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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Early poems of a "minor poet" wannabe

I'm in the process of compiling all my poems in a blog.

I'm starting with my earliest ones, working forward.

Right now I'm up to 1990 - 62 poems compiled.

I'm doing this in part to get a count - I think I may have some 200-300, of which about 30 have been published. I also want to have them all in one spot.

The quality varies - from wretched to publishable. Maybe by the time I go home I will, by sheer volume, have enough poems to qualify as a Minor Poet!

The first poem that I wrote (that I can find) is from 1968 - when I was 12/13 -

A leaf tumbled
to the ground.
Don't ask me why:
It just did.

Ah, even then puzzled by the world.


Tuesday, December 30, 2008

An early poem: Brother Ass

Brother Ass

Brother Ass,
you stoke me with
your stubborn love.
The roses you hide
bleed into my soul.

Your brothers and sisters
still sing the praises
you sang with them:
songs we often fail to hear.

But last night,
Sister Star fell
and flashed a song -
and I heard.

(That's a poem I wrote back in 1976 when I was 20/21. Francis was on my mind even then.)

Human life begins at ....

"When does a new individual of the species Homo sapiens come into existence? Multiple scientific studies have examined the earliest stages of life and there is only one answer that is consistent with the scientific facts: a new human life commences at the moment of sperm - egg fusion, an event that occurs in less than a second."

Maureen L. Condic, Ph.D., Senior Fellow at the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person and Associate Professor of Microbiology and Anatomy at the University of Utah School of Medicine.

That's the fact. Planned Parenthood and its allies can try to hide the truth - but they are in the business of killing human beings.

(Thanks to Jean at Catholic Fire for the quote.)

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Blessed Mary Frances Shervier

On December 15 we celebrate the life of Blessed Mary Frances Schervier, a member of the Secular Franciscans who established an order, the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis.

She was born into a distinguished family in Aachen, Germany, in 1819. She was attracted to religious life, but in 1932 her mother died and at age 13 she was forced to run the household. She became known for her generosity to the poor, and her devotion to St. Francis. In 1844, she joined the Secular Franciscan Order.

In 1845, she and four like-minded women decided to form a community devoted to caring for the poor and sick. They attracted other women, and in 1851 they formed the Sisters of the Poor with the approval of the local bishop.

The community spread, reaching the United States in 1858. Blessed Mary Frances visited the U. S. in 1863, and helped members of her congregation care for soldiers wounded in the Civil War. She visited the U. S. again in 1868.

She died December 14, 1876, but her congregation continues active in a number of ministries, including operating hospitals and homes for the elderly.

Sister Mary Frances was declared Blessed in 1974.


Trashing "It's a Wonderful Life"????

There's a piece in the New York Times that "trashes" It's a Wonderful Life.

That's right - trashes one of my favorite movies.

Wendell Jamieson, the author of "Wonderful? Sorry, George, It's a Pitiful, Dreadful Life," wrote, “It’s a Wonderful Life” is a terrifying, asphyxiating story about growing up and relinquishing your dreams, of seeing your father driven to the grave before his time, of living among bitter, small-minded people. It is a story of being trapped, of compromising, of watching others move ahead and away, of becoming so filled with rage that you verbally abuse your children, their teacher and your oppressively perfect wife. It is also a nightmare account of an endless home renovation.

Did he miss the point of the movie?

It's a story of redemption, of love, of family, of self-sacrifice, of generous caring people who band together, of realizing there is more to life than the world's definitions of success, of the power of prayer, of the infinite web of connections among people, of the many consequences of our seemingly individual actions. It gives us a glimpse of a caring God who uses a foolish and flawed angel like Clarence to help save George.

And George is like so many of us. Sometimes jealous, angry, frustrated - caught up in dreams and missing the point of what's real until his eyes are opened. Trapped? Only if you believe this short stay on earth is all there is. The movie lets us know that there is more.

George Bailey is a basically decent man who is richer and more successful than Mr. Potter.

Now it would be easy to launch a diatribe against Jamieson. It would be easy to say that his view is typical of the selfish, self-centered coastal elite than does not understand most Americans and people of faith.

