View from the choir

I am a Catholic layperson and Secular Franciscan with a sense of humor. After years in the back pew watching, I have moved into the choir. It's nice to see faces instead of the backs of heads. But I still maintain God has a sense of humor - and that we are created in God's image.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

What did you learn at school today?

Last Spring, a male science teacher at a local high school sprung a surprise on school officials.

He announced he was becoming a woman.

Although not common, this sort of thing has happened before. But the teachers in those instances quietly moved to a new school or a new district.

This teacher announced that he planned to return to his own school, however. Moreover, he was going to dress as a woman - even though he had not yet begun the procedures needed to add remove or add parts to his anatomy.

This teacher is tenured, so the district can’t do anything about it even if it wanted to. The only way to boot a tenured teacher is if he commits a crime – and even that is not enough in some instances.

Besides, the district has embraced this as a teaching moment.

Diversity in the classroom!

So the district has held workshops and meetings for staff and parents. And the students will be subjected to the same when they show up for the first day of school next week.

Welcome students. By the way, watch the jokes or you'll get suspended.

It’s not clear why he is doing this. Maybe he was afraid he couldn’t get a job elsewhere (even though science teachers are in demand).

But maybe he wants to make a statement.

Likewise, the district may be stuck (tenure and anti-discrimination laws are hard to fight). And by all accounts, he is a popular, competent and well-respected teacher.

Or maybe some officials are celebrating this opportunity to broaden consciousness in the "right" way.

No Christmas Carols. No prayers. But teachers in drag are fine.

I’m reminded of something G. K. Chesterton said:

"Modern education means handing down the customs of the minority, and rooting out the customs of the majority."

Shrine visit

After years of driving by the Thruway exit for the Shrine of the North American Martyrs in Auriesville N.Y., we decided to finally stop on the way back from dropping youngest daughter at college.

Just our luck: It was raining. We could not walk around all of the grounds - including the Ravine that I hear is inspiring - but what we did see was wonderful.

I took a couple of pictures in the "Coliseum" - the large church on the grounds.

We plan to go back.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A son of the Church

At Vatican I, a number of bishops disagreed with the idea of papal infallibility.

Among those bishops was Bernard McQuaid, the first Bishop of Rochester.

He argued vigorously against the doctrine up until it was clear that it was what the pope wanted, and was going to be supported by enough bishops for it to be approved. At that point, he (an some other bishops) left Rome without voting rather than to cast a vote against it and thereby embarrass the pope and show disunity in the church.

Once the doctrine was announced, however, he declared he accepted it and spoke no more about opposing it.

My own positions on some church teachings are similarly nuanced.

While I might not agree with some ideas intellectually, and am quite willing to debate them in certain circles, my public position is that I acknowledge church teachings and the authority of Rome.

Part of this is becuase I acknowledge that I am a lay person, not a theologian. While I am well read, I am not a scholar or an expert.

An analogy: I know the basic principles of how to operate, but I am not a surgeon. I might voice opinions about what is the best way to go about operating, but I leave the actual procedure to the experts.

So I kneel and say, Rome has spoken.

I just hope on some issues Rome might reconsider!

Saturday, August 26, 2006

A little Orthodoxy

A few weeks ago I raised some hackles when I wrote about basic Christian beliefs. I cited the creeds as a guide.

Of course, I went a bit further and questioned some Catholic practices and beliefs that were not contianed in the creeds and had developed out of tradition (and that caused some of the offense).

But I've been reading Chesterton's Orthodoxy recently and came across the following passage:

"I add one purely pedantic note which comes, as a note naturally should, at the beginning of the book. These essays are concerned only to discuss the actual fact that the central Christian theology (sufficiently summarized in the Apostles' Creed) is the best root of energy and sound ethics. They are not intended to discuss the very fascinating but quite different question of what is the present seat of authority for the proclamation of that creed. When the word "orthodoxy" is used here it means the Apostles' Creed, as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed."

Ah. I feel in good company.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Ticketing a priest! Say two Our Fathers and three Hail Marys

I think someone might have to go to confession over this AP story...

A Brooklyn priest is protesting a $115 parking ticket he got while tending to a dying hospital patient last month.

