On Being Judgmental

The Image of the Divine Mercy

Making your Amen Mean Amen

In the Catholic Church saying AMEN is an affirmation of agreement.This word is pronounced before the reception of Holy Communion. An AMEN states that one fully stands by the Church and her teachings. AMEN has origins that were adapted from many languages. It can be traced from English, to Latin, to Greek, then to Aramaic and finally to Hebrew. It is an old word. In Hebrew it comes from a verb (aman) meaning “he confirmed, supported, or upheld” and is also associated with the word for truth (emet). In the Catechism of the Catholic Church it is referred to as meaning “so be it” (2856).

A believer must be in agreement with the Catholic Church in order to receive Communion.This is why the Church requests that only practicing Catholics who adhere to the Church receive. Anyone can go to Mass, but reception of Holy Communion has special requirements due to the Sacrament being the most important of the seven in the Church. In the Holy Eucharist, Communicants receive the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  It is where one receives Jesus, Himself. Such Catholics should have the proper disposition which means participants should not be conscious of grave sin and normally should have fasted for one hour (guideline of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops).  Basically, if one does not agree with what the Church teachings, then one should not receive Holy Communion.The AMEN is one’s statement of this agreement.

Unfortunately we are bombarded with all sorts of news of nominal Catholics who don’t agree with Church teachings. These persons consist of two types.Those who disagree due to honest misunderstanding and being misinformed of what the Church actually teaches. And, those who know the teachings of the Catholic Church but choose not to observe them anyway.

Those who just don’t know what the Church really teaches.

Obviously the first group is not at fault. They could be persons who honestly seek the Truth but have been misinformed. Some never have been to any Church at all. Others might have even gone through Catholic Schools but received a less than accurate dose of Catechism. Many ill-educated Catholics are at the forefront of supporting issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage, contraception, cohabitation, ordination of women, etc.  Such persons would be prudent to take steps in learning the true teachings of their faith. This can be done by reading the Catechism for themselves (it is available online and in book form) and the writings of the Saints, praying, going on pilgrimages, getting to know the Blessed Virgin Mary, and seeking out the fellowship of practicing Catholics. Also getting in touch with the Sacraments of the Church is important as this is a source of grace. There are some great websites such as Catholic.com and forums such as at Catholic Answers and the Coming Home Network which provide simple straight forward explanations to issues.

As a convert to the Church myself, I was taken in by the beauty of what the Church actually teaches. Instead of finding a book of dull boring rules, I was delighted at its spiritual depth. Yet, at its heart, the Church makes a lot of common sense for everyday life.  Upon first encountering a volume of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, my thought was, “Wow a really smart group of people put this together,” not realizing at that time that those “wise guys” have been compiled and make up the Tradition and history of our Christian faith through thousands of centuries, even before the canon of Sacred Scripture (Bible).

I have heard it said that most people reject the Catholic Church not because of Her Truth, but because of an incorrect understanding and ignorance of what She actually teaches.

Those who know the Faith but reject it.

Those who know the Church teachings but choose to not follow are the most dangerous type. After all, the devil himself knows what the Church teaches. Many of these persons lack humility. They feel that they are more wise and intelligent than the collective wisdom of the Church Magisterium . They don’t need anyone to tell them what to do with their own body or how to live their own life.  A common phrase is, “It’s just between me and God.”  But in reality instead of being guided by God, they are guided by self. They don’t understand that their actions affect others and have consequences.  They tell themselves that they understand freedom, not accepting that sin is bondage. They modify the Ten Commandments, banish God, and even try to drown out established morality to justify their own lifestyle choices. Their motto is, “Don’t judge me.”  

Too often judgment of persons gets confused with judgment of actions. A lot of people know the Church’s pro-life position which is against abortion. However what many fail to realize is the Church’s compassion on healing those who have undergone abortion (or any mortal sin for that matter).  The Church’s mission is not about judging people but to be in the work of healing and reconciliation. Much like what Jesus said that He came not for the righteous but for those in need of a physician.

Adopting a humble lifestyle.

The way out of pride is to become humble. It is not by chance that the Church celebrates the “little people” as Saints. From St. Francis, the little friar to St. Therese, the little flower, those canonized by the Church are actually an honor roll of the humble. I always say that aging is God’s last ditch effort to help us to become humble.  How else can we but accept our limitations when we find ourselves with arthritic joints, failing memories, wrinkling skin, thinning hair, loose bladder and gastric distress, but with humility?  And if we have done well on our journey, we will have learned from our past mistakes. A humble person will not say others are being judgmental.  They will already know who they are in the eyes of God.

The Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew for this Tuesday (June 26, 2012) states:

Jesus said to His Disciples: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.  This is the Law and the Prophets.  Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction and those who enter through it are many.  How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.  And those who find it are few.”(7:6,12-14).

I decided to include an image of Divine Mercy because it speaks of Jesus’ mercy and compassion for sinners.  That’s all of us!

Posted in Blessed Virgin Mary, Saints | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Knowing When Something is Real: Finding the Bones of St. John the Baptist

Sveti Ivan Island where alleged bones of St. John the Baptist have been found. Sveti Ivan means "St. John" (AP Photo)

Just the Facts

News has emerged recently that the bones of St. John the Baptist might have been found. The bones include a knuckle, a tooth, part of a cranium, a rib, and an ulna. Although there is no way to confirm that these are the actual bones of the New Testament prophet, information uncovered makes a strong case in favor of their authenticity.  Here is a compilation of some of the facts:

(1) These bones have been radiocarbon dated to the early first century which is consistent with the New Testament account of St. John the Baptist.