But I'm not sure how much of this piece was tongue in cheek (albeit, even in its humor revealing a sadly skewed view of the world). Jamiesen admits an affection for the movie, and even that when he first saw the final scene of the movie at age 15, "I felt a tingling chill around my neck and behind my ears. Fifteen years old and imagining myself an angry young man, I got all choked up."

"And I still do."

I also choke up every time I see it.

My reaction to this piece is that I could understand Jamiesen reacting as he did at age 15, but it saddens me that he still voices some of that view as an adult.

Maybe he needs a visit from Clarence.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Catholic poets

The Author's Motto
(Richard Crashaw)

Live Jesus, Live, and let it be
My life to die, for love of thee.

Metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw converted to Catholicism late in life.

He is one of many convert poets. That list is a long one - G. K. Chesterton, Denise Levertov, Gerard Many Hopkins, Thomas Merton, Oscar Wilde, Paul Claudel, George Mackay Brown, Dunstan Thompson, Roy Campbell, Edith Sitwell, Siegfried Sassoon, Alfred Noyes, Maurice Baring, Robert Benson, Cardinal John Henry Newman, John Dryden, and many more.

Some of these folks are better known for other works and other genres, but they did write verse. Some are better poets than others.

I suspect there are many other convert - and cradle Catholic - poets today.

Poetry is a flexible tool. It can be used to explore the mind and the soul. It can be used to entertain and to educate. It can be used to express deep emotions and profound thoughts.

Like any art form, it can also be misused and poorly done.

I don't denigrate the amateurs - as Chesterton noted, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly." I read some people who are considered "light," trite, awkward. I look at myself as one of them! Folk/self-taught poets: Why not? I just make sure I also read poets who are more skilled and polished, and I try to improve my own poetry.

I also don't necessarily dismiss those who "misuse" poetry if they are sincere. You just have to be careful with such verses - you need a solid ethical/moral/aesthetic base before reading them.

And some poets simply should not be read by children from 6 to 60 and beyond.

I remember reading a highly respected and moderately popular contemporary poet. I borrowed several of his books from the library and dove in. His style was appealing and he had some interesting insights. But the more I read, the more my unease grew. His world view was so dark, so cynical, so amoral that I could feel it seeping into my mind and soul. I stopped reading.

I might use some of his techniques, but reject his world view.

I also read secular poets, and poets of other faiths. I don't dismiss them. There is much out there that is beautiful and moving. I just apply the same standards to those poets that I do to Catholic and Christian poets: Does reading their poetry make me a better, more insightful person?

But one of my points with this blog is to promote Catholic poets.

I have posted some of my own poems. As part of my Catholic Culture campaign, I plan to feature poems by other poets as well. You might see a verse by a classic poet, poetry from more obscure contemporary and historical poets, or poems from other blogs and sites.

The poems will not necessarily be religious. The might be about nature. They might be about dogs. They might be about love and family. They might be humorous.

I hope that these poems will inspire you in your own faith life, and to perhaps write your own poetry. At the least, I hope you will find them worth reading, and will do some exploring and reading of your own.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

The pause of Claus

After Epiphany Santa Claus
will take a pause.
But believers have no need to fear:
He'll be back next year.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

What is Catholic Culture?

The folks over at the Catholic Culture site are running an article about restoring Catholic Culture ("Restoring a Catholic Culture: Where Do We Start?").

Philip Lawler, commenting on the recent election and the failure of Catholics to vote as a block to support the Culture of Life, notes that we need to live as Catholics: "What if there were enough of us striving to live an authentically Catholic life so that our neighbors couldn't help but notice? Inevitably they would notice, too, if there was something a bit different about the way we lived: something distinctive, something attractive, something clearly in keeping with the teachings of the Church. We need to bear witness to the power of Christian principles, to act as the yeast within our society."

He says we need to replace secular hedonism with Christian humanism.

And he points out that the Catholic Culture site will be attempting to help Catholics challenge the world.

