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Life and death are at war within us.  As soon as we are born, we begin at the same time to live and die … If by chance we become fully conscious of it, not only in the flesh and in our emotions but above all in our spirit, we find ourselves involved in a terrible wrestling, an agonia not of questions and answers, but of being and nothingness, spirit and void. (Emphasis added.)

Thomas Merton, in The New Man

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Last night I watched Part One of Ken Burns film on the Second World War.  I saw the war from the perspective of the common man and woman, the families in small towns and large cities.  It is, of course, a story of all ethnic groups, all races and religions, rich and poor, farmer, factory worker, school teacher, professional. Yes, it is the story of Americans when we were once One and united – neighbors, friends, a community, a proud and patriotic nation – people from foreign shores who arrived to make a new life and seize opportunity in a free society.

Burns shows us what we once were – before we became “fat” and fancy, successful, too expectant, spoiled, too focused on our own welfare and too rooted in demands and divisions from one another.

Once we lived implicitly what Merton describes: we were conscious of our supreme value – yes, of our God-given value – the divine equality of the soul.  Friends, this was how we once lived … You see victory in this world and the next comes only to those who live this way.

I grew up on a street with World War II vets in a working class city known for producing more U.S. Marines per capita than any city in the country.

The ethos of our greatest hour is now misplaced.  You see its absence in Members of the Congress – in the Flakes, Schumers, Pelosis, Durbins, Waters, et al … in the public chorus of “me first, only me” special pleaders whose arc of complaint stretches from the banal to the bizarre, and among the over-privileged in the entertainment industry and in the lost souls of media.

What we see is clear evidence of a loss of faith – of wisdom, perspective, patience.

In a secular society there is no transcendent purpose, no eternity – no moral context and all-embracing narrative.  No – secular life lacks meaning, leaves us shallow and self-absorbed – dependent, unhappy, … with an emptiness that breeds drug use, sexual chaos, hatred and violence.  Godlessness, we see, produces self-destruction.

Time to wake up.  We have regressed.  We lack the honor we once had – and the valor, bravery, virtue, honesty, confidence, integrity and purpose of our recent past.

Shalom.

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God abandons only those who abandon themselves, and whoever has the courage shut up his sorrows within his own heart is stronger to fight against it than he who complains.  (Emphasis added.)

George Sand, in La Petite Fadette

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Yesterday I spent much of the day alone.  That gave me time in all the quiet to think about the joy of seeing my son, his wife and my grandchildren and gave me mind to think about loved ones and friends who have passed away.  My mother has now been gone 21 years.  I have no siblings.  My uncles and their wives are now gone almost as long as my mother.  My wife Sylvia will have been gone 40 years this year.

I have spent a great deal of time without people who I loved and who loved me.  I have in absolute truth borne the weight of these years alone without complaint.  Honestly I have done so courageously – as Sand says I have “shut up the sorrows within (my) heart.”

Against this backdrop I call tell you I never liked complainers.  I was born to modest means and soon enough loved ones (grandparents with whom my mother and I lived) died.  Yes, each by the time I was just out of the sixth grade.  In short order my mother and I were in public housing and poverty took up residence in our reality.  Complaining was out of the question.  Complaining does no good.  It accomplishes nothing.  Doing is what problems and hardships demand.  Doing makes us stronger, wiser, more cunning, more empowered, more defiant, more confident, more independent.

That said, we live in a nation of complainers.  I am so sick of hearing about racism.  So sick hearing about income transfers, diversity, the plight of the dependent class, women who feel slighted, poor immigrants, etc.  Nothing gets better without parking your sorrows by the roadside and getting after life.  Wrong side of the tracks?  Show those who might demean you that you can outwork them, are stronger, more determined, bolder, more focused, unbeatable.

In the course of my life I have (despite a learning disability and poverty) graduated from college and law school, earned advanced degrees at Johns Hopkins and Notre Dame, practiced (serving poor clients, mostly), entered religious life, become an Army officer, purchased a home, a car and a small business for my mother, cared for a wife with cancer, raised a son who now has his Ph.D. and a nice wife, two lovely children and a good job where he is valued.  Mind you I am no genius.  I work. I had no time for complaining – I was a doer. 

We tolerate too much whining.  Too much complaining.  The best we can do for people who complain is this – tell them to be quiet and “get after it.”  Better we challenge others to show all the doubters wrong than waste time complaining or listening to their complaints over and again.

