Recognizing Grace in a Manual Transmission

This past week, I’ve been on vacation. Actually, it’s been a “stay-cation,” with me working on little projects around the house. The repairs to our home after the hail damage (from the storms back in April) needed to be managed as well. And then there was my car.

My car had been damaged pretty significantly by the hail storm too. Early in May it was inspected by my insurer, and the body shop scheduled it for repair in the third week of July. They said it would take one full week, and instead, it took three. It also cost them twice as much to repair it as the insurer estimated.

Did I mention my oldest son received his “learners permit” back in July too? And he has been driving under supervision since that time and doing a fine job. That is, until my car came home from the shop. You see, my little car has a 5-speed transmission, which helps it get 40 miles per gallon on the highway. I informed my son that he must learn to drive it.

It’s one of those unilateral “Dad Edicts” that I announce from time to time, as it is my prerogative to do. Anyway, to make a long story short, my son has been re-learning how to drive this week while I am on vacation. School starts next week for him, so now is the time.

What does any of this have to do with grace? Maybe nothing. Or maybe everything.

When talking about grace, I mean what Merriam-Webster marks down as definition #1(a) & (b):

1a: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification.

1b: a virtue coming from God.

You see, when you live in the world of automation, everything seems easy. And you can start to take for granted that ease, and completely miss out on all the wonderful, and sometimes difficult, things that actually take place in order to accomplish things as simply as shifting gears in a car. Or like drafting this message.

Now as long as I’ve had children, they have known that manual transmissions exist. But my oldest is realizing now how something that I (and his mother) make seem so effortless is actually downright tricky to duplicate.

He has learned how even the most modest of inclines is a fearsome challenge. He has been humbled, and amazed, by the ease with which a car can stall when trying to get started in first gear on level ground. And he’s learned:

How unforgiving the clutch is if you let it out too quickly. How three pedals and a stick shift have to be manipulated, all while steering and keeping track of all these other cars on the road too. He has learned how little patience other drivers have when he inadvertently stalls when at a red light.

These moments were all lost to him when he was a passenger only, or when he was driving our automatic transmission car. It really never crossed his mind that driving a car with a manual transmission is a form of work. It’s not, really, and after he gets the hang of it these tasks will be second nature to him as well.

So, as I’ve been sitting in the passenger seat as his instructor pilot this week, thoughts of recognizing grace have been popping up in my mind. Because if we don’t look for it, we can forget that it is occurring all around us, all the time. We run the risk of being numb to it, just like we forget, or never really even knew, how an automatic transmission works.

Drawing by David Levine

It’s all the fault of Karl Rahner, SJ. I’ve been reading Volume One of his Mission and Grace. In it he says stuff like,

There cannot be any grace which does not imply a quite definite putting into action of nature; nor can there be any human, responsible putting of nature into action, which is not subject to the demands of grace, amounting in concreto, with no avoidance of it while life lasts, to a Yes or No to grace.

Got that? If it sounds kind of highfalutin, pardon Fr. Karl. He probably didn’t recognize that this sounds a lot like shifting gears with a manual transmission. See, without the grace (see definition 3c) of easing out the clutch, there will be a failed action called stalling, and not the beautiful action of going.

But the grace that I am referring to is that which resides in the interactions I have been having with my son while teaching him this new skill. The grace of helping him to see he can do this seemingly impossible task. The grace of giving him encouragement. The grace of expressing my faith in his ability to succeed. The grace of helping him overcome the dejection of failure. The grace of watching him mature before my eyes. The grace of his confidence rising from the rocks of failure.

It reminds me again of what Fr. Karl writes when he says,

The Christian knows that he will constantly be sent by God upon courses which he cannot by himself complete; that tasks will be laid upon him which cannot be finally performed while the fashion of this world remains; that he has always to fight, without, as yet, being able to see final victory, indeed that it would be a danger-signal of the most appalling defeat if he so much as wanted to fight in such fashion as to achieve a once-for-all victory. And yet the Christian does not despair of this world. He works, he keeps on beginning again, he does not give up.

Yes. Recognizing God’s grace is a lot like learning to drive a stick shift. One day soon, I’ll be able to use these experiences to teach my son this higher truth. And I can only hope that recognition and gratitude will be the result.

Um, that’s my seat Cody.

