Sunday, May 31, 2009


Is there anybody out there?

I'm sorry I can't hear you. Um. A little louder, please.

OK. No one's there.... I think.

Just in case, bye.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

I could have died...

If we look back on our lives we can often find not just one or two, but numerous times when we could have entered heaven right then. For instance, when I was too young to remember, my mother tells me of a time traveling in the car to Kansas. My dad pulled in the left lane to pass a car (before all the interstate highway roads had been completed). It was quitting time at a factory they just passed, and the guy my dad was passing must have thought it was a buddy of his. So he decides to play chicken and not let us get by. There was an oncoming car, and at the last second the jerk looked over, was surprised to see we were not who he expected, and quickly pulled aside to avoid a collision.

When I was a kid old enough to remember, my mom was driving me and a whole bunch of other kids in a station wagon on a country road (speed limit 45). Someone pulled in front of her at an intersection and she went around that car on two wheels. When the car bounced down again, she went up on the other two wheels to avoid a head-on collision with a car coming towards her. Since there were no seat belts yet, it would have been very ugly if my mom hadn't been able to drive like a top Hollywood stunt man that day.

When I was fifteen, my sister and I were driving home from school on that same country road. An oncoming car lost control and narrowly missed hitting us. When they came to a stop in a horse pasture, no one was left in the vehicle. They were spewed out all over that field and in need of an ambulance.

When I was eighteen I came very close to being struck by lightning.

When I was twenty-three I got pneumonia. Without modern medicine, who knows what would have happened. Thank God for vaccines, too.

When I was twenty-five I hemorrhaged badly during a miscarriage. I can still remember vividly what it was like to lie there on a gurney in a warm pool of blood. It was about four units worth. I received two units of blood that day. Within a couple years after this event they decided it was time to start screening blood for the AIDS virus...

When I was around thirty-one or two, I was walking my two young boys down Packard Road. John was dawdling and looking at everything in every sidewalk crack. I kept urging him to speed up. Suddenly a car left the road, ran over a street sign, and stopped a few dozen feet in front of us on the sidewalk. We might have been at that spot if John had been persuaded to truck along. The driver was a mom who said she was trying to swat her kid in the backseat when she left the road.

When I was thirty-seven, I was driving with a bunch of kids in my car. Suddenly I felt very unsafe and prayed out loud for protection. Immediately after that prayer a car that passed me swerved into the other lane and hit the car behind me head-on. Was that my guardian angel, or what?

When I was teaching some of our kids to drive we had a close one on the highway. Let's just say that the individual lost control of the car, swerved back and forth several times and then spun around and stopped facing the semis coming towards us. It was perhaps fortunate that it was nighttime, since our headlights helped alert the oncoming traffic that something was wrong. Needless to say I said some fast, screaming prayers, and those semis managed to go by us, one on each side.

So without much digging, I've managed to think of nine times my life was in danger of ending. It can happen any time to anyone. Each day is a gift.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Never Fear

So many things hang over our heads, like vultures waiting to gorge on the failures. We live in a culture that fears failure and demands excellence, perfection, and competitive lust for success. Certainly doing one's best is a good thing, but too often unspoken standards "out there" paralyze us from doing anything at all. We convince ourselves it is better not to try and avoid embarrassment if it doesn't work out.

And yet, I've learned the most from my failures, and I rejoice in those experiences. Some of them taught me that I was not talented in that sphere. Other times I've learned from what went wrong and did it better the next time around. And sometimes the learning was all I wanted, and did not feel compelled to go at it again.

Once I had a very bad teaching experience. I vowed that that was it--no more classroom teaching for me. Today I live to teach in the classroom. Necessity forced me back, and I learned from each return to the classroom, grew as a teacher, and found that I loved it after all. If fear had ruled my decision, my best gifts would have been buried in anxiety.

Today I am embarking on another task that I am anxious about. I am procrastinating. It is yet undetermined if I will succeed, only pass muster, or entirely fail. But I will learn on the journey, and not be paralyzed by fear.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sleepless in the Saddle

Life keeps coming at you and you can't dodge the fast balls. You can't afford to drop off to sleep and fall out of the saddle. You have to ride that wave, suck that lozenge, and deal with the big deals. No time for whining, wishful thinking, or self-pity. Just do what needs doing. Be ruthless in deciding without delay, and stick with the consequences. Don't let them run over you--beat them into submission! Your life is measured by how well you fight the battle. Some of it is euphoric joy, some of it is grim, some of it is sheer grit, endurance, and nerve. But all of it is won by facing it head on.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why We Don't Share

Ever since my son and his fiancee got engaged, I've been pondering how to explain to my non-Catholic relatives why they will not be invited to receive Communion at the wedding mass. This is the result of much reflection, and although it may not make those relatives happy, it is hoped to shed some light.

