Friday, May 7, 2010

Eulogy for my Grandfather

In the Old Testament, the prophet Micah tells us: “You have been told, O man, what is good, and what the LORD requires of you: Only to do what is right, and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Through the amazing Gift of God’s grace and love, Pop-Pop’s life was a constant witness to this verse of scripture. 
Pop-Pop did what was right
In every role and call of his journey, as son, brother, husband, father, friend, serviceman, veteran, and employee, his was a life of quiet faithfulness, of selflessness, of sacrifice, of doing what is right even when it was not easy.
Pop-Pop loved goodness
To love goodness is more than just loving good things, but loving things in the right order, and to the right degree. He knew that God is the ultimate good, and that the primary way he was to love God was by loving Mom-Mom. By grace, he knew this and lived this, in some big ways but mostly countless small ways, day in and day out for 64 years, making a total gift of his very self to his beloved bride. And since the best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother, than I don’t think Uncle Jim, Aunt Jeanne, Mom and Aunt Barb could possibly have had a better father in this world. Mom-Mom of course knew this and lived it fully too, and their witness has touched everyone here and countless others over four generations. So far. Now reunited for three days, with eternity still to go, they are just getting started!

With that love of God and Family as the foundation for everything else Pop-Pop then loved and was grateful for so many other good things of this earth: smoking a pipe while reading the Inquirer, sharing a Manhattan with Mom-Mom, conversation in the shade of the front yard maple tree, a Harry Kalas home run call.  Indeed, from the most transcendent goods to the simplest pleasures, from Almighty God to a cold beer, from family to a meal at the Springfield Inn, from the freedoms of this country to a side-splitting night with the Crazy Eight, Pop-pop loved goodness wherever it was found.
Pop-Pop walked humbly
He was very much like a St. Joseph figure in our lives. Humble and hidden, but always present. Always protecting and providing and loving. Despite traveling in the war to every continent and crossing the equator thirty times, Pop-pop knew that there was more true adventure to be found in home and hearth than in going far and doing great things in the eyes of this world. History books will not record him, but his life has an eternal significance. The depth and breadth of love and laughter found in the row home on North Penn St, or the twin on Woodland Ave, could never be found in any dozen Main Line mansions, and Pop-Pop’s humble walk with God is at the heart of this great reality.
St. Francis of Assisi is said to have admonished his brothers: “Preach the Gospel always, and only if necessary, use Words.” I only very rarely heard words from Pop-Pop’s lips about Jesus, but his life proclaimed the Gospel as truly as any great missionary or evangelist, and I thank him so much for all that he has taught me about being a Christian husband and father. For me, and I’m sure every one of us here, no words were necessary to hear the message of his life loudly and clearly. And so we say thank you, Dick Farrell, for preaching the Gospel, for 90 years of doing right, of loving goodness, and walking humbly with our God. We are here today praying for you; please pray for us to learn from your example, and to grow closer to Christ our Lord.

Eternal Rest Grant unto Him O Lord … and May Perpetual Light Shine Upon Him.

James R. "Dick" Farrell
January 3, 1920 - May 5, 2010

(Delivered at his funeral mass, May 7, 2010 St. Dorothy Church Drexel Hill, PA)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A reckless duel to the death

Last month we bean farmers gave a little talk as part of a panel on spirituality in married life at our old parish. Here is what we had to say:

“There are people who try to ridicule, or even to deny, the idea of a faithful bond which lasts a lifetime. These people – you can be very sure – do not know what love is.” -- John Paul II, Letter to Families

We sometimes tend to think that this denial of the essential meaning of marriage is a modern phenomenon. But G.K. Chesterton, writing 100 years ago, defended marriage when it was held in contempt by George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and the rest of the cultural elite of England. On the idea of permanence of marriage they were particularly perplexed. To them, the promise to love and honor one person ALL the days or your life, was on the order of vowing something utterly outlandish, like a man swearing to not leave Hyde Park until he counted all the leaves on every tree. It was a nice poetic sentiment, but not to be taken seriously. It was predictable and understandable that the man in Hyde Park would get bored and go home to tea before finishing the first tree, and the man who promised to love one person all of his life, was going to find himself sooner or later feeling differently and it was perfectly ok for him to not be bound by his vow. In this view to make a vow was fine, but to make a vow where there was an expectation that you would keep it no matter what, that was too much! That was a reckless vow, and you shouldn’t make a reckless vow.

