Wednesday, December 19, 2012


The Archdiocese of Cincinnati is supposedly engaged in an outreach to lapsed Catholics. It’s being called the ACE program for Advent, Christmas, and Easter – specifically targeted at those nominal Catholics who only show up twice a year. Earlier this year, we were solicited to contribute money to fund the broadcasting of commercials from the Catholics Come Home project. They call these things evangomercials, because they aren’t exactly selling anything in the commercial sense.

We are now less than a week before Christmas, and I have yet to see a single Catholic evangomercial on any of our local broadcast stations out of Dayton, which is pretty squarely in the center of the AoC. Maybe I’m watching at the wrong time, or maybe they’re waiting for cheaper advertising rates after Christmas, or maybe they’re concentrating their efforts way down south in Cincinnati.

I have, however, seen an evangomercial for the Salvation Army, and I was impressed. I liked it.

Below are a couple of Salvation Army evangomercials, as well as couple of the Catholics Come Home evangomercials that I hope to see soon.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


From Fr. John Trigilio’s homily for Monday:

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by the situation, to say, “Oh, well, we made a good try.” But no! Don’t quit. Don’t give up. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta often told us, we’re not here to be successful; we’re here to be faithful. Faithfulness doesn’t mean perfection. Faithfulness doesn’t mean that you never fall. It means you never quit. You never give up.

This is especially true in the spiritual life, because how many times you and I are making a little progress, we’re doing well, we’ve just gone on retreat or we’re in Advent or Lent or whatever, but all of a sudden we fall. We give in to temptation. The devil is laughing, “Ha, I’ve got them now.” And it’s easy to stay down! And to hear the count, “One, two, three,” like you’ve been knocked out in the boxing ring. Well you’ve got to get up! Stand up again. So what if you fall down another time, and another time, and another time? The point is to keep getting up, to keep fighting the good fight, as St. Paul says.

The spiritual warfare is real, but we need to never quit, to never give up, to persevere. And remember, the important thing is the spiritual health. Not that our physical health isn’t important, but we need to pray for spiritual health more than ever, especially in this Year of Faith.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Weekends with Michael

Weekends are always, er, interesting, with Michael around. For the uninitiated, Michael is our 56 pound two-year old who is outgrowing his size 5 clothes.

Last weekend it was a trip to the hospital after his sister Erin hurt his wrist. I didn’t see what happened. Amazingly, neither did Jamie (age 4) who was sitting right next to him or Catherine (age 12) who was in the next room, about ten feet away. But I heard the crying and came in to find Michael sitting backwards in his chair, holding his arm in pain, with Erin standing next to him. Neither Erin (age 9, with Down Syndrome) nor Michael, who has a vocabulary of about five words) was going to tell me.

Neither Amy nor I are medically trained, but we felt the arm and didn’t detect any obvious fractures, so we decided to give Michael some children ibuprofen and wait until morning. Well, Michael whimpered in pain all night, threw up once, and in the morning had a slight fever. There was no discoloration, but maybe some slight swelling, so we decided that I should take him to the hospital. Even though it wasn’t exactly an emergency, urgent care wasn’t open, so off we went to the ER, with Michael still holding his arm, refusing to use it.

What amazed me was when the doctor came in to look at him. She started by feeling his shoulder, then worked her way down to his elbow and wrist. I expected him to cry out in pain when she probed his wrist, but he just sat there passively. After X-rays, we returned to the examination room, and Michael was using his right hand as if nothing had ever happened! I guess we can kiss that deductible good bye!

Then comes the weekend just past. Catherine, the aforementioned 12 year-old, turns 13 today. For birthdays, we typically let our kids pick a restaurant to celebrate. So, on Saturday, we hauled the family off to a buffet in Lima for a celebratory feast. Michael can be a challenge in a restaurant on the best of days. This, however, was not the best of days. Just five or ten minutes into our meal, Michael decided to vomit all over his plate. Three times. After that, he felt great, although covered with what used to be in his stomach.

We got the table cleaned up, and his clothes at least wiped clean, but the rest of our time at the buffet was spent with a pile of regurgitated slop on the floor under our table. I could smell it, and I have to assume that the other diners in our vicinity smelled it. The food was still tasty, but by this time, I was defeated. I just wanted to take my little boy out of the restaurant and leave, but I couldn’t because this was my little girl’s birthday treat.

Eventually, I was able to excuse myself and take Michael out to the van, where we just happened to have a bag of clothes that were destined for Goodwill. Catherine was happy, and the day wasn’t a total disaster.

God only knows what Michael has in store for us next weekend.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fig Tree Cultivation

At Saturday’s weekday mass this morning, the gospel ended with a parable:

"There once was a person who had a fig tree planted in his orchard, and when he came in search of fruit on it but found none, he said to the gardener, 'For three years now I have come in search of fruit on this fig tree but have found none. So cut it down. Why should it exhaust the soil?' He said to him in reply, 'Sir, leave it for this year also, and I shall cultivate the ground around it and fertilize it; it may bear fruit in the future. If not you can cut it down.'"
As the deacon proclaimed those words, I was hit with a sudden recognition of the parable’s application today. The fig tree is each one of us. The owner of the fig tree is God. The gardener is the Pope and the bishops. The additional year of cultivation and fertilization for which the gardener pleads is the Year of Faith.

Let us all make use of this year to cultivate our faith, that we may bear fruit for the Lord!

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Is it mere coincidence that every election year (i.e., every year ending in an even number), just before Election Day, the Lectionary gives us Luke 12:49-53, in which Jesus promises not peace but division?

We are divided, and every year the divisions appear to become more acute. I am not a partisan in the sense that I will always back my party, but I make no secret of the fact that I believe the policies espoused by the Republicans are better for the country than those of the Democrats and that many of the policies of the Obama administration are downright hostile to liberty. I fear for the future of the Republic if the President is reelected. For everyone who thinks as I do, however, there appears to be someone with the opposite opinion who thinks that a vote for Romney is a vote for social Darwinism, in which those with money and power trample on the rest of us.

The country is divided, and the middle ground seems to be disappearing. Regardless of who wins, the victor will face an opposition party in Congress determined to stymie any proposed agenda. The core constituencies for each side will become even more embittered against their opposites.

I don’t know where it all will lead. Naturally, I want my side to win the election, but I worry that the social fabric that holds us all together is becoming frayed. There seems to be a storm brewing. When it arrives, I pray that my little village in the middle of fly-over country avoids the worst of it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Running Preface

Fr. Wilker is fond of using Preface I of Saints for his masses at the Relic Shrine in Maria Stein.  it includes some phrases that I wonder whether anyone who has never run a distance race can appreciate:

By their way of life you offer us an example, by communion with them you give us companionship, by their intercession, sure support, so that, encouraged by so great a cloud of witnesses, we may run as victors in the race before us and win with them the imperishable crown of glory, through Christ our Lord

Parsing Paul

Really, Paul? How many clauses can you fit into one sentence? Just how are we supposed to parse this? A little more clarity would have been appreciated!
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, far above every principality, authority, power, and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this age but also in the one to come.
Ephesians 1:16-23

Friday, October 19, 2012

Effort in Ordinary Time

It happens to me every October. In past years, I trained for and competed in a series of 5K races over the summer. This year, I spent the summer training for the Air Force Marathon in September. Then comes our local Oktoberfest and its 10K Classic, after which I have nothing for which I need to train.

I have entered an in-between period. I run now not to prepare for a race, but just for the sake of running. It may be more accurate to say that I run for the sake of not gaining 20 to 30 pounds. There is a steep drop-off of motivation, and running begins to take on the feel of a chore. Even when I run my short little 4.5 mile loop, the first mile seems to stretch on forever. It doesn’t help that the sun remains under the horizon until 8 am and the overnight temperatures are inching ever-closer to freezing. The delayed dawn makes it harder to get out of bed at 5:30, when the rest of the family is sleeping, and running in the evening means imposing on everyone else’s busy schedules.

So, the physical fitness regimen starts to slip, and I hope that it’s only temporary – a little time off to recover the mojo.

As usual, I also wonder whether there’s a spiritual analogy here. Can the in-between time that I find myself in with regards to running be compared to Ordinary Time with regards to things spiritual? Training for a race is similar to the way that Advent is preparation for Christmas, Lent is preparation for Easter, and the Easter season is preparation for Pentecost. We build up to the big liturgical celebrations, and then we’re left hanging, like Wile E. Coyote, before gravity grabs hold.

Physically, we can’t maintain intense training indefinitely. At some point we peak, and then start to burn out. A recovery period is necessary, but a recovery period means training with less intensity, not the total absence of training. I suppose you could say the same thing about our pious exercises in Ordinary Time. If we don’t take them up a notch during the special seasons, then those seasons lose a part of their special character. The problem, for me anyway, is motivational. The alarm clock goes off, and the bed feels so warm, and the sun is so far away. The last thing I feel like doing is dragging myself out into the cold or off to the gym. Even though the exercise is lighter, the effort required is greater. What seemed so easy in Lent, now seems like such an imposition, and I receive no spiritual consolations.

