There Can Be No Excuses

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I’m a Catholic. I was born into a Catholic family and baptized as an infant. I attended twelve years of Catholic school and have received all of the sacraments but Holy Orders and the Anointing of the Sick. I’ve been a rather lackluster cafeteria kind of Catholic for the last several years, but of late I have returned to the fold on a regular basis. I can’t imagine myself being a member of any other Christian denomination, but I have to admit to being angry and sorrowful over the latest accusations of priests engaged in sexual abuse with young children and seminarians. The details are literally vomit inducing, and I can’t even imagine how dreadful it must have been for those who had to endure such horrors. In my mind there can be no excuse for such egregious behavior from any adult, much less one in a position of trust.

My church has to face the problems that brew in its ranks and accept full responsibility for such incidents beginning with a willingness to report such violations of decency to the police as soon as they are discovered. Anyone who simply moves a priest to another location or thinks that sending them for rehabilitation without alerting law enforcement should be viewed as an accessory to a crime. The days of hiding the abuse from the public must be long gone. It is only right and just. If the church leaders want to demonstrate compassion and forgiveness, they may do so, but first there must be adherence to the laws of the state. If that means watching one of their own being sent to prison, then so be it.

I have long believed that the church’s insistence on maintaining celibacy with the clergy is an outdated and problematic ideology. I see nothing wrong with having married priests. In fact, I suspect that opening up the priesthood to those who wish to have families would be more conducive to finding psychologically healthy individuals to maintain the parishes. It would certainly be a boon to vocations, and would lead to clearer understanding of the problems that faithful face. One of my all time favorite priests became single after he had raised his children and lost his wife. He was allowed to enter the seminary, and he brought a wisdom and compassion that is heart warming. He knows what it means to have the challenges of raising a family. His life with a wife and children has provided him with a unique point of view. I truly advocate for changing the ancient rule that seems out of place in our modern world.

For that matter, I wonder if we are also ready to accept female priests. The old ways of considering women unable to handle the same challenges as men are long gone. We have lots of proof that women are not only able to perform many of the same tasks as males, but they often bring additional assets and talents to most jobs. So many of the nuns that I knew as a child would have been remarkable priests. They were as wise and intelligent as the men, but relegated to a more submissive role. Surely we have moved beyond that as well.

I see religious men and women in other faiths doing remarkable things while still caring for spouses and children. They do not seem to lack either the energy nor the time to care for their parishioners, and they generally do so with few psychological hangups. I feel that if we create a more normal atmosphere for our priests, those with problems will be less attracted to a religious life where they think they might hide their proclivities. With a few adjustments to the way things are done, many of the problems that continue to plague the church will be eliminated or at least minimized.

You may be wondering why I don’t just leave the Catholic Church and find a new experience say as an Episcopalian or a Methodist. The answer lies in my conviction that the church is more than a single priest or even all of them put together. It is the community of the millions of Catholics the world over. It is about a beautiful faith and set of beliefs that rise above the sins of a few. As a member of this holy body I have a right to question the difficulties that I witness, and even to suggest solutions, but I do not intend to leave.

Long ago a very good priest, a holy man, Father John Perusina, baptized me when I was a baby. Many years later he witnessed my marriage and was a faithful friend of my family. Once when I was frustrated about problems that I saw in the church I threatened to just leave and find a place to worship more to my liking. Father Perusina gently and wisely pointed out that if everyone had my attitude the church would soon be run by the very people with whom I disagreed. He urged me instead to stay and to feel free to make my voice heard. He insisted that the only way to make change was for those with good ideas to remain members of the church. I have found his advice to be more than true. I have often been able to constructively note problems and bring about changes in the parishes that I have attended.

I have been a fortunate soul as were my brothers. We did not encounter the evil abuse that has been perpetrated on some innocent souls. I feel certain that most priests are as good as we expect them to be, but the unfortunate fact is that all too often the really bad ones have been treated with kid gloves when they should have been made to feel the consequences of their sins, not just within the church but with the law. Until that becomes a uniform reaction any time someone is discovered engaging in such heinous acts, a sense of distrust will remain to tarnish even the best souls.

We seem to have found a courageous pope who will be honest about the problems and will work to find real solutions. I’ll pray that a productive path will be found. I love my church and want to see it enforce the values that it taught me even when those in the highest level of authority do wrong. There can be no excuses ever again. 

