Category Archives: A Sad Fact

Dead and Dying: Something for Lent

This is about two things; what used to happen and what I think is happening.

I was very young when I attended my first wake; young enough so that all I remember of it is that I was in a forest of legs, legs with faces somewhere up there in the distance, and voices flying overhead.  They were making words, I knew, but I couldn’t make sense of them.  It seemed as if everyone was simply saying, “Noise!”  Everyone, that is except old ladies on chairs with sad and tired faces who were saying soft things in whispers as they moved the beads through their hands.  I looked at them with the open and intense stare of the young child, the child who hasn’t yet learned discretion and dissembling.  They looked at me in the same way; their eyes unshielded by age.

Perhaps my most specific memory of that evening is of seeing a massive pair of shoes at the bottom of a staircase.  They were the shoes of my Grand Uncle Bill Fanning, brother of my grandmother, my father’s mother Catherine Fanning Gallaher from Leighlin Bridge, Carlow, Ireland.

At some point during that evening of legs and loud talk, everything grew quiet, and all over the place people got shorter in the legs.  They were on their knees, and saying words I knew were prayers because I had heard them from all the other people, the older ones I lived with.  We prayed for an eternity, following the lead of the man in front, Father Someone.  And, when the prayers were over, we left and went home on the subway.  I slept. It was quieter.

I do not know whose wake I was at.  I only remember legs, big shoes and noise.  It may have been Uncle Bill’s, since I never saw him after that, and Grandma, who was given to prayer several times a day, became more involved in her “office”.  She wanted her brother in heaven, and it was the best of things to do; to pray him all the help she thought he needed.  Never giving up

She never did.  Besides her brother,  she had a big family back across the water, and a sister here, too with five sons, and they all needed praying for.

Several years after that incident I attended my first Funeral Mass.  My mother’s mother, whom I loved, had died.  I knew she was sick because I’d overheard conversations at night in the kitchen, and my mother on the phone to her sister.  Then I was told to dress one cold gray morning for Mass. Nanny was being buried.  I rode in the back of the long black car between my mother and my aunt.  My sister may have been in the car with me, or she may have been staying at home with our neighbors.  I cannot remember.  My brother was there.

I cried.

The only thing I remember about the Mass beyond my first feelings of loss and sadness was the silence, broken occasionally by mournful music, as if the organ was weeping too; and the people singing sad songs for me and my family and my grandmother in the coffin in the front.  Everyone was in black, and everyone was sad, too.  Everyone prayed.  I even saw rosary beads in the hands of the men who moved then one at a time as they slowly went through the silent mysteries, silently.  What I remember most is the deep echoing silence in the church.  I used to think that church was huge, and that when silent the whole world was silent, too. Like that day.  My mother told me to pray for my grandmother, and always to remember her when I prayed.

I have no memories beyond the silence and sadness, being urged to pray for Nanny to help her to heaven, and my tears.

Georgie Masters mother hung herself one afternoon and died tied to the curtain rod in their bathroom.  Georgie and his sister Eileen stayed with us for three days.  Then on the third day, their father came to get them to take them to St. John’s, the big church, for the funeral.  We rode along with them behind the hearse carrying a lady I didn’t know much about. Because it was the way of it, I prayed for her silently in the silent car, and in the silent church where a pin drop would sound like a cannon’s roar, I thought.  Silent except for the quiet whispers of prayers being said for Mrs. Masters, that her Purgatory not be long, and that God be good to her.

We walked back from that Mass to our house.  Mr. Masters held my hand when we crossed Broadway underneath the El.  His hand was warm, and bigger than my father’s.  He had a long black overcoat one and wore a black hat.  We got back home and George and Eileen left with their father.  I could take you today, with my eyes closed, to the spot where I stood in the hallway of our apartment as they left the house.  I still pray for Mrs. Masters, but I suspect the prayers are put in someone else’s account.  She was a woman in pain.

I have been to perhaps a dozen funerals of men, police officers and federal agents, who have died in the line of duty, and one or two priests, too, called home after long years of work in the vineyard.  In the former cases, hundreds, at times thousands of their brothers lined the streets outside, and stood silently until the funeral ended.  In the latter, the loudest noise at the beginning and end was the tolling of a single bell.  A single bell.  A reminder to pray, to remember, to pray.

Their names, now, I can’t remember. What is with me still, though, are the days and places, the long blue lines outside, the robed priests about the altar inside and the silence, reverent, respectful silence.  These, like works in a gallery, frame my prayers, some of whom I knew well, some not at all.  But all I keep in my prayers, years on, like my grandmother at her beads.

We provide the music at funerals in one of the parishes here in town.  Some of the people, not a few in fact, who find out what we do recoil at knowing that’s how we spend some of our time.  “Eeewww!  Funerals!”  “How does that make you feel?”  “It must be dreadful.”   These are the kind of things we often hear from folks we tell about our work.

Well, sometimes…  But, then, there are other things.

Not too long ago we worked at the funeral of a person, a woman who I am told was a nice lady.  Well, no one wants to speak ill..  And I will not, myself.

As with most funerals we attend and provide music for, so was this one peopled with a number of people who appeared to me as if they had just wandered in off the street, or had indeed come to a funeral, but had no idea at all what exactly that meant, or why it was taking place.

I mean, in the latter case those folks might have been thinking  something like this about that: “Duh, Jimmy, she’s dead isn’t she; a bunch of ash in the little gray pot Uncle Bilge just brought in?  What’s the point?”  And indeed it may have been,and probably is,the prevailing frame of mind for some who “happen by” these things; little more than a quiet place to check for messages; or to catch up with someone not seen since the last party.

“Yeah, I feel sad Uncle Bob is dead.  But, look, I ain’t worked since I got the news he was dying last week.  I was gonna visit but, like, I was too busy.  Besides, we were comped at the new casino in Revere for two days.  Yeah, outta sight!.  Don’t matter, really.  He’s dead now.  Just a minute, I gotta check this message.  By the way, you going out with me and Davey on Friday, The Rotten Tomatoes are playing at The Scalded Duck.  They got this new beer they’re promoting that tastes like sour apples with a pickle nose and burnt shirt finish.”