 

Would You Believe for the Fallible Facepalm?

So we were driving to Mass this past Sunday, like we’ve done every Sunday since forever. Listening to the radio, with the kids riding in the back, something prompted my wife and I to start naming off the Seven Sacraments.

We named six of them pretty quickly, especially Matrimony, which I had just been discussing as we pulled out of the driveway. Baptism, my wife called out. Check! Confession, or Reconciliation was called out. Check! Holy Orders. Check! Anointing of the Sick. Check! And then we ran over the list again.

“What’s missing kids?”, I asked while piloting us on to our destination. We ran through the the short list of the Sacraments we had named so far and noted we had come up with five. My wife chimed in with Confirmation as number six. I gave the kids a pass on that one, as none of them have reached the age for Confirmation yet.

I’m really embarrassed to say that for a number of minutes, maybe 3-5(!) we were having trouble coming up with the seventh Sacrament. My wife, the cradle Catholic, and I ran through the list, aloud, and counting on our fingers the Sacraments we had enumerated so far. And then, after driving under the overpass after exiting the freeway, the missing Sacrament hit me like a ton of bricks. “The Blessed Sacrament, the Eucharist!” I exclaimed doing a face palm while stopped at a red light.

Actually, I called it a “face plant,” but my oldest son corrected me by saying, “Dad, that’s what happens when you fall on your face in front of everybody.” Of course, that is what I did, but even if he didn’t realize he was being merciful, I took it gladly and said, “I meant facepalm,” and I did my best impersonation of Captain Picard’s version you see above.

The memory of the scene haunted me for the rest of the drive to our parish. I was thinking, how could you forget the Body and Blood of your Lord and Savior? The “source and summit of the Christian life,” Frank, in case you forgot. There I was, quizzing the kids on why when Catholics get married, we do so in the Church and with a Mass. “So Jesus will be present to bless your union.” And yet, here I was forgetting his Real Presence in the Sacrament that we celebrate at Mass every Sunday, and every day for that matter?

Photo credit: Michael Belk

The memory of this episode came welling up in my mind again this morning when I came across a blog post about how some Catholics have an aversion to remembering Jesus, and the central place He has in our Faith. It feels weird even writing that, because it is so obvious, as Mary Kochan makes it plain in her post.

But given that even I was at a loss for a bit, the episode above leaves me sympathizing with those who sometimes can’t see the forest for the trees. Or in the case of the Vine, sometimes we get lost among the branches. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. His mother points us to Him, as do all the saints. The Mass is all about Him, as is the liturgy. He died for our sins, and showers us with His grace. And, ahem…He instituted the seven Sacraments.

Now, speaking of things I’ve misplaced in the last 5 minutes, has anyone seen my coffee mug?

Best. Photograph. Ever. The Incredibles in Action!

Credit: Mark Gormus/Richmond Times Dispatch

Ordinarily, this isn’t the kind of post I write. But this is no ordinary photograph. This is family, fun, baseball, hot dogs and apple pie. It’s also too good not to share. Life doesn’t end when you have children. It begins! And you have some cool people to share experiences with too.

FYI, Dad called the ball. Just sayin’. See the video clip at the link here.

To Train My Family to Pray, And Lead Them By Example

Joe Six-Pack, USMC here. Yesterday my family put into practice prayers that they learned a long time ago. You see, a line of storms was forecast to hit our area, and everyone took them seriously.

Wednesday nights are when many parishes hold their C.C.D. classes for the kids. That’s an abbreviation for Confraternity of Christian Doctrine classes. The teachers called the house and informed us that due to the weather forecasts, classes for tonight would be cancelled.

Remember when you were in school and classes were cancelled due to snow? That is the kind of jubilation that my kids reacted with when we received this news. Cart-wheels and high-fives all around! And then Joe Six-Pack crashed the party with, “Well, since C.C.D. is cancelled, we’ll be praying the Rosary tonight.” Dad can be such a killjoy at times, ’tis true.

Emeril!

But I’m a Dad, and I have always been a Christian Dad, the one who taught my children to pray the Our Father even when I knew it only as “the Lord’s Prayer.” And now that I’m a Catholic Dad? Well, I’m not quite the Emeril Lagasse of prayer, but I’ve definitely cranked it up another notch. Bam! Or as we say it around these parts (East Gallilee, er I mean Tennessee), Bhayum!