(2)The dating also confirms that the bones are of one male from the Middle East.

(3) The bones were found by Bulgarian archeologists while excavating an old 4th to 5th century Church site on the island of “Sveti Ivan” which translates “St. John”.

(4) The bones were found in a marble sarcophagus underneath the altar of the Church at Sveti Ivan. About 20 inches away a smaller box was found which was inscribed: “Dear Lord, please help your servant Thomas” along with the name of St. John and the date of June 24 written on it.  In the tradition of the Church June 24 is the feast day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist.  It is theorized that the smaller box might have been originally used by someone named Thomas to transport the relic to this site.

(5) It was customary for important relics to be given to monks when an important Church was being built.

(6) Many relics made their way out of Jerusalem and were brought through the ancient city of Constantinople by the 4th Century.

What Can be Proved?

Proving or even disproving that the DNA is indeed of St. John who baptized Jesus Christ is virtually impossible.  However there are other reported “bones” found elsewhere in the past allegedly from the same Saint.  An interesting study would be to compare the DNA of those other samples. Another thought is that if indeed these were authentic bones, they would also have the DNA of Jesus Christ, as John and Jesus were documented to be cousins in the New Testament. Biblical accounts state that St. John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod.  Unfortunately, there is no information as to what became of the complete skeleton after his death, with or without head. We will never know for sure the true origin of these particular relics– at least on this side of the grave.

It is interesting that reports have emerged now as the bones were actually discovered in 2010. It is very timely for the Feast Day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist which is on June 24.  St. John the Baptist has been referred to as a New Testament prophet, the forerunner of Jesus. Even Jesus stated that “among those born of women there is no greater than John the Baptist” (Mt. 11:11).

Recognizing God

We might not be able to recognize the bones of St. John the Baptist, however we know from Sacred Scripture that he was able to recognize Jesus on more than one occasion. The first was when he jumped in the womb upon Mary’s visitation of Elizabeth, St. John’s mother.  In this recognition, no human eyesight or understanding was used.  He supernaturally knew that the Mother of Our Lord had approached his own mother.  The second significant acknowledgement was when St. John saw Jesus approaching him for baptism.  It was then that St. John pointed Jesus out to everyone by proclaiming, “Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:36).

How Do You See Jesus?

What about us?  Are we able to recognize Jesus in our lives?  What does the face of Jesus look like?  We too have to see with our supernatural and spiritual eyes.  No doubt it is a grace.  Some say that we can see Jesus in the poor and needy.  Some say that Jesus can be seen in the Eucharist in the form of a little piece of unleavened bread and wine.  Some say that they see Jesus in the hearts of others.  Some see Him in dreams and others in prayer.  How do you see Jesus? 

Whether or not we see and understand with our eyes, minds, or hearts, there is still a lot of substance here for our faith.

 (Information on the bone discovery was obtained from websites The Christian Science Monitor; National Geographic; ABC News)

Posted in Saints, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

On the Recent Walk over Niagara Falls: What Being a Hero is all About

Niagara Falls

Fascination with the Wallenda high wire walk

I’m not sure why I am fascinated with the recent high wire walk by Nik Wallenda. For some reason, the whole event has been quite mesmerizing for me. The image of Wallenda balancing himself against the backdrop of the raging rapids has been quite majestic and even poetic.

Could it be my ancestry connection with Niagara Falls?

 I have family ties on both sides of the border, dating as far back as before the American Revolution. I am still in the process of piecing together this history which consists of a hodgepodge of immigrants, patriots, and even loyalists. I have several “great” grandparents buried at the infamous Oakwood Cemetery which also contains the sites of several of the stunt masters from the olden days including Annie Edson Taylor, Francis Abbot, Carlisle Graham, Maud Willard, and the three Whitney sisters. There are also graves of those unidentified souls who experienced tragedies and mishaps over The Falls. At times all that was ever found was a body part or a tattered piece of clothing.

I have mentioned in earlier blogs that my immigrant ancestors who settled in Niagara Falls at the turn of the century came from Mignano and Gimigliano, Italy. I discovered that they first lived in an impoverished area which was once referred to as “Tunnel Town” as Italians skilled in masonry were recruited to dig and construct the existing power plant. My great grandfather Francesco Salvatore had first made barrels (I don’t know if any of them were used for stunts!) and actually ended up as a flagman for the railroad. My great uncle Frank Fabiano, a shoemaker, and his son Joseph, ran a store downtown on Niagara Street for many years. The Fabianos once won first place in the 1950 Shoe Service Institution national competition in Chicago. I even ran across an old article of the Fabianos witnessing someone trying to jump into The Falls.  

Another imprint is that of Dewey Jeffords, the brother of my great grandmother, Edith Jeffords Lane, who inscribed his name on the boards inside of Old Fort Niagara in Youngstown, NY at the time of a restoration in 1929.  My Dad likes to tell of his high school days when he gave tours at the Fort. Just about every kid who has lived in Niagara County knows the story of the ghost of the guy who got thrown down the well without his head.  I don’t know which was a more dominating source of nightmares—the headless man at the Fort, or the fear of falling into Devil’s Hole whirlpool in the Niagara River.

These days my nephews work for the Maid of the Mist boat tours, my sister in the hotel industry, and my cousin’s husband and sons dressed up as characters for the Oakwood Cemetery tours.There is a certain degree of nostalgia as I now live several states away from all of the excitement.