Most of them, the bereaved we used to call them, on this morning stood at the front, at the foot of the altar in a sloppy group talking loudly while we sang some prologues before Mass. (Yes it is still a Mass, folks, though it is more often referred to as a service, as if what was inside the box or the coffin was a device to be worked on by the Gook Squad or a car needing a tune up.)

They chattered the things one chatters before a funeral these days: About how long it has been since they’ve seen each other.  About, whether or not Auntie May is as crazy as she dresses these days.  “Did you see that thing she’s wearing?”  About how the Red Sox or the Bruins or the Patriots are doing.  New cars.  Old cars.  Vacations and, recently, tattoos, or “ink” or “tats” as they seem now to be called.  There were some in evidence on the legs and bare arms of the younger women who attended; though none were on their faces…yet.

Not long after that, we were called to provide music for a young man who had died suddenly.  He left two or three young children behind, I do not remember the total number, along with his girlfriend, as she was styled in the obituary.  He was lauded as a wonderful father to the children, who played with them, and was always good for a laugh, leaving them happy they had seen him.

His mourners included a number of fellows who appeared in their “colors”, filling two rows at the back of the church, and reminding me of bears in a cage.

A few weeks before this, maybe a month, I heard, his brother had died.  Suddenly, as the saying goes.

Yesterday we were present for the final rites of an old woman, mother, grandmother and, I think great-grandmother, and several days ago it was another old man.  Dark clothes filled the pews, and quiet.  Only one or two children were among each congregation of mourners gathered to say farewell.

This morning another old man who died quietly at home, followed by a bundle of relatives, dark and quiet, was wheeled in his casket to the altar for the final rites.

I find myself wondering about the things I see from my post up in the choir loft, and what is happening, and I cannot really think that what is happening is good.

Myself?  I am I know no better than anyone below me, probably worse off than most.  But, being present at twenty or thirty of these “celebrations” each year has not convinced me that I am.

And, is that a bad thing? At least, I find it “wonderfully focuses the mind.”   We of course have life.  We forget the other three things.

In Paradisum

Horses, Hubris and Economics 101

This morning I read a short essay written by a fellow I know, Joseph Pearce.  He is a very decent fellow and, I like to think, a friend.  Not only that, he is smart; smart enough to know when folks aren’t.  Also, he is kind enough to let them know the truth about themselves.  He’s classy enough, too, to do it in such a classy way that only the dummy will know who he or she is.  One hopes that brings about the necessary reform.  But, dummies can be stubborn.

I read his article, titled What Is Economics, which appears in an online journal called The Imaginative Conservative and I think of an old friend of mine who is dead nearly one year, now.  So, at least he is not old any longer.  He is as Rod Stewart sings, forever young, I pray

My friend was named Charlie.   Joseph Pearce’s article brings to my mind  some things about Charlie which I thought at the time were dumb things for him to do.  Alas, I was no Joseph Pearce, then, and I simply watched my friend.  Nor am I now, and would probably do the same thing, watch. Besides, it is too late.  It also makes me think about some things, big things, which I began thinking about a few years ago.  But more about that below.  For now, Charlie

We were friends from an early age.  Close friends, I would say, but not so close as we would call each other best friends or bosom buddies, or stuff like that.  We lived about a block or so away from each other on Bailey Avenue in The Bronx.  Charlie was, what can I say, an intense kind of guy, not quite driven, not possessed, but simply intense. Maybe, thinking about it, he was more a mule than a bulldog.  But he had bulldogian notions.   I won’t say he had no sense of humor, but, though he could get a joke, he couldn’t tell one.  He had a kind of sense of purpose instead.   It’s odd he would find a companion in me, who has lived an Un-Purposed Life for three quarters of a century.

We “knocked around:” with the other guys our age on the block, doing the things the other guys on the block, and guys all over the city, did back then; which included getting into trouble, too.  And, then, we started growing up.

One day he asked me to write a poem for him; to write a poem for a girl from Brooklyn he had met at a dance, a girl he wanted to impress.  Now, we lived in the Bronx, which at that time could as well have been in another galaxy, and this girl of another species entirely.  She was, I think, an Italian girl; so she really was a member of another species.  But, Charlie was determined, even if getting to Brooklyn took about as long as it took The Owl and The Pussycat to get to The Land Where the Bong Trees Grow; which I understand is a nice place.  I hope to visit it someday.  I will probably find out I have already been there.  A lot.

Well, I wrote the poem.  Charlie began a weekly odyssey to Brooklyn under the tunneled streets and under the tunneled river, and under God knows where else.  He surfaced from time to time back among us and often asked for the loan of a buck or two for his trips to a Strange Land.  We gave of our surplus to supply his want.  What are friends for?  One day Charlie announced that he had found a better way, he would need our help no longer to visit his Brooklyn doll.  He had found the horses, and happy days were here again!

I am not going into all the details, but you know them already, don’t you.  We were in college then, me at Manhattan College. which was foolish enough to give me a scholarship, and Charlie at Fordham University.  He studied accounting and I studied English, a language I already knew, so I figure I do not have to do anything, a thing I still know how to do about better than anyone else.  I know how to do it certainly better than anything else I know how to do, which anyone will tell you is not much.

Charlie spends most of his time at school in Accounting classes learning how to develop a system to beat the horses, which have become a nearly full time occupation, and we begin to lose contact, to drift apart and finally lose sight of each other as the horizon intervenes.  Before that happens, he tells me that he is doing this by using statistics, which I do not now understand, and never will, but which he say is very very necessary for winning horse races and figuring whether it will rain in July , or whether it will be good to buy or sell almost anything. It’s part of Economics, he says.