We'll help serious Catholics identify the people who are proposing helpful new initiatives, consistent with Catholic principles, in the fields of education, family life and law, health care, immigration, and foreign policy-- not to mention the pro-life movement. We'll call the attention of loyal Catholics to the books and magazines they should be reading, and the other web sites they could be visiting. We'll help them to identify others-- individuals and families-- who live nearby and share their concerns. In short, the Catholic Culture site will serve as a meeting-place and resource center for thoughtful Catholics interested in building a quiet, productive "counter-culture" in our society.

He give some suggestions that I won't go into here. He expresses them far better than I can. And I am not here to promote the site.

But I do have my own ideas about culture - separate from the pro-life and political battles that seem to the only part of "Catholic Culture" that gets attention.

Lawler is right - we need to be a leaven - but that leaven has to extend throughout all of our cultural actions.

What movies do we go to? What periodicals do we subscribe to? What television shows do we watch? What books do we read? What music do we listen to?

Those are all part of culture. When we say we watch a show that promote promiscuity, for example, what message are we conveying about what it means to be Catholic? That we are just like everyone else and we act just like everyone else? What is that doing to our own view of the world and faith? How are they affecting our own moral judgment?

I'd like to see us support and create a CATHOLIC culture. Not as a way to separate ourselves from the world, but as a way to be an example.

As consumers, we need to choose books, television shows, movies, music and more that present views and ideas compatible with Catholicism. We need to encourage artists who try to create with faith in mind - and even better, Catholic ones. If we have talents, we need to use them to promote the Catholic vision.

I'm not talking here about theological treatises - though that might be fine if that is your inclination - or dull tracts and bland poetry and well-meaning but boring movies. The work has to be aesthetically pleasing and intellectually stimulating. But some of that is out there - we just need to use it.

Teens and pre-teens, for example, should forget Twilight. Read and view the Chronicles of Narnia, for example. Or Lord of the Rings. Those classics are better for any of us than occult-steeped romances.

For Christmas this year I gave each of my daughters (ages 20-25) copies of Chesterton's biography of St. Francis, sharing with them two of my own Catholic passions, but not attempting to shove it down their throats.

I don't know if they will read them. I hope they do. Maybe they will - when they are ready.

But the books are there, waiting.

Imagine if every Catholic in the U.S. received gifts that might plant seeds of Catholic Culture?

I plan to write more on this ...

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bishop Clark's Christmas Mass in jail

There's an article in today's Democrat and Chronicle about Bishop Matthew Clark of Rochester celebrating Mass in the Monroe County Jail for Christmas.

The Bishop has been doing this for a long time - some three decades. This year, he did so even as he continues to recover from surgery.

Back in the 1980s, I used to assist with those Masses. I was part of a Corpus Christi music group that played for the Monroe County jail Masses every other week, and we were always there for Christmas Mass with the Bishop. I remember he used to bring his mother. He and she both warmly greeted and interacted with the inmates. It was a powerful symbol of his care and concern for them.

I loved those Masses. I finally stopped when a growing family forced me to take a part time job at a radio station and I worked Sunday mornings (don't worry, I always got to a Saturday evening Mass).

The article mentions that the Sisters of St. Joseph supplied the music this year, as they have done so for a while. Donna DelSanto used to be part of the old Corpus group, and she is now Sister Donna, SSJ, so she may still be part of music at the Mass.

It's an important ministry, and presents a positive image of Catholicism. I'm proud of Bishop Clark for still doing the Masses.

Congress more Catholic?

Catholic News Service (via Rochester's Catholic Courier) has an article about the the number of Catholics in Congress growing.

My question is: Catholic in what sense?

The article notes that Catholics will constitute more than a fourth of the new Congress to be sworn in January 6, but that there's a definite tilt toward the Democratic Party (also known in some circles as the Party of Death).

Four years ago, there were 153 Catholics. Two years later it was up to 155 Catholics in the 110th Congress. The new Congress will have "162 members who identify themselves as Catholics."

The key phrase there is "identify themselves as Catholics." One of them cited, for example is Senator Joe Biden, who until January 20 when he becomes VP or until he resigns is still a Senator. But he has clearly gone against church teachings (especially on abortion), and there have been questions raised about whether he is excommunicated, or should receive Communion.

