Seal II (Music for Mondays)

A while back, I wrote a post about my Mustang’s harmonic balancer. It turned out that my own “harmonic balancer” was out of whack too.  When my pony sat fallow for all that time, the album that I’m about to share with you sat inside the cassette player. It, just like the car, sat there the whole time.

During the waiting period, I did a lot of work on my house. I did a lot of reading too. I was thinking about becoming a Catholic, but wasn’t committed to the idea…yet. It was the Summer of 2007, and I turned to the task of fixing my car. As I recounted in the post above, I took the ‘Stang to some pro’s. They had her fixed in no time, and on the way home from the shop, I put the top down, and turned the stereo on. And the following tunes began to play.

I had never really listened to the whole album before. I mean, not to the lyrics.  I was that fellow in the Pink Floyd song who was “comfortably numb,” see? But when these songs started playing, they hit me like a ton of bricks, lyrics and all.

I had always liked a couple of the songs, and sang them like a crazy man, occasionally, when blasting around the freeways of Los Angeles in the ‘Stang.  But after my readings and reflecting on my faith, and realizing whose harmonic balancer was really out of whack, coupled with hearing Seal sing these songs on this album, and in this order…well, let’s just say I crossed the “line of departure” and there was no turning back.

Does God work through the secular? I don’t have any doubt about it. After all, it is His world, you know.

Bring It On. This is the first song. You can go to YouTube directly for the lyrics too(for all of the songs below). I’ll just get out of Seal’s way now.

YouTube Preview Image

Prayer for the Dying. You don’t have to have AIDS to be one of the dying. This is all of us.

YouTube Preview Image

Dreaming in Metaphors. Why must we dream in metaphors?
Try to hold on to something we couldn’t understand.

YouTube Preview Image

Don’t Cry. I thought to myself, who is singing this? Our Lord, Our Lady? Both? What has the world done to me…

YouTube Preview Image

Fast Changes. There is a time to wait, and a time to act. For me, it was time to act.

YouTube Preview Image

Kiss From A Rose. I wrote a post on this one earlier here.

YouTube Preview Image

People Asking Why. I mean, I was certainly asking this question, for a long time.

How do I get to where I’ve come from, now?
How will I paint this garden I’ve destroyed, green?
Can I get back to where I’ve come from?

YouTube Preview Image

Newborn Friend. I remember thinking, Christmas in July!

YouTube Preview Image

If I Could. I would explain it all if I could. Some things just can’t be put into words.

YouTube Preview Image

I’m Alive. I heard this and the part of the lyrics you see here? I must have rewound that tape 20-25 times to make sure. Yep, I heard that right.

Your hands found me.
Blood on the cross,
And it changed my life.

YouTube Preview Image

Bring It On(Reprise). Right back where we started. Get thee to RCIA!

YouTube Preview Image

With God’s Grace And A Little Help From My Friends

When I was a newly minted Marine, fresh out of boot camp and on my way into life, I was certain that I could lick it. Everything was possible, and all would be right in the world. Well, maybe not the whole world, but my world would be just fine. I realized that I was no all-powerful genie, but I had complete confidence in the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I. The winner, which I knew I was, would take all. [Read more...]

Because On This Championship Ball Club, Everyone Can Play

Early on, before I officially started upon the path to becoming a Catholic, I read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain. I had already read Blaise Pascal’s Pensées, and Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ by the time I rolled around to Merton. In baseball terms, it was a strike-out for the side— the side of the Church, that is. Here is the play-by-play.

Blaise was the first pitch, thrown to the inside corner of the plate, and caught me looking. Looking up at the scoreboard, I saw the number “102″ flash under the MPH sign. Gulp. Then, Thomas #1 came in like a fastball, forcing me to swing. But it was a slider and the bottom fell out of that pitch as I swung the bat. No contact at all. By this time, I was 0-2 in the count, and that isn’t where you want to be as a batter.

Because being 0-2 in the count plants some serious seeds of doubt in your mind. Consider, when I first got up to the plate, I was convinced that the Catholic Church, er ball club, had not a leg to stand on. I knew, just knew, that I could handle any and every pitch that it threw at me.

But now I was 0-2 in the count, so I just did what I had to do. I choked up on the bat, determined to make contact. That is when She (they have females in this league) threw me the Merton pitch. It was a killer rainbow curve that caught me just like this one,

YouTube Preview Image

Wow. You don’t have to understand the language being verbally spoken in that video, to realize that this was an amazing last pitch, now, do you? Watching that replay over and over again in my own mind, I knew there was only one thing to do; call my agent and beg him to trade me to the same ball team that these guys played for. Thankfully, I swallowed my pride and the trade worked out. And now, here I am playing on the same team with the legends of the game.

The interesting thing about this here ball club (metaphor alert! read “the Catholic Church”) is that the players come from all over. That used to be unheard of in the big leagues at one time. Heck, some teams are still basically drawing their players from only one geographic area, or culture. But not this team.

