My Friend Steve

I have a friend named Steve. He’s a Catholic husband, father, grandfather, and singer-songwriter. My guess is that is the exact order he would put that list in, too. We’ve been friends for two and half decades and I first got to know him when I was in parish youth ministry in Knoxville and invited Steve to join us for our diocesan anniversary Mass. Though we are separated in age by only a few years, his children are older than mine and he’s always been the kind of father and the kind of Catholic I struggle to be. I imagine we all have people in our lives that inspire us and challenge us like Steve challenges me.

He’s been on my mind the last few days. I could pick up the phone and text, challenge him to a game of Words with Friends, or call him, but Steve has a gift for putting words to music and I wanted you to know. To be honest, I don’t listen to his music as often as I used to. My commute, since we moved, has gone from an hour every morning to about 10 minutes. I barely have enough time for the Rosary, catching up on the news on the radio, or the podcasts I used to enjoy. I love getting to work early and getting home in a hurry, but I miss some of the traditions that were once part of my morning. 

On the way out of the house yesterday, I grabbed Steve’s latest CD, High Above Our Way, for the road trip we planned to take after Church. Child number three needed shelves for his room so a trip up 95 to Ikea was on our list. I had heard some of Steve’s new music at a conference in Tampa back in December and wanted to give the whole CD a try. 

There is one song in particular that I could listen to again and again. It’s called More Beautiful and while the whole song is great, I really like the second verse and the chorus.

There is a longing we can’t deny
that God alone can satisfy
peace that none in this world can give
every good thing comes from you
you’re the source,
you’re the summit we’re reaching to. 

May we find you more beautiful,
more glorious,
more alive, and this life, more victorious,
to be more free, and all we can be,
more than yesterday.

You can listen to a sample of the song here. You can also purchase the whole album if you want or download it from iTunes. 

This year, I have resolved to make a concerted effort to tell the people who make my life better how important they are to me. Steve’s music and stories have become a mainstay of Catholic parishes and ministry to young people across the globe. But to me, he will always be the guy who wrote a song for my son’s sixth birthday, huddled with the kids on the steps of the house when we set the fire alarm off at an ungodly hour, and texted me every few weeks when dad died. He is a friend I treasure.

May his music move you as much his presence in my life moves me.

A Thought For the New Year

Death and Life are in the Power of the Tongue
I’m sorry…I didn’t mean it
I take it back
Strike it from the record

What is as irreversible as murder, violates its victims more than theft, is as deadly as an epidemic? And is a lot closer to you than you want to think?

Gossip, slander, and thoughtless speech. Gossip is a million-dollar industry in our country today. We tend to think of it as a sport, harmless and fun. After all, it’s only words. We even have shows devoted to it.

As Christians, we are called to see it differently. Which is worse, we must ask, to steal from someone or to speak ill of someone? To defraud a person or to humiliate him? Answer: Property can be restored, but the damage done to another can never be undone. In fact, our Jewish ancestors compared slander and humiliation with murder: the destruction is irreparable and enduring.

You can’t take it back. What we say about each other is terribly powerful: words have a long, long half-life, and they can destroy in unseen, unhealable ways.

Our words are a footprint we leave for the world. What will they reveal about the way we treat our children, our parents, our friends, students, co-workers, employees? How we treat ourselves?

It’s a new year. Perhaps none of us will find a cure for cancer, or feed the world’s hungry, or bring about world peace. But nearly every day we find ourselves with someone’s reputation or sense of worth in our hands.

We can improve our world in a powerful, pervasive way; we can act as though our words had the power of life and death.

They do.


About this reflection

When I was a child, there was an advertisement in the Wall Street Journal with the headline and text above, though I have edited some of the text. The ad was in celebration of the Jewish New Year, I believe. My mother, wise as she was, cut it out and posted it on the refrigerator. If you said or did something that warranted further reflection, you got to stand in front of the full page of newsprint. In time, I had it memorized. When her children moved out of the house, my mother made sure we each got a copy. Mine hangs on the refrigerator and I can still say it by heart. We learn slowly as children…and sometimes more slowly as adults.

Happy New Year Mom. Happy New Year One and All.

What Rules You?

Last Sunday (not yesterday), we celebrated Christ the King. It is one of those great feasts that gets lost on the calendar. As much as we would like to pay attention to it, the world around us has moved from Thanksgiving to Christmas and wants desperately for us to do the same. Let’s face it, shortly after the Labor Day sales are over, people are talking about Black Friday and in one store, I actually saw lit Christmas trees before I saw Halloween candy. But I digress…

The feast of Christ the King always reminds me of a homily I heard years ago. “What rules you?” the priest asked. My mind wondered then, as it does every year on that feast day, and I begin to think back over recent days. There is so much going on at work. At home, too. This week will see us juggling the science fair, the biennial adult ministry conference that Maureen coordinates with her team and at which the bishop and I will present, a new babysitter, projects, homework, and getting dinner on the table.