"On humanitarian grounds, the law should not be interpreted and applied so stringently that it will prohibit a religious leader from doing his work," said the Father Cletus Forson of St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Bay Ridge.

Forson got the ticket around 9:30 p.m. on July 26 when he parked in a no-standing zone in front of Maimonides Medical Center in Borough Park. The story was first reported in the Daily News on Tuesday.

Forson said he knew the spot was illegal but he didn't have time to look for a legal spot because he had just received a call from a parishioner desperate to find a priest to administer the sacrament of the sick to her mother. He placed his clergy parking permit on the dashboard and went in.

"I couldn't get any parking," Forson said. "It is my obligation to get there and administer to the needs of the sick."

Forson said that the patient's daughter and a nurse he spoke with both gave him the impression that the situation was serious and he could not wait until the next morning to visit the woman.

He found his car had been ticketed when he emerged from the hospital after about 20 minutes.

"I was disappointed that a car parked in a restricted zone with a clergy sign on it cannot be interpreted to mean that a priest is visiting someone who is sick," he said.

Forson appealed the ticket but Administrative Law Judge Michael Ciaravino refused to overturn it.

St. Andrew the Apostle paid the fine but the head pastor, Monsignor Guy Massie, wrote a letter saying the church was doing so with protest.

City Finance Department spokesman Owen Stone stood by the city's decision, saying Forson was parked in an ambulance zone.

"They need to keep those clear," he said. "Blocking that puts lives at risk, that's why the ticket got upheld."

Forson denied that he was blocking ambulances and said several other cars were parked in the same area where he parked.

"There were four cars in front of me," he said. "It's not like it was only my car that was there."

City Councilman Vincent Gentile wrote to Finance Department Commissioner Martha Stark on Aug. 11 demanding that the ticket be dismissed.

"He was rushing to the hospital to administer the Catholic last rites to a dying patient," Gentile said. "To me this is just another episode in the continuing saga of the city out of control with ticketing."

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The teacher sneezed

When our teacher sneezed
we were very pleased
to see his glasses fly
into the turtle tank
where they quickly sank.

He said, “Where can they be?
Without them I can’t see!”
as he searched low and high.
We’ll give them back some day,
but this means no test today!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Enter the Dagon

A few years ago I was in a low-budget horror comedy film, Enter the Dagon.

It paid "homage" to H. P. Lovecraft, with horror and martial arts combined. It even won some favorable reviews!

Supposedly, there is a DVD coming out eventually, but if you are curious, you can see the trailer at
Enter the Dagon trailer

I'm the drunken sailor near the beginning.

Give it a view.

There's also a website with stills.

<Enter the Dagon clips

Bridget limerick

My beautiful daughter named Bridget
hates when her name’s rhymed with widget.
I search all the time
for a prettier rhyme,
but for now she’ll just have to fidget.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Castro Clerihew

Fidel Castro
speaks Spanish like Franco.
They have lots more in common, it’s said,
except that Castro’s not yet dead.

St. Padre Pio Chapel to be built

With so many news reports about people doing terrible things in the name of religion, it’s nice to hear about people motivated to do something positive because of their faith.

Olindo and Filomena DiFrancesco, an Italian immigrant couple who run a business in Rochester, NY, are so devoted to Saint Padre Pio that they are heading up a drive to build a chapel in his honor in the Rochester suburb of Gates, where I live.

They’ve put up $100,000 of their own money to build the $2 million chapel on land donated by the Italian American Community Center.

There are fliers about the chapel in shops all through Gates. People have been chipping in for the project for quite some time.

St. Padre Pio lived in Southern Italy where he drew fame for his holiness, and the mystical experiences attributed to him.

He also had the stigmata, manifesting the wounds of Christ.

He died in 1968 and was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 2002.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for this September. The 168-seat chapel is supposed to be completed in the spring of 2007.

I admire the DiFrancesco’s devotion.

I look forward to praying in that chapel.

ashes (haiku)

moonlit room –
the dog’s toys next to the box
that hold her ashes

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mittens (1989-2006)

On Thursday, Mittens joined Hannah and Seamus and the assorted other pets in our backyard.

