Category Archives: Faith/Theology/Spirituality

Inspired

Tonight I feel particularly inspired for several reasons.

For the past three weeks I have been inspired to visit Our Lord in Adoration more.  This is something that should require no prompting.  As a Catholic I certainly believe Him to be present in the Eucharist.  Our parish offers daily Adoration.  Seems like a no-brainer, right?  That is, unless you’re me.  Yes, I have been working like a dog the past few months, putting in long and sometimes unusual hours between two jobs.  Outside of that I like to make my priorities my family, my health (in the form of working out), and rest.  It is foolish to cut God out of that equation.  I have been using the time in the car while running jobs for an increase in my prayer life.  A five hour drive to Houston, for instance, yields many rosaries prayed.

monstrance

It’s a Catholic thing…

But a few weeks ago I headed to church on a Monday night for some quiet time before the Sacrament.  I knew that a friend of mine would be there as well and was hoping for a chance to say hi.  We hadn’t properly caught up in a while.  We did get to exchange a greeting afterward.  It was what I saw while in the chapel that inspired me.  Here was a man, about my age, with young children, in the chapel, not there to see his friends but rather to lead his family in prayer.  Discipline.  That’s what it takes to be a leader like that.  I could end this by saying “he’s got it and I don’t.”  But I know I could have it too if I just committed to do what he’s doing.  It’s doesn’t just materialize.  It has to be acquired through practice.  It’s just like building a strong body.  I may have mentioned previously that this friend has that part down like nobody’s business.  It’s easy to see how he could transfer that discipline to other areas of his life.

I’ve been going every Monday for just a half-hour, bringing my copy of Sheen’s Life of Christ with me to read.  Next step: I want to start bringing my kids along too, though I’m sure they wouldn’t be nearly as quiet and reverent as his.  In time, perhaps, they will learn.  And he probably didn’t even know he was being used by God to inspire someone else to come to Him.

IMG_2552

Both of my friends crossed paths.  The one friend’s puppy assaulted me while I was doing an ab routine trying to get jacked like the other friend.

I also just returned from a trip to Colorado where I was inspired by another friend.  I got the opportunity to spend a good deal of time with him (we’ve known each other since college) and his teenage son.  The interaction between the two of them was so wonderful to see.  He’s a great dad and his son’s a good kid, too.  What I saw was a man filled with patience, humor, good cheer, and love for his wife and kids.  He works harder than I do yet still found the time to 1) hang out with me, 2) cart his kids around town, 3) act like a human ATM when they came at him asking for money, 4) mow his lawn, and 5) teach his son about caring for their new puppy.  On the dog front, the “puppy” is a 15 week-old St. Berdoodle.  Yep, you read that right.  The thing was one giant fluffy ball of energy.  She was only missing the brandy keg.  I thought of my own dad while watching these two (and the pup).  I returned home inspired to be more “present” to my kids and to do it with more of a smile.  I hope his kids appreciate how awesome their dad is.  And I bet he didn’t even know he was being used by God to inspire someone else to come to Him.

Finally I was inspired late last night.  While waiting at the airport in Denver for a flight that was delayed over four hours I encountered a man wearing a tank top.  I at once determined that no matter how big or defined my arms get, men should always have sleeves on their shirt.  There’s just something dignified about it.  I was inspired to good fashion.  Now I know that man definitely had no clue he was being used by God.

Advertisements

Why I Am Blessed to Teach: Three Vignettes from My Montessori Experience

Not long ago I took a job as a teacher.

That being said, I have been a teacher for well over a decade.  But, wishing to expand my portfolio and branch out, I accepted a position in a new school.  Now I can say that I have the following variety of teaching and/or administrative experience: large school, small school, co-ed, single-sex, diocesan, private-independent, mid-sized, teacher, vice principal, secondary, and elementary.  Why not toss Montessori into the mix?  It couldn’t hurt to learn a new way to teach and beside, my own children attend a Montessori school.  This could be both beneficial to my resume and fun!

That entire last paragraph could be rewritten thus:

But, having temporarily walked away from the insanity of working in “industrial” schools I had accepted my new life delivering blood samples and lab mice for a courier company.  One Sunday night the director of the school where my children are students texted to say: “Look, dude, I’m desperate.  Your daughter’s teacher quit.  I’m not entirely convinced it isn’t the girl’s fault.  Since it’s nearing the end of the year we’re scraping the barrel, pal.  Can you handle a dozen 1st-3rd grader’s?”  Also, she texted right after I had consumed a few gin and tonics so there’s that.