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Three Days in August

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Some things are so traumatic that they leave a permanent scar on the heart. We vividly remember how such events felt even years later. For me those moments have been the morning when I learned of my father’s death, the day that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the moment when I heard that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had also been killed, 9/11, and the three days of rain that flooded my city last August as a result of hurricane Harvey.

It has now been a year since fifty one inches of rain fell in virtually every part of Houston over that three day period. I remember all of the dire warnings that were being bandied about even before a drop of precipitation made its way to earth. I made a few preparations, but truly believed that the weather forecasters were overreacting. As a matter of fact, I joked with both of my daughters in a group text noting that the news reporters were all going to have egg on their faces when the whole incident became a bust. We all three worried that such wolf crying would one day lead to disaster when none of us bothered to listen to them anymore.

Most of the people in my neighborhood stayed home all day long getting ready for we knew not what, but before long we were bored and more than ready to get out and about. Precaution kept us home nonetheless and we reverted to binging on Netflix just to get away from the dire predictions on the local television stations. My next door neighbors baked cookies to fill the hours of waiting for a disaster that seemed in grave doubt of ever materializing. It finally began to rain in the evening, but nothing about the downpour seemed to be especially alarming. My husband, Mike, and I retired feeling content that the morning would find everyone doing well.

Of course that was not the case. By the time I awakened and turned on the television to see what had transpired during the night there were already areas of town that were severely flooded. Almost one third of Friendswood which is only about fifteen minutes away from my home had been hit hard. People were being evacuated in boats after their homes filled with water. All along Interstate 45 there were reports of grave problems. The images on television were frightening, and even more so were the messages from friends on Facebook who had been forced from their houses in the middle of the night.

The rain kept coming down, with no sign of letting up. I became more and more concerned mostly because Mike had been struck down by a stroke only a few weeks before. We had been told that he was in a critical time period when the chances of his having another attack were the most likely. I began to worry that he might need emergency medical care that would not be forthcoming, but I said nothing to him because I wanted to keep him calm.

Mike was sleeping quite a bit at that time, so I took advantage of the moments when he was dozing to slowly move items upstairs just in case our house began to take on water. I put many things on countertops and high shelves in closets. All the while I monitored the nonstop coverage of the event. The news was not good. The rains kept coming and the photos got worse and worse. I prayed for even a few minutes of respite from the inundation, but none came. My neighbors and I sometimes met outside to determine how well our street was draining. Somehow it seemed as though there was no way that we would ultimately be spared from flooding inside our homes. We promised to watch over one another to the end, whenever that might be. Day two ended with even more horrific stories than the first, but we were somehow safe.

Mike and I went to bed upstairs but I slept very little. The constant droning of the rain made me anxious. I checked over and over again to see if my home was taking on water. I’d also quietly turn on the television to see if there were any signs that the rains were finally going to end. Somehow all hope seemed to be gone. I cried over the images that I saw. I sobbed each time another of my friends or relatives reported that they had been forced to evacuate their homes. I thought surely that my beloved city was so hopelessly wounded that it would die an excruciating death. Not even the stories of courage and compassion that were so numerous were able to convince me that we would somehow survive the ordeal. Mostly I continued to worry about Mike and all of the unfortunate souls who had already lost so much. One of my students provided me with a small slice of optimism when he texted me to assure me that if Mike needed to get to a hospital he come immediately with his big truck to save the day.

There were fears of levees bursting in neighborhoods where dear friends and relatives resided. It seemed as though the news grew worse and worse and worse. Still the rain kept coming and I finally reached a point of sheer terror. I had done all that I might to prepare for the worst. I was exhausted but unwilling and unable to sleep. I kept watch all night on the third day, certain that my street and my home would soon have no place to drain. Many people that I love had already had to flee. It seemed that no area of town was untouched.

It was early in the morning, about five, when I realized that the rain had stopped. I held my breath expecting the inundation to return at any moment, but we had finally reached the end. Four and one quarter feet of rain had come done without even a short pause. There were people whose houses flooded only thirty minutes before the end came. Some who had survived the deluge went under water when the county had to open two reservoirs to prevent the downtown area from going under water. As a city we were wet and tired and overwhelmed by what had happened. I truly believe that we may have suffered the largest case of mass PTSD ever recorded. Little did we realize that the work of repairing our city had only just begun, and it would continue for months, and in some cases, more than a year.

I used to love rainy days. I reveled in the sound of thunder and the raindrops falling on my roof. I have yet to find storms as relaxing as I once did. I watch the weather reports religiously. I have been on high alert all during the current hurricane season. I sometimes suffer from guilt that I was spared while so many had to endure sheer terror as the water rushed in through the weep holes of their walls. I am thankful for my good fortune, but not able to celebrate because I know all too well how horrible the past year has been for so many others.