Oh they tried that, early on, if you recall. Yeah, way back in the beginning when our first manager, a guy by the name of Peter, had it out with one of the star players on the squad, Paul. The row between these two in the clubhouse was about trying to make everybody who came from another place, fit the same exact mold of the original guys, even if they came from another culture altogether different. It’s all right there at the Baseball Hall of Fame Archives Center.

Man, the dust must have been flying in the dugout that day. But the two agreed that forcing everyone to adopt the same cultural practices of the country that the original players came from didn’t make sense because it wouldn’t help them to win ball games. They knew that the only culture that really mattered, is the Team’s culture. And our owners (there are Three of Them, though the uncanny thing is, They all think and act as One) take winning ball games very seriously.

I saw a story in the sports pages the other day that sounded like “Déjà vu, all over again” as another baseball great, named Yogi Berra, once remarked. A bunch of guys thinking that some people just can’t play baseball.  Period. Bats and gloves, and cleats are just too foreign to them, was the argument. What a load of hooey.

I mean, that just doesn’t make any sense at all. Because as best as I can recall it, and check the Rule Book for me on this one, the Owners say everybody can play baseball. No matter who you are, or what country or culture you come from. Let me see…yeah, here it is. This is from one of the Owners,

All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19)

That Owner, named Jesus? He came down and played ball with everyone at one time. He was a major “game changer” back in the day and as hard as this is to believe, the “old game” players took him out and killed him for revolutionizing baseball. But the amazing thing is, He came back to life (I told you He was a “game changer”) and he gave us all that play above to carry out,  right before he headed back to the Owners’ Sky Box.

So let’s go play some baseball, huh? Stop worrying about if some can play the game and some can’t. Because it has been proven, over time that everyone can play on this ball club. And don’t forget this either, have fun out there.

To Be a Catholic Father

My friend Neil presented the following talk at our men’s group this morning. As a Catholic father, I found it very inspiring. 

Guest post by Neil Corcoran
Good Morning and thanks for having me this morning. I’ve had the pleasure of attending a handful of St. Mary’s Men’s Group Saturday morning meetings over the past couple of years. And, I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that it literally has only been a handful of meetings that I’ve attended. However, the reason why it’s been so few is because of the very topic I speak about to you this morning – FATHERHOOD. You see, I’m a father of seven children…

As you might imagine, Saturday mornings tend to be a mildly busy time for us in the Corcoran household. There’s soccer, basketball, softball, diapers, housework, food shopping, and the list goes on and on and on.… AND, there’s even an occasional early morning bike ride workout for Dad – imagine that? – One goal I have is to stay in relatively decent health and shape so that I have at least a few more years to continue to live out my vocation – being a husband and Father. So, please accept my apologies for not being a more “regular” member of your group…and at the same time please know I’m extremely grateful for your welcome this morning… I’m honored to be here. Thank you.

So, what are you going to hear about Fatherhood from me this morning? Well, perhaps let me first tell what you’re not going to hear. You are not going to hear an overly theological, scientific, or philosophical view about Catholic fatherhood. Likewise, you’re not going to get a history lesson on the role and contribution of Fathers since the beginning of time. And gentlemen, please don’t expect an in-depth study of Biblical quotes and citations on Fathers, or any reference to the so-called “great” or recognizable Fathers in our world today. I don’t mean to minimize any of that nor do I take it for granted. But to me, the vocation of Fatherhood – its meaning, its mission – is fairly simple and straight forward, not necessarily easy, but certainly clear. There’s really no need to overcomplicate it. The fact is Fatherhood has been and always will be, until the end of time, a vocation that can’t be understated in terms of its importance, its value, its contribution to the greater good. That said, what you are going to hear from me about – what I’d rather spend a bit of time attempting to do with you this morning – is sharing one man’s perspective, one’s man’s journey, and one man’s experience, complete with the joys and the challenges – on being a Father, A CATHOLIC FATHER…. today.

As I speak to you today, most of you who are Fathers – in fact I may venture to guess that all of you who are Fathers – have been Fathers longer than me. But, where you have me beat in longevity, I think I have you beat in quantity! And with that quantity, I think I can offer a qualified perspective. I became a Father close to 16 years ago when my wife Julie and I welcomed our first of seven children, Patrick, into the world. We were married at an age that’s considered young by today’s standards – we were 23 and 24 years old – and almost a year to the day of our first wedding anniversary, Patrick was born. A 7 and ½ pd, small bundle of love who is now approaching 16, is 6 feet tall, twice as wide as me, and dare I say… might be able to “take” the old man in a friendly father-son wrestling match in the driveway. Life sure does go by fast.

