Monday, August 31, 2009

Lord, Hear Our Prayer

Anyone who saw the funeral Mass for Senator Ted Kennedy last Saturday witnessed one of the most moving Masses found in the Catholic Church. It is aptly entitled the Mass of the Resurrection because it recalls the hope of every Christian that eternal life will be theirs after death because of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Since we share in Christ's resurrection through baptism, it is very appropriate that we commend the dead to the Lord while remembering His glorious resurrection.

On Saturday, the Mass was carried out with dignity and reverence as it should have been. It was a moving and inspirational liturgy that celebrated the life of the Senator in light of the Lord's saving acts. That is, except for one moment. After the moving eulogies delivered by the Kennedy children, the Senator's grandchildren took to the podium to present what is called the Prayers of the Faithful. These prayers are to be prayers for the local community and are to include a prayer for the Pope and the Church worldwide. Other than these prayers, nothing more is demanded. It is customary to hear prayers for the sick of the community, for those who have died, and for all sorts of needs that the parish may have. That part of Saturday's Mass was changed, however.

The Kennedy grandchildren read various "prayers" based upon the Senator's career. They recalled his dedication to the poor and his zeal for social issues. At one point, on of the grandsons read a "prayer" about national health care! National Health Care! This was absurd. There was not one prayer for the Pope or the Church. All the prayers happened to be about the Senator not for him as it should have been.

Now all of this may seem very trivial to many who may read this. And, in a certain sense, it is. However, I point this out to illustrate what I believe is so wrong with society in general. Everything is now political fodder. Everything. There, during the most sacred rite that Catholics practice, the Mass, children read what amounted to the political agenda of Senator Kennedy's career. This world is not about us! It is about God and His magnificent creation of which we are a part. We are the most sublime example of His creation, but by no means are we the center of His creation! We come together at Mass to worship Him not our accomplishments. It is my belief that the sooner we all recognize that God is the center of our existence, the better off the world would be.

It is not about us; it is about God!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Our Amazing Times: The Great Debate

We live in amazing times. I am sure that every generation has felt this. But I do believe that these days are truly amazing even when comparing them to the many days this nation has seen.

In the 1850's, the Great Debate surrounded the expansion and elimination of slavery. This was the fuel of the Lincoln-Douglas debates held in 1858 during the Illinois Senatorial campaign. Thousand turned out throughout the state to hear the question of slavery debated by a well-established and distinguished Steven A Douglas and his challenger, a little known lawyer with limited legislative experience named Abraham Lincoln. Crowds were enthralled by the debates. It became the place socially and politically to be in Illinois. The conversations held between Lincoln and Douglas had far reaching consequences and while Lincoln lost the election, his exposure nationally because of the debates, catapulted him into the presidency only two years later.

Today, another great debate rages. It is yet another debate with far reaching consequences. President Obama has put forth his plan for national health care. There are so many ins and outs of this legislation that it is nearly impossible for one person to digest.

Town Hall meetings, reminiscent of those public gatherings in 1858 are being conducted by senators and representatives all over the country. I don't think, in a million years, that these elected officials ever expected to be confronted with an angry electorate. As a matter of fact, when all of these Town Hall meetings began, I'm pretty sure that they figured there might be ten or fifteen in attendance tops. Quite the opposite has been true.

A large percentage of the American public is angry and very upset. They sense that some of our vital freedoms are at stake. Obama and the democrats have crafted a bill that would overwhelm this ailing economy with the burden of national health care. It is a sad commentary when you take into consideration how many millions of Americans, most working, do not have health insurance. This should not be. But what has agitated a large number of Americans is the fact that their voices have not been heard or listened to in many, many years. Vital issues have come and gone with barely a peep from the public. But now, the outcry is unmistakable. People are fed up.

They are fed up with a congress that routinely turns a deaf ear to the will of the electorate. They are sick of being treated as though they have not one day's worth of education. They stare from their self-imposed lofty perches in total indignation that the average American would come out in such numbers and loudly and clearly voice their opposition to their ideas. They call the average citizens a mob and some have even compared these ordinary people exercising the idea of democracy as Nazis. How ridiculously absurd.

I believe that the tremendous energy that we are witnessing is not only over the health care issue, but is also fueled by years of being neglected and double standards. What's even more frustrating is to understand that a great number of our elected federal officials have failed to even read the bill's huge number of pages.

Where will all of this end up? It is truly hard to say. We do need to do something about the inequity of the system. Far too many people have no coverage or far too little to adequately treat even the most common of ailments. But the federalization of such a huge percentage of the American economy is not the answer. The federal government can barely manage the cars for clunkers program. And that is a very small drop in an extremely huge bucket!