Another nominal Catholic in the new Congress who has gone against Church teachings is Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

How many other of the "Catholics" in the new Congress will be of the Biden/Pelosi brand of "Catholic"? How well will they represent the Church on such issues as abortion, embryonic stem cell research, marriage, suicide, etc?

As public figures who present themselves as Catholic, they do represent the Church.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Christmas Poem

Oh, to have been a shepherd or a king
and to have heard those angels sing
or to have seen that star so bright
upon that holy Christmas night.

But Christmas transcends both time and place
and we can share in that night’s grace
when like those humble ones back then
we heed God’s call and proclaim, “Amen.”

(For those who received a Christmas card from me, I hope you won't mind seeing the poem again.)

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Gagging the Obamas

There are reports that the Kenyan government has basically put a gag order on all of Barack Obama's Kenyan relatives.

It would be embarrassing at this point if one or more of them said (as did grandma) or produced evidence that showed Obama was born in Kenya, and hence he would be ineligible to serve as President of the U.S.

Even if there's nothing to the Kenyan birth rumors, there's still plenty more we don't know about Obama. My suspicion is that we won't know the truth about him for a year or two - until the media gets over its crush and actually starts digging.

A Pro-Life New York Senator?

While the media and the pundits trip over themselves discussing whether the US Senate replacement for Hillary Clinton will be Andrew Cuomo or Caroline Kennedy (the former so pro-abortion even NARAL likes him, the latter flirting with pro-abortion groups while being coy about her stand on the issue), there's an openly pro-life dark horse: Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi.

Suozzi, a Catholic, is in his second term as Nassau County Executive (population 1.3 million), and is credited with helping turn around that county's finances. At the same time, he has drawn praise for his management skills, and for his concern for the less fortunate.

Something in his favor is that he has some ties to Governor Paterson. The Governor asked Suozzi to run a commission to overhaul the state's taxes, Paterson picked as his top aide Suozzi's former deputy, and is rumored to be a possible lieutenant governor candidate with Paterson in 2010.

One thing to like about Suozzi is that he's the only Democrat with enough gumption to have taken on Eliot (The John) Spitzer when that disgraced bad boy ran for Governor.

Would Suozzi continue to be pro-life in the Senate, or would he get wishy washy like Senator Casey? Worse, if he decided to seek higher office, would he suddenly discover he's pro-abortion, as that former pro-lifer Presidential wannabee turncoat Al Gore did?

I don't know, but given the other two main choices - the pro-abortion Cuomo, and questionable Kennedy, who hasn't even bothered to vote half the time in elections, I'd be willing to take a chance.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

A Franciscan Musician

Although he was not a musician, St. Francis of Assisi was a "musical" saint. There was a joy, a passion, a poetry in his love of God. One need only think of his stick violin and his dancing to see the music in his spirituality.

Although my own musical involvement predates my formation with the Secular Franciscans, I see music as part of my own Franciscan spirituality.

I currently belong to two groups at church - the regular Sunday choir, and Rock of Faith.

With the choir, I play guitar (yes oh traditionalists, that horrid instrument), and sing with the basses. The main instruments for the choir are the piano and the organ - though we do have two guitars (traditionalists shudder) and a bass (Horrors: A nun on electric bass, no less). The choir sings a mix of songs. Gregorian, traditional, contemporary "classical", and some contemporary. It's a nice mix, and the vocals and harmonies are sometimes wonderful.

Rock of Faith is more up-tempo. The kind of music you might hear at a rally at the Franciscan University at Steubenville. Keyboard, acoustic guitar (me), electric guitar, electric bass, and drums are the main instruments, with occasional flute, saxophone and other percussion. The main vocals are supplied by a woman and two teen girls. The keyboardist and I sometimes sing lead, and we provide the "male" backups to the main singers.

The main choir sings for most Masses. Rock of Faith plays once a month, usually for youth/school Masses. We've already been requested to play at two other churches as well, though nothing in stone yet.
I like both groups. I'm not a musical purist or absolutist. I don't think there is any one "proper" way to sing at Mass. Both groups fill needs, and the focus of both is on worship.