Mittens was my daughters' cat. We got him for Christmas back in 1989 when I was going through a difficult divorce and custody battle. I wanted to help create some positives in my daughers' lives at that point.

Mittens was one of those positives.

I took the girls to a co-worker's house. The co-worker's cat had had kittens. There were a number of cute kittens. Mittens was not one of them. But the girls picked him.

He was black with white paws (hence, "Mittens"). He was a cranky, irritable cat. He had a loud purr that sounded almost like a motor. He used to sit next to my face in the morning using that purr to wake me up. He hid from strangers. He even developed a bad habit of spraying in the house for a while.

He also got quite fat.

The girls loved him.

I didn't dislike him, but I did not particularly like him at first. I had my own cat, Seamus, whom he tormented at times.

But he liked me. I seem to have that effect on creatures and people with problems.

So as the girls grew and got involved outside the home, and eventually headed off to college, and after Seamus passed on, Mittens claimed me (and my lap) as his.

I called him "Flat Bob" (a play on Fat Slob). Later, as illness took its toll, he became "Old Bone."

He developed infections in his mouth a couple of years ago, and had to have almost all his teeth removed. He was never quite right after that.

We first noticed Mittens was having more serious problems last year. I took him to the vet. He had failing kidneys. The vet said there were some treatments, but they were expensive and probably would have extended his life only a bit more (he was 15 at the time).

We decided to let nature take its course and to only intervene if he was obviously suffering or got too bad.

Mittens gradually lost weight because his body was not processing the food very well. He was doing a poor job of cleaning himself. He missed the litter box.

I fed him twice as much as Scooter, my wife's cat. I gave him extra milk, and even bought some cans of nutritional supplements to help.

We thought he was going to be gone by last Christmas. The girls made a point of saying goodbye before they went off to college. But there he was at Christmas. And Easter. And at the beginning of the summer.

In the last two months or so he was having an increasingly harder time going up stairs, climbing on laps, even walking. He began to lose bladder control. By Thursday, he was wetting himself and leaving puddles, sometimes even lying in puddles. He couldn't clean himself any more.

So I took him to the vets. I held him for several minutes. He was strangely placid. He purred. Not the loud motor purr. Just a quiet purr. A tired purr.

I buried him next to Seamus.

Friday, before I went to work, I stopped by the spot to say hello. I greeted Seamus and Hannah also.

Hey Old Bone.

If I'm lucky enough to get to heaven, I hope I'll have room on my lap for all of them.

And that they will be willing to share me.

Ah, but I do believe in miracles.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them.

Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.

Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."

Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant. (Mark 9: 2-10, NAB)

Imagine the moment.

Peter, James, and John knew Jesus was someone special – the Messiah. But the messiah they likely imagined was someone who would free Israel from the Roman yoke, a warrior, or a king who would rally the people.

Then they go up that mountain, and witness something they could never have imagined.

Jesus, glorified, his clothes becoming “dazzling white,” standing with Moses and Elijah, the representatives of the law and prophecy.

Peter, ever practical, in his awe suggests that he erect three tents (or booths, or, in the King James version, tabernacles) for each of these holy beings, the tents suggesting the dwelling of God with his people (Ex 25: 1-10, Ez37:27, 43:7)

What else went through the minds of Peter, James and John?

We get a clue from 2 Peter 1:16-19.

We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.

For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him from the majestic glory, "This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased."

We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain.

Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

This is no fantasy, Peter declares. This was real. We saw it. We heard a voice from the heavens declaring that Jesus is His Son. And in the same way, our prophetic message "is altogether reliable."

Now imagine if we had such an encounter. How could we then doubt Christ and his message? How could we fail to act on behalf of the Kingdom?

If only we could have been there with them back then.

But Jesus did not exist just then. Jesus is God, eternal, beyond time. Jesus was and is and will be, all at the same time. So Jesus is here with us now.

Still, encountering Him in all his glory seems beyond us.

Or is it?

Psychotherapist G. Scott Sparrow has written a book called I Am With You Always: True Encounters of Encounters with Jesus.