There is a line in Scripture that says “You have put into my heart a greater joy than they have from an abundance of corn and new wine.” (Ps.4)  I don’t know who “they” are but I do believe Our Blessed Lord has infused me with a great love for teaching and for the children (and sometimes adults) I get to teach.  It’s twisted, really.  I don’t know many other people who get excited about working with children and teenagers and yet I can’t help myself.  And you know it must be real when it’s a greater love even than wine or an abundance of corn for that matter.  By the way, the New American Bible translation from 1970 sucks.

And since it wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t share some of the scenes of this life with you; here now a brief sketch of this past Friday morning and my interactions with three particular students.

Student X, boy, 7 years-old

black bunny

Sure looks like a “Thunderclaw”, doesn’t he?

The morning was off to a smashing start.  One of the families had brought rabbits to school.  As in, they brought actual bunnies.  And the bunnies were to remain at school.  “We’re donating them!” the mom said lovingly.  “It’s a great way for the kids to learn about stuff and it’s very Montessori.”  Perhaps I don’t know enough about this Montessori method.  And “stuff?”  Yes, it’s a fabulous way for them to learn about reproduction.  Come to think of it, my son’s getting to be about that age.  This might be more straightforward then having “the talk” with him.  I’m getting rabbits for the house.  Anyway, one young man rushed me on my way in the door.  “Hey look!  It’s Thunderclaw!” he shouted as he tossed a black dwarf rabbit in my face.  “Ack!” I shouted in return as Thunderclaw almost took a mug full of black coffee to the face.  It’s a good thing I have the patience of a saint – St. Augustine, pre-conversion.

A little while later I found myself sitting at a table that was about two feet off the ground across from Student X.  We had just covered a lesson on honeybees.  X was diligently tracing a hexagon over and over onto a sheet of paper.  He had already composed five sentences about these insects (in cursive) and was now illustrating the hive.  Burning the heck out of a yellow colored pencil he put the pencil down momentarily in order to suck his thumb.  The teacher in me stepped aside and the dad moved in.  “Son, you don’t want to do that,” I said gently yet firmly.  “Um, yeah I do,” came his reply without glancing up.  He was still admiring his honeycomb.  “No, no you don’t.  Do you know what will happen?” I asked.  “Yeah, um, it calms me down.”  I had to fight with everything I had to stop from saying “So will a Xanax” but I managed instead “First, you answered a question I had not asked.  I asked what is likely to happen in the future.  You responded with what is happening now.”  Crickets.  “But I like it,” came X’s reply in the cutest high pitched voice.  “You’ll need braces, son.  It’ll mess your teeth up.”

I thought I had won the argument based on my stellar logic.  Unfortunately I was arguing with a kid.  “I’m already getting braces.  My dad told me so.”  Well, you can’t beat that reasoning, I suppose.  “Plus, um, plus…  Uh… Oh yeah, my orthodontist told me I was a very lucky boy and I would have to get headgear!”  “Sounds like your orthodontist is the lucky one,” I shot back.  I smiled at X and marveled at his certainty and confidence.  He, of course, picked up his pencil in the other hand because apparently he’s ambidextrous and continued his masterpiece.

Student Y, boy, 8 years-old

A short while later I had just stepped out of a tiny bathroom where I had gone to scroll through Instagram and generally catch my breath when Student Y ran up to me.  Where he came from I could not say.  The kid’s a ninja.  He’s about the size of a capuchin monkey and just about as wiry.  And I love this kid.  That’s why I almost didn’t mind when he practically pulled my 200 lb. frame down to the floor by trying to climb up my leg to tell me something.  “HEY!  Can I read to you?”  This is one of the most rewarding aspects of working with little children.  He’s just learned to read in the past year and is still inching toward a milestone they call the “reading explosion” or something like that.  I may have made that term up but the point is he’s teetering on the brink between sounding out some words and racing through a paragraph.  And he’s excited.  And he wants me to be the object of his new-found skill.

