Friday, July 31, 2009

Cash for Clunkers. . .Such a Deal!

Today, the big news swirling around has been that the government failed to accurately predict just how quickly Americans would show up in auto dealerships across the country, clunkers in tow, hands outstretched for $4,500 of their own money so graciously given by the federal government, to be put toward a new, more fuel efficient car. One billion dollars was allocated for the program with the sure knowledge and confidence that this supposed enormous sum would last at least until October. Ooops! They didn't quite get it right, did they?

Today, in one of its fastest motions ever, the House of Representatives, that august body of environment loving politicians, passed another two billion dollar bill to be put into the program so it can go on. The Senate, however, doesn't seem quite so anxious to pass the legislation. Stalwart Obama supporters such as Missouri's Clare McCaskill have indicated that they cannot support the bill because they feel it is not appropriate for the government to, in a sense, become an auto loan clearing house. We'll see what happens but it is all but sure the bill will pass the Senate with little trouble and the President will sign it into law before hundreds of adoring fans (aka The White House Press Corps!).

Did you know that this government program which has brought so many people into showrooms throughout the country comes complete with a 168 page instruction book for dealers detailing the rules for the program that both dealers and consumers must adhere to just to apply for the program? Did you also know that before a customer can claim their voucher for $3,500 to $4,500 the dealer must first certify that the customer's old car (aka the clunker) has been destroyed? Did you also know that the government has "suggested" to dealers that they go after customers for the $4,500 should the application be turned down? I could go on and on but will spare you the gory details. The fact of the matter is is that this program is but one prime example of why the government should never get involved in the private sector.

Now, knowing all this, ask yourself this question: "How well do you think the federal government in all its wisdom would ever be able to manage national health care?" This cash for clunkers program isn't even a drop in the bucket compared to national health care! Why is it that people think the government will improve the situation? I can see nothing but disaster ahead if we get a shabbily, poorly written national health care law. I agree that something needs to be done where health care is concerned. There are too many people in this country without adequate health care. But do you really think the federal government could actually run such an unwieldy system better? And when you ponder this question, just think of these words, "Cash for Clunkers." If you ask me, this is legislation for clunkers!

Thursday, July 23, 2009


One of the most difficult things to do as a human being is to reconcile with someone who may have deeply hurt you. It requires courage to not only forgive them for their actions, but to welcome them back into your heart and truly make amends with them. Reconciliation goes beyond mere forgiveness which is difficult enough in and of itself. To reconcile with someone means that a relationship damaged is actually restored and is now, in reality, better than it was before.

Reconciliation is, therefore, an action. It is an ongoing way of life, nurturing our hearts as time marches on. Without reconciliation, there would truly be no hope. St. Paul is very explicit in this. He says, "Let love be genuine. . .Love one another with brotherly affection. . .Live in harmony with one another. . .Repay no one evil for evil. . .Live peaceably with all." (Rom 12:9-18)

If we allow divisions between us to linger and stagnate, we lose sight of love. We lose the capability to love fully. In a sense, we lose a part of ourselves and are condemned to searching for that part of our soul which we have lost.

To reconcile with someone is first and foremost an expression of courage. There is no guarantee that our gesture of reconciliation will be returned in like manner. If we think it will, we are letting ourselves down. The journey to reconciliation may be plagued with setback after setback but we can never turn our backs on the process if we are to find true happiness. As we reach out to the other party, they may explode with rage or become coldly indifferent. We may become hurt all over again and boldly pronounce that we will never allow ourselves to fall into that trap again. Yet, we must set our feet on a path that may be rough and bumpy if we are to follow the example of Christ who forgave all of us from the Cross as he uttered, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do." (Lk 23:34)

Reconciliation cannot be rushed. There are times when the process may take years. Even after the initial reconciliation the process will be an ongoing one. Reconciliation is like opening a window in a dark room grown dank and damp with the sentiments of bitterness and resentment. A cool, fresh breeze blows through the stale environment, cleansing the air and returning it to its original healthy form. Dark abhors the light and reconciliation is shinning a bright light into the darkness of a soul paralyzed by an unforgiving nature. Life takes on a freshness and the heavy weight of unforgiving gives way to the airy feel of an early warm spring day. Reconciliation is hope. It is a must if we are to have any peace in our souls in this life.

