Monday, January 31, 2011

What If...

How many times have we heard the phrase "what if...?"  We can use it to speculate on how our lives might have been different:  What if I chose X college instead of Y?  What if I chose to take that job in East Lalapalooza instead of staying here?  What if...  And we can go on and on with these speculations.

We can also wonder how things would have been in the following situations:

What if President Kennedy had cancelled his trip to Dallas in November of 1963?
What if Adolf Hitler had ended up as just a mere corporal in an army?
What if the American intelligence community had discovered and thwarted the plans for September 11, 2001?
And perhaps a real wonder:

What if Mary had declined the offer of the Angel Gabriel thousands of years ago?

These speculations might form interesting table conversation but they are, after all, just speculations and can never really happen because those historical facts and events will never change.

But is there a way in which "what if..." can be relevant?  I think if we would think about some of the following, it might be:

What if I do not "rush to judgment" when somebody does something I think is foolish?
What if I make the effort to be kinder to everyone I meet?
What if I spend more time in quiet rather than in the constant hustle and bustle of everyday life?
What if I take more time for prayer?
What if I refrain from talking on my cellphone or texting while I'm driving my car?
What if I try to reconcile with someone from whom I have become estranged?
What if I look more to the future than wallow in the past?

These are all questions that can be resolved and can become reality because they look to the future and make us look at what our behavior might be.  We can bring these things about if we make the effort.

Perhaps we should take more time and make the effort to allow these speculations to become real in our lives.  Otherwise, what if...?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Battle of the Blogs - Humor Beware!

In the early fall of 2010 both my daughter and I began to create our blogs.  Since that time we have been engaged in a running (humorous) battle to determine who has had the most "hits," what countries are reading our blogs, etc.  I must confess that she has a substantial lead over me at the moment in "hits."  She has suggested that perhaps I need to be more humorous in my blog - a gift that she greatly possesses.  (You can access her blog - Grace Lines - by going to  It's well worth a read.  She said that I should deviate once in a while from my comments on the state of the world, politics, etc. and let people know about the funny things that have happened to me in my life.

Well, I've decided to take her up on her challenge.  Obviously I did not think all of the things I will mention as having happened to me were humorous at the time but in retrospect they have their humorous side (hope you may see it that way, too).  So, here goes:

One of the first things she reminded me of was when I was about four or five years old and fell out of our family car while it was turning the corner following Sunday Mass.  I landed on the street we had just turned from (luckily I was clad in a warm and padded snowsuit and luckily the car behind us saw me in time).  Otherwise, of course, you wouldn't be reading this today.  (Some of my escapades are illustrated through the fine work of illustrator Randy Rumpf.)

A few years later I was with my parents while my mother was making visits to parishioners of our parish to collect for an upcoming parish event.  We went to a farm within the parish and while she was doing her work I decided to walk in the farmyard.  All of a sudden I was toppled over by a chicken who ran across my face.  For sometime afterward I was afraid of chickens.  I don't remember stopping the eating of chicken but "don't let the live ones near me!"

Because of poor teeth that I had as a youngster I had to begin wearing a full upper denture while in my 20's.  During summers while in college I would work in a Catholic bookstore in our community.  One day when there was a lull in business I sat in a corner of the store looking at one of the books when I had a tremendous sneeze erupt.  It was so forceful it blew the teeth out of my mouth and there they were on the floor staring up at me.

In later life I had a few interesting experiences.  We own a summer place in Schroon Lake, New York (a wonderful little town).  One summer I was mowing the lawn when all of a sudden my right leg simply broke through the ground and I was beginning to fall in our cedar-log cess pool.  Lucky for me I was holding on to the mower or I might have breathed my last in a most uncomfortable place.

During my working years with the State of New York we would often attend conferences concerning our field (alcohol and substance abuse).  One year we were in Syracuse, New York at the Syracuse Hotel.  Also staying there at the time was the great performer Stevie Wonder.  We had a small group meeting in the lobby one day when he passed by and I waved to him - think about it.  I waved to Stevie Wonder!

