Remembering Theo

Yesterday marked the two year anniversary of the birth of our third grandchild. Theo Joseph was the light in an otherwise dark year that marked by the sudden death of his grandfather Joseph Driessler due to cancer. But then Theo died in his mother’s womb and the family was devastated. Seeing those you love ravaged with grief is not easy. I can remember joining the family members in the birthing room and looking at little Theo lying still in his crib wrapped in a blanket. His cherubic face will be with me as long as I live.

Remarkably Mandi and Devin have chosen to remember Theo Joseph in a number of unique ways. They joined other parents as members of the Star Legacy Foundation. They kept his footprints and and created a beautiful ornament of remembrance that hangs on their tree at Christmas. Loss of loved ones is never easy but rather than run from it they have embraced their loss and in the process have helped others to do the same.

In November 1963 my sister Mary Patricia was born. She lived only a couple of days. My Mom and Dad said she looked like me. We have no pictures nor other mementos of Mary’s time with us. A headstone marks her burial in the cemetery in a plot next to my father. A few weeks ago Devin asked me when Mary was born and I didn’t know. I called my sister who told me that Mary was born on November 15, 1963. Thanks to the example of Devin and Mandi I’ll be remembering Mary Patricia in a new way and especially on her birthday.

Yesterday Devin and Mandi had a family sledding and tubing event that marked the birth of Theo Joseph. Thanks for their wonderful example. Theo was truly a gift from God as his name implies and his memory will always be with us.

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THE RABBI’S GIFT

This is one of my favorite wisdom stories. We have the power to change the world we live in by looking for the messiah among us.

WISDOM STORIES TO LIVE BY

Once a great order, a decaying monastery had only five monks left. The order was dying. In the surrounding deep woods, there was a little hut that a Rabbi from a nearby town used from time to time.

The monks always knew the Rabbi was home when they saw the smoke from his fire rise above the treetops. As the Abbot agonized over the imminent death of his order, it occurred to him to ask the Rabbi if he could offer any advice that might save the monastery.
The Rabbi welcomed the Abbot at his hut. When the Abbot explained the reason for his visit, the Rabbi could only commiserate with him. “I know how it is,” he exclaimed. “The spirit has gone out of the people. It is the same in my town. Almost no one comes to the synagogue anymore.” So the Abbot and the Rabbi sat together…

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The Sheep and the Goats

Earlier today I came upon a quote from Matthew 25 which sums up the Jesus message.

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

~Matthew 25:35

The Jesus message which is often overlooked is about relationships. Too often the emphasis is on his death on the cross. Many if not most Christians believe in the doctrine of ‘original sin.’ Jesus never talked about original sin in any of the Gospels nor is it mentioned per se in the New Testament. So much emphasis has been placed on original sin that the relationship message of Jesus is given short shrift. I recently participated in a class where the emphasis for many was on ‘the fall.’ You know the story I’m sure about how Eve gave Adam the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge and then it was all down hill from there.

The idea that people are damned because Eve gave Adam an apple in a metaphorical allusion in a mythological explanation of the creation story was always something I questioned. Why would a supreme being create a cosmos that was flawed in such a manner to exclude that same creation from fulfillment. It doesn’t make any sense. Nearly twenty years ago I heard about the theology of John Duns Scotus and later St. Bonaventure both of whom were inspired by their seraphic father St. Francis that posited an alternative. In short the reason for the incarnation was to demonstrate the creator’s love for creation. Jesus never excludes anyone from the banquet. In fact the more sinful you are the more welcome you are at the banquet. He welcomed prostitutes, tax collectors and other sinners. It was the church people who crucified him. His preaching was too scandalous for them. He upset the status quo with this radical message of relationship.

In Matthew 25 he articulates clearly that what you do for the least of your fellows is what earns you the reward of eternal life. Getting baptized, saying that you accept Jesus as your Lord and savior and then turning a blind eye to the injustices that surround us is not going to get you into the kingdom according to what is written in Matthew 25:31-46. That’s always been my favorite verse in the New Testament. The golden rule is the recipe for happiness in this life and the next.

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He has cast down the mighty

This magnificent image from Thomas Mainardi was shared on Fr. James Martin’s Instagram feed. It’s one of the most powerful depictions of the Mary I have ever seen. I carry a rosary with me everyday and pray it frequently. Maybe it’s all the heartache and crisis of this year. Maybe it’s because in the middle of this pandemic we had our own Madonna born in August. A beautiful granddaughter born amidst all the tumult and chaos of this year. In all the darkness there has been incredible light

 His mercy is from generation unto generations to them that fear Him.He has showed might in His arm: He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.He has cast down the mighty from their seat, and has exalted the humble.He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.

Ave Maria Gratia Plena Dominus Tecum!

