestly embrace each passing day.

As for us, well, we will be another decade older and hopefully wiser. We will be in our mid-sixties having added even more experience to the library of life knowledge that we have thus far accumulated. Hopefully, we will have become more understanding and tolerant of others in our wisdom. We pray that our physical health stands strong so that we may enjoy life from the unique perspective of an older and wiser person. Once again we will be amazed at how fast time has flown and wonder aloud what the future will bring to us.

As for those who are a generation older than we, they may still be with us and if they are we pray that they have reasonably sound health. If they are more sickly than before, we pray that God grant us the patience and understanding to take care of them with the same care and love with which they nurtured us as children. They have never been perfect, nor will they be, but the fact remains that they are our parents and relatives and have loved us unconditionally through thick and thin.

The future is often what we make of it and it is my hope and prayer that all who read this will make their future a walk with God who will guide them along the right paths to peace and fulfillment. The future is an adventure to be lived and cherished. It is where we are all headed and while we do live in a world filled with uncertainty, it is my hope that we all find our ways peacefully and lovingly. We will not live forever but while we do, may we live life accompanied by those who love us for who we are, able to forgive even the most grievous of our sins and move on. For this is truly where we encounter God.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

A Soldier's Story

Ninety years ago, a young man from my hometown of Pekin, IL, was stationed in France after World War I. He was originally a country boy having grown up on a farm a few miles south of Pekin. When the "War To End All Wars" involved America, this young man set off for Europe to fight for freedom and justice. His father, the county sheriff, was a proud Irish immigrant from County Cork, Ireland. His mother was from sturdy stock in New England.

What follows is an article that appeared in the local newspaper. In the body of the article is a letter from this young man. It is not a dramatic recounting of a bloody encounter with the German enemy. It has no daring escapades within its pages. In fact, in some ways, the letter is rather boring with the exception of the fact that it provides a snapshot of life for that country lad. He was seeing things and experiencing things he could never have dreamed he could had it not been for his life in the military.

The young man who penned this letter home is none other than my grandfather Charlton. In the photo at the top of this piece you can see him in his Military Police uniform, an article of clothing that he was very proud of. He served his country with honor just as countless other young men of his generation and was forever proud of his service for the rest of his life. When he died in 1964, his casket was draped in a large American flag. I'll never forget that flag and the way it decorated his coffin. Thanks to my mother, I am the proud possessor of that very flag these 45 years later.

The article below appeared in the Pekin Daily Times in early 1919 and was written to my grandfather's good friend, Henry Schulte. I have not altered the spelling or the grammar to give you an idea of the authentic feel of the letter.


Letters From Home Town Listen Good To Soldiers

Henry Schulte of the Pekin Fire Department has received the following interesting letter from Jim Charlton, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Charlton who is now doing military police duty in Paris. Jim enclosed a picture of himself and three soldier friends and one glance shows that Jim has picked up a few pounds in weight and if there are any more imposing M.P.'s in Paris than Jim, they will have to go some.

Paris, France, Mar. 3, 1919

Dear Friend Henry:

Well Henry I received your letter Saturday and sure was glad to hear from you. I tell you a letter from the old home town folks looks better than a pay day. When I was home I used to hear of so many people saying we ought to write more to the boys over there, and I thought it was kind of foolish. But since I am over here I realize what a letter means to a soldier over here. I want to tel you a soldiers life in France isn't quite as nice as soldiering tin the states, at least I have found it different. But just the same I am very thankful that I am feeling well, and that the war ended when it did. Because I was making fast footsteps toward the front when the armistice was signed. At the time the armistice was signed I guess people all over France went wild but a fellow couldn't blame them. I know I felt mighty good about it.

Well, Henry I will tell you what we done after the armistice was signed. We left the little town of Mansigne on Sunday morning about seven o'clock, headed for a forwarding camp near Mayet, France, which was about eight miles. Well, we landed here about 11 o'clock. The first thing we did was to line up for dinner, and there being about 2500 of us soldiers here the same day and only one kitchen we had to wait a long time for something to eat. By the time I go to dinner it was about five o'clock so you can easily see that I might have been pretty hungry, after walking 8 miles and waiting so long for something to eat. But just the same I stood this part of it all right. Well we stayed here about three weeks and got a couple of more kitchens and commenced to get along a little bit better. The camp won the name of slum camp. Ha! Ha! So finally one day they started to look my old company over to get the military police and of course me being in good shape after eating slum for three weeks was picked for one. There was 35 out of my company picked and placed with 165 more and shipped in box cars to Auton, France, to take a two weeks course in military police duty.

Well, after we finished our course here we rode third class in to Paris. And believe me I was glad when they said we would ride third class and do away with riding like a bunch of cattle. The joke was when we were riding in these box cars it read on the door 40 hommas or 8 head of horses in the American language.

I am a military police in Paris, or at least I done this for the first month. But now I doing traffic control. I wish you could see me walking the streets of Paris with one of these French police. i sure have to laugh some times about it because he can't talk to me and I can't make him understand me.

But just the same we get along with our work just the same. I went on duty last night with one of them about six o'clock and we walk about two hours. When we finally landed close to a roller skating rink and we went in for a while and believe me this is some place too, I am telling you. The skating rink is about 200 feet by 100 feet, a large cafe and also a moving picture show combined. It is sure quite a place. I want to tell you that Paris is quite a place, and sure glad beings I had to stay over here that I got the chance to come to Paris. I went to see a large picture of the war painted by some Frenchman which is wonderful. And if I didn't get to see another thing while I am in Paris I sure would be satisfied. The picture is 350 feet long and 40 feet wide. It shows the battle front and the different nations which took part in the big war. Henry, I can't explain what a beautiful picture this is. But it sure is grand. I also was out to see Napoleon's tomb and also went through the museum. This is a beautiful place. I tell you every time I get a day off I make use of it by going out sight seeing.

Well, Henry, this ends my story what I am doing now, and will explain the picture I am sending you. Of course you don't know these three fellows with me but you can study out who that one guy is. He is the same fellow who used to ride the yellow wheel around the streets of our home in Paris and of course some of the fellows in our company had to be bothering us and made us move a little and spoil the picture. But just the same, I am proud of it. Will bring this letter to a close this time. Hoping this finds you all well. I am feeling fine. Give my best regards to the city hall bunch.

From Friend

Jim W Charlton
264 M.P. Co., 132 Bn., A.P. 702 A. E.

Jim Charlton, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Charlton, of this city, who is in the military police stationed at the Pershing Stadium now and also seeing some real good sport. The Pekin boy is stationed right at the Pershing Hut, which is some honor. Jim's number is 264 and we venture that there is not a finer looking cop in gay Paree.


What became of that picture of the three M.P.'s is not known. But the picture of the proud young Military Police Officer is a portrait that has been in my family all these years. My grandfather left quite a legacy!

Stopping By the Woods On A Snowy Evening

One of my favorite poets is Robert Frost. The imagery of his poetry stands out as a portrait of America for me. His poetry has a sense of dignity and peace and is always laced, at the same time, with a sense of gritty reality.

One of my favorite poems is "Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening." I present it to you below as a reminder that even the cold and snowy winter can be filled with wonder and beauty.

Stopping By the Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods are these I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think its queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
-Robert Frost
New Hampshire

Friday, December 25, 2009

It's Over??