My daughter often chides me about my eating habits and especially my sense of fashion.  In the former case we were dining in a restaurant while on a trip when the creamy shrimp dish I was savoring fell partly on my lap (not totally protected by a napkin).  She then affectionately coined the term for me of "butter pants!"

Sometimes I would wear particular outfits just to get a rise out of her (such as on Christmas Day when I would wear red bell bottoms with a bright green turtleneck - it was Christmas after all!).  The following depicts what she would call "the Hook Look."

So I've done some silly things in my life and have had silly things happen to me.  In an earlier post I did on laughter I said that it was a healthy thing to be able to laugh at ourselves for too often we are too serious with ourselves (and sometimes with others).  Hope I've been able to do that here.

So now I've answered her challenge.  Let's see who gets the most "hits" now (and if you want to click on this blog five times each day for the next two weeks - well, after all, all's fair in love and blogs!).  Hope you had a good laugh!

Monday, January 17, 2011

I Have a Dream - Reflections on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It was 48 years ago when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington to deliver what has become one of the most moving speeches in the history of American rhetoric.  While there has been improvement in race relations in our country - part of the dream Dr. King had for the future of our country - there are still mountains to climb and obstacles to overcome in the way we deal with each other.  What would Dr. King's dream be today?  I am in no position to speculate on that; I would rather offer some of the things that I would dream about in 2011.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."

I have a dream that one day we will recognize that all people - men and women - are created equal and entitled to the same respect regardless of gender.  I have a dream that women will be accorded equal pay for equal work (there has been some improvement here).  I have a dream that in some countries where women are denied education it will be recognized that they have much to contribute to our society and need to have the opportunity to grow and learn.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

As I noted before, I believe there has been improvement in race relations in our country.  The most obvious example of this is the fact that we now have a President of African-American descent - something that would have been unheard of in Dr. King's time.  Regardless of our political affiliation we must see this as a major step forward in the acceptance of all races in our country.  But hatred still exists - in some cases there is still hatred of those whose skin color is other than ours; hatred of certain people because they worship in a different way from the way we do; hatred because someone's sexual orientation is different from ours.  I have a dream that one day we can put aside these hatreds and, as Dr. King stated: sit down together at the table of brotherhood (and sisterhood).

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.  And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:  Free at last!  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

Those stirring words at the conclusion of his speech will resonate for years (and perhaps centuries) to come in our nation's history.  Yet there are still places on this earth where freedom does not yet ring, where people are still subjugated because of their ethnicity, their creed or other reasons.  Dr. King also quoted from Isaiah in his speech where he looked for a time when every mountain and hill shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight.

I have a dream that one day peace will reign again in the mountains of Afghanistan, in the cities and towns of Iraq; that peace will come and Israelis and Palestinians can sit at the same table; that war will not be the answer for the peoples of the Koreas.  Is this too lofty a dream to have?

In the past week in our nation we have heard the reaction of many as they witnessed the tragedy in Tucson.  Calls are being made for better gun control, etc. but one of the things most often cited by people is the need for more civility in our discourse.  In an earlier part of his speech, Dr. King made these remarks not often quoted: Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.  We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.  We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.  Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

It is interesting to note that less than three months after this remarkable speech was delivered, grief overcame this nation when its young President lay dead in a Dallas hospital, the victim of violence.  We need to heed these words of Dr. King again today.  May we go forward to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow with a faith in our national purpose, a faith in our God who wants us to become a peaceful nation, and a faith in each other regardless of creed, political affiliation, gender, race, or sexual orientation.  May God continue to bless us and bless America!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Tragedy in Tucson - What Lessons Can We Learn?

It is not a surprise that the focus of the national media has been on the tragedy that took place in Tucson a few days ago.  Like other national tragedies (presidential assassination, 9/11, Oklahoma City, etc.) our eyes and ears are turned toward Arizona as we try to make sense out of the horrific events that took place at a place of peaceable assembly.