I do not understand.

There is a term that is used in the NYPD to describe people who gamble for a living.  They are called a Degenerate Gambler; and I used to see the initials DG next to a lot of guys when I riffed through the police records looking for one bad guy or another, one clown or another in whom I took a professional interest.  I do not know if Charlie ever earned his DG patch.  Gosh, I hope not.  He was a man, for all that, and deserved better

But I remember, though, the several times before the sea between us was too wide, when he showed my his “books” the ledger he had on just about every horse at every track in the country.  He was sure he would develop a foolproof system.  He would have been the first if he had; which he didn’t.  But, I was impressed with his dogged devotion to the task, and the fire of the true believer in his eyes.

I asked him what of all these columns and numbers was most important for success.  “It’s all statistics,” he answered.  “Like batting averages?”  Batting averages were about the only thing I knew about statistics then, and still know now.  I listened to statistics about horses, and jockey weight, and the weather on race days, and stuff like that which Charlie said mattered while I drank his beer.  Then, I left.

While in college I was tempted to take a course in psychology, but shied away when I was told by the catalogue I needed to take a course in statistics.  I think that my experience with my friend may have had something to do with that also.  Anyway, Mr. Pearce’s article makes a point about economics, and whence the discipline comes; about which I had known nothing.  He binds it to philosophy, a thing which it definitely doesn’t resemble today.  I mean, philosophy requires more than “doing the numbers”, and is about more than that, the truth, for one thing.  But, Economics is, I kind of think, statistics dressed up.  Simple statistics can as the saying goes, lie; or lead one to that, a lie.  And so can Economics, which someone once told me is sort of “Anyone’s guess.”

Here is the other thing I am thinking about because of Mr. Pearce’s article.  The other night I watch President Trump talk to Congress and the rest of us.  You all know what he says by now, and think what you think about what he says. I don’t pay too much attention to that.  But one little part interests me.  That’s the part where he says they get rid of NAFTA, and they are going after this Pacific thing where we all get in a circle and deal straight up.

I say “Yippee!” to myself when I hear that.  And you know why?  It’s because economists and politicians, and millionaire business men, and one world maniacs think that there’s nothing better in the world than free trade.  They think this so fervently that they don’t see Detroit becoming a desert, and drugs becoming a number one commodity in places where folks once could make an honest living making shirts, shoes, pants, desks, chairs and what all from Maine to Mississippi.

And that was because the market analysis told them everyone would rise on the rising tide of free trade.  Well except the ones who couldn’t swim.  Swimmers love a rising tide.  little folks drown, or go on welfare, or to war, in the mud.  Turns out that NAFTA really was anyone’s guess.

Statistics don’t care, and Economics don’t either.  What the hell, there’s always welfare and surplus peanut butter.

You gotta get close to folks.  The corner store’s the best.

 

 

 

John 11: 50

 

Here is a letter I have written to Fr. Robert Shanley, President of Providence College, and who is currently presidentially presiding over the very dignified and collegial lynching of a great scholar, a devout Catholic defender of the Truth, and a good and decent man.  I imagine him in his robes of office: aloof, yes, compassionate, of course, aware of all the necessary facts, without question, and deeply concerned for the lives, and souls and the, well, the reputations about to be supported or sacrificed for the greater good of the school and benefit of all mankind.  It is what presidents do…when not playing golf or hosting benefactors, delivering speeches and looking magisterial and compassionate, wise and consoling, boundlessly merciful and intuitively practical; when being, in a word, godly:

 

Rev Robert Shanley, O.P.

President

Providence College

1 Cunningham Square

Providence, RI 02918 USA

 

Dear Father Shanley,

You have been described to me by people better informed than I am as a philosopher, an art of which I have only a passing knowledge.  And as a priest, and a Dominican at that, I am reasonably sure that you are more than well versed in Catholic theology. Indulge me in a little bit of my own background, stories from my youth about philosophy and theology.

Father Anthony Rubsys, who went to Heaven, I am sure, in August, 2002, was a refugee from Communism who came to America during the Hungarian uprising.  He was a biblical scholar fluent in seven languages, a good and gentle, a loving, man.  He taught me in class and counseled me out of it.  He was extremely intelligent, extremely gentle and deeply concerned for The Good.  Why else not, I have often wondered while thinking about and praying for him; a man who saw and suffered much, all of it the result of when and where he lived before coming to this country, through the horrors of Nazism and the Second World War and the soul sickening weight of post-war Communist rule.

As an assignment in one of his classes, I wrote a paper on Thus Spake Zarathustra.  I was taken then with the Strauss tone poem, and stupid student stuff.  So I wrote the paper and handed it in.  Several days later Father Rubsys returned it with this note in his handwriting above my title, which was something like Superman, “Why do you waste your time on this when the faith has so much more to offer, to study?”  I cannot remember much beyond the title of the thing I wrote about. Nor can I remember much about the music, except what bit of it opens that film by Stanley Kubrick.  Few, I suspect, will remember much about it, if anything at all in another hundred or so years.  Almost no one knows the film’s music’s title.

Harry Blair was a much decorated World War II veteran, a tank commander in Gen. Patton’s Third Army, a tragic man, and a Shakespeare and Renaissance scholar.  I took every class of his that I could and got to know him very well.  He drank too much; but, I suppose, he had every reason to do that.  When he taught King Lear his classroom was filled beyond capacity. His rendering of the King’s speech in the storm on the moor brought more than one student to tears, myself included, as we listened to an old man pour out his grief at having given his life to his children and been misunderstood, spurned, betrayed, cast away.