The idea of reconciliation seems to be contrary to today's philosophy of every person for themselves. Vengeance is somehow condoned in the wake of hurt. It is selfish, me-centered. We have a right to strike out at the offending party we tell ourselves. The deeper the hurt, the greater the allowed amount of vengeance. And no one, no one, will ever blame you for righting the wrong you incurred in this way.

However, reconciliation is giving. To reconcile ourselves with one who has wounded us is to extend ourselves unselfishly to the other. In doing so, we become examples of the loving Christ who refused to condemn the woman caught in adultery. We look past the offense and into the heart of the other person and there we find their humanity in all its wounded imperfections. In this encounter, the healing aspect of reconciliation becomes apparent. And the reconciliation of God to man is once again symbolically played out.

Reconciliation is healing. The world is deeply wounded. We cannot reconcile with the entire world at once. That takes much time and great faith. However, to those of us who claim Christ as our Savior, we must begin this moment; not with the whole world but with one another for that is where the reconciliation of the world must naturally begin. As we forgive and reconcile with those around us, we extend the hand of Jesus to one another who will see us through even the greatest of difficulties.

If we are ever to see peace among the nations in this world, we must first begin at home. We must forgive those whom we love the most and work ourselves outward. We must reconcile ourselves to the fact that without reconciliation, it will be impossible to even come close to what we call peace. We must move toward our offender in love and friendship fully aware that they may not be ready for such a gesture. We must give them time, pray for them, and stand by their sides through the good times and bad.

Remember the stark but stunningly beauty and simplicity of the words of St. Paul. "Live in harmony with one another. Live peaceably with all." (Rom 12:16, 18)

Monday, July 20, 2009

40 Years Ago

If you have been anywhere near a television or radio in the last few days, you could not have failed to notice a very important anniversary being spoken of. Forty years ago on July 20, 1969, man landed and walked on the moon for the very first time. What a monumental event in human history. The moon has been a nearly limitless source of curiosity and inspiration ever since man first looked to the night sky and beheld its beauty.

I was 15 that summer. I was home from the seminary between my sophomore and junior years. Home was with my grandmother and mother in a humble little home on Summer Street in Pekin. I was a space buff in those days as was nearly every other guy my age was. Our heads were filled with the adventures of the astronauts as flights were launched with amazing regularity in those days, all in preparation for the landing of man on the moon. Finally, in July of 1969, only a few months ahead of President Kennedy's goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade, a Saturn V rocket bearing a crew of three lifted off for the surface of the moon.

You must remember that those days were days without cable TV. Stations did not broadcast 24/7. At the end of the broadcast day (somewhere around midnight), the station would play the national anthem and then sign off till the following morning. Only three networks existed namely NBC, CBS, and ABC. There were no other choices. The launch took place in the middle of the week and everyone was glued to the TV. Hourly bulletins brought news of the intrepid three as their spacecraft headed for the moon at an amazing 35,000 feet per second.

Sunday, July 20, dawned warm and humid as is typical for Central Illinois at that time of year. My mother and I went to church that morning where prayers for the safety of the astronaut were recited. We hurried home to our Sunday lunch and watched the coverage of the landing. It was mid-afternoon when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin descended to the surface of the moon. I remember there wasn't a car moving outside. You were tuned into either Walter Cronkite on CBS or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley on NBC. We never watch ABC News so I don't remember who anchored their coverage! We, like a great deal of the country, watched Walter Cronkite and astronaut Wally Shirrah narrate the daring landing. I will never the famous words, "Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed." Walter Cronkite became very emotional and I remember the three of us sitting transfixed as to what was happening.

For my grandmother, it was an amazing moment. She was born in 1899, before the common use of the automobile. Orville and Wilbur Wright had yet attempted to fly a flimsy machine called an airplane on the shores of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Electricity had yet to reach millions of Americans. Horse and buggy was still the main transportation of most American city dwellers. Now, on this July, 1969 afternoon, she witnessed man's landing on the moon. What marvels she had witnessed during her years on earth!

