Philippine Epiphanies


Whether our life be that of Nazareth, the Public Life or the Desert…
it should cry the Gospel…
~ Bl. Charles de Foucauld

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Paper or Plastic?


I don’t care if it rains or freezes
‘Long as I got my plastic Jesus
Sittin’ on the dashboard of my car.
~ Cool Hand Luke

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Who Prefers To Stay?

PathtoSainthood“Jesus is waiting for you in the chapel. Go and find him when your strength and patience are giving out, when you feel lonely and helpless. Say to him: ‘You know well what is happening, my dear Jesus. I have only you. Come to my aid …’ And then go your way. And don’t worry about knowing how you are going to manage. It is enough to have told our good Lord. He has an excellent memory.”
~ St. Jeanne Jugan

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Jesus Pulls a Fast One

640px-CaravaggioContarelli“The designation of the excommunicated member as a Gentile or a tax collector in verse 17 is odd in view of Jesus’ openness to both groups.”
~ Daniel Harrington, S.J.

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Stay With Your Vehicle

Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away.
~ Cat Stevens, “Father and Son

It was all over so quickly.

University_of_Notre_Dame_Golden_DomeFirst Years moved onto campus at Notre Dame today, including our son – so exciting! However, unlike those coming to South Bend from out of state, we’re only 20 minutes away, so despite the momentous occasion, it was a pretty typical morning for us. At first.

I was up early as usual, made the coffee, and went for a run. Nancy and the other kids were rousing by the time I got back, and I saw a light under Ben’s door telling me he was up as well.

There was a rush for bathrooms and showers, some hurried breakfasts and lots of last-minute lunch-packing and homework-finishing. Since I had the morning off to help Ben move, I engaged in a bit of daddish banter – commenting about current events, nagging the kids about doing their dishes, giving Ben a heads-up about the Roger Ebert documentary showing on campus in a couple weeks – acting like everything was normal, everything was the same.

But it was different, and I knew it in my gut. Plus there was an unusual trickle of siblings coming by Ben’s room to bid him farewell. “Good-bye, Ben,” said Katharine, his littlest sister, “have fun at college.” Cecilia stopped by Ben’s room as well. “See ya’, Ben,” she said. “I’ll miss you.”

“I won’t be far,” he said, grinning. Yeah, I suppose.

Once the high-schoolers made it out the door, and Nancy herded our three grade-schoolers toward her car, it was just Ben and I. We got to work and loaded up our dilapidated Plymouth Voyager.

“Do you think I’m bringing to20140814_122120_resizedo much junk?” he asked.

“Maybe,” I replied. “I can always come pick up the stuff you don’t need. That’s one nice thing about being from town.”

We were done loading by 8:00, but Move-In didn’t start until nine. I drifted upstairs to my computer. Ben plopped down at the piano in the living room and worked his improvisational magic. I checked email and The Weather Channel, but mainly I listened to Ben’s music. What a gift he has. What a privilege to have been privy to it over the years.

At about 8:15, Ben called up to me. “Hey, dad! What are you doing?”

“Stalling,” I said from the landing, my eyes welling. “Why the hell did you have to grow up?”

“‘Nothing I could do about it,” came the laconic reply. “It’ll be OK, dad.”

Ben let me drive to campus – which might’ve been a token of filial deference, but I knew better.  By not driving, he gained complete oversight of our musical backdrop – Animal Collective, some Jack White, “Good Vibrations” by the Beach Boys.

“I heard Coldplay is in the running for the Super Bowl halftime this year,” I said, trying to sound relevant.

“Who cares?” he replied. “They’re just a Radiohead ripoff.” So much for relevance.

Up north on Eddy Street, a cut over to Notre Dame Avenue, and then straight toward the Dome. We were directed to the DeBartolo parking lot and maneuvered into the queue for Alumni Hall. Don, one of the volunteer parking ushers, came over with a parents’ packet for me. “Alumni was my dorm,” he said as he pumped our hands. “Welcome to Notre Dame!”

When it was our turn, we continued the crawl up Notre Dame Avenue toward the statue of Our Lady of the University in the Main Circle. Another volunteer usher beckoned me to the curbside right in front of the dorm. Immediately, we were swarmed by returning Alumni Hall residents (i.e., “Da20140814_121725-1_resizedwgs”), and the usher came over to my window. “Your son can unload, and the guys will help him carry it all to his room,” he said, adding firmly, “and I’ll need you to stay with your vehicle.”

Stay with my vehicle? No father-son moment of transporting his past into his future? No profound parting words? Not even a firm handshake and a “God bless you, son”?