But Chesterton said no to his contemporaries: reckless vows are the best kind! Reckless vows (that are kept) are exactly what we need! In his essay, “In Defense of Rash Vows” he says:
“[The opponents of marriage] appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. … It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover …. the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.

Five years ago, the beautiful Jacoba and I were in love, and wanted nothing more than to sell our liberty. To be bound together so closely that our love would take flesh and those children would be protected and nurtured by the very intimacy, exclusivity and indissolubility of our vows. The liberty to give yourself away is more than what we want, it’s what every heart needs, it’s the source of every vocation, and every child needs his parents to have made this seemingly reckless tossing away of liberty.

So how did we come to the moment of making those reckless vows, and learning just how wild and reckless they were?

Jacoba -- 
Juniper and I met in January 2002, during a pilgrimage to Italy organized by Fr. Paul Dressler. As we were dating and falling in love, we felt more and more that we were called to marry each other. Two years later we returned to Italy on another pilgrimage, and were engaged in Assisi, at the Basilica of St. Clare.

We had a sense that big things were in store, we were both committed to a living out our Catholic faith, had a devotion to St. Francis in common, and felt convinced that we could serve God better together than as individuals. It seemed on every big issue we were so in sync. We also were so excited by the Church’s great vision and reverence for marriage and by John Paul’s Theology of the Body. On Valentine’s Day when we were engaged, Juniper bought us two books written by Greg Popcak-a Catholic psychotherapist: “For Better Forever: A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage” and “The Exceptional Seven Percent: The Nine Secrets of the World’s Happiest Couples”. A main theme of the books was that marriage was about helping our spouse become the Person God created them to be, not what you want them to be, and that we need to love our spouse, even when we don’t think they deserve it or we don’t feel like it. That seemed an odd thing to say – we were so in love, we could never conceive of a moment where we would think the other person didn’t deserve our love and affection or wouldn’t feel like giving it. What on earth was he talking about? Stay tuned. … anyway, we devoured the books, and took all the quizzes. And according to our quiz results – we were practically already an exceptional married couple …. Well, an exceptional engaged couple I guess. We were so excited to start our lives together and do great things. In short, we felt very ready to get married (and quite honestly looking back, were just a little bit self righteous toward all the other couples getting married who didn’t quite “get it” like we did!)

And so on that day, I think Juniper and I were ready to drink from the well of grace of the sacrament, put our Dr. Popcak quizzes into practice, be the Theology of the Body made real in the world, magically transform into “holy married people”, raise some holy kids, convert the world, and then ride off into the sunset. Since we were so tuned into the meaning of vocation, and so excitedly asking God for all these graces, they were naturally going to start pouring out.

But I have learned though that when you pray for some virtue, God gives you the opportunity – many opportunities to put that virtue into practice, with His help of course, but also with your efforts. We were not quite ready for what that was going to mean.

Juniper  --
Then, the honeymoon was over and reality sat waiting at home, prepared to punch us in the nose. Remember Chesterton said our vows were reckless, but honorable. They were reckless because we could not know what the future held and we could never understand ahead of time a common feature of every marriage. What’s this common feature of marriage? Again we turn to Chesterton:

 "Marriage is a duel to the death that no man of honor should refuse". GKC (Manalive)

This became real for me when I was married about 10 days and learned the importance of twist ties. Every man in here knows that the purpose of the twist tie on a bag of bread is very limited. It’s to keep the bread in the bag on the way home from the store. When the bag is opened, you throw the twist tie away!! Bread bags are closed by holding the end, spinning the bag around, and then tucking the top of the bag under. Voila! Closed bread bag! Jacoba had this strange idea that the twist tie was to be kept, and used to close the bread bag. What was my response to learning of Jacoba’s preference? Was it agreeing to use twist ties from then on, because, even if I didn’t quite see why, it made her happy, and I had vowed only a few weeks before to love her and honor her all the days of my life, and wouldn’t doing that small thing without complaining or making it in to a big deal be a small way to honor her? No, what I did was explain to Jacoba that I was right, that my approach still keeps bread kind of fresh and more importantly saves two seconds every time you open the bag of bread, and over a lifetime of bread that adds up! Jacoba failed to see the genius contained in this solution. What happened? Chesterton’s duel to the death happened!!! All the carping and snapping at each other over twist ties and dozens of other things, after having just spent so much time reading and thinking and praying and preparing to start our life together was a little disconcerting.