The first question anyone wishes answered is why?  What motivated this young man to begin taking the lives of six people and wounding fourteen others including his principal target, Congresswoman Giffords?  We may never fully know.  It seems that we are dealing with someone seriously mentally disturbed.  Whether or not there was any "political" motivation is uncertain.  Could it have been prevented; could there have been more attention paid to this individual to realize the signs of his troubled nature?

Politicians take no time in responding to the issue depending upon where they fall on the political scale.  Liberals are looking at issues of gun control and blaming the more inflamed rhetoric that issues almost daily in political exchanges and on talk shows.  Conservatives may want to see this as a random act by one disturbed individual and not connected in any way to any political rhetoric.  Are there lessons we can learn from all of this?

This tragic act may not have been the result of political unhappiness on the part of the shooter; he may have had reasons to dislike a number of people in government or positions of authority.  We may never know.  While I do not agree with her political positions and could certainly not support her in any run for the presidency, I do not believe Sarah Palin would want anyone killed or harmed in any way because of political differences.

Having said that, however, is there a lesson to be learned about tamping down the political rhetoric - particularly the kind that attacks others because of their positions?  The political ad which Ms. Palin's followers used in the previous election showing a marksman's target zeroing in on particular congressional districts they wished to have defeated was in poor taste.  We do not know if such types of advertising or statements of the same ilk trigger things in the minds of those more mentally disturbed who may act out their frustrations through violent means.

I wrote a blog around the election time asking if "political civility" was an oxymoron.  I raise the question again.  Can we not find a way to voice our opinions in constructive ways and not through personal attacks on our political opponents?  The new Speaker of the House, John Boehner, said it in his opening remarks to Congress a few weeks ago - namely that we can disagree without being disagreeable.  Would that all of our elected officials of either political stripe would heed those words and began to deal with the issues facing our country and our states in a spirit of open dialogue and collaboration.

Our prayers certainly go out to the Giffords family and the families of those who lost love ones in this tragedy.  We should also keep in prayer the family of the perpetrator who are enduring great pain and feelings of guilt at this time.  And can we not also pray that the perpetrator will receive whatever mental health assistance he needs if it is determined that this action was that of a disturbed mind.

Let us hope that we can all learn some lessons from this tragedy and move our country and our communities forward with peace and harmony as well respect for the feelings and opinions of others even if they disagree with our own.  May God continue to bless America.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Salute to Youth

George Bernard Shaw once said "Youth is wasted on the young."  Perhaps he was complaining about the fact that as we get older we can do less and with less enthusiasm as when we are young.  Do you sometimes feel that you would like to be young again?  I've thought about it and while there were things and events in my youth I would like to live over I can say that there are those things that are best left behind.

But my regard for young people is strong.  I have had the privilege in my ministry to have worked and gotten to know a number of fine and exemplary young people who have been a joy in my life.  Over these Christmas holidays I had the opportunity to touch base with a number of them and enjoyed the times we had together.  They are a good example of what our youth can accomplish and a preview of the fine mature people they will be as they continue to grow older.

My young friends are multi-talented.  The ones in college are pursuing studies in music and the arts and medicine.  The ones still in high school have goals set for themselves as to what they want to do with their futures.  They are bright, energetic and fun to be with.

When we hear stories about young people who have gotten themselves into trouble either with breaking of the law or involvement with alcohol and drugs, we may get the feeling at times that there is not a bright future for our youth.  Knowing the young people I have as friends makes me realize that there a great number of our youth commited to living productive lives and in many cases reaching out to help others.  I am always impressed every year by the TV series on Newschannel 13 called Thirteen Kids Who Care.  They are the kind of examples I am speaking of when I praise the youth of today.

We have a lot of problems facing our nation at this time and it will be our young people who not only in the future but even now are called upon to work on those problems and help to solve them.  I here salute those young women and men in uniform who are placed in harm's way to preserve our freedoms.  May God grant them safety.

