Tag Archives: family

What Do You Believe?

It is a question I asked my children often when they were in high school and for a few years after.  I still ask them once or twice a year, and when they ask me for advice (not often, but when they ask) the question above is always the opening query.  Philosophy, for the little our education system teaches these days, is still the foundation for making sound decisions, and it is important for each person to remember what their own foundation is periodically.  Some call it ‘centering’.  I prefer ‘foundation’.  One builds character on some foundation.

Consider the children’s story of the Three Little Pigs.  Has your mind already jumped ahead to which of them had the stronger foundation of faith or belief to last out life’s storms?  Do you already know who or what your own ‘Big Bad Wolf’ is?  This simple childhood story represents Western philosophy education at its basic level and typically in the home.  Then, there’s the popular culture book “All I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”. What is taught in education today?  A myriad of concepts come to mind and to discuss them would veer off my intent here.  What is relevant is that each of us finds some level of commitment to some principle of life, and we move forward with our lives.  Few venture beyond what was learned in middle school or high school, testing what they believe in their forays into their work or through their college years and beyond.

For all the years I asked the question of my children my point was to know what they chose to hold true from what their mother and I taught them, and what they picked up along the way on their own to strengthen or replace those lessons.  It remains a question they don’t like answering,…yet.  One day, I hope the example with have their own children squirming in a chair.  This is not some sadistic plot but an effort to get them ready for their own ‘Big Bad Wolves’.

For all the asking of what they believe, they have never turned the question back on me.  I can’t say why because it would be speculative, and that is always a mistake when building friendships.  However, I have been doing some reading about how to continue to build this friendship with my children I am prompted by the author to answer the question posed for myself.  In all my fifty-seven years, no one has ever asked me. I’ve been studying theology at the Master’s level for three years, and the question hasn’t come up there either.  I’m certain my actions have demonstrated for those around me, especially my children, what I believe.  The deeper answer is why?

“Why am I Catholic?”

Simple answer is, I believe. Sure, I was born and raised, schooled through grammar school. But I joined the Navy, for crying out loud, and stayed 20 years. With all I’ve seen, why ‘stay’ Catholic?

Because, for all I’ve seen, it is True, and the Church remains a repository of Truth, and that Truth is carried to every corner of society, every day of the year. The reason the Catholic social networks are as strong as they are is because the embodied spirits of the people let the life of Christ shine through in what they do, some a little, some a lot, and some in everything they do.  Catholic health care makes up one sixth of the healthcare economy in the U.S.  Catholic Charities is the largest relief organization in the world.  The Catholic school system, from grammar school through high school, and into post secondary education, is the largest private school system in the world.  These are the works of the Church that come from the faith.

What the public hears more of, though, are the sins of the Church.  Of course, it’s what we expect.  Two-percent of our priests have committed unspeakable acts in the past several decades.  Movies portray these same servants in poor light since the 1960’s.  Long forgotten is Pat O’Brian’s portrayal of Father Flanagan, founder of Boy’s Town in the 1940’s.  The Exorcist was a pop-culture phenomenon and now a ‘new’ fall drama on a major TV network.  Charlton Heston’s Moses in the 1956 Ten Commandments is now dependent on implied illusions of a child messenger because of Christian Bale’s bump on the head, a far more earthly portrayal of the myth-history.  The modern stories of Saint Pope John Paul II and Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta can hardly keep up with the world’s reminders of our real sins and culture’s distortion of both our work and our theology.  Zombies and vampires are somehow more believable than God becoming man and sharing our embodied spirit existence here on earth.

I still choose to believe.  I continue to be inspired by the Spirit.  I continue to hold that when I attend Mass I am at an intersection of this material world and the spiritual heaven. And in receiving what appears to many as only bread and wine, I affirm that it is the Body and Blood of the Lamb of God as described in the Gospels.  It is both an act of Faith  and an act of Will of my Conscience.

If you ask yourself the title question, what answer do you come up with?