Nope. I tried to assist, but the Dawgs kept saying, “That’s alright, sir, we can get that. That’s alright, sir.”

Pretty soon, I glimpsed Ben walking away amid a stream of new dorm mates. The traffic usher, with a wistful smile, motioned me along and encouraged me to go park in lot ‘C’ by the Joyce Center. When I looked back one more time, I heard the usher murmur, “He’ll be alright, sir.”

Yes, he will.

The Lighter Side of Suicide

gk cThe strangest whim
has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself today.
~ G.K. Chesterton

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Of Head Nods, Hat Tips, and Empty Crosses

hat_thumb[7]“As a sign of respect, the hat is briefly removed or raised when one passes in front of a Church, an act of homage to Our Lord present in the Blessed Sacrament, or in the presence of a passing funeral procession, in recognition of the deceased as created in the image and likeness of God.”
~ Marian T. Horvat

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Sneaking Shuteye

Yet a little sleep, a little slumber,
a little folding of the hands to sleep (Prov. 6.10).

Insomniac? Me, too. Let’s swap coping methods. Benadryl or Ambien? Yoga? Counseling? What about caffeine: Less? None at all?

Maybe you’ve had better luck than I have with stuff like that. Unfortunately, I’ve pretty much resigned myself to an inadequate night’s sleep on a regular basis – catching up on reading in the wee hours, or I Love Lucy reruns on TV Land, or even doing dishes on occasion – and so my challenge is figuring out how to make up the sleep deficit during the day.

Napping is the obvious stopgap remedy, but hardly a real solution, especially when it comes to the more serious effects of sleep deprivation. Michael Twery of the National Center on Sleep Disorders Research, says that naps “may reduce the feeling of sleepiness but do not help the biological rhythms associated with long-term health.” Better sleep – good sleep, long sleep, at night preferably – is what’s really needed. Right. I know that. It’s a work in progress.

In the meantime, of course, naps are imperative, but not always convenient. Depending on where you work, it might be frowned upon to simply spread out on the floor for a refreshing doze. Consequently, unless you work in a part of the world where afternoon siestas are de rigueur, sneaking some sleep on the sly becomes an anappingrt form. Probably you’re already an old hand and already know all the tricks, but here are a few pointers if you’re a sleepless newbie.

1. Car naps – Let’s be clear from the get-go on this one: The car must be stationary before napping occurs. In fact, car naps are a great way of preventing nodding off when the car actually is in motion.

That being said, I put this one first because, although seasonal, it’s very convenient. Seriously, what could be easier (when the weather is clement) than stopping in a parking lot, making your way to the outer rim (where the well-heeled park their Lexus sedans and shiny new SUVs in hopes of avoiding car dings), and camping out for a spell. You put back your seat, insert a couple earplugs, and then cover your eyes with a handkerchief or bandanna. Bring along a small pillow for your neck’s sake, and perhaps a light coverlet in the fall and early spring. Five or ten minutes, tops, and you’re ready for that next meeting or financial report!

A variation on this method is what I call the “River Nap.” This was a favorite when we had babies that weren’t all that great at sleeping themselves. I’d secure the wailing child in a car seat, and we’d go for an extended drive all around town until the wails gave way to lullaby land. Next, I’d find some quiet, picturesque spot to park the vehicle (often a spot by the St. Joseph River – hence the name), lock all the doors, and put my seat back to join my son or daughter in a restful slumber. Dad gets a nap, baby gets a nap, and exhausted mom of nursing newborn gets a nap (hopefully) at home. A non-REM trifecta – sweet!

2. Library napsDid you know you’re not allowed to sleep in public libraries? It’s true, and now my kids have been alerted accordingly.

We were in our neighborhood branch the other day. My teens went off to find bosleepingoks and movies and music, and my younger children plopped down in front of the computers to play games (which they normally don’t get to do at home).

I found a poofy chair within eyeshot of the computer bank and settled in. Then, after the librarian making her rounds had passed me by, I leaned back, covered my eyes with a cloth, and caught a quick snooze. Five minutes is all it takes usually, sometimes even just a couple. Sleep experts say that cat naps are better than daytime full-fledged deep sleep anyway. It’s just a recharge, and then back in the game.

Later, on the way home, I mentioned to the kids that I was glad I wasn’t caught napping or else I might’ve been thrown out. It was hyperbole, of course, but my youngest daughter thought it was a curious comment. “Why would you get in trouble for sleeping in the library?” she asked.