My journey to Fatherhood was for a time, heading towards, a different type, but certainly a no less important type of Fatherhood, the priesthood. For several years during my time at Providence College, I discerned the priesthood. And although I absolutely KNOW that God, in his Divine Providence, called me to the Fatherhood that I now live, I am forever grateful for that period in my life when I looked deeply into who I was, a child of God, and what it was that God was calling me to do. I grew increasingly closer to the Lord, to his son Jesus Christ, and I developed an enormous sense of respect and brotherly love for the Dominicans – the Friars of Providence College – and for all men who we call “priest”, who we call “Father”. I admire those men more than any others on the planet. That period of my life had a profound impact on me and my understanding of what it is to be called, to have vocation, and for God to have a “plan” for each of us. I remind myself daily that my vocation in life – Fatherhood – is in fact God’s plan.

I mentioned a few moments ago that my perspective on Fatherhood is a simple one, not always an easy one to live, but a simple one to understand. Let me explain. To me, to be a Father, a true Father, a Catholic Father in it’s most fundamental state is to be a Christ-like man, to bear witness to the love of Christ and our ultimate father, the Lord, and to be a man of compassion, love, and mercy, to our children, our wife, and all those around us.

When I look at St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, entrusted with the safety of the newborn Christ and our mother Mary, I see the very definition of Fatherhood; I see the epitome of what it means to be a Catholic Father. Soft spoken, trusting, trustful, faith-filled. We often hear a lot about Mary’s “Yes”… that is, the Virgin’s complete giving of herself to God…”Let it be done to me according to thy word”. It changed everything. Well, in the same way, Joseph gave his complete self to the Lord and his plan; he trusted the Lord, and in his own way gave his “Yes” to the Lord. What a role model St Joseph is for us, for all Fathers, for all men! I often try to think about what Joseph must have been thinking 2000 years ago, when presented with what could accurately be described as a stressful situation. I think of this situation, Joseph’s situation, and more importantly I think of his willing, selfless, and unsung response during the times when I’m faced with Fatherly stress, with the trials and tribulations and worries of Fatherhood, of providing for and sheltering 7 children, educating them, making the right choices, keeping them safe, parenting them to become faith-filled Catholics. I take great comfort in Joseph during these times – I look to follow his example, his YES, his trust of the Lord and the Lord’s plan for him.

Pope John Paul II once said about St. Joseph: …that, “What emanates from the figure of Saint Joseph is faith. Joseph of Nazareth is a “just man” because he totally “lives by faith.” He is holy because his faith is truly heroic. Sacred Scripture says little of him. It does not record even one word spoken by Joseph, the carpenter of Nazareth. And yet, even without words, he shows the depth of his faith, his greatness. Saint Joseph is a man of great spirit. He is great in faith, not because he speaks his own words, but above all because he listens to the words of the Living God. He listens in silence. And his heart ceaselessly perseveres in the readiness to accept the Truth contained in the word of the Living God. We see how the word of the Living God penetrates deeply into the soul of that man, that just man.”

For me, the most striking piece of Pope John Paul II’s characterization of St Joseph is that St. Joseph is great in Faith because he LISTENED.. he LISTENED to God. He isn’t great because he had all the answers, or thought he had all the answers, or thought he could tell those around him that he had the answers. He’s great because he listened. What a beautiful contrast to what the world and society would suggest to us today! In a world where manhood, masculinity, and by extension Fatherhood are too often measured by the volume of one’s voice, or perhaps the boldness or brashness of that voice – in other words, telling other people what to do, the notion that I’M in control here, I’M the boss, I’M in charge and I’ll be damned if anyone ELSE’S PLAN is going to take MY plan for MY life off track …. Well, in contrast to that, St Joseph provides us Catholic men, us Catholic Fathers with the truest example of Fatherhood – A fatherhood and a life rooted in and entirely dependent on Faith – Faith in the Lord – Faith that comes not through speaking, but through listening to and embracing the Lord and his plan. Faith and trust that trumps any plan we have for ourself – Faith that totally submits us to the Lord and puts HIM, not us, in charge. Gentlemen, as Catholic Fathers and Catholic men, let’s emulate St Joseph, carrying out our vocation with complete fidelity and selflessness.

Having said that, I must admit I have moments in my Fatherly vocation when I think “OK, I’ve got this under control, I can do this on my own – I don’t need any help… and then something goes sideways and I quickly realize that I failed to remember that “I NEED God – I NEED his help – I don’t have a chance without him”. For without my embracing his presence, I lose perspective on the situation, on the moment… I become out of balance, frustrated, stressed, or otherwise un-loving. And the crazy thing is that these moments and situation are not particularly stressful or monumental in and of themselves. It’s that I make them such because I lose sight of Christ. I compare this to situations which should seemingly be entirely stressful and anxious, like times our children were born. But, I approach those situations knowing I’m not in control – knowing it’s in God’s hands, not mine … and I feel completely at peace and in sync with God’s plan for me, my vocation of Fatherhood. My opportunity is to see God and his plan for me in everything, situations both big AND small, and completely submit to him ALL the time.