In the book he recounts stories of people's encounters with Christ since the crucifixion, beginning with people like Mary Magdalene, the disciples fishing at the Sea of Galilee, the two followers on the road to Emmaus, St. Paul, and others in the early days of the church, up until contemporary encounters. Along the way he recounts stories of encounters by such people as St. Francis of Assisi, Captain John Newton (who went on to write "Amazing Grace"), Baptist pastor A. J. Gordon, and many lesser known people.

For many of these people, the encounter was transformational. It helped them to discover a direction for life, to find healing, to experience a change in understanding, and so much more.

Many of those encounters involve "light", with Jesus appearing in the midst of the light, or manifesting himself as light – much as happened on that mountain 2000 years ago.

My own life was transformed by such an encounter.

Many years ago while I was a college student, I was involved with prayer groups.
One night, I went for a walk to think and pray. As I walked across the campus, I suddenly felt as if I was breathing in mint. A light seemed to fill me and surround me. The light seemed to flow through me. As I looked around, I realized that that same light in me was flowing through the trees around me.

In that moment, I realized that I existed only because that light, that it sustained me, just as it sustained all creation.

I knew in my heart that that light was God, revealed to me for one brief moment.

I felt loved.

Now I don’t mean to imply some sort of pantheism. A tree is not filled with God's presence in the same way as a man. But the tree exists only by the will and power of God.

And as such, I, as a son of Adam, am called to respect and protect all of creation. Use it, yes, but use it carefully and with gratitude.

That moment transformed my life. Oh, I have failed many times since. I have sinned. I have been caught up in the false values and teachings of the world. But no matter what I do and how far I stray, the memory of that moment keeps surfacing and I realize what is real, and that what is real reaches into me and sustains me.

It is "a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in (our) hearts," and we would "do well to be attentive to it."

This does not mean that all people have such moments. Some people come to belief and are strong in the faith without the need of such encounters – and blessed are they.

As Jesus says after dispelling Thomas’ doubts, "Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed." (John 20:29)

And however we encounter Christ – with inexplicable experiences, through others, through Scriptures, may we find the wisdom to act, as Peter thought to do on the mountain when he wanted to erect tents.

For if we are willing, God will ultimately give us the direction we need to do what needs to be done.

Friday, August 04, 2006

A published limerick

I just found out that Weird Tales – a "horror" and fantasy magazine - has published one of my limericks in their August/September issue.

Creative Solution

A doctor from South Aldersgate,
when asked why he never does date,
said, "Dating’s a pain,
and so I’ll refrain.
Besides, I can make my own mate."

They have another one of mine that will be in a future issue.

Wait until you read that one!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Women priests in Pittsburgh

"In essentials, Unity; in non-essentials, Liberty; in all things, Love."

I came across that quote a few years back. It’s the motto of the Six Principle Baptists.

I thought of the quote when I heard about the Catholic women ordained in Pittsburgh yesterday – eight as priests, four as deacons.

They can't function officially – their ordinations are not considered valid by the church.

I'm sure the word excommunication is going to surface a lot in connection with this.

But I was thinking about the Baptist quote.

I don't consider being male essential to priesthood. What is essential is a call from God (Hebrews 5:4).

Some or all of those women may have that call. I have known some women who have had it. I have known some male priests whose call I question.

Yes, I read what Pope John Paul II wrote on this issue. It was not infallible teaching on his part, no matter how hard you try to stretch the definition of infallible.

On the other hand, the years of training and official sanction by the hierarchy needed to be a priest – yes, that I consider essential (and so these women fall short there for now). Even the Baptists consider some steps,training and recognition essential for ordination.

I consider gender a non-essential for ordination, so I think there should be liberty here.

I have no problem with women priests. While on vacation I attended an Episcopal service with some friends, and the priest was a woman. She did a fine job – and her homily was better than a lot of those I’ve heard in Catholic churches. (So was the music, and the participation by the congregation. And there was no mad rush to the parking lot before the service was even over. That all says something about her and her leadership at the church.)

As for love, I think it is more loving to recognize God-given gifts in people, and to provide competent spiritual leaders for our churches.

Maybe the Catholic Church could learn something from those Baptists.