Category Archives: Faith/Theology/Spirituality

Kateri the American

Greetings readers!

Today is the feast day of St. Kateria Tekakwitha.  Kateria was canonized by the Catholic Church just five years ago.  When I was a child I knew her as “Blessed” Kateri.  I also remember that her name was spelled “Tekawitha” without the additional “k”.  I suppose along the road to sainthood people sometimes pick up an extra letter or two.

Kateri is an amazing woman.  A Mohawk maiden who lived in and around present-day Auriesville, NY (a suburb of Albany), Kateri was converted to the Catholic faith by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century.  As I recall (and I’m too lazy to Google this in another tab) Kateri received the the grace of being hideously disfigured.  Stick with me.  You see, she was quite the looker with that sexy feathered headdress and was a style maven even Mr. Blackwell would approve of.  The moccasins completed the outfit with perfection. However, a smallpox outbreak when she was a child left terrible scars on her face.  I know the feeling.  I was on Accutane in my early 20’s.

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Not my favorite statue of Kateri but my own picture nonetheless.  Santa Fe, NM

To refer to this as a “grace” is simply to say that the scarring actually may have helped young Kateri who, following her conversion, took a vow of perpetual virginity for the sake of the Kingdom.  Well, as if the unsightly nature of her mug weren’t enough to advance that cause, Kateri was shunned by many in her own tribe for her conversion.  She ultimately fled to Montreal to escape persecution and died at the age of 24.

The scars?  Miraculously they disappeared moments after her death.

Not only have I visited the shrine in Auriesville but I have visited the gravesite of Kateri on land claimed by First Nations’ Peoples* outside Montreal.

I happen to know at least ten people who have named their daughter’s Kateri so the phenomena that is Kateri’s popularity isn’t simply a flash in the pan.

Her heroic virtue is duly noted and we as both Catholics and Americans are proud to count her among our own.  And how fortuitous for us that her feast day falls on the eve of the day we celebrate New Jersey’s independence from Great Britain!

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My last attempt at 7/4 cocktails.  Clearly my guests were not enthralled.

Kateri is but one of a growing number of Catholic saints and blesseds who hail from these shores.  Many of that list are typical of the American experience, having been born elsewhere (like Mother Cabrini and Mother Marianne Cope).  Many were natives of the land like Kateri and the three other natives whom we venerate.  And at least one, Mother Seton, was born on these shores prior to the colony of New York’s Brexit.

Why should you care about any of this?

I’m making cocktails for the Fourth of July!  Red, white, and blue Jell-o shots to be exact.  As I layer the components I will think of great Americans like Kateri and pray that I do not disfigure myself boiling water for the Jell-o.

Huzzah!

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Talking Up the Sisters

Earlier today I drove some Missionaries of Charity nuns to the airport. 
In the half-hour I was in the car on my way to pick them up I wondered where our conversation would take us. These nuns are talkers and I’ve always enjoyed our chats before. 

Well, I must have picked them up in the middle of a Saturday devotion. 

I made my first turn toward the highway and Sister Passenger whipped out her beads. In fairly decent but somewhat broken English she said:

“We pray rosary now.”

Five decades, a chaplet of Divine Mercy, and nine Memorare’s later I had safely returned the remaining nuns to the convent. 

Honestly I’m glad the happy talk took us to prayer. Truly just being in their presence I feel holy. Tack on a whole lotta prayers and, well, I stepped out of my car one foot closer to heaven

Typical Saturday Morning

My precious 7 year-old daughter just came stumbling into my bedroom.  It’s Saturday morning shortly before 8.  I am awake but not terribly so.  She has questions for me.

  • “Daddy, what can I do?”
  • “Daddy, why are you awake?”
  • “Daddy, what is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?”

I answer her.

  • “You may watch a little TV this morning since no one else is awake.”
  • “I have to drive some nuns to the airport.”
  • “What do you mean?  An African or a European swallow?”

I’ve been showing them clips from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I consider it my duty as a dad to enlighten them and help form their senses of humor at the same time.

It’s called Nun-math and it’s awesome.

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Could she get any cuter?