One of the Japanese military leaders voiced his fears regarding America, declared shortly after the bombing of Pear Harbor, "I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant." I thing the sleeping giant is once again arising. It is the middle class of this country who have borne the brunt of the federal government's give aways over the years. Our rights have been taken away. Our recourse to our elected representatives has diminished because if you do not have a lot of money and deep pockets to contribute to their political campaigns, you have virtually no voice in public policy. But now, at long last, the American people have apparently awakened and they are not happy with things as they see them.

It is important for us all to be fully engaged in this debate. But once the dust settles (and it will) we must continue to voice our opinions as a responsible electorate. We have been given the right to free speech. It is time to resurrect this vital, basic freedom and responsibility, practicing it on a regular basis. Who knows what other vital issues may have turned out differently? Perhaps abortion would never have been sanctioned if the giant had awakened some thirty plus years ago!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Can Autumn Be Far Behind?

Within the last few days, an unusual cool spell has settled over the St. Louis region. It has brought with it clear, blue skies often filled with white puffy clouds. Breezes have swept through bring refreshingly drier air to the region. The days, now noticeably shorter in length, are beginning to lend themselves to the season that is just around the corner: autumn.

I love the fall of the year. It's crisp days and chilly nights seems to bring a new sense of energy to me. It seems that the sky is bluer in the fall than at any other time of the year. The rustling of the drying, colorful leaves above in the canopy of trees brings a sense that something special is ending if only for a short time. Life begins to wind down. Birds begin eating more to build up fat reserves to endure the winter ahead. Furry creatures scurry about gathering the abundant seeds from the year's growth to store for the long season awaiting us all. Flocks of geese and ducks pass overhead destined for warmer climes in the south. But animals and nature are not the only ones preparing for the change.

We humans begin to transition. Our thoughts begin to turn to the season ahead in anticipation of another cycle of time that we may have lived through for many years. School resumes. Old friendships and new ones as well are engaged. Even our menus begin to change, albeit subtly, to heavier more substantial offerings. We look to the near future and seem to be surprised every year that we are so close to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Football becomes king of the sports world even though the boys of summer have their season to finish. Hot apple cider replaces iced tea. We all prepare for the coming months of cooler temperatures and longer periods of darkness.

But most of all, what I like about fall the most, are the changing colors. The trees dazzle the eyes. Green bushes that have gone unnoticed in countless yards suddenly burst into the brightest of reds. As the leaves begin to shower down around us, we may actually take a few moments to notice them even more closely than in previous months because of the intricate patterns the colors of fall have brought out in them. Suddenly a walk in the park or on a trail somewhere in the country seems inviting whereas only a few weeks before, in the heat of summer, the thought of a walk in the heat and humidity was repulsive. It is, indeed, a magical time of the year.

Soon, all of these things will become a reality. I also know that summer heat will return because it still is, after all, August in St. Louis. But there is shinning hope on the horizon. Each unseasonably cool day is one less day of oppressive heat we must endure before the cooling balm we call Autumn sets in. May Autumn's arrival be swift and its stay be lengthy!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

One of Life's Lessons

Life often takes strange twists and turns. Moments of joy and happiness can suddenly give way to moments of sadness and disappointment. This last weekend, we gathered to celebrate my granddaughter Aliyah's seventh birthday. It was a day of family and the happiness of everyone coming together to celebrate the day. There was plenty of laughter and smiles and the joy of childhood. Even the family cat Tufsey joined us. It was a wonderful day.

Then, earlier this week, came word that the beloved Tufsey seemed to be showing signs of being ill. He was scheduled to visit the vet on Wednesday for a checkup and shots. Late Wednesday afternoon, we received word that Tufsey had feline leukemia, a fatal disease for cats. The vet recommended euthanasia but Melissa, the girls' mother, said that she wanted to bring the ailing cat home so the girls could see him one more time.

Aliyah and Keirah were so close to Tufsey that the news of his impending death surely had to be the hardest thing either has ever had to deal with. Keirah, who is nearly three, may not completely understand what is about to happen. Aliyah, on the other hand, is fully aware of what lay ahead. Aliyah took the news hard as could be expected. She was the one who adopted this little feline that brought the family such joy.