Glued to the broadcast

So it is not a wonder that I ended up glued to the television broadcast of daredevil Nik Wallenda as he performed his recent June 15 high wire stunt across Niagara Falls.

But I was also taken in my something else: His faith through the darkness and stormy water.

Before his walk across the gorge, the television network filled viewers in on the potential dangers. We learned about his family history and past tragedy. We were briefed about the distance, the currents, the darkness, the blinding mist, the wet cable, and the changing winds. We were told that the walk downhill was actually the most difficult. The network forced Wallenda to be tethered. I guess they didn’t want a death witnessed on live television. But through it all, Wallenda remained steady, an almost supernatural calm. He did not fall or even stumble –making all question the need for a tether in the first place. When the stinging mist beat against his face, Wallenda called on Jesus and praised God.

We walk by faith and not by sight

This is so much like in our own lives when we find ourselves balancing through darkness, storms, and winds raging in all different directions. This Sunday’s New Testament reading states: “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). Nik was blinded by the night and the roaring river mist. Not only did he perform a physical walk for us, but he also demonstrated a spiritual one, slowly placing one foot in front of the other as he called upon the name of God.  His tether was like those of us who are grounded in our faith.  It’s not a pretty sight if we should fall.  We might even dangle there humiliated and in an undignified way.  But at least with a tether, we are saved from death. 

Nik Wallenda walked down a wire into the raging pit, but he emerged from the storm victorious. He used all of his strength to keep his balance but ultimately relied on God for help.

To me, this is what being a hero is all about.

Posted in Counseling, Genealogy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Something that Can Change Your Life — For the Better

YouTube Preview Image

The guy in the above YouTube Video tells his story of dying and going to hell (obtained from Bio network).

There are a lot of things that can change people. 

Unfortunately, some things can actually make people worse. An example is the effect of choosing to abuse drugs and subsequent addiction. Most of us are familiar with the faces of drug abuse and how an individual can transform from an otherwise healthy individual to looking gaunt and sickly in a matter of weeks. Stress and trauma are additional examples of things that can elicit a huge transition in a person. The effects of stress can take an obvious emotional, physical, and spiritual toll. This is often overtly manifested.  Some may lose a significant amount of weight. Others might gain.  Some turn prematurely gray or even white; while others might lose their hair altogether (however, I must qualify that some things like hair, stress or no stress, can also change because of genetics and hormones. Yours truly got natural curly hair after having kids).

Other examples of change for the worse are lifestyle choices that can lead a person away from God, family, and friends. A person can deliberately drown out the still small voice of a conscience and “harden the heart”.  And if someone thinks that these statements are being judgmental, think about where the still small voice might be coming from in the first place. A popular responsorial in Mass that comes from Psalm 95 states, “If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts.” 

Unfortunately most of us have known at least one person who has undergone a change for the worse. Sometimes it might even be oneself.

I Survived…Beyond and Back

One of my favorite television programs is “I Survived…Beyond and Back.”  This show, appearing on the Bio network, features accounts of people who have experienced a legal clinical death and for whatever reason have survived to come back. Each one of them speaks about a type of heaven and/or hell encounter. What is consistent in these accounts is that their experience of the beyond ends up transforming their lives. At the beginning of this post, I have included a YouTube account of a man who states that he died and went to hell and came back.

A lot of people choose to be victims of their circumstances. 

It is a fallacy to believe that a person must hit “rock bottom” before a change for the better can occur. Instead of waiting for that proverbial “rock bottom” (and you don’t want to find out what “rock bottom” looks like), a person can decide to change right away. If one cannot commit to a lifetime, any type of change can be significant, even if it is a little pledge to begin for one moment, for an hour, then maybe a day, or even a month at a time. The idea is to make progress, no matter how small and to avoid procrastination. Others might not notice right away. Even you might not be able to tell.  But God can tell.  Instantaneous miracles can occur, but who dictates that miracles have to be sudden?  Miracles can happen slowly too.  Most of us can only accomplish change in baby steps. But don’t forget that many baby steps can equal a big step.

Some are looking for a jump-start to making a positive change in their lives. 

As a person of faith, I believe that there is a solution, an ever present help in our time of need(Psalm 46:1-3).  When venerable Matt Talbot (1856-1925), a modern day patron saint for those struggling with addictions, first desired to quit drinking, he made only a three month pledge at first.  But then he supplemented that pledge by going to Confession (as he was Roman Catholic) and attending daily Mass. Receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus gave him the strength to overcome what seemed otherwise impossible for him – alcoholism.  He took up daily reading of Scripture and prayed frequently. Gradually, through the grace of God, his life was transformed.  He went from out-of-control drinking binges to being declared a venerable by the Church. His feast day is observed on June 19 and deserves a separate blog soon.

In addition, we cannot discount the effect that the prayers of others can have on recovery and change. It is an act of mercy to pray for someone. If we know of someone who is in need of a major transformation, prayer is a strong weapon as well as going to Mass with their intentions in our heart.  St. Padre Pio often referred to the rosary as the “weapon.”

The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

This Sunday marks the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi, a significant feast day in the Catholic Church. It is a big one but is not marked by sales in the stores, chocolate figurines, a giant bunny, or a bearded fat man. This observance consists of the Bread and Wine which becomes consecrated as the Body and Blood of Jesus.  It is our spiritual food for the journey of life and a source of grace and strength.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the Eucharist “as the source and summit of the Christian life” (136).

Unfortunately, a lot of people, non-Catholics and even some professed Catholics, may not realize or appreciate the significance of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. But it is life transforming and life giving. Especially in that Jesus is Really Present for each one of us through this Sacrament. Learning about the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is what led to my own conversion to Catholicism. The Sacrament of the Eucharist is something that can change each one of our lives for the better.