To say that the effort required is greater is not to say that the effort shouldn’t be made. I’ll keep going to bed every night with the alarm clock set for 5:30. Some days, I’ll even get out of bed when it goes off and do what I know I really want to do. Other days, I’ll convince myself that I need sleep more than exercise. That’s how it goes during the cold months.

I’ll keep telling myself that I should pray the Hours or go to a week day mass or make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament or confess my sins and be reconciled with God. Some days I will do it, other days I’ll convince myself that I don’t have time or that I’m needed at home and the little ones can’t go along because they can’t sit still. In this case, though, it feels more like I’m just making excuses. That might be how it goes in Ordinary Time, but it shouldn’t be.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Bush Legacy

With less three weeks remaining until Election Day, one of the greatest obstacles to replacing President Obama is the enduring shadow of the Bush record. Conservatives like me had a love-hate relationship with President Bush during his eight-year tenure. I loved his resolve to defeat the enemies of the United State and his seriousness on social issues. However, he also worked with Ted Kennedy to increase the reach of the federal government in education policy, created a whole new Medicare entitlement and a whole new cabinet-level department, engaged in serial deficit spending, tried to pass an amnesty for illegal immigrants, and tried to put Harriet Myers on the Supreme Court.

Yet even in 2008 or 2012, if given a choice between Al Gore or John Kerry and George Bush, I can’t imagine any conservative choosing Gore or Kerry.

Bush’s deficits were, I thought, unnecessary. Every year, his administration would submit a budget with a built-in deficit, on the assumption that as long as the deficit was smaller than some percentage of GDP, it wouldn’t lead to a ballooning federal debt. Unlike Obama, Bush got his budgets passed through Congress. However, his budgets were never complete. They always left out the costs of military operations and rebuilding in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were then funded with supplemental spending bills. That always struck me as disingenuous at best.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the citizens of the United States were prepared to rally to the flag. We wanted to do something, to contribute to the defense of liberty, but our leaders in Washington told us to go shopping. We wanted to sacrifice something; instead, we were instructed to continue patronizing our wine bars and cupcake shops. To borrow a phrase from the current campaign, the wars didn’t have to be paid for with a Chinese credit card.

Aside from the deficits, Bush’s economic record is not all that bad. Recall that he came into office facing an economy shocked by the bursting of the dot com bubble and accounting scandals at Enron and WorldCom. The Bush administration actually prosecuted the executives responsible and sent them to jail. Unemployment throughout Bush’s two terms remained under 5%. When the global financial crisis erupted in 2008, the root cause had as much to do with the sub-prime lending practices insisted upon by Democrats as it did with any policies pursued by the Republican administration. It can be argued that the proper course of action early on would have been to let financial institutions like AIG fail, rather than bailing them out with imaginary dollars.

Obama voters fear a return of the Bush years. That fear is driven by two things: the institution of a homeland security infrastructure that Obama has mostly kept intact, and a financial crisis for which Bush was not responsible and which has been exasperated by the policies of the current administration.

Debate Disappointment

The second presidential debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama took place last night. As expected, President Obama was much more engaged than in the first debate. Mitt Romney held his own, for the most part, but I was disappointed in his responses on a number of questions.

1. Why is it necessary to pander to women? Do women like it? I’m all for equal opportunity, equal compensation for equal jobs, etc., but it almost seemed as if Mitt was on the verge of suggesting that the government should compel companies to offer flexible hours to moms. That’s not a conservative reflex.

2. The religious freedom aspect of the HHS contraception mandate was teed up for him, but he failed to take a swing at it. Instead, he promised not to take away anybody’s contraceptives. The issue is not availability, the issue is whether employers should have to violate their consciences to pay for things that are immoral. The idea that birth control will be free is ridiculous; somebody is going to have to pay for it.

3. He missed the line of attack that I would have used on the Benghazi consulate debacle. Additional security was asked for and not only denied, but reduced. In the immediate aftermath, the violence was blamed on a YouTube video, and apologies were made for our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, even to the point of throwing the man responsible for the video into jail. Three weeks after the attack, the “investigation” still hadn’t secured the site of the attack. A CNN reporter was able to walk right into the rubble, find the diary of the slain ambassador, and walk away with it.

4. How much of the gun violence in the United States is committed with military-grade assault weapons? Not much.

5. Mitt knows that the Fast and Furious drug running scandal is a big deal, but he really doesn’t grasp the details. He needs to study up on that part of his briefing book.

6. Why haven’t Mitt and Paul Ryan, in the debates, noted that the Senate has failed to pass any budget, even though the Constitution requires it, and that the budgets submitted by the President have been so dead on arrival that they failed to get even a single vote?

7. I haven’t once heard any debate criticism of the President for his extra-Constitutional power grabs: making recess appointments when Congress is in session, granting waivers that the Welfare Reform law explicitly forbids, unilaterally declaring that laws like the Defense of Marriage Act will not be enforced or defended by the executive branch, etc.

Rick Santorum would be bringing these things up, although in a whiny voice that wouldn’t win him any style points. Governor Romney seems intent on avoiding any distractions from his five point economic plan to grow the economy. Unfortunately for him, there are more colors to the spectrum, and the population of persuadable voters contains many who focus on hues other than the one that he’s emphasizing.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Lost Opportunities

File under things that make you go hmm:

The Gospel for Monday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time is Luke 11:29-32. The Gospel for Tuesday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time is Luke 11:37-41. A quick scan of all the Gospel passages in the Lectionary fails to find a single instance where the verse in between, Luke 11:33-36, is listed. Why was this passage skipped, I wonder?

“No one who lights a lamp hides it away or places it [under a bushel basket], but on a lampstand so that those who enter might see the light. The lamp of the body is your eye. When your eye is sound, then your whole body is filled with light, but when it is bad, then your body is in darkness. Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness. If your whole body is full of light, and no part of it is in darkness, then it will be as full of light as a lamp illuminating you with its brightness.”

I am reminded of the line from Job 31:1: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.” In this age of rampant digital pornography, it is a pity that the designated shepherds of our souls are not presented with an opportunity to preach on these words of Christ on a regular basis.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

So Sorry

A very brief recap: on September 11, 2012, the U.S. embassy in Cairo, Egypt was stormed by “protesters” who replaced the American flag with the black flag fashionable among Islamists. A bit later in the day, our consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked and our ambassador to Libya was killed. Prior to the demonstration in Egypt, our diplomats had issued a statement condemning a YouTube video that might “hurt the religious feelings of Muslims.”

In the days following September 11, the Obama administration asserted that everything that happened on that day was the result of this YouTube video. Since then, that assertion has been shown to be as ludicrous as it appeared to be when the administration was making it.

Today, I read a report by Eli Lake from way back on October 1 about what our intelligence agencies knew at the time and immediately following the events described above. This paragraph stood out to me:

The intelligence that helped inform those talking points—and what the U.S. public would ultimately be told—came in part from an intercept of a phone call between one of the alleged attackers and a middle manager from al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the group’s north African affiliate, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intercept. In the call, the alleged attacker said the locals went forward with the attack only after watching the riots that same day at the U.S. embassy in Cairo.

It’s possible that the Cairo demonstration was prompted by the YouTube video (or rather by some individual or group that decided to use the video to whip up Anti-American fervor). Certainly, though, the Benghazi attackers were emboldened by the feckless American response to having our Cairo embassy stormed and by the effete pre-apology by our diplomats. The Benghazi attackers weren’t reacting to the video, but they were reacting to our display of weakness in defending the rights of those who made the video.

Can we please replace the apologizers in our diplomatic corps with apologists? Rather than sheepishly saying that we unfortunately have a Constitutional amendment that allows people to say things that “hurt religious feelings,” I want those who represent our government abroad to explain that we guarantee the free speech of our citizens and the result is a superior society. We will defend our diplomatic outposts and personnel, and any foreign government that doesn’t agree to let us defend ourselves will be deprived of our friendship and generosity.

Porta Fidei and the Year of Faith

Today finds the Catholic Church embarking on a Year of Faith. The occasion for the start is the 50th anniversary of the start of the Second Vatican Council, and the year will run 13 months, until the Celebration of Christ the King in November, 2013. As in other recent “years” (e.g., the Year of St. Paul and the Year for Priests), I’ll be interested to see how the local church (parish, deanery, and diocese) observes the occasion.