I once had a letter published in the school’s newspaper…the editor was a friend of mine…and Harry read it, of course.  The letter called for the “aggiornamento” underway in Rome to be extended and applied at the school, for there to be a radical change in, well, just about everything.  I remember I called not only for windows to be opened but walls to be demolished and ended with “I would have no church at all!”  Brave words, I have thought more than once since.  Brave words for the inferno we face, now.  We sat together, Harry and I at the bar in the Pinewood drinking an afternoon beer and he showed me the issue of the paper with my letter, quietly asking me what had possessed me to write it.  Seriously I answered at length about all of the things I saw that were wrong and needed changing.  “You are very young,” he answered, and then we went on to talk of other things, though I do recall him wondering aloud about the lady I was soon to marry and asking how she felt, how I might feel when I was a father.  But, there he left it.

Bear with me, please, Father.  I do have a point.

There is no doubt that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a philosopher like yourself, and a great and good man.  Were he a Catholic, I suppose his cause would already have been introduced.  In many ways he was a martyr for the truth, and a lover of the beautiful in people, in society and in all of creation; even when found in the Gulag, anterooms to hell built and maintained by hell’s servants here on earth.  Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but, nevertheless…  Joseph Pearce, who wrote an excellent biography of Solzhenitsyn, has written his own story, and a fascinating one it is.  He calls it Race With the Devil, and discusses his descent into violent racism and hate, and ascent from it through the grace of God.  Indulge me in a quote from Pearce’s book:

“My descent into delinquency was aided and abetted by the progressive philosophy adopted by the school. No effort was made to impose discipline, which resulted in the triumph of anarchy in the classroom… (The) disruptive elements made it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to teach and for students to learn.”

I apologize for the size of the quote.  I cannot figure out how to change the font. Nevertheless, it’s the sad truth and the tragic cause of the matter at hand, and the inevitable result of the choice in this matter (and in how many others?) you and the faculty quislings who brought this complaint against Professor Esolen to you seem, for all of your wisdom, training, education and Catholicity, to have made.  That the “death” of one man is necessary.

And, I cannot understand why you did what you did; a great disservice to the students , confirming them in their stupid and uncharitable,  selfish and infantile behavior…at the same time causing pain, anxiety and worry to not only this good man and his family, but thousands of other people who have never yet met the man face to face but know and treasure him through his prolific good works, his brilliantly clear and consistently charitable mind, and his reliably masterful scholarship.

You are a priest and pastor, too, finally much more important callings than mere president.  Have you acted in this instance as either one?

I expect that  Caiaphas was thought a wise and good man, a president, so to speak, who gave no help when help was needed.  And, of course, we all know what to think of Pontius Pilate, who simply gave up before the angry mob.

Which of the two should one say best describes you in this matter?

Yours truly,

Peter Gallaher

PS:  I only know of one other person named Shanley, a fellow I came across many years ago when I was working.  He was a Wormtongue, covert slave to Saruman.  In other words a coward and a traitor.

 

 

The State of The Nation #3478.02A

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The State of The Union, #3478.02A

AN ALLEGORY

We need some structural work, and can’t find a good carpenter.  We need the plumbing re-done; a new hookup to the sewer.  Well, we need a sewer, because the leach field out back is poisoning the corn field down hill of it.  Been that way for two years, and the public was supposed to do something.  And, guess what, we can’t get a plumber, and the DPW  don’t answer the phone anymore.

We need the road outside paved.  That was promised years ago.  And I think Jasper, the guy over on the other side of the hill?  I think his pickup’s still in the hole where the road washed out last March.  Ain’t no glass in the window, and the electric’s been out for six months since the creek took down the bridge and the feed from the power company. Killed most of the trout up and down for a mile till someone down there cut the switch to up here.

Ain’t got no phone. That went with the electric. The old man lost his job cause the bridge went out and he couldn’t get acrost the creek.  Tried beaver and muskrat trapping, but he can’t get out in the water with no boots, which he gave up when he got work in the town, and the boat got crushed by the bridge fallin’.

Got no firewood.  We was countin’ on Uncle Dan to deliver us a load, but last we talked, he said he can’t get enough for himself, and there ain’t no coal left since the mines was shut down..  Besides, creek’s to wild to walk it across since the damn cracked and flooded everything upstream last year.

But, what the hell.  Winter’s still three or four months away.  We don’t starve first, when it comes real strong we’ll freeze to death.  That’s a good way to go.  Painless, kinda easy, happy like.

Tommy, the oldest one, set out yesterday to walk across the mountain to see if there’s anythin’ them folks can do in North Valley.  He took the last blanket, a cook pot and some coffee.  Not much else.

If you’re readin’ this, we’re dead.  Bury us upland of this place.  We always like lookin’ at it, an’ hopin’.

Ellen

Today, April 24, 2016

P1010740

A Ruined Augustinian Monastery in Cashel, Ireland Destroyed by Cromwell

 

It is a cool afternoon here by the river; a steady wind from the north has been blowing downstream since mid-afternoon yesterday, and I wonder why everything here isn’t somewhere on Cape Cod.  It’s a bit late in the day to be doing this, but when one has to be at Mass long before Mass begins because you need practice, well, things get put aside.  Now, the time seems to be good for this little exercise.  I’ve finished lunch, folded the wash, actually two washes, and conducted a fruitless search (again) for something I’ll need for a trip we are taking in June.

There’s only this, and, maybe, a nap.

Spring has made itself seen and felt around here with usual brightness of day, softness of showers and sound of courting birds for the past week or so.  We await the first tulips blooming in our little plot out back.  Yesterday afternoon I listened to a lonesome cardinal  in a nearby tree calling someone, anyone, in his cardinal world to come and make his life complete.  There were at least a dozen other cardinals in trees on both sides of the river with the same idea.  Poor guy, he sang his heart out, and got nothing for the effort.  He won’t give up, though.  I admired his persistence and his pluck, and hoped the best for him and his bachelor buddies.  There are no cardinal monasteries they can enter.  There’s no vocations to celibacy for them to follow.  Nature bound, they must find a mate and obey.  Nor can they will to do anything else, like deciding they identify as something, anything other than a lonesome male cardinal, or running away with the fellow one tree over.