Posted in Counseling, Health, Major Solemnities, Saints, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Family Feuds

YouTube Preview Image

Known for his kisses

Richard Dawson, the former host of Family Feud, died this past weekend. The show began in 1976 and I just realized that he originally stopped hosting the show in 1985, the year my husband and I were married. Dawson, donned in a three-piece suit and sideburns, was iconic for his witty British humor and kissing each one of his lady contestants. His legacy was and is his kissing and it seems to be what comes up in each one of his tributes and obituaries. These days someone would have screamed harassment and/or gender discrimination for being kissed on his show.

Dawson was also a guy who made life inside a Nazi prison camp seem funny as his original launch to fame in the United States was as a character on the old television sitcom Hogan’s Heroes.

Laughter is the best medicine

As the old saying goes, laughter is the best medicine. In fact it is well-known that laughter has tremendous health benefits. According to helpguide.org, “humor and laughter can strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish your pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress.”   

In my work with clients, I noticed that helping persons to discover the humorous side of a situation is a gateway to healing.  It is no wonder that we all really do enjoy laughing.  It is laughter and smiles that we tend to equate with happiness.

However the key is being able to take what we see as a serious situation and to find a humorous side to it. I am not talking about being disrespectful, crude, or nasty; it is a matter of looking at a situation realistically and being able to chuckle at our human folly.  Every one of us has events from our childhood that we could either cry or laugh about depending on the perspective. My family likes to joke about the time in anger I threw a roasted chicken carcass across the room on my 14th birthday. Or, my husband and I laugh remembering when my mother-in-law incorrectly publishing the surname of my stepfather as “Mr. DeFagg” instead of “Mr. DeFelippo” on my wedding announcement in her local newspaper. She then framed a photocopy of my face as it appeared in the article and put it on the piano. Some things can mortify us at first, but later become the substance of giggles to the point of tears and the loosening of a weak bladder.

Classic Hatfield and McCoys

Mr. Dawson’s Family Feud was a playful game. The show even hosted a week-long battle between the Hatfields and the McCoys as I have attached the YouTube video from 1979 to this post. Recently the History Channel ran a series on the Hatfields and McCoys.The stark reality of the violence that occurred is evident when viewing this program.

There have been some very serious feuds in history. Some even take on the tone of gang warfare. Perhaps there are even some serious feuds going on right now between and within families. Some of us feud within ourselves. There might even be a little bit of a Hatfield or a McCoy within each one of us. I do have to add a brief genealogical note here, that my husband’s family has a connection to the Hatfields. Upon further examination, however we discovered that the relation is actually through marriage of a distant cousin and not by blood. A relative pointed out that our Hatfields are not the same as the ones on the program and were actually too busy enjoying the beautiful countryside to come over the mountain to get involved in the fighting.  A relief actually, after seeing the violence that was portrayed on TV.

Out of curiosity I watched the History Channel three-part series of the Hatfield and McCoys. What strikes me as a counselor and a person of faith is how the fighting escalated. I had heard that the confrontation began as a result of a pig, which could be viewed in a humorous way. However, it doesn’t take long to see that there was a lot more meat to the matter. It is a story of sides wanting to get even. A story of how two sides sought out justice for their perception of being wronged by the other. It is a story of how the innocent are victimized. It is a story of loss and tragedy.  A feud always has two sides. So does forgiveness. We have to be willing to forgive and to be willing to accept that forgiveness.

A feud actually has Christian overtones.

One can’t help but see the consequences of the pitiful side of our human nature out of control.This all leads to saying that the story of a feud can actually be seen in the light of the Christian doctrines of redemption and atonement for sins. It is about giving and receiving forgiveness. It is about some blameless victim being sacrificed.  If we have trouble understanding why Jesus had to die for our sins and the significance of the sacrifice of the Mass, think of the consequences of a feud gone awry.  Where does it all end?

Posted in Counseling, Genealogy, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Things that Come in Threes


Holy Trinity icon by Andrei Rublev painted about 1410

There are a lot of things that come in threes. 

Off the top of my head there are several examples remembered from childhood: The Three Musketeers, The Three Blind Mice, The Three Stooges, The Three Little Pigs, and The Three Little Kittens that had lost their mittens.

Three on a match

There is an old saying that states “Good things come in the threes”; however I have also heard it said that tragedies also like to strike in threes.This is related to the superstition of “Three on a Match” which is quoted to have originated from World War I when it became bad luck for three soldiers to light their cigarettes from the same match. This was because such a flame was lit long enough to be spotted and provided a target for the enemy.  However other sources state that the actual match manufacturer made up the idea to sell more matches (obtained from Wikipedia).

In psychology the principle of repetition is important for learning and memory. An effective plan of study is to go over the material three times.

In speech and writing, the “rule of three” is a device that stresses presentation in groups of three to make concepts that are more interesting, humorous, and impressionable. A sequence of three also can create anticipation and suspense. Advertising often uses three to communicate a message and to place emphasis: “Sale, sale, sale!”  A common motto in real estate is, “location, location, location.”

Precious triplets

Imagine the excitement in my family when my sister announced the birth of my triplet nieces. Everything in her household became an altar to the concept of three: Three cribs, three high chairs, three-seated strollers, three tricycles, and thousands of diapers for three precious little girls.

My Mom has three daughters and in the old days she got used to rattling off our names in succession, sometimes having to go through the list three times before she was able to get to the daughter she was trying to target.