Catholics and other Christians have been in disagreement ever since the split in the church about what it is they are actually receiving. This is the heart and core of the difference between denominations. There are many other disagreements, but none as key to the problems that have caused the scandalous division between Christians. I won't address the other issues, but do hope this explains why we, as Catholics, don't share.

Having been raised a Presbyterian, I went through Communicants Class to prepare for full entry into the Presbyterian Church and to begin receiving communion. In this class it was emphasized that communion services reenact the Last Supper and that the bread and grape juice we would receive are just symbols from that first communion service. I still believe this is true. Presbyterians and other protestants serve a symbol for the body and blood of Jesus Christ. They themselves believe that is what they are doing and they are absolutely correct. I respect their desire to participate in the Last Supper using these symbols.

Catholics do not receive a symbol. They receive the real thing. The high point of Mass, the consecration, is a miracle. The host and cup are lifted up by the priest, and at that point, although they retain the appearance of bread and wine, transubstantiation takes place--they become the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. The host and cup are the presence of the Lord, and are treated with the greatest reverence possible. There are saints in the Catholic Church who have willingly and lovingly sacrificed their lives to protect consecrated hosts. Because this is the faith of the Catholic Church, no one, not even Catholics are allowed to receive communion without extensive education to prepare for this great privilege. Even if a non-Catholic professes belief in this miracle, they are not invited to partake until they have been adequately prepared--and this usually requires entry into the Catholic Church. And Catholics who usually receive communion are expected to not participate if they are not in a state of grace--if they have committed a serious sin they need to go to confession before they receive communion again. You don't handle pure objects with soiled hands.

Throughout history, the greatest insult a non-Catholic can do to a Catholic is to desecrate a consecrated host. Sadly, at this point in history, this offense is taking place regularly. People hostile to the Catholic Church know they can get attention by calling the host a "cookie" and are doing vile things to them whenever they can get their hands on them. Clearly this is a hate crime, but I have yet to hear a non-Catholic call it so.

Non-Catholics are sometimes puzzled at actions or gestures customary with Catholics. Genuflection is one. Why do we do it? Because after communion, any leftover consecrated hosts are put in the tabernacle--a place of high honor for Christ, flanked always with lit candles. The lit candle is a sign to others that Christ is present in the church specifically in the consecrated host. We bend our knees to show respect--the same respect others would show to their king, we show to The King. When you enter or leave the throne room of the king, protocol requires a gesture. Genuflection is ours. The church is the throne room of the king, the tabernacle is the throne. We face the tabernacle when we genuflect. If there is no consecrated host, the candles are not lit and the tabernacle is left open. There is no need to genuflect.

When you understand what we are receiving, the gestures and postures we assume suddenly make sense. It should also make sense that if you have no faith that transubstantiation takes place--if you do not believe that the host is our most holy possession of all--you should not touch it. When you are invited into someone's home, you respect their property. You don't jump on their furniture, deliberately scratch their tables, or smash their lamps. You have been taught not to do this. To receive communion without teaching is like jumping on someone's best furniture. You do not know what you are doing!

There is yet one more reason for non-Catholics not receiving Catholic communion. All who receive it are showing a sign of unity with each other--a common faith. Since all Christians do not believe the same thing about communion, it would be hypocrisy to share communion when not in agreement about this core practice. That is why non-Catholics will be invited at the wedding to pray for unity during communion. Rather than enacting a false sign of unity when there is none, we ask you to join us in unity by praying for understanding and a softening of hearts towards unity. This is also one of two reasons why Catholics do not participate in communion in other denominations, even when invited. It would be pretending that we are in more agreement than we actually are. It would not be true. And it would be doubly hypocritical to pretend unity using the most sacred sacrament we have been given.

The second reason why Catholics do not participate in non-Catholic communion services may make some of you angry. I'm sorry about that, but I can't think of a way to soften the reason. Here it is. If you are hungry and need something to eat, and one person offers you bread, while another person offers you a picture of bread, which one are you going to eat with? Communion is spiritual food. Once you have received the real thing, the symbol will not satisfy that spiritual hunger. Furthermore, you have a sense of dishonoring the real thing by accepting the symbol.

One final comment, and then I'm done. Going back to when I was in Communicant's class. It was emphasized in the class that the bread and grape juice were just symbols. That was what I was taught. But when the time came, and the cube of bread and cup of juice was offered to me, I said a little prayer. It was this. "I know they told me that this is just a symbol, but I want it to be the real thing." I did not know anyone had the real thing. Imagine my astonishment when I found out that Catholics could give me what I was hungering for. From the moment I learned that, there was no turning back. This is why I am Catholic, and this is why I agree with the Catholic Church, that we should not share with those who don't believe in the real presence of Christ in communion.