Above them all yesterday, high against the clouds two hawks slid effortlessly down the wind and back again for at least twenty minutes.  Cloud coasters, sky surfers, catching the invisible air waves; I watched them and thought of angels and Icarus.

It’s too wind washed today though, both sky and nearby trees, for a lonely gang of cardinals or a lazy pair of hawks.


It’s quiet in this room.  All I hear is the clock on the wall, and all I see in the afternoon sunlight are the crab-apple branches shying from the wind and a chickadee or two  darting into the azalea bush before dashing to the feeder just outside the front door.

It was a century ago this day in Dublin when the Easter Rising against British Rule took place.  The “lads” all met a swift end in the Post Office, or a few days later against a wall.  I saw the marks the British bullets made and put my fingers into the holes.  It was Easter Sunday, a century ago.  My father was just “gone” three, with his mother and father in New York City, and I wonder what those two thought might be coming for their families home  if the British got their blood up over it all.  There was Dick Fanning, my grand-uncle who fled his mother’s house, and up and over hills to hide in Kilkenny.  And all I knew of him I first learned watching his sister pray for him when I was little.

But, then, perhaps the Sassenach invader couldn’t devote too much thought to it all, caught up as they were in the slaughterhouse across the channel in France, and a crumbling empire.

The only things I know about that day a century ago I learned in the songs we all sang when I was younger; songs of the long years of trying in the sad and often desperate tunes of wild colonial boys, rattling Thompson guns, orders from the captain to get ready quick and soon, the sad fields of Athenry and the hope behind it all; that Ireland once again a nation be.

It isn’t, yet, after eight hundred years.  They got most of it, to be sure, to call their own again.  And the rest?  Someday, God willing, the four green fields will together bloom.


What took place in Ireland then was preceded by a greater horror only a year before, the great murder of Christian Armenia by the Muslim Turks, the the decaying remains of the Ottoman Empire built on the corpse of Byzantium.  Until today I hadn’t known the two events were only a year separated, and I’m walking around wondering at the woe both people suffered; only for the Armenians much more horrible for its scope and swift brutality, I suppose, at the hands of the Turks than the long woe of Ireland under the British yoke.  It was thousands, perhaps a hundred or two thousand transported away from home by the British over a few centuries, and four million starved to death in the Great Hunger, while beef and pork and poultry and corn and all the great produce of the small green land went across the Irish Sea to feed the landlords, and the farmers ate grass and watched their wives and children die..

But for centuries the Armenian people, the first Christian nation, suffered slavery and worse at the hands of their Muslim overlords until the effort to do away with them completely began with the arrest and imprisonment of several hundred scholars, and spread with enslavement, rape, crucifixions, death marches and slaughter.  Spread in a word with all of the honored cruel methods of population control used for so long in the Middle East.

Not much has changed.  It happens today.


Today is the feast of St. Fidelis of Sigmaringen, a town in Germany.  He became a martyr in Switzerland where he had gone to preach.  He once wrote: “What is it that today makes true followers of Christ cast luxuries aside, leave pleasures behind, and endure difficulties and pain? It is living faith that expresses itself through love.”

Think of him when next you hear of some Christian being castigated for telling the truth about their faith, for “casting aside” the luxury of silence before error, or worse being martyred for being a Christian.

The Fields of Athenry is a song about a young man sent away from his family because he tried to feed them: The Fields of Athenry 

This is a song from Armenia.  I don’t know the words, but you can guess, and I do not think you’ll be wrong:  Armenian Song

 

The Two Shall Become One

 

 

I was thinking about my marriage the other day. If you know me well, you know that I am a re-married widower. After eight months in that state I married Mariellen, the woman who sits at the other end of the couch from me now. While Sheila, may she rest in peace, was dying she found time to concern herself no little with making sure I would be well matched and cared for once she had died. So, she advanced, in her subtle wife’s way, Mariellen and me. It is a story some of you may have heard. And, she had help from higher powers. That is a story fewer folks know, but no less true for all that.

Why am I telling you this? Because I think it is one of the greatest truths in the universe, the truth about marriage, sacramental marriage, marriage until death do us part… When Sheila had finally finished her work here on earth I gathered the kids and said, “The best part of us is gone.” I was talking about the family, of course, but more. I was talking about who I was with her, what we were together, our sacramental, blessed, matrimonial union; the married-for-life singularity we had been for the past 34 years, 3 months, 11 days, 11 hours and 47 minutes since we became a new “person” who had formerly been two and were now one.

The Catholic Church teaches us that upon his ordination to the priesthood a man is changed ontologically; his very being, his humanity is changed. I’ll accept that. I’ll probably start a philosophical/theological argument here when I say I wonder if something along the same line doesn’t happen to both a man and a woman who “pledge their troth” in the Holy Sacrament of Marriage. The two shall become one!  The words are the title of this little exercise; stolen directly from the Bible.

That’s exactly it!  We, Mariellen and I, are one flesh, before God for whom we are no longer two but one and, we have become one person also before the law and civil authority. So should we be, because we, and all married men and women, are the wellspring of life, culture and civilization, the promise and guarantee of a future, and, through the family, the first and firmest link in society; any society no matter where and no matter when.  We are that society’s basic building block, the beginning of everything human, the foundation of everything human, the “home” of humanity, its self understanding, its promise of a future and its first and firmest link and with the past.

Undo marriage, fail to affirm its unity of persons into one new person, and you unravel human kind, human culture, human life begun as two-become-one by the very God who created us; who said: “It is not good for man to be alone.  I will make him a helper.”  There’s a note to this verse in the Catholic Bible: [2:18] Helper suited to him: lit., “a helper in accord with him.” “Helper” need not imply subordination, for God is called a helper (Dt 33:7; Ps 46:2). The language suggests a profound affinity between the man and the woman and a relationship that is supportive and nurturing.

What happens to one of us happens to both of us through this oneness of being-in-marriage. And what one of us does, we both do. And what is done for, with or to one of us is done to us both. Not only to us, the man and the woman, but to everyone. We are no longer two, but one, flesh and feeling and life and love.