Well, the "Big Day" has come and gone. Untold miles of wrapping paper have been moved from the place of honor--under the tree--to the place of dishonor--the trash. Relatives have come and gone. There may be some egg nog left, but the desire for a normal meal overcomes the formal urge to drown oneself in the silky smooth seasonal treat just one more time. The tree is still up, but its days are now numbered even though no one dares speak of that eventuality just yet. Kids, once excited by the treasures they have inherited, now lay exhausted in warm beds. And parents, in the late night quiet of the house, wonder what became of the time as the fatigue of the last few days of frenetic preparation for the holiday sets in. Somehow, the cold of winter becomes a little more chilling as we are now faced with little to look forward to in the next few months. For many people, we now enter a time of let down. The celebrations are over. Music reconverts to the old standards. Decorations slowly come down as the color of the season gives way to the darkness of the long winter ahead. And the next Christmas in our lives seems so far distant. Christmas is over.

However, that seems to contradict the message of the season that we just passed through. For weeks we have heard, over and over, Christmas music proclaiming peace on earth and good will to men. We have greeted each other in subtly different ways with warmth and kindness. We have proclaimed this season as a joyous time because Christ our Savior is born! Yet, even before the day is ended, we so often hear people returning to life outside the holiday. How strange this is! As followers of Christ, Christmas does not come and go, but, rather, should be a time of beginning.

For you see, Christmas is not what we have just celebrated. We have just celebrated a passage of time marked by parties, gatherings, and yearly rituals that make us all feel a little better about things. We often relive warm memories from the past and celebrate those "good old days" but that is not Christmas either. What do I mean?

Christmas is not an event! Christmas is not a date on the calendar that marks the time of a special period of celebration and then suddenly comes to an end with the beginning of a new day. Christmas is a new way of life guided through the teachings of Jesus Christ. There is a sentimentality about putting up the manger scene under the tree, but there is a real grit to living out on a day-to-day basis what that crib means. It means loving one another despite our differences and hurts. It means reaching out to those in need even though we may have very little in the way of material goods ourselves. It means laying aside differences between family members in an attempt to forgive and reconcile just as the Master taught. It means serving and sacrificing. It means preaching the Word of God through our life-style more than simple, empty platitudes.

If we live in accord with the teachings of Christ, then Christmas truly never ends. It becomes a way of living, not just a date or season on the calendar. During this time of the year, we read in sacred Scripture of the three wise men who followed a special star in the heavens to the place of the birth of our Lord in order to give Him honor and praise. (cf Mt 2: 1-12) Their faith was so great that they sacrificed nearly everything to follow that one point in the sky to find their salvation.

I have a simple question: what star do you follow? Is it the star of the pursuit of wealth? Is it the star of the illusion of fame? Is it the star of pleasure? Is it the star of self-absorption, seeing everything as revolving around you? Or is it the star of the teachings of the Master who came to teach, live and die so that we may live? It is the star of service to others? Is it the star of giving tirelessly to those who have nothing? Is it the star of prayer and worship? Or is it the star of teaching your children the ways of life according to the Son of God whom we have just celebrated?

As we stare 2010 in the face, let us look within ourselves to see if we can detect that star in our lives. If we need to follow a different star because the one we have seen leads us to the wrong path, then we must change our gaze and look toward the Savior of us all.

Christmas does not end! It takes place every day of our lives. We must, like the Magi of old, continually seek the star that leads us to the place of the Messiah in our lives. We must put aside petty disagreements and old wounds to forgive and once again embrace those who may have hurt us. We must become peacemakers one person at a time by recognizing that we are all wounded and all in need of the healing of Christ. In these ways and countless others we can ensure that every day of our life is Christmas day, wrapped in the teachings of the humble Rabbi of Nazareth who embraces each one of us with His love. "Love one another as I have loved you," (Jn 15: 12) must become our way of life. By living out this commandment, we can then truly say to one another, "Merry Christmas" each day of our lives throughout the year and relive the warmth of the lights and the fellowship that we have felt over the last few days and weeks leading up to Christmas!

Let Christmas become a way of life. In this way, peace shall be yours! Merry Christmas!!

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Sacred Season

Now, just a few short days before Christmas, we enter the sacred season. The joy is palpable. The anticipation is almost too much to bear. The fulfillment of dreams is about to be reenacted again and again. For this is the season of the coming of the Christ Child. A time of great joy and jubilation because of what it means to each and every one of us.

It is so easy in this season of secular bargain hunting to lose sight of why we do all of the things we do during this time. We hunt for goods at clearance prices as though our very existence depended upon it. We gather with family and friends much as we do in the summer time but there is a different feel to the gathering. Something is different about when we get together at this time of the year as opposed to the middle of July for a picnic. There is a sense of joy and wonder even though we may not give voice to these things. We may very well exchange gifts with these friends, but even if we don't, there is a distinct feeling that we seldom feel throughout the rest of the year. We feel that we are actually gifts to one another.

Why all of these feelings? Why do we run about collecting goods, giving them away to those we feel closest to? Why do we bother to put in hours upon hours at work and then, at the end of such a busy day, exhausted, we head out to the local merchant to pick up a few "last minute items"? Have we lost our minds?

Some would say that we have. Others don't know for certain why we do all of this, we just know that in December at this time of year, it is what we do!

Pause for a moment, though, and contemplate the reason behind all this hubbub. Why do we often drive ourselves crazy going through these annual rituals? The answer is quite simple, really. The reason for all of this activity, the reason for all the gift giving and warm feelings is the reason for our very existence--Jesus Christ.

We are not simply celebrating the birthday of Jesus. He wasn't even born at this time of year! We are celebrating in our gatherings, our gift giving, our shopping, and all the other activities we take on at this time of year because we know that we owe our lives and eternal existence with God to Him.

This is not only a sacred season, but a season of humility. Not our own humility for very few of us could truly be called humble! This is a season that celebrates not only the birth of the Son of God, but also a time to contemplate and remember the humility of God. God, humble? How?

God, the Creator of the universe, is far above us in every way. He is perfection. He is dignity. His is integrity. He is all that is good. He is love. Because of His great love for us we came into being. And because of His endless mercy, we have eternal life if we but follow His will. The greatest act of humility any one of us could ever witness is that of the Creator becoming a part of His very own creation for the express purpose of rescuing us, His very creation.

This is the Incarnation, that special time of year when man and nature bow in humility before the God of us all. It matters not whether you are Christian or Jew. Muslim or Mormon. Hindu or Buddhist. The Lord God is God of us all and we all owe our very salvation to His saving works. This is truth, truth that Jesus would speak of to Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, some thirty-three years after the event we are about to celebrate later this week. The more we truly understand the great humility that God has shown in this act of Incarnation, the more joy we will begin to experience. The lights and decorations of the season will take on an even greater warmth and glow. Our customs and traditions will become more meaningful because we have returned to our spiritual roots. Our joy will be more complete because we have paused, thought, contemplated why it is we do what we do at this time of year.

So let us join together in our families and amidst our friends and celebrate one another as the Creator celebrates us. Let us place our lives ever in His presence so that we may never forget that the reason we celebrate this season of Christmas has nothing to do with us and everything to do with Him. As our minds travel back through two thousand years of history to that scene on that chilly night in Bethlehem, let us gaze upon the face of the Christ Child and give Him thanks and homage for His saving presence and thanks for one another through whom we experience in the greatest of ways, His love!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"As You Did It To One of the Least. . ."