This was a tough one, because we’re pretty much talking homeless folks here, and the no-sleeping rule is designed to prevent libraries from becoming drop-in centers. And, as I recall, that’s one of the main purposes for drop-in centers: To catch up on sleep in a safe, climate-controlled environment.

In Chicago, I remember getting kicked out of libraries pretty regularly for sleeping – the Bezazian branch on the north side was the first. I was brand new in the city and on a February urban plunge. I hadn’t slept much in the rescue mission the night before, so I was pretty beat, plus cold and sick. I just wanted a warm place to sit and snooze a bit, so when I came across the Bezazian branch, I went in, sat down, and dropped off to sleep. It couldn’t have been more than a minute or two before a librarian shook me awake and let me know I’d have to move along surprise!

Next time you’re in a downtown library, look around. You’ll see men and women (mostly men) slouching in chairs with strategically placed books to forestall the inevitable tap on the foot or shoulder. It was true in Chicago, and it’s true here in South Bend. It’s telling that I’ve never been nailed for napping in our neighborhood branch isleepern the subdivision, but downtown I’ve been called on it at least a couple times. And it’s apparently a pretty common library protocol nationwide – even in Seattle, where the public library has intentionally reached out to the homeless – but I’m glad to know that librarians wrestle with it when called upon to enforce it.

3. Church napsUnlike sleeping in the library, sleeping in church is acceptable. In fact, I even had a priest give me implicit permission once. “The least important part of the Mass by far is the homily,” he said. “If you have to duck out for some reason or catch forty winks, that’s the time to do it.” He well knows that I’ve taken him up on his advice many times.

Yes, I’m a notorious Mass-napper, I admit it. In fact, we have a saying in my family OK, not a “saying” so much as an inside joke, and the joke is on me. You’ve probably heard the musically inclined quote St. Augustine: “He who sings, prays twice.” Our family gloss on that saying is this: “And he who falls asleep, prays three times.”

But napping in church doesn’t have to be reserved to worship alone. If you can find a church that is open for prayer and adoration all day, then your drowsiness problems are over!

The key here is adopting the proper attitude of prayerful sleep – “attitude” as in positioning in the pew. My favorite napping church is still St. Peter’s in the Loop in Chicago. When I lived at the Catholic Worker, and got desperate for a break and some Z’s, I’d hop on the ‘L’ train (another good sleeping venue, but not to everyone’s taste), get off at Madison, and walk over to St. Peter’s. Like most Catholic churches, the front pews were typically empty, so I’d usually pick a spot a few rows bst. peter'sack from the Mary altar to the left of the sanctuary. I’d half kneel/half sit, and lean my head forward on the pew in front of me. I could stay in that position a good 15 minutes, and then wake up refreshed and ready to head back into the do-gooder fray, with only a big red mark on my forehead as evidence of my AWOL respite.

So, church napping is not only liturgically acceptable (during the homily), and socially respectable (as long as you don’t snore too bad), but theologically appropriate as well. Sleep is like death according to the Scriptures – especially in St. Paul:

For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.

And what’s the goal of the Christian life after all? To die in Christ, right? For to die in Christ is to be rise with him on the last day. St. Paul gets at this from the negative point of view in his first letter to the church at Corinth:

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost…. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep (1 Cor. 15.16-18, 20).

We’re all going to die, short of the Parousia, and hopefully we’ll die in Christ with hope of resurrection to follow. If Christ is the church, why not think of sleeping in church as a display of Maranatha, “Come, Lord Jesus!” spirit?

In any case, please give me the benefit of the doubt. Next time you see me nodding off in church? Think of it as a theological statement and an affirmation of faith….Zzzzz-zzzzzz……

I Feel Like I Should Be Doing Something

father-of-the-bride-5Is this what it feels like to be the father of the groom?

Father of the bride is bad enough – as Spencer Tracy showed us in 1950, followed by Steve Martin forty years later – but it seems like father of the groom would be even more irrelevant to the whole wedding vortex phenomenon.

Not that any of my sons are heading to the altar any time soon. No, my feelings of irrelevancy are related to a different life event and milestone: My oldest is heading to Notre Dame. As a freshman. Next month.

Shouldn’t I be doing something?

Practical things – equipping the dorm room, last minute tips on laundry, etc. – seem to be covered by my wife at present. At least, Ben isn’t coming to me for advice, so I’ve got to assume that his mother is fielding those questions. If there are any. He’s pretty much launched out on his own already.

So, how about composing a fatherly testament of vision and values as a farewell gesture?