I’d like to recommend to your attention an article which first appeared about a year ago in the journal First Things. It is well worth reading, studying, learning from, because marriage is under attack these days, weakened, treated poorly, debased and derided. If it is done away with, as many wish it to be with all their plans for “expanding” it in every direction, and marriage, real marriage, neglected and cast aside, we will have cast aside our humanity, I think, and become beasts.

The most casual glance toward, the briefest look at, the slightest taste of what passes for culture, what composes society, what orders our behavior, what guides us in law, what have become our standards and “approved” behaviors among men and women, children and families today, what we choose to be entertained by, to “tolerate” in our homes and elsewhere, should show the intelligent observer how well on our way to that state we are.

The State of the Nation II

What Did Jesus Do!!!???

A friend sent me a kind of poster today and suggested that I may share it with whomever I wish to share it with.  It says:

Jesus regularly ate dinner with thieves and prostitutes but you’re telling me it’s against your religion to bake a cake for a gay person?

I do not understand the point of the poster.  I also do not think that thieves and prostitutes were the regular dinner companions of Our Lord.  But, I quibble.

In any event, I wrote the following letter to my friend whichhas been edited for this appearance:

Dear M,

I have been told by others that the man who introduced me years ago to the lady I would marry is a homosexual.  We have been friends a long time.  And the subject of his sexual attraction, or mine, never entered in any way into our friendship.  As far as I know, he has lived a celibate life. I would bake him a cake, but he is an excellent cook. He is also an expert gardener, and an accomplished, self taught, artist. He is a deeply spiritual fellow, too.

Another friend, one of the strongest and fiercest men I have ever known, I was told was a homosexual, too. He died young; from alcohol and drug abuse. He had a troubled childhood, but no more troubled than anyone I knew in my neighborhood. The only difference between him and my other friend was, as I learned much much later in my life, he was actively homosexual.

There was another friend of my youth who, when we were in our mid-teens, suggested that we engage in a common homosexual practice together. I declined, politely but definitely too. This person really never had anything to do with me after, and soon disappeared from the neighborhood.

I wrote a little essay about that incident, and one or two other similar incidents, which was published in a local on-line journal. For the next several weeks I was labelled a homophobe and my cruelty and hatefulness analyzed and criticised by many people, none of whom had the slightest idea who I was. I was amazed and amused. But, I concluded that their motivation was hate and their purpose was to silence me, and anyone who thought as I did, or dared discuss similar experiences.

I have been groped by homosexuals, and propositioned; not often, but it has happened. Thankfully, that no longer happens…at least not in the last twenty years; the last one to do so was a Catholic priest. I regularly pray for him.

I do not know where you may have conceived the idea that I think it against my religion to bake a homosexual a cake. I have had homosexuals in my home as guests on many occasions, and cake has often been among the things available to eat; sometimes, even, cake that I baked.

In addition, like Jesus I have eaten dinner with thieves and prostitutes. I have dined, too, with capitalists and bankers and tax collectors and attorneys and soldiers. And, since I have been a cook from time to time, baked a cake for not a few of them.

Now, I know that the little thing above is something designed in opposition to the recent law passed in Indiana. It is, as are most things of its type, a silly simplification of the argument against the law. Besides its silliness, it gets it wrong, completely, and like the folks who hatefully labelled me, misrepresents thereby the reason and purpose of the law, and, I think purposefully and maliciously so.

I have no doubt that Christ ate with homosexuals while here on earth. We know for a fact that he was in contact with adulterers. And we have evidence that He convinced at least one adulteress to reform, too. Perhaps, in those possible meals with homosexuals, he convinced one or more of them to reform their way.  But, what the Savior’s dinner company has to do with a law designed to support the free exercise of religion puzzles me, very much. I do not attend any celebrations of so-called “Gay Pride” for reasons which have to do as much with my faith as with good taste, decorum and decency. I suspect that Our Lord might not either, though I do not come across any posters similar to the one above questioning our motives for not standing in the crowd waving rainbow flags while half clad, or unclad homosexuals parade by, pridefully, while suggesting that because Christ ate and drank with sinners we should watch homosexuals parade.

Indeed, I can envision a time, given the way things have been “progressing” when attendance at such bizarre and barbaric displays will be mandatory. Such things are what this law seeks to protect us from; and I think it a great sadness that we need a law between a God given right enshrined in our founding document as the first right and those who would forbid its free exercise. I thank you for the invitation to share this document, but I honestly do not know anyone who I think would welcome or benefit by it.

Peter

PS: In no way did I mean to criticize or demean the priest I mentioned above. I still attended his Masses, still received the sacraments from him. He still heard my confessions and gave me absolution for my sins, and I prayed then for him as I do now. I like what St. Thomas More said: “Pray for me, and I will pray for thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven.” I see no reason why we should not. Perhaps, if that were the case, universally, people might respect the faith and religious beliefs of other people and not demand of them things which would cause them to violate them. I think Jesus would like that.

I Have A Right To Be Polarized

Good Morning Sunshine(s):

I remember the famous quote from someone getting his head handed to him:  “Why can’t we all just get along?”  Or, it was something along those lines.  Whatever  it was, it’s become more or less a New Commandment; as in “I give you a new commandment!  You shall get along with everyone!  You shall be tolerant, and diverse, and non-judgmental of your neighbors.  You shall not think their behavior savage, profligate, illegal, immoral or fattening lest you cause them to feel bad!  I am the, umm, the Happy Face!”

It was something along those lines that I woke up thinking about today, remembering the recent accusations of treasonous behavior directed at a group of senators from the opposite party here in these Untied States who wrote a very public letter warning a very public enemy about the life expectancy of a deal in the making.  A deal which a lot of folks, including the letter writers, not only think is not good, but is downright bad, not to say stupid, wrong and jejeune.  But, we have come to expect such things from certain folks over the last half dozen or so years.