Once the crew was safely down, I went into our small backyard and looked up. The moon was directly overhead having risen sometime earlier in the morning. I just stared at the tiny white orb floating in the hot July afternoon. Two men were up there on the surface of the Moon! I remember being quite moved even as a 15 year old, realizing the historic moment I was witnessing and was a part of thanks to television.

Late that night, the ghostly image of Neil Armstrong descending the ladder from the LEM (Lunar Excursion Module) flickered across our TV screen. And then more famous words were uttered. "That's one small step for man. On giant leap for mankind." The foot of a human being now rested on the surface of another terrestrial body! We watched with rapt attention as both men bounded across the lunar terrain. We took pictures of the TV screen in hopes that we could capture the image of men on the moon clearly enough to identify. There were, of course, no VCR's or any other electronic devises for the ordinary person to record the moment. It was an amazing spectacle.
Forty years have now passed along with many years of human history. One of the symbols of the exploration of the Moon was that of world peace. Viet Nam was raging and it didn't seem as though it would ever end. I actually thought that I might have to go and fight in the jungles of Southeast Asia. Riots on campus were commonplace in protest over the war. Charles Manson was a household name. Two Kennedy brothers and one Civil Rights leader had been gunned down during the decade. The world was ready for peace!

While amazing technological progress has emerged from our trips to the Moon, that elusive peace has escaped human existence. In fact, in some ways, the world is even more tumultuous than it was 40 years ago. Still, there is a certain magic and awe in those moments of a much more innocent era. There is majesty in beholding God's creation close up. We all were there on the Moon with Armstrong and Aldrin in so many ways. It was a moment in which to pause in wonder at the universe and its Creator. I am blessed to have lived in that moment in time. We now have the responsibility to work toward that peace that we all had hoped for just 40 years ago.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

A Walk Back In Time

Daydreaming is one of the most pleasant pasttimes on lazy, hazy summer days. For a brief moment in time we are whisked away through our memory to another place or time away from our current reality. One of the best things about daydreaming is how they almost sneak up on you. One minute you are occupied with one thing or action and, before you know it, you are suddenly swept up in the dream. This very thing happened to me only a few days ago.

The temperature was in the 90's and the humidity was stifling. I had a rare two day in a row mini vacation and as I relaxed on one of those glorious afternoons, I suddenly found myself transported back to the days of my boyhood in central Illinois. Being an only child, I had no aunts or uncles. I didn't even have first cousins. I grew up in a very small family and in a neighborhood nearly completely devoid of any other kids with which to play. In an attempt to keep me from getting too bored and to teach me the proper work ethic, my grandmother would often suggest that I go to her sister and brother-in-law's home just outside my hometown to spend the day. On their property, my uncle annually planted what must have been one of the largest vegetable gardens in the area. It had to be continually maintained.

The Kissel's, Irene and Ed, owned a home which was, at that time, well into the country north of Pekin. They had a handful of neighbors and the neighborhood was a community unto itself. As I daydreamed I was taken back to a time that I believe must have been in the mid to late sixties. Before I knew it, I was standing smack dab in the middle of my great uncle Ed's enormous garden, hoe in hand, weeding away under the hot summer sun. This would not have been an unusual experience! I often did hoeing and weeding chores amidst the bounteous garden.

Ed was never one to skimp when it came to planting a garden. It was huge and contained what seemed to be to a little boy of only ten or so nearly every vegetable known to human kind!! He had the usual tomatoes--tons of them. He had row upon row of sweet corn, the kind that nearly melted in your mouth when you first sank your teeth into it. There were several varieties of lettuce and cabbage. There was one full row of little green onions that I delighted in sampling from time to time in an effort to ensure their quality! He had Bermuda onions, red onions, white onions, yellow onions, and other varieties of onion that I have, to this day, been unable to identify. He had rows of peas and every kind of bean from green to Lima to navy.

In another part of the garden he planted several rows of potatoes which I dutifully harvested for him at the appointed time of the year. That was quite a chore for it required me to dig up each plant and gather in the fresh spud. In still another part of the garden there was the carefully nurtured asparagus plants. Now as a kid I did not like asparagus at all. But as I learned from Joan my wife, a great cook I might add, that in order to cook asparagus properly you did not have to boil it to the point that the color changed from the rich green it was harvested in to a faded color that barely resembled green. The asparagus of my childhood was mush. Much to my surprise and delight, the asparagus of my later adulthood has been crisp and very tasty.

