I am deviating a little from my normal routine today. This is a day of remembrance for me. My father would be celebrating his 102nd birthday if he was still alive. He was a remarkable man, yet still humble and loving to all who met him. SO, today I am not writing a reflection about a bible reading, but instead sharing my memories about two men that had a strong impact on me and my faith.
Today in Catholic History:
† 1256 – Augustinian monastic order constituted at Lecceto Monastery when Pope Alexander IV issues a papal bull Licet ecclesiae catholicae
† 1415 – Religious reformers John Wycliffe and Jan Hus were condemned as heretics at the Council of Constance.
† 1493 – Pope Alexander VI divides the New World between Spain and Portugal along the Demarcation Line.
† 1626 – Death of Arthur Lake, Bishop of Bath and Wells, English bishop and Bible translator (b. 1569)
† 1729 – Death of Louis-Antoine, Cardinal de Noailles, French cardinal (b. 1651)
† 2001 – Pope John Paul II follows Saint Paul’s footsteps across the Mediterranean, from Greece to Syria to Malta.
† Liturgical Feasts: Saint Judas Cyriacus, Saint Florian, Saint Godehard, Saint Ethelred, Saint Sacerdos of Limoges, Saint Venerius, Saint John Houghton, Saint Robert Lawrence, Saint Augustine Webster, Saint Richard Reynolds; all put to death in 1535, and Saint Monica of Hippo (d. 387)
Today’s reflection is about my two fathers faith and life’s lessons.
Quote or Joke of the Day:
History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. They won because they refused to become discouraged by their defeats. — B.C. Forbes
Today would have been my dad’s 102nd birthday. He died many years ago (1966), but left a legacy with me that is indelible. I am, because of him (and my mother).
How was I influenced, invited, induced or inspired to believe in my faith so strongly. How did I come to love Jesus, the Holy Spirit, GOD, and this thing called the “community of saints”, and so on? Was I taught these beliefs and values? YES – but more than that; I witnessed them in others.
I was born a poor NON-minority child on north side of St. Louis City, to two beautiful people. My Mother was very active till the day she died at the age of 87. I am proud that this “saintly” lady, who used a walker, could play poker and bingo like a professional. She never lost her sense of humor.
My father was a strong man of short stature (standing 5’6” in shoes). He was equal parts Irish and German, but I believe he considered the German DNA recessive. Though he never drank a drop of alcohol, he was known to be the life of the party, and if you didn’t know him, you would have sworn he had a little help from a bottle to be so jovial.
My dad and his brothers (my uncles) served in WWII as a Navy Seabees in the South Pacific. He and my uncles all served with pride; but never talked about their war experiences with others. When asked about the war, they would only say the proverbial, “It is true that there are no atheists in foxholes.”
My parents married within a year or so of meeting after the war, and had four boys in three years and nine months. Then they bought a television. [Some say my mom is a saint because she raised the five of us boys.] About seven years later, around Independence Day of 1958 the television must have finally malfunctioned, because the following April, I came along. I wonder if that’s why my brothers, all 8-12 years older than me, sometimes call me “Mr. Warranty”.
My Mom was 39 years of age when she was carrying me; and my father was 52. I have been told my dad strutted around for weeks with his chest popped out; acting like an old rooster that knew he was in charge. On the other hand, it is said my mother apparently looked like she had just accidentally swallowed a full box of “Feen-a-mints.”
Needless to say, I am betting I wasn’t necessarily a planned blessing (but a great blessing none the less – obviously) since my bedroom was initially a walk-in closet, in the house my father had literally just finished building himself. Regardless, I always knew I was loved by my family.
My dad, per my mom, was in the seminary for a short period prior to WWII. Faith was important to him. I remember him going to six am mass every morning before going to work. We, as a family and without exception, went to the earliest mass on Sunday every week and holy day. I believe there were two reasons for this: the first reason is that dad always said, “On the Lord’s day, the first thing you do is say hello, and to spend time with Him.” Secondly, after fasting all night he was hungry! After Mass, and a big breakfast, we as a family always did something. There never was any work performed on Sunday’s – unless it was for the Church.
Dad was involved in the early days of the Kourey League and CYC in St. Louis. We always had kids at the house after some type of game, which meant Mom was also very involved; making hot cocoa, popcorn or hotdogs; or just going to games and rooting for the teams.
My parents were “pray-ers.” My brothers and I had no choice in the matter. When either parent went to church, we were all expected to go as well. That meant every Sunday and holy day obviously. But it also meant every Tuesday evening for Perpetual Help Devotions, for Stations of the Cross, any for parishioners funeral, any special masses, fish fries, etc. Even though we were not protestants, a bible was always “displayed” prominently in the house, and often read (I admit not by me). Rosaries, prayer books, and holy cards abounded in our family niche.
In October of 1966 (when I was 7 years old), my father had a massive heart attack while in the hospital. I later learned that the cardiac surgeon, the cardiologist, and a nurse were standing next to him when in obvious pain; he cracked a joke and then immediately died. I believe God gave my father the grace to die the way he lived – with a joke on his tongue and humor in his heart.
I remember sitting at my school desk that day when one of the women from the ladies sodality (and a friend of my parents) came to our classroom and talked to my teacher. I was told to gather my things and to go with this person.
I sat alone in the back seat of the woman’s car; with her and another woman in the front seat. They both were just staring ahead and not talking, and even at the age of seven I remember thinking how unusual was it for two women to be in that close of proximity, and not be squawking like two hens.