The music must be appropriate, done with reverence, and done well (but not necessarily "professionally"). Other than that, I think whatever helps to enhance the worship is fine.

Just as there are so many cultures around that can add richness and variety to worship, so can music. And I see no problem in taking advantage of that variety and richness.

There has already been mention of me providing music at some of the Secular Franciscan meetings. To be honest, I am not familiar enough yet with the music that's sung (accompanied by recordings), but I can see me playing eventually for Masses and some meetings once I get to know the songs better. I play by ear and familiarity- my sheet music reading skills are rudimentary.

Some purists might say that I'm not qualified to play at church because I don't have the formal training and the technical know how. Nonsense. I play well enough that I don't offend and can lead people in song, and have even composed some songs.

I would play even if it meant just picking up two sticks and dancing with delight for my Lord.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Santa gets some questions

Boy: Santa, you say you think all the children in the world are your children.

Santa: Yes.

Boy: So if I'm your son, what's my name?

Santa: You don't know? That's terrible. You'd better ask your teacher.


Friday, December 12, 2008

40 Days for Life frightens Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood, the billion dollar abortion business, is apparently afraid of the 40 Days for Life Campaign.

That despite the fact that the most pro-abortion President has been elected promising all sorts of anti-Christmas goodies for the pro-abortion cabal.

David Bereit, 40 Days' National Campaign Director, reports that PP has put out a desperate fund-raising letter - what did they do with that billion they made from killing babies??? - with the following on the envelope:

“Relentless Anti-Choice Extremists: They’re coming after our organization with everything they’ve got! Help us fight their post-election challenges!”

Bereit then notes -

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, clearly spells it out: “Now, here’s what worries us the most…”

Then she specifically identifies 40 Days for Life as one of the greatest threats to the abortion chain’s business.

Richard writes, “Planned Parenthood is under attack,” explaining the setbacks their staff and customers experienced when, “from September 24 to November 2, 2008 a coalition of anti-choice groups promoted a ‘40 Days’ campaign all across America, including 24/7 prayer vigils outside Planned Parenthood offices and health centers.”

She concludes the letter by saying, “the hard-edged, well-funded groups coming after Planned Parenthood are playing for keeps,” while telling abortion supporters, “I only hope you realize how urgently we need you.”

Gee. I was one of those folks. I didn't see a lot of well-funded activities - just a volunteer group of committed, life-loving, prayer-filled people.

But then, Planned Parenthood has always been fast and loose when it comes to the truth.

So here's my response to this plea: Instead of giving to Planned Parenthood, give to pro-life women's centers, or to the 40 Days campaign.

40 Days will hold it's spring campaign February 25 - April 5. If there is a local effort, join it. If not, find some fellow pro-lifers and organize one.

Let's show those troubled and frightened souls at Planned Parenthood - and the women going there - a message of love.

Not to frighten them even more, but to convert and save them, and to save lives.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Catholic Radio (WHIC)

In Rochester, we have a Catholic radio station - WHIC 1460. There's a mixture of content - prayer, talk, EWTN programs, Q &A programs, some music, etc. I've been listening to it more lately.

During the Presidential campaign I did listen to a lot of local politically-oriented talk radio - right and left. But as the campaign progressed, I found it more and more troubling. The views across the board were so partisan, so strident, so cynical, that I could feel a certain heaviness creeping into my own ideas.

Lead us not into temptation.

So I stopped listening.

And turned more to WHIC.

WHIC was created in 2003 out of an old religious station WWWG. The HIC stands for Holy and Immaculate Conception. The station is part of a small network, Holy Family Communication s (now just two stations), and they are referred to jointly as The Station of the Cross.

I like to receive messages that nurture my spirit, not dampen it. I like to receive Catholic information and ideas.

Catholic Answers Live. Catholic Connection. The World Over. Calling All Catholics. The Journey Home. And more. Such programs help me to grow.