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Unpacking the myth

Today a friend of mine shared a poignant post from John Pavlovitz’ blog which was written last week. It is the Myth of Pro-Life Christianity. The author’s eloquence is spot on. I’ve pondered much of what he said for the past 9 months as I’ve watched Americans die in record numbers while the national leadership dawdled.

“We are currently losing several thousand people here every single day and likely will for the coming months.

In less than a single year, more than 300,000 Americans will have died.

That’s 75,000 “Benghazis” for which these same people flagellated themselves and clutched their pearls and engaged in wild public histrionics, because American lives were supposedly important to them.

That’s 100 “9/11 attacks,” for which nineteen years later, they still proudly brandish their #NeverForget bumper stickers and annual social media eulogies and America First bravado—because unnecessary death moves them, apparently.” – John Pavlovitz


They stood by and did nothing while the country has been ravished by a pandemic which they denied. They mocked and degraded scientists and healthcare professionals when they knew of the deadliness of the virus. They blamed China for their own incompetence and complicity. I never believed any of these turds were pro-life. It was just a punch line for them. They’re against abortion and that’s a good cause but they don’t have any idea what it means to be pro-life.

I pray everyday that our lack of national leadership won’t do anymore harm. I pray for the victims, families affected, medical professionals on the front lines.

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Congratulations Joe Biden

I woke this morning to a tweet from Christopher White who shared that National Catholic Reporter had named President – elect Joe Biden as Newsmaker of the year.

Joe Biden has been an inspiration for me. He was slow and steady in this race. He was unflappable in a day and time when the country was in panic mode. His election has been a lodestar for democracy. Sixty-percent of Americans approve of the job he’s doing as President-Elect. Despite little cooperation from Republicans and intransigence from the White House he remains calm. That inner calm comes from the practice of his faith which includes a daily meditation of the rosary. May God bless Joe Biden as he tries to mend the fabric of our broken country.

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Against all odds

Despite voter intimidation, gerrymandering, voter suppression, lies, threats of violence to voters and officials Joe Biden is President-elect of the United States. Today was the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The second Marian Feast in less than a week’s time. You might call December the Month of Mary. How is the opening sentence related to the second sentence? Joe Biden carries a rosary with him everyday and there are reports that in addition to his daily attendance at Eucharist he also prays the rosary. We have that in common in addition to our Catholic faith.

Did Mary have something to do with the outcome of the presidential election? There are some who would scoff at that. Others might say yes. In the past four years I’ve prayed the rosary almost everyday. I usually pray it as I walk but sometimes when I’m riding in the car. Some days when it is too cold to hold the beads in my hands I keep track of the prayers with my gloved hands. I pray the Franciscan Crown Rosary which is seven decades and it’s easiest for me to remember the seven joys of Our Lady.

Today as I sat in an Advent prayer service at Mount Irenaeus I reflected on both the feast day and Mary. The mother of the Messiah was not famous nor powerful. She was lowly and betrothed to Joseph The lowliness of his handmaid is duly noted in the Magnificat.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek.He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away.

The mighty are pulled from their seats of power. The humble and meek are exalted and are fed while the rich go away empty. The handmaid of the Lord became the Queen of Heaven. Ave Maria gratia plena Dominus tecum.

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A beautiful day

Today’s my birthday and it was a beautiful day indeed. The sky was blue with not a cloud in sight. Birthday’s are a time for reflection and gratitude. I’m grateful for my parents who made this day possible. I was their first born. I was the guinea pig. All first born children share that experience. Nothing in school or life ever really prepares you for being a parent. My mother had a tough time with the pregnancy. She was preeclamptic which severely complicated the pregnancy. I was delivered by my Uncle Eugene Rooney. It was Misericordia Hospital in Manhattan which no longer exists. I arrived at 5:55 AM according to a telegram my grandparents received to announce my birth.

My father was at the hospital but probably not allowed in the delivery room. That would have been unusual in those days. He sent the telegram to my grandparents upstate to announce my arrival. By all accounts I was a happy infant who once slept in a dresser drawer because there was no bassinet for me. That came later and we still have that item in our basement. It served for my brother and sister too.

I was blessed to be born on the 8th of December. It is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Mary the Mother of Jesus. I attended parochial schools as a child and young adult and always got the day off. We always went to Mass on my birthday. It was a holy day of obligation. I would like to have attended today but the pandemic and a shortage of priests made that impossible this year. Nonetheless, I was able to pray the rosary on my walk today and spend a few minutes in our grotto near St. Philomena’s RC Church today.

Blue is a Marian color. Today the sky was bright blue. I wore my blue jeans and a deep blue shirt. Maybe I over did it. In any event it was a beautiful day and one that invited me to be glad to be alive.