For centuries, an argument has been waged about whether or not we are our brother's keeper. The question, based on the passage in the Book of Genesis where God asks Cain where his brother Abel is after Cain has killed Abel, is one of the most profound that we can ask ourselves at this time of the year.

We are in the midst of what we call the giving season. It is a time when thoughts of what to buy family and friends for Christmas takes center stage. We rush to malls, to department stores, to box stores, or go online to purchase the latest fad or trendy item. We decorate our homes in honor of the upcoming celebration. We reunite with those who we may not have seen since last year at this same time. Our lives are a blur as December speeds by at an incredible speed. And, before you know it, Christmas dinner at grandma's and grandpa's has been enjoyed, the dishes washed and put away, and the treasures so sought after have emerged from their cocoons of brightly colored paper and ribbon. 'Tis the season for celebration and rightly so, for this is the season that we celebrate the coming of the Savior into the world to redeem us.

During this time of preparation as we hurry about, one of the most familiar and best loved customs we all encounter is that of the bell ringer posted outside nearly every business. Volunteers brave sometimes brutal temperature to ring simple little bells to gently remind us of the needs of so many others. Many of us dig into our pockets for loose change to put in the little red kettles. Once our deposit is made and "Merry Christmas" is exchanged with the ringer, we go on our way seldom giving further thought to those to whom we have just contributed. Life just seems too busy to dwell on the sad plight that so many others endure. And, besides, by giving to the little red kettle, we've helped out.

While this is true and I am not disparaging anyone who gives to the needy at this time of the year, I would like to urge you to give further thought to the people you have just reached out to help.

Who, among those who may be reading this at this moment, knows what it is to be homeless? Who among most of us knows the agony and the pain of the uncertainty of not knowing where your next meal may be coming from? Do we truly understand what it is like to be faced with living in the open on bitterly cold winter nights under overpasses, in dark alleys, or anything that may give us shelter from the often deadly winds and the chill they bring? Does any of us know what it is like to go weeks and perhaps months without bathing, walking the streets in tattered and torn clothes and in shoes that have been worn so long that there is barely a sole between us and the sidewalk? Has any of us experienced carrying around our worldly possessions in a couple of plastic bags as we make our daily rounds of hotel and restaurant dumpsters for our daily bread?

There are nearly countless numbers of people, men, women, and children, doing these things-and more-right now just to survive. Not far from where you live, there is likely to be someone trying to find a "warm" place in which to spend the night out of harm's way and the below zero wind chills sweeping through December. Many may have been only a few weeks ago, in circumstances similar to yours. Perhaps they had a job and were able to pay the mortgage or rent, put food on the table and even have a little left over for some much needed relaxation. And then came the announcement that the job was being eliminated due to the slumping economy. Many, having never been faced with such a possibility, simply panic, not knowing what to do or to whom to turn. The fact is that none of us knows when or if we may have the same things happen to us.

We who have been blessed with abundance must do whatever we can to ease the burdens of those who have little or nothing. And we must do so year round, not just during the Christmas season when we are reminded of such unpleasantness. What have you done to reach out to the poor? Each individual has to decide what they can do and then simply do it. You do not have to do anything spectacular. It can be as simple as donating canned goods to the local food pantry. You may volunteer to teach reading to an adult who never learned how to read thus opening the door up to possible more gainful employment. You may chose to send a financial contribution to a favorite charity.

Whatever you do, do it with the following words in mind. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." (Mt 25: 40) It is a reminder that nothing is done in vain as long as we do it to honor Him who came among us at this time of year. When we reach out to others we reach out to the very source of life. What better way to usher in the Christmas season than to meet Christ in the very hearts and souls of those who are so needy. Celebrate your blessings with others and you will become a blessing to them. This will make for a truly Merry Christmas far beyond any other gift!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Not One. Not Two. A Riddle.

Advent is a time for reflection and a time for seeking. We reflect on our lives and how we may have affected those around us during the last year. How were we Christ to others? Did we contribute in some way to those who have less? Did we help others who are seeking the truth by our example of a life lived in the framework of the gospels? How are we doing on our search to find God in our lives? Do we recognize Him in others? Have we looked inside ourselves to see if we are bearers of the Spirit of God?

Far too often we search for God in the wrong places. God is not in any one place. As a matter of fact, since He is spirit, it is impossible for Him to be in a "place" as we understand it. Yet, He is here, among us, and if we let Him, He will guide our lives through the good and bad days that we all encounter.

This is the riddle of life. Where do we encounter God, become one with Him? Where in this chaotic and seemingly despondent world can we unite with God so that life makes more sense? Search within, not without. You may be surprised what you find on this journey inward. As we ready ourselves for Christmas and the joyful celebration of Christmas, we must remind ourselves that this world is still in need of the saving power of Jesus Christ. With wars, economic strife, political upheaval, the threat of nuclear arms buildup, and the erosion of the moral base of society, it seems that we are as much in need of a Savior now as we were two thousand years ago.

Seek God in your own way, but seek Him with all your heart. These days ahead of the celebration of Christmas, spend a few moments every day searching deep within you for that elusive unity with the Father of us all. Perhaps the little riddle below will spur you on to more carefully examine your inner life and your life with God.

"How does one seek union with God?" the seeker asked.

"The harder you seek," the teacher said, "the more distance you create between God and you."

"So what does one do about the distance?"

"Understand that it isn't there," the teacher said.

"Does that mean God and I are one?" the seeker asked.

"Not one. Not two."

"How is that possible?" the seeker said.

"The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and the song. Not one. Not two."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

World Aids Day

Today is World Aids Day. Aids is not a subject that is not discussed that much any longer. I remember when Aids was first identified as a disease, there was almost no other talk. It was the "Gay man's cancer." There was no cure, nor was there any treatment for the disease and death was a certainty. Every time someone was diagnosed as HIV positive it was a given that what would follow would be a rather short but extremely painful slide into death.

In the ensuing years, much has been done to combat this dreadful disease. Drug cocktails have been developed to slow down the progression of Aids but there still is no cure. However, just because someone is diagnosed as being HIV positive is not the inevitable death sentence that it once was.

While Aids is still very much present in the United States, Africa is plagued by the illness. Thousands of men, women, and children are dying. The agonizing death has spread to all corners of the continent. The United States has led the way in providing the medicines to combat the progression of the disease. Still, this aid is not enough as the epidemic continues to spread wildly.

Aids has touched my life on occasion. Years ago I spent a lot of time in the theatrical world. During this time I met several delightful people who were very talented and creative. They were such fun and great to be around both on stage and off. One of these people named Robert, had never acted in a show but loved the theatre. After auditioning for a part in a show, he was rewarded with the role. He was ecstatic and scared to death all at the same time. He was terrible in rehearsals. He had a hard time hitting his marks. He seemed to be unable to memorize any line no matter how simple it might be. Yet, he pressed on.

The night the show opened, Robert was as nervous as I have ever seen anyone before going on stage. All of us in the cast wondered how in the world he would get through the performance. However, once the lights went up and he stepped on stage, he became a new man. His performance crackled with energy. He stole every scene he was in drawing raucous laughter from the audience. In short, he was a big hit. At the curtain calls, when he came out for his bows, the audience roared their approval. We were all gratified and had all learned something of persistence. Not long after the show, he moved to Texas for job reasons.