Oh, the flying nuns…  Right…  Much love and thanks to my mother-in-law for volunteering me as a driver.  I mean that.  She knows I’m a sucker for the Missionaries of Charity.  For those who do not know; the Missionaries are the nuns founded by Mother Teresa.  They are the most adorable creatures on the planet.  Due to the sanctity of their founder (who IS a saint) the sisters receive an additional grace from God upon final vows.  That is, whatever they ask, people will not be able to say no.  As it turns out, one of the sisters is flying somewhere this morning.  However, they are required per their own rules to travel in groups of two or more.  And so taking one nun to the airport means taking three nuns.  It’s called Nun-math and it’s awesome.  Lest anyone think I’m complaining in a backhanded way, I really do love these women and will do whatever I can to help.

Perhaps I’ll chat them up about the Sally Field series The Flying Nun on the car ride.  They’ve always seemed to enjoy our conversations before.  Wish me luck!

Moving On

Both of my loyal readers know that I have been in pursuit of a particular dream for some time.

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Symbolic of my career.

When I’m not busy being Dad, writing, or trying to whip my broken body into shape; I work at a day job.  What’s funny is that this “day” job is a vocation for me.  It is, as I like to think of it, a pathway along the wider road of God’s plan for me.  For the past eleven years I have been a teacher in a Catholic high school (three of them, to be exact).  Initially I got into teaching because it was a job.  Somewhere along the line I realized I liked it.  Then I realized that I loved it.  Then I began to feel that I was good at it.  Finally I thought that I could be of use to God in a different way.  I got this crazy idea that I could be a pretty decent school administrator.

I went back to school and completed a second Master’s degree.  And then I went on the hunt.

And I got… nowhere.

I explained my frustration to my wife.  “It’s just that before this year, I had never interviewed for a job that I didn’t ultimately get.”  “That’s nothing,” she said, “I’ve never interviewed for a job.”  She pointed out to me that her first job out of college came about through a connection and she more or less advanced from there.

I put the dream aside, trying to convince myself of the words my best friend and brother, a guy I’ve known since our days in the college seminary.  He’s always told me “God’s timing is perfect.”  I used to laugh at him.  Most of the time, though, I’d think of how obnoxious a thing like that is to say to someone who’s trying his heart out and getting nowhere.  Yet somehow he knew.  I put the dream aside and figured I would get comfortable with something I already knew I loved.  I prepared myself to teach forever.

It’s funny to me how God does things like this.  It’s His time.  We’re just passing through it.  I even remarked to my current students that, on the whole, this has been the best group of high school juniors I have ever worked with.  I’ve always had it pretty easy and I’ve certainly had my stand-outs.  But these kids this year have been a real blessing.  They are kind, witty, caring, passionate.  I love each and every one of them.  God knew they’d be my last class as a teacher and He allowed me the grace of going out with the best.  Recently a few of them have met my beginning-of-year challenge.  “If you can find my blog, kids, you can read it.”  For those who are reading right now, first, isn’t this blog amazing?  You’ve never read anything this awesome.  It has changed your life.  Whatever, just lie and say yes.  Second, thanks for being the best.

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I think I made it.

I’m really going to miss them when I start my new job in a month as an assistant principal.  Oh, had I forgotten to slip that detail into the story?  Sorry.  Yes, I’m losing my summers and gaining a whole lot of responsibility but it’s everything I’ve wanted and I couldn’t be happier.  Please pray for me that I do a good job.

And what did my current students ask of me as a memento of my time with them?

Apparently I should make them a “mix tape”.  Go figure.  I didn’t even know they would know what a mix tape is.  Perhaps I’ll take them up on the suggestion.  I haven’t made one of those in forever.

When Good Friday Eclipses Easter

Regular readers to this page know that I have a condition known as degenerative disc disease.  This is sometimes called disc and joint disease or DJD.  It was precipitated by a genetically inherited “bad back” on my mom’s side of the family (her brothers have both suffered similar fates) and a traumatic injury to my back when I was four years-old.  The whole thing came to a head for the first time when I was 23 years-old and I had my first spinal fusion at the L5-S1 level.  Fun.  Thirteen years later I had another spinal fusion at L4-L5 (the adjacent level).

