Gracie the Dog, RIP

It’s been a bad week for dog owners who are Catholic bloggers. First Elizabeth Scalia loses her best friend and then today, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn, a dear friend of mine reports that her beloved Gracie who rallied a bit after not being well earlier this year, went over the rainbow bridge today.

Needless to say, I’ve been hanging out with my dog, Haze, a bit more the past few days. He’s laying right next to me now and is snoozing peacefully. But earlier today he was extremely playful. So I thought these might cheer my friends up.

Rest in Peace, Gracie. I’m sure that St. Ignatius greeted you today and carried you to the Lord’s healing embrace where he gave you new life and you now run and chase rabbits all day long.

Blessings, Fran. Know of my prayers.

Movin On Up! Sherman Hemsley Dead at 74

Two of my favorite satirical sitcoms growing up were All in the Family and the Spin-off of that show The Jeffersons. Both in a sense were social experiments on the problems of race in our country. Norman Lear, the show’s creator was brilliant and he chose to create two bigoted characters, Archie Bunker, a ultra-bigoted white guy who worked the loading docks and lived in Astoria, Queens (704 Hauser Street to be exact) and George Jefferson, Archie’s neighbor, a black man who is as bigoted towards whites as Archie is towards blacks.

It was brilliant satire and both shows were hits. We had a long discussion one day with friends about the two shows and the issue that one friend brought up and made me consider was whether the show actually succeeded in bringing to light racist viewpoints or if it simply turned Bunker and Jefferson into “lovable bigots?” A good question to say the least. And we should discuss it at length.

Hemsley was like a gnat on the Jefferson. He was short and wiry and he never seemed to say quit. It was revealed on All in the Family that he was a custodial worker and then he saved up enough money to buy a small business, a laundry/dry cleaning business: Jefferson Cleaners. They left the neighborhood and spun off into their own show whose theme song became as memorable as the characters: Movin on Up.

Here’s a great scene from All in the Family with both stars:

And here’s to Sherman Hemsley..may he rest in peace.

When You Survive a Shooting Only to Be Killed in Another

The Colorado movie theatre shooting gives us just one more look into the lives of young people who’s generation is marked by a number of random acts of violence. It’s so rampant in their lives that one person could in fact have been present at more than one random shooting now.

And I’m not talking about someone who lives in a gang infested area–that’s obvious. Two of my colleagues from my former career in sports pointed me towards this story of Jessica Ghawi, also known as Jessica Redfield, an aspiring sportscaster and prolific tweeter.

Ghawi was one of the 12 killed by a madman who threw tear gas into a movie theater filled with people about to watch the Dark Knight Rises. Sadly, Ghawi also was in Toronto at the Eaton Center Shooting just about a month ago and survived because she “felt funny” and went outside.

She blogged about being at the Eaton Center at the time.

What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life. I was on a mission to eat sushi that day, and when I’m on a mission, nothing will deter me. When I arrived at the Eaton Center mall, I walked down to the food court and spotted a sushi restaurant. Instead of walking in, sitting down and enjoying sushi, I changed my mind, which is very unlike me, and decided that a greasy burger and poutine would do the trick. I rushed through my dinner. I found out after seeing a map of the scene, that minutes later a man was standing in the same spot I just ate at and opened fire in the food court full of people. Had I had sushi, I would’ve been in the same place where one of the victims was found.

My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rung out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.

I walked around the outside of the mall. People started funneling out of every exit. When I got back to the front, I saw a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I initially thought that maybe the street performer that was drumming there earlier had a heart attack or something. But more and more police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks started showing up. Something terrible has happened. I overheard a panicked guy say, “There was a shooting in the food court.” I thought that there was no way, I was just down there. I asked him what happened. He said “Some guy just opened fire. Shot about 8 shots. It sounded like balloons popping. The guy is still on the loose.” I’m not sure what made me stick around at this point instead of running as far away from the mall as possible. Shock? Curiosity? Human nature? Who knows.

Standing there in the midst of the chaos all around us, police started yelling to get back and make room. I saw a young shirtless boy, writhing on a stretcher, with his face and head covered by the EMS as they rushed him by us to get him into an ambulance. The moment was surprisingly calm. The EMTs helping the boy weren’t yelling orders and no one was screaming like a night time medical drama. It was as if it was one swift movement to get the boy out of the mall and into the ambulance. That’s when it really hit me. I felt nauseas. Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?