As legendary football coach and sidewalk philosopher Lou Holtz says: “Don’t tell people about your problems.  Twenty percent don’t want to hear about them – and the remaining 80 percent are glad you have them.”

Shalom.

The NEW Democrat Party.  Former Army enlisted clerk and transvestite Bradley Manning who was convicted for the illegal release of thousands of classified security documents and sentenced to 35 years in prison (before being pardoned by President Obama for no particular reason) has announced he/she is running for the U.S. Senate in Maryland against a seated Democrat Senator who has spent (as Democrats do) a lifetime on the public tit.  The New Guard is replacing the Old Guard.  (Same tit, by the way.) How charming.

This is exactly where the Democrat Party has been driving the bus.  George Orwell must be tickled pink – yes, isn’t that the color perfect.  The pinkos have more than one screw loose.

Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.

Ralph Ellison, in Invisible Man

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With the warmth of a wood-burning stove, I write alone in the frigid darkness while the wind howls.  Aaron Copland’s Own Town makes now the memories of the past.

Yesterday’s battles tug most when you are alone, when the earth is asleep and the ground is stone hard.

There is nothing gentle in these recollections.  Thank God the ones you loved and lost sit closest as the night takes its form.

I am a long way from the Boston I never left.  Yes, life’s markers are portable and, at times, inescapable.  Curses and blessings served on one plate.  Time teaches unforgettable truths.  Yet, joy survives in having lived it all out.

What is exterior is interior.

The trials grant us wisdom for future battles.  What was once opaque, is not.  In challenges – the gifts of insight and understanding, a sense of humor – and confidence.  Behind it all, faith waits cultivation.

Yes, Ellison is right – life is to be lived … and we are not to be controlled.  The Spirit cannot be jailed.  He must take his breath.  His heart must beat.  His dignity is of God, so too his identity.  You are his host.  He lives in you.

Shalom.

 

The mistake that you make … is thinking one can live in a corrupt society without being corrupt oneself.

George Orwell

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A glance at the condition of the Justice Department’s handling of the Clinton investigation or the current Special Counsel’s activities might give just pause to think about Orwell’s statement.

Likewise the past administration’s suspension of drug interdiction that allowed Middle East terrorists to smuggle drugs into our country so as to placate the Iranians and preserve the dubious agreement to further Iran’s nuclear program also prompts reflection on Orwell’s proposition.  Ditto, “Fast and Furious” whereby the Justice Department gave guns to Mexican drug gang members that eventually were used to kill an American law enforcement officer.  And then there is the IRS targeting conservative organizations and forestalling their applications for tax exempt status might also cause some soul-searching as to Orwell’s comment.

Think about where we are today in this culture.  Think about the daily drumbeat designed to discredit a duly elected President because one either doesn’t fancy him, or because one is “offended” that their candidate did not win, or because he does not fit the Washington-way where everyone participates in a privileged event for “insiders” – members of the governing-club, the Skull and Bones of politics.

You know when you attend church this Holy Season and kneel to pray, I wonder if you’ll think of today’s events and how they might implicate those who remain silent.

When you hear “Silent Night” sung, I wonder if you might ask yourself: Am I to remain silent today?

Shalom.

Stumbling, Bumbling, Fumbling – That’s your Federal government – that’s the GSA’s (General Services Administration) handing over private emails belonging to private citizens to Special Counsel Mueller who had no legal approval to seize these emails.

It seems Mr. Mueller and others know less about ethics and law than required. It is the Gang that can’t shoot straight looking for the Gang that can’t shoot straight – when all they need to do is to look in the mirror.

Wonder why people have no confidence in the Department of Justice,  the FBI, the Special Counsel and government at large?  They see what they see.

Remember it takes only one clown to make a circus.  Seems we have more on hand than required.

All efforts based on parliamentary control and free-market economic mechanisms proved useless in quelling the growing polarization in opinion and stance.  Different propositions were put forward, ranging from anarchism to autocratic rule, and for many young people each seemed preferable to the rotten democracy they lived under.

Andrzej Franaszek, in Milosz

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These words describe the deteriorating political climate in Poland in the 1930’s and to some extent the political climate in Europe at the same time.