How scary was the weather? Well, let’s just say that my 15 year old son sent me a text before I headed home from work with the following words: “Be safe Daddy.” I don’t think he’s called me “Daddy” for three of four years now. Scary weather forecasts will do that to a kid, and even to an adult. “Abba” is “Daddy” as I recall, and Our Lord even pointed that out to the Apostles.

I texted him back that I would be fine, because it was early yet and the cells hadn’t arrived. When I got home, I noticed my wife had prepped some chicken drumsticks for grilling. So I did the only thing that a man could do: I put on my poncho and grilled them. A man has got to eat, and he has to feed his family. Pretty basic stuff, right? I even had a beer while I was cookin’. My motto is “one beer, per man, per day” and I don’t let the weather interrupt that. Ever.

Solid Oak!

So, we were finishing up our dinner, which we ate in the formal dining room because the kitchen table was covered with stuff from our pantry. Remember the stairs I built? Sheesh, that seems like a hundred years ago. They climb over the pantry below, and as I built them with oak treads, with nails, glue, and screws to boot, I know the safest place in the house is right underneath the stairs. The pantry, then, doubles as the stronghold of Casa del Weathers. My wife had made more room for us in case we needed to hit the stronghold. Smart woman! That’s why I married her.

As I was helping myself to another drumstick and more cheese mashed potatoes, I asked my youngest son to get me a beer. My daughter informed me that she had already gotten me a beer earlier and I said, “yes, but today I’ll have another, because “the Extreme” is thirsty tonight. See, we watched the movie Twister a few weeks back to prepare for Spring. I had joked about being “the Extreme” while I was grillin’ too. “I betcha didn’t know your Dad was ‘the Extreme,’” I said, but she shot back “oh yes I do!” Then the phone rang, the CCD teacher called to scrub the mission for tonight, and the jubilation and high-fives reined supreme.

That is, until “the Extreme” said, “Well, since C.C.D. is cancelled, we’ll be praying the Rosary tonight.” The natives were not happy. But I outrank them, see, and when an extra hour gets freed up to practice our faith, I grab it. And then the first storm cell made it’s presence felt, and we headed into the strong-hold, just like in the movie Thunderheart. And trust me, hearts were thundering in the pantry at this point.

We didn’t have time to grab our rosaries, but after years of training, we didn’t need them. And that is the point of this post. In the Marines, we trained constantly in peace-time and during war-time. Training is non-stop; “it ain’t training, unless it’s raining.” And when we were in the pantry, the prayer training we had been practicing all these years, paid off. Did our prayers stop the storm? Stop tornadoes from ripping our house apart? I don’t know. Many who prayed lost their homes and businesses in Alabama.

No. The praying did what nothing else can do. It provided comfort and courage during the worst storms we have ever lived through. Did you see the news that some atheists are calling for atheist chaplains to minister to them in the military? I’m not sure what good that would do, or in what way they can be ministered to by atheist chaplains. “Worried are you? Here you go lad, read a little of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and be of good cheer.” Hmmm.

Here is what we did instead. In the stronghold, we held hands and we prayed the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. And when the storm abated, we sang the Gloria and left our refuge. Twenty minutes later, we went right back in and did it all again. We even said the Nicene Creed, after I botched the Apostles Creed (rookie!). We sang the Gloria again though, which we all know by heart.

At one point, I noticed that my daughter had stopped praying with us. She started listening to the ruckus that was going on outside instead. I noted the signs of panic in her eyes, and her tears started flowing as her fears rose up. As the boys and my wife kept praying loudly, I reached for her hand and said,

“Honey, I need you to keep praying. We all need you to pray along with us.”

She squeezed my hand, and mentally and physically she backed away from the precipice of fear and panic, and joined the rest of us in saying our prayers. She had faith in me, see, just like she did when I helped her learn to swim in the deep end of the pool, or ride her bicycle without training wheels.

But the faith isn’t in me, but in the example I was setting. And she knows that now more than ever. Her faith, our faith, is in the Lord. And we cried out to Him in the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be. And no matter what happened that night to our property or our bodies, the importance of why we pray was apparent to her, and to all of us. We cried out to our Heavenly Daddy, “Abba Father!” because we need His compassion and peace when our courage is tried.