Pope Benedict XVI announced the Year of Faith in an apostolic letter entitled Porta Fidei (Door of Faith). After reading what the Pope has written concerning this year, I am concerned that some of us might miss the point. I worry that some misguided souls will see this as a celebration of the post-Vatican II church. Benedict specifically notes that the documents of the Council “need to be read correctly” and that interpretation and implementation of the Council must be “guided by a right hermeneutic.” In so doing, he quotes from his own 2005 letter to the Roman Rota, in which he notes that the right hermeneutic is one of reform and continuity, and not one of discontinuity and rupture. It’s been suggested by some that none of us in the laity really participated in the liturgy or the mission of the Church before the council. The really big problem with this view is that mass attendance on any given Sunday before the council was 75%, whereas today it is close to 25%. And I find laughable the suggestion that we know our faith better today than a generation that grew up being able to quote the Baltimore Catechism.

My reading of Porta Fidei is more somber than celebratory. It’s as if the Pope surveyed the field of battle and concluded that it was time to fall back and regroup. He speaks of “the need to rediscover the journey of faith” and of “large swathes of society” that are affected by “a profound crisis of faith.” He goes on, “We cannot accept that salt should become tasteless or the light be kept hidden,” and “We must rediscover a taste for feeding ourselves on the word of God.” This is no self-congratulatory pat on the back! The Year of Faith is to be “a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith” and “a summons to an authentic and renewed conversion to the Lord.”

There are four specific things that the Pope encourages for this year. The first is the study of the Catechism: “The Year of Faith will have to see a concerted effort to rediscover and study the fundamental content of the faith that receives its systematic and organic synthesis in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.” The second is the study of Church history: “One thing that will be of decisive importance in this Year is retracing the history of our faith, marked as it is by the unfathomable mystery of the interweaving of holiness and sin.” Third is the practice of acts of charity, through which we extend love to our neighbors: “The Year of Faith will also be a good opportunity to intensify the witness of charity.” Finally is the public witness, although the intent might be that this comes after the first three: “What the world is in particular need of today is the credible witness of people enlightened in mind and heart by the word of the Lord, and capable of opening the hearts and minds of many to the desire for God and for true life, life without end.”

My personal plan for the Year of Faith will include a re-reading of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In addition, I’ll see if I can’t work some history texts into my reading list. Oh, and I’ll also be on the lookout for any local programs, or at least ones that are guided by a right hermeneutic.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Getting It Right

Eons ago, back when I was a teenager in high school, I ran on the track team. I ran in the distance events, occasionally dropping down to run a middle-distance leg on a relay team. One day, my track coach assigned me a workout that was very heavy on sprints. “Coach,” I said, “why am I doing all these sprints? I’m terrible at sprinting.” My coach just looked at me and replied, “That’s why you’re doing them.”

When my dear wife informed me that she was once again with child, I imagined a similar conversation with God. “Lord,” I said, “why are you giving me another kid? Can’t you see that I’m a lousy dad?” God the coach replied, “And you’re going to keep raising them until you get it right!”

So, maybe by the time the youngest Hilgefort comes of age, I’ll have finally mastered the parenting skills that some men bring naturally to the task.

(Please don’t misunderstand me. The self-deprecating remarks above apply only to me and not to my older children. My wife has heroically compensated for my clumsiness, such that they seem to be turning out pretty well. I only hope that they don’t hold my failures against me.)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Friday Chat

It’s Friday! How ‘bout we have a little chat?

Running is easy for me to talk about – very little introspection required. Marathon recovery has gone well, and the Oktoberfest 10K is now only nine days away. After a nine-miler on Monday, I sat on my duff for three days because of rain, but my 4.6 mile Minster loop this morning was at a good pace. The last time I weighed in, I topped out at 223 lbs heading out the door for a run, so as long as I don’t come down with a stomach flu this week, I should be well-positioned to place in the 220+ weight category.

Why didn’t I just run circles at the Y on those rainy mornings? Well, I thought I could be helpful at home. Around this time last year, Erin was in the hospital for a week with pneumonia. She started showing respiratory symptoms last week, so Amy took her in to see our pediatrician. Now Erin has to receive breathing treatments with a nebulizer every morning and evening. In addition, the doctor was unhappy with Erin’s weight, so we have to severely limit some of her favorite foods – ramen noodles and queso with chips. I don’t know how helpful I’ve been these past few mornings. I almost feel more like I’m in the way.

The diet change and breathing treatments have made life with Erin a little more difficult when added to Jamie’s bedtime anxieties (she cries and says she’s afraid when it’s time for bed, so we’ve had to stay in the room for as long as 30 minutes until she falls asleep). I can only imagine how the pediatrician will react the next time she sees Michael, our 50 lb two-year-old who’s out-growing his size 4 clothes. We accept these things and recognize the need to adapt, but that doesn’t mean that, on an emotional level, we remain in balance. The constant noise of a screaming child has an effect on my psyche that is not unlike that of fingernails on a chalkboard, and that inevitably bubbles to the surface through my harsh words and actions.

Did I mention that my forty-year-old wife is pregnant with our eighth child? I’ve been changing diapers for eighteen years. What’s another three? Life with a pregnant woman is always fun. (That’s sarcasm, by the way.)

Speaking of Oktoberfest, which I was three paragraphs ago, my service schedule has changed a bit from past years. Two of the shifts that I’ve worked for years for my Knights of Columbus council have been filled by other members, with the only remaining shifts occurring at times not suitable for my state (e.g., coincident with the Saturday evening mass or the Sunday parade). So maybe this year I’ll actually have a chance to enjoy “ein bier” and listen to some oom-pah music with the kids at the gazebo.

I shouldn’t let this little chat pass without some modicum of introspection, so here it is. My spiritual life is a mess. It has been for a while. An incident with our parish staff last year has left me skeptical of any parish-level initiative and reluctant to participate. Most Sundays find me attending mass at a neighboring parish rather than at the church just two blocks from my home. I still read along with the Lectionary, and I usually pray the Rosary while I run, but I rarely pray the Liturgy of the Hours now, and I can’t remember the last time I went to a holy hour. The discipline that I hoped I would learn by training for the marathon hasn’t manifested itself in the rest of my life. I know that I need to go to confession, but I just can’t seem to summon a suitable degree of contrition from my spiritual ennui.

If that doesn’t cheer you up, I don’t know what will! Maybe riots in the Mideast or the collapse of Spain and Greece? Oh, right. Well, at least we’ve got the upcoming elections!


Tuesday, September 18, 2012


A pair of Brooks running shoes: $105.

Race registration: $90.

One small Bodyglide anti-chaffing stick: $6.

Being cheered on by my wife and kids at miles ten and twenty-six: priceless.

It’s been three days since I participated in the Air Force Marathon, and my feelings about the event continue to evolve. I don’t regret running at all; I’m glad I did. The evolution, rather, pertains to whether I consider my finish a victory or a defeat.

No matter how many races I run, I still get race day jitters. I have come to learn that this is a physical reaction stemming from the body’s anticipation of the demands about to be placed upon it. The marathon is a race unlike a 5K or 10K road race, and the jitters for the marathon began the day before the race. I took the day off from work and went with my wife and two youngest children (Jamie, 4, and Michael, 2) to the sports expo, where I was to pick up my bib. We treated it as something of a dry run, ensuring that Amy would know where to drop me off the following morning and how to get to the spectator areas in Fairborn and at the Air Force Museum.

We prepared as much as we could the night before, because on race day, we were up at 4:30 am for a 5:00 am departure. I ate a light breakfast (half a bagel with peanut butter) and sipped some coffee. It was a cool morning, and I wore a zippered hoodie over the short-sleeved t-shirt that I planned to run in. I know that the running purists would probably scoff at my clothing selection, but I knew that the temperature wouldn’t provoke excessive sweating, and I really wanted to wear my Hilgefort t-shirt.

For thirty minutes before the 7:30 start, I sipped on a Gatorade, and fifteen minutes before the start I took a gel pack and discarded my hoodie. The Air Force band sang the national anthem, a B-2 stealth bomber flew over, and we were off. I have to admit that I was a little emotional.

I tried to settle into a slow, but comfortable pace, and as we crested the first hill at about 1.5 miles, I settled into position with the 3:35 pace group, where I would remain for the next twenty or so miles.

I executed my strategy, taking mainly electrolytes (i.e., Gatorade) at every other hydration station and grabbing gel packs where they were available at around miles eight and sixteen. The gels were ones that I had tried before: available from our local Wal-Mart. They were thick and hard to swallow, but they did the job.

Most of the race was run within the boundaries of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but there was a section around mile ten that was routed through Fairborn, and that section was filled with cheering crowds. It was inspirational, and that was the first chance that my family had to see me running. After that, we re-entered the base and saw only military personnel and the occasional roadside band for the next ten miles.

Mile twenty came and went, and I could feel myself growing fatigued. After all, we’d been running for nearly three hours! I could feel the dreaded “wall” looming ominously ahead, somewhere in the last six miles.