As the evening progressed, Tufsey remained in his carrier, sleeping. In her compassionate way, Aliyah read a book to him and tried to comfort him throughout the evening. In addition, this remarkable little girl, wrote a good-bye letter to her furry friend that tugs at the heart strings and also shows all of us adults the sensitivity and compassion that she possesses. I hope her parents, my son and daughter-in-law don't mind if I reproduce this amazing letter here. It is something that I think many should read.

"You know I've been reading a lot of books to you this summer, and you that I love cookies. And that I like people coming to my house. And sometimes things turn into disasters and that's OK. Even though it's not fair, and sometimes when I try to do things for you, it turns into a disaster--like feeding you and playing with you. I have a promise for you when you die. I will never leave you. And I have another promise to you, that I will never leave you alone without Whiskers (his mouse toy). And I like it the most when you curl up, wrap your tabby tail around yourself and go to sleep. You first came to our house, and your kept coming back and we decided to keep you. And I have something for you before you die, that I will bury your toy with you since it's the only thing you'll play with. I will never forget you and always know where you are. I love you.


This is Aliyah's first real encounter with death. Nothing that has been as close to her has ever died. Death is a difficult lesson for a child to learn. In this letter, however, we see Aliyah coming to grips with the impending loss of her pet. To the very end, she comforts Tufsey with words that echo the sensitivity of a soul in touch with the importance of life. Without knowing it, Aliyah has shown us how to give of ourselves without reservation. Nowhere in this touching note is there a word of how she feels robbed or pleas for Tufsey not to go. Instinctively, she knows what will happen. And, yet, even in the moment of facing the impending loss of her kitty, she reaches out to show Tufsey that he is loved and eases her sorrow through reaching out to the cat.

Now you may think I am making too much of this. And I understand that. However, it is my firm belief that life does bring us lessons that we fail to take note of fully. This is just one of them. We can all learn from Aliyah's example of how to show our compassion in a very positive way while, a the same time, coming to grips with such difficult concepts in life that none of us ever escapes. Through this letter, she has given us an example of how children can truly educate us. Thank you Aliyah, and please know that Tufsey will always be with you in life because of the depth and breadth of your all-encompassing heart!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A Tribute To A Sweet Granddaughter

Seven years ago Wednesday, the 12th day of August, a little girl announced her presence in the world that has enriched the life of her family immeasurably. I am so proud to be her grandfather! She is ball of energy and wonder and love. Filled with the zest and eagerness for learning, she is her father's girl through and through! She reminds me so much of Josh when he was growing up.

There is a sweetness about this little girl that reflects her outlook on life that is even apparent at the tender age of seven. She has a way about her that wins you over from the first. Her eyes exude the love that only a child holds dear in their heart before the cynicism of the world can have the chance to take hold. There are the giggles of little jokes told almost aside. There is that certain look that she gets that is her father all over again that sends chills up my spine whenever she flashes it. But mostly, what you see in Aliyah is the love she has for her family. Her world revolves around her dad and mom and she loves her little sister Keirah with all her heart.

Always curious, Aliyah is ready with the most unexpected questions. And they are questions you would not expect from a young child. She is thoughtful. When she is mulling something over, you can see her busy mind turning it over again and again in an attempt to discover the key to unlock the door to the mystery she may be contemplating.

Her energy is boundless. From jumping as high as she can to running and swimming and chasing her way through the long, sun-drenched days of summer, she lives life to the fullest. Those days spent in the summer pursuing the things that children should pursue will go with her throughout life forever and have a profound impact on her family in years to come.

In addition, through the careful nurturing of both mom and dad, Aliyah has learned much about God and, in the process, loves him deeply. She has a real enthusiasm for participation in her church and it is my hope that this lasts a lifetime for this zeal will sustain her during those inevitable dark days that all of us experience from time to time. She is truly a child of God!

Finally, when you look at Aliyah, you see mom and dad and little sis. They are truly inseparable. In a world where we all go our own way even from the earliest of ages, this is truly refreshing to behold. Children are nurtured and develop character within the family. There is no rush to set out to conquer the world for the world is actually unconquerable! Because she basks in the bosom of her family, her chances of dealing successfully with all that life will one day fling at her, is greatly increased. She could not have better parents and a sweet younger sister.

So, Aliyah, on your special day, I wish you all the happiness that a very special little girl deserves. I know that we don't see each other often enough because of the distance that separates us, but please know that you are very close to your grandfather's heart and he thinks of you often. You are loved by us and you are truly God's gift to all who know you. We look forward to seeing you this weekend and to enjoy and, perhaps, catch a bit of the enthusiasm you have for life!