When I entered the house, I could see down the hallway into the kitchen. Sitting at the table was my mother; with red, swollen, and tear stained eyes. You could tell she was fighting to keep her composure. Sitting next to her was Father “G”, the parish pastor, and the fear of every parochial student in the mid-west.
Let me explain: Father “G” took pride in personally handing out the report cards to every student in school. He would enter the classroom, and everyone; including the nun, would automatically stand at attention. Father “G” would sit at the Nun’s Desk; normally a mortal sin dooming any ordinary person too eternal pain in Hell. Father “G” would look at each report card separately, before individually calling you up to the desk to retrieve it. Everyone knew instinctively, and rather overtly, what every other student’s grades were, by Father “G”’s actions. He only had three when it came to report cards.
The best was when he called your name, and when you got to the desk he handed the card to you. If you got to the desk and he placed the report card on the corner of the desk for you to retrieve, this meant it was satisfactory, BUT COULD BE BETTER. God help you if when you came to the desk and he dropped the card into the trash can; an indication that it was not going to be a good day at school, or at home later. Regardless of which of the three actions he took, he rarely smiled or said a word. In a “Steven King-ish” type of way, it was a rather addictive and haunting time when we saw Father “G”.
So, when I saw Father “G” in MY House, I knew I had done something BIG, and was about to experience the “Passion” personally, IN REAL LIFE & NOW.
Instead, I saw and experienced a kind, gentle, concerned, and loving man, who took me into his arms with a firm hug as he placed me on his lap. He held me and rocked from side to side gently, as a mother would do with her sick child. And he explained to me that my dad was no longer alive and was with Jesus now.
My reaction at age seven to my dad’s funeral was that of confusion. My dad was dead, but all the excitement and emotions around me was bewildering. I don’t remember much about the funeral (which is probably a good thing), but I do remember three things about the incidents surrounding the event. First, I remember wondering who the priest was that came to the funeral home with the fancy red hat and big gold cross on his chest. Everyone he came into contact with genuflected and kissed his hand. He hugged my mother, and had tears while praying at my father‘s casket.
Secondly, I also remember the Knights of Columbus 4th Degree Honor Guard with all their regalia, and holding those gleaming silver swords while standing at attention next to my dad’s open casket. And, finally I remember curiously counting to 73, the number of cars in the funeral procession to Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery; the folding of the American flag, and the presentation of this flag to my mother.
My dad knew what life was all about. He, in his own way, testified to the mercy and love of Jesus every day of his life. Through him, I realized our lives are not measured by the big actions and decisions, but by the nitty-gritty every day choices we make. The deceptive reality is our small every day actions, decisions and tasks make a huge difference.
After my father’s death, life changed for me and my family. We moved to another home in the same neighborhood basically; but strangely, even closer to our Church and school – and Father “G”.
I started serving at masses not too long after my father’s funeral. Father “G,” I would have considered almost schizophrenic, if I knew that word at age 8. He would sharply criticize my decorum as a server after a Mass; but then request me for serving the Masses at weddings, funerals; and the ultimate gift of serving at special masses (sometimes with the bishop) at the Old Cathedral at the St. Louis riverfront. I realize now that Father “G” wanted perfection in our actions. In hindsight, I could see that he insisted on nothing more than what he insisted for himself. Our actions and decorum during sacred liturgy was, in itself, a type of prayer.
To evangelize does not mean to simply teach doctrine. It is to proclaim by one’s words and ACTIONS: To make oneself an instrument of HIS presence and action in the world. Both of my father’s; a family leader and a spiritual leader, lived their faith externally for others to see, and internally as a sign of love to God. I pray that I can follow in their footsteps as I know their footsteps are on Jesus’ path.
“Lord, thank you for bringing these two men into my life. They were truly instruments of your peace and love. Please keep them in your arms. Amen.”
Pax et Bonum
Dan Halley, SFO
Catholic Saint of the Day: St. Florian
The St. Florian commemorated in the Roman Martyrology on May 4th, was an officer of the Roman army, who occupied a high administrative post in Noricum, now part of Austria, and who suffered death for the Faith in the days of Diocletian. His legendary “Acts” state that he gave himself up at Lorch to the soldiers of Aquilinus, the governor, when they were rounding up the Christians, and after making a bold confession, he was twice scourged, half-flayed alive, set on fire, and finally thrown into the river Enns with a stone around his neck. His body, recovered and buried by a pious woman, was eventually removed to the Augustinian Abbey of St. Florian, near Linz. It is said to have been at a later date translated to Rome, and Pope Lucius III, in 1138, gave some of the saint’s relics to King Casimir of Poland and to the Bishop of Cracow. Since that time, St. Florian has been regarded as a patron of Poland as well as of Linz, Upper Austria and of firemen. There has been popular devotion to St. Florian in many parts of central Europe, and the tradition as to his martyrdom, not far from the spot where the Enns flows into the Danube, is ancient and reliable. Many miracles of healing are attributed to his intercession and he is invoked as a powerful protector in danger from fire or water. His feast day is May 4th.
From http://www.catholic.org/saints/ website)
Secular Franciscan Order (SFO) Rule #4:
The rule and life of the Secular Franciscans is this: to observe the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ by following the example of St. Francis of Assisi who made Christ the inspiration and the center of his life with God and people.
Christ, the gift of the Father’s love, is the way to him, the truth into which the Holy Spirit leads us, and the life which he has come to give abundantly.
Secular Franciscans should devote themselves especially to careful reading of the gospel, going from gospel to life and life to gospel.