Six months or so passed. Time went on as usual. Then, one evening as another show was about to open, a young man with a couple of friends came backstage to greet the cast. He looked vaguely familiar but was frighteningly thin and very frail looking. At first, most of us thought that this was a friend of someone in the cast. As it turned out, he was a friend of us all. For here, in front of us, was Robert who had, months before, struggled so hard with his first role on stage.

While we were all thrilled to see him, we were also stunned by his appearance. What had happened to this previously very healthy young man? Aids. You see, Robert had, in the ensuing months of his departure, contracted HIV which quickly progressed into Aids. His once lively eyes now sunk deeply into his head. Pain emanated from them even though he still flashed his bright smile quickly and often. He looked brittle as though if you touched him too hard bones would break. His voice was weak and just walking across the floor caused him to be out of breath. He still had his great sense of humor and his can-do attitude was still infectious. However, he was but a shadow of himself.

About three weeks after his visit, we received word that Robert died quietly in his sleep in the middle of the night. He had touched all of us deeply with his spirit. It was an honor knowing him and I'll never forget the impact he and his remarkable sense of life had on me.

Robert was gay, but the disease that took his life at age 32 was not a "Gay man's cancer." It was Aids. On this World Aids Day, it is time for all of us to pause to remember the victims of this horrible disease. We have to unchain ourselves from the thoughts that this disease is one that mainly effects gay people. This is a disease that takes the lives of thousands of ordinary people every year. It is not as important to concentrate on how the disease may have been contracted as it is in developing a cure. We need to leave our judgements at the curb and see the victims of Aids as vulnerable, suffering human beings and give them the dignity they deserve.

Today, I remember Robert and those many thousands of others who have died over the years. They are our brothers and sisters in our humanity and we do need to reach out to them in their moments of need. Today, all of us need to spend just a moment in thought and prayer for these victims and their families. May God grant all of us the wisdom to touch their lives in similar ways that Robert touched mine so many years ago.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Words of Wisdom

A long time ago when I was in the seminary, I had a very wise, young priest as a religion teacher. He had only been a Franciscan priest for a few short years when our paths crossed but he always left me with a lasting impression.

Recently, he became pastor of St. Peter's Church in the Loop in Chicago. The Church is home to a community of Franciscans, man of whom I knew when I was in the seminary. Fr. Kurt Hartrich, my one time teacher and now the pastor, continues to teach. Recently he wrote of, as part of his weekly column in the parish bulletin, an interesting list composed by an elderly woman. I thought I would pass this along to you as food for thought as we head through this busy holiday season. Enjoy!


Regina Brett, age 90, wrote the following column in The Cleveland Plain Dealer. She indicated it was the 45 lessons life had taught her. I thought you might want to consider these as we begin a new liturgical year. They give us a great deal to think about and to act upon.

1. Life isn’t fair, but it’s still good.
2. When in doubt, just take the next small step.
3. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.
4. Your job won’t take care of you when you are sick. Your friends and parents will. Stay in touch.
5. Pay off your credit cards every month.
6. You don’t have to win every argument. Agree to disagree.
7. Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
8. It’s OK to get angry with God. He can take it.
9. Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
10. When it comes to chocolate, resistance is futile.
11. Make peace with your past so it won’t screw up the present.
12. It’s OK to let your children see you cry.
13. Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
14. If a relationship has to be kept secret, you shouldn’t be in it.
15. Everything can change in the blink of an eye. But don’t worry. God never blinks.
16. Take a deep breath. It calms the mind.
17. Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
18. Whatever doesn’t kill you really does make you stronger.
19. It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. But the second one is up to you and no one else.
20. When it comes to going after what you love in life, don’t take no for an answer.
21. Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, and wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special.
22. Over prepare and then go with the flow.
23. Be eccentric now. Don’t wait for old age to wear purple.
24. The most important sex organ is the brain.
25. No one is in charge of your happiness but you.
26. Frame every so-called disaster with these words, “In five years, will this matter?”
27. Always choose life.
28. Forgive everyone for everything.
29. What other people think of you is none of your business.
30. Time heals almost everything. Give time time.
31. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
32. Don’t take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
33. Believe in miracles.
34. God loves you because of who God is, not because of anything you did or didn’t do.
35. Don’t audit life. Show up and make the most of it now.
36. Growing old beats the alternative—dying young.
37. Your children get only one childhood.
38. All that truly matters in the end is that you loved.
39. Get outside every day. Miracles are waiting everywhere.
40. If we all threw our problems in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d grab ours back.
41. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
42. The best is yet to come.
43. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
44. Yield.
45. Life isn’t tied with a bow, but it’s still a gift.

Thursday, November 26, 2009


We now enter that time of year when the feast of the birth of Christ nears. It is a time of great excitement and anticipation. The world seems to buzz about in a frenzy preparing for the big day. Constant reports stream in through the news networks about how sales in retail stores are going in order to gauge the financial health of the retail world in specific and the nation in general. It is a time of stress for many, feeling pressured to do everything right and get that very special gift for that very special someone else. While the world buzzes about doing its business, most have seemed to have forgotten one of the real purposes for these few short weeks before Christmas: preparation.

We Americans love to prepare for things. We enjoy the anticipation of an upcoming event so much so that the anticipation is often nearly as fulfilling as the event we prepare for. Christmas is a prime example. Black Friday, a term signaling the importance of the day after Thanksgiving to retailers, kicks off the biggest season of preparation that we put ourselves through. Sales, sales, and more sales are the main topics of conversations as otherwise normally sane people head out into the cold of the early morning to stand in line awaiting the best price on this year's newest and hottest gadget. For many, it becomes a ritual, an annual event to be approached and undertaken much in the same way as an athlete might approach an upcoming event. The preparation, that is the shopping, the planning, the partying are almost as much fun as the event of Christmas turns out to be. But we must prepare ourselves for something much more profound.

Now I am not speaking solely of the preparation for the secular celebration of the season of which we are all familiar. No, what I am speaking of is the preparation for the coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The season, known by many as Advent, has, from its beginnings, been a time of awareness of the return of Christ. Just as we would prepare for the arrival of a dignitary to our homes, so we must also prepare our spiritual lives for the return of our King. How would we, for example, prepare our homes and ourselves for a visit to our home by the President of the United States? What would we do?

No matter how intricate our preparation for the visit of a president may be, our preparation for the coming of the Savior needs be much more involved. These days of Advent are a time of introspection. What could we do better? How can we more perfectly order our lives to align them with that of our Lord's? What have we done during the past year to improve our relationship with God? Where are we in our relationship with God?

These are questions that require us to travel deep into our inner souls. It is a journey fraught with peril because if we are to do it honestly, we will encounter things that we may not like. We will meet ourselves as we really are if we face our inner self with the aid of God in a way that we often do not have enough courage to do. Every day we need to encounter God through prayer. We need to set aside a few minutes out of our busy schedules to spend some time in humble conversation with God. We need to bring Him all of our needs, all of our wants, and all of our fears. We need to express our love for Him and our sorrow for our sinfulness. We need to take on a new humility, realizing that the days are drawing near when the Son of God will return to this world.

Advent is a time for family. We need to come together, forgive one another for offences that we may have committed against one another and help each other reach a new and more meaningful relationship with the Father. There is a tradition known as the Advent Wreath that gathers the family together for family prayer each day of Advent. The wreath consists of four candles, three purple and one pink. The purple candles signify our serious look ito ourselves. The pink stands for the joy we feel as we near Christmas and is lit on the Third Sunday of Advent and each night that week. Each night as the family gathers together a candle is lit and prayers are recited.
The types of prayers, however, are not what is really important. Any prayer, so long as it comes from the heart, will do. The main thing is that they are prayed within the participation of the family as a way of preparing to celebrate the Lord's birth and to prepare for His second coming. This has the great potential of drawing our families together as well as drawing us each individually closer to God.