You know, we’re living in a different day and age today than we were even 30 or 40 years ago. Back then, the family with seven kids wasn’t considered the circus act that they are today. I must tell you – guys, I’ve heard it all. I’ve heard all the questions and comments, and gotten all the looks, the majority being ignorant and rude ones, about my family and its size. Things like: “You have 7 kids, Don’t you know what caused that?” or “You know, there’s ways to prevents that from happening”, or one of my favorites: “Are you DONE having kids?”, or the best of all time: “You must be either Irish or Catholic”. And my typical response to that one… “No, I’m actually Irish AND Catholic, and you must be Dumb AND Stupid”. I actually used to get angry in my earlier years when folks would comment on my family; I’d scream back at them, or otherwise write them off as someone I’d never speak to again. And then, at some point, I realized that most people who are asking those questions or making those comments don’t see Christ, don’t think they need him. And so, now, I pray for them, pray that they recognize their need for Christ. And for every 10 offensive comments I field, they are more than offset by the occasional comment that we get along the lines of “your family is beautiful”, “your kids are so good to each other”, or “you’re doing a great job”. Those go a long way. And although I take no satisfaction in hearing the many people say to me that they “wish they had had more children”, I usually just respond with, “Well then, you should have!”

Tomorrow is Father’s Day. Then, and everyday, I remember my Father – he was a special man. I am grateful to have had such a wonderful Father, a Father ,who like St. Joseph, spoke when he was spoken to, led by example, and never wavered from his faith. My Dad died 10 years ago at the age of 63, far, far too young in my estimation. A son of Irish immigrant parents, he grew up in tough, Irish Catholic Charlestown, the 5th of 6th children, my Dad handed so much down to me… his work ethic, his love of Irish history and the Irish cause, his loyalty to family and friends, his interest in being a “student” of everything, his undying devotion to his wife – my Mom – and to me and my 5 brothers and sisters, but most of all he handed down to me his example of faith and fatherhood. And that’s a gift that I now owe to my three sons and those around me.

And so my brothers and fellow Fathers, the counsel and encouragement I’d offer to any Father, young or old, would be above all TO LOVE.

Love your wife and work at your marriage.
Love your kids and lead by example not by voice.
Create and protect family time as if your life depends on it – it actually does.
Be humble and selfless, Forgive, and be compassionate, and Pray.
And don’t ever expect a script or a playbook to be handed to you that will tell you how to be a good Father or how to act or what to do in certain situations. There is no such thing. Simply Love the Lord and his plan for you, and as St Joseph did so well, listen to the Lord.

Thank you for having me and for listening…. And To all the Fathers here this morning…. Happy Fathers Day!

Thanks to Neil Young (Music for Mondays)

Neil Young is in town! Neil Young is in town! That was what the sign on the Civic Auditorium said last Thursday night. It’s always big news when a big name comes to a small town. Not like I could go to the show or anything. My wife was hosting her book club meeting and although baby-sitting duty would kick me and the kids out of the house, I’m not quite ready to take them to a rock concert. I took them go-karting instead.

But I wanted to go to the show. So I did the next best thing. I hunted around for Neil Young songs on You Tube and started posting them on my Facebook page. See, I’ve always liked some of his songs, even when Ronnie Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd  told me that I shouldn’t like him. Sorry, I couldn’t do that Ronnie, because Cinnamon Girl rocks, man. (I can’t believe my wife has never heard of it. Sheeeeeeesh!)

Even so, before I became a Catholic, I was more close-minded. Which means that after I became a Catholic I became more open-minded.  Whaat?! Yeah, sounds like an oxymoron to be an open-minded, yet orthodox follower of the faith doesn’t it? But that is the way it is.

You hadn’t noticed? I can’t explain it all to you here, music fans, because that is way beyond the scope of a post like this. Suffice it to say that Neil Young is an interesting character, a non-conformist, and yep, you guessed it,  a contrarian. Is he a Catholic? I have no idea. But is he godless? I don’t believe so. Heck, some people think he may even be a prophet. I really can’t say. I do know that a few videos here don’t even begin to scratch the surface of Neil’s artistic and philanthropic work. I just know that I like Neil Young’s music and his character.  He isn’t perfect, but he knows that too.

Now then, what we have here are the makings of the longest Music for Mondays posts ever at YIM Catholic. Good thing that it is a holiday (here in the US at least), because this way you can crank up the speakers and sing along with Neil (and me).  Just be careful, because some of his tunes will melt your speakers down to the wires, which I think is a good thing too.

Why hasn’t Neil ever been awarded a Grammy? That is the question I’m asking myself too. I don’t know (ed. this has since been rectified!). No matter, come along and follow me for a taste o’ Neil Young and remember the wise words of Crash Davis from the movie Bull Durham: “Don’t think. It’s bad for the ball club.” Just enjoy these along with me.

