Releasing the Birds

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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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Yes Straight Out: Of Scot Halpin & the Martyrs of Compiègne

Our_Lady_of_Mount_Carmel_Church,_Quidenham,_Norfolk_-_Windows_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1084822“My friend, Mike Deniseph, basically was pushing me forward to do this, and really interfacing with Bill Graham once he got there, nose to nose. And so he looks to me square in the eye and says, Can you do it? And I said yes, straight out.”
~ Scot Halpin

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Wheaton’s Catholic Speakeasy

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“You start reading C.S. Lewis, then you’re reading
G.K. Chesterton, then you’re a Catholic.”
~ Ross Douthat

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Contraception Chit-Chat

ad,advertisement,baby,birthcontrol,lady,monster-9ebb12da9da64043a4f6da7a4384b50e_h“The very word Birth-Prevention would strike a chill into the public, the instant it was blazoned on headlines…. They dare not call it by its name, because its name is very bad advertising.”
~ G.K. Chesterton

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Of Steering Fluid, Grace, and Conversion

John_Wesley_by_William_Hamilton“Salvation begins with preventing grace; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life; some degree of salvation; the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God.”
~ John Wesley

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Kindred Spirits: St. Josemaría Escrivá and Dorothy Day

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Being saints is not a privilege of the few,
but everyone’s vocation.
~ Pope Francis

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The Pope’s Jest

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Life is serious all the time,
but living cannot be serious all the time.
~ G.K. Chesterton

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Another Ten Miles

Five summers back, my daughter Joan and I walked to Michigan.

It’s not as spectacular as it sounds – we live on the south side of South Bend, and Michigan is only ten miles away – but it was still quite the urban hike and, now, a happy memory.

The whole thing was a lark that had its genesis at a family dinner when somebody mentioned how close Michigan really was. “It’s so close, we could probably walk there,” I remember Joan commenting. “We5209_109550579033_6435563_n should do that!”

I took her at her word (to her chagrin, it turns out), and we planned the trek. A few weeks later, we slathered on sunscreen and hit the road in the early morning, arriving at the Dairy Queen just north of the state line about eight hours later.

No earth-shattering revelations or extraordinary encounters along the way; no epiphanies or profound father-daughter exchanges. Just slogging along in the heat, mile after mile. A McDonald’s here, a library visit there, a couple photo ops, and gyros for lunch. The conversation was intermittent, and almost nonexistent in the final stretch. It was an exercise in endurance, you see, and to succeed required only stubbornness: We will walk to Michigan, just to say we’d done it – and we did!

The first step is undertaken lightly, pleasantly, and with your soul in the sky; it is the five-hundredth that counts (Hilaire Belloc).

Recently, Joan and I put in another ten miles, but this time the setting was quite different. We were in New York City for Joan to receive special honors at the Scholastic Art Awards ceremony in Carnegie Hall. Thankfully, Marian High School helped underwrite our travel expenses, but funds were still a bit tight, so we had no budget for taxi rides. Instead, we took subways and buses mainly, and hoofed it in between.

And hoof it we did. From the Port Authority near Times Square to the lions at the Public Library, and then zigzagging uptown: First Fifth Avenue for about eight blocks, then over; Madison Avenue for a while, then over, finally, Park Avenue up to the Armory at 67th Street – at least a couple miles on foot, and we’d only been in the city a couple hours.

So went the entire weekend: Subway rides to neighborhood centers, and then walking block after block to our various destinations. From Yonkers and the Bronx down to Washington Park, we experienced New York the best way possible – that is, at eye level and on the street. Like when we walked west on 112th through Spanish Harlem to come up behind St. John the Divine. The gargantuan Cathedral loomed before us, growing bigger and bigger with every step, and we, smaller and smaller. It was as if our march allowed us to become pilgri5-living-articlelargems and penitents; much better than showing up in a cab or disembarking from a tour bus.

Our cuisine was street-bound as well: Hot dogs and pizza slices, chicken kebabs and blintzes, all mixed up with secondhand smoke, vehicle exhaust, and that unmistakable pungent scent of the city. I think we sat down for a single restaurant meal, and even then we rushed to grab a table outside. Sitting inside seemed too far removed from the exotic world we’d come to see and hear and assimilate.