Family Theology

No one was more surprised than me when the conversation at the breakfast table in the restaurant began with “Well, who do you think the first Christian was?” You see, the priest asked that question at mass this morning. The mass was dedicated to the Baptism of Jesus on the Church calendar, so naturally the priest talked about the sacrament and the event in the Jordan. He took the conversation one-step further, though, and discussed some possibilities about who the first Christian might have been. He hoped the question would provoke conversation beyond the handshakes at the end of mass. For our family, his question was a success.

Never before have I been able to engage anyone in my family in this kind of discussion. My mother has been engaging in bible study courses for a couple of years now. My sister has been through her own journey of faith with the loss of her husband and our friend two years ago. My wife has been reading and studying scripture for three years come this April. However, no one, and especially not any of these three, would ever attempt to engage with me in any of the simplest conversations I might try to start. Consequently, I started into a Master’s course of study in theology just to satisfy my own curiosity and conversation. OK, Father, how is it you moved this conversation forward? Or, should I just attribute the movement to the Holy Spirit working through you to open curiosity in them?

Now, it’s not about whether there is any theological proof coming out of this conversation that will cause trembling within the earth and result in new insights that will suddenly bring about the apocalypse. The Spirit doesn’t work this way. This conversation is about getting those of us who profess Christians talking again about our faith. At Scrambler Marie’s in Findlay Ohio this Sunday morning, Father Mike Hohenbrink had moved people to talk together after mass. Here are the three theories that came about through the conversation.

My wife spoke first. She states Mary was the first Christian. She was the first one to know Jesus was coming and by her acceptance of her part in Salvation history her faith was placed in God and her commitment made her the first to believe in her Son’s mission. I supported her thoughts, pointing out it was Mary who brought Jesus to the point of producing his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. Though He protested, he followed her urging and turned water into the best wine of the feast. My wife was happy with that. Then, I must have crossed a line. I pointed out one could not fully comprehend the decision without having known of the resurrection and ascension. One could not take action to demonstrate faith in Jesus’ message without having witnessed these two events. Her protest was immediate! “If you think giving birth isn’t an action of faith you have another think coming! I stood, rather sat, corrected as I laughed. At a table filled with women, there was nothing else to say… and be safe!

Conversation turned to some of the suggestions Father had received at an earlier mass. Someone suggested Able was the first. Another Abraham. Several of the apostles were mentioned, especially Peter and Paul. John the Baptist figured into the conversation. Jesus’ cousin and the new Elijah, he knew of Jesus’ mission. Acts of the Apostles tells us the word ‘Christian’ was first used in Antioch. I raised the argument Paul makes in Romans that Abraham was the first to act on faith and his action resulted in a covenant that created the nation of Israel. Paul’s argument was to confirm that Israel as a nation was still the chosen people of God, and that the Hellenists he was talking to were grafts onto the vine of the new Chosen People through Jesus Christ. My wife said she would never argue with Paul, but her choice is still Mary.

My thoughts still go with two considerations. Those who were the ‘first’ Christians had to have witnessed or known of the crucifixion and resurrection and then make an act of faith to demonstrate that faith. It was at Pentecost that the first Christians made their profession through action. Peter and the other ten, with Mary and others present, stepped onto a balcony and spoke the words of salvation to thousands of Jews from around the world. That day is the day I think the first Christian were revealed, even if it would be years until the term was used in Antioch.

Today, though, other Christian were talking about salvation history, from the second generation recorded in the Pentateuch through Abraham, our Father-in-Faith, to Mary’s commitment to the Incarnation of the Word, through Paul the Apostle and the bringing of the Word to the Hellenist world, we laughed and talked, oblivious to those around us. Who knows who else overheard our conversation and may have wondered themselves about the events we were discussing. We’ll never know. Just as we’ll never know who the very first Christian was. The Spirit was working through our parish this morning, and now the Spirit is working through you. The new Evangelization has begun.