Even with flood insurance or assistance from FEMA most people had to dip far into their savings to return their homes to a livable state. Those without such funds still walk on concrete floors and lack the privacy of walls. For many it will still be a very long time before life returns to normal. It’s difficult to know who they are because from the outside it appears that Houston is as normal as it ever was. Still we know that the suffering lingers.

We are proud of how we behaved and the ways in which we helped one another. We will be eternally grateful for the kindnesses extended to our city from people all over the world. We will move forward as we always seem to do, but we will forever be haunted by far too vivid memories of those three days when biblical tales came to life. I suppose that if we make through a few years without a repeat performance from Mother Nature we will eventually calm down, but for now we just want to reach the end of hurricane season without any excitement. We remember what happened on those three days in August all too well.

Our Mothers, Our Angels

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I recently participated in a podcast dealing with the question of how to form meaningful relationships. As I told my own stories I realized how much I had learned about compassion, gratitude, courage, loyalty, trust and other important morals from my own mother and those of my friends and cousins. I suppose that in many ways I lived a kind of unblemished childhood with the exception of my father’s untimely and unexpected death. From the many women that I encountered, the mothers of my peers, I learned the lessons of being someone on whom others might depend. These were wonderful women who opened their homes and their hearts to me little realizing what an impact they would have on my own development and worldview.

I have sadly been reminded again and again of what these ladies meant to me as they one by one die from the diseases of advanced age. Just last week I learned of the death of the remarkable mother of one of my high school friends. I had only met this woman once, but in that brief encounter I was taken by the way in which she welcomed me and made me somehow feel quite special. I would tell people about her and that brief encounter from time to time as the years passed. It was only in reading her obituary that I realized what a truly stunning life she had lived, and I felt proud to have known her no matter how fleetingly. 

The women who were my role models were children of the Great Depression. They were young and on the verge of beginning their lives as adults during World War II. Their early years were often punctuated with sacrifices that few of us born in the second half of the twentieth century will ever completely understand. In spite of varying hardships they all maintained a strong sense of optimism and can do spirit that followed them into their roles as mothers. They passed down their love of family to all of us, both male and female. They were devoted to their children without hovering like helicopters. They worked hard to maintain a sense of peace and contentment inside their homes. They rarely complained, instead celebrating the blessings that they had, regardless of how small they were. They were an exceptional group, and it pains me to see their generation slowly leaving our earth, because they were living breathing angels who gave their all to be certain that we would have good lives.

These were not women who were always barefoot, pregnant and under their husband’s thumbs, even though many of them never worked outside of the home. They were strong and able to overcome incredible challenges. They worked for the betterment of their little corners of the earth through jobs, volunteer work, keeping their families safe and happy. Often their responsibilities included elderly parents for whom they lovingly took into their homes. I used to enjoy visiting with the old ones who became part of the big extended families of my friends. It was not until my own mother came to live in my home in her final year of life that I realized the difficulties of caring for an adult day in and day out. The women I had witnessed had always made it seem so easy.

The women who continue to inspire me thought it natural to pitch in whenever someone was in need. They’d bring food, condolences, and a helping hand to any tragedy. They were not the least bit afraid of long hours of back breaking work. They did whatever needed to be done with little fanfare or need of accolades. 

If I were to make a list of the women who taught me how to live a purpose driven life it would begin with my own mother but then continue almost endlessly, for I always found something remarkable about the generation that came before me. Mrs. Barry showed me what love and loyalty really meant when she stepped forward to help me during my mother’s first mental breakdown. Mrs. Daigle taught me how to be the consummate hostess regardless of who came to my door. Mrs. Bush demonstrated courage over and over again, even in situations that might have overwhelmed a lesser soul. My aunts showed me how to keep family close. Mrs. Janot helped me to understand how to balance the daily toil of living with fun. Mrs. Frey demonstrated how to fully utilize my own talents and creativity. Mrs. Wright helped me to discover my own worth. Mrs. Loisey was my teacher who showed me the impact of a great educator. Mrs. Pryor helped me to understand the possibilities found in giving myself to the community. Mrs. McKenna brought beauty and music into my life. Mrs. Martin showed me the new worlds to be found in books. Mrs. Brochtrup seemed to be a living saint whose faith inspired me. Mrs. Caldwell, Mrs. Gallerano, and Mrs. Cash made my life more fun and interesting by spending hours  guiding me in Girl Scouts and on our school’s drill team. Mrs. Mandola was elegant and made me feel that way as well. All of them had a way of making it clear that they genuinely cared for me. They listened to me and valued what I had to say. They understood the importance of every relationship, but probably never realized what an enormous impact they had on me.