Any way that you choose, do as John the Baptist did and prepare the way of the Lord for He is surely coming. Advent is an especially good time of the year for this preparation because we are already focused on preparation in our secular lives. Our souls cry out for the Lord. We must make way for Him in our hearts and minds so that we may draw nearer to Him and to one another!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Thanksgiving. The gentle holiday. For many people I know, Thanksgiving Day ranks as one of the favorite, of not the favorite, of holidays. I concur.

This is a gentle holiday. It is as if we all pause, momentarily, before that frenzied season of Christmas is ushered in. It is a day of quiet peace and warmth. It seems to be truly one of the last holidays that is mostly reserved for families for most of us tend to spend the day in the warmth and friendship of family.

There is, of course, the great meal that too many of us tend to enjoy too much! There are the reacquaintances of relatives we haven't seen since last year at this time. There is a crackling fire in the hearth. The aroma of the meal lingers throughout our homes as a subtle and gentle reminder of the meaning of the family meal that for far too many of us is but a distant memory. There are the conversations of the state of the nation around the dinner table and passionate debates about what must and should be done about the state of the economy.

Then, of course, there are the roars of laughter as long-forgotten family stories surface of Thanksgivings past. "Remember when. . " becomes the opening line of each person as they recall some of the more humorous family times. Loved ones no longer with us are remembered in bittersweet stories tinged with a sense of happiness and sorrow even if their passing was many, many years ago. In this way they are with us even today.

In 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln announced the very first observance of a day of thanks, the nation was plunged deeply in the American Civil War. Things had not gone well for the North, but the tide had been turned during the summer with victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Still, public morale was low. Lincoln, a savvy observer of human nature, understood that the human spirit needed, from time to time, to uniformly give thanks for what they had. He knew that giving thanks not only entailed looking back and being grateful for what we have been given but it also led to looking forward with hope to an uncertain future.

No truer statement could be made for our times. The last several years have been rough times for the nation as well as individual families. Fortunes have been lost. Jobs have disappeared. Many families who were intact only a few months ago now find themselves torn apart by the turbulent times. We need to now pause, take stock in what we do have of real value, and look forward to the future with whatever renewed hope we can muster.

Priorities for many have changed. Material goods and possessions have disappeared with the fortunes of a crashing stock market. When we find ourselves in this position, we need to look around in an attempt to reprioritize our lives. What is important to us? One word comes to mind almost immediately: family.

Robert Frost once observed, "Family is where they have to take you in." Maybe, but family is so much more than that. Family is where our hopes, fears, disappointments, yearnings, and love reside with a sense of comfort and safety. This is sadly not true of all families, though. Many are torn apart by the forces of society, left with the scars of abandonment, disappointment, and failed dreams. Those of us who have experienced these things and emerged stronger for them have yet another thing to be thankful for. We need to embrace them and encourage them to move forward through life with integrity, courage, and a bright spirit that will lead to better days.

What am I most thankful for? My family, quite obviously. I have a loving wife with whom I share my life, my joys, my sorrows, my hopes, and, most importantly, my love. She is my rock and life's companion. Growing old without her simply seems unthinkable.

My mother, who is now in her 80's, still has her health even though she is not the icon of strength that she once was as I grew into adulthood. She is a model of courage and strength for all of us showing us the power of hope and positive attitude.

My son, Josh and his family have brought me great joy. He and his wife, Melissa, have shown me unconditional love that burns brightly in my heart. Their little ones, Aliyah and Keirah, light my future with the energy so unique to the young. I see in their eyes my past and my future all tied up in bows and ribbons with a can do attitude that gives me great pride and joy.

I am fortunate to have a great job even though the hours leave something to be desired! My home is comfortable and I want for nothing. God has blessed me with the ability to support the two of us and life is grand.

This kind and gentle holiday is a celebration that is much needed placed at the time of year that it is. The year is nearly finished. We are, perhaps, a bit weary of the quick passage of time. It is so easy to lose sight of what we really do have instead of bemoaning what we do not have as we move through the seasons and months of the year. But this one kind and gentle day allows us to take stock of those things that mean the most to us and, thus, becomes God's blessing to us. For in the end, we must first and foremost give thanks to God for his goodness, compassion, and love and how all of that has been made manifest to us in the passing year. It is my wish for you on this Thanksgiving that you, too, may realize those things for which you are most thankful and that they take you into the upcoming year with a renewed spirit and heart to face the inevitable trials that life brings.

Happy Thanksgiving!!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Great Debate

And so it begins. The United States Senate voted on Saturday night, November 21, 2009, to bring the health care reform bill to the floor of the senate for debate. The vote was strictly along party lines 60-39. Now the true colors of each Senator will be revealed.

One of the most contentious portions of the bill is that amendment called the Stupak amendment that bans federal funding for abortions. The president along with Democratic leaders will now get their debate. They will no longer be able to hide behind the language of a hundred lawyers. They will be forced into the open unable to hide their true will for the bill.

It is time! Time to see just what the leadership of the US Senate believes. It is time for plain speaking and plain dealing. There can be no deal where this issue is concerned because to deny the fundamental right to life is to minimize all other human rights. Without the right to life guaranteed, all other rights can be taken away in a moment's instance. And don't think they won't be!

Those who support the Stupak amendment must now stand tall and go toe-to-toe with those who would see the amendment defeated and dropped entirely from the legislation. They must insist that there will be no support for the bill without supporting the amendment. It is time for hardball (not Chris Matthews version either!). It is time for such august bodies as the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops to speak up loudly and clearly. They have done an admirable job at this thus far, especially Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia. He has been joined by a chorus of fellow bishops and cardinals in his insistence that no federal funds be allotted for abortion. The chorus must grow more numerous and louder so that the voices of those who support life are not drowned out by the voices of those who have so much compassion in their hearts for the rights of women while denying the rights of the unborn. But, at the heart of this issue, this is a grass roots debate.

It is time for the constituency of each senator to make their voices heard. It is time to contact senatorial offices to let your senator know in no uncertain terms that you will not only not support him or her for re-election if they vote to dump the Stupak amendment but that you will work hard in unseating them. They must know the real concern and real demands of the every day people they pay lip service to every election cycle.

Most of all, we need to pray. Prayer is the most powerful weapon we have in this battle. Prayer is the only way that we can possibly begin to move the mountains of indifference that exist towards an unborn child. Prayer will also enlighten us, guide us and sustain us in this momentous fight. This is it! If federal funding for abortion is approved, there is no going back. Once the funding is in place, it will remain so for years and decades to come.

Those who lie peacefully in their mother's wombs count on us to protect them and watch over them. They are the most innocent of society and, as a result, are the most vulnerable as well. Without our voice they have no voice. Without our prayers they have no prayers. And without our loving concern they have no tomorrow. Pray for the conversion of hearts and minds in this debate so that every citizen of the United States of America does, in reality, have equal rights. Polls show that a majority of Americans now oppose abortion and an ever greater majority is opposed to public funding for abortion. It is time, then, for us to unite our many voices in a unified way so that the lawmakers in Washington have no doubt what the will of the people is in this matter!