I encountered it at mile twenty-one. My shoulders grew tight, and my quads started burning. I had never experienced anything quite like it in my training runs. I walked through the next water stop, and watched the 3:35 pace group disappear into the distance.

For the last five miles, I had to walk through the water stations and up the hills. It would take a supreme effort for me to resume running after cresting each hill, and by the end, I was also walking parts of the flats. I did at least manage to make my walk a brisk one, passing other walkers on those segments. I still clung to the hope that I might meet my time goal of 3:45, so it was with great disappointment that I watched the 3:45 pace group pass me in the last two miles. I was simply unable to fall in with them.

I managed to run the last stretch and cross the finish line with a chip time of 3:48:52. I had to stop and take a knee, and a volunteer came over and asked if I was all right. I waved her off and stumbled my way through the runners’ tent, grabbing a bottle of water on the way, which I sipped. There were slices of pizza available for runners, but I simply had no appetite for any food. I passed through the tent to search for my family, which I found a short while later. I wanted nothing so much as to sit down, but not on the pavement. I sat in a chair for a short while, then claimed my free beer (which, although cold, did not taste nearly as good as I thought it should have), and started the long, long, walk to the van.

Recovery-wise, the first few hours after the marathon were the worst. I fell asleep for most of the ride home (thank God Amy was driving!), and we all slept for about an hour after arriving home (remember, we’d gotten up at 4:30). By early evening, I was moving a little more freely, though still with sore muscles. Sunday morning came, and I rolled out of bed stiffly, but most of that dissipated within about 15 minutes. By Monday, I felt well enough to go to the YMCA, where I ran a few miles and lifted some weights. I don’t have time for a long recovery; I have to defend my super-heavyweight title in the Minster Oktoberfest 10K on October 7.

So why the vacillation between considering my performance a victory or a defeat? I should be happy that I completed a marathon (some would add, in under four hours). That’s true, I suppose. I’ve accomplished something that few others have. And I did it in spite of a hamstring injury nine weeks out that interrupted my training for three weeks.

But I failed to meet my goal to come in under 3:45. Granted, it was an arbitrary time, based on the fact that George W. Bush ran a 3:44. And I failed to run the whole thing, succumbing to weakness with a mere five miles left (Weakness? I’d already run 21 friggin’ miles!). I failed under weather conditions that I can’t imagine being any more ideal. Maybe if I’d worn proper running attire or carried more gel packs with me, I wouldn’t have fatigued as quickly. Maybe if that darn hamstring hadn’t caused me to miss my 17, 18, and one of my 20 mile training runs, I would have been more prepared for “the wall.” And the ultimate recrimination: maybe if I’d only shown a little more mental toughness and determination at mile 21, I could have continued by force of will alone.

Whether a defeat or a victory, the question turns into whether or not I try it again. Right now, I have no plans to register for another marathon. I definitely want to incorporate the weekend training runs into my regular routine, but two hours early on Saturday morning, such that I’m home by the time the rest of the family starts waking, is about all that I’m willing to commit to.

On the other hand, by the time spring rolls around and I’ve spent the winter running circles at the YMCA, I’ll be looking for some new mountain to conquer, and President Bush’s 3:44 will still be there, mocking me.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Broadcast Professionals

The radio that sits atop our refrigerator can reliably bring in two radio stations: a talk show format station out of Dayton and a country music station out of Lima. The country station broadcasts a local church service every Sunday morning, but last week was just another example of how poorly they do it.

It's a little disappointing the way that the station cuts directly from the middle of a Kenny Chesney song about drinking beer in Mexico to the organ music that begins the local service. You would think that the broadcast professionals that staff the station could program the songs so that the start of the service would coincide wih the end of the song that precedes it. I used to do something like that back in the days of cassette tapes when I didn't want a long stretch of blank tape at the end of either side that I was recording onto.

You would also think that they could select a song that provides a better seque. It's not as if country music isn't filled with songs about faith and family. Among the top ten last week were songs like Hard to Love ("You're like a Sunday morning full of grace and full of Jesus / I wish I could be more like you."), For You ("When I thought about my unborn child... / When I thought about my wife... / And the answer rang out clear from somewhere up above / No greater gift has man, than to lay down his life for love"), and Cowboys and Angels ("I'm not sure why her path crossed mine / Accident or grand design / Maybe God just kinda likes / Cowboys and angels").

Finally, you woud think that the church paying to have its service broadcast would ask for these little courtesies.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Could Go Wrong?

Transcript below the player.


We’re going to be gifted with a healthcare plan we are forced to purchase and fined if we don’t, which purportedly covers at least ten million more people without adding a single new doctor but provides for sixteen thousand new IRS agents, written by a committee whose chairman says he doesn’t understand it, passed by a congress who didn’t read it but exempted themselves from it, and signed by a president who smokes, with funding administered by a treasury chief who didn’t pay his taxes, for which we will be taxed for four years before any benefits take affect, by a government which has already bankrupted Social Security and Medicare, all to be overseen by a Surgeon General who is obese and financed by a country that’s broke. .

What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Gospel Economics

The gospel readings for the last couple of days have left me with reflections of an economic nature.

On Wednesday, we heard the parable of the landowner (Mt 20:1-16). In the parable, the laborers are each paid what they agreed to, yet those who worked the longest feel cheated. Jesus, saying that the kingdom of heaven is like the landowner, tells his audience, “Am I not free to do as I wish with my own money?” One could argue that Jesus is really talking about spiritual grace rather than money, but his point doesn’t work without the underlying economic principle, which strikes me as fairly conservative.

On Thursday, we heard the parable of the wedding feast (Mt 22:1-14). In this parable, those invited to the feast decline to come. The king burns them, then has the invitation extended to whomever his servants can find. When one of these consolation guests arrives without the proper attire, the king has him bound and cast out. This seems to me to be similar to the reports that I hear from the Personnel Department at the manufacturing company where I work. There are open positions that can’t be filled because the applicants can’t pass the drug test. At a time in which unemployment is at 8.3% with a reduced labor force, too many individuals are either declining to accept the invitation, or showing up with disqualifying attire.

So, how would Jesus have formulated a parable beginning, “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a factory owner. . . ?”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hostility to Religion

The Catholic News Agency reports:

A report examining court cases from recent years has found that hostility towards religion has grown to unprecedented levels in the United States.

Seeing this news made me think of the verses right after last Sunday’s reading from Proverbs 9:

Whoever corrects a mocker invites insult;
whoever rebukes a wicked man incurs abuse.
Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you;
rebuke a wise man and he will be wiser still;
teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.

How do we evangelize a hostile society? We do it through our own fidelity and love. We must strive to remain faithful to what we know to be true, and we must demonstrate the love of God to those who are blind to the truth.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Decoding Speech

Hmm. I've always thought the word "angry" meant "angry". Now the friendly folks at MSNBC are telling me that "angry" really means "scary black man" when uttered by any Republican politician. Thanks for clearing that up. Can you please tell me what word we can use when we mean "angry"? Oh, and please send me the revised lexicon of racist dog whistle code words for my future reference.


Seriously, is this what they think? (And by "they" I mean all of the democrats, liberals, progressives, and socialists that occupy the left side of the political spectrum. I don't want to be accused of writing anything uncivil.)

Friday, August 17, 2012

Training for the Race

There is something qualitatively different about training for a marathon, as opposed to the 5K training that I was doing last year.

My 5K training revolved around trying to improve my pace. There were some mileage base runs, but my main focus was on finding the 6:10 to 6:20 per mile gait that I would be able to maintain for two miles, knowing that I would die (metaphorically speaking, of course) in the third mile and finish with rubber legs.

The training I’m doing this year, however, is all about increasing the distance that I can run, and that means slowing my pace down. I’m estimating that my pace for the marathon will have to be in the 8:30 to 9:00 per mile range. My problem is that I can’t run that slowly! Even when I go out at what I think is a snail’s pace that I’ll be able to maintain forever, I still find myself running at 8:20. Thus, whenever I go for a long run, I have to constantly tell myself to run slower.

The key point that I’m trying to make here is that the kind of training you do is very dependent upon the type of race that you’re planning to run. So, when St. Paul says to run the race so as to win, the first question to ask is what’s the distance? I guarantee that if you try to run a marathon like a 5K, you’re going to burn out early.