But that’s the reality, there is indeed a duel taking place. But it isn’t a duel between Jacoba and me. It is a duel between who we are called to be and our selfish fallen natures. A duel between whether we will grow more like the Holy Family, or more like the Average Modern Family. That’s why Chesterton adds that no one with honor would refuse the duel, because it is the duel to become holy! And isn’t that the reason we wanted to get married in the first place! Well here was our chance. Not by big things, but in small things. You win the duel to become holy by living your vocation, which whether it is to marriage or not consists of one essential thing -- to make a gift of yourself, to forget about yourself for the sake of another. He must increase. We must decrease.

Flannery O’Connor had a character who said “she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick”. Sometimes the really big things, the big sacrifices are relatively easy. It’s the small every day challenges to faithfulness and dying to self that are for some reason so difficult, even for someone you love so much. Love in reality is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams, says Dostoevsky. But no one who has known real love would ever trade it for the love of dreams. Real love is Christ on the cross. Any real vocation is going to bring you there with Him.

And so here we are, we’re married. That is to say we have recklessly vowed to enter a duel to the death! We go to the duel hand in hand, with our children gathered around us, and with God’s help, we will win the battle, and one day we’ll all together see Him face to face.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

So who is the real three year old?

"In fact, I don't understand why I act the way I do. I don't do what I know is right. I do the things I hate. Although I don't do what I know is right, I agree that the Law is good." Romans 7:15-16 (Contemporary English Version)

My oldest son is newly three, and has been channeling these verses an exasperating number of times each day. His misbehavior six to nine months ago was easier to deal with for a lot of reasons, but I think his language development is part of what makes it harder. I mean, the boy is talking in paragraphs now, so I tend to act like he must also have a richly developed inner dialogue going on, that his conscience is clearly telling him what’s right and wrong. So whereas when two year old KB was tough to deal with, I tended to think, “well, he’s still a baby.”, but now each moment he, with apparent forethought, disobeys, it feels like a personal affront toward me or Rosey. But I know that’s not right. He’s not near the age of reason, and the task of forming that conscience is just beginning and will be more arduous than it was teaching him the alphabet and counting to twenty.

But still, several times I’ve found myself thinking: “KB, why don’t you just TRUST me! I know your still a little boy, but even if the subtleties of moral theology are lost on you, or you’ve never given any thought to the natural law reasons why jumping on your little brother is wrong, or quite know what it means To Honor Your Father and Mother and why that’s actually really important, wouldn’t it still makes sense to, you know, LISTEN to us?? Look what we’ve given you kiddo! We’ve loved you from the moment we knew of your existence, we prayed for you and prepared for you. We’ve given you a warm home, nourishment, toys climbing the walls! We’ve given you most everything you’ve asked for, and so many things you didn’t even know you wanted or needed, and it has all redounded to your good, has it not? Remember your fear last summer at the lake? But you let me hold you and you were safe AND had fun? Don’t you feel loved by us every day in our words and hugs and kisses? Don’t you see we would do anything for you? Do you think we would ever do anything to hurt you? Isn’t there enough evidence for you to know we seek only your good? And heck, failing all that, we’ve just been around a heck of a lot longer than you. We know how things work and how they don’t. You have a lot to learn, so for pete’s sake just let us be in charge!!!”

