Archive for January, 2013

January 26, 2013 – A True Hero

January 26, 2013

I begin this week’s blog with some apprehension.  We of course know that last Saturday legend and icon Stan Musial passed away.  I am sure that I could easily write a large synopsis of any one of many facets of his life, but there has been so much material already written throughout the week I’m not sure if I have anything meaningful to add to it.  Also, I somewhat regret last week’s blog in which I put my spotlight on two athletes who have not had many proud moments lately.  Why did I spend my efforts on what they did and instead tell of the exploits of someone like Stan Musial who is such a positive role model for all of us?  But being a huge Cardinal fan my whole life, I at least know the history and level of admiration we have for “The Man”, so I’ll share my feelings about his life and influence, even if what I have to say mirrors so much of what already has been written.

The greatness of Musial as a ballplayer is certainly well-documented, although many people would tell you that he should get even more recognition that he has, particularly away from the U.S.  He started in the minor leagues as a pitcher and outfielder, but a shoulder injury ended his pitching career.  He considered leaving baseball in 1940, saying that he, his wife and child could not make a living on the $16 per week he was making.  But minor-league manager Dickie Kerr talked him out of it, and even took the Musials into his own home to relieve the financial burden, and the rest is history, so they say.  To repay the debt Musial bought Kerr a $20,000 home in Houston in 1958.  His numbers would have been even more impressive had he played in 1945, but like many players, he spent that year in service in the Navy. He began the 1947 season by hitting .146 in April. On May 9, the team doctor confirmed a previous diagnosis of appendicitis, while discovering that he was also suffering from tonsilitis.  He received treatment, but did not have either his appendix or tonsils surgically removed until after the season ended. Despite his health woes, he finished the year with a batting average of .312.

He was one of the first players to earn $100,000 in a year (doesn’t that seem paltry now), but after the 1959 season when he hit just .255, he took a pay cut back to $80,000.  Imagine a player in this era accepting a 20% CUT in salary. At the time of his retirement, Musial held or shared 17 major league records, and 9 All-Star Game records.  Among those records, he ranked as the major league career leader in extra-base hits (1,377) and total bases (6,134).  He also held NL career marks in categories such as hits (3,630), games played (3,026), doubles, and RBI’s (1,951).  He finished his career with 475 home runs despite never having led the NL in the category.  He would likely have exceeded 500 home runs and become the second player, after Babe Ruth, with 2,000 RBIs had he not served in the military.  His career hit total was evenly split between 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 hits on the road, and it is possible that without military service he might have continued playing to attempt to exceed Ty Cobb’s career hit record.  He was also the first major league player to appear in more than 1,000 games at two different positions, registering 1,896 games in the outfield and 1,016 at first base.

No matter what numbers you throw out there, however, they will never be as impressive as the greatness he showed as a human being. In the late ’40s, when African-Americans were slowly being integrated into baseball, Musial – along with his roommate Red Schoendienst – were praised for their tolerance. Dodgers pitcher Don Newcombe said: “They never…had the need to sit in the dugout and call a black guy a bunch of names, because he was trying to change the game and make it what it should have been in the first place, a game for all people.”  In his 3,026 major league appearances, he was never ejected from a game.  Remarkable.

As I’m sure you have heard throughout the week, Musial was a devout Catholic.  He and Red Scheondienst attended daily Mass regularly, even on game days.  He once told Catholic News Service that he didn’t see anything wrong with athletes making the Sign of the Cross during a game, as long as they were sincere.  When it was pointed out that he never did that, he said “I found a better way a long time ago.  Every day that I possibly can I go to Mass and Communion.  There I make my Morning Offering and that way you can even turn an error into a prayer.”  About 10 years ago, when his wife of almost 72 years began having difficulty walking, he would bring her to church himself along with her wheelchair so they could still attend Mass together.  He had contact with Popes, especially Pope John Paul II who was of Polish heritage, and he said that one of the thrills of his life was having dinner with JPII at the Vatican.

In our society today it seems hard to find true heroes.  There are plenty out there – people who run food pantries, firefighters and policemen who risk their lives every day, our military fighting in combat, and many more.  However, they do not get as much publicity as people whose only priority is becoming famous – people who will do whatever it takes to become famous, whether its right or wrong.  We in this area are fortunate to have someone like Stan Musial to look up to, and its up to us to let people know that there are many other Stan Musials among us who do not get the recognition they deserve.

One group who deserves recognition are those who continue to work so hard to maintain our school – Fr. Gene, Janelle Robinson, our teachers, staff, volunteers, school board, parents, grandparents, benefactors, and of course our students!  As we begin Catholic Schools Week and our 150th anniversary year of the founding of our school, let us praise God for the tremendous tradition of education that He has bestowed on us, and let us make sure that these folks know how appreciated they are.