Paul, of course, was not talking about a physical race. He was using a material example to illustrate a spiritual principle. There are different spiritual training programs, and it’s necessary to fit the training program to the event in which you’re competing. In practical terms, a layman father of seven or eight can’t fully embrace a contemplative or Benedictine spiritual program. Even so, I don’t know for certain what distance I’m training to race. Should I be focusing on quickening my pace, or slowing my pace? Without a spiritual training program, it feels as though I’m just running aimlessly in circles, which might keep me fit, but won’t win any races.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Summer of the Long Run

I have long considered myself a casual runner. I was not the sort to never miss a day. Rain, or even just the threat, was often enough to deter me, and if the temperature dipped below 40° F, I was staying inside. For the last several years, I competed in a local tour of 5K road races. I managed, mainly by entering nearly every race, to win my age group in the tour, even though my times were not particularly noteworthy.

That started to change last year. Rather than just running occasionally, I started training – mixing in middle distance, long runs, and speed work. My times improved dramatically. There were only two 5K races, early in the season, when I failed to break 20 minutes, and I took nearly two minutes off of my time at the Oktoberfest 10K. Still, I had trouble getting up early enough to run on consecutive days and fell into an every-other-day routine. The longest distance that I could muster the energy for was about seven miles.

I still wasn’t the sort to run in cold weather, either. I spent most of the winter running circles at the YMCA on the elevated track, where 16 laps are counted as a mile. Rather than try to count laps, I would just run for 40 minutes and call it five miles. By the end of the winter, I could tell that I was covering quite a bit more than five miles in those 40 minutes.

When warmer weather returned, I signed up for a pre-season non-tour 5K and started thinking about what my running goals would be for the year. I didn’t feel like I had anything to prove on the 5K circuit, and winning my age group in the tour didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment any more.

Then, suddenly, for the first time in my life, I started to consider running a marathon. Podcasters like Steve Runner at Phedippidations, Jeff Smith at The Running Podcast, and Roland Cavanaugh at The Twenty Minute Runner made it sound like an achievable goal. My brother-in-law and his wife had run the Chicago Marathon just four months earlier, and they ran much less than I did. I set out for a test run one Saturday, and completed ten miles without too much difficulty.

After talking to my wife and family, I decided to forego the 5K tour this year and instead registered to run the Air Force Marathon on September 15. My entire summer of running would be spent in training for that one race at the end of the season.

That was in April. It is now August. The first half of the training program went about as expected, although the 14 and 15 mile training runs were pretty brutal. Then I hit an obstacle. The morning after my mom’s funeral, I left home for a nine-mile run. Two miles into it, my hamstring seized up, and I couldn’t run anymore. I had to walk home.

For the next two weeks, I could only run about ½ mile before being compelled to stop by my protesting hamstring. I tried to maintain some kind of training regimen as I watched the probability of being able to run the marathon reduce daily. I tried walking briskly and found that after two days, my legs were sore and my feet blistered, even though my heart rate was barely elevated and I never really even breathed hard. Walking wasn’t working, so I returned to the YMCA and put some time in on the elliptical and stationary bike, along with some extra stretching.

Seventeen days after injuring my hamstring, I tentatively tried running again. I made it three miles before I felt my hamstring growing tight, and I stopped to avoid further injury. Three days later, I managed eight miles. Two days ago, with five weeks until the marathon, I ran twelve. My original training program had me running twenty. I have two more weeks to build distance, although at a rate that risks injury, and then I enter the taper.

God willing, I might still be able to run the marathon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Good Death

In his homily for the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Fr. Louie gave one of his characteristic autobiographical anecdotes. He recalled how his father had received a diagnosis from his doctor that gave him somewhere between three weeks and two months to live. Fr. Louie was able to get someone to take over his teaching duties, allowing him to spend 18 hours a day at his dad’s bedside in his final days.

As I’ve shared in a previous post, my own mother died recently, and the circumstances were similar. In mid-June, she received the biopsy results that indicated advanced stage four liver cancer. Three weeks later, she died.

We had never suspected that Mom had cancer. She was getting forgetful, and she fell a few times, but we all thought that was just due to her age. A week or so after Mothers Day, she developed some gastro-intestinal issues, lost her appetite and stopped eating. A trip to the family doctor was followed by a cat scan, which was followed by a biopsy. The cat scan gave the first dire indication; the biopsy confirmed it. Cat scan – to – biopsy results was about three weeks. By Fathers Day, it was evident to all of us that Mom was mortally inflicted.

There was always someone home during Mom’s last three weeks. During her last week, there was always someone by her bedside. I would drive to Mom and Dad’s every evening after work, and my dear wife spent many nights there. My oldest sister, up from her home in Mississippi, noted that Amy was “very vigilant.” It became necessary for us to rely on our older kids to stay home with the younger ones, especially two year-old Michael, whose proclivity for destruction tended to set my father on edge.

For two weeks, Mom was alert. She received visits from friends and in-laws and all twelve of her siblings. She insisted on standing and hugging each one of them, and she apologized for long forgotten wrongs and told them how much she loved them. In her last week, she received absolution from an ordained classmate and viaticum from her best friend.

Her husband of fifty-seven years and her grown children were gathered around her when, early in the evening of July 11, 2012, her breathing grew shallow, and then stopped.

She had a good death.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rita Anne

Here's a video tribute to my mother, who died last week and was buried yesterday.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Liberty and Fountain Drinks

There are days when I am really glad that I don’t live in New York City. This is one of those days.

Mayor Bloomberg has announced plans to ban sugary drinks greater than 16 ounces in size. I’ve been a consumer of 44 oz. fountain drinks for more than 20 years. As a college student, I would stop at the Village Pantry along Indiana State Route 26 to fill up with my beloved Mt. Dew during my three-hour drives between my home in Sidney, OH and my home-away-from-home in West Lafayette, IN. As a junior naval officer in Arlington, VA, I would often grab a Super Big Gulp from the 7-Eleven across the street to get me through the afternoon. Even now, I occasionally grab a big foam cup of the delightfully sweet stuff from the local gas station convenience store.

It seems that skinny nanny-state freak in New York doesn’t like people being able to drink the stuff in sizes that don’t disappear in three sips. I’m safe in Ohio, for now, but this gives me one more reason to avoid the Big Apple. My car needs gas anyway, so I think I’ll stop at the station after lunch and, for good measure, come back to work with a massive dose of the stuff that I’m craving.

On a more serious note: this is another bureaucratic assault on liberty. Just looking at what is and is not affected under the proposed ban makes compliance look like a nightmare. As is usually the case, enforcement will be arbitrary and in some cases, disproportionately harsh. I pray that this is not a bellwether for the further erosion of liberty and suppression of the free market nationwide.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The First Encyclical

In the weeks that follow Easter, the Lectionary readings lead us through the early spread of the Gospel as recounted in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. In the fifth week (last week to those keeping track), the readings are taken from chapters 14 and 15 and tells of the Council of Jerusalem. We Catholics like to think of the Council of Jerusalem as the first ecumenical council.

The apostles met in Jerusalem to discuss circumcision and whether it, and the Mosaic law in general, should be imposed upon new Gentile believers. They eventually decided that the Law of Moses did not apply under the New Covenant, and circumcision was not necessary. The first encyclical letter was drafted stating that the only thing required of converts was that they abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from sexual immorality.

Imagine that! The very first encyclical authorized by the Church was about sex! The letter, as recorded by Luke in Acts 15:23-29 doesn’t even say anything about circumcision, which was the whole reason the convening the council in the first place!

That brings us to Paul and Timothy. With the ink still wet on the documents of the council that decided circumcision was not necessary, Paul takes Timothy, whose mother was a Jew but whose father was a Gentile, and circumcises him! (Acts 16:3) His reason, says Luke, was to avoid offending the Jews. Was there a foreskin check at the synagogue?! Yet Paul doesn’t hesitate to tell the Galatians that he rebuked Peter for refraining from eating with Gentiles when the circumcision party was in town (Gal 2:11-13), even though Peters motives were probably very similar to Paul’s (i.e., to avoid giving offense).

I’m starting to understand why Mark wasn’t keen on travelling with Paul.

Friday, May 11, 2012

On Account of the Flies

It seems that I have my meme for the rest of the year. I’ve noticed that there seem to be more flies buzzing around than in the past. Therefore, anything bad that happens henceforth will be on account of the flies. Without a doubt, the flies (and all nuisance insect life in general) are dense due to the mild winter that we had. And if the winter was mild, it has to have something to do with global warming (even though I understand that the European winter was pretty harsh).

Jamie had a melt-down at the grocery store and Erin broke a jar of salsa con queso in aisle 1? It had to be on account of the flies!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Pivot of the School Year

This is the week that our children have been working toward all year. Every parent recently received a phone call from the elementary school principal emphasizing that every student should get a full night’s sleep and a healthy breakfast. We were advised to speak words of encouragement to our children on these very important days.

Yes, this is the week when every school-age child in the village must submit to the state assessment.

It sounds ominously Orwellian when stated in those terms, but I don’t think that I’ve been inaccurate in my description. I didn’t even need to resort to hyperbole. Once upon a time, these were called state aptitude tests, and then achievement tests. Apparently, the word “test” didn’t test well, because now the official moniker is the Ohio Achievement Assessment.

