Monday, May 31, 2010


WWI Cemetery in Verdun Royalty Free Stock Photo

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae


I really didn't belong there. I wasn't supposed to ride that far. I'd crossed two main roads and a highway. I wasn't even in our city anymore. My mother would have had a fit. Well, I thought, what she doesn't know won't hurt me. I leaned my bike against the chain link fence and climbed over.

The old cannon sat rusting in the vacant lot beside the American Legion. I'd been dying to get to it ever since I'd first noticed. Tucked away in an overgrown corner, it menaced North Main Street. I crouched behind its shield, peeking over the flap. The breech was rusted shut. No matter. North Main Street was the road to Berlin, each passing car a Panzer, and I was Audie Murphy. Now Jerry would get his.

Incoming! I shouted orders to my imaginary platoon. Down! Get down! Eeeeeeeee - BOOM! Quick, load, LOAD! I sighted along the barrel. Ready - FIRE! BOOM! One down, men. Here comes another. RELOAD!

No cap gun could compare. This was the real thing.

The real thing.

I felt his eyes on me before I saw him. The Legionnaire stood by the flagpole, lighting a corncob pipe. He nodded and gave me a casual wave. He wasn't going to kick me out. I waved back. The battle raged on.

Sure is a hot one today.
I whipped around. He had come up behind me. If it had been Jerry I'd be in big trouble. Up close, he was slight, but with the straight back and square shoulders that mark so many military men. He had a commanding air: a man that even street punks like me reflexively called "sir."

Yes, sir
The afternoon sun slanted in through the overgrowth. For the first time I noticed the heat. A cicada buzzed somewhere overhead.

That's a World War II 105mm howitzer you're playing on. You know that?

No, sir.

You like history?

Yes, sir.
He nodded approval.

Know anything about World War II, son?
I told him some things I knew. He nodded again.

I was there, son.

Really? Were you a general?
He laughed.


Maybe I'll be a general someday.


You really fought in World War II?


What was it like?


Did you kill anyone?

He paused and stared at me. Silently, slowly, he drew on his pipe and exhaled. The blue smoke hung motionless in the stillness and heat. No cars passed. The cicadas seemed very loud. He looked off into the distance. He looked at the cannon. He looked at me.

You know what I hope, son?

No, sir.
He gestured toward the Legion building.

I hope some day we close this place down.


I hope some day we don't have any members anymore and we can close down. We're the only organization I can think of that wants to go out of business. That's the truth, son.

Um... I don't understand, sir.

I know you don't. Just remember what I told you. Got that?

Yes, sir.

Been nice talking to you. I've got to be getting back now. You have a nice day. And son?

Yes, sir?

Remember what I told you.

He turned and left, trailing the scent of Captain Black. For some reason I didn't feel like playing anymore. I pedaled home slowly under the reddening sun. All the way, I could hear his voice in the back of my head. I can still hear it now.


Respectfully Yours,


Friday, May 28, 2010

Glory Be

Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto,
Sicut erat in principio, et nunc,
et semper in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

+ + +

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now
and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.


God is not a theory to be proven or a proposition to be demonstrated. God is a reality to be experienced. That is what I believe. If you don't, that's all right. Perhaps someday you might, perhaps you never will. It's not up to me. If I am right, it's not even up to you. That is the way of it.

Perhaps sometimes I sound as if I have things all figured out. As if I have found peace. As if I live a holy life. In a way that might be true, but mostly, no. I'm no saint. Just ask my wife. She'll tell you.

Perhaps it may sound as if I have found the Church nothing but a source of joy and inspiration. As if I never struggle with her doctrines. As if I think her history is unblemished. As if I am unaware of the serious problems we face, or worse, have not yet begun to face. No, I am all too aware of these things. Sometimes it is almost physically painful to consider them.

I am a cradle Catholic, born and raised, but there was still a journey. I spent my time in the desert. I questioned everything. I wondered if it could be real. Though I never formally left the Church, I went looking: through Hare Krsna and sankirtana, through LSD and Castaneda, I sat with the Buddhists and read the Zenrin, I prayed with the Jews and read the Talmud. I learned a lot, but I didn't find what I was looking for.

I couldn't find it because I already had it.

One day, as I sat alone in my kitchen, I looked at my clock: 3:30. A small, still voice suggested I still had time to make it to Mass. I got in my car and drove to my childhood parish. To the place where generations of my family had worshipped. To the place where it all began for me. I knelt before the Blessed Sacrament, in a pew I had shared with my grandfather long before, where perhaps even he had once prayed with his own grandfather. I opened the missal. It was the Feast of Christ the King.

And I knew in my heart I had come home.

It is not an obvious choice for me. In a way, I don't think it is a choice at all: it is a vocation. It is what I have been called to. Though I don't fit in neatly, it is where I belong.

Of course, the journey does not end. At least, it hasn't for me. No, I'm still wandering, but I know my way home now. That is enough.

Respectfully Yours,


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hail Mary

I suppose it's partly our own fault. We assume everyone has heard about us already. In a way, that's true. You'd be hard pressed to find people who have never heard of the Catholic Church. Yet whenever I write about Catholicism, I invariably get at least one comment that says, in essence: "I had no idea that (insert Catholic practice/belief here) had meaning for you."

One thing I think is misunderstood is formal prayer. Certainly, other sects memorize prayers too, but none seem to do it quite as much as we do. Most Catholics have memorized a very large number of them, sometimes in both Latin and their native tongue. Why? What is the point? Can't you just pray?

Well, of course you can just pray. Prayer is the raising of one's mind and heart to God - you can use whatever words you like or even none at all. The idea that God needs to hear your prayers in certain words or in a specific language is a bit silly. God doesn't need anything. So what is the point of formal prayer?

For me, formal prayer, especially the Rosary, is communication. It is not mindless repetition of words. The prayers, the beads, are secondary; they are a tool to help maintain focus on what is really important. It is not mechanical; the form gives structure to your prayer. It frees your mind to meditate. When your mind wanders, as it will, the murmured prayers, the beads in your hand, gently pull it back.

Formal prayer helps me to pray when I have no words. When I am lost, confused, or troubled, the Rosary is always there to lead me to Christ, to help me find answers to questions I cannot put into words. You can learn a lot from a daily Rosary. It can give balance to your life. In times of joy, we pray. In times of sorrow, we pray. We come to realize that there is only one constant in our lives: Jesus Christ.

My own Rosary is olive wood. It is nearly a hundred years old. It belonged to my grandfather. The beads are worn smooth, polished in a way that comes only from years of use. I have two others: one for each of my sons when they are old enough. I hope someday they will feel some of the connections I do whenever they pick it up: to family, to faith, to tradition, to hope, to charity, to love. That would be a good beginning.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, Ora pro nobis.

Respectfully Yours,


Monday, May 17, 2010

Our Father


For a Catholic, there can be no more personal moment of prayer than after receiving the Eucharist. We believe that the consecrated host is the Body of Christ: not a mere symbol, but Christ himself: body, blood, soul and divinity. This is the center of our faith. You will not understand me if you don't understand this.

For reasons which will not matter to you, I needed to open my heart to him: to seek not only his will, but even the desire to seek it. Faith does not free us from all doubt. It merely changes our response. More often than I would care to admit, I pray thinking: Why am I here? What am I doing? What is the point?

I put these questions aside and prayed the Anima Christi. I asked him to help me: Please, Lord, show me the way. I opened my eyes and I saw the cross. Rarely are my prayers answered so quickly and so obviously.

You want me to show you the way? Here it is. Take up your cross and follow me. I am the way.

It was not, perhaps, the answer I wanted, but it was the answer I needed and it made me smile. So often we pray the Our Father without thinking. Yes, this was exactly the sort of answer my father would give. Ask a foolish question, right?

You're praying at Mass and you ask me to show you the way ?!? Here it is. It is the Way of the Cross. I am the way. And don't you forget it... my son.

Respectfully Yours,


Monday, May 3, 2010

Mr. Wood

Ron Wood

You have to know something about Murphy. Murphy is a salesman, the most gifted I've ever known. He's got a twinkling Irish eye and the blarney true. The man could sell sand to the Saudis. Cars, large appliances, Western wear: name it, he can sell it.

Of course, it's the secret of all great salesmen: he doesn't sell products, he sells Murphy, and people buy. It's a joy to watch him work. Once he's got you in his sights, he's got you. You'll be signing on the dotted line before you ever knew what hit you, and you'll be smiling all the while.

But this isn't about that, exactly.

1988. I am awakened at noonish by a ringing in my ears. Opening one bloodshot eye, I fumble for the phone with one hand, for a cigarette with the other. I answer groggily


Man, you aren't even up yet? Sorry. Hey, great party last night.


Get up, get dressed. I'm coming over.


Ron Wood's signing books in Harvard Square.

Don't hurry.

Twenty minutes.


Murphy and I share a passion for the Rolling Stones, so I forgave him the wake-up. Twenty minutes later, I answered the door, showered, dressed, semi-caffeinated. Not exactly daisy-fresh, but ambulatory; that was about my best in those days. Murphy, undamaged by the last night's revelry, brandished a new red Telecaster.

Hey man, I'm going to have Ron sign my guitar.


I returned to the kitchen and the coffee. For the next few hours, we listened to the Stones, talked about the Stones, picked through some Stones songs, and otherwise prepared for our encounter with greatness. We measured time in beer back then, but we were young, our livers were strong. Ron would understand.

We hopped the train to Harvard Square and made our way to the Coop. I found and bought a copy of Ron's book. We got into a long but not outrageous line. We waited. We talked about the Stones, sang favorite bits of Stones songs, preparing for our encounter with greatness. We were young, happily drunk but still functional. We knew Ron would understand.

A murmur from the back of the room announced his arrival. He was preceded by a burly bodyguard approximately the size of a standard Frigidaire. Red hair, red beard, red skin that suggested a more than passing acquaintance with the bottle. Not someone to be casually provoked. The crowd parted like the Red Sea before Moses.

Ron followed. Tiny, skeletal, his complexion an unhealthy shade of gray. Armani jacket, pegged Levi's, tooled-leather cowboy boots. A dangling earring peeked out from his spiky hair. Despite his frail appearance, he radiated confidence. His eyes were surprisingly alert. Everything about him screamed rock and roll. We came to meet a Rolling Stone and he did not disappoint. He was everything you'd imagine. He was the real deal.

He sat down at a table, his bodyguard behind him to his right, arms folded. The line began to move: a handshake, a few words, an autograph, next. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a very buttoned-down man begin to fidget and pace. Clearly a manager of some sort, concerned that his bookstore was being invaded by long-haired freaky people, many visibly under the influence. He moved toward us, singling people out for persecution.

Then I realized his greater concern. Some of these long-haired freaky people had not purchased the book. They had the audacity to come to his store with a Rolling Stones LP or poster. He was losing sales. He sent a few people away. Then he got to us. I was safe, I had the book. He looked Murphy up and down.

I'm sorry. Mr. Wood is here to sign books and only books.

Aw, C'mon man. You're telling me Ron Wood won't sign my Telecaster?

Mr. Wood isn't here to sign "telecasters." He's here to sign books. If you don't buy the book I'll have to ask you to leave.

Now manager-man had no idea of Murphy's gift. I could see the wheels turning, though. Murphy had the same look he'd get when we'd be pulled over. In sixty seconds or less, he always thought up a good one to talk us out of a jam. I never saw him fail. I knew he wouldn't fail now. Murphy's eyes glittered. I smiled inside.

Hey Ron!

Ron Wood's head snapped up.

This guy says you can't sign my Telecaster.

I almost laughed out loud. Perfect. Ron looked up, his bodyguard leaned down. Ron whispered something in his ear. The bodyguard beckoned. Sheepishly, manager-man approached the throne. A brief huddle. The bodyguard took a lumbering step forward.

Mr. Wood wi' be soining books... AND guitars.

He returned to his place and folded his arms. Manager-man retired to his office, defeated.

Score one for the long-haired freaky people. We got our autographs, a handshake, a few brief words and it was over. Next. A bit anticlimactic, really, but cool all the same. I shook hands with one of the Rolling Stones. That was what I came for. That would have been good enough. But he came through for us. He made sure we'd get our sixty second encounter with greatness. And for that, I'm grateful.

You can't always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes you get what you need.

Respectfully Yours,