We were like the sleeping disciples who woke up on the boat in a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Mark 4:34-41). We cried out to the Lord, like they did, and our souls were comforted. I’m not going to go into much more detail. Suffice it to say, “you play the way you practice.” And when it comes to prayer, when you practice it during the peaceful times, and you or you children think it is a waste of time, or boring, and even pointless, keep at it.

Because when the trying times arrive, as they most certainly will, all that peacetime prayer training will pay off.

For Bernard of Clairvaux’s Bible Reading Program to Make Sense of the World

Back in October of last year, I shared thoughts written by a Doctor of the Church with you. It was from a homily St. Bernard of Clairvaux had written and preached to the brothers in his order about one of the books in the Old Testament. As I was re-reading the homily today, these words of truth leapt off the screen,

there are two evils that comprise the only, or at least the main, enemies of the soul: a misguided love of the world and an excessive love of self…

I named the post where these words can be found For Solid Food Like This (Hold the Milk). As posts of mine go, it was unread for the most part. Last week I suggested that we all could spend an extra hour a week reading the Bible. But Frank, you may be thinking, where do we start? I think St. Bernard might have an idea or two.

In that homily, which is on the title of The Song of Songs, he recommends two of my favorite books from the Old Testament to tackle: The Book of Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes.

Comparing these two books to loaves of rich bread, here is what he says to us about them in regard to his quote above,

These are two loaves of which it has been your pleasure to taste, loaves you have welcomed as coming from the cupboard of a friend.

Of course, he is addressing the brothers in the Cistercian order. As such, he is no longer talking to mere babes in Christ, but to soldiers of Christ. No longer folks who believe, but folks who have committed their whole life to Christ and His Church. And today, he is speaking then to Christians who are ready to take the training wheels off their bicycles and really begin to ride. But why these two particular books? Here’s what Doctor Mellifluus has to say,

The Book of Proverbs: Uproots pernicious habits of mind and body with the hoe of self-control.

Have we thrown self-control and self-discipline to the wayside? It appears that St. Bernard is describing the merits of this book as the first phase of recruit training to me. The process where we scrub off our old, worldly selves and become immersed in the culture of our new family. More than just a thought, where in our minds the light-bulb comes “on”, this book deals in concrete actions that teach us how to become practicing Christians and children of God. The military analogy that pops in my mind? Marines aren’t born, they’re made. The same is true for Christians. And what of the second book?

Ecclesiastes: by the use of enlightened reason, quickly perceives a delusive tinge in all that the world holds glorious, truly distinguishing between it and deeper truth. Moreover, it causes the fear of God and the observance of his commandments to be preferred to all human pursuits and worldly desires.

To me this is St. Bernard’s “know your enemy” book recommendation, comparable to Sun Tzu’s Art of War. The shocker to many is that the Church doesn’t discard the use of reason, but she embraces it. Many have thought, “Why is Ecclesiastes even in the Canon of Scriptures?” Because the Church Fathers deemed this inspired book’s merits far outweighed its demerits, and for the very reasons that St. Bernard cites above.

Qohelth describes the world as we know it. Writing as if he is King Solomon, “the Teacher” profiles all of the paths that people take in the world, and describes in pithy phrases the stark truth: all of these ways lead to dead-ends except one. Which is why the good Doctor can say this without batting an eye about these two books,

the former is the beginning of wisdom, the latter its culmination, for there is no true and consummate wisdom other than the avoidance of evil and the doing of good, no one can successfully shun evil without the fear of God, and no work is good without the observance of the commandments.

Tempted to skip these two books and head straight to the Song of Songs? I wouldn’t recommend it and neither does St. Bernard.

Taking it then these two evils have been warded off by the reading of choice books, we may suitably proceed with this holy and contemplative discourse which, as the fruit of the other two, may be delivered only to well prepared ears and minds.

In other words, don’t put the cart before the horse. Learn the fundamentals, and practice them constantly until they become second nature. No, I don’t have this completely “wired” yet and probably never will. But we have to start somewhere and practice, practice, practice.

The Book of Proverbs is pretty straight forward, and the notes in your Catholic Bible should have all the resources you need to understand it. Ecclesiastes may be a little more challenging, but there is a lot of information available to help you along with the writer’s, and thus the Holy Spirit’s, reasoning. As Our Lord says,

but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Come to the well.