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hidden Gems

I think it is really interesting to discover the fascinating attractions in the area in which you live where before you weren't aware of their existence. Such is the discovery that we made today. In an effort to defeat the boredom brought on by the never-ending heat, we decided to venture a little out of the metropolitan St. Louis area today in search of a new adventure. Our destination, Perryville, MO.

I am quite sure that all of you are very envious that we had the opportunity to travel for only about 75 minutes before reaching Perryville! Actually, those of you who are still reading this are probably asking, "What is a Perryville, MO?" Well, Perryville is a small Missouri town nestled in the hills of the south central section of the state not far from the Mississippi River. OK. What's the big deal? What could possibly beckon us to burn several dollars of petrol to Perryville?

Just on the outskirts of town, sitting amidst the gently rolling hills, is an oasis from the world known as the Shrine of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal. I had heard of the place but, obviously, had never visited there. The entire shrine is dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. The centerpiece of the shrine is a beautiful church that is quite old but very well looked after. Surrounded by native trees and oriental maples, the church draws you to its front doors. It is a simple, yet, magnificent structure that does not overwhelm you with its size so much as it does with its peace. The shrine to Mary is located inside the church itself.

As you enter the church, the first thing you notice is that the walls of the church are covered in wonderful artwork depicting various saints in the Catholic Church. It is a place of solemnity and peace. You can pause awhile and pray or just simply think about whatever happens to be on your mind at the time. The high ceilings, also covered in art, return a unique echo of the footsteps of the pilgrims below. Here is a church that looks like a church, feels like a church, and even smells like a church. Those of you who are Catholic may actually know what I mean by its smelling like a church!

Once outside the church, a path leads to the rest of the sprawling grounds. You are led to a grotto honoring Mary, decorated with many different kinds of flowers in their full summer bloom. As you move on, you come to a unique structure that happens to be the log cabin built by the first priest to this area in the very early 1800's. This is not a reproduction nor a replica. It is the cabin. A little to the rear of the cabin lay a small but dignified cemetery, the resting place of several priests of the order that settled the area. Graves are marked with simple, yet elegant crosses with the name of each priest along with their date of birth and death. The grave site is still in use today for the last priest to be laid to rest near the towering trees was just this last June.

From the cemetery, you can begin a long, leisurely stroll to another part of the grounds. It is tree lined and even on a day like today when the temperature surely was 95, there was a sense of coolness thanks to the dense shade the trees provide. To the left, numerous trees dot the gentle rolling hills. There are countless oaks, maples, elms, and an assortment of other native trees. To the right is a meticulously planted soy bean field awash with the bright August sunlight. At this point you begin to travel down a slope leading to another grotto honoring Mary. This is the site of an outdoor altar. Flowering shrubs and flowers rim the grotto.

There is a sense of peace an calm on this part of the property that you feel as you sit on one of the many benches under the trees. It is a peace not necessarily attributable to the isolation of the place. It is a peace that is something other than earthly. You want to stay as long as possible and drink it in, taking the memory of the peace with you to sustain you through the upcoming days, weeks, and months. The location lends itself easily to contemplation. With nature in abundance all around you, you cannot help but feel the presence of God in everything that you gaze upon. It is a place where time is temporarily suspended and what is important in life becomes radiantly clear. But, because we exist in a world of time, you realize that you must move on, if reluctantly.

The same meandering path takes you back to the shrine, but the walk back is not to be hurried. I found it interesting that on the way back, neither one of us said much of anything. I think we were both lingering back at the grotto, drinking in all the feelings that came in that spot.
This hidden gem was well worth the time and gas spent to get there! We will be returning in cooler weather and most definitely in the Fall. I am very sure that the Autumn colors will make a spectacular, rather out of the way gem, an even more sparkling jewel!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Cool Entertainment On HOT Afternoon

With the temperature hovering near the 100 degree mark, there was very little that you could do outside today without risking your life. Anyone who knows anything about St. Louis weather knows that the summer heat comes with a huge helping of summer humidity. Today that heat and humidity were delivered on stiff southerly winds so the discomfort factor was even greater. So, what do you do to entertain yourself while these conditions persist? Swimming is a possibility but we really didn't feel like that. A nap in a favorite chair was an inviting thought but I do like to sleep at night and a nap would certainly diminish the possibility of an all night sleep. Nothing on television despite the fact that we have at least 1,000 channels! How bout a movie? Now there's an idea. Haven't been to one since January of this year.