Check out Catholic radio in your area. Turn to it more than the more secular stations - it might help you spiritually. Help to support it financially, too. These are tough times for everyone.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A note between poems

In a book of poetry
from the library
between pages 152 and 153
between Sleep and Death
and a Cat and an Argument
a torn slip of paper
with “Brown Sugar”
written on one side
in neat script
printed on the other.

Brown Sugar?
Sweetness to mark Sleep? Death?
The Cat? The Argument?

Or Not?

Did one poem resonate?
This one? That one?
Was this just as far
as the reader could go?

Was this a reminder forgotten?
A reminder filled?
A recipe requirement?
Simple indifference?

Or Not?

And who?
And when?

I will return the book
with the torn paper
between pages 152 and 153
with no answers.


Monday, December 08, 2008

Back to principal/teacher

For the first four years of the Christian school where I teach, I served as "lead teacher " - principal and full-time teacher combined in one.

The school has been growing, though, and it's expecting an enrollment surge in the next three years (Catholic schools would be jealous). The trustees felt they needed to split the jobs to get ready for that surge. They made it clear that it was not a criticism of the job I had done, but they decided it would be difficult for one person to wear two hats when it got bigger. I remained as a full-time teacher, and they hired a part-time principal.

Things were a little shaky between the principal and the staff, though, and I never could quite get a handle on him. I think he never quite got a handle on us.

Today, the CEO met with the staff after school and announced the principal was no longer with the school, and asked me to go back to my old two-hatted role for now.

After he left, one of the teachers leaned over and said to me, "Christmas came early this year."

I have mixed feelings. It's nice that they wanted me back in my old role, and, to be honest, I liked doing it (maybe I should have gotten that administrator certification!). But I feel bad for the principal who got let go. Just two weeks before Christmas - that's tough.

I prayed for him at Mass tonight.

Watching him did give me a few ideas about other ways to do things, so hopefully I can do a better job of administering now.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Pro-lifer Huckabee tops poll

In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday, 34 percent of Republican and independent voters who lean Republican say they will be likely to vote for former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee if he gets the Republican nomination in 2012.

He beat out Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who got the support of 32 percent of those polled - a statistical tie, but with Huckabee still ahead.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney took third place in the poll with 28 percent of those questioned saying they are very likely to support him as the GOP nominee in 2012.

Huckabee and Palin are both pro-life. I particularly like one Huckabee quote on the issue of abortion: "I have no desire to throw women in jail, I just want to stop throwing babies in the garbage."


Dec. 6 - Feast of St. Nicholas

I am one of those old-style four-name Catholics - with three names given at birth, and a confirmation name.

Lee Francis Joseph Strong.

Early on, I discovered there was no "Saint Lee," just some "Saint Leos," so I glommed on to St. Francis of Assisi as my patron saint - an easy choice for an animal-loving, environmental, poetical sort. My current formation with the Secular Franciscan Order is just the latest manifestation of my devotion to Il Poverello.

My confirmation name choice was not due to some special devotion to St. Joseph. I chose that name because it was my brother's middle name. It was a way to say to him how much I loved him - without actually saying it ( I was a pre-teen boy at the time, after all!) But over the years, St. Joseph has taken on special meaning to me for his selfless devotion to family - especially after I became a father - and to serving the Lord in important but less flashy ways.

So my two patrons and role models form amny years have been Ss. Francis and Joseph.

Add St. Nicholas to the mix.

I have long been fascinated by the big guy - both for his more secular "Santa Claus" manifestations, and for the stories and legends surrounding the good Bishop of Myra. One of my favorite movies has always been the original Miracle on 34th Street, and early on in life I liked images of St. Nicholas. As an over-weight bearded fellow myself, he was a natural.

A decade or so ago, being a tough guy to shop for at Christmas time, I half jokingly told my family that what I wanted for Christmas was anything Santa related.

Hoo boy!

Since then - statues, figurines, post cards, dancing Santa's, ornaments, a Santa outfit, etc.

Hundreds of Santa-related items. Literally. I have gotten so much joy out of their gifts and their obvious pleasure when they find something unusual or interesting.