The day before Christ the King, we cleaned the house. From top to bottom, basement to bathrooms, wood floors to the grass outside, we cleaned. For the most part, the children were willing participants. Sure, the promise of pizza for dinner and getting to stay up late to cheer the Irish to victory helped, but so did the “divide and conquer” methodology we employed to get small children to accomplish small tasks and then move on to another job.

As I thought back over the day, it occurred to me that what ruled us was a checklist: the list of chores was created by us, but we were controlled by it. Like so many days and nights, we fly from lists at home to tasks at work and from commitments with family to promises made to friends. We let the work around us consume us, change us, and push us into an amnesic state where the “why” we do what we do gets lost.

We clean because it is important to take care of the place where we live. We straighten and dust and vacuum to be healthy in mind and soul so, later on when the pizza is consumed, and the Irish are up by six, we can sit on the sofa and hold our children as they fall asleep. We go to work, I hope, because we love what we do and, yes, because it pays tuition and the mortgage and the food bill. We keep track of what we do, perhaps, for a sense of accomplishment and to know when our work is complete.

Still, it is nice to be reminded once in a while and just to pause and ask ourselves that tough, embarrassing question: What rules you? From where is your motivation derived? Why do you serve in the way you do at the place you do and with the people you do?

Maybe, just maybe, answering the questions now will make for a more clear-headed Advent and enjoyable Christmas season, surrounded by family and friends.

Of course, by then, the house will be a mess…

~pjd

Ten Seconds

For family movie night, we chose a documentary. It doesn’t happen often and usually includes whining from at least one of the children. By the end, however, we are all hooked and wish we had bought it instead of renting it. That was, perhaps, never more true than this week’s movie, Won’t You Be My Neighbor.

It is hard not to be nostalgic these days for Fred Roger’s simple message: be kind. Back in 1968, Mr. Rogers, through one of his alter egos, King Friday, talked about how people do not like change and so the king decides to build a wall. He welcomes an African American to share his swimming pool and dares to dry the man’s feet as the documentary’s director juxtaposes the scene with footage of a hotel manager dumping chemicals into a swimming pool to drive the non-whites out of the water. Mr. Rogers spoke of peace and love and hope and other messages I want my children to learn.

There was one scene that moved me to tears more than others. Receiving an award, Mr. Rogers makes a request of those around him. The filmmaker makes the same request at the end of the film.

In Mr. Rogers words:

“Would you just take, along with me, 10 seconds to think of the people who have helped you become who you are? Those who have loved you into who you are. Those who have cared about you and wanted what was best for you in life. I’ll watch the time.”

Then, looking at his watch, the audience goes silent. The camera pans. People cry. Mascara runs. Eyes close. People look up. People look down. Time passes.

The same is true for the documentary, as the camera pans from person to person featured in the movie: Mr. Rogers’ wife, his sons, his coworkers, his friends, celebrities he befriended. While that happened on screen, the same thing was happening in our basement. On a weekend when we celebrated giving thanks, when we gathered with family and dined together, we wrapped up the weekend by giving thanks for those who influenced us, challenged us, improved us, and loved us.

This week, take ten seconds. Listen to Mr. Rogers and take the time to close your eyes and remember the people who always wanted the best for you.

Ready?

One Mississippi….

 

 

Lord, I Want to See

“Then Jesus stopped and ordered that the man be brought to him;
and when he came near, Jesus asked him,
‘What do you want me to do for you?’
He replied, ‘Lord, please let me see.'”

In this morning’s Gospel reading, the author of Luke shares this powerful story of healing and puts the burden of our requests on the lips of one man (18:35-43).

“Lord, please help us see.”

This week, let us pray that we see civility return to our public discourse.

Let us pray that we see those for whom we are thankful gathered safely around our table.

Let us pray that we can see peacemakers in our families, our parishes, and our communities.

Let us pray that we can see safety in our schools and in our churches and synagogues.

Let us pray that we can see those in need around us and be moved to share what we have.

Let us pray that we can see those who need a lift up, a kind word, or an encouraging note – and be inspired to act.

Let us pray that we see a way that we can help support those who sacrifice so much for the freedoms we enjoy.