For the Psalms and Spring, Family and Sports

It is getting ready to be a very busy time for me and my family. That’s because Spring is just around the corner, and around my house this means our children’s sports teams will begin hitting the ground running.

Not everyone gets involved in such things as sports for their kids. Not every child enjoys organized soccer, or baseball, or softball, volley ball, basketball, horse riding, or any of the other myriad possibilities to turn your child’s attention to.

So why do we even bother in our household? Joy in living is the only real reason that I can think of. That and the realization that though our children’s gifts and abilities are out of our hands, they should still be developed. Besides, everything we spend time doing matters.

It is a tight-rope and certainly there is a fine line between the healthy reasons for involving our children in sports, and the unhealthy turning of sports into an idol. On the positive side, for example, our oldest son has played organized baseball for 8 years, since he was 7 years old. As it turns out, he is pretty good at this game. Honestly, he is ten times better at it than I ever was.

How did this happen? I really have no idea. It is nothing that I expected. And let me assure you, my wife never saw this coming either. But God saw it coming, and of that fact I have no doubt. He has decided that, through our children, He will take my wife and I places that we never intended to go on our own.

And there is the riddle of our son’s gift, for example. Though endowed with excellent hand-eye coordination, and having an arm that can accurately throw thunderbolts, the most important characteristic of all isn’t even a physical one. It is that my son simply loves this game. And this love for it drives him to do things that only love can make him do.

Like get up early for practice, and study hard to keep up his grades. And endure practices that look like something that the Marine Corps would endorse. Sure, it wasn’t like that when he was in little league. That was all fun, and that is also where the seeds of this love were planted. But now that he has made the high school team, the love for the game has been tested by the fires of hard work and sweat. There is a spiritual message in all of this somewhere, I am sure.

As an aside, one of the great things about being Catholic is that we have never missed a Mass because of baseball, or any other sports games of my children either. Blessed to live in a diocese with more than one parish, Our Lord has also seen fit to provide more than one Mass said at each parish during the weekend across our area. The only excuse for missing a Mass is sloth, and thankfully, that hasn’t ever occurred.

One day, my son’s baseball career will come to an end, as all good things generally do. And on that day, my career as a baseball dad will end too. Life will go on. But until that day comes, I’ll keep supporting my children in these endeavors.

Because in the end, unless you measure things crudely in only utilitarian and materialistic terms, the benefits of participation in sports (or other extracurricular activities) far outweigh the negatives. Especially when you acknowledge that these abilities and talents being developed are gifts from God, and not of our own making.

I teach my children, and pray that they will remember, gratitude for these truths sung by the Psalmist,

I praise you, so wonderfully you made me;
wonderful are your works!
My very self you knew;
my bones were not hidden from you,
When I was being made in secret,
fashioned as in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes foresaw my actions;
in your book all are written down;
my days were shaped, before one came to be.
How precious to me are your designs, O God;
how vast the sum of them!
Were I to count, they would outnumber the sands;
to finish, I would need eternity.

And also this Song of Ascents of David, which is well suited to keep the soul of an athlete grounded in humility,

Psalm 131

LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
hushed it like a weaned child.
Like a weaned child on its mother’s lap,
so is my soul within me.

Israel, hope in the LORD,
now and forever.

Amen.

Because of Francisco De Osuna and a Minor Miracle

During the Summer of 2007 I read an awful lot of books that led me to join my parish RCIA program in the Fall of that same year. I’ve written about most of my reading program in earlier posts in this series, and I continued reading great Catholic books once my RCIA class started too.

For example, I read Mirabai Starrs’ translation of The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila. It is a fascinating book about prayer by a fascinating woman. By reading Big Terry’s book, I discovered the work of another obscure author I had never heard of who had a big impact on this Doctor of the Church and on me. Here is what St. Teresa says on page 20 of her book that peaked my interest,

On the way to my sister’s village, we stopped in to see my Uncle Pedro. He gave me a copy of The Third Spiritual Alphabet by Francisco de Osuna. This is a book all about the Prayer of Recollection. In the past year, I had realized what harm my appetite for romance novels had done to my soul, and I had begun to develop a tremendous appreciation for spiritual books. Since I did not know a thing about the practice of contemplative prayer, or how to go about recollecting my senses and my thoughts, I was thrilled to find a book that told me exactly what to do.