This is too eerie and ironic to not be true unfortunately. This young woman at the start of her young career could have been gunned down a month ago and then ends up being randomly killed because she decided to go to a movie. I wonder if her “spidey sense” tingled again in the theatre last night only to ignore it this time around?

Some friends on Facebook and I’m sure more around the world are angry and hope to see the killer executed. Colorado reinstated the death penalty in their state in 1975 and three people await that penalty on death row in Carson City. None of their deaths will bring back the lives of those that they have killed (Two are accused of murder and another of conspiracy to one of the murders) and neither will that happen in this case. Capital punishment does not restore justice. What it does do is perpetuate evil. Evil wants us to go to that hopeless place where all that can be present is violence and revenge.

The killer whose name I won’t print because he doesn’t deserve any notoriety, should be punished obviously and I hope he gets put away in prison for a very long time to pay for his crime. That’s justice. But it is unjust for us to kill someone and disguise the same act that was committed as justice.

Today let us pray for the victims and for peace in our streets and in our hometowns and in the world. May we move away from evil and into God’s peace. But let us also pray for ourselves—that we do not let anger get the best of us and that we can move into a world where violence does not beget more violence and where we can learn to offer grace in the face of evil.

And for Jessica, especially, may you rest in the arms of God, who redeems you this day and holds you closely forever. And may our young people one day live in a world where they need not worry about simply going to see a movie or grabbing sushi at a mall.

He Was…Marshall

When the movie, We Are Marshall, starring Matthew McConaughey came out, I immediately heard several of my Paulists priest-friends mention that, one of their own, Fr. Bob Scott, CSP was the Marshall football team’s chaplain. For those not aware, the story of the movie concerns the events surrounding the plane crash that involved the entire Marshall University football team in 1970. That crash took the lives of not only an entire team, but several of Hunington, West Virginia’s leading citizens, who were big boosters for the team. It was devastating for the entire town, a college town that the university plays such a major role in.

Fr. Bob was the team’s chaplain and had been traveling with the team. But he had taken the previous week off from his parish duties to be with the team and thought better of taking a second week off to travel with them. That decision saved his life and he ended up ministering to a town overcome by grief. Injured players who didn’t travel, girlfriends of players, wives of coaches, parents…all were met by the kind eyes and empathy of Fr. Bob Scott, CSP. It was indeed tough for him as he dealt with his own survivor’s guilt, but he soldiered on and eventually became a big help to the new head coach Jack Lengyel, who converted to Catholicism with Fr. Bob’s help.

Yesterday, Fr. Bob went home to God at the age of 91. He not only served at Marshall but was a long-time presence at the University of Texas where he served well into his 80s.

I interviewed Fr. Bob for BustedHalo® some time ago and he was just a wonderful joyful man. The audio of that interview can be found on this podcast—and there’s just something about hearing his voice today that brings me comfort. But a summary of the interview is found here as well.

Rest in peace, Bob. I’m sure the Marshall and the Texas football players are lining up for a tunnel at the pearly gates for you to run through!

And here’s a great clip from the movie:

Rodney King RIP

Rodney King, who was brutally beaten by LA cops and when those same cops were acquitted set off riots throughout the area, was found dead at the age of 47 today. He will most be remembered for his comment during the La Riots:

Time reports more about him on life after the beatings:

But his life afterward was a struggle to heal from the physical and psychological wounds that lingered long after his trial, and he experienced several run-ins with the law, trouble with drug and alcohol abuse and continued domestic violence issues, as well as financial difficulties, despite what he has always maintained were his best efforts.

“Getting past the beating, making it through that alive means better to me,” he told TIME earlier this year on the 20th anniversary of the riot. He explained that as he has traveled the path of healing, so has Los Angeles. Both imperfect, but both trying to be better. “It’s slowly getting better, but it is getting better….”

He was awarded $3.8 million by Los Angeles in a later civil trial, but much of that went to legal and medical bills. Later, he opened a small rap label, but didn’t see much success with it and it soon folded. Through the 1990s, he was arrested several times on DUI charges and on domestic abuse charges. His wife Crystal divorced him in 1995. His most recent arrest was in July 2011 with a DUI charge.