I have to confess that I acquired some of those items myself, getting caught up in the collecting. I keep joking about opening a Santa Claus Museum and putting them all on display. (Well, there is a toilet paper museum, so why not!) Maybe I'd make it a part of the ice cream shop I dream (not seriously) of opening - North Pole Ice Cream!

But there has also been a devotion to the Saint, even if little is really known about him. The stories depict him as a devoted and loving bishop who cared for the poor and became associated with protecting children - the part of the story that developed into Santa Claus. As the father of three daughters, the legend of his helping three girls with dowries to save them ffrom lives of degradation appealed to me. Even if many of the stories about him are legendary, he is still a worthy role model.

For the past four years, I have been able to emulate him through my work as one of Santa's "helpers" at the mall. I try to treat each child with respect and love - joking, laughing, asking questions, singing and even dancing with them. Whatever it takes to make them feel special and cared about even if only for a minute.

Three patron saints then: Francis, Joseph, and Nicholas.

Not a bad combination.

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Friday, December 05, 2008

Lay preacher reined in

Back in September, I wrote about a lay preacher in our parish. In permitting her to preach regularly at the time of the homily, the pastor was violating Church norms.

I spoke with the pastor and parish staff, but to no avail.

I finally called the Diocese of Rochester. I spoke with an official who confirmed that my interpretation of the norms was correct, and that she should not be preaching. I was told that the pastor would be contacted and told this was not permitted.

She has not preached since.

It seems to me pretty clear that diocesan officials, contacted politely and respectfully, addressed an abuse that until my call they did not know about (that was certainly the impression I got during the conversation with the diocesan official).

Maybe some of those other alleged abuses out there would also be addressed if the Diocese was approached in an appropriate manner and made aware of them.

Venerable Solanus Casey's respect for bishops

"On another occasion a group of pilgrims visiting him had occasion to complain about some action of their local bishop. Solanus could not tolerate such criticism of the church whose representative the bishop was. He roundly scolded the complainers for their lack of love and respect for God's chosen minister."

-- Meet Solanus Casey: Spiritual Counselor and Wonder Worker by Brother Leo Wollenweber, OFM, Cap

As I read this passage, I could not help but think of my own Bishop Matthew Clark, currently recovering from surgery. He, and the Diocese of Rochester, have been frequent targets of criticism in some circles.

Certainly some actions and decisions in this diocese and by Bishop Clark can be criticized, but the sometimes personal, mean-spirited attacks are troubling.

I wonder what Father Solanus would say to such people were he with us today?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Goats for the Homeless

Goats for the Homeless

Driving back from the mall
the other day
we passed a church.
Wife and daughter began to laugh.
In front of the church
was a sign,
they said,
that said,
“Goats for the Homeless.”


This led to much speculation.
on the way home.

The homeless here
or in some foreign land?
Where would homeless people keep their goats?
Why goats?
Easier than cows?
A source of milk? Cheese?
Have a barbecue?
Maybe they could use the wool
to weave blankets to keep warm.
Goat products to earn money?

Maybe goats could help ease
homeless people’s loneliness.

The next day
I drove by the church again.
I looked at the sign.

It said:
Coats for the homeless.

Ah, that made more sense.

Too bad.

I didn’t tell wife and daughter.

Sometimes life
can seem
a little sweeter
with some mystery in it.


Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Spirit Alive: Gospel of Mark

As part of the "Spirit Alive" program of renewal in the Diocese of Rochester, Catholics across the Diocese are being asked to read the Gospel of Mark.

At St. Theodore's November 30, Father Steve Kraus blessed the Bibles were were told to bring, and preached about reading the Bible reflectively. The parish also gave out bookmarks listing the specific passages the Diocese is suggesting we reflect on each Sunday between now and March 29.

November 30 was Mark 1:1-8.

The bookmark asks the question "What if every Catholic in the Diocese of Rochester read the same book?" - echoing the popular secular program in which a community bands together to read the same book.

There will be weekly reflection questions posted at

I like the idea of all of us reading the same book - and I like the idea of reading the Bible. I think we Catholics should read more Scripture. I'll read some commentaries along with it on top of the reflection questions.