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Happy Birthday Dad

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He’d be 94 today. Born December 3,1926 at his childhood home. He was the last of five children my grandmother had. She lost two of those children to still birth. Dad was nine year’s younger than his brother Wendell and six year’s younger than his sister Virginia. He was by all accounts spoiled as many “babies” of families are.

I’ve got pictures of him as a child living with my grandparents. Most of my recollections of Dad’s childhood as he saw it came from stories he shared with me as a young man growing up. We share the same first and last name and many of the same looks especially in adulthood. His stories nearly always painted a comic and tragic childhood that was marred at times by my grandparents squabbles.

Dad graduated high school in 1944 and enlisted in the US Navy. He went to recruit training at Great Lakes IL and later radio school in Chicago at a junior college that the government had taken over during World War II. Eventually he shipped out to naval base San Diego where he contracted rheumatic fever. That illness saved him from deployment to the Pacific fleet and perhaps harm from the war. He convalesced at a naval hospital in Corona CA and was eventually honorably discharged hone in 1946.

Like many returning GI’s he got a chance to enroll in college. He was admitted to the University of Buffalo Dental School eventually graduating in 1952. It was while he was a student there that he met my Mom who ate dinner at the same boardinghouse he lived at. They fell in love and were married in 1951. I came along fifteen months later followed by three siblings one of which died soon after birth.

We had a good life together marred at times by Dad’s bouts with depression. Back then very few people understood depression as they do today. Though undiagnosed I believe Dad was bipolar. When he was up he was great but when down he was miserable and violent at times. We all suffered but I think he suffered the worst as he was truly remorseful for his bouts. I know that he loved us very deeply though at times his behavior belied it.

Being most like him we frequently clashed especially as I grew older. At one point I moved away from the house for a week or more after one of the more violent outbursts. Relief came when I graduated high school and enrolled at college. Dad frequently demeaned me growing up. He told me that I would never rise to the professional ranks like he did. That’s quite damaging to the psyche of a younger person but now as a much older adult I can see that this was borne of his own severe insecurities. His frequent attacks on my integrity left me more determined than ever to excel.

Like him I got drafted and decided to join the US Navy where I served as a hospital corpsman eventually rising to the rank of third class petty officer in less than two years. I was named Command Sailor of the Quarter at one point thanks to the relentless drive for excellence and perfection. I got some leave after graduating from Hospital Corps school and had made no plans to visit my parents who were living on the west coast. I got a phone call from Dad begging me to visit and I’m glad I pocketed my pride and took the trip. I spent a week with Dad and Mom in northern California where they lived. It was the best week Dad and I had as adults. Then it was over and I was returning to the east coast and a new duty station. I can still remember that morning standing in the departure area of the Eureka airport. We embraced and he told me how much he loved me and how proud of me he was. I told him I loved him too and then turned and walked to the aircraft. I had a huge lump in my throat and tears welled in my eyes as I looked out the window of the plane toward Mom and Dad in the terminal.

Little did I realize then that would be the last time I saw him. He died after a short illness five months later. His life was cut short at forty-six. Time and therapy has healed the wounds and I forgave Dad long ago. I think of him often. I see him in our children. I walk by his childhood home often. Our children attended the same school he did and graduated from there too. Happy Birthday Dad!

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Mom is happy

I celebrated Mom’s birthday yesterday. She’s been gone fifteen months. Yesterday marked the 94th anniversary of her birth. I can only imagine what heaven is like but if she’s aware in any way what happened today in the United States of America she’d be happy. One hundred and one years after women were granted the right to vote a woman of color has been elected Vice President of the United States. My Mom was keenly aware of the glass ceiling. She put up with it all her life.

After finishing college in 1947 she was passed over for employment as a mathematics teacher because she was a woman. This was after graduating magna cum laude with a bachelors degree. A year later after completing a masters degree in Mathematics at Fordham University a man got the job she applied for. That brought her to Buffalo, New York and a teaching assignment at her alma mater, D’Youville College. Four years later after marriage to my Dad she left teaching to take care of me. She had three more children and was a worked as my father’s dental assistant and office manager. After he died she entered the work force as a teacher and helped us all get married and established. She continued to face trials because she was a woman. She was denied credit despite paying off a mortgage. She persevered nonetheless. remarried and eventually retired.

Whenever she talked about the trials she had as woman in America she’d become very animated. I can still see her pointing with her arthritic fingers and her chin quivering as she spoke. Mom voted for a woman in the last presidential election. We all know what happened. Today that changed when Kamala Harris was elected to the Vice Presidency. I think Mom has a broad smile this evening. I can see her pointing that finger at me and telling me her story one more time.

Everyone who loves freedom around the world is smiling tonight too. Kamala Harris smashed through the glass ceiling. We need more women in leadership.

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