Three denotes divine perfection and completeness

The number three in the Bible denotes divine perfection. Jesus resists temptation three times in the desert. St. Paul prays three times for the removal of the thorn in his flesh. St. Peter denies Christ three times before the cock crows and later thrice affirms his love and commitment to Jesus. The Ark of the Covenant contains three objects:  The golden pot of manna, Aaron’s staff, and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.  Jesus’ Resurrection occurred on the third day.These are just a few of the many examples contained in Sacred Scripture.

The Latin phrase, omne trium perfectum, means that everything that comes in three is perfect and complete.  In practicality, one needs three legs to make a stool. In the Catholic Church, the three theological virtues are faith, hope, and charity.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity

This Sunday is noted to be the Feast of the Holy Trinity, thus, the emphasis of three.The unity of the Godhead is made up of three Persons:  the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which are distinct from one another.  It is important to note that these are not three gods but one God made up of three Persons.  Also each of these three Persons are present together simultaneously.  So when one receives the Holy Spirit, one also receives the Father and the Son.  When one receives the Body of Christ, one also receives the Father and the Holy Spirit. The concept of the Holy Trinity is a Sacred Mystery of the Church.  It cannot be totally grasped through human understanding.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:  “The mystery of the Most Holy Trinity is the central mystery of Christian faith and life. It is the mystery of God in Himself. It is therefore the source of all the other mysteries of faith, the light that enlightens them. It is the most fundamental and essential teaching in the “hierarchy of the truths of faith”. The whole history of salvation is identical with the history of the way and the means by which the one true God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, reveals himself to men “and reconciles and unites with himself those who turn away from sin”.(234).

St. Patrick used the Shamrock to explain the concept of the Holy Trinity to the faithful in Ireland.  The three-leaf clover shows three petals that make up one plant, in the same way that one God is made up of three Persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

One of my favorite practices of being Catholic is making the sign of the Cross, which literally can be done as often and whenever one desires. Most often it is done upon leaving and entering a Church and as a part of other prayers. Whenever we make the sign of the cross, we invoke the Holy Trinity by praying:  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.”

The mystical Holy Trinity icon

I chose to include the icon of the Holy Trinity in this blog.  It was painted in about 1410 by Andrei Rublev. This image shows the three angels that visited Moses but is also interpreted as a depiction of the Holy Trinity.  By meditating and looking at this icon, it has been noted to have the mystical quality of helping to draw a viewer into the mystery of the Holy Trinity.

Posted in Major Solemnities, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of Big Foot, Aliens,Stone Giants,and Beached Mermaids

Old newspaper article title

There is a sucker born every minute

There is a sucker born every minute.” This saying has been attributed to P.T. Barnum; however, upon further research I discovered that the actual person associated with this was a deception in itself. It was not a quote of the famous master of circus ceremonies, but rather a quote of David Hannum, a banker and owner of the Cardiff Giant.

George Hull of Binghamton, New York was the original hoaxer behind the creation of the Cardiff Giant. In 1868, Hull secretly commissioned a giant life-like statue of a man created out of gypsum and had it buried on the farm of William Newell, his cousin in Cardiff, New York. A year later, Hull ordered two workmen to dig a well at the exact location of the statue.  Upon unearthing the gigantic structure, the bewildered laborers subsequently announced to the community the discovery of a petrified giant. Hull and his cousin carefully staged an excavation and erected a tent at the site.  Soon word spread throughout the country and wagonloads of people arrived to see the “Giant” at the Newell farm for 25 cents a person. Hull quickly raised the fee to 50 cents a person when stage coaches started making four round trips a day from Syracuse. It was at this point that David Hannum, the head of a syndicate, purchased the giant and had it moved to Syracuse. Subsequently Hannum started charging a fee of $1 for viewing.

Hoax that fooled the world

Everyone from clergymen, professors, farmers, scientists, and professionals came to see the figure. They suspected that it was either a fossilized giant human or an ancient statue. No one had any idea that it was a premeditated hoax!  I even saw this statue on display at the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, New York with my family back in the 1970s. By then the truth of this stone figure had been unveiled, but it still drew interest.

P.T. Barnum, known for his circus and freak shows, offered to buy the statue for $50,000 but was turned down.  So Barnum had one built for his own show and told the public that Hannum’s statue was a fake. To the people who ran to see Barnum’s statue Hannum stated, “There is a sucker born every minute.” (It is suggested that Hannum who purchased the original statue from Hull actually believed that his was real!) (details obtained from Historybuff.com)

This brief story reminds me of the sensationalism of some recent television shows. Such as those that depict Big Foots, aliens, and even mermaids. While there might be a thread of truth contained within each story, by and large the main thrust of the story is usually false or inconclusive. Such as in the case of the Cardiff Giant which was indeed dug up by workmen. However the story of the statue’s origin and how it got there was the deception.  Recently I was glued to an Animal Plant program that aired over Memorial Day Weekend alleging to have discovered the beached body of a real mermaid. After an hour-long of sifting through evidence and learning about whale sonar, the program showed some footage claiming to be taken by a couple of kids. I don’t know if it was real or not.  Efforts to search it on the internet came up with sites appearing to be blocked by the government. The video looked a lot like what one might see on a horror flick.  The fact that one can create any image on camera these days negates proof of anything.

A famous agnostic

Recently my genealogy research of my Darrow family line led to the discovery of my 4th cousin 4 times removed, Clarence Seward Darrow (1857-1938), a famous Chicago lawyer. He is noted for being an “attorney for the damned” as he was a defense counsel in many criminal trials, most notably killers Leopold and Loeb, and Scopes Monkey Trial.  Intrigued by this relative, I decided to flip through some of his writings. 