Maybe we can get them to try some Chesterton next!

God is pro-choice????

I was saddened to run across this one from Judie Brown at the American Life League:

I couldn't believe the e-mail that I recently received from a pro-life friend living in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She told me about a letter written by a nun to the archdiocese.

My friend told me she was "disturbed" to read this letter. She said, "I cannot fathom how a religious sister could not only advocate abortion, but also place her pathetic, misguided ideas into print! What a disgrace! And why would our archdiocesan newspaper even print such garbage?"

The Milwaukee archdiocese published this letter in its newspaper, The Catholic Herald. I also answered my pro-life friend on the EWTN web site.


Even though Catholic bishops are already pressing President-elect Barack Obama on the issue of abortion, it is time they begin to realize that 54% of Catholics who voted for him do not agree with the bishops telling people how to vote.

Obama may be pro-choice, but so is God. God gave everyone a free will and he does not pressure people into using that free will to do what is right. Obama promised to do what he can to prevent abortion. What more need he do when so many other pressures to make changes are upon him?

Yes, abortion is the killing of an innocent life. So is war and violent killing on the street. I have often seen many starving babies in hospitals in Honduras and witnessed their pain. In these cases, abortion might have been the lesser of two evils, and even the most merciful alternative.

I challenge our bishops to dwell more on unjust economic issues that both create and perpetuate the need for children to die of starvation, and for women to choose abortion. It would be better to aim at eliminating poverty rather than focus only on abortion. Poverty in our country and the world at large is a disgrace that cries to heaven for vengeance.

Sr. Arlene Welding, SSSF; Campellsport, WI

Well, I am as upset by this as anyone who reads it should be, and on several levels, it contributes to the ongoing confusion that reigns within Catholic circles across this nation. The first and perhaps most obvious problem with this nun's letter is that she is clearly not only pro-abortion but feels fine attributing her views to God, the Author of Life!

To suggest to the readers of a Catholic newspaper that the Catholic bishops are out of line for standing up for the innocent preborn child is ludicrous. But it certainly is not as ludicrous as her comments about the number of Catholics who voted for Barack Obama, as opposed to the opinions bishops might have on the direct murder of preborn children by abortion! To equate the direct murder of a preborn baby with the "lesser of two evils," thus suggesting that some preborn children would be better off dead than to have to be born into poverty, is about as misguided and ill-conceived a notion as I have ever seen in print. It tops many of the comments I have seen from pro-abortion leaders.

It is astounding to me that a Catholic newspaper would print such garbage and expect silence from all those in the Catholic community who know the truth, defend the truth, and expect to read the truth in a newspaper labeled Catholic! So here is an assignment for you.First: contact Sister Arlene Welding's religious congregation and demand an apology from them for her public dissent from the truth of Catholic magisterial teaching.

School Sisters of St. Francis
Central Offices of the U.S. Province
1501 S. Layton Boulevard
Milwaukee, WI 53215

You can also e-mail, though I think letters are best. The e-mail address is

The phone number is (414) 384-4105Second, please contact the Executive Editor/General Manager of the archdiocesan newspaper and let him know how shocked you were to read this screed in his newspaper.

Brian T. Olszewski The Catholic Herald
3501 S. Lake Dr.
Milwaukee, WI 53235-0913

The phone number is (414) 769-3466

Mr. Olszewski's e-mail address is

Finally, it would be a very good idea to send copies of your e-mails and/or your letters to the archbishop of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, whom I honestly believe would be as shocked as you and I about what was published in his newspaper.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan
3501 S. Lake Dr. P.O. Box 070912
Milwaukee, WI 53207-0912

Phone: (414) 769-3497


May you find peace of mind and joy of soul by writing your messages, and feel comfort in knowing that no matter how clearly wrong some things are, even when labeled Catholic, they are all a part of living in a world steeped in the culture of death. Be of good heart, for we are assured of God's love, regardless of the muck in our midst.

Judie Brown


Obama may be pro-choice, but so is God???

Incredible. Sad.