We sit on the reading carpet (invented by a Nazi, for no adult ever said “Yay! Let’s get down on the floor for this!”) and he proceeds to a thin, purple-covered book.  It’s a leveled reader.  It is not his level.  His is red.  The purples are for a different stage, like two stages above him.  But, I admire his pluck.  Go for it, kiddo.  The stories in these books all follow a phonetic theme.  Unfortunately that means they sometimes give the characters names that have never been used by real people.  This was the story of a terrier named Sollie.  Y struggles with this.  “Solo was a timid puppy.”  “No, son, not Solo, Sollie,” I correct him.  “Sally was a timid puppy,” he tries again.  “No, son, not Sally, Sollie.”  “Sully was a tim-”  “Oh for God’s sake.  Sully was the Miracle on the Hudson pilot and, you know what?  Yeah, let’s just go with Sully.”

He continues.  I come to learn that Sully was indeed a timid puppy.  His owner Shiela had to carry him around.  He wanted to be brave like his dad.  He liked to eat meat.  Except, Y read that as /mat/.  “Y,” I said gently yet firmly, “in English, when two vowels go walking the first one does the talking.”  Crickets.  “OK,” he said, “/meet/”.  Good.  This happened a few more times.  The theme here was vowel clusters.  Then Y came to this sentence.  “They went to the pier.”  He read this as /pyre/.  “Y,” I said, “that’s /peer/.”  “But did the first vowel not go walking that day?” he asked most sincerely.  “Damn English,” I thought to myself.

IMG_2322

When two vowels go walking, a terrier eats a toddler.

Finally Y reached the climax of the story.  “When Sollie ran down to the beach, a toddler held out her hand with some cookie pieces.  Sollie ate them.”  First, Y read that as “cookie /pi-cees/” and I did not correct him.  Second, I noticed that Y was looking most confused.  “Why would he eat them?  He must be a mean dog.”  “What are you talking about,” I asked.  It turns out Y thought Sully ate the toddler, that rat bastard.  I clarified the story for my young friend.  And then I laughed at the thought of a terrier eating a toddler who would obviously be three times his size.

Student Z, boy, 6 years-old

I have saved the best for last.  Student Z is a young man who has only recently joined our class.  He had previously been in the “younger division”.  He was starting to outgrow that classroom so I agreed (happily) to let him come over to my class.  I’m friends with his parents and he’s such an awesome kid.  When I’m at their house he’s bouncing off the walls, full of energy, typical little boy.  In school, he is studious, reserved, almost shy.  I can tell he is eager to please and to do a good job.  Z is on the cusp of getting the hang of reading.  And hats off to anyone who has ever taught another person to read.  It is NOT easy.  Sidenote: In complete seriousness, the lady who runs this school is truly gifted.  I watched her sit down with a child last week and, in the most loving and gentle way, teach that child, encourage that child, and celebrate that child’s accomplishment.  It is a gift.

Thunderclaw?!  Who named that bunny?  Crazy Horse?

I extricate myself from the reading carpet and head to a ledge that reminds me of a bar only without alcohol.  Z follows in tow holding onto one of the manipulatives we use in Montessori.  It is a wooden tray containing flash cards with three and four letter words.  Other than the wooden tray I’m not sure how this differs from other schools.  Our goal is to pull six cards and sound them out.  Then Z will write those words in his notebook.  “Z,” I say, “Let’s toss in a few four letter words!”  Then I laugh at what that sounded like to my own ears.  He was game.

First word: “puh… ahh… puh.  POP!”  He smiles broadly.  He got it.  “Great job, Z!  And that was super fast!  Let’s do another one.”

Next word: “luh… ahh… tuh.  LOT!”  Another huge smile.  “Yay!  Amazing!  Ready for the next one?”  He nods excitedly.

Third word: “juh… ahh… muh.”  Only this time I must stop him.  “Sorry, Z,” I say holding my hand up.  “Not every A sounds alike.”  He looks puzzled.  “Let’s try it again.”  I hold the card up.  “juh… ahh…”  “Nope,” I say.  “Um,” he asks, “How does this A sound?”  “I’m glad you asked, Z.”

“Juh…aeyh… muh.  Say it with me.”

And in that moment I realized I was teaching him New Jersey English.

IMG_2320

You gotta’ problem wid dat?  I’ll see you on Bloomfield Ave.