Have a great week!  Peace.

January 18, 2013 – Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide

January 19, 2013

First off, I have to send thanks to you and you fellow readers in the blogosphere.  This past Sunday we set a record for daily blog views with 19.  This obliterated the previous record of 16.  Now I’m sure that this is a very modest number compared to most blogs out there, but for a little local church blog I’d say that’s not too bad.  If you know someone who needs a little more confusion in their life, or needs a tool to help them fall asleep at night, be sure to direct them to my writings.

On another little note to allow myself to stick my chest out a little bit – I was talking to someone I know with the Franciscan order, and he said that they invested $25,000 with a company to build a mega website, and so far it has been a big disappointment, and is still not working as it is supposed to.  So … after about 5 ½ years of working on our website, I figure I’m owed about $132,000 (I’ll take cash or checks – lol).   In all seriousness, I just mention this because I think the new technology out here is not just effective at quickly reaching many people at one time, but it does not take a lot of money to participate in it.  I’m glad to see that the Catholic Church, particularly the Vatican and many Dioceses, are taking advantage of this useful evangelization tool, and I again thank you for visiting our little website and spreading the word about it.

Well the news this week was dominated by deceit and scandal.  First was the long overdue admission of Lance Armstrong that he used illegal performance enhancing drugs during his run as Tour de France champion.  Then there was the totally bizarre situation of the Notre Dame football player, Manti T’eo, who claimed that he had a girlfriend who was the victim of a car accident and also suffered from leukemia, and that she passed away this past September on the same day of his grandmother’s death.  It has now been revealed that this person apparently did not exist, and that the relationship, according to the information released by Notre Dame, was strictly an online relationship and that T’eo was the victim of a hoax.

Both of these situations are sad in their own way, and I don’t want to get into comparisons of which was more wrong, but the Lance Armstrong situation is at least a little more understandable.  A biker, who previously was an average performer, contracts cancer and beats it.  He returns to cycling where probably the vast majority of athletes are doping.  He does it as well, and combined with what I’m sure was much hard work, all of the sudden is now winning races and becomes extremely popular.  He makes tons of money, begins a very successful foundation, and does not want to reveal that he had cheated and watch his empire crumble around him.  Now, he has been exposed, is trying to do damage control, and is paying the price, a much higher price than he probably would have had to pay if he had come clean 8 years earlier.  Again, what he did was certainly wrong, but at least the storyline makes sense.

The Manti T’eo situation is much harder for me to wrap my arms around, something that he certainly was never able to do with this fictitious girlfriend (oh, there’s a candidate for bad joke and cheap shot of the year!).  Piecing together the news from the last couple of days, I think it’s safe to say that this probably did begin as a hoax, but it appears that he knew what was going on earlier than he admitted, and that probably one of two things happened: either he couldn’t figure out a way to get himself clear of this without embarrassing himself, or he saw the publicity that this story was gaining him, and had no desire to let the real story out.  Or it could have been a combination of the two.  But beyond what he knew and when he knew it, how can you claim someone is your girlfriend when you have never even seen her face to face, or held her hand, or kissed her, or in this case, never went to comfort her in the time she would have needed support the most?

We have seen so many cases of athletes, politicians, actors, business people, etc. think that laws and rules does not apply to them or that they will never be caught, you would think that people like this whom otherwise seem intelligent and savvy would learn that the best way out is to confess your wrongs right away, accept the circumstances, and move on.  The American public has shown that more often than not they will forgive and forget.  You would also think that at some point, their conscience would eat them alive, but it appears to me that in many people, the guidance of our God-given conscience has been overcome by arrogance.

In deciding to write about these events, I coincidentally had a post come up on my Facebook page about conscience.  It is a quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen, and he says this: “It is the conscience that tells us when we do wrong, so that we feel on the inside as if we have broken a bone.  The bone pains because the bone is not where it ought to be.  Our conscience troubles us because the conscience is not where it ought to be.  Thanks to this power of self-reflection that we have, we can see ourselves, particularly so at night.  Your freedom is never destroyed but you feel the sweet summons, and you ask why it is not stronger.  It is strong enough if we would listen.”  Let us pray, especially in the coming week when we mark the 40th anniversary of legalized abortion, that our consciences will guide us in what we do.

Have a great week.  Peace.