Oh. Sweet. Merciful. Crap! The loving 2x4 of spiritual insight gives quite a welt on the head: I’m constantly acting like a three year old before my own Father in Heaven. At best:

“Brian, why don’t you just TRUST me! I know you live with the mark of Adam, but I’ve given you an intellect to understand quite a bit of moral theology, and I went ahead and wrote the law on your heart, and if that seemed muddy I put it on tablets, and then summed it up in two sentences in case that seemed too long! And yet you ignore it, a lot more than seven times daily. Why? Look what I’ve given you! Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and loved you. I’ve given you a powerful heavenly being to constantly watch over you for all your earthly existence and eternally thereafter, and prepared the hearts of your parents to receive you and teach you and to cooperate with me. I gave you legs to walk, eyes to see, ears to hear! I’ve given you most everything you’ve asked for and many things you didn’t know you wanted or needed, and it has all redounded to your good, has it not? Remember that time where I asked you to take that step, and you were scared, but you trusted me and let me walk with you, and it led you to so many blessings, to what you hold most dear? Don’t you feel loved by me every day in Word and Sacrament? Don’t you know I’ve done everything for you; I’ve given my life away? Do you think I would ever do anything to hurt you? Isn’t there enough evidence for you to know I seek only your good, your True Good, not the counterfeits you are always seeking? And heck, failing all that, I’m GOD, and I’ve been around a heck of a lot longer than you. I know how things work since I made them. You haven’t. You have a lot to learn, so for pete’s sake just let Me be in charge!!!”

I’ll try, Lord. I’ll try. But the thing is … I don't understand why I act the way I do. I don't do what I know is right. I do the things I hate. Although I don't do what I know is right, I agree that the Law is good.

St. Paul… Pray for us.

Immaculate Heart of Mary… Pray for us.

Sacred Heart of Jesus… Have Mercy on us.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

My son examines my conscience

We have a small crucifix that we didn't realize was in the range of Kenny's growing reach. It disappeared one day this week and got mixed in with his toys. A short while later, a two year old being a two year old, the crucifix was launched from the living room and landed in the dining room, separating the corpus from the cross. Rosey gathered the pieces, explained to Kenny how we have to show respect for sacred objects (and that, for that matter, throwing ANYTHING inside the house isn't permitted) and assured him that I would fix it when I got home from work. So what was I greeted with when I arrived home? Kenny runs to me yelling: "Daddy puts Jesus back on the cross! Daddy puts Jesus back on the cross!" I'm told he'd been repeating it most of the afternoon.

Touche, my son. Touche! To be more precise, I helped put him there in the first place. But point taken. Bring on Lent.

Divine Adoption

Two couples we are friends with have completed adoptions in the past few months. At the Baptism of the first child on Holy Family Sunday, the priest emphasized that we are all adopted. We are all divinely adopted sons and daughters of the Father. And of course, there is nothing lesser about being adopted, in fact, this Divine Adoption creates a deeper and more unending bond than parenting of the "natural" order. Our parenting on earth is really a sharing in this Divine Parenting.

On Sunday we went to a Mass to welcome the other couples' new son and daughter, twins from an orphanage in Uganda. As we spoke to D and J afterwards, they related the rather incredible conditions the twins lived in, and the long, physically and emotionally arduous 7 week journey to meet them and finally bring them home.

I've been thinking of the lengths they went to to unite with their children, and of the long, trying road that brought B and R their beautiful son. Given all this, my prayer over the past few months has been peppered with this concept of Divine Adoption. What does it mean for my marriage, for my fatherhood, for my life as a Christian? One thing is for sure, since getting married, and especially since becoming a dad, Theology is a whole heck of a lot more personal. If that makes any sense.

I'm still pondering this and can't quite articulate all the insights, but I was thrilled to come across this profile of Blessed Columba Marmion on Ignatius Insight. Here's the tidbit that knocked me over:

Though Marmion was not opposed to the more abstract theological mode of St. Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics, he had a different point of departure, said Fr. Groeschel. "Abbot Marmion in some ways was the beginning of a movement that became known, under Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as the 'New Evangelization.' That movement begins theological and religious investigation with the self," an approach that "comes directly from the great statement of St. Augustine: 'You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.' It relates to how a person experiences their need for God.""One of the things about Abbot Marmion," Fr. Groeschel added, "is that he ain't fooling. He's a deadly serious spiritual writer."