When his mom and dad start wondering why he’s suddenly started speaking like Joe Piscopo (or me for that matter) they need only look at my upbringing.  Garden State’s finest spreadin’ the Jerz.

Proud to be spreading my heritage in this sleepy Texas town, I turned from the bar with no booze, put the cards away, and clocked out for the day.

My work here is done.

Image

A Prayer for Writers

Today is the feast of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers/authors.  My prayer today is that every word I commit to print may glorify God.  Since I know that many of you, my readers, are also writers I pray the same for you.  And when we encounter others who weaponize their words, may God give us the grace to forgive.

desales

Amazing head of hair, too.

Having Run the Race

In a few days I will mark the passage of one year since my dad died.

 

 

The_Apostle_Paul_-_Rembrandt

Remrandt’s Apostle Paul (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Just writing that sentence made me feel a little weird.  My father remains the finest man I will ever know.  Not only did he give me life but he took care of me.  For the 39 years I had him on this earth with me there was never a time when I didn’t know in my heart that he cared for me.  Through my childhood he raised me, provided everything I needed and many things I wanted.  He gave his advice, though not always in a sit-down “Son, we need to talk” kind of way.  In fact, we never had a conversation like that.  He taught by example.  I never heard him complain, not even once, about a solitary thing in life.  We laughed one night at dinner a few years back when he made a comment about not liking pot roast much because Mom had been serving it for dinner almost every Sunday for years.  He was happy with the life God gave him.

But one year earlier the light seemed to go out of his life somewhat.  He was old.  He was tired.  And he had just been dealt a terrible blow.  In October of 2015 my oldest brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  I still hate that term.  My parents watched as their son, who had lived perhaps not the most exemplary of lives, literally came home to die.  Thirty years earlier they had lost three children in a terrible tragedy.  Back then Dad didn’t have time to grieve.  Now, he couldn’t help himself.  No parent should ever lose a child.  To lose four…  I can easily forgive him for coming to the conclusion that it was his time to let go as well.

My dad was fond of a passage in Paul’s Letter to Timothy.  “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”  When he died these words came back to me.  The man was a fighter, stalwart in his faith.  That’s what he taught me.  I remember in the day or so after her died printing a copy of that passage.  Mom had asked me and my niece to read at his funeral.  I was honored to read at this mass.  My dad had been a lector for years when I was growing up.  From him I learned my love not only of the Catholic faith but of what was his passion – the liturgy.  I remember so many years, day in and day out, before I moved away where I would go with him to mass every day and later as an adult when I would take him with me.  I, too, am a lector and I think of him every time I read at mass.  My niece, a young girl of 13, had been reading at daily mass – the mass they’d take Grandpa too – for a while and I know how much he loved to see her read.  But something happened.  When we got to the sanctuary, she asked me where the reading was.  I mistakenly mentioned that it was in the book.  Instead it was in my pocket.  She read a different reading.  It was still very fitting but it wasn’t 2 Timothy 4:7.

I had to make this right for him.  At the cemetery I mentioned to Mom what had happened and asked the priest if my niece could proclaim that reading there at the grave.  She did.  Somehow it seemed more fitting here.

The last words spoken in the presence of his earthly remains were from his granddaughter and I know in my heart she was speaking them of him.

“I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith.”

My dad impressed upon me the solemn duty of an Irishman to attend wakes and funerals.  “It’s just what we do,” he had said to me before.

And as if to show him I had learned his lesson I stayed behind with the funeral director as the last man, his youngest boy, until my father’s casket was lowered to his final resting place.  I dropped the rose from my lapel the fifteen feet or so and watched as it landed squarely on his coffin.  I was kneeling in the dirt as I said good bye to Daddy.

Other than the impending anniversary, I don’t know why this memory is haunting me at the moment.  I still talk to the man every day.  Typically I blurt out “Dad, help me!” with one of my many crises.  I’d like to believe he’s working overtime to obtain for me whatever particular grace it is I’m seeking at the moment.

img_0643

Dad doing a crossword.  He did one of these every day for decades.  I learned to love crosswords from him.

He was an amazing guy.  Anyone who’d ever met him loved him.  He was funny, smart as a whip, and incredibly loving and kind.  His family was his world.  And my mom…  She was the sun, moon, and stars to him.  There is one thing he taught me that I think I actually get right most of the time.  I learned how to love from the both of them but I learned how to treat my wife from him.  I never saw them go anywhere where he didn’t open her door.  He laughed with her.  He thought she was the most beautiful creature God ever put on the earth and he was always happy when he was with her.