Given all the time we devoted to just getting around, we didn’t get to see everything we’d hoped to – no Empire State Building, no MOMA or Cloisters, and nothing downtown at all. That wasn’t a big deal to me since I’d already soaked up quite a bit of New York some years ago, but I had high hopes of getting Joan around to many more sights and landmarks. Turns out, it wasn’t a big deal to her either, and for the best of reasons. “I’m glad we’ve been getting around like we have,” Joan said at one point. “It seems like it has given us more freedom to do as we please and to really take things in.”

On a walking-tour you are absolutely detached. You stop where you like and go on when you like. As long as it lasts you need consider no one and consult no one but yourself (C.S. Lewis).

So what’s next? Compostela maybe? Or the Appalachian Trail? Either of those would be way more than ten miles.

No, I’m thinking Chaucer, and retracing the route of the Canterbury pilgrims. It would be more manageable (about 60 miles or so), and more Joan’s style anyway.

MHS & NYC 076But if it was totally up to me, I’d have us in Rome, and we’d do a walking-tour of the Holy City’s seven pilgrim churches – a tradition of visiting the four major and three minor basilicas that was popularized by St. Philip Neri. Pope John Paul II altered it a bit in 2000 by substituting a more contemporary church for the ancient church of St. Sebastian. However, if you visit all seven of the original churches, plus the one John Paul added for the Jubilee Year indulgence, you’ll end up covering just about…ten miles! Coincidence? I think not!

So, whether it’s ten miles in Rome, three score in England, or hundreds somewhere else – I’m ready, come what may. Of course, I know it’s pretty iffy that I’d even have the privilege of ever again joining my daughter on a trekking journey, regardless of the mileage involved or destination. Heck, it’s a wonder and a total gift I got to go along this time – I get that.

Yet, for us dads, that’s just part of the deal. It’s assumed in the “come-what-may” part of dadhood that if we’re doing our job, we’re working ourselves out of a job. God willing, sooner or later, our kids will merrily leave us behind, trekking and journeying with abandon to places we can’t even pronounce.

In other words, we have to be ready to weather the transition from parenting youngsters to accompanying young adults – and as I’m easing into that transition, it seems that the accompanying is truly intermittent, and largely up to their discretion.

Bittersweet, for sure, and no doubt I’ll miss out on plenty of ten-milers. But, come what may, I’ll be here for the homecoming. I’ll be here for the welcome home.

Roads go ever ever on
Under cloud and under star,
Yet feet that wandering have gone
Turn at last to home afar.
~ Bilbo Baggins

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A version of this story appeared on Catholic Exchange.

And The Birds Were Singing

Home birth is not for everybody, but it was for us from the get-go. Here’s the story of our first one – our oldest, our high school graduate, our Ben.

I wasn’t a nurse yet, so when Nancy suggested we have our baby at home, I wasn’t sure what to think. It seemed a bit nuts – a little too granola for me, and that’s coming from someone who came of age in Boulder, Colorado, granola-central – but what did I know? I was still gettin00000294g used to being married, after all, let alone becoming a father, and it was Nancy who was going to be doing the work. If she wanted to have a hippie birth, that was fine by me.

Besides, all of our friends were doing home birth back then. It’s probably de rigueur there now, but back then it was all part of a particular “hom-ish” brand of Catholicism that we aspired to as newlyweds: Home birth for the babies, and then homeschool once they got old enough. After my stint as a hospice nurse years later, our homish loyalties came full circle, and we decided to embrace home death when that time came eventually. Birth, death, schooling in between – a home trifecta, womb to tomb!

But I digress. We’re still at the birth end of things, the first of what we hoped would be dozens. Please keep in mind that I was a rookie husband from a small family (one older brother and one younger sister) with very little experience in the world of babies. As a Catholic convert, I had taken to heart the idea that marriage meant generously welcoming new lives as God sent them, so I was all on board for family as an expected corollary of the wedding day syllogism. Yet, aside from the basics of biology, and what the midwife had explained to us, I had no idea what to expect as far as the birthing process itself. And, to tell the truth, I didn’t even really pay attention to what the midwife said. Pretty much I was flying blind.