First up, Neil’s folksy side:

Heart of Gold “Put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” Thankfully, before Neil headed for “the ditch,” he recorded a show for the BBC in London and played this new song for the audience. Check him out as he fumbles around, in a very charming and relaxed way, for the harmonica in the correct key (key of G, in case you want to blow along with him) to accompany the song. This was Neil’s first and only #1 hit on the Billboard Charts and it is a beauty.

YouTube Preview Image

That song sold me on Neal almost immediately. This song sealed the deal. As if Neil would need a band—sheesh! At the same BBC show, Neil also played Old Man. He gives us some neat background information about how he wrote it for the old foreman of his ranch in California. Listen to the words, which Neil enunciates as well as Frank Sinatra ever could, and see if you hear something spiritual whispering into your ear. I know I do around about here,

Love lost, such a cost . . .

YouTube Preview Image

Like a Hurricane. Webster likes finger-picking rock guitarists like Mark Knopfler. Finger-picking? Yep, Neil can do that too. Now, what does the song mean? Hey, this is art! Subject to interpretation, see? I know what it means to me and I know something else: it sounds great.

YouTube Preview Image

This Note’s for You. Here Neil basically sticks a knife in the heart of the mainstream. This song and music video, which parodied the MTV/Corporate influence of the music industry and, dare I say it, the materialist culture that is still prevalent today.  Show it to your kids. I am. They didn’t want to, but MTV honored this song and video with the Music Video of the year Award in 1989.

YouTube Preview Image

Just Singing a Song Won’t Change the World I saw an interview Neil gave on the Charlie Rose Show where he told Charlie that all he has been given is pure gift, a gift that he has to share. This video, shot with someone’s hand camera, was done at a benefit for the Bridge School that Neil and his wife founded to help developmentally challenged children in the Bay Area of San Francisco. Two of Neil’s children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy. Talk the talk and walk the walk.

YouTube Preview Image

Neil and his wife Pegi sing Four Strong Winds followed up by Neil alone on his When God Made Me performed at the benefit concert Live Aid Canada in 2005. Listen to the second song.  Does it make you wince at all? Sort of like good Catholic social teaching, it cuts to the quick.  Is the theology crystal clear? Probably not, but Neil isn’t a theologian either. But he isn’t an atheist either.

YouTube Preview Image

OK, were moving into the “melt your speakers” portion of Neil’s oeuvre.  I’ve never seen the Jim Jarmusch film Dead Man (1995) starring Johnny Depp.  But after this discovery, I will be. And soon!  Neil set up monitors all over his studio and followed the movie along in real time playing whatever he felt from what he saw on the screen and as the action moved him. He told Jarmuch that the film didn’t really need any music. But Jim begged him to write music to the film anyway. Neil has a gift, see, and thankfully he understands that. Thank God he is sharing it.

YouTube Preview Image

Have you ever heard of the group Pearl Jam? Neil wrote this tune Rocking in the Free World and performed it here with Eddie Vedder & Co. back in 1993. In letter-box format no less, so you can also melt your computer screen too. And note, Neil doesn’t go trying to bash his trademark black Les Paul guitar into any amps either. Unlike the rookies from Pearl Jam. Neal just shows them the reason why his guitar is given top-billing. Ow…that dude can jam!

YouTube Preview Image

Fifteen years later, Out of the Blue, live in 2008, where the now older man shows that as you start losing your hearing, just turn up the volume and add more distortion. Break out your ear plugs or crank your speakers is all I can say. And don’t forget to listen to the message too.  After all, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye and it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

YouTube Preview Image

See? Like I said, we’ve barely scratched the surface, but that is all we have time for this week. This could turn into one of those Webster-esque multi-part posts for me very easily. Maybe next time, we’ll do Neil’s movies.

 

Because Sorrow Enriches Us

More than once, I’ve had my heart shattered. In my late teens, my first love left me without warning. In my late twenties, I lost my former college boyfriend to a drug overdose. In my late thirties, I nearly lost my beloved husband to a terror attack. Since then, until most recently, I have been haunted by a recurring dream that my wonderful, loyal Greg would not marry me, despite the life we’ve built together. The shock of nearly losing my husband has echoed in my heart. Only now, in my late forties, do I realize that the sorrows I’ve carried have woven themselves into the tapestry that is me. A recent encounter with my teen-aged self taught me that my sorrow has been a helpful companion. [Read more...]

Because of Minor Miracles III (zzzzz)

At the beginning of January, I started a series of posts about this blog, how it began and evolved. I wrote three pieces about it, this one, this one, and this one. Then I went to sleep. Maybe you did too. But with Allison joining Frank and me this weekend, and with a new format up and running (spiffy, no?), I think this blog has finally reached a form to stick with for a while. So let me wrap this up.