Joan has been talking about one that was released yesterday called, "Julie & Julia." Now guys, upon hearing a title such as this you certainly know the internal reaction you get. You want to retreat from the world at that moment. "Oh no," you tell yourself. "A chic flick!" You work up a smile and try to sound enthusiastic about sitting through two hours of sniffling female audience members, Kleenex in hand, with their male partners next to them wondering what all the fuss is about, checking their watches in the dark about every two minutes, gauging just when this test of endurance might come to an end. Such was my position! But, on an afternoon when temperatures reveled those found on the equator, I figured it was the best idea put forth. So, off to the theatre we went.

For the first time in a very long time, the theatre in which the movie was shown was crowded. We had to sit fairly close to the front row due to our late departure from home. But we weren't too close so as to make our eyes feel like they were about to pop out of our heads.

Nowadays, when you go to a movie, it is mandatory that you must endure what seems to be at least an hours worth of coming attractions sprinkled with "Turn off your cell phones" and "Stash the trash in the right receptacle" messages. The show was scheduled to begin at 4:15. The previews did at least. The movie itself got underway at about 4:30.

"Here we go!" I thought to myself as the Columbia studios logo appeared on the screen. "Wonder what time it is?" Now I must admit that the movie did have a fighting chance simply because the star of the show was Meryl Streep. She can do about anything with 100% credibility. The movie was the story of two women living in different periods of history. There was Julia Child who was a famous chef who became that way teaching American women how to cook French dishes. Her story started out in 1948 in Paris. Interspersed with her story was the contemporary story of a young woman named Julie who loved to cook and became a huge fan of Ms. Child.

To my pleasant surprise and relief, the story was well told and there was a great deal of humor. Meryl Streep has the uncanny knack of nailing the body language and gestures of people and you could have sworn that she was Julia Child. She had her mannerisms down pat. Her voice and inflection were amazing. Stanley Tucci as her husband was remarkably good as well. He is one of those actors that gets little acclaim but can act better than 99% of the rest of the field. Amy Adams was engaging as Julie. Her story, the lesser known of the two, was funny, touching, and almost inspirational.

To show you how good the movie was, I only checked my watch once and that was due to the fact that I had to use the Little Director's Room and didn't know if I could wait till the film was over. I was able to make for those of you who might be concerned!!

All in all, "Julie & Julia" was very entertaining. It was a light comedy that helped take your mind off the world's affairs for a couple of hours. The cast was great and they all looked as though they were having a great time. It was a wonderful way to spend a hot summer afternoon in St. Louis. I would heartily recommend the film to everyone (both genders included)! You never know where the next surprise is coming from!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Up, Up and Away!

The congress has done it again. They have managed in one movement to prove to us that the real clunkers in the land are those who "serve" (themselves) in the United States House of Representatives.

Recently, the House ordered a fleet of jets at the price of $65,000,000 apiece. Yes, that's right. The servants of the people have just ordered private jets outfitted with the plushest appointments so that they can be rushed back to Washington for those important votes they have.

This is just outrageous! Nearly criminal in nature. With millions of Americans facing each and every day not knowing when the next job may come along, the congress has seen fit to be outfitted in the optimum luxury. Meanwhile, at town meetings throughout the country that have been organized to discuss the health care plan that is about to be foisted upon us, they cannot abide by citizens like you and I speaking their own minds. They truly believe that we should all lie down and take everything that President Obama dishes out without any complaint whatsoever. And if we voice our opinion, we're labeled as radicals and Nazis, incapable of a single original thought.

For the jets, I say that the members of congress should be limited to buying coach section tickets on commercial flights to get around the country. Why not? This would be a perfect opportunity for them to hear the thoughts of ordinary Americans whom they claim to admire so much on the vital issues of the day. I know the tiny seats in the coach section may wrinkle their designer suits and dresses, but that's life in coach! And as for security? I think we're more in danger from them when they go to work in Washington, formulating bills that become laws that seem to burden our lives with even more regulations. Come fly with us! Find out what reality is really like!

As for the town hall meetings, I say its about time that these poor excuses for leaders finally learn to shut their mouths and open their ears and really listen to the voice of the people. We do not want health care forced down our throats. We refuse to accept gay marriages. We demand that the youngest members of society (the unborn) have a right to life. These aren't polls! These are real people with real lives who have to live with the consequences of the work of these servants of the people. I honestly don't see any of this happening because there are so few in the House with any sign of a backbone. We must, however, keep up the pressure for real answers to our real questions! We demand it. We deserve it!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Seeker

"How does a person 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 said.

"Not one. Not two."

"How is that possible?" the seeker asked.

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

To be continued. . .