So, they think the deal’s wrong, all wrong, and said so.  Well, at least we know where they stand on that issue.  At least, too, they don’t meet their opposition, who was one of their own, on the porch of the Senate and stab him to death to preserve the Republic.  But, it isn’t yet March 15th.

Some folks, not yet at the “calling someone treasonous” stage, lament such public displays of differences of opinion uttering versions of the “Why can’t we…” plea for harmony, unity, peace and good will.  Being right (not politically, Dear.  Puhleeze!) and acting that way causes disharmony.  Being polite does not.

Well, sometimes polite is wrong and right is, well, honorable.  I mean, it wasn’t right for former Rep. Wiener to show his naughty bits to a lady, even if some folks would say he had a right to do it…which I do not think he did, being after all married even if it was(is?) to a lady who works for a lady who has long thought it’s always right for her not to do the right thing (but what difference does that make?).   But it was right to say, and that loudly, that it was wrong, that HE was wrong, even if some folks would have preferred to “avert eyes” from the rude behavior, and to reach the conclusion that his wrongness was much wider and deeper than a mere matter of dressing or not.  Are you still following?

Stuff like this upsets a lot of folks.  They want everyone, like the fellows above, the Senators of Great Discord, to just get along; because, after all they say, it’s the right thing to do.  Families get along.  Don’t they?  They’re not polarized.  Neither are countries; or they shouldn’t be.  A nation needs to stick together and follow one leader.  “My country, etc…”  So they did in Rome, as recently as 70 years ago…and look what’s happened since.  And, they did it in places like Germany, Russia and China which were paradises and thousand year empires, for a while. Then other folks started thinking it wasn’t right, more or less, not to be polarized about some things…most things…everyone said should be right, including, most importantly, a bunch of Dear Leaders, and Uncles.   How else, one reasons in these cases, can Great Leaps Forward be accomplished unless everyone at all times thinks; nay believes with heart and soul, that all is right, and just, proper and helpful toward salvation?

While I continued thinking about this, I came across an article by a fellow with the odd sounding name of Hadley Arkes.  He wrote about polarization, a bad thing to have say the right believers in this article; worse, I suspect, than Ebola, because it has proven fatal in many cases among the polarized.  And Prof. Arkes concludes that it just might be right; despite what all of the folks who want us to have and exercise our rights in an atmosphere of smiling tolerance and agreeable silence say; vigorously exercise them, including the new ones which have been hiding in closets and shadows until coaxed out into the light by judges and oddly dressed or undressed people.

But, he, being a well educated fellow, and a real live professor of something, somewhere, says it much better than I ever could here.

Right’s never wrong.  But sometimes, and lately quite often, “rights” are, and being polarized, even angrily so, about that is, to my way of thinking, right.  The folks who argue against that, preaching tolerance of wrongs, will see nothing wrong, some sweet day, with putting people away who aren’t tolerant, diverse of opinion and supportive of one dear leader, a person not afraid of progress and change; a person to charge full speed ahead into the hope filled future. Dammit all!  They’ll do it because they’ll say that those who don’t think right are wrong and have no rights, particularly the right to think the way they do about the right way of doing things, including such things as Prof. Arkes mentions in his little article..

They’ve done it before. And, they’ll do it again, to paraphrase a once popular song.

They’ll do it again.

The Day All Good Things Happen

Today, a friend remarks, is the day all the good things happen.

Well, not today. Not this day, the day after death with no resurrection  No redemption  No return from the plunge over the edge.

Mark this Sunday down in your books, Pilgrims. It is the day when the wound was re-opened; the deep wound of 9-11, thought closed until torn open and pulled apart in Boston, where the boast was we were strong. The wound that, I think, has finally reached the heart of these Untied (at last) States; where the weapon has been aimed from evil’s center for long years.

I remember the flags years ago flying from little staffs on pickup trucks and motorcycles, the flags of hurt and unity, gone in weeks, except for the tattered rags of flag fabric fluttering from the bridges over freeways. And, of course I remember the many Boston strong hats and t-shirts; all the self affirming gear. It did and doesn’t do a damn thing except attract the hyenas and the vultures who love the smell of death and fatten on carrion.

What to do?

What, dear God, to do?

Some say we should support the police men, wave to them, smile at them, pat them on the back.  That seems to me like little more than pouring a glass of water on a volcano, punching a tornado.  Others cry havoc and let slip, at last, the dogs of war.  I understand that.  My own blood is up, and I really do wish to hurt, and know whom I wish to hurt.  Aah, but then…

My first reaction was unutterable rage; still smoldering, against the evil madness among us, a rage which finds its justification in the actions of stupid men and women in offices and places of power real or imagined, in the words and the policies of  the self-absorbed bloodsucking servants of influence and privilege, and the opportunistic liars and demagogues in the public square, who pander to and feed pain; who fan the flames of, and warm themselves in, the fires of hate.  And, then, what?

And, then, deep sorrow.

That lasts, today.

The day all good things happen.

Catherine: A Poor Old Lady

Our fourteenth anniversary is coming up in a little bit.  Mariellen and I exchanged our vows after the 8:30am Mass in the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Newark, Ohio.  There was a woman there who witnessed the event; an older woman saying a few prayers after Mass.  When our brief ceremony was over, she approached us and said, “Here’s $20.00.  Buy yourselves a drink.”

We went home to our little apartment in Zanesville, all 205 sg. ft. of it and began our life together.  It has been a most unusual one.

For instance, for a while shortly after August 11th, our wedding day, we found ourselves involved in a fight to prevent the destruction by the city of a neighborhood nearby, and the forced relocation of more than 700 people, some of whose families had been living in their home for several generations.  Having watched the destruction of property and lives that is the only result I can see to come from “urban renewal”, and having time on my hands, I figured we were in an excellent position to lend a hand fighting this “neronic” move against folks whose only crime was being poor.  (Neronic is a word I just invented.  It means a violent, stupid and cruel policy implemented by any government or its agents against a defenseless citizenry.  You can probably think of a lot of Neronic things government at every level is doing to you; to everyone.)