So that night, 19 years ago now, when Nancy told me it was time, I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to do. “Must call midwife,” I mumbled to myself. Or maybe it was Nancy mumbling it to me. Or rather suggesting strongly. Insisting.

Anyway, I did call her, and she hit the road. We were on the eastern edge of Ohio; Freida, our midwife, was in the middle of Amish country, about 90 minutes away. “I’ll be there as fast as I can,” she said. Right.

In the interim, I made one mistake after another – doing the wrong thing, then not doing the right thing, saying something stupid, and then not saying something when something was required. I either didn’t get the manual, or I just plumb forgot to read it. Everything was happening all at once, it seemed, or at a crawl. We were in a state of suspended animation, waiting on the midwife. Home birth is em1958405_10152382393094034_2340008002576282336_npowering to women, no doubt, but for your first one? You want the expert on hand.

Freida got there, and expertly, efficiently took matters in hand, gave me orders, and began attending to Nancy. In between contractions, Freida read Psalms aloud and prayed. During contractions, she comforted and encouraged. I was silent and in awe, afraid a little, but mainly bewildered. This was so tremendous, so immediate and tactile, so real. Is this something I was experiencing in the moment? Wasn’t I just watching it, like a documentary? Was I an observer or a participant?

Then Nancy’s * SQUEEZE * on my hand, and I shook my head awake. I didn’t much to do at that point, but drifting off into philosophical roundabouts was not an option.

The night and the labor unfolded together, and just at daybreak, our son was born. As if on cue, birds gathered on the tree branches just outside our second-story alley apartment and started to sing. I kid you not. Right at the moment Nancy delivered her first baby into the world, the world reacted with a glorious homegrown anthem. “Alleluia,” the birds declared that May morning. “God’s image, yet again, and still a new one, a new one, a new one!”

Yes, a son – our son! Nancy had been a mother for nine months, culminating in that mysterious conflation of anguish and elation that seems to be childbirth – and she managed to carry it off as if she’d been doing it her whole life, with grace and courage and calm determination. However, my role as a father was somehow theoretical and undefined until that moment when I met my son face to face. It was the dividing line, the watershed, the visceral marker of paternal transformation.

Suddenly, it was glaring: I had work to do.

But what work? We had a home, and there was food in the fridge. Nancy was recovering quickly, and our boy seemed to be perfectly fine. I felt like I ought to be doing something; I required a task, a mission. Like the film version of Jane Austen’s Colonel Brandon, I needed “an occupation,” or I feared I’d “run mad.”

In a day or two, I got one: Ben’s complexion yellowed like a lemon. “Sounds like infant jaundice,” Freida told us when we called, and she gave me my task. “Take your baby outside and hold him up to the sun.”

“That’s all there is to it?” I asked.

“Yup,” she replied. “That should do the trick.”

So, while Nancy rested, I took Ben outside into the bright sunshine, and lifted him up. I felt like 983679_10152369779509034_9099952338263042065_nRafiki elevating the infant Simba before the assembled crowd at Pride Rock, and, sure enough, within a minute or two, the neighbors gathered around to take in the sight and lend some credence to my imagined metaphor.

“Your baby?” someone asked.

“Yes,” I confirmed. “My son.”

“Congratulations,” came the reply. “When was he born?”

“Yesterday.”

“Yesterday? And you’re home already?”

“We never left home.”

That took some explaining. Meanwhile, Ben soaked up the sun, and the bilirubin burned away. I did nothing, really – it was God’s sun, after all – but I still felt like I’d accomplished something very dad-like that day: Taking counsel on behalf of someone in my care, and then acting accordingly.

It was my first significant lesson as a papa, and we were on our way.

And now, 19 years gone by, and my boy is a man. I wish I’d recorded those birds. It’d be a good time to revisit their celebratory anthem.

Go Ahead and Ask!

ca.-1575-oil-on-canvas-142.3-x-208.3-cm-56-x-82-in-collection-of-The-Nelson-Atkins-Museum-of-Art-Kansas-City-Mo.-William-rockhill-Nelson-Trust-31-73-web-515x352“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be healed.”
~ Roman Missal, response to the invitation to communion (cf. Mt 8:8)

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