This was when I discovered that he was also a noted agnostic, giving frequent lectures and debates on the subject.  This was something that I did not know!  One essay in particular that caught my attention was entitled,  “Why I am an Agnostic.”  A line that my old distant cousin wrote states:

“ I am an agnostic as to the question of God. I think that it is impossible for the human mind to believe in an object or thing unless it can form a mental picture of such object or thing.”

How I wish he had been a Roman Catholic!  Reading about his biography on various sites, I discovered that his father was known as the town “atheist” and at an early age Clarence had become accustomed to defending his family honor.  Many claim that such was the fuel behind his defense of lost causes and his prolific agnostic stance.

Being a relative, who is also addressing the issue of “a sucker born every minute,” I can’t help but want to address the agnostic rantings of my old cousin from the last century.  Upon sharing this information, my husband stated, “He definitely knows the truth now!”

What St. Augustine has to say “On Seeing God.”

As human beings, we like to use scientific criteria to judge the veracity of a fossilized giant, big foot, alien, or beached mermaid, but when it comes to the spiritual realm we encounter difficulty. Like the old saying goes trying to compare apples and oranges. What rings out in my mind is the letter by St. Augustine of Hippo entitled, “On Seeing God.”  The apples and oranges are like what St. Augustine says, “For beauty is seen, but virtue is declared; the former is perceived by the eyes, the latter by the mind.”  St. Augustine gives a great rebuttal:

“…God is by nature invisible, and not only the Father, but also the Trinity itself, one God, and because He is not only invisible but also unchangeable, He appears to whomever He wills and under the aspect that He wills, so that His invisible and unchangeable nature may remain completely within Himself.”  Elsewhere in the same letter St. Augustine states: “It is not our power to see, but to His to appear.”

These are significant points about belief in God.  One can understand that first and foremost God in His pure nature is not grasped by our human eyes or even conceived by any of our human abilities. But God can will to appear to whom He wants in whatever way He wants. This shows that indeed it is a gift to believe in God. But, St. Augustine is also quick to conclude that “God is not seen in any place but in the clean of heart.”  It is a common quote to hear that the devil knows that God exists.  But it takes a humble heart to accept God’s will for one’s life.

Where the material and spiritual meet

This is why earlier I had stated that I wished Darrow had been Catholic. My opinion is based on my own faith in case anyone has a problem with this. I like to quote how the Catholic faith bridges the gap between the spiritual and the material which is nicely explained by Christopher West in Theology of the Body for Beginners on his section titled, “The Sacramentality of the Body”: 

“The Catholic faith, if you have not already noticed, is a very fleshy, sensual religion.  We intimately encounter God through the action of the Holy Spirit upon ‘signs that draw from’ the material world: through bathing the body with water (baptism); anointing the body with oil (baptism, confirmation, holy orders, anointing of the sick); eating and drinking the Body and Blood of Christ (the Eucharist); the laying on of hands (holy orders, anointing of the sick); confessing with our lips (penance); and the unbreakable joining of a man and woman in ‘one flesh’  (marriage).

“How can we describe the ‘great mystery’ of the sacraments?  They are composed of matter and are God’s chosen means by which, through the action of the Holy Spirit, we encounter God’s spiritual treasures.  In the sacraments, spirit and matter ‘kiss.’  Heaven and earth embrace in a union that will never end…He wants to make His invisible, spiritual mystery visible to us so that we can ‘see’ Him.” (pp. 4-5).

Yes, “There is a sucker born every minute.”  However, where our human senses and scientific method fail, God provides what is needed to help the spiritual and material meet. Such can be obtained through the Sacraments of the Church.

In today’s Gospel Jesus prays:  “…that the world may believe that You sent Me.” (John 17:21)

As a footnote, George Hull, the creator of the Cardiff Giant, made a fortune off of the Cardiff Giant.  However, according to the Binghamton Press, at the turn of the century, he ended up dying a lonely and pennyless man in the end.

From the New York Tribune December 14, 1869

Posted in Genealogy, Saints | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Red Badges of Courage Worth Remembering

The Grave of Lewis F. Darrow, my 2nd great grand uncle, who died in the Civil War

Grandma’s boys

Two young men, Lewis F. Darrow and Jonathan C. Darrow, mustered into service August 26, 1862. They were two young men that never returned home to Liberty, Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. These brothers, Lewis and Jonathan, were my 2nd great grand uncles and sons of my 3rd great grandmother, Janie Darrow. 

Lewis F. Darrow died on his way to the war in Washington DC on December 18, 1862. The cause of death is not listed. He never made it to the battlefield, but died on the way to defend the Union of the United States. He is buried in the Military Asylum Cemetery in Washington, D.C. He was 20 years old. He was the oldest son of a family of at least eleven children.

Jonathan C. Darrow died at the battle of Chancellorsville, Virginia on May 3, 1863. The battle of Chancellorsville at its time was considered the bloodiest of American history (obtained from civilwar.org). This is the same battle where the infamous Confederate Stonewall Jackson was mortally wounded; and the historical novel Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is alleged to be based on the events at Chancellorsville. The Union Army suffered approximately 17,000 casualties and the Confederate side had about 13,000. Jonathan Darrow’s body was put in a mass grave. He never received a tombstone. However, a monument to his regiment now stands in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Jonathan was 19 years old when he was killed in action.He was the second oldest child of his family.