I think I left off with:

Chapter 5 — The Crazy Marine from the Old South Who May Be An Angel or Something
That would be Frank Weathers. As I’ve written somewhere, YIM Catholic was only a couple of months old when I started receiving e-mail blasts from somewhere south of the Mason-Dixon line. When I paid attention, I was vaguely aware that they were from a “retired Marine” living in Tennessee. I figured “retired” meant ancient and “Tennessee” meant too much moonshine. Wrong on both counts. 

It turned out Frank was in his mid-40s, very knowledgeable, a convert like me, and a good writer to boot. I asked him to write a guest post and he wrote two, in an hour. About this time (Thanksgiving 2009), I was looking for help, divine or human, it didn’t matter. I felt tired writing alone each day and lonely (exposed to my own ignorance and readers’ reactions to it). I’m only half joking calling Frank an angel. I’m not sure what his former Drill Instructor would have said and don’t care.

The chemistry of the blog changed at once when I asked Frank to join and he agreed. It was fun again, and readers were picking up on the fun. I learned a whole new vocabulary. Frank was “covering my six” as YIMC’s co-pilot. He called me “Mav,” I called him “Merlin,” both “Top Gun” references. And he peppered me with the occasional “Bravo Zulu!” and “dumb civilian!”

Was this why I had started YIM Catholic? Absolutely not. Except that I had come to two conclusions: (1) I had run the table on all the reasons why I had become a Catholic, and (2) if this blog was going to continue it would have to transcend “Webster Bull.” I’m not the only Catholic in the world with good reasons to be one.

Chapter 6 — Building a Community
I read a piece on successful blogs about this time. It made several important points. One was, you’re better off finding people to help, especially writers. Check, I had Frank. Another point was, build a community. Interact with your readers. Comment on their comments. Understand what they want to see on your blog, or rather what they expect to see from your blog because only you can do it best, then do that.

I think we’ve been periodically successful sticking to this theme. We still fire off in all directions, and I suppose that’s one of the charming things about this space. But we definitely have made friends (and maybe a few enemies), and the friends have formed a community, at least in our own minds. When Warren Jewell doesn’t comment—or guest post—for a few days, we wonder where and how he is. When I get up in the morning, I look for Maria’s comments, because she seems to be up all night and very often has valuable things to say. We have friends with strange monikers, like Mujerlatina, EPG, and newguy40. I wouldn’t recognize any of them on the street, but we’d miss them if they didn’t come around now and then.

Blogging takes me outside my parish, outside my demographic, into the Universal Catholic Church (how about that Moses in Malaysia or Rose in India?). Come to think of it, the Universal Catholic Church is probably the first worldwide virtual community, dating to the year 33.

Chapter 7 — Yikes, It’s a Girl!
Which brings us to this weekend, when Allison Salerno has agreed to join Frank and me in a sort of unholy trinity of Catholic bloggers who love being Catholic. As the line at the top of this page suggests, this blog sometimes has had the sound and smell of a men’s locker room, what with all the towel-snapping and Bravo Zuluing and whatnot. Allison dared to barge in. What a fine writer! She is a cradle Catholic, unlike Frank and me. She is the mother of boys. I am the father of girls. Frank is father to both. We balance each other in many useful ways.

Furthermore, we all agree that there are more than enough Catholic blogs that obsess over politics, and we don’t want to be another. We all agree that what we do here is unlikely to make any of us a penny richer, and we agree that we don’t care. We agree that we love being Catholic—in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Tennessee, or wherever we happen to be going to Mass—and we want people to share the love. Furthermore, we’re all in the Eastern Time Zone.

Personally, I believe that the best thing a Catholic can do to evangelize is not to argue with anyone but rather to pray, go to Mass, aim for holiness, and smile along the way. That’s what we seem to be doing here, with maybe some question about the holiness. Hang around, won’t you?

FOOTNOTE: Pardon the seemingly presumptous image of the Holy Family at the head of this post about Allison, Frank, and me. No, Allison is not Mary, and I’m not Jesus. But I have learned that you can’t go wrong with St. Joseph.  May the Holy Family bless our efforts here below.

Because Nothing Matters, Until Everything Does

Allison recently wrote a good post about soccer and sports. I want to be clear: This is not a rebuttal to her post. I agree with much of what she had to say in that post, and with many of the comments as well. But forget sports, school work, home work, our careers, our relationships, our involvement in society, our intelligence, our physical gifts or impediments for a second. None of it matters unless our love of Christ is the center of our existence. For as Qoheleth says in Ecclesiastes, all is vanity. However, when we are Christ centered people, then everything matters.

You may remember from an earlier post that I hinted that I am a gearhead. I willfully dismantled a perfectly good engine in my Mustang in an effort to make it better, stronger, faster. I did this before I became a Catholic. I have always had an interest in motors, engines, airplanes, trucks, etc. I was just born with this attraction and with mechanical ability. So, new exhaust manifolds, intake manifold, cylinder heads, fuel injectors, camshaft—all were removed and replaced in my driveway with hand tools and moxie back in 1999.