Let us pray that we can see fires quenched, homes rebuilt, lives spared, and first responders home with their families.

Let us pray that we can see the lines on the road, the signs at the corners, the lights that are red, and the cars all around us so as to arrive safely to our destinations.

Let us pray that we can see the face of Christ in those who annoy us, challenge us, and confuse us.

Let us pray, too, that we can see the face of Christ in the mirror, shedding self-doubt and remembering that we are all children of God.

Lord, help us see the truth, not as we wish it were, but as it is.

Lord, please help us see…

With a grateful heart.

 

The Long Journey

Can you imagine life becoming so unbearable on the East Coast, so dangerous, so poverty-ridden, and so unsafe for you and your children, that you pack what little you can carry, take your children by the hand, and start walking?

Now imagine that this trek takes you from the East Coast to the West Coast – some three thousand miles. Even if you walked 15-20 miles a day, it would take you 280 days to make the journey. Too far? Just walk to Denver. From my house, that’s still 1,812 miles. Could you do that with your kids in hand, your belongings strapped to your back, depending on the kindness of strangers for food and shelter?

I couldn’t.

And yet, history is filled with journeys.

We read about the Jews taking flight through the desert of all places, through the sea, up the mountains, and taking so long to make the passage that an entirely new generation arrives at the destination. We call it an Exodus and we celebrate their patience and the laws they received on their way.

We read about Mary and Joseph taking a trek on the back of a donkey and we pause to remember the sacrifice.

We remember the journeys of St. Paul and read nearly every Sunday about the communities of Corinth, Ephesus, Caesarea, and Thessalonica to whom he wrote and gave instructions we still ask our children to follow.

We read about two men, on their way to Emmaus, joined by the Risen Lord and reminded that, in the breaking of the bread, salvation is found.

And yet today, we read about thousands of people who are marching to a better life and we argue about how fast we can close the border.

These people are hungry and yet manipulated by immigration groups and the media. They are scared and yet willing to take on hard jobs most of us don’t want to do. They are worried about their safety but are willingly walking in the open air because they dream of a better tomorrow.

They are you and they are me. With skin of a different color and language we may not understand, they are us. They are our ancestors who journeyed on boats from foreign lands like Ireland and Italy and Hungary and Spain. Boats, I might add, onto which you and I would never step foot.

They are human and worthy of the same dignity we demand our children show one another.

To say otherwise flies in the face of all the other journeys we celebrate and remember.

This week, let us put down the newspaper, turn off the wifi, close the browser, and pick up a Bible.

The answers are there, I promise.

-pjd

First Teachers

Anyone who has heard me give a presentation to parents knows that I love to quote the prayer over the parents that happens at the end of a baptism in the Catholic Church. It’s the part where the priest or deacon tells mom and dad that, in addition to having to buy diapers and formula, books and blankets, tuition and car seats, they are the “first teachers in the ways of faith.” Okay, to be fair, the rest of that isn’t actually in the prayer, but I swear it is implied.

First teachers. That’s heady stuff. There is an implication there that mom and dad have a clue as to what they are doing in their own faith lives. “You cannot give what you do not have,” the wise man says. So if mom and dad haven’t read the catechism or learned their prayers, they may want to spend that first year reading up on the Good Book so they are prepared.

I thought about that first teacher stuff the other night when I took the children to the track behind their school for movie night. The littlest really wanted to go and once she promised the eldest she would not sing along to every song in “The Greatest Showman” (which was the movie of choice), we had a deal. We picked up some chicken and some drinks, packed the folding chairs in the van, and set off. Mom was flying back from a trip and Friday night is movie night anyway, so this might prove to be fun.

It was a circus.

Actually, it was a circus happening around a movie about a guy that starts a circus. There was as much chaos in front of the screen as there was on the screen. Some kids chose to play basketball instead of watching the movie. Others chose to run around and scream on the playground. One little group of girls – all with light-up sneakers – decided to chase each other in and around those who were actually watching the movie. When one of them hit the inflatable screen for the third time, I thought my second youngest would lose it.

“What is wrong with these people?” he asked.

“Their parents,” came the response from the eldest child.

No one was in charge. No one had control of the situation. As my children sat there watching the film, I began to wonder why they were so irritated. It wasn’t because they wanted to run around, it was because this was billed as a movie night for families and since we’ve had movie nights for years, they knew how this should go: start the movie, pause it for snacks and bathroom breaks, and otherwise sit quietly and laugh, cry, or fall asleep. But running around, tripping on the tie downs for the screen, and generally shrieking about was never on the agenda for my kids.