It’s a long story, but we did have more than modest success, saved an awful lot of homes and property and did a little bit of good.

But, I’ll tell you something.  It was hard work, and sometimes it was heartbreaking.  Here’s a little story I wrote about a phone call I got from an old lady who lived in Greenwood, the neighborhood about to be executed in the interests of improving the city’s image. Catherine was the woman’s name.  My grandmother’s name was Catherine.  She knew about poverty and landlords and having to move from her home, too.  She was born in Ireland.

I think this thing appeared in the local paper.  Don’t know if anyone read it:

CATHERINE

“I don’t have to do this,” I say to myself listening to the rough voice on my answering machine.  “”This is Catherine L, on Greenwood?  And I’d like to talk to you.  My number is 555-1234, please.”

That’’s all.  A simple message. One of many that will be coming in over the next few weeks I fear.  I listen to it again and wonder at the question in her voice as she tells me she lives on Greenwood. In New York that rising note of question might be replaced by, “”You know!””  A challenge almost.  But this is not New York, and Catherine is no New Yorker.  I think about it a few minutes and pick up the phone.

“”Hello?”” she answers. ““Catherine, I’’m Peter Gallaher,”” I say.  “”You called me?””
“”Yeah,”” she replies, her old and worn voice sounding thick in my ears. I still find it hard understanding some of the people here.  Catherine is one of them.  Not unlike many people she speaks with the muffled sound of the toothless.  Gum disease is a fact of life in Zanesville, and the yellow pages are full of dentists specializing in dentures, here.

Catherine wants to know if I will pick her up and take her to a meeting of the group I have suddenly found myself in charge of,  People for the Greenwood Neighborhood Restoration.  But I was out when she called and she has found a ride in my absence.  Bill Briggs, a retired Presbyterian minister, will carry Catherine to the meeting.

She thanks me and says good bye.  For some reason I don’t want to end the conversation so I ask her just where she lives.  “”You know where I live, in the blue house just up at the other end of Greenwood.””  I ask her how she is feeling, is she well.  “”Oh, I got arthuritis, and lung problems and heart problems, but I’m mostly pretty good.””  She did honest to God say “arthuritis”, something I find endearing among some of the older people here.  Sometimes its ““the arthuritis””.  My  Irish Grandmother had “the arthuritis” also.  My Grandmother’’s name was Catherine.

Catherine tells me that she lives alone since her husband died in her blue house at the other end of Greenwood, at the end which is scheduled to be demolished and replaced with brand new lower income housing for the poor.  Catherine says, “”Say, can you tell me how much them new houses is going to cost?””  ““As far as I know, Catherine, the city says they’ll cost about $100,000.00 each,”” I answer.  ““Can you afford to buy a house for $100,000.00?”” I ask.  ““I can’t afford to buy no house like that.  Will they rent me one?””  ““Well, they plan to let people rent them to own them after 15 years.  Can you afford the rent?””  “”How much is it?”” her old voice asks me.  ““I think the city will charge about $400.00 a month.””  I answer trying to keep scorn and anger from my voice

“”I only get $600.00 a month from the Social Security and I don’t get much in the cheese and the food stamps on top of that,”” Catherine says in a flat voice.  “”How much rent are you paying now?”” I ask..  “”$200.00 with the utilities,”” comes the answer.  “”Well, Catherine, it looks like you won’t be able to live in one of those houses unless you could qualify for some kind of subsidy, and that might help you but only for about three and a half years.””  I ask her how old she is and she answers that she’’s sixty-nine.

Catherine tells me a bit more about herself saying that she’’s right now living in the best place she ever has had in Zanesville.  I know the house, a run down place a few hundred yards from the really squalid places that house people among whom I spend my time on Sundays.  Like many in this neighborhood Catherine has no car; has never owned one.  Her husband died several years ago and she’’s been alone since.  She mentions that she tried to get her widow’’s pension from the Social Security and only got $200.00 a month from them.  That means that he was probably earning next to nothing when he worked.  If he worked.  He was ninety-five when he died.  ““I just started getting sick after he died,”” she comments.  “”And it’’s got to where I can’t do much for myself anymore.””

““I had somebody to drive me into Columbus to see about his Black Lung, but I couldn’’t collect nothing,”” she says forlornly.  “”I don’t need it now.  I can get along,”” she adds.

I bet.  Her friend up the street, one of the few with a car up here, drives her to the store twice a week, and the Senior Center picks her up in a van three mornings a week and takes her over there.  She pays her friend $3.00 for each trip, money she can’’t afford to someone who needs it badly.  It’’s about four percent of her income if my very poor math skills are working.

“”I don’t need the Laundromat no more.  I got me a used washer last year.””  As she says that for some reason the vision of her walking down to the Muskingum River with a load of laundry on her head flashes through my mind.  “”But what’’ll I do if we all get moved?””  “Well,” I think to myself, “there’’s the river.”

Catherine, a sixty-nine year old widow living alone on $600.00 a month in a run down house hasn’’t heard from the city yet.  They have a plan for her though. The fellow who is writing the grant for the thirteen million dollars that the city will use to hire the men who will tear down her home and build a new house has said, “”Private home ownership is  what lifts people out of poverty”” — or something along those lines.  Private homes, boulevards and trees are the center of the plan the city has for this neighborhood of poor people.

He’’s also told me that the city doesn’’t expect more than twenty percent of the people who live in the neighborhood now to be able to live there when the project is finished and they’’ve all been “lifted out of poverty.”

But Catherine may have the last laugh.  She’s sixty-nine you know.  You do the math.  Her age, her health, a three and a half year subsidy?  She and a three year subsidy just might be a perfect match.

January 22, 2001