Just to see if I still could, I swapped the cylinder heads on the motor again in 2002 (after my near brush with death). And actually, I had blown a head gasket and took that incident as an opportunity to add ported and polished heads.  That is an example of clear, focused, gearhead thinking for you. In 2005, I drove this car 2100 miles across the country from California to our new home. She is a runner and one spirited pony. And none of this matters for my salvation. That is, until it did.

A few months after our move, she (cars are feminine) broke down and I couldn’t figure out the problem. I started her up one day and she was running really rough. I opened the hood, checked the spark-plug wires, fuel injectors, sensors, etc. All was fine. But still, the motor had a wicked shimmy and was seemingly trying to tear herself off the motor mounts. Have I lost you with all the gearhead jargon? Sorry. Long story short, I put the pony to pasture for a while because I was busy with other chores, like building a stair-case and contemplating swimming the Tiber.

Eventually (over a year later) I finished the home improvement projects and decided to tackle the engine problem again. Knowing my limitations though, I took it to a professional. I learned early on that throwing money and personal labor at problems a professional can diagnose quicker and cheaper is silly. The problem? The harmonic balancer was slipping off the crankshaft key.

The balancer is a big counterweight that dampens the vibrations in the mechanical workings of an internal combustion engine. It probably went a little off kilter when I swapped the camshaft, and eventually it manifested itself as a wicked shimmy. See this photograph? The balancer is that thingy that looks like a wheel on the end of the crankshaft. Without the balancer, centered perfectly on the crankshaft, the engine will tear itself apart. With the balancer in place, the engine will run smoothly.

At the time my car’s motor broke, I was wrestling with my practice of Christianity. I knew that up to this time in my life, Christ definitely had not been the center of my existence. I had pushed him way out on the periphery. Of course, by doing that, the big counterweight that should have been my center was removed. Thus all the other moving parts in my life were vying for the central position. As a result, I was running as rough as my Mustang motor had been with the broken balancer. So this idea popped into my gearhead–Joe Sixpack mind: Christ is our harmonic balancer.

The idea of having Christ at our center isn’t mine, it is God’s. And this handy little diagram isn’t my idea either. But until the motor in my Mustang broke, I didn’t really “get” the ramifications of not having Christ as the center. This incident with the harmonic balancer was when theory and practical application came together for me. It is why I understand that putting sports, or anything else for that matter, at the center of your life instead of Christ will lead to oblivion.

Is this the shortest parable on record? I don’t really know, and truthfully, I haven’t checked. If it isn’t, though, it’s close.
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch was leavened.
Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is recorded as having said this in the Gospel of Matthew (Chapter 13). And there we all are as Catholics and Christians—yeast to be mixed in with the flour of the rest of the world so that the mixture is leavened and the loaf can rise. In the same Gospel, while giving His Sermon on the Mount He also says,
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.
The Desert Fathers chucked everything and headed into the desert to pray and wait. I don’t have that option because I was called to be a father and a husband. And I understand that I am called to put Christ first in my life. I have found the Catholic Church to be the place where I can do this most effectively. And all of my God-given talents and abilities are to be put to good use and for His greater glory. The same is true for my wife and our children.
So be it sports, school work, home work, careers, relationships, involvement as citizens, our intelligence, our physical gifts or impediments, et cetera, et cetera, with Christ in his rightful and central place in our lives, everything we do, or think, or say, matters for our salvation.
Sun Tzu, author of The Art of War was not a Catholic or a Christian. Heck, he couldn’t have been because he lived in China around 500 BC. But I think he would have made a good Catholic Christian and he would understand where his loyalties must lie as a disciple of the True King. Note this saying of his,
The general who advances without coveting fame and retreats without fearing disgrace, whose only thought is to protect his country and do good service for his sovereign, is the jewel of the kingdom.
The same is true for us privates and gearheads too.

Because Catholics Can Take a Joke

Guest post by Allison Salerno
Know any good, tasteful Catholic jokes? On Sunday, the fourth in Lent, our Church will celebrate Laetare Sunday, or Refreshment Sunday. Among the signs of joy you may see at your local parish this Sunday are: the use of flowers on the altar, and of the organ at Mass and Vespers. You will also see your priests robed in rose-colored vestments. One parish friend suggests we think of Laetare Sunday  as “halftime for Lent,” a chance for us to pause and feel joy during our Lenten Journey. How wise our Church and its liturgical calendar are!

Inspired by reader Michelle, who emailed Webster a very funny joke, we will post  some Catholic jokes on Sunday afternoon—all in good taste and respectful of our Church because Catholics do have a sense of humor. Just check out the photo (above) of Sister Rosalba Garcia, one of the twenty-three nuns of the Salesian Sisters of Mary Immaculate Province in San Antonio.