Anchor Snagged in the Bone Yard

I don’t know how it happened. Suddenly, the ship of life just jerked to a halt. Normally, I don’t get pensive until near or on my October birthdate. This year life just decided to raise the demeanor a bit early. How that anchor loosed from the chocks isn’t known. Now that it is, it has to be addressed and secured. You see, this last two weeks three of the mentors in my early life passed on. It seems they always go in threes. I wondered after the second who the third would be. I found out this evening.

The first to pass was one of my priest-mentors from grade school. I attended St. Michael’s School in Findlay Ohio, graduating the 8th grade in 1974. The priest’s name was Fr. Gerald Robinson. You might recognize the name. His notoriety caught the national spotlight for a few days this past month. (see the links below) Fr. Gerry introduced me to the documents of Vatican II and Captain Queeg. The Caine Mutiny was my first study in moral theology. Fr. Gerry didn’t call it that. And, Fr. Gerry didn’t cut me any slack due my fourteen years of age. Strawberry’s taste good to me today, but the lesson is still a bit fuzzy. Fr. Gerry’s entanglement with the law happened ten years after he taught me. I was in the Navy, a place he had tried to go but was not permitted by the Bishop. It would be another twenty or so years before prosecutors would convict him of murder. I was in Florida at the time. Returning home in the past couple years I was able to visit him once. We exchanged a few letters. We talked of Victor Frankl, of the similarities between prison life and the military. I sent him a couple of my theology papers, hoping to rekindle the ‘lessons’, but his schedule, and now more probably his health, kept him from responding. He was buried today, quietly, and without media presence. I didn’t even know the funeral was scheduled. I’m sure the family wanted quiet for their own grief. Eternal rest, Fr. Gerry… and thank you.

Marge Ryan was my seventh and eighth grade history teacher at St. Michael’s. Classes shifted around in the buildings during my seven years in the Catholic primary school. My class started out in the 19th century building at 422 Western Ave in Findlay. I was in the second grade and Sister Carol was a young and vibrant nun in the order of the Sisters of Charity. By seventh and eighth grade we had shifted through all the buildings. Mrs. Ryan’s classroom was on the northwest corner, the first floor. Those of you who know me or follow this web-log know I concentrate on history and politics about a third of the time. You’re getting an extended lesson from Marge Ryan. Her thorough guidance moved us beyond the dates and events to the reasons why things were happening. Mr. Clinton wasn’t the first President to have indiscretions in the White House. Nor was JFK. Mr. Harding probably wasn’t either, but I learned about his researching and writing a paper for Mrs. Ryan.

Marge made us look beyond history to life. Organizing three-day Ohio History trips, there was fund-raising to do. We sold candy bars, among other projects, to pay our way. The oldest of eight kids, I had a lot of selling to do. Convincing people it was a worthy cause, keeping the records of sales, making the orders, delivering product, collecting payment, and counting the profit to know whether I covered the costs were all part of the lesson. Who knew a history teacher was going to teach us business skills? I didn’t. I learned them still.

She also taught us about long-term projects before we grew into high school. The project she expected us all to build was a history book for Ohio. Every map we drew, every day trip we took, and every paper we wrote was to be catalogued, filed, mounted, and ordered as her syllabus directed. I made my cover out of ¼” plywood. I was looking at it just yesterday, remembering Marge. Eternal rest, Mrs. Ryan… and thank you.

I arrived at the funeral home for Marge’s family’s liturgy and rosary, Catholic traditions on the night before the funeral mass. Community prayer with the family and for the deceased is an affirmation of the continuation of the spirit’s life in addition to the sharing of grief. I met my Mom there. She was a friend of Marge’s for many of the last several years. She reintroduced me to Marge’s son, Rob. I hadn’t seen Rob since he graduated ahead of me from St. Michael’s. Still, as in most reunions, I was glad to shake his hand. Some others from the parish were there, but I didn’t see anyone I recognized. I had an hour before the service, so I went to a real bone yard.