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This pic is tired, I know.  I’ve used it before but it shows the current state of my spine in case you didn’t know.

I had really hoped that I would be able to avoid another fusion (or at least the symptomatic back pain and debilitating sciatica for at least 5-10 years at the next level.  So far, I think I’m doing well in that regard.  I got more serious about my health than I ever have before.  Hell, I started eating vegetables and lots of them.  I took up running before realizing that it required one to run.  The thing I’m proudest of, however, is that I got serious about getting jacked.  I haven’t had the kind of success I had hope but I’ve done OK.  You see, it’s important for me that I build up ever single muscle in my body in order to safeguard my spine.  It’s not really a vanity thing – not really.  Still who wouldn’t love being almost 40 and looking like one of the Jersey Shore crew on summer vacation?  I won’t lie, that’s a cool prospect considering I looked far from that from the time I was about 15 until recently.  But I stepped it up and looked into things I had never done before, all the while remembering the lessons learned from surgeries and physical therapy.  In other words, I’ve been doing all of this safely.  Currently I’m doing a program called Body Beast designed to bulk up.  I figure the more muscle the better.

About a year ago I was at my standard weight, hovering around 200.  I have a medium sized frame so that’s not impressive.  But when I got serious-serious I dropped down to 173 with Insanity.  I felt great knowing that I could complete something most men (including many athletic men) attempt and give up because it’s hard.  I took heat for it, good natured I believed.  Then I decided it was time to build up.  I’m going back toward 200 but this time hard-core, solid muscle because I need it.  I’m up around 187 after two months and again, I feel great.  I’m enjoying seeing results (even if I’m the only one who sees them).

So why is God screwing with me?

Just when it seems I’m doing something good for myself, for my health, sacrificing time away from sleep or from my wife and kids to get in that workout I need to do I start to notice twinges of pain here and there.

About a year ago I began to experience what I knew was Restless Leg Syndrome or RLS.  It’s not painful just uncomfortable.  Fortunately it only hit me at night so my job and family life wasn’t affected.  I looked it up and it seemed to be a common side-effect of spinal fusions at L4-S1.  Then in the past few months (following around the time of my dad’s death) the symptoms morphed into painful leg cramps that strike in the middle of the night.

Time to see the surgeon.

I went for a visit to a man I trust with my life.  Hey, I’ve never let anyone cut me before nor even put his hands inside my body.  That’s how much I trust this guy.  He’s Mayo Clinic trained.

I love his response after looking at my X-rays.  “I can’t know what’s in the box until I open the box.  But before I cut you let’s run some tests.”

I had a nerve conduction study first.  This showed no nerve damage.  Praised be God.

Then it was time for the Myelogram CT.

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Me after my Myelogram.  See, it’s not that bad.  I’m smiling.

This past Thursday (Holy Thursday) I went to an imaging center and had a dye injected into my spinal column so images could be taken.  The procedure is painful in itself.  The after effects aren’t pleasant either.  I went home and went on bed rest for 48 hours.  My dear sister, an RN, came to town for an Easter visit and was put to work as my caretaker.  This consisted in lying on the couch watching 85 episodes or the 1980’s-90’s crime documentary Unsolved Mysteries while drifting in and out of sleep.

On Good Friday I had an opportunity to unite real physical pain with the crucifixion of Our Lord.  I was truly thankful.

Then came Holy Saturday.  And… unfortunately it still felt like Good Friday.  Throughout the day I tried to make myself believe that the pain was dissipating and I could do things like mow the lawn.  I had been told that by 48 hours I’d be golden.  On Saturday night my wife, kids, and I got dolled up and headed to the Easter vigil – a tradition for us.  Unfortunately I made it into the first of seven readings before the splitting headache got the best of me and we had to leave.  A consult with the surgeon’s office on a Saturday night uncovered that my puncture wound from the Myelogram hadn’t healed and I was leaking spinal fluid into my body, thus causing a spinal headache.  He called in an awesome script and after more rest I felt better.

Here’s the thing.  For the Christian the pain of loss and agony of death on Good Friday makes sense because of the promise of resurrection and joy of a new life and a glorious body on Easter Sunday.  Tomorrow I’m going in to have something called a blood patch performed.  They’ll take blood from my arm and inject it into the puncture wound to clot and stop the leaking of fluid.