So, let us salute our young people who are bright stars in our firmament and may God continue to guard and guide them as their futures unfold.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Gifts of the Magi

Today, on this Sunday after the beginning of the New Year, the Christian calendar reminds us of the revelation of the Messiah to the Gentiles in the persons of the magi from the East.  Called Magi (or astrologers), they are also known as the three kings and as the three wise men.  Wise men.  Someone a few years ago humorously suggested the story might have been written differently if the main characters were "three wise women."  Had they been wise women, it is said, they would have asked for directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable and made a casserole.  Their gifts would have been disposable diapers.

Be that as it may, we celebrate the arrival of the Magi with their gifts for the Christ child.  As we go through life on our journey of faith, are we more like the Magi or more like the shepherds?  I would suggest we are more like the Magi.  Consider that the shepherds didn't have to follow a silent star but were given specific directions by an angel (who may have had a booming voice to be heard over the fields at night) followed by an angelic choir singing songs of praise.  The shepherds found just what they were told about.  The Magi, on the other hand, had to follow a star visible only at night.  They also ended up being manipulated by the wicked Herod and while they rejoiced when they found the object of their search, they left quickly to return home.

Isn't our life's journey more like that?  We are not always sure where the direction of our lives is going and we don't have angels clearly pointing out what we are to do.  We, instead, have to place our faith in God who will provide us with the light to see our way (knowing that at times there will be points of darkness).

And what of the gifts the Magi brought?  What gifts do we have to bring to the Christ child?  We can offer the gift of our lives but how do they compare with those three gifts of the Magi?

The gift of gold is a reminder of the kingship of Christ.  Gold, in its purest form, is a soft metal that is malleable.  In order to be hardened for use it must have an alloy such as copper or silver.  Are our lives malleable so that they are pushed and pulled by the cares and temptations of the world, or do we need an alloy?  I would suggest that our alloy should be our commitment to live out the call of our baptism to be disciples of Christ.

The gift of frankincense is a symbol of the divinity of Christ.  In Psalm 141 we are told that our prayers rise like incense before the Lord.  But good incense is a blend of fragrances.  Are our prayers often too much of the same kind - "Give me this, Lord," or "Help me, God."  Should not our prayers have a good blend of prayers of adoration and praise as well as thanksgiving for the gifts we have received?

The gift of myrrh is one we would rather not think about.  Myrrh, as we know, is a spice that was used to embalm or preserve the bodies of the dead.  This gift of the Magi was a reminder to us of the real reason why Jesus came among us - to suffer and die to bring about our redemption.  We, of course, would like our lives to always be filled with the joy we experience at Christmas or Easter but we well know that there are many Good Fridays in our lives.  We also know that as God was with Jesus at his Good Friday, God will also be with us when we face life's difficulties.

The Magi's story ends with them returning home by a different route.  What route are we going to take - the route to Herod to be manipulated by the world and its illusions, or the route given to us by God?  If we take God's route we know that there may still be bumps and potholes on the way but God will be with us as we experience them.

There was a legend that says that the three wise men were of different ages.  Caspar was a very young man, Balthazar was in his middle age and Melchior was an old man.  Upon arriving in Bethlehem, they took themselves to the place of Jesus' birth and went in one at a time.  When Melchior, the old man, went into the place, there was no one there but a very old man with whom he quickly bonded.  They spoke together of memory and gratitude.

Middle-aged Balthalzar then went in to find a middle-aged teacher and they talked about leadership and responsibility.  When young Caspar entered, he met a young prophet and they spoke together of reform and promise.

When they all had gone in singly, they then went in together to offer their gifts and they found an infant.  Then they understood.  Jesus speaks to every stage of life.  The old hear the call to integrity and wisdom.  The middle-aged hear about generativity and responsibility and the young hear the call to indentity and intimacy.

Whatever age you are, may the divine child who came to bring us peace speak to you and may you respond wholeheartedly as you enter another year of divine grace.