They so remind me of the extraordinary state of affairs and discontent in the U.S. today.  Partisanship reigns.  One Party houses the extreme Left.  Liberalism embraces nihilism and its echoes ring in the public square, mass media and the courts of law.  Anarchists, while small in number, dressed in black slash and burn.  Foundations fund the voices of Black racism.  We live in uneasy times.

Circumstances have changed.  The once stable America is less a source of certainty than it has been and the world becomes more dangerous.

We tilt Left and morals have been mothballed.  Trusted government institutions have lost their glow.  Public corruption tarnishes democracy.  Religious belief itself is in thin supply.  Education is below the waterline.  It is a troubled time.

History tells us that in such times the best young men mature more quickly … and across the land the wise turn back to faith.  Yes, extreme moments snap us into what is fundamental, personal, sure, uplifting, good and eternal – humanizing, strong, kind, heroic – the only option in dark days.

Beneath the flawless manners of a worldly gentleman he hid his compassion for all that is living.  Some people perhaps could sense it, but it was certainly known, in ways mysterious to us, to the small birds that would perch on his head and hands when he stopped in a park alley.

Czeslaw Milosz, in Goodness

Lord, bring us to our senses – to morality, honesty, kindness, compassion – Make us One.

Shalom.

 

I saw that carrying out a vocation differed from … actions dictated by reason or inclination in that it was due to an impulse … essentially and manifestly different order; and not to follow such an impulse when it made itself felt, even if it demanded impossibilities, seemed to be the greatest of all ills.  (Emphasis added.)

Simone Weil, in a Letter to a Friend

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Vocations arise from distinctly personal impulse.  One has the interior impetus to dedicate oneself to God and God’s service in an exclusive way.

Impulses like this cannot be easily ignored. To live in relationship with God is to be aligned to the impulse to serve God when needed.  Vocations come to those who are open to receive the call to vocations – to God’s service.

Those who close themselves from these impulses by saying – I will not be involved, I will simply be quiet and let God do the work – have no vocation, cannot be called to vocation because their pre-conceived disposition prevents the openness that impulse requires.

To deny the impulse to serve God actively – in word and deed – forfeits discipleship.  It leaves one to remain safely on the sidelines – even when Rome is burning.

Disciples speak and act.  Other are sideliners.

Are you a sideliner?  Or are you one who is open to the call of God and prepared to do what God asks of you?

Shalom.

Courage is the first of all human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees the others.

Aristotle

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A nation and its people puts its character on display in how it handles acts of courage … what it says about them … whether it reveres such acts or does not.

Benghazi affords such measure.  Mr. Obama, Ms. Clinton and their aides failed the nation badly in their handling of Benghazi.  They left Americans exposed to a vicious attack without offering any support.  They left lives at risk and people died.  To this day we do not know where the former President was during that attack or what he did.  And, of course, Ms. Clinton and people surrounding her were not forthcoming as to the origin of the attacks on our diplomatic post in Libya.

The acts of courage exhibited by those who stood outnumbered and fought to save others from death is both awe-inspiring and beyond apt description.  These were men of great courage and character.

These were men with wives and small children.  Fearless men.  Able, strong and healthy men.  Men willing to die for others, willing to defend this country in far away places.

I grew up among these men, and women just like them.  My life and the lives of those around me brought us challenges on a daily basis.  Responding to adversity was a common and repetitive assignment.  Money and work were hard to come by – but such conditions breed great friendships, and a strong community.  To this day I have friends from childhood – yes, friends I have now known for more than sixty years.  More than friends, they are my brothers and sisters – my family.   I am walking long distance with several whose spouses or children are dying from cancer.  They would die for me, and I would die for them.  I know the brave men of Benghazi.  I grew up with these men.  They are my best friends whose ranks are increased by others I have come to know through military service, college, law school and practice, through my Catholic life and in places I have lived – from city to countryside.

It is said that character is higher than intellect.  I would agree. Thinking and education are lesser functions.  Living with character and courage is always superior for those who live with character and courage understand life and love and fellowship … they do not value their own existence more than the lives of others.  They die but once and live fully each day.

As we approach September 11th, the date of the Benghazi attack – we best remember our brave men and their colleagues who died so others might live … and we had best vow that we will never again leave Americans unprotected and alone to die without our help.

Character and courage deserve far better from us – and those who hold leadership positions cannot ever again fail us as they did.

Shalom.

 

Sanctity is not a luxury, but a simple duty.

St. Maximilian Kolbe (1894-1941)

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St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Catholic Priest, died in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz, 76 years ago today.  He was 47 years old.