Honor Roll of Soldiers who Died in Defense of the Union

Lewis and Jonathan Darrow were in the 141st Infantry Regiment of Pennsylvania Volunteers, Company H during the Civil War. In the words of the History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865, they were among the Honor Roll of the “Soldiers Who Died in Defense of the Union.” 

My 3rd great grandmother, Janie Darrow, had lost her two oldest sons in the Civil War.There was also a third son, James, who disappeared from the record. I have been unable to track him up to this point. He may have also been a casualty. Although I did run across a newspaper article of an individual by the same name who had committed suicide years later. I have not been able to confirm if this was indeed the same person.

And although never listed in any book or “Honor Roll,” my great grandmother Janie’s heart was broken in defense of this same “Union.” It was a difficult time of history in our country. As I study the records, I noticed that 1863 was also the year that her in-laws from the Walker side lost at least two whole families from the Black Fever, an epidemic that hit her county. In 1866 her daughter, Olive, the sister of Lewis and Jonathan, died of unknown causes. According to Olive’s gravestone, she was 16 years, 11 months and 15 days. By the way the stone was written, her family emphasized that Olive did not make it to her 17th birthday. Janie, herself would live to be 88 years old and died in Broome County, New York.  She outlived at least five of her children.

Connecting the Dots to Remember

The history is there. Events emerge in the records. We need only to connect the dots to figure out what might have happened to our ancestors. No doubt these events resulted in a tremendous amount of emotional trauma and sadness. I noticed that so far out of all my family tree lines, Janie Darrow’s is the most complete in marking her children with gravestones. It makes you wonder if she made a point of making sure that this was done as her two oldest sons (maybe three) had never returned home.

Honor Roll of Our Confederate Side 

Mother’s Day in the United States was founded for the mothers who had lost sons during the Civil War.  Interestingly, my own children were born in Virginia. Their ancestors on my husband’s side fought on the Confederate side.  Winfield “Scott” Stanley was a member of the Conscripts at Camp Lee, Virginia (my husband’s great grandfather) and Elijah Edens (my husband’s 2nd great grandfather), was a private of the 4th Company B of the 4th Infantry Regiment Virginia.The history of the Civil War is really about the history of families in the United States.

Memorial Day is about Family History

The observance of Memorial Day is one of remembering our soldiers and those who have passed on.The information that I have been able to dig up in my Darrow family tree had been lost to those of my generation. I am happy to be able to help Janie’s descendants to “remember” these folks, once again.

Happy Memorial Day to Lewis and Jonathan Darrow! Happy Memorial Day to Great Grandma Janie! Happy Memorial Day to all of those I have failed to mention and have yet to remember!

Grant them eternal rest O Lord!

Posted in Genealogy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seven Precious Gifts

The other day, my kids and I were sitting around trying to name the gifts of the Holy Spirit off the top of our heads. I can’t remember what precipitated the discussion, probably my daughter’s final exams at school.To be quite honest, I have not thought about the gifts of the Holy Spirit since my Confirmation so my memory was a bit rusty. Of all things, I forgot about the gift of piety!

What kind of gift?

Everyone likes to get a gift. Everyone likes to be called gifted. To me, a gift is particularly special if it comes from God Himself. Well, actually all good things come from God, even if we fail to acknowledge it. According to Church Tradition, a person receives the gifts of the Holy Spirit at the Sacrament of Baptism and is strengthened in them at Confirmation (CCC 1303). In addition a person must be a state of grace.This means free from mortal sins.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them.” (1831). The gifts are outlined in Isaiah 11:1-3 and are actually rooted in the prophesy about Jesus the Messiah.These supernaturally bestowed virtues from God are habitual and are not just a onetime thing. These human virtues are “stable dispositions of the intellect and the will that govern our acts, order our passions, and guide our conduct in accordance with reason and faith” (CCC, 1834).

These gifts have a lot to do with everyday life.

As such the gifts of the Holy Spirit most definitely have a lot to do with how we go about our daily lives and are very relevant to any psychological perspective or issue that we might encounter. These are not something that we whip up only at the moment of a disaster but rather can be utilized at all times.These gifts are kind of difficult to define because many of them are interrelated. My attempt at brief definitions includes: 

1. Wisdom

This is the first and highest of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is the ability to know what is important in terms of spiritual realities compared to the things of the world. It refers to being able to see God at work in our lives and in the world. A person does not need to possess a high level of education to be wise. There are abundant examples in the lives of the Saints. A humble example is St. Theresa of Lisieux, nick named the Little Flower, since she was able to see and serve God through the little things of life.

2. Understanding

This gift is being able to grasp Truths of the faith and what that means in terms of living in the world as a follower of Christ. A person who has understanding is not tossed about or sidetracked by secular trends and ideologies that are contrary to Christianity. For example, someone with understanding might not be particularly fond of relativism, which teaches that there is no absolute Truth.

3. Counsel

This gift is the supernatural ability to know right from wrong as well as being able to carry it out.  It is also referred to as having “right judgment.” Someone who has counsel will be able to see why aborting a child from the womb is a wrong choice and would not go through with this type of procedure.

4. Fortitude

This is the virtue that allows martyrs to suffer death for the sake of the Truth. Synonyms include courage and strength. A person with fortitude is willing to take on risks for the sake of Christ.  With more fortitude one can speak out against injustices and teachings that are contrary to the Church.

5. Knowledge

The definition of this gift is easily confused with wisdom and understanding.  It refers to being able to see God’s purpose and will for our lives. This gift helps to take a look at our life somewhat in a way that God might look at it.