I think I can take it that my Easter is coming a bit later?  That’s OK because I know myself and I know I deserve a bit of a longer Good Friday.

I’m writing all of this because I’ve received comments over the years from people who’s been faced with spinal problems and have apparently been helped by reading about someone else’s experience.  I’m also writing to ask prayers.  Pray the procedure goes well.  It’s not a big deal.  But also pray I can get back to my Body Beast.  LOL.  I’ve only got five more weeks until I look like Charles Atlas (in my mind) and I am pumped about that.  Of course, since it’s just me who’ll notice the difference I suppose I can convince myself I look that good now.  Yeah… that’s it!  It’s an Easter miracle!

Happy Easter to all of you reading this!  In the Catholic liturgical calendar, Easter lasts for seven weeks so enjoy every minute of it.  Remember the Lord is risen indeed.  This isn’t a spiritual resurrection.  He conquered death, destroyed that bastard.  He is all-powerful and lives and reigns forever and ever for you and me.

Amen.

Alleluia!

Mr. Euclid

First, thank you to everyone who has continued to offer their prayers for my family following the death of my dad two months ago.  They mean so much more than you know and I pray for each of you daily.

I want to tell you all that Dad’s been quite active lately, at least in my mind.  Over the past month especially he’s been showing up in my dreams.  As I told me wife today, the dreams make absolutely no sense on one level and more sense than anything I can think of on another.

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Artist’s rendering of a shape

Last night I went to bed as normal.  At 4AM I awoke from the following dream.  My father and I were in a very ethereal setting.  I can actually still envision all of this.  It’s almost like we were on a cloud but it wasn’t that hokey.  We were looking at, really examining, an equilateral triangle that was simply floating in the air in front of us.  He was instructing me on the properties of the triangle.  His words made perfect sense to me and I never liked math.  Dad was an actuary with a savant’s knowledge of all things mathematical.  I distinctly remember him saying (in this dream) as he had many times when he tried teaching me geometry in high school “According to Mr. Euclid…” referencing the Greek father of geometry.  What are you getting at, Dad?  Triangles?  Really?  Is it the Trinity?  I already believe in the Blessed Trinity.  Remember?  You taught me the sign of the cross as a four year-old when you taught me my first prayers.  Were you trying to show me something else?  Are you popping into the dreams of other people too or is it just me?  This is so strange.

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Hairy but solid

Another thing that’s going on (and I really don’t think the dreams are related) is that my Restless Leg Syndrome has intensified.  It’s now gotten to where the muscles in both legs cramp up about halfway through the night.  I get out of bed and, like this morning, leg down to see that my toes are curled and I have to physically unbend them.  It’s painful.  But, I’m getting it looked into.  This morning I’m going for an EMG/nerve conduction test.  I’ve had several of these done before.  Read about one of my experiences with it here.  In the meantime, enjoy this picture of my leg.  It may be the cause of great pain right now but at least it still makes my trainer jealous as all get out.  “Your calves seem to eat everything in sight” he told me.  Trainer?  My offer still stands.  I’ll happily trade you my calves for everything above your waist.  Then again he could just be messing with me…

Two Months Later

It was two months ago today that my dad went home.

I thought of him a couple of nights ago.  My wife, kids, and I were gathered around our living room praying our nightly family rosary.  Dad was so incredibly devoted to the rosary.  I can still hear his voice as he would come to round us up each evening.  “Rosary time!”  It had a particular sing-song tonal quality to it.

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The astute observer will note the resemblance to the Garden State…  Dad would get the humor here.

And of course, today is St. Patrick’s Day.  My father was particularly fond of his Irish heritage.  I remember when I was growing up and he would go into the deli to get his morning papers after daily mass.  Seemed to me that each year on St. Patrick’s Day he’d emerge from the store with a green-colored carnation pinned to his lapel.

So on this day, in honor of Patrick, in honor of Dad, and in honor of the Blessed Mother I will ask that any of you who read this offer a rosary for the souls in Purgatory.  If you understood that sentence, you’ll know what to do.