The entire school year pivots on this week. Even though there is still a month of school left, the last four weeks are consumed by an abundance of field trips, class parties, and rewards for good behavior. Once test (oops, there’s that nasty word!) week is over, there is definitely a relaxation of academic rigor.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter Joy

Alleluia! He is risen!

I know that I should say something about Easter, but others have said everything that needs to be said. The sorrow and penance of Lent has given way to the joy of the resurrection.

I made it to 2/3 of the Triduum this year, missing Holy Thursday’s Mass of the Lord’s Supper. By happy coincidence, that also means that I get to avoid the whole question of whether either of the parishes in our cluster included women or children in the foot washing.

At St. Augustine on Good Friday, I regretted the omission of the “Let us kneel . . . Let us stand” after each of the solemn intercessions, and there was some minor confusion during the recitation of the Passion. Like on Palm Sunday, the Good Friday Passion features the celebrant (if that’s the right word for a non-mass liturgy) reciting the words of Jesus, with a lector reading the narration, a speaker reciting the words of individuals like Pontius Pilate and Peter, and the congregation serving as the chorus of voices with lines like “Crucify him!” and “We have no king but Caesar.” St. Augustine parish, however, no longer has missals. With this year’s change in the English translation, all of the readings for Sundays and solemnities are now in the back of the hymnal, and the passion gospels are not annotated by speaker. We (i.e., the folks in the pews) did remarkably well, but there were occasions when it wasn’t clear whether the line belonged to the “speaker” or to the “chorus.” I still think that separate worship aids should be printed for the Triduum services, even if only to help people know when to stand, kneel, and sit (directions which are completely absent from the hymnal).

I attended the Easter Vigil mass at St. Joseph in Egypt. The vigil is always a little shorter there, if only because the whole town is already Catholic and there are never any catechumens or candidates. It was nice to sing the Gloria again, but they’ve chosen an extremely difficult musical setting. The notes are all over the place with absolutely no flow. It’s much easier to sing in other parishes I’ve been to, even if I haven’t sung it since before Lent. Overall, though, it was every bit the high point of the Church’s liturgical calendar.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An App for the Hours

Up until last week, we had two computers in our home: a new one, running Windows 7 and an older Windows XP box. The old computer started getting temperamental this year, and last week it finally gave up the ghost. We had a lot of files on that computer that we’ll have to try to salvage from the hard drive.

One of the first things that it became necessary to do was to install iTunes on the new computer, so that I could continue to listen to all the latest podcasts. One consequence of switching computers was the need to rebuild a library. In this case, all our old apps (for those of you in Rio Linda, app is short for application, a small program designed to run on smart phones, tablet computers, or, in my case, an iPod Touch) went out the window – goodbye, Angry Birds, you won’t be missed!

And that’s how I discovered the most amazing app that didn’t cost me a penny. It’s the iBreviary. The iBreviary puts at your fingertips all of the prayers for the Liturgy of the Hours (aka the Divine Office aka the Breviary), the readings and prayers for the mass of the day (including antiphons and Collect), and various lectures, prayers, and rites.

I’ve discovered that, given a choice between praying the Hours with my iPod or my prayer book, I’m opting for the iPod. With the book, I have to shuffle across ribbons and flip back pages to re-read antiphons. With the iBreviary, all I have to do is scroll.

It’s simply wonderful, and I have the death of a computer to thank for it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Praying the Hours

We’ve make it to Holy Week. Ash Wednesday was six weeks ago tomorrow. Lent, the season that we’ve been in for the last six weeks, is a period in which the Church places particular emphasis on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It’s typical, for me at least, to reach Holy Week with a degree of regret that my prayer life didn’t reach mystical heights, my fasting was far from ascetic, and my charitable giving was next to nonexistent (it’s tax season, and Caesar is taking a big bite this year).

One of my goals for Lent 2012 was to pray the Liturgy of the Hours daily. The Hours is a way that I can unite myself to the daily public prayer of the Church from my own home and in my own time (within limits). I’ve done pretty well praying Lauds (Morning Prayer) before work, Vespers (Evening Prayer) before bed, and the Office of Readings some time in between. I’ve not included Mid-day Prayer or Complline (Night Prayer). On at least one occasion when I neglected to pray one or more of the Hours, I had to ask myself why and admit that I had no good reason. It’s a practice that I will try to continue even after Lent has given way to Easter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Litter on the Lawn

Four times a day, five days a week, I drive past an industrial plant that specializes in corrugated cardboard packaging. Just north of the plant is a field that, for the last several weeks at least, has been littered with scattered pieces of plastic. I don’t know that it came from the packaging plant, but it’s a reasonable conclusion. If it did come from the plant, then don’t you think they would send somebody out to collect it?

This same plant, for the last week has had a deflated mylar balloon on their front lawn. Nobody could be bothered to pick it up. Today, they had the lawn rolled. Yep, the lawn care workers (they looked like young local men), moving along at a walking pace, drove their rollers right past the balloon as if it weren’t even there. I’m tempted to pull over my car as I drive past this evening, just to pick up the damn balloon!

The culture here is changing, and not for the better. Our communities have long been noted for their cleanliness, which was a product of our civic pride and work ethic. Persistent litter on the lawn, it seems to me, indicates that we are in the process of losing something that we failed to appreciate.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Consecrating the Self-Sanctified

My lovely bride will accuse me of getting lost in the details, but I will counter that I'm just seeking a better understanding of God's revelation to us.

In the 19th chapter of the Book of Exodus (featured in the Office of Readings for Friday of the Second Week of Lent), God announced to Moses that he was going to appear in a dense cloud before Israel. In the New American Bible (NAB) translation used by the Catholic Church in her liturgies, God instructs Moses, "Go to the people and have them sanctify themselves today and tomorrow." (Exodus 19:10, NAB) A few verses later, "Moses came down from the mountain to the people and had them sanctify themselves and wash their garments." (Exodus 19:14, NAB)

I was a little confused about the meaning of the verb "sanctify" and how the Israelites would do it to themselves, so I looked up the passage in my Revised Standard Version (RSV). The translation is different, and it seems to me that the meaning changes. "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow" (Exodus 19:10, NAB) and "Moses went down from the mountain to the people, and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments." (Exodus 19:14, RSV)

In the NAB, the people sanctify themselves. In the RSV, Moses consecrates the people. Sanctify means to make holy, or dedicated to the service of God. Consecrate means much the same thing, although I've always thought that there was a subtle difference, based on the second or third definitions of holy. My confusion remains, however, between whether the Israelites did it to themselves or had it done to them by Moses.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Preparing a Disaster

You do know that our country is headed for a fiscal cliff, right? Not only is our Treasury Secretary trying to convince us that our serial trillion dollar deficits are sustainable, he is, at the same time, refusing to acknowledge that the growth of entitlement spending (i.e., Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) is projected to accelerate in the next few years. Most of the politicians and bureaucrats in Washington know this, but choose to ignore it. After all, somebody else will be in the driver’s seat when the car of state speeds over the edge.

There are exceptions, of course. One thinks of Paul Ryan, primarily, but my own Congressman, Jim Jordan, also comes to mind. Jordan, as head of the Republican Study Committee, actually submitted to the House of Representatives a budget that was (gasp!) balanced.

Still, I couldn’t help but think of our “leaders” in the marbled halls along the Potomac when I read this passage from Jeremiah.

“Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the LORD says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’ But they will reply, ‘It’s no use. We will continue with our own plans; each of us will follow the stubbornness of his evil heart.’” (Jer 18:11-12)

Festivities of Body and Mind

I regret having to admit that my attention often wanders during mass, even though I know the majesty of the event in which I am participating. This is especially true when I am attending with one or more of my younger children. Occasionally, however, my attention deficit is penetrated, and a word or phrase or prayer snaps me to a more alert state.

That was the case this past weekend, the Second Sunday of Lent, when the celebrant recited the Prayer over the Offerings:

May this sacrifice, O Lord, we pray,
cleanse us of our faults,
and sanctify your faithful in body and mind
for the celebration of the paschal festivities.
Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

This is a prayer in the Sunday liturgy of the Church, so I think that I’m pretty safe in assuming that it’s been fully vetted. It’s going to take me some time to wrap my mind about what it’s saying.

I typically think of sanctification as something that happens on a spiritual level. Here, though, we’re praying for the sanctification of our body and mind. We can sin through what we do, and when we do something sinful, we use our bodies. But isn’t the soul the motivating force of the body? Our thoughts are products of the mind, but don’t they originate in the soul?