I’ve read plenty of “To My Son on the Brink of Manhood” (or marriage or fatherhood) screeds written by celebrity and journalist dads, but I’ve really no interest in attempting anything along those lines. It seems like any sage advice or tidbits of paternal wisdom that I’d offer in such a declaration ought to have taken root well before now. Otherwise, I’m guessing it’s a bit late.

Like riding a bicycle. Today I was out with Katharine, my youngest, who is just on the verge of training-wheel freedom. She is balancing on the bike just fine – the trainers rarely touch down when she’s pedaling along – and it’s just a matter of time until she has built up enough self-confidence and I can remove the side wheels once and for all.

It seems like just a blink of an eye since I was doing the same for Ben. In fact, I think it might’ve been the same bicycle, and even the same set of training wheels! But let’s say I’d never taken the trouble to help him wean off the trainers when he was in grade school. Let’s say he skipped riding bikes as a boy, learning to use public transit inst488438538_6babc2c765ead, and then jumped right into driver’s ed as a teen.

And now he’s getting ready for college, where freshmen are generally not allowed to have vehicles at their disposal. Wouldn’t a bicycle be convenient? Completing his two-wheeler training at this late stage would be awkward at best, and likely to fail altogether.

An eloquent parting shot, untethered to a commensurate upbringing, seems equally awkward and prone to failure. Any advice I have to give now that I haven’t already attempted to instill is too late, and a late-breaking Desiderata would pointless. And yet if I did attempt to raise my son with attention to truth and beauty and permanent things, then rehearsing it all in bullet point form would be unnecessary, and perhaps even somewhat ridiculous.

Still, I feel like I should be doing something, and, consequently, I’ve come up with a different kind of list. Instead of looking backward, at the things I hope I’ve taught him (or wish I had), I’ve decided to look forward. It’s a list of questions – questions I’ve already grown accustomed to asking former students when I encounter them long after graduation, and I’ve decided they’ll be among the questions I’ll ask my son when we see each other on weekends and breaks in the months and years to come.

  1. What are you reading? He’ll be at Notre Dame, so he’ll be reading a lot, but he’ll know I mean what is he reading that he doesn’t have to read. Reading for pleasure, in other words. If it’s something I know, I’ll enjoy hearing his insights. If it’s something I don’t know, all the better. Note, too, that I’m not asking, “What are you watching,” or “What are you listening to?” These can be important questions as well, to be sure, but they don’t deserve anywhere near the same priority. My kids have grown up surrounded by books in every conceivable way, and I’d be very surprised if books didn’t continue to surround them as they make their own way hence.
  2. Where are you working? That’s what I ask my former students, most of whom are staff nurses here and there (or full-time mothers, or both). For current students, like my son, I’ll ask, Where are you in your studies? The inquisitive “where” allows for an unfolding of conversation on a number of fronts: The progress being made in a particular program or discipline; the kinds of classes being taken at the moment; and, most importantly, the trajectory along which which current pursuits are trending. It’s an inquiry with both quantitative and qualitative angles, and it’s helpful in getting beyond mere questions of “what” classes and “what” jobs to the “why” and “who with” of daily living.
  3. How’s your soul? This one is loaded, no doubt, but it, too, is calculated to get into meaty matters as rapidly as possible. “Are you getting to Mass and confession? Are you praying?” are too easily dispensed with – either with a hasty “yes” (whether truthful or not), or a painful “no,” followed by an even more painful conversational stall. Who needs that? We’re all adults here.  Sacramental obligations, vocational discernment, and the pursuit of holiness are totally his responsibility now, so I’m not going to grill him. I might’ve acted as a coach in such matters as he got older, but I’m on the sidelines now – a cheerleader, to be sure, and a ready consultant when asked. Yet, now I’m only one among many that he can turn to for input. Consequently, instead of grilling, I’m hoping for openness and candor, a space for us both to voice our inner joys and struggles as we wind our way along the murky years. No challenges, no guilt. Just invitation, and cross-bearing of burdens. And honesty. Listening.

These are questions that assume a lot, but don’t presume anything. They take for granted where we’ve come from together, but they leave lots of room for where we’ve made – and will make – side trips apart. Like I said, they’ll be the questions I ask my son in the months to come, and probably they’ll be the same questions I’ll ask him years from now when he’s launched beyond Notre Dame, rising in his chosen profession, and raising his own family.

And, soon enough, maybe he’ll be asking them of others as well. Now that would be something.


A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

Releasing the Birds


Up soared the lark into the air,
A shaft of song, a wingéd prayer,
As if a soul released from pain
Were flying back to heaven again.
~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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