In a few days I will board a plane and travel to see her and to celebrate and remember a remarkable man who gave me life and taught me how to fight, to run, and to keep faith.  I can’t say I’m much of a fighter or a runner and I often feel like despairing; but he taught me what to do.  The reason I was a teacher for so many years was because he first taught me.

As we draw near to that day, I will carry him ever more in my heart remembering the lives he affected and how much better we all are because he fought and ran and kept the faith.

God bless you for reading this far.  Say a prayer for my family if you would be so kind.  And say a prayer for me.  40 years from now if even one person could say of me that I kept the faith I will die a happy man.

Oh, and I started running again.  I’m 40, I’ve got a major spinal problem, I just quit smoking after 22 years, it’s cold, and I suck at running but I’m doing it.  Dad is probably laughing.  But perhaps I’ll be able to say literally that I’ve run the race.

Impossible: Day 9

Well friends, we are there!  We have reached the ninth day of our novena.

The prayers, as always, are found here.

I don’t know how this one will end – for me or for you.  Know that I have been praying for your intentions as well as my own and that I am grateful for all of your prayers for me.

I will share that many years ago I prayed this exact novena for a special cause.  On the ninth day in the evening I stood face to face with the woman I would marry.  And yes, I knew at that moment that my prayer had been heard and answered favorably.

St. Rita, advocate of impossible causes, pray for us!

11b955b5ba6e9104ab28ee61a686a35b--sainte-rita-catholic-saints

Impossible: Day 8

linoln tunnel

What will it be?

There is a point when driving through the Lincoln Tunnel, well past the mosaic tiled state line divider that always amused me as a boy, where the bright fluorescent lights mounted to the ceiling give way to the grayish light gently streaming into view in the distance.  It is exactly and not proverbially the light at the end of the tunnel.  Even though the tunnel lights are somehow reassuring – bright, constant, warm – in contrast to the uncertainty of the “natural” light ahead, there is a real sense that the light ahead is just that – natural.  Whether it be bright sunshine densely packing a deep blue sky powered by high pressure or faltering light struggling to find the room to breathe in a sky choked cold with winter’s thin and biting air; that light is still natural.  Natural is always preferable to artifice.  As I reflect on the sentences preceding this one I am struck by how forced and formulaic they are.  My apologies.

state line

rita-5a.jpg

St. Rita, pierced with a thorn, pray for us!

The novena we’ve been praying, found here, is drawing to a close.  The thing is that the light at the end of the tunnel is scary.  I’m confident it will be natural but what will it look like?  I have a vision in my mind of what I want it to look like but God painted that sky and it might be nothing like what I’m looking for.  It might even be darkness dotted by even more man-made lights.  And that can be pretty too.  Many times I emerged from the Tunnel at night to be surrounded by high rise buildings lit up like Christmas trees.  There’s a real beauty in that.

The point is that ultimately I’m still going to drive forward.  We shall see what awaits us.  Until the end, though, know that I am praying your light will be as impossibly marvelous as mine will be.

Impossible: Day 7

Posting a little late…

On day 7 of our novena to St. Rita, found here, we continue to pray for my intention and yours.

IMG_3484

Mom, my niece (named after my mom), and my son with St. Rita standing guard.  From an elevator in the National Shrine of St. Rita, Philadelphia.

The reason I’m posting the next morning is because I was out at the airport last night picking up a very special guest.  My mom flew into town for a few weeks.  And there’s a big connection here (other than the obvious).

My mother it the one who first introduced me to St. Rita!  The story she always tells is that when she was about to make her confirmation way back in 1946 she was searching for a saint to take as a patron.  Wanting to impress her mother, she took the name of a visiting aunt who happened to be named Rita.  There are worse reasons to pick a saint.  The point is that many years later when I was in 8th grade I read a story about St. Rita in a book on Catholic world culture and remembered my mom’s connection.  Years after that, with both of us having a “fascination” about the saint of the impossible we discovered that her national shrine was a mere hour and a half away from home.  We took a trip to visit and the devotion was established.

St. Rita, help of those in need, pray for us!