As I stood in the midst of all the vegetables, I closed my eyes. I could feel the warmth of the noon day sun on my face. I breathed in deeply taking in the aroma of fresh, black Illinois soil and the smell of healthy green plants flourishing in the bright sunlight and gentle breeze. All around me was the sound of birds. You see, Ed and Irene Kissel loved birds. Ed built several birdhouses and specialized in the Purple Martin apartment home that stood proudly above the landscape. I could hear the Martins screech as they busily circled the sky above the nearby lake in search of mosquitoes and other flying insects for their demanding young. One thing I noticed is that there was no traffic noises like we might hear today. Just the sound of nature busy in the middle of the summer.

I heard the dinner bell that was rung promptly at 5:00 every evening by Irene to call us all into the last meal of the day. The bell could be heard throughout the neighborhood and I truly believe that many of the families in that small corner of the world ate dinner according to the Kissel bell. That bell was unique. Mounted at the top of a telephone pole, it could be heard for miles. At least that's what I thought as a kid. In reality, I'm sure that it couldn't be heard beyond a couple of blocks away. Occasionally, I was given the honor of ringing that venerable old chime. When that happened, I felt that I had become an adult member of the clan!

In the middle of the season, her table was filled with every kind of vegetable from their garden. It looked like a salad bar! And the taste of those vegetables simply cannot be adequately nor accurately described. Fresh doesn't even begin to capture the taste sensation of biting into a freshly picked tomato!

Sunset in the country was a dazzling experience. After the day's work was finished, the dishes from supper had been washed, dried, and neatly situated in their familiar space in the cabinet, it was time for the family to gather in the expansive yard to talk and swap stories of the day just completed. Often, there was my grandmother and grandfather with grandpa puffing away on one of his beloved cigars. My mother, fresh from her day's work at a local insurance company would join us. Irene and Ed would settle into two of the metal chairs that represented the latest lawn fashion in the sixties. At times, some of neighbors would join us and as the fading light ushered in the night, laughter mixed with talk of the important issues of the day permeated the dusk air.

Because I was a child, I did not fully appreciate the experience. I remember often being bored by the whole thing. Yet, in my daydream, the reality came to me. I was blessed to be a part of a small family that bathed me daily in the love only a family can impart. In my minds eye, I could see the reds and oranges of sunset and hear the voices of my childhood, now stilled, drift through my whole being. And I smiled. What a wonderful gift that daydream was. It was as though I had actually traveled back in time to visit with family who have been gone from this life for many, many years. In my daydream they were as vibrant and wonderfully alive as I remember them being.

As I returned to the land of the present, I whispered a prayer of thanks to a God who sent me this wondrous, unexpected gift and reminder that the love of family is above all else. I only hope that you may be granted a daydream that allows you to discover a segment of your life that you may have forgotten. It is, indeed, a gift to be reminded once again, of how much you have been loved!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


I would like to share with you an article that was published nationally in "The Tau," a publication of the Secular Franciscans. I hope you enjoy it...

Poverty…The word itself sends chills through every being that draws breath. But it poverty really the worst thing a person can experience? Do we fully understand what poverty is and where we can find it in its purest expression?

Poverty is our deepest need for God in our lives. We do not desire God on our own, for we are incapable of such a desire without something else. Our desire for God is actually God’s desire for us.

When we feel compelled to pray, it is not our desire that fuels this need, but rather God’s desire for communication with us and it is his Spirit that inspires us to respond. The need for God is the need for us to have pure poverty in our lives. This is not the physical poverty that plagues man in this world. It is our own radical dependency that we have upon God. Without God, we have nothing of worth in our lives. When we do have God and acknowledge that this dependence exists, then we have become poor and a deep relationship with God is possible.

Poverty can be seen and fully experienced in the crucified Christ because here, Jesus, the Son of the Living God, is totally and solely dependent upon his Father. He has submitted completely to the will of God and it is in this moment of real and raw poverty that we witness the two wills meld into one—that of the Father. With his dying breath, Jesus, in complete submission to the Father, utters “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)

In this very moment of history, a moment that transcends all other moments, we can see poverty in its purest form. Jesus, the all-powerful and omnipresent Son, yields entirely to his Father’s will in a pure act of love that becomes living and breathing poverty.