Because Webster and Frank don’t know a whole lot of Catholic jokes (they seem to have little sense of humor), and I know few jokes of any denomination, we need your help. Send your suggestions to me: allisonsalerno@optimum.net and I will compile a list. Looking forward to some giggles.

Here’s a little more about Laetare Sunday from my friend, who says he “plagiarized shamelessly and paraphrased from the Catholic Encyclopædia”:

“Strictly speaking, the Thursday before Laetare Sunday is the middle day of Lent, and it was at one time observed as such, but afterwards the special signs of joy permitted on this day, intended to encourage the faithful in their course through the season of penance, were transferred to the Sunday following. The fourth, or middle, Sunday of Lent, gets its name from the first words of the Introit at Mass, “Laetare Jerusalem’—‘Rejoice, O Jerusalem.’”

Because Breast is Best (in honor of International Women’s Day)

Guest post by Allison
Quick: Who said this about breastfeeding? “Mothers need time, information and support. So much is expected of women in many societies that time to devote to breast-feeding and early care is not always available.” The answer: Pope John Paul II.

Most of us don’t expect a priest, much less a pope, to be weighing in on breastfeeding. But the late Pontiff made a compelling case in a 1995 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Britain:

In normal circumstances these (advantages of breastfeeding for mother and child) include two major benefits to the child: protection against disease and proper nourishment. Moreover, in addition to these immunological and nutritional effects, this natural way of feeding can create a bond of love and security between mother and child, and enable the child to assert its presence as a person through interaction with the mother.

After I married, I decided to breastfeed any children I would bear. My mom, born in the 1930s, was part of a generation of American women discouraged by physicians from breastfeeding. To give a sense of the prevailing attitude of those times, one friend’s mom asked her obstetrician about breastfeeding. He told her, “Breastfeeding is for peasants.”

My mom became pregnant six times in seven years, and told me she loved breastfeeding her oldest child for a couple of months and regretted she had not had support to continue with my oldest brother and her subsequent babies.

Pope John Paul II rightly traced the decline of breastfeeding to “a combination of social factors, such as urbanization and the increasing demands placed on women, to healthcare policies and practices, and to marketing strategies for alternate forms of nourishment.”

Before I had babies, I read up on breastfeeding in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. One of its authors is Edwina Froehlich, co-founder of La Leche League International, the breastfeeding advocacy group that provides education and support to mothers. It didn’t surprise me to learn Froehlich was a devout Catholic, as were all the women in that first La Leche Group. Even the organization’s name has Catholic roots. The group had been intrigued by the first Marian shrine in North America, dedicated in 1598 by Spanish settlers in St. Augustine, Florida. It is called Nuestra Senora de la Leche y Buen Parto (Our Lady of Happy Delivery and Plentiful Milk) (left).

Breastfeeding did not come easily to me. In September 1996, during the early hours of our first son’s life, I eagerly awaited for him to “latch on” and begin nursing. After a few false starts, I thought we both had figured it out. Imagine my terror as I held Gabriel in my arms to feed him and he turned purple and stiff and stopped breathing. I called for the nurse, assuming our baby had just died.

As it turned out, Gabriel was having a seizure, the first of several in his early months. The purple color was vasoconstriction, not a sign of death. (Of course, the breastfeeding had nothing to do with the seizures.) Gabriel spent his first eight days in the neonatal intensive care unit of Saint Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey, while neonatologists tried to sort out what was wrong with him. Did he have a cerebellum? Did he have anatomical brain damage? Brain bruising? Mental retardation?

With our son attached to feeding tubes and breathing monitors, I could not breastfeed; I could not hold him; I could not take him home. In fact, neither we nor the physicians knew if he would come home at all.

Thank God the nurses at this Catholic hospital immediately encouraged me to pump my own breast milk. They sent my tiny bags of expressed milk via a pneumatic tube from my hospital room to the neonatal unit, where they were put into his feeding tubes, along with infant formula.

When I returned home from maternity ward, I pumped breast milk every four hours, including through the night, so that I would be ready to nurse our baby when he was ready. This enabled me to nurture Gabriel even while he was in neonatal intensive care.

Throughout this ordeal, it was reassuring to know that my Church “got it”—understood my efforts meant I could nurture our infant. I was able to nurse Gabriel when he did come home—medicated and with a diagnosis of Benign Transient Neonatal Seizure Disorder. (In other words, these benign seizures had no known cause.)

This experience made it clear to me that God designed women’s bodies so we could bear children. What a blessing my body fed my unborn child and through breastfeeding, the son I had just delivered into the world.

As Pope John Paul II put it in his Apostolic Letter on the Dignity and Vocation of Women: “Motherhood implies from the beginning [from creation] a special openness to the new person. . . . In this openness . . . the woman discovers herself through a sincere gift of self.”


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X