King spent much of his time in rehabilitation programs and even was cast on the second season of VH1′s Celebrity Rehab, which he completed successfully. He had gone back to working in the construction business with his family members and recently said he was in a good place, much of his trouble with drinking behind him. In April, he released an autobiography: The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, which entails his own view of his experiences and how he survived.

“I waited 20 years, including two years writing this and I’m able to tell my story,” he said in an interview. “I call that better in my life.”

Read more:

Let us not forget how brutally beaten he was and apparently he never recovered from the psychological trauma and the demons that haunted him for years even before his beatings. Judge for yourself what brutality can do to others:

And so we pray…

Give us the strength, O Lord to stand up for those who have no voice and who are unjustly abused. Allow us to not fear those in authority who abuse it.

But most of all..

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Rodney’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Grace Abounds at Virginia Tech Five Years After Tragedy

Five years ago Virginia Tech was a Campus in Chaos. Bloodshed in classrooms and dorms–who ever could imagine such tragedy? People were killed simply because they decided to go to class that day.

One young man was deeply disturbed and everyone ignored the signs of his trouble. He was in desperate need of mental health treatment and his demons eventually took over and he killed 32 people and wounded another 25 on a shooting spree unlike any other in our nation’s history.

I’ve learned over the years that some people just can’t be helped, or perhaps can only help themselves. Perhaps others tried to reach out to him but he ignored those people and his illness found him unable to reach out in his pain, choosing to mire himself in depression instead.

There’s no excuse for what he did that day. All that is left now is healing from what has happened.

And that’s where my friend, Fr. John Grace comes in. He is the Campus Minister on the Virginia Tech Campus. On that first April 16th there was not a Catholic Campus Minister assigned to the Newman Center at Virginia Tech. Fr. John was in Chicago, working with the Paulists and others, making decisions about his future. He had been a campus minister elsewhere and a diocesan priest. But he wanted to explore religious life outside of diocesan life.

But Virginia Tech called him back. He was needed. And the challenge and God’s call to aid a troubled campus was one Fr. John could not ignore. And they are better for it.

Fr. Grace arrived and spent much time listening to the pain of a campus community that had banded together and suffered with one another. He often tells me that the healing began long before he arrived. Students had begun to heal through prayer services that they conducted, picking songs to sing and to use music’s power to help in that healing process.

In a PBS interview, Fr. John said:

I want people to know that in this community there is a thriving, alive faith community, a Catholic identity that understands that death exists, violence exists, and the cross exists, but so does hope, resurrection, and life.

And indeed there is still that aliveness today. What better message for the Easter season than that. Jesus is alive and that changes everything.

Even when madmen shoot up college campuses, Jesus can redeem death and destruction and therefore we have the power to heal and to raise our voices in song.

And that’s what Fr. Grace encouraged:

From Catholic Online:

“It’s unusual that a 19-year-old’s voice can bring hope to a 55 year old, and yet I’m convinced of it happening,” said Father Grace. “The idea of gathering and being empowered was seen in the disciples of Jesus gathering in the upper room after His death. They gathered in fear and in a desire to come together, and they were empowered. We have to respect our humanity and our fears.”

The CD Voice of Hope is available on iTunes and is a compilation of the songs that they sang in that first year together at Newman, healing together as a community. Fr. Grace encouraged the recording of those songs and now they are songs of not just healing but of freedom from being controlled by tragedy.

There’s a lot of Grace these days on the Virginia Tech campus. Fr. John Grace has outpoured what God offers to each one of us: the opportunity to give of ourselves to help others see God.

Serving Life

I missed this last summer but the Christopher Awards which were announced today caught me up with this amazing story.

I have always said that hospice workers are saints, can we look at these men, incarcerated men, men who have committed heinous crimes, in the same way?

Let us remember these men are much more than their crimes. They serve life while serving the dying.

And that just might save them from all that is evil and set them free.