Our mothers were our angels on earth, and now so many of them are our angels in heaven. I do miss them and the calmness that they always brought to me. When we speak of women’s rights and the roles of women we would do well to look to these wonderful ladies for examples and guidance. They were far more amazing than our society gives them credit for being. From them I learned what it really means to be a woman.

Honor the Young

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Every single time that I  hear some older person calling young people “snowflakes” I go into a slow burning rage inside my head. It is an epithet invented to cast aspersions on the thinking of  teens and twenty somethings who hold progressive points of view. The idea is that the youngsters are so fragile that they simply can’t bear critiques or differing ideologies. The insinuation is that they are silly, close minded and of little substance.

While there may very well be some young folk who are a bit spoiled and unwilling or unable to accept philosophies that run counter to theirs, the truth is that there are also middle aged individuals of more conservative bent who have the same trouble. Some of them are actually in high political positions and they often tweet their discontent. For the most part, however, I find the current crop of young men and women to be exceedingly hard working, earnest and determined to make a very positive difference in the world. The fact that they are a bit more liberal than their more aged counterparts has little to do with their level of courage or good intent.

It has long been a trend for young adults to be on a kind of search for truth and meaning in their world. It is in their natures to question the status quo and seek changes that they deem to be fair and more just.

 

Socrates once said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority: they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in places of exercise.” This of course was noted about four hundred years before Christ walked on the earth, and I find it remarkable how it might have been said last week by some pundit making observations about today’s kids. In fact there are many such quotes that are part of our discussions of the young versus the old in political matters. We’ve all heard the quote, “If you are not a liberal at twenty five, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at thirty five you have no brain.” It is a bit audacious in its sweeping assumptions, but we laugh at it because it bears a grain of truth. Indeed we often become more cautious as we grow older, but that does not make us wiser or more righteous. Thus, I find it beneficial to show more respect to the thinking of our younger generation than we generally do.

In 1776, when our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence their average age was forty four. That being said more than a dozen of them were younger than thirty five and among those some were still teenagers. In fact, the American Revolution as with all such sweeping changes was much more of a young man’s cause than that of older men. James Madison was only twenty five when he penned his name on the Declaration of Independence and the current hero on Broadway, Alexander Hamilton, was a mere twenty one. Young adults are more often than not as passionately concerned about the world as those thought to be more mature.

I enjoy the conversations that I have with my former students and my grandchildren regarding the political conditions of the world today. I prefer listening to them and asking them questions rather than challenging their ideas. I find it enlightening and quite hopeful to hear just how much they have considered the various issues with which we continually grapple. They are far less likely to simply accept a particular way of thinking without considering many different possibilities. Their beliefs are mostly based on a great deal of thought and research. They are involved in internal debates as they search for the best ways of doing things. They have the audacity to think outside of the box and come up with ideas as radical as revolting against the most powerful government in the world to create a new nation conceived in liberty.

I find myself spending hours listening to young men and women who are more than ready to do their share of the heavy lifting in the world. Of course they differ somewhat from me because many of their experiences have been different from mine, but they are not unpatriotic or inconsiderate or lazy or spoiled. They simply look at the challenges that we all face from the vantage point of having an entire lifetime ahead of them rather than having walked through a lifetime. Their youthfulness does not make their thoughts any less valid than mine or any other older adults, but it does tend to make them more inclined to envision new and exciting possibilities. I find that when I listen respectfully the favor is returned when I speak. A rational and fruitful discussion ensues. It is when we disregard the fervor of a young person’s enthusiasm that we create an emotional impasse.

Each of us longs to be heard, to be understood. All we ask is that we be accorded an opportunity to speak our minds with impunity. All too often we create situations by dismissing certain forms of speech before they are even uttered, leaving us in a “them or us” kind of division. Hurling insults without thought only further inflames the situation.

During the height of the Vietnam war when so many of us were protesting what we believed to be a terrible mistake, far too many adults treated us as though we did not love our country. They did not seem to understand that it took great courage and much patriotism to speak out against what we saw as a wrong. There was a great divide that lead to unnecessary violence and clashes that might never have happened if only each group had been willing to sit quietly and consider each point of view. The frustrations came from all of the misunderstandings that came from assigning insulting labels to each cause, and pitting young people against their elders. Sadly we did not seem to learn from those mistakes.