January 12, 2013 – Milestones

January 12, 2013

I spent the beginning and the end of the week marking a couple of milestones, so to speak.  This past Sunday I attend the ecumenical service at the Cathedral in Belleville which officially brought to a close the celebration of the 125th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Belleville.  It was a simple yet very nice ceremony.  The main speaker, Dr. Michael Kinnamon, who recently served as the general secretary of the National Council of Catholic Churches, gave a very nice sermon on how the Catholic Church has improved their relations with churches of other denominations, particularly since Vatican II.  He spoke of growing up in Iowa and living only about 3 blocks from the Catholic Church, yet he didn’t even see the inside of the church until he was a teenager because his parents discouraged him from associating with “those people.”  He complimented the Catholic Church, particularly Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI for their efforts in improving ecumenical relations.  Certainly there is much more progress to make in this area, but we have come a long way in a relatively short time.  January 18 – 25 marks the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.  Let us pray during this time that we as God’s servants can continue to come together to spread His message and work together in harmony.

OK, the other milestone I observed this week was a little more personal in nature, and one that I was not looking forward too.  In the Christmas letter that I sent to my relatives last month, I joked that one of my Mom’s pet peeves is when she goes to the doctor and expresses a complaint about something, and the answer comes back as “well, Mrs. Niermann, you are in your 80’s now” or “things like that are a part of getting older.”  CURSES!  Well, joking time for me came to an end yesterday.  As I briefly mentioned last time, I had an appointment with my physician this past Monday, and as I feared some of my numbers were at the point that I’m going to have to put some restrictions on my diet.  OK, not great news, but I can deal with it.  So yesterday I go to see the nutritionist for some “counseling.”  Keep in mind I have absolutely no animosity toward the nutritionist, and she did an excellent job with her presentation.  She told me many of the things I expected to hear (carbs are the enemy, broccoli is our friend, etc.).  Then it hit, the dreaded milestone, the point where I realized that I have officially crossed the threshold from youth to middle age.  My nutritionist uttered these words: “You know Brian, you are in your 40’s now, and our bodies don’t do the same job of breaking down our food as they used to.”  ECGADS!  There it was.  The dreaded “You are now in your 40’s” line, as if it were some sort of curse or death sentence.  I say most of this in jest, and after having a day to think about this I realize that I should be grateful for having been on this earth to this point, and that it is my responsibility to take care of myself so I can stick around a while longer.  I just wish that there was a more subtle way of putting things like this.  Like “you know Brian, you have gained a lot of experience in your life, and it’s time to experience something else – this delicious, non-fat yogurt!.”  Nope, doesn’t work.  Might as well tell it like it is!

Speaking of a much more important milestone, January is the month we particularly focus on pro – life issues because January 22 marks the anniversary of the historical Roe vs. Wade decision which legalized abortion procedures in this country.  This year marks the 40th anniversary of this decision.  As you know, many activities take place to voice support for reversing this decision around this time, including many rallies and the March for Life in Washington, D.C.  This year, our U.S. Bishops are asking all of us to participate in some way in support of this cause, whether we attend a rally or participate in some other way.  This year our Bishops have established “Nine Days of Prayer, Penance and Pilgrimage” which will take place from January 19 – 27.  All of us during these nine days can participate in a simple novena.  Here are the details of the novena:

During the 9-day period between January 19 and 27, a simple novena will be made available with daily prayer intentions for the healing and conversion of our nation, for elected officials who support abortion, and for all people whose lives have forever been changed by an abortion, including the children whose lives were ended, their mothers and fathers, their grandparents and siblings and the spouses of those who’ve been involved in an abortion in the past. The youth-friendly Novena will assist both pilgrims and those participating in their parishes and homes via social media/text messages/emails with a web-link to the day’s prayers and activities:

a) An intercession of the day

b) Our Father, 3 Hail Marys, Glory Be

c) A very brief reflection on the saint of the day or a lesson from the daily readings

d) Daily suggestions for concrete acts of prayer, penance and charity, which would help to introduce students to traditional prayers and personal sacrifices

e) One powerful abortion-related myth/reality fact

I will of course be providing links to access this information.  You can also use you cell phone and text “9DAYS” to 99000 and you will receive a text message each of the 9 days with information.

Finally, if all goes well, I hope to this week finish preparing information for putting together a new parish directory.  It will of course utilize online tools.  I don’t want to give too much away yet, but I think it will be cool (that’s my attempt at a 40-something trying to stay hip to the times).  Aw, forget it.  I think it will be good.

Have a groovy (great) week.  Peace.