I remember thinking to myself, I don’t know what St. Teresa is talking about (contemplative prayer? What’s that?), but if she liked de Osuna’s book enough to give it such a ringing endorsement, then I need to get a copy of it too, post haste! And the “harm of romance novels” comment resonated with me too, as I sheepishly realized how much of my reading time had heretofore been wasted on a lot of superfluous junk. Since this time, my night stand has been cluttered with “spiritual books”, and lots of them, instead. I wonder if she introduced de Osuna’s book to another Doctor of the Church too, you know, her friend and colleague St. John de la Cruz.

It turns out that Paulist Press published this book as a part of their excellent The Classics of Western Spirituality Series and it’s readily available. A visit to Amazon.com, a few clicks of the mouse, and a credit card authorization later, and The Third Spiritual Alphabet was on its way to me.

Within a week it arrived, all 609 pages of it. And let me tell you, de Osuna did not disappoint. I broke out my pencil for underlining purposes early, and often. Here are some examples of his thoughts from a few of the chapter and section headings,

Communion to God is Open to All; As Gifts Increase, So Do Our Debts; How We Should Give Thanks In Adversity; Blindness is Necessary to See God; How We Cannot Know God in Himself While We Live; Imitating Our Lord in the Desert of Recollection.

And here are a few of his thoughts on recollection that I underlined,

p.170: …we note that the devotion is called recollection because it gathers together those who practice it and, by erasing all dissension and discord, makes them of one heart and love. Not content with just this, recollection, more than any other devotion, has the known, discernible property by which someone who follows it can be greatly moved to devotion when he sees another person also recollected.

Having just left the greater Los Angeles area for my hometown in the hills of Tennessee, these words on the next page struck a chord with me too,

p.171: This devotion encourages us to retire from the traffic of people and noisy places to dwell in more secluded regions and to go out only now and then. If we do leave, we find ourselves anxious to return to our retreat to enjoy recollection, and we are just as eager as when we began the practice. We are like an eel that slips around in the fisherman’s hands so it can wriggle back into the water.

He could say that again. He goes on to say,

In recollection news and vain gossip have no appeal, nor do we like to hear anything that does not advise us to withdraw further into our hearts…for (the recollected) only wish is to see God with their hearts.

And Fray Francisco doesn’t pull any punches on what it takes to get from A to Z in the practice of this devotion. These are his thoughts from p. 175 that maybe only a Marine Corps Drill Instructor can appreciate,

You should also remember that no one masters any art without arduous practice, and the more one practices and becomes accustomed to something, the more quickly he masters it. Do not be so foolish as not to respect in this devotion and art the two things we observe in all occupations. First, learn it so that you are its master; do not be content to remain a beginner all your life like stupid, listless people who are forever learners, never attaining the science of truth because they are insufficiently attentive to their tasks. They are like the one in the gospel of whom it is said, “This man began to build and could not finish( Luke 14:30).”

How ignorant is the man who starts to build a house but does not concentrate on finishing it as quickly as possible so he can enjoy it soon! …If you wish to build the house of recollection for your souls, brother, you will profit immensely by remembering your intention. Plan to finish it.

Aye, aye sir! Now that I’ve given you a taste of my pal Fr. Francisco, I promise to share more of his thoughts in future posts. I can assure you of this because of the minor miracle that I will briefly describe for you now.

You may not have noticed that I’ve been blogging here for just over a year and this is only the second time that I am writing about my friend Fr. Francisco. I mentioned him briefly in the YIMC Book Club discussion of Mere Christianity when we were reading C.S. Lewis’ thoughts on pride. The principal reason for me keeping Fr. Francisco hidden from view is simple: I misplaced his book!

I had searched up and down my house, and my office, for it too. I reckon that it has been missing from my shelves for well over a year. Miraculously, and admittedly this is a minor miracle, not a supernatural one, the book reappeared in the back seat of my car last night. Here is the story.

Our family attended a Christmas party last night, see, and we took two cars because my wife had to go early to help set up. She took my eldest son with her to help her carry things. In Marine Corps jargon, her and my son were the Weathers “advance party” to the event. I followed in trace with the “main body” which included myself and my two younger children.