Visiting the family gravesites is something I do when I’m pensive. The cemetery is close to the funeral home. Well, it’s a small town. Everything is close to everything. My father lies there. I knelt at his side. My brother-in-law is there. We lost him last year. Parrot Head! And, one of my grandson’s is there. John Walter wasn’t with us but a couple of minutes when his mother brought him into our world. He taught us some incredible lessons. I knelt to remember them all. But it was the trip back to the funeral home where I found the third ‘death’ I would face, and this one struck me hardest, because part of me died when I saw it.

You see, the grade school buildings Fr. Gerry met me in and talked with me, and the same building Marge Ryan’s classroom was in where I learned those history and business lessons? Those buildings are now demolished. A fire a few years back did a lot of damage and the parish long before that had built a new building to house all the grades on its campus on Findlay’s east side. I rode my bicycle to those buildings. I played basketball. I even learned of death first there when our classmate, and son of a fourth grade teacher, died in a road-side hit-and-run. Billy Schilling was a ‘turd’ and we didn’t get along. Why did he have to die so young? I learned of miracles too. Another teacher’s son had a brain tumor. Wasn’t it a miracle that the doctors were able to remove it? Wasn’t it a miracle that he would learn to walk, talk, and become self-sufficient? To a grade-school kid in a Catholic school, it was a miracle. Stevie Hildreth is grown into Steve Hildreth, and he takes care of himself quite well these days.

422 Western Ave

The buildings are gone. A pile of bricks and beams is all that’s left. The metal seems to have been collected and scrapped into bins. There won’t be anything left next time I see that property. The contractors are working efficiently. Every brick they pick up is a memory of a teacher’s life, a child’s life, a community’s history. Time rolls its ceaseless course, the race of yore…

Pulling up this anchor has really muddied the waters. All sorts of names and memories came pouring forth; Barb Burger (now Logsdon), her friend Sandy Doyle, Hank Kramer and Doug Wellington, Sharon Haugh, Kevin Flanagan and Eddie Finsel, Theresa Richards (Sister Theresa, for a long time not), Mike Zehender, Stuart Stoll, my first ‘brothers’; Doug Alt, the Walsh sisters (twins); I met Mark Cervanka’s parents at the funeral home; Mark lives in Washington state now; Karen Hemker (her mom taught sixth grade), of course, there’s Jill Rooney (Weckesser), my first ‘crush’, and Cindy Costa (Laird) who’s father was a mentor through Scouting and beyond, and whom I should have had a crush on and connected with sometime along the way; Pat and Katie Veit, where are you? How many have I forgotten? The bricks would know.

Anchors dredge up a lot of mud in lakes and rivers, and Lifeline is a boat on a clay bottomed lake. Friendship’s anchor, my first boat and in Florida, also stirred up a lot of bottom sand when pulled up. Losing these three mentors has dredged up a lot of memories. Part of my own life is gone. Time to secure the anchor again and get underway. There’s a lot of ocean left to sail in my life, God willing. What lessons to I have to learn, and what lessons am I required to pass on, whether knowingly or (k)not. Father Gerry got to see some of what his good work did before he moved on. I’m sure Marge saw some of her students’ later works as well, just none of mine. And the school, well, if I get a few pieces of wood from the rubble, it’ll see some more of the lessons passed to me by other mentors.

Anchor’s aweigh! Under way, shift colors…

Late log entry: Holy crow’s nest, I’ve committed the ‘husband’s feaux-pa’. If I leave this out, I’m in trouble, and if I put it in, well, I’m still in trouble, it’s just my penance is that everyone else knows… That school building’s gymnasium and cafeteria, where the fire happened? That’s where our wedding reception was held. Mike Zehender was my best man. Stuart Stoll a groomsman, both classmates of mine at St. Michael’s. Mindy tossed her bouquet in the gymnasium. The New Folk guitar trio played in the cafeteria. I believe (another classmate) Barb Burger’s future mother-in-law (Caroline Logsdon) helped serve refreshments. The day was haze-gray, a prelude to many others I would see serving in the Navy. All that remains now is the concrete foundation. Our marriage? Like all that last 35 years and continue, its famous. I love you, Mindy!

News about Fr. Gerry




Marge Ryan


St Michael’s School