Day 20: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: Comfort

I just found out this morning that my dear friend, and now Deacon, Rich Andre, CSP has placed his father into Hospice. It wasn’t unexpected, but yet, it seems so difficult to hear those words. I remember how stressed I was when I merely thought my mother was dying about 10 years ago and she miraculously pulled through (I continue to contend that Fr. Hecker interceded for her through the prayers of Fr. Jim Lloyd, CSP).

So today’s gift is going to be for Rich, which means that I’m breaking my rule about sending things in the mail. Rich’s dad worked at PNC Park, the home of the Pittsburgh Pirates and that brought him much joy in those years. It’s one of my favorite ballparks and while there I bought an old school Pirate hat—the pillbox type that they wore during the 1979 World Championship. I’ve collected hats for years and now comes the time to give one away. So I’m sending this out to Rich upon my return home to his place in Knoxville, where he serves as a Campus Minister.

May it be a reminder of all that his father loved during his life, but most especially may it remind Rich of how much more he was loved by him.

Which reminds me, the Pirates had a theme song that year that topped the charts. It was Sister Slegde’s “We Are Family.” It seems quite appropriate to share that song and remind Rich’s family of how much they will need one another in the coming weeks.

Facebook May Trump Funeral Rituals For Grieving

In this morning’s NY Times an interesting article on online memorials, often posted on Facebook is centered on how it provides further comfort in the grieving process for surviving family and friends.

Here’s a snip from one man’s experience:

When he found the photographs of his mother, it turns out, Mr. Cebar also found the answer to that quest. From those pictures, he has created an online memorial on his Facebook page. There in cyberspace, Mr. Cebar has found solace and community, the equivalent of a formal religious ritual, like a wake or shiva or a memorial service.

“I’d been in a fog, trying to figure out how to process her death,” said Mr. Cebar, 55. “I knew it had some meaning to me. I thought these photos could in some way stand on their own. And then you hear from all these people in your life. Some are earnest. Some are playful. It was a comfort.”

The custom that Mr. Cebar almost stumbled into is being more widely practiced, and not just when fans of a superstar like Whitney Houston post their tributes and heartaches on social media sites. These sites provide a longevity and global reach for noncelebrities that no memorial book, no poster board of snapshots, no eulogy, however eloquent, can possibly equal. In an era when religious practice is often rooted in personal acts of spirituality rather than in fixed, denominational rites, Facebook can host a new kind of congregation.

I’d offer that often people are unable to attend funerals, often held on a weekday when employers won’t offer them the day or even a few hours off unless the funeral is for family. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to attend funerals often because my job understands it’s importance. But there have been a few I’ve now had to miss in New York because of the expense or just the fact that I’ve missed out on the news of someone’s passing being slightly removed from the inner circle.

This blog I have used in a similar “memorial” type of way to post my thoughts and feelings and to allow others to share their memories as well. My High School English teacher recently died and I linked through to her memorial page from our local paper and I received dozens of replies via email and Facebook from former classmates and even my teacher’s son–whom she often talked about. She often said I reminded her of him, so it was wonderful to make that connection with him. Unintentionally, it was also one of the most popular posts on this blog last year.

Many churches are looking into “live streaming” of weddings and funerals so that family members who are hospitalized or otherwise unable to attend can view the ritual and be connected to family or friends virtually. It certainly doesn’t replace being there, but it is a nice consolation regardless.

A larger question might be whether many people stay away from religious ritual because of a lack of their own religiosity? Or some people might not feel welcomed by a church community when they attend a funeral (for whatever reason), or even might consider the funeral a “private family affair.” But they are willing to write a meaningful note, send a card or post to an online memorial so someone who is grieving might know that their loved one was important to them and that in their own way they too, are remembering them. Perhaps we have to do a better job at even inviting those locally to be present at funerals of friends and family and not simply turning them into “private affairs.”

Coming together for community ritual is important, obviously, and we should take pains to attend funerals when possible. But what about going beyond the community? Again, we should spend most of our time (75%) looking beyond the “inner needs” of our parish community. But instead we spend most of our time doing the opposite and merely tending to those who come to our community. In doing so, we often fail not only at evangelization, but even at supporting the sorrowful.

The man in the article attended his mother’s funeral, but in some ways, it seemed that this wasn’t enough. He needed and longed for something more. He wanted connection so much more that he was willing to settle for it coming to him online.

And it seems that this was more than enough.