With the advent of cellular phones, this “advance party(AP) – main body (MB)” jargon makes sense to me because the AP called the MB about five times between the time the AP left and the MB crossed the line of departure. The message traffic went sort of like this,

AP to MB: “Could you bring my make-up bag? I left it in my other purse. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do.”

AP to MB: “MB, MB, could you stop by the ATM and get some money so we can buy some raffle tickets? I’m out of cash. Over.”

MB to AP: “Roger that AP, will do. Over.”

AP to MB: “Could you bring XYZ with you? I just realized I forgot it. Over.”

MB to AP: “Negative AP, we are enroute and only 5 mikes (minutes) from your location. Over.

AP to MB: “OK then, disregard. Over and out.”

Granted, my wife and I don’t really talk like this on our cell phones. But really, isn’t this the way these AP to MB conversations go? Surely you have experienced this too. After that first exchange about the makeup bag, I found that bag and took it directly to the back seat of my car. I know what is of vital importance to a mission being successful or not, and a missing makeup bag would have been unimaginable. I absolutely did not want to forget that, thus I put it right there on the empty back seat of my car and walked away knowing that all would be well.

The MB arrives at the party and finds it well attended and packed to the gills with people enjoying themselves immensely and noted a long, snake-like, slow-moving, line of people waiting their turn for the food. I tracked down my wife, who was busy helping out, etc. I informed her that I had the makeup bag in the car and to let me know when she needs it and I’ll go get it. She said, “why didn’t you bring it in?” and discretion being the better part of valor, I turned tail and went and got it, ASAP.

As I approached my car, unlocked the doors, and rounded the rear bumper to open the passenger door on the side of the car where I had deposited the make-up bag, I was shocked to see Fr. Francisco’s book sitting there pretty as you please. When I unlocked the car, the dome light comes on automatically and I just stared through the window at that book for probably 15 seconds before I opened the door. I was thinking to, “where did you come from?” That seat had been empty when I threw the makeup bag there less than an hour earlier.

I was happy though, and thanked the Lord that it reappeared. It turned out that my youngest son had somehow noticed that something was bulging in the pouch on the back of the front passenger seat. He may have thought that I was hiding a Christmas present in there or something. I’m sure he was disappointed when it turned out to be one of his Dad’s dog-eared and well worn old books. So he just tossed it onto the seat and never said a word.

Sometimes that is how minor miracles work themselves out. Regardless, I’m just glad Francisco is back and I look forward to sharing more of his thoughts with you in future posts.

To Remember the Fallen

This is a special Memorial Day edition of the YIM Catholic Community Prayer Intentions List.  In the United States, Monday, May 31st is a federal holiday. On this day we honor those who have given their lives while serving in the armed forces of our country during armed conflicts.

As the resident Marine on the blog, writing this post is a duty I must fulfill. Truthfully, I didn’t want to write it. But then I started remembering two Marines who died in an accident that almost killed me. Their names are Sergeant Armando Avila, and Sergeant Michael Vasquez.

They served with me in the artillery unit that I belonged to. Sgt. Avila was a cannoneer and responsible for a team of Marines that manned the 155MM howitzer that we all knew and loved, the M198. Sgt. Vasquez was a Forward Observer, or the eyes of the battery. He would radio back to our Fire Control Center positions and coordinates for targets. I loved these two men as brothers. Their families loved them even more.

I still wasn’t going to write this post though, because my two friends had died in a peace-time accident. Then one of my friends posted the picture and story of a guy I served with when he was a young enlisted Marine. Let me introduce you to my friend and comrade-at-arms, Major Jay Thomas Aubin, USMC.

Jay had always wanted to be a pilot, it was a dream of his. His father owned a little airstrip up in Maine. Little Jay was a lot like me, you see. He knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he knew it at a young age. Also like me, Jay wasn’t born with a silver-spoon in his mouth, but he had a goal, and goal setting is how you actualize dreams. Or maybe he, again like me, was called to the vocation of warrior.

Jay enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school for a four-year enlistment. After graduating from Parris Island, he went to school to learn how to repair communications and navigation equipment on aircraft.  He worked on A-6 Intruders, an all-weather attack aircraft. He was a good kid, a good Marine. He did his four years honorably, and left the Marines with money he had saved and earned. He attended college.