6. Piety

This gift refers to a willingness to worship and serve God. This is also known as reverence.One with piety acknowledges God as Father, respects the Church and observes its teachings. This is done in response to one’s love for God and not out of duty or servitude.

7. Fear of the Lord

This gift is often misunderstood because of the word fear. This gift is actually about hope and the desire not to offend God.  This fear is not of the fire and brimstone type but rather arises out of love for God.  This involves the fear of being separated from God rather than being punished.This is a desire to do good works because of one’s love for God. This virtue is also known as wonder and awe. It is being aware of the glory and majesty of God.

Pentecost Sunday

This Sunday the Catholic Church observes the Solemnity of Pentecost. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are particularly relevant because this day focuses on the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. At Mass a sequence is recited called the veni Sancte Spiritus, Come Holy Spirit, which contains the lines: 

Come, Holy Spirit, send forth the heavenly radiance of your light.

Come, Father of the poor, come giver of gifts, come, light of the heart.

Greatest Comforter, sweet guest of the soul, sweet consolation.

In labor, rest, in heat, temperance, in tears, solace.

O most blessed light, fill the inmost heart of your faithful.

Without your grace, there is nothing in us, nothing that is not harmful.

Cleanse that which is unclean, water that which is dry, heal that which is wounded.

Bend that which is inflexible, fire that which is chilled, correct what goes astray.

Give to your faithful, those who trust in you, the sevenfold gifts.

Grant the reward of virtue, grant the deliverance of salvation, grant eternal joy.

Posted in Major Solemnities | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another Case of Flesh-Eating Disease

Memorial of my 3x great uncle Martin Sweet who died in 1893. Stone states his family died in 1864. They were victims of "Black Fever."

A third person diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis

Most major news media are reporting that a third person has been diagnosed with flesh-eating bacteria this month.This disease, otherwise known as necrotizing fasciitis or gangrene, is a rare and quickly progressive infection of deep skin layers and subcutaneous tissue. It is caused by many different kinds of bacteria. It is usually treated with intravenous antibiotics and surgery to remove the diseased tissue. Unfortunately limb amputation often is necessary to prevent the spread of the bacteria.This process, if not caught early, can quickly spin out of control with the victim battling for life itself.

We usually don’t hear much about this sort of disease. But recently the media has been abuzz with these cases, which have occurred in the Southern part of the United States. Reports state that there is no established link between these cases. According to the National Necrotizing Fasciitis Foundation, “a 1996 CDC report estimates 500 to 1500 cases per year of necrotizing fasciitis of which 20% die.”  However other websites have reported that there are 10,000 to 15,000 cases in the United States per year with a one in four death rate.

This infection is not new

With thousands of annual cases in the US, it is interesting to notice that all of a sudden the focus is on these recent instances. Actually, necrotizing fasciitis has been around for quite a long a while. This infection is not new. Hippocrates described it. King Herod was noted to have contracted it. It was also documented during the Civil War. It is just that we don’t usually hear reports of necrotizing fasciitis these days.

In genealogy research, I often encounter death stories of those who lived in the so-called good old days. We assume some diseases have disappeared altogether. However, I discovered that many just undergo a name change. Examples include things like consumption, the grippe, and catarrh (tuberculosis, the flu virus, and a runny nose).  

An epidemic in my family tree

My ancestors in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania battled one such epidemic in 1864. My great great great Aunt Betsey Walker Sweet died along with her six children from what was referred to as the Black Fever. Other sources referred to it as Spotted Fever or Cerebrospinal Meningitis. This disease was reported to cause death within a matter of hours and appeared to be highly contagious. There were four more casualties at the home of my great great great Uncle James Walker which amounted to the death of his wife and children. Numerous other relatives and members of the community were listed as victims. Research indicates that many counties in Pennsylvania were afflicted at that time. A newspaper article in the Montrose Democrat states:

“This obstinate scourge of our race broke out at Dart’s Corners, in Herrick, two weeks since striking the family of Horace Dart. But its mission rested not there; it went from house to house until at this time it has consigned nineteen of the inhabitants to the grave:  Six at Martin Sweet’s, four at James B. Walker’s–leaving but one member each of these two families … (March 17, 1864)

As quickly as this virus appeared, it soon disappears from the records. Unfortunately various epidemics still occur today. Some have been controlled with vaccines and antibiotics. However, there are always new mutations of viruses that threaten populations, especially the vulnerable.

Epidemics that target the spirit

In Matthew 10:28 Jesus says:  And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

There are epidemics which harm the body. But more threatening are those that target the spirit and rot the soul.  I am referring to the type that may be seen in some societal trends. Often the victims are like the anecdote of the frog placed in a pot about to be boiled. A frog put directly into boiling water will jump out. But one that is placed in cold water that is gradually heated will end up being cooked to death while alive.

Nothing new under the sun

Modernism, individualism, secularism, relativism…There is nothing new under the sun. When I was young I used to think that modern people were pretty smart cookies. However the older I get, I realize that the isms are only reinventions under another name. What does someone who is about a half a century old have over the collective wisdom of mankind?  Better yet, what does someone who is barely a quarter of a century know better than the wisdom of God and the Church?

It is never old-fashioned to cherish the life of the unborn, the elderly, and those who have disabilities. It is never out-dated to protect the Sacrament of Marriage between a man and a woman. It is never antiquated to follow the Ten Commandments. 

Yep, our society has had several cases of necrotizing fasciitis recently. But what about those epidemics that are rotting souls?

Posted in Genealogy, Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment