Wednesday, November 28, 2012

My Kind of Priest

Father Patrick McCarthy is a parish priest at Our Lady Queen of Peace in New Dorp on Staten Island. We started going to OLQP after the death of Father John Comiskey from St. Anne's, about whom I wrote in an earlier blog.  One of the first Masses we attended was celebrated by Father McCarthy  a young man of around 40 with thinning hair, a Van Dyke beard, and horn-rimmed glasses. He has a very distinctive way of speaking, one I found very difficult to understand. At first, Lord forgive me, I tended to tune him out because of this. I have since amended my disrespectful ways after listening to a number of his wonderful homilies. Now I strain to hear him.

Let me give you an example. In today's homily his subject was humility, which for me ranks right up there after charity as a highly desirable Christian trait. There's an appalling shortage of it in the world. Father spoke about when he trained as a seminarian in Europe, and how periodic fund raising dinners would be held to benefit the school. Usually a few well known types would be invited, presumably to raise the profile of the events and hopefully draw more people. Father McCarthy smiled shyly as he told us that his job for these affairs was to stand outside in the dark holding a lantern and to guide the cars of the arriving guests into the parking lot. He recalled that on one cold evening he was amusing himself by trying to guess the status of arriving invitees by the kind of car they drove.

On this particular evening, the seminary was expecting members of the Hapsburg family, Europe's most powerful royal family. They supplied the continent with a nearly uninterrupted stream of rulers for more than six hundred years. With only one exception, the Hapsburg family also ruled the Holy Roman Empire from 1438, when Albert II was elected, until 1806. Father McCarthy imagined that such dignitaries would surely arrive in an expensive luxury car "like a Maserati", after all, people of importance like the Hapsburgs surely would travel in an automobile that suited their exalted place in life. Much to his surprise (and delight) their party pulled up in a Chevy Malibu! "How democratic they must be" he thought.

He then tied up this little story with the observation that Jesus lived a life marked by humility. He repeatedly told those on whom he worked miracles not to tell anyone what had happened. He refused to rise to the bait when Pontius Pilate asked him if he was a king, and said instead that His kingdom was not of this world. I guess we would all like to roar through those pearly gates in a shiny red Maserati, but maybe we'd have a better chance in a Chevy Malibu. These are the simple but profound lessons I like to take away from attending Mass. I don't need to hear about sinners being punished on Judgement Day...I know I'm far from perfect and I'm working on it. Talk to me of hope and redemption, tell me  forgiveness is possible, even for the weak like me. 

If you look around at the congregation for a typical Mass, the average age I'd say is about 60. That does not bode well for the future. If the Catholic Church is to survive for another 2,000 years, it needs young people. More priests like Father McCarthy not only talking about humility, but living humbly, would be a good start toward bringing them in. 


Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Random Thoughts

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, with all its devastation, I love the car dealers and department stores that are trying to peddle their sleazy merchandise in the guise of "relief for Sandy victims." Have you no shame. Sales are so slow that they will stop at nothing to unload mounting inventory. If you're so concerned, write a check to a bona fide relief agency, or give your employees a day off if they volunteer to help with the cleanup. Don't try to con us with this make-believe concern when it's all just a ploy to make money. Same goes for the people who live in areas that were hit hard, and are scamming the relief services for money, even though they personally didn't suffer any real loss. When that Wheel of Life spins around, payback is a bitch for bums like you.

Saw the first installment of Oliver Stone's enlightening new show: "Untold History of the United States". The Showtime series "...runs over 10 one-hour episodes, beginning in World War II and continuing through the Obama administration". With newsreel footage, extensive research and Stone’s own understated narration, “Untold History” revisits familiar events, but professes to dispel the myths of history through a more objective retelling of the facts. For example, Stone states that contrary to accepted beliefs it wasn't America and Britain that defeated  Germany in WWII, but really the superhuman effort expended by the Russians. Their defeat of German forces at the bloody battle of Stalingrad was a turning point in the war, and proved Hitler was not invincible. Also, he points out that Russia suffered a staggering 27 million casualties compared to 1 million for The U.S. and England combined. Can't wait for episode 2.