This seriousness is reflected in the theme of Divine adoption that forms the great motif of Marmion's works: because God became man, men can become adopted sons of God. The doctrine of Divine adoption is, of course, found in the New Testament, and has always been taught by the Church, but Marmion brought a special depth of insight to its expression. Indeed, some of Marmion's admirers believe he will one day be declared a Doctor of the Church -- the Doctor of Divine Adoption.

According to Fr. Tierney, "A lot of the Eastern fathers wrote about the idea of Divine adoption, but they put it into technical language. Marmion brought it down to the level of the ordinary man. Marmion's definition of grace is that it is nothing more than the life of Christ in the soul. That is why he chose the title, Christ, the Life of the Soul. Grace is the life of Christ in the soul, which we get at baptism and which we build on right on up to the day we die."

Blessed Columba Marmion, Pray for all of us, the Adopted Children of God.

Friday, February 20, 2009

7 Quick Takes Friday -- Vol 1

1. I came across Jennifer F's Conversion Diary a few months ago. I thought the "7 Quick Takes Feature" might be a good way to get back into blogging. My only hesitation -- it looks like after clicking a half dozen of the links, that everyone participating in the meme is a blogging Catholic stay at home mom. Is there room for me to join the ranks of the 7 quick takers?

2. I haven't ordered any seeds for the garden yet. The catalog from arrived before Christmas, and I've been frozen by indecision. Think there's a lot of cereals to choose from at the grocery store? Try selecting from among 60 varieties of peppers! And the pictures don't do them justice, in the catalog, they are accompanied by descriptions that beat anything J. Peterman has ever written. But how the heck will I know what I'll be up for eating in August? Time to bite the bullet and place the order or I'll miss the chance to get the salad greens in the ground.

3. This excerpt from the Consitutions of the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal has been on my mind now and again since coming across it a couple of years ago:

36. The friars of each house
will periodically evaluate all personal and communal goods to assure that only
those things necessary for our life and work be used by the friars. This
evaluation must take place in each fraternity four times a year, before the
feast of St. Francis, after Christmas, during Lent and after Pentecost.

As Lent begins, Rosey and I have really been looking at what this would look like to implement in our family. Obviously we are not called to poverty in the same manner as these lesser brothers. But we are clearly called, as is every Christian, to generosity, simplicity, and a sparing-sharing lifestlye that gives to the poor and focuses on Christ. The practicality of beginning a quarterly check on our desires might really help us in this manner. I envision developing a family examination of conscience, not just around looking at what we've already accumulated and should give away or get rid of, but to proactively submit the "stuff" we're thinking of getting to the test of whether it will bring our family closer to Christ or pull us away. Are there new ministries or outreaches God is calling us to support with prayers, fasting, serving or giving? What are we being called to sacrifice or forego to bring this about? More on this hopefully to be posted during Lent.

4. My third annual Lenten beard begins today to ensure sufficient scraggliness for Ash Wednesday. Along with giving up popcorn, having a non clean shaven husband is Rosey's Lenten sacrifice. Luckily I'm willing to help.

5. Phillies spring training! My favorite story so far has nothing to do with what happens on the field, but how one player has kept his ego in check and feet firmly on the ground throughout a 20 year career and is using his riches to reach out to others: The Moyer Family's Christmas in Guatamala . I especially like the message Jamie sends to his children -- to whom much is given, much is required; and we need to go and meet the poor and serve them in person, not simply mail out a check, however big it might be in absolute terms.

6. If all the current crop of young Jesuits in formation are anything like this guy, we're in for an Ignatian revival in the Church.

7. Beer is out of the house for Lent. The plan is for me to get the basement sufficiently cleaned up to finally set up the home brewing kit that was a gift from my brother in Christmas 2007. I want to time it so the first batch finishes on Holy Saturday night. A joyous Chestertonian feast will ensue to celebrate Our Lord's Ressurection! Huzzah!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Mondays with Chesterton

When we were children we were grateful to those who filled our stockings at
Christmas time. Why are we not grateful to God for filling our stockings with