He died a martyr when he voluntarily stepped forward to request that he be permitted to take the place, in an execution, of a fellow inmate who had a wife and children.

The Camp Commander agreed and Fr. Kolbe was placed in a dark and dingy cell with nine other men to be starved to death.

Having survived two weeks without food, Fr. Kolbe was given an injection of carbolic acid to kill him.  It is reported that his appearance at death was as if he had been enveloped by the love of God.

St. Maximilian Kolbe is truly an appropriate measure to apply to ourselves and our culture and those in it – and particularly to those in politics who profess to “lead” us, serve us, protect us – keep us sane and safe … and to those in the professions and education, and to those in religious stations who have vowed to keep us close to Christ, and to the Father.

On this anniversary of Fr. Kolbe’s death, I suggest that you take time to reflect on your obligation to live up to your faith, to live as Fr. Kolbe did, as Christ did. Likewise, it is a good time to ask: Do those with public voice live as Fr. Kolbe did?

Remember “Sanctity is not a luxury, but a simple duty.”

Shalom.

Question.  Who among those who clashed in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend resembled Fr. Kolbe?  Answer: No one, it seems.

 

What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual.

C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters

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This, of course, is Satan speaking to his nephew in the The Screwtape Letters.

Satan goes on to describe how democracy levels all excellence, converts all to mediocrity or worse – enslavement.  In Satan’s world “no pre-eminence” is allowed, no one in the mass can be wiser than the mass.  Satan’s plan is “dumb everyone down.”

Well, welcome to the world of the American Left.  To the Obama national health “care” disaster. To the world of present day academics, the world of American socialism, the public school system, the federal government, the bureaucrat, the regulator, the “social engineers,” the “thought police” of this or that misguided “cause.”

In a degraded society, there is no excellence.  God’s gifts, like God, are unwelcomed, denied. Equality becomes a hammer, not a metaphysical state of being.  In such a state of being, democracy can do the work of the tyrant.  So says Satan in The Screwtape Letters.

It is sadly plain that much of what Screwtape said visits us today and few, so very few, among us are well-enough educated and devoted sufficiently to the mystery of God and Lady Wisdom to see what has been amply described in multiple sources over the ages.

We are hideously reduced.  Listening to whatever is the mass dialogue only makes matters worse.  Time to live wisely, to live in faith, to live with God.

We live in a moment when each Believer is called to know, and to speak and to reorient our present disastrous course.  Yes, we will have to speak truth when it is most dangerous to do so.

Shalom.

I am the way, the truth and the life.

Jn 14:6

 

 

 

For my Son, himself a divinely loving father … of whom I am very proud and for whom I am so grateful.

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They ate the little mushrooms together with the beans and drank tea and had tinned pears for their dessert. He banked the fire against the seam of rock where he’d built it and he’d strung the tarp behind them to reflect the heat and they sat warm in their refuge while he told the boy stories.  Old stories of courage and justice as he remembered them until the boy was asleep in his blankets and then he stoked the fire and lay down warm and full and listened to the low thunder of the falls beyond them in the dark and threadbare wood.

Cormac McCarthy, in The Road

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A father loves the son in divine dimension.

It is Sunday.  We are given Sunday so we might ask if we love as the Father?

In the best of moments and in the strongest of bonds a father loves his son in ways that mimic God and prepare the son for tomorrow and all the tomorrows we might be given, all the burdens that fall to men – the sacrifice of killing and of dying in the fight.

In the last few American decades it is men who have been attacked, derided, suspected and accused.  Fallen times and fallen women – a race gone wrong in many ways. Such is a time when God is forsaken.  Fundamental undoing. Dangerous course and full throated nonsense.

But who will fight for the frail but the father and his son?  The crop of warriors diminishes. Whole groups have no fathers.

We speak and act as if there is no treachery, as if “others” will magically appear to save us.  But there are fewer fathers who love their sons divinely … and fewer sons breeds fewer fathers and danger appears to conquer and destroy.

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he’d reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him.  Nights dark beyond darkness and days more gray each one than what had gone before.

Shalom.

Footnote – I hope this strikes a satisfying cord for you, especially for men and fathers. We have fewer now who know who we are and what we do, know how deeply we feel and how essential we are.  Share this with others if you wish – and surely with men who are fathers. God bless you all.

 

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