Yes and no. Our bodies are just as much a part of who we are as are our souls. When we worship, we involve our bodies. The sacraments have physical components (water, oil, laying on of hands, etc.). Furthermore, there are instances where the body acts directly upon the will. At some point, an addict might no longer have any choice in the matter – he can no longer help himself. Some have suggested that this is what St. Paul was getting at in Romans 7:17: “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.”

The mind is similar. We like to think that we control all of our thoughts, but it is not always so. Suicide was long regarded a sin, but the Church has recognized that it can be the result of mental illness, and that suicidal thoughts are not necessarily freely chosen or fully willed. Recent studies have suggested that viewing pornography results in physical changes in the brain that make it difficult for men or women to freely choose what is good and healthy in their relationships with others.

It is appropriate, therefore, to pray that our body and mind be sanctified, for the soul cannot be sanctified while it is held in slavery to sin.

The second striking phrase in that prayer was the reference to the paschal festivities. I’m familiar with the Paschal Mystery – the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I’ve never heard it referred to with the term “festivities,” though. I’ve heard the mass described not only as a sacrifice, but also as a celebration, but “festivities” seems to imply a much lighter atmosphere. Could it be that a nuance was lost in the translation?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Middle-Aged Husband Syndrome

From yesterday’s Bleat, in reference to a new Lileks family hamster:

The old hamster cage is out, replaced by a nice airy wire model, and he’s already explored every part of it. The Previous Hamster, or TPH, never wanted to go anywhere. Maybe he was a reincarnated middle-aged husband.

I note this only for the benefit of my dear one, who complains that I never want to go anywhere. It’s not just me, honey, it’s the middle-aged husband syndrome.

Picking a Candidate

Today is Super Tuesday, and Ohio is allegedly the big prize this year. It’s been a long time since my vote in the Presidential primary has meant anything, so I certainly didn’t want to waste my chance to help pick the Republican candidate. On my ballot, I got to cast votes for two delegates, so I cast one vote for Rick Perry and one vote for John Huntsman, the two men most likely to be able to defeat Barack Obama in November.

No, not really.

I have refrained from commenting on the race. Way back in 2010, I noted my preference for three governors, one of whom never got in, the other two bowed out early. Now the selections on the platter are down to four, and I had to pick one to vote for this morning.

I was never going to vote for Ron Paul. I like some of his libertarian message (stop spending and get the government out of areas where it doesn’t belong), but I can’t sign on to some of the other things (end the Fed, return to the gold standard, non-engagement foreign policy). He might be consistent, but his list of legislative accomplishments is extremely thin and there’s the whole matter of his newsletters, into which he claims to have had no input.

Newt Gingrich is certainly fun to listen to when he’s deconstructing the bias behind the questions asked by mainstream media interviewers (such as he recently did to David Gregory on Meet the Press). But he also sometimes reveals a lack of discipline that leads him to say that we’ll have a permanent moon base by the end of his second term. You simply never know when he’s going to say something cringe-inducing. Legislatively, he did some great things as Speaker of the House, but those who worked most closely with him described his leadership as mercurial. He has talent and ideas that need to be harnessed, but I don’t think he should be at the head of the Executive Branch. The President needs to have a stable personality, and Newt doesn’t.

Rick Santorum was involved in passing some signature bills during his time in Congress. He is an evangelical Catholic, and I happen to agree with most of what he says, even when the secular media gasp in astonishment. He has a way of saying it, though, that makes him sound like a fringe kook. He whined his way through most of the debates. He has no executive experience. He didn’t even try to get on the Virginia ballot, and he failed to get on the Ohio ballot in some of his strongest areas of the state. I don’t think that he’s up to the job of running the federal government.

That leaves us with Mitt Romney, who ran for office in Massachusetts as a progressive Republican. He claims to have come to embrace conservative principles as a state executive. Those who don’t like Romney doubt his veracity in this respect. I don’t know, but I accept that, as Governor of Massachusetts, he was as pro-life in practice as he could be. The similarity between Romneycare and Obamacare is focused on the individual mandate to purchase health insurance. The Supreme Court might or might not declare this provision unconstitutional. The mandate, however, was initially supported by conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation, and, in its absence, there still has to be a resolution of the balance between insurance companies that can deny coverage to those with preexisting conditions and those who choose not to purchase insurance until they need it. More importantly to me, though, is that Romney currently says all the right things and has demonstrated an ability to successfully organize and run things at an executive level.

Policy-wise, I don’t see much difference between Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum. Where I see a big difference is in executive demeanor. Romney, I think, has it; Gingrich and Santorum do not.

Friday, March 2, 2012

It Gave It Everything It Had

Travelling back to my office after a morning meeting, I heard this report on the local news radio station. It seems that law enforcement officials spotted a stolen vehicle north of Tipp City. A high-speed pursuit ensued, lasting 35 minutes and topping speeds of 100 mph. The chase ended, it was reported, when the engine in the minivan blew up.

Imagine a 100 mph chase in a minivan, and a stolen one at that!

On returning to the office, I had to share the story with a co-worker, who remarked, “That minivan gave all that it had.”

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Preexisting Condition

In the March 5 issue of National Review, James Lileks perfectly captures the absurdity of the Obama administration’s contraception mandate as only Mr. Lileks can, and he doesn’t even go anywhere near the denial of religious freedom that is at the heart of Catholic objections.

Let’s imagine a dockworker in 1948. He’s got a hot date with a fast chippy, but y’know, like they told him in the Army, the last thing a fella needs is a dose of the drip. So he goes to his boss, who’s in the office talking on the phone. “Give me a dollar out of petty cash,” the worker says. “I need to buy some French letters.”

The employer might have regarded the employee with confusion: I must have misunderstood. For what purpose do you require the loan?

“I need some rubbers. And it’s not a loan.”

This would have been unthinkable. But we’ve moved forward. We’ve grown! Now it’s assumed that your employer will defer the cost of zygote determent, because fertility is a preexisting condition. What’s more, free birth control protects women from the adverse impact of a strange, mysterious situation that affects millions every year: sudden-sex syndrome. We don’t fully understand how it works, or what the causes might be, but apparently there’s nothing you can do about it. All of a sudden you’re just having sex! There’s not a moment to exercise free will or consider the consequences; it’s just like being struck by lightning and lightning doesn’t call you afterwards for days either.

Hence the panic over letting employer decline to provide tools to cope with sudden-sex syndrome. They have to! Mommy, make the mean man give me my pills. All the people who wanted government out of their bedroom insist not only that it take a seat in the corner, but that it bring in business and compel it to leave its wallet on the nightstand.

The Ethics of Infanticide

I approach with a default skepticism any statement by a figure who calls himself an “ethicist.” Morality divorced from theology is bad enough. Ethics seems to be a field that seeks to define not what is right, but rather what is permissible, and in so doing, avoids any exploration of morality.

The latest ethicist effrontery comes from Oxford University in an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. A group of Oxford ethicists argue that an infant is morally equivalent to a fetus, therefore infanticide should be legal. Jonah Goldberg, writing in the Corner, reflects my thoughts on the matter and expresses them far better than I could.

The Culture of Death starts from the acceptability of abortion and extends that to infanticide. The Culture of Life starts from the unacceptability of infanticide (and murder, in general) and extends the wrongness of it to aborting a fetus. Both sides accept that the fetus and the infant are morally equivalent.

The pro-life argument would work backwards to conception. Where would the line be drawn by the other side? Is there any moral difference between an ethicist who argues for infanticide and an infant?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Senior Mom

Many high school sports have become year-round activities, whether it’s open gym for basketball and volleyball or off-season lifting for football. My oldest son is a football player, and football is his only sport. Next year he will be a senior.

Derek came home from lifting recently and announced that all of the other seniors (this year’s juniors are now considered football seniors) were either playing baseball or running track. He, therefore, was the only senior at the off-season workouts. I commented that it was up to him to provide senior leadership to all of the under-classmen. He’s not big on leadership, and he gave me one of his “yeah, right Dad” looks.

More interesting was the reaction of his mother. In an expression of combined fear, disgust, and constipation, she erupted, “Does that mean I’m supposed to be a senior mom?” The mothers of the senior players, you see, play an important behind (and sometimes in front of) the scenes support role for the team. It’s a role that my dear wife clearly is not looking forward to.

I’m not sure what senior dads do.

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Church Flatulent

Quote of the day (yesterday, actually) has to go to Professor Paul Rahe of Hillsdale College. Writing on Ricochet, Prof. Rahe closes a post on Abortion and Contraception thusly:

Persecution can be and often is good for the Church. In its absence, the Church Militant has a way of turning into the Church Flatulent.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Suddenly Lent

SNAP! Just like that, the liturgical season changes, and it’s Lent. With Advent, you’ve got the wind down of the previous year with the celebration of Christ the King and the secular shift toward Christmas. After Christmas, we’re eased gently into Ordinary Time with Epiphany and the Baptism of the Lord. Lent is different. We’re cruising along through Ordinary Time when Ash Wednesday jumps out of the bushes at us in the middle of the week. We are told that we have to fast and abstain, and suddenly the atmosphere becomes penitential.