Here, in this moment, frozen in time for all generations, we understand that the Son of God, like us, possesses only one thing—the love of God for him. He has nothing else, desires nothing else. Indeed, even if he had something it would, in no way, compare to this treasure.

Gaze upon the face of Christ crucified. Contemplate his action at that moment in time and realize that this moment touches the present. Let your imagination take you to the crucifixion and realize that what you are seeing is poverty at its highest meaning. In this way, the Savior of the world becomes king of the universe. It is only through this kind of poverty that this is possible.

We become poor in spirit when we know that God truly is our all, our everything. Nothing is important besides this. Gazing upon the crucified Savior of the world, we find the loving eyes and heart of Divine poverty and are able to say with confidence, “Lord, we seek your perfect poverty, so that we may enjoy the complete and pure embrace of God’s love.”

In uniting with Christ’s poverty of the cross, we enter into perfect communion with God our Father and, in turn, with each other. Thus, we come to understand the spiritual meaning of Poverty!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day

Independence Day is a time for serious reflection on our nation and the freedom that was gained some 223 years ago.

It is hard for us to imagine what life must have been like for the colonists of 1776. For years, the fledgling nation had been progressing toward Independence, notwithstanding the resistance of Great Britain to this movement. As the colonies expressed their Independence more and more frequently, the king imposed more and more restrictions to the lives of the colonists.

The ability of the Continental Congress to reach a consensus on the need to declare the colonies Independence from England was by no means an easy task. Southern colonies, for the most part, saw no need for Independence. Their lives had not been adversely affected by Great Britain in the way that the colonists from New England had. There had been no invasion of their territory and life proceeded as usual. But there was mounting pressure to declare an official break between the colonies and the mother country.

Debate raged in congress for weeks on the issue. The stain of slavery reared its ugly head with the northern colonies wishing to eradicate the practice altogether. This was met with great resistance from the southern colonies because much of their economy depended upon the institution of slavery. Eventually, the subject of slavery was dropped only to once again rise in the Civil War to be fought some decades later.

Through hard nosed negotiation and give and take, consensus was finally reached on the subject of American Independence. On July 2, 1776, the decisive vote was taken. Delegates had mandated that, in order for Independence to be declared, the vote for such a degree had to be unanimous. Twelve colonies voted to break their ties with Great Britain. One colony abstained because they had not received instructions from their legislature as to what to do. With the vote, Independence became a reality.

Independence was not, however, won easily. There was a bloody price to pay. In the beginning, the fight for Independence against the British army seemed impossible. But as time wore on, the Americans began to prevail in battle so that, in the end, the British were defeated and the American nation, bathed in the blood of patriots, was born.

Today, we remember that time with a sense of nostalgia that hides the true facts of how our Independence was won. We do not have a full appreciation of how our freedom was won. In comparison with other wars, the Revolutionary War gets little publicity. Few movies have been made about it. While several books have been written about the subject, their number nowhere nears that of books that have been written about the Civil War. Yet, it was no less important.

We must look at our liberty and freedom in this modern world. How much liberty and Independence do we have? What would the members of that brave congress so long ago think of a federal government that has grown so huge and powerful that it has taken control of the banking system and auto manufacturing companies and now poised on the verge of formulating a national health care system to be administered by the government? We must ask ourselves if we are forsaking much of our Independence in the name of quick fixes and unimaginative plans to save us financially. One of the great strengths of this country has always been the amazing creativity of its citizenry. This creativity was possible because government stayed out of people's lives as much as possible so as not to get in the way. But today, with government looming in nearly every aspect of our lives, has that creativity been stifled?

We must look after our Independence and freedom or we will have to forfeit these very fundamental elements of our life as we know them. That means involvement in government to varying degrees by all of us. We must communicate with our elected officials. We must become educated in what our government is doing. We must know what legislation is pending so that we may influence the outcome. In short, we must make our voices heard loudly and clearly. Those delegates to the Continental Congress risked their very lives so that we might have a voice all of these years later. We must continue to uphold their values and ideals through active participation in our government, a vital right won by generations of fighting men and women.