January 5, 2013 – The Fight Continues

January 5, 2013

I hope it has been a good start to 2013 for you.  I have been kind of proud of myself so far – I think I have written 2013 instead of 2012 on most of my paperwork thus far, so hopefully that’s a good omen for the rest of the year.  In covering mainly church business in my last blog, I really didn’t touch on New Year’s resolutions.  I usually do not make too many resolutions because I figure I am saving myself the disappointment of breaking so many resolutions.  And as one of the gentleman on the news said the other day, if you need to make a change in your life, go ahead and make it.  You don’t have to wait until the start of a New Year.  However, there are a couple of things I typically promise myself to do.  One of course is to try to begin a healthier regimen of eating and exercise, which I’m sure I’ll be reminded of when I see my doctor on Monday.  I also try to make a goal of doing more reading.  Not just sitting in front of my computer and skimming articles, but to actually pick up a book or two and read.  I did a little better with this last year, and hope to improve even more this year.  So whatever your resolutions for the year are, good luck in sticking with them, if you haven’t abandoned them already!

There really wasn’t one thing that stood out to me to talk about this week, so I’ll just wing it and see what happens.  I guess the most reported news item this past week was that we didn’t quite go over the “fiscal cliff”, although it appears Congress basically played their version of “kick the can” and held off on the major decisions for another couple of months.  In the midst of this, there were also a couple of noteworthy items concerning religious freedom and social issues.  On the national stage, the HHS mandate continues to be fought against in many courtrooms across the country.  Some religious non-profit organizations have until August of this year to comply with the mandate.  However, for-profit companies must comply now, or face sizable fines.  Currently there are 43 cases and over 110 plaintiffs challenging the mandate in court.  Thus far at least 12 for-profit organizations have obtained rulings to further their case, and nine of these rulings have granted the companies temporary relief against the mandate.

The decisions have been based on various reasons.  In some cases the court ruled that the mandate violates something called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which forbids the government from substantially burdening the exercise of religion.  In a Missouri case, the court ruled that “the mandate and its penalties would substantially burden plaintiffs’ free exercise rights.”  It also added that “for first amendment purposes, the mandate is not a neutral law of general applicability.”  However, several cases have gone against the plaintiffs.  In an Indiana case, the court ruled against the plaintiff, citing that the mandate was likely too remote and prolonged to be a substantial burden.  I personally cannot see how forcing someone, against their conscience, to purchase insurance coverage that includes abortion-inducing drugs or pay a sizable fine does not constitute a significant burden.  The Catholic Church of course feels that the use of contraception goes against what God taught us in Scripture – that an act of sexuality should be open to the creation of life.  However, this mandate is not about the use of contraception – it is about being forced to offer or purchase a plan that covers them.  Our government and the courts should not be in the business of telling people what constitutes a “substantial” burden on their exercise of religion.  This issue will continue to make headlines (not necessarily in the national media, but in other outlets) throughout the year, and we as Catholics should stay informed.

The other issue in the news this past week that affects Catholic social teaching is same sex marriage.  In the lame duck session of the Illinois Senate this past Thursday, a committee voted 8-5 in favor of a bill that would allow gay marriage.  It does not appear that the bill will come to a full vote until the next legislative session, but the bill’s sponsor is confident of its passage.  If the legislation passes, Illinois would become the 10th state to allow same-sex marriage.  I have made my feelings on this known before, and they are consistent with what the church teaches.  In a letter signed by all of the Catholic Bishops of Illinois as well as many other religious leaders which was addressed to all of the State Representatives and Senators, this was said about marriage:

“Marriage is an institution fundamental to the well-being of society because a stable, loving marriage is the ideal environment for raising children. Through marriage, children grow up knowing that they were created through an act of intimate love. Marriage is also beneficial for adults as the ideal structure for men and women to live interdependently, recognizing the equal dignity, beauty and value of one another while also relying on each other’s care and love. This is the natural order embracing the complementary physical, emotional and spiritual design of men and women.

As such, marriage in its true definition has long been respected and publicly supported in our society. As religious leaders in Illinois, we find the continued affirmation of marriage between a man and a woman essential. The ongoing attempts to alter the definition of marriage in civil law are full of serious danger, primarily by degrading the cultural understanding of marriage to an emotional bond between any two adults and by giving rise to a profound interference with the exercise of religious freedom for those persons and religious institutions whose faith and doctrine recognize the spiritual foundation of marriage as an authorized union between a man and a woman.”

For another reference, here is a link to the letter Cardinal Frances George is having read to parishioners this weekend:

This again is another issue that we as Catholics need to be vigilant of in the coming year.  It appears it will be another busy year in fighting these religious freedom issues.  Our prayers will be necessary, and we will need to stay informed.

Have a great week!  Peace.