Friday, November 20, 2009

My Wife

One of the most difficult things to do in this life is to try to describe someone who means so much to you that you simply cannot imagine a day without them. They are close to your thoughts all waking moments. They are the first one you want to tell something new to. They are, in fact, an integral part of who you are.

That is my wife Joan. When I met her my life was adrift. I had no direction and no idea even how to find one. I'll never forget the first time I saw her. There was no thunder, no lightning, just a sense of someone very special passing by. It wasn't anything she said because the first time we met we didn't even exchange any words! It was just that certain feeling, a sixth sense if you will, that this person is not just an ordinary human being momentarily passing through your life.

Today is Joan's birthday! I wish her a happy birthday but that seems so inadequate because of what she has done for me and how much she has come to mean to me. We have seen each other through amazingly hard times, times of sadness and disappointment. We have been afraid together and faced an unknown future arm-in-arm, thus becoming stronger both as a couple and as individual human beings. We have celebrated the joys of family, welcoming into the world very special grandchildren. We have hoped, planned, and rejoiced as we look to a future life together for many years to come.

Joan will not like these accolades because she is one of the most humble people I have ever known. She has special qualities and talents that so many people do not know. She is a great cook. She loves to put together special meals for the two of us to share because it is one way of showing the love she has for me and I am humbled (and well-fed!). She has a compassion for the down-trodden and underdogs of the world that I do not think most people would ever know. Every time there is a sad story on the news about someone or some thing, Joan shakes her head in disbelief and utters an unheard prayer from her heart. There is a tenderness about her that is reflected in her love of plants. She tends to a garden like a devoted mother tends to her offspring. And they respond in kind by flourishing under her watchful eye.

Her pride unmistakeably shows when she talks about the two loves of her life, her sons Mike and Steve. She loves them with complete abandon and their love for her fuels her life. She tries to make each passing birthday special for them, never forgetting their big day. And in them you can see the qualities that had their origins in Joan. They are fine men and are very deserving of their mother's deep and lasting pride.

Most of all, I want to wish my dearest wife the happiest of birthdays. We will spend this day mostly apart because of the demands of the my job. But that does not mean that we will be apart from each other. I will be thinking of her all day knowing that I will return soon to the home she has made so comfortable and cozy to live in, but would never be the same without her. Life marches on as time inexorably passes. But there is great comfort for me in the thought that I will walk down the path of life with my best friend and wife at my side. May I always be worthy of her love and learn from her courage, compassion, and great capacity to embrace life. Happy Birthday Joan!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mammograms and the $

For years, the American Cancer Society, the AMA, and health care professionals have all agreed that once a woman reached her 40th birthday, it was wise for her to have an annual mammogram. With the invention of the mammogram, detection of breast cancer in its earlier stages became a reality and countless women's lives were saved as a result.

Now, a government task force directed by the Obama administration has proclaimed that this is no longer a good idea. In fact, the task force stated that a woman really doesn't need to have an annual mammogram until age 50. Citing the number of false positives that mammograms have produced and the related expenses in treating what was thought to have been cancer, this would be a good move not only from a health standpoint but from an economic stance as well.

Doctors and other health professionals throughout the country have uniformly risen up and condemned this suggestion. They say the whole notion for a woman to postpone an annual mammogram until age 50 is preposterous. Too many women while in their 40's have had the dreaded disease detected by the test and would simply not be around these days had these guidelines been accepted as the conventional wisdom of the day. The outcry against this notion was so deafening that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declared that Medicare would continue to pay for mammograms and she was certain that private insurers would continue to do so as well. Many of those insurance companies have affirmed that there will be no policy changes in regards to the coverage provided for mammograms.

We have witnessed several issues in this discussion started by the task force's declaration. One of the most obvious is that this is just the beginning of government sponsored health care. This idea has been roundly shouted down across the board and the panel who made this suggestion has little, if any, credibility left. This event, I believe, has served as a sort of trial balloon by the administration who is now on the brink of bringing state sponsored health care to the American people. The task force did not have the authority to make their suggestion law. It is merely a recommendation. However, in the future, similar government panels will be put in place to control costs. It will be subtle and barely noticed at first. But it will happen. This leads to another, even more important issue.

Life, now more than ever, has a price on its head. We are beginning to no longer consider certain medical treatments only on the basis of their ability to heal and sustain life but as to how much they will cost and will the efforts extended by such treatments be productive. This is more frightening than any other prospect. No price tags have been affixed to an individual life and it is doubtful that this would ever take place. However, it is conceivable to think that medical decisions will be made within a bureaucratic setting where economy may override health. This diminishes the value of life. How would it ever be possible to formulate guidelines that would set standards for when care should be provided or withheld? Who would determine this?

Health care by government bureaucracy is not an improvement over the current system. There are those who claim that the private insurers already practice a form of bureaucratic administration of health care benefits. While this may be true to a certain extent, it is nowhere near how a governmental bureaucracy would run things. There would be more regulations than anyone could ever possibly keep track of. Look at the tax code for an example. Who really understands that and how smoothly is it administered?

The health of our nation is threatened by this new form of health insurance. Thankfully, the medical community and insurance community have come together in the great mammogram debacle and have stood squarely against the task force's recommendations. But if, and when, national health insurance becomes a reality, who will stand then for common sense approaches to medicine and medical care? The action taken by the task force is but a foreshadowing of how things might be in the near future where decisions about medical procedures that will directly effect your families and friends will be determined by a governmental official.

The Feminists, The Media, and Sarah

At the outset, I must say that I am not a big Sarah Palin fan. I agree with some of what she says but am not convinced that she is presidential timber. Time will tell, of course, and a lot can happen between now and the campaign season of 2012. However, I do know that she does have a huge impact on the American public.

Today her book, "Going Rogue," is being released nationally. Long lines have formed at bookstores around the country waiting to purchase their copy. Some think the reason for this turn out is because she was on Oprah and is popular. Some think it is because she is "hot." Still others are in line out of pure curiosity. Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that Sarah Palin is center stage in the political world at this time.

The ex-governor of Alaska has endured a barrage of criticism mainly from the liberal, mainstream media. They have attacked her intelligence. They have assaulted her family. They have written her off as a dunce. They have demeaned her by putting a photo of her in shorts on the cover of the once respected magazine "Newsweek," a photo that she posed for to highlight running in fitness publication. Had all of this happened to a liberal woman, there would have been howls of protest from the media led by the feminist movement. Instead of protests of the exploitation of women and degrading of a woman who is a national figure, there has been the sound of deafening silence from these groups, especially the feminist community.

Where is the outrage? Where is the indignation that one of the feminine persuasion is being unfairly branded as an unintelligent, out-of-touch idiot? Where is the demand for apologies from those who have dragged her family into the fray? In short, where is the fairness from the feminist wing of liberal thinking America?

I think we all know the answer to this question. You can be a feminist only if you agree with the feminist agenda. Sarah Palin is from Alaska, a long way away from the supposed intellectually rich northeast. She seems to be one of the people for whom the media has disdain. She connects with people, speaking their language and about things that truly concern most Americans, such as jobs and security. She does not hold back and speaks her peace in plain English. She does not pretend to be something that she is not.