Like me, Jay didn’t go to college to “find himself” either. He went to earn his bachelor’s degree so he could come back into the Marine Corps as an officer and take his shot at flight school. If all this sounds pat and easy, believe me, it is far from that. The entire endeavor was a long-shot if there ever was one. College was the easy part but surviving Quantico (where Marine Officers are made), which is known for many things, is no cakewalk. He did well, made it to flight school, earned his wings of gold. Easy words to write, but extremely difficult tasks to accomplish.

He married a girl named Rhonda, who knew what she was getting into when she met Jay. Military wives are a special breed, and they need to be remembered as well. The Twin Towers were struck, and the machinery of society geared up for war. By this time, Aubin had moved up the ranks and was a Major and an experienced pilot (when I knew him he was a wee Corporal). His country said his unit must go to war, and he said “Aye aye, sir.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom was the name of the deployment. The war began on March 20, 2003. From here, I’ll let Hugo Kugiya of the Associated Press tell the rest.

Maj. Jay Thomas Aubin was among the first casualties of the war. He was piloting a helicopter with three other Marines and eight British Marines aboard when it crashed in Kuwait, two days after the war started.

The chopper was emblazoned with his nickname, Sweet Pea. It was a name given to him by a subordinate, inspired by the way Aubin responded to a favorable report: “Oh, sweet!”

“No one could find a name to suit him,” said his mother, Nancy Chamberlain of Winslow, Maine. “They kept coming up with these macho names, but they didn’t fit.”

He was not an imposing man, possessing a slight build and an easy smile.

Let me break in with a little reality here. Jay was tough as nails. Look at the photograph. He could run 3 miles like a gazelle, doing it in 18 minutes or less. Slight build? He could do 20 dead-hang pull ups. And when I knew him, 80 sit-ups in under 2 minutes. Marines come in two varieties: big and mean, and skinny and mean. OK? Back to the civilians’ write-up,

His was more of a nurturing personality. After the Marine Corps ball, he took his wife home, then checked out a van and drove back to the party, waiting for drunk Marines to exit, offering them a ride home.

Knowing him as I did, I can believe every word of this. He was an outstanding human being.

Aubin, 36, enlisted in the Marines, first, as a way to pay for college where he earned a business degree, then, so he could pursue the dream he had had of learning to fly, ever since he was an infant and his pilot father strapped him into his two-seater.

The crash that killed Sweet Pea was ruled an accident — there was no gunfire. Blowing sand and smoke from burning oil wells were thought to be a factor, his mother said.

“The thing that bothered me the most was I thought he was going to be blamed,” Chamberlain said. “But he wasn’t …

“He always said if he was flying a helicopter that went down, he wanted to go down too. I miss him more than I can tell you, but sometimes there are things worse than death. We’re the ones suffering now. But if he had lived, he would really be suffering.”

And that is how I received my orders to write this post. My buddy, Corporal Jay Aubin became Major Jay Aubin, aka Sweet Pea, and his family lost him at the age of 36. He was survived by his parents,  his wife, Rhonda, and their children, 10-year-old Alicia (now 17) and Nathan, 7 (now 14).

Our Lord said,  this is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:12-13). Whether or not you believe that this includes members of the military, let me assure you that it does. Sudden death is an occupational hazard for members of the military. For the rest of us, it is just a hazard. But death, either way, is inevitable, and those who put their lives on the line during combat operations are definitely following Our Lord’s commandment.

In the comment box below, if you would like to offer up a prayer for any of your friends or family members who have given their life while serving in the armed forces, please do so. You can remain anonymous or not, it is up to you. I would only ask that you adhere to our other regular rule, which is to avoid divisive politics.

There are hundreds, thousands,  tens of thousands of stories similar to Jay Aubin’s that I’ve shared with you today. So let us pray for the brave souls of our fallen, and for their families who have borne their sacrificial loss, together as a community. Semper Fidelis.

God of power and mercy,
you destroy war and put down earthly pride.
Banish violence from our midst and wipe away our tears,
that we may all deserve to be called your sons and daughters.
Keep in your mercy those men and women
who have died in the cause of freedom
and bring them safely
into your kingdom of justice and peace.

We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.





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