I love Governor Chris Christie. He may sometimes speak intemperately, but he is totally honest and you always know where he stands. So many politicians never give a straight answer to a question; that's why they became politicians. Christie talks the way people talk on the street. When frustrated New Jerseans were calling utility companies to jam up their phone lines and harass them so they'd respond more quickly to power restoration efforts, Christie told them on the air to "Cut the crap and let these people do their jobs". You won't ever hear Chuck Schumer, Christine Quinn, or any other fence-sitting politico speak with such plain passion for fear of offending somebody. That's why Christie is worth ten of them. I hope I live to vote for him for President one day. Then I can go to that big golf course in the sky knowing the country, and my children's future are in good hands.

Sometimes we take for granted the people who provide the services we count on. That is until some disaster like the Trade Center attacks and the recent hurricane again remind us that they must leave their own families in troubled times so they can help ours. They were interviewing two local precinct cops recently on television about the heroism they displayed during Hurricane Sandy in rescuing stranded people along the battered Staten Island shore. The male officer said he thought of his own two daughters as motivation for helping families get to safety. The female said that situations like these are why she joined the make a difference. You could sense they were uncomfortable talking about their personal roles, and stressed that it was a team effort. I was so glad to see them recognized for their thankless task of running into danger when everyone else is running away. May God keep them all safe.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Oh Sandy!

After nine days off the grid, our power came back today. We have lived on Staten Island for 41 years and lost power maybe three times, and then for not more than a day. Luckily we had a gas fired hot water heater, a gas stove that we used for cooking and heat, and a number of battery powered lanterns and flashlights. We also, by God's providence, had just filled both cars with gas. For entertainment, I had a battery powered radio/CD player, and we sat in the dark listening to music and a bunch of old radio programs like Sherlock Holmes and Boston Blackie that I have on CDs. It was like living in 1938. We also played, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and endless games of gin rummy and Solitaire. We supported each other and got to talk to some of our neighbors more than we ever have before.

Having worked for Con Edison for 30 years, I knew this was a bad storm, but never in my wildest dreams believed we'd be out for nine days! We were optimistic at first, but grew more concerned as houses all around us began to get power back, but not us. Turns out that a substation in our area had been flooded and the feeder that supplied us was out of service. Con Ed was distributing dry ice on our corner and that helped a lot. Communication from Con Ed, however, was horrible. Every time I called I got a different story. People answering my calls were located in Con Ed's Westchester office in Rye, and had no clue what was happening in my neighborhood or even where it was located! There were no Con Ed trucks visible in the street. One day, maybe five days after the storm, a Con Ed guy wearing a green safety vest and carrying a clip board showed up but had no information.

Each morning we used up a few precious ounces of gas to drive to the Staten Island Mall. We did our walking exercise and had a good, hot breakfast...then it was back home to light the candles and four stove top burners for light and heat. We did crossword puzzles and wore a path to the windows looking for the blue and white trucks. The nights were hard because it got dark so early and you got the feeling you should be in bed, but it was only 7:30 PM. We piled on the covers and slept warmly enough, but overnight the house temperature dipped into the fifties, and morning wake-ups were chilly. Hot showers worked wonders to keep us going, and a delivery of Chinese food was cause for celebration. The night before our power was restored, we went to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants and that was a huge treat.

The experience was a stressful one; I had a constant headache for nine days. Luckily my wife is very patient and calm, although I know I tested her patience more than once. We had no cell phone service for the first few days and I could only communicate by texting. I am not good at texting, and my rants and curses after pushing the wrong button surely were annoying to her while elevating up my blood pressure. We managed to vote (to no avail since Obama got another four years). I never cease to be amazed at the people they get to staff these polling places. They are as inept and clueless as anyone you will find on this earth. And these ridiculous paper ballots...they seem even more unreliable than the old clunker voting machines.

Despite the inconvenience and stress, we were among the lucky ones. Staten Island and other tri-state areas never saw a storm like Sandy and many are still suffering her wrath. I saw hundred-year old oak trees lying on electric wires, power boats blown around like toys, an oil tanker pushed up onto Tottenville Beach, and peoples' houses washed into the water. The people of Staten Island, and indeed all around the area, have been so caring and supportive that it makes an old cynic like me melt. There are relief collection stations everywhere and people just helping each other in small ways. The government response has been positive but could be better coordinated. The gas situation is downright criminal. 

Besides the renewal of my faith in human nature, I hope we come away from this storm wiser and better prepared to deal with (God forbid) the next one.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association