Let's face it. The mainstream media looks upon the ordinary American as less than intelligent. They are condescending in their demeanor towards us. They constantly dismiss our opinions as uninformed and unimportant. They think that all problems can and should be solved by big government and bigger government rather than hard work done in the trenches of daily life in the real world. They sit at their computers and criticize the ordinary American for not going along with such liberal ideas such as abortion and gay marriage. According to them, we out here in Ordinaryville are either too stupid to truly understand these issues or we're just plain bigoted and mean spirited. They certainly don't think that we can see through their high-minded words and thoughts for what they really are. And they certainly cannot understand how in the world Sarah Palin can connect with so many people in the way she does.

Word of warning to the liberal media as well as the feminist movement: Do NOT underestimate Sarah Palin. She may not have the grace of speech that the current president has. She may have a little accent when she speaks that does not sound anything like a northeastern accent. In underestimating Sarah Palin the liberal media underestimates the American public. Contrary to what they think, we do have intelligence and something extra that they do not have: common sense!

Regardless of whether or not you like Sarah Palin, let's celebrate her spirit. She's not afraid to express herself. She is willing to fight for those things she believes in and she is certainly not afraid to get involved in order to change things for the better. So let us enjoy the success of Sarah Palin as she tours the country selling her book. Let her be a reminder to us all that the ordinary American is what this country is all about and without the people who go to work daily, pay taxes, raise kids, get involved in their schools and communities this country would be a mere shadow of what it has become. Without us, it would be a very small community of liberal thinkers producing very little beyond their own opinions and empty promises.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day

Today used to be known as Armistice Day. It was on this day at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 that the armistice (peace treaty) was signed to end the war to end all wars, also known as World War I. There were great hopes at the end of this brutal war that this would truly be the last great conflict between nations.

Little is really known of this war today. Sadly, the brutal facts of the bloodshed of this war has been eclipsed by the even greater brutality of World War II that followed only a few years later. But World War I was brutal. Few people today, I am sure, do not realize that the United States sat on the sidelines as Europe plunged deeper and deeper into war from 1914 on. America was only too happy to remain isolated from the ravages of the violence in Europe. However, as time went on, it was clear that the US would have no choice but to join the fight. And we did so in 1917.

Also little known and realized is the fact that the United States used poison gas as a weapon on the battlefield. This was a common practice in those days. And this is where the War gets personal for me.

My grandmother had a brother (my great-uncle) who fought in the war. He was at the front on this day in 1918. When the armistice was signed on the morning of November 11, he was in the trenches in the Black Forrest in France. Because communications were not then what they are now, his unit had no idea of the cease fire that had been declared the moment the peace treaty was signed. In the middle of the afternoon, orders were issued for his unit to launch a gas attack on the German entrenchments across the way. The wind was favorable and the battle would be quick. Or so they thought.

As the noxious mustard gas drifted over the field toward the Germans, the wind suddenly and without warning, began to change directions. Before they knew it, the cloud enveloped the Americans. Some of the troops managed to don their protective gas masks but most did not. One of those was my grandmother's brother. He died there on the battlefield at the age of 23.

Back in Pekin, Illinois, where my grandmother, her father, mother, and sister lived, plans were being made that very day for their beloved son and brother's return. He had plans to enter the seminary and become a Catholic priest upon his return home. He was due back shortly before Christmas. He would, indeed, be back before Christmas, but not in the way hoped for.

One can only imagine the grief of the family and many friends that Lawrence had. From all accounts, he was a popular young man, always willing to lend a hand to any who may need one. Now he was dead, a casualty of a war that had officially ended only a few short hours before he died. He is buried in a small Catholic cemetery in Pekin and every Veterans Day his grave is marked with a fresh American flag.

Since that fateful day 91 years ago, millions of families from all over the world have experienced the pain that my grandmother's family felt upon hearing word of Lawrence's death. The twenty-first century was the bloodiest century in human history. The War to End All Wars obviously did not end warfare! World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the First Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan are only a small, incomplete list of wars that have been fought since WWI. Countless smaller wars between third world countries have raged killing millions more either through the violence of war or the tragic consequences of such armed conflict.

Today, we must pause and pay tribute to those who voluntarily put themselves in harms way to protect the freedoms that have been won for us over the years. Those who serve in the military do so with the knowledge that some day they may be called upon to give their "last full measure of devotion." They leave homes with wives and children and husbands counting the days till their return. These sacrifices effect us all whether we know a soldier who has gone to war or not. We are free because of their sacrifices. We have become strong through their efforts. We have become a nation that serves as a beacon of freedom and hope to an oppressed world. Without their service, we would never have been able to enjoy the kind of life we now have.

Yes, this nation has many ills. However, one of the most noble elements of this country is the United States Veteran. Through them we have become free and strong and have improved the lot of the world. Much revisionist history has been written over the years to distort many people's views of the American Veteran. Yet, one truth cannot be changed. Veterans of all generations have been heroes of freedom and sentinels overseeing our freedom. Thank you to all who have served this country in the military. Without you we could not have freedom!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Evenings

Sunday evening is a special time of the week virtually unlike any other. It is a time when the family settles in, quietly going about its business with a thought to the upcoming week. Yet, there is still time to relax without plunging into the responsibilities of day-to-day life.

We look forward to what the week might bring, what work might hold or what new adventures school might bring. Those searching for work in this troubled economy have time to take a breath and revitalize a sense of hope that this new week will be the week that changes everything. We look back to the week that was and wonder what might be different over the next seven days. At this time of the year we begin to look to the weeks that lie ahead and formulate plans for the holiday season that is nearly upon us.

Sunday night is a time of preparation as well. We begin to prepare mentally for the week ahead. But for the moment, things are quiet. Sunday night is also a time to make sure the kids have their homework finished. It is a time to straighten up the house so that when the burden that is Monday rolls around, one less chore will remain to cause aggravation.

Sunday night seems to be a night set aside for family. Any visitors we have entertained over the weekend have long since retreated to the comforts of their own homes. Our doors close to the outside world and we feel safe and secure. It is a time when the world seems to slow down a little and we can actually relax for a few minutes.

On a Sunday such as the one that has just passed, we may reflect on our accomplishments over the last couple of days. Bits of paint on our hands may linger reminding us of that paint job we had been meaning to do all summer long but just never found the time to do until this unexpected summer-like November weekend arrived. Christmas lights may now decorate the outside of our house as we took the opportunity to string them up in the warm weather. They will not glow until at least Thanksgiving night, but we feel good for having gotten this chore out of the way without fingers turning blue or ears about to snap due to the cold. Plants that have long needed transplanting now reside in their new homes taking root in fresh soil.

Sunday night is a time for hope. We hope the week goes quickly. We hope the week passes without too much trouble. We hope that the kids do well in school. We hope that Friday gets here fast so we can enjoy another weekend in the warm sunshine even though we are aware that in November warm sunshine isn't exactly plentiful. We hope that the holidays don't come on us too quickly and that this year they don't pass so fast so that it seems that they were hardly here.