It turns out the movie was a backdrop. An excuse to get families together. We went expecting one thing and what happened was something else. That’s not a bad thing, but the realization didn’t help ease my irritation.

At one point, I remembered, as I was trying to pass out Oreos to those kids sitting around us behaving themselves, what Ron Rolheiser says about those times when screaming and yelling of children irritates us. He calls the unabashed outpouring of noise and merriment “joy” and says that it can irritate us because this joy gets in the way of our own misery.

“Was that true?” I wondered as I sat there in the cool fall night? “Was I miserable in some way? Was this joy around me irritating me because there was something inside me that needed to change.”

“No,” I finally concluded.

These parents should be watching their kids.

Being a first teacher is hard.

-pjd

Different Paths. Same Journey.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, there is a battle that plays out in every family. Who is the greatest? Who is the least? As my mother’s favorite, I can relate.

Then Jesus takes a child and makes some comments about having the faith of a child and about receiving the Word like one receives a child. But that is not my favorite part of the passage. Here are my favorite lines:

Then John said in reply,
“Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name
and we tried to prevent him
because he does not follow in our company.”
Jesus said to him,
“Do not prevent him, for whoever is not against you is for you.”

You have to love a guy who wants to stop other people from doing that which is good and holy because that person doesn’t “follow in our company.” It’s like the party on the left yelling at the party on the right for doing what is right but going about it the wrong way. Or the people at work who accomplish a great task but get criticized because they didn’t go about it the way we would have. What kind of world would it be if we all kept our eyes on the Light and not on the path we took to get there?

I think this is what Pope Francis is talking about when he says, “The important thing is that each believer discern his or her own path, that they bring out the very best of themselves, the most personal gifts that God has placed in their hearts (cf. 1 Cor 12:7), rather than hopelessly trying to imitate something not meant for them. We are all called to be witnesses, but there are many actual ways of bearing witness.” (Gaudete et exsultate, 11)

This week let us be witnesses. Let us refrain from imitating others and be faithful to the gifts God has given us. Let us not fight about who is greatest or who is the least.

Most of all, let us recognize the good works going on around us and acknowledge that, even though we might have done the work differently, God is present.

~pjd

 

 

Seventeen Years

This week we commemorate the 17thanniversary of that Tuesday morning when church doors were opened, and people wept openly in the streets. Loved ones were lost and true heroism became the top story on the evening news. Initials like “FDNY” took on new meaning and, for a moment, the world stood still and mourned.

No one who is in grade school or high school can tell you about their experiences of that day. In fact, some of the people teaching those very students were likely in grade school and high school themselves that fateful day. Those old enough to remember can tell you the stories of where they were, what they were doing, and how their lives were interrupted for a few days. They can tell you how quiet the skies were and how filled the churches became. They can tell you about the return of major league sports, prime-time television, and how a president inspired a nation with a bullhorn as he stood atop the rubble.

But as a country, we have forgotten the lessons of that day. We have forgotten how important it is to talk to each other and hold hands once in a while. Patriotism has been replaced by partisanism and no one really has a conversation anymore. Instead, we define people by right or left and we stand on the side we think defines us and we yell at each other. People who dare to cross the proverbial aisle to work with another person are condemned as traitors and are called names by colleagues and friends. Ideologies define us and all that we are sure of is that the other side is wrong.

We are an impatient people, made more impatient but the glut of news and the lack of filters. Where you get your news creates a line of demarcation about where you sit and who you believe and how great you think our country is – or could be.

Seventeen years ago, we stopped fighting for a little while. Politicians stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, “God Bless America.” Color and race and creed and orientation did not matter – especially if you needed saving or rescuing or defending. We recognized how fragile life had always been when we saw photos of strangers hanging on a fence and commuter lots filled with cars whose owners were not coming back.

This week, maybe we could pause to remember those who died needlessly that day, stolen from their families by a madman. Perhaps we could remember those who ran into the buildings. They ran into the buildings. Perhaps we can remember the thousands who have died since then – and are still dying – combatting the power of evil in the world.

Most of all, we should remember the civility, the calm, and the longing for peace that was so palpable in the days and weeks that followed that awful day. These are the lessons we must teach today’s young people. They did not experience any of those things and if we are not very careful, they never will.

Let there be peace on earth, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our families, in our workplaces, in our country, in our hearts.

And let it begin with me.

~pjd

Gone Fishin’

Well, not really fishing, but the Donovan clan will be on vacation for the next few weeks, so we’ll check in from the road (or we won’t).

Know that we will pray for you as we journey.

pjd