Can you tell that I don’t take fasting particularly well?

There are some cultural (i.e., non-liturgical) precursors to Ash Wednesday. There’s Carnival, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday (I admit to indulging in a Fat Tuesday ritual of taking lunch at a Chinese buffet). But these celebrations aren’t any kind of transitionary preparations. They are the equivalent of hitting the accelerator just before smashing into a wall, which makes the collision that much more jarring. It is much more appropriate that the feast follow the fast, as Easter follows Good Friday.

For me, Lent comes just in time this year. The emphasis on almsgiving, prayer, and fasting calls me to reform areas of my life in which I have grown lax. It’s not as though Christians only do these things during Lent. We should do them year-round. Lent, however, is a season for renewed observance. We are reminded just how far we have relapsed and invited to make good things habitual once again.

Yes, the onset of Lent is like a slap in the face – a slap that’s needed to restore our spiritual senses to the real world. It is time to re-focus our vision and discipline on what really matters.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Avoid Giving Offense

I had to allow myself a private chuckle this morning as I read today’s selection for the first reading at mass. Recall that last Sunday, we heard from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians: “Avoid giving offense, whether to the Jews or Greeks or the church of God.” (1 Cor 10:32) Contrast that with these words from the epistle of St. James: “Do you want proof, you ignoramus, that faith without works is useless?” (James 2:20)

These are the New American Bible (NAB) translations used by the Catholic Church in America for her liturgies. Other translations provide a little less contrast.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Bad Publicity

In the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, we hear of a leper who approaches Jesus and is healed. Jesus tells the leper to present himself to the priests in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Jesus also warns the man (sternly!) to tell no one anything. The ex-leper disregarded the warning and “began to publicize the whole matter.” The passage, Mark 1:40-45, was the gospel pronounced at masses this past weekend.

Many commentators have offered their thoughts regarding why Jesus wanted the incident kept secret. I find the most plausible explanation to be that He knew what would happen when the word got out. People would come from far and wide seeking healing of their every infirmity. Their focus would be primarily selfish, and would interfere with his mission of proclaiming the Good News. Indeed, Mark shares some of these consequences in his Gospel. “He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.” (Mark 1:45) The crowds get to be so bad that the disciples and family of Jesus begin to worry (Mark 3:21).

The Church has been entrusted with continuing the mission of Christ in the modern world. Just as Jesus faced threats to his ability to communicate his message, the Church today finds itself faced with unexpected obstacles. Foremost in my mind currently, given the events of the last few weeks, are the legions of contracepting Catholics who disregard Church teaching and then blab about it to every pollster who calls. Their very public disobedience causes people to discount the Church’s teaching authority: either it’s not important, it’s not binding, or it’s simply incorrect.

The Church has been, to some extent, acquiescent in allowing a very large proportion of its members to dissent from her teaching. The pontiffs, of course, from Pius XII to Paul VI, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI, have consistently taught the moral truth about abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Most Catholics, however, don’t read papal encyclicals, apostolic letters, or catechetical lectures. They depend upon their local pastor to steer them to spiritual safety. Aside from a few brave souls, the branch managers of the universal Church have been hesitant to broach the subject, lest the contrast with secular orthodoxy lead the luke-warm to bolt for the doors.

The same collection of readings that saw the proclamation of Mark 1:40-45 for the Gospel used Psalm 32 for the Responsorial Psalm. Verses 8 and 9 of the Psalm evoke a powerful image that I believe fits the majority of contracepting Catholics. “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.” Those who reduce Church teaching to “Thou Shalt Not . . .” without attempting to understand the basis for that teaching are naturally going to resent what they see as interference in their personal lives.

In my mind, I can picture a personification of the Church, desperately trying to be heard amid a sea of equine beasts wanting to spit out their bits and straining at their bridles. We are one body in Christ, and there is no such thing as a purely private sin. Every sin harms the entire body, and some serve to rob the body of its voice. For those who have sinned, forgiveness is freely offered. But for the love of God, don’t make things worse by going around happily publicizing your sinfulness.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Two-Front War

I had thought that the 2012 elections were going to be about economic issues – unsustainable government deficit spending and the inflationary monetary policy of the Federal Reserve. This was supposed to have been an election cycle where the social issues became secondary, to be dealt with after the existential threat had passed. Mitch Daniels, the Republican Governor of Indiana, famously called for a truce in the culture war due to the rising tide of red ink that was threatening to drown the country.

Suddenly, though, the social issues are back. It’s as if the scales have not fallen from my eyes, they’ve been ripped off, taking my eyelids with them. The creeping tyranny of an Executive Branch that is weary of having to follow the Constitution has become every bit the existential threat that Daniels’s red tide is.

The latest target is the First Amendment, guaranteeing Freedom of Religion to every citizen of the Republic. First, the Obama Administration tried to claim that churches and religious institutions could not discriminate in their employment, even of ministers. They tried to make it the law of the land that the Catholic Church would have to open the priesthood to women. Fortunately, the Supreme Court ruled against them 9 to 0. Not even the most liberal justices would condone such a naked usurpation of religious freedom.

Now we have the mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that all employers, including religious institutions, but excluding narrowly defined churches) must provide all employees with free contraception and sterilization. This is clearly a violation of the consistent moral teaching of the Catholic Church, and the bishops of the United States have unanimously and loudly objected, stating that they would not and could not abide by the ruling. President Obama, who during the debt negotiations was willing to see the Federal government shut down before giving up federal funding of Planned Parenthood, doubled down. Most of the mainstream media mis-framed the argument, clearly with a bias in favor of the administration. Now, he has announced an "accommodation" which is no compromise at all, since all employers will still be required to provide health insurance that provides free contraception and sterilization. It is a blatant assault on liberty and an affront to Catholics who take the moral teaching of the Church seriously.

At the same time, a private cancer-research fund, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, announced that it would suspend financial support for Planned Parenthood. The Planned Parenthood goons went into overdrive, even going so far as hacking and defacing the Komen website, leading Komen to sheepishly apologize and restore funding.

Yes, the culture wars are alive and kicking. We focused on one front of the war and neglected the other, allowing the forces of evil (and I do not use the phrase lightly) to attack us in the rear. Now we have to fight a two-front war, and I fear that the momentum is against us. If we can't reverse the course of recent history, our government will cease to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. The Constitution will become nothing more than words on parchment, and the liberties guaranteed by the Constitution will be worth no more than the paper on which they are written.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Archbishop's Letter

The bishops of the United States have come out swinging in response to the Obama administration’s ruling that nearly all employers must include full coverage of contraception and sterilization in their healthcare plans. In the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, Archbishop Dennis Schnurr penned a letter to his flock stating, “We cannot – we will not – comply with this unjust law.”

The Archbishop’s letter was distributed as a bulletin insert at my sister’s parish in Dayton. Fr. Martin Fox notes that he read the letter at all of his Piqua masses this past weekend, and used the occasion to preach on what some consider to be the more counter-cultural teachings of the Church. I want to believe that the Archbishop's letter was distributed throughout the parishes of the Archdiocese. However, not a word was uttered in our little corner of “God’s country.” Maybe next weekend…

[UPDATE] Not a word was spoken from the pulpit, but the Archbishop's letter was included as an insert to the February 5 bulletin.

Monday, January 30, 2012

A Friend in Pain

I have a friend who injured a tendon in his ankle a couple of months ago. Several weeks in a boot resulted in no improvement, so he had surgery at the beginning of the year. Based on his comments, it sounds like the days after the surgery were very painful.

As a Catholic (my friend is also Catholic), I approach pain and suffering as an opportunity to be united with Christ. Through His Passion, He gave meaning to suffering, and we can unite our suffering to His, so that our suffering takes on meaning and becomes redemptive. It strikes me as bad form, however, to try to point this out to someone as they are experiencing the pain. The connection should be established before the suffering is entered into. The admonition to “offer it up” is not well received unless the soul has been properly prepared.

What then could I say to my friend in pain? To my delight, the liturgy came to my rescue in the form of the Collect prayer for Wednesday of the First Week of Ordinary Time. While I couldn’t come up with the words to tactfully say, “Hey dummy! Offer it up!” I could say, “I thought of you when I read this prayer from today’s mass.” He gave it a thumbs up, so I assume that it was well received.

O God, who willed that our infirmities
be borne by your Only Begotten Son
to show the value of human suffering,
listen in kindness to our prayers
for our brothers and sisters who are sick;
grant that all who are oppressed by pain, distress or other afflictions
may know that they are chosen
among those proclaimed blessed
and are united to Christ
in his suffering for the salvation of the world.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, you Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.