Yes, Sunday night is a special time of the week. The world slows down if only for a short while to afford us the opportunity of this kind of introspection that all of us need at one time or another. The bonus of Sunday night is that you don't even have to do anything special to make it that way! It just is. And maybe that is the lesson that is most important about this evening. Sunday night just is as it comes. maybe one of the things that we can hope for in the upcoming week is that we seek to be ourselves and nothing more. For that is the luxury that Sunday evening presents to us. On Sunday evening, we can be ourselves because there are no expectations for this first night of the week. We just settle in and enjoy. That is my wish for you this week, that you settle in and enjoy life for life is far too short and precious to experience in any other way but who you are!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


And now November. Nature's annual festival of color has peaked and now the stars of the show lay about on the ground awaiting their final pickup. In the spectacular side show's wake is November. November. The first month with consistently chilly temperatures. The month of transition. Time changes. Trees change, exchanging their blanket of leaves for a skeleton against the sky. The sun sets earlier and earlier with each passing day. Nature begins her long sleep through the cold months of the coming winter.

We humans change, too. Our thoughts turn to indoor activities. We think of visiting others more often. Menus change from the lighter fare of summer to the heartier offerings of chilled autumn evenings. We become indoor creatures once again. Jackets replace tank tops and t-shirts. And the world continues to move onward, ever changing yet, somehow, always the same.

With the passing of Halloween and the advent of the first day of the month, we begin to look toward the horizon of time and see that the holidays loom ever closer. Thanksgiving now becomes a reality as menus are laid out and provisions for the coming feast are procured. Guest lists are made as the annual visit of grandpa and grandma is anticipated. There is a warm feeling in these preparations as this special holiday of November brings a feeling of familial warmth that other holidays don't seem to quite match. It is the time of the year that many begin reflecting on the year that is now nearly passed. In a real sense, it is the beginning of the yearly renewal of our spirit.

The seasons are mystical benchmarks of our lives. They are some of the only consistencies we ever experience in life and November leads the way from autumn to winter with a particular grace and style. There are no more warm, humid breezes to soothe us after a long hot day. Chill winds and cold rain are often the dominant natural forces we encounter and yet there is an unquestionable warmth to the month. There is a coziness that no other month conveys in quite the same way.

The month also marks the passing of our loved ones who may have left this life over the last twelve months. We remember them with fondness and a sense of emptiness and sadness. On the second day of the month, we mark their passing with the observation of All Souls Day. Then, nine days later, we salute those who have lost their lives and who presently serve their country with Veterans Day. On this day we stand in humble thanks for those who "gave their last full measure of devotion."

November prepares us in a relaxed way for the upcoming frenzy that we know as December. We rest in November knowing that the busy season of the year is only days away. Thanksgiving afternoon could be seen as the afternoon for a national nap as many a Thanksgiving turkey has been consumed and now, in living rooms across America, sleep descends on the populace. At the crack of dawn the very next day, many otherwise completely intelligent citizens arise out of a warm bed in order to get a good place in line at the local Wal-Mart for this year's hot Christmas gifts.

November. A quiet month if ever there was one. A time to pause between two seasons to look back and ahead. A time to adjust our daily lives once again as the patterns of our daily routine change to meet the decreasing amounts of sunlight. A time for contemplation and enjoyment of friends and family. A time of slowing down. And a time for all of us to be thankful!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


With respect to my daughter-in-law who loves Summer, is there really any better season than that of Autumn? The heat and humidity of summer have long since faded into the background and that same kind of uncomfortable condition will not return for months. Now is the season of quiet contemplation; of peaceful afternoons in the woods, soaking in the vibrant colors of this magnificent season.

On one such Autumnal day, we took a walk along a path that circles nearby Lake Creve Coeur. The quiet of the afternoon was stunning. The only sounds you could hear were those of a few chickadees twittering as they flew from limb to limb in the forest. Leaves of every imaginable color rustled in the treetops above us as the wind gently made its way through the tangled woods.

On the lake itself, the figure of a lone fisherman in his boat near a small cove spoke of Fall. The mists began settling in as an anticipated cold front neared. Colors were muted just enough to give the scene a dream-like quality.

We walked mainly in silence, quietly taking in the treasures of nature at this time of year. Little had to be said, really, since the beauty of the place spoke all the words necessary. It was a time to clear the mind and settle the soul. A time to contemplate the truly important things in life. It was a time to think clearly about one's present circumstances in life. A time to contemplate the spirit of God and what I have done to be a good steward of the many blessings he has bestowed upon me.

I thought especially of my granddaughters and their lives and what may be ahead for them. What excitement and anticipation their futures hold! When I think of all the things I have seen in my lifetime, the possibilities of what they may see and experience in their lives in this 21st century seem endless.

All of this because of much needed time out in nature. Amazing what a touch of nature in this wonderful season can accomplish. I feel like I have cleared my head and allowed for more energy to pour into my very being. This quiet walk with my beloved wife in the silence of a Missouri afternoon was a gift from God. I recommend a stroll in his cathedral soon!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Two Future Tax Payers!

$1.42 trillion dollars. That's $1,420,000,000,000! That is the amount currently of our Federal deficit. That is not the National Debt. The National Debt stands at $11,957,469,307,131.18!!! To make that a little more understandable, that means that all of us, men, women, AND children, each of us, owes about $38,933.73 in order to pay this debt off. Who among those of you who reads this has this on hand or will be willing to pay it off in increments? C'mon now, let me see a show of hands!! Any takers? No, I didn't think there would be!

But this is the dilemma that we're in. We have lived so high and mighty as a nation without regard to any fiscal responsibility at all, that we have managed to tie our next several generations' livelihoods up completely before they're even born. For the next several generations, our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, great-great grandchildren, great-great-great grandchildren and so on will be saddled with finding ways to pay for our excessive spending.

I put my two grandchildren at the top of this piece to illustrate just who the future tax payers of America are and how we have severely mortgaged their futures. They will be faced with taxes that we can't even imagine. Their life-styles will probably not equal ours. Fifty years after I am gone, they will still be paying for Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Wall Street, GM, AIG, and thousands of other interests that are simply too numerous to mention.

This country faces very critical times. I believe our fate as a republic hangs in the balance. Oh sure, you hear the pundits and representatives from the White House proclaim that things will get better and we'll get on with life as usual. But we cannot afford to get on with life as usual. We cannot, as a nation, continue to spend like there is no end to the money supply. We are spending money we don't have. How many of you can take your checking account balance, whatever it happens to be, and keep spending once your balance has dropped to zero like there is no tomorrow? None of us as individuals has that luxury. Banks would not allow it. Then why are we allowing our elected representatives spend money like they're on a drunken binge?

I all of our recent financial crises, not one elected official has been heard talking about sacrifice. Yet, sacrifice is what is called for if we are to avoid handing our future generations this mess. If we do nothing in a meaningful way to try to change our spending habits as a government so that those who come after us will not have to give up as much as it appears they will at this point, then we can only come to the conclusion that we, as a generation, are selfish and egotistical preferring to let the next generation clean up our mess. I am not suggesting that we have the ability ourselves alone to clean things up. What I am suggesting, however, is that we do have the power within us to begin acting more responsible where governmental spending is concerned.

We must put pressure on our elected officials by making our voices heard loudly and clearly that we will not tolerate this out of control binge we are on any longer. So what if they call us organized mobs? We are the citizens of this country and have been endowed by the constitution with the authority over those who represent us. We have to realize that government cannot possibly provide for every whim and wish we may have. Earlier generations certainly didn't depend on the government for their every need! What makes us different?

Take a long look at the picture at the top of this piece. Then take a look at your kids or grandkids and try to come up with an explanation to them as to why their lifestyles will probably be below ours because we just didn't care enough to get involved! Tough assignment, isn't it? Yet that is what we must do unless we begin to demand accountability from the government WE have elected to represent us. What will you say to the next generations?