The next time you find yourself wondering what a young person might possibly be thinking, instead of writing him/her off as a snowflake, try encouraging a true conversation with the intent of learning rather than judging. I believe that you will find that we are all seeking most of the same things, we simply have different ideas about how to achieve them.

Honor our young. They will one day be taking the reigns of leadership and helping us in our final days. I for one feel comfortable that we will be in very good hands.

Changing the World One Person At a Time

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I watched an interesting movie, An Inspector Calls, a few nights ago that has stayed on mind. It was based on a play written by the English author J.B. Priestly and was first performed in 1945. It alludes to the impact that each of us has on the people that we encounter, even when those meetings are impersonal and brief. Each day as we go about our lives we are leaving impressions that either enrich or hurt the people with whom we interact. What we say and do is affecting someone’s psyche in deep and meaningful ways, making it imperative that we think before we act. 

All too often we are wrapped up in our own trials and tribulations, forgetting the power that we yield in even the most mundane situations. If we are irritable, taking out our frustrations on complete strangers we may think little of our actions, but our anger may in fact ruin the day of the person who is the recipient of our barbs. How we choose to treat people actually matters, and may in fact have lasting consequences of which we are completely unaware. So why wouldn’t we continually do our best to more pleasant and understanding?

According to a recent 20/20 episode road rage has become a national problem. In city after city there have been tragic cases of individuals who become so angry that they lose their composure and end up creating mayhem in the process. Far too many people are coming unglued and overreacting to snarls of traffic. Everyday folk become Mr. Hyde when they take command of the driver’s seat in a car. They forget that the automobile can become a weapon with fatal consequences when emotions take hold.

Extreme examples of people snapping and resorting to violence are still mostly rare, but we all too often use our words to tear people apart. It has become more and more acceptable to speak our minds, as though being brutally forthright is a badge of honor rather than the destructive force that it actually is. We sometimes even applaud those who utter vile things about the people with whom they disagree. It’s supposed to be a sign of toughness to be able to take an insult on the chin, but I find myself wondering how much damage is being caused by the deep hurt that is being so nonchalantly used to win arguments. Sticks and stones may indeed break our bones, but words are often even more powerful in breaking spirits.

I have to admit to feeling a bit sad these days as I see so much mean spirited behavior being bandied about without much thought. I find myself wondering how many souls are quietly hurting because of the suspension of manners in so many situations. Surely we must all be somewhat affronted by commentaries that threaten and insult. Where is the kindness that we know is far more effective in healing?

I was impressed by former President Barack Obama’s speech in South Africa upon the occasion of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s one hundredth birthday. He pointed out that Mr. Mandela understood the importance of forgiveness and understanding in leading a nation. Even though he had been imprisoned and treated badly, he chose not to hold grudges against those who had tormented him. He realized that the only way to bring his country together was to mend the divisions and bring all of the people together.

I have found that the greatest people of all time have understood the basic principle and power of love. Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and of course Jesus Christ followed a righteous path of justice, inclusion, and above all nonviolence. They were willing to forgive, to understand, to create alliances between people of different beliefs. In the final analysis we are all stronger when we come together in a spirit of forgiveness and peace.

I have a friend named Andriel who personifies the way in which each of us may play a small role in making our world a better place to be. Andriel’s life was shattered a few years ago when her beautiful daughter was killed in an automobile accident. The tragedy touched many of us, but its effect on Andriel was unimaginable. From the ashes of that time, Andriel has worked her way back to wholeness not by stewing in anger over the unfairness of her plight, but by reaching out to one hurting soul at a time and embracing them in their moment of need. She has healed herself by healing others, and continually being conscious of the power of even the smallest of her actions. She encourages  and inspires all who know her to consciously embrace and appreciate the people around them with positivity. She is a life coach who has walked in a valley of pain and sorrow only to emerge more whole than ever before. Her secret to being a joyful minister lies in opening her heart in all that she says and does, remembering how fragile each of us sometimes may be.

Andriel has advised those who follow her to spend some time each and everyday helping to mend someone who is broken. Make that phone call. Send that text. Say those words that are in your heart but somehow remain unspoken. Let people know how much they mean to you, how much you love them. Your efforts may make all the difference in someone’s life.

We don’t have to be victims of a movement of so called strong men and women who would abase and belittle us. We can do what we know is right and muffle the sounds of ugliness. There are more good people than bad. That has always been true. We have the power to change the world, one life at a time.