Thursday, August 27, 2009

An Inspiration

Yesterday I decided to take a drive out to Hamburg to the Mother House of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph. I felt a visit to my esteemed 4th grade teacher, Sr. Symphronia, was long over due. Sister and I have stayed friends all these years since I was in her class, and have corresponded mostly through letters. I kept saying I was going to drive out and see her, so yesterday I decided to call her up and go.

When I arrived at the Mother House, an aid from the hospital wing where Sister now lives came down to get me (since it's been at least two years since I was last out there, and didn't remember my way). She told me that Sister had been sitting in her doorway (in a wheelchair) waiting for me to arrive... her "former pupil". One of the nurses asked if she wanted to go outside for some fresh air, and Sister promptly told her, "No, I have a date coming to see me.". "Just to give you a heads up", the aid informed me, "she is hoping you'll take her for a walk outside in the wheel chair". That was fine with me.

There she sat, waiting for me. Except for the wheel chair, she looks the same to me as she did back in 1991-1992 when she taught me. She is now celebrating her 67th year in Religious Life, and was in the classroom for 50+ of those years.

She asked if I would take her outside to the grotto of the Blessed Mother, where they have a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes, so we could sit, pray and talk. I was more than happy to enjoy the nice afternoon outside, so I told the nurses I was stealing her for a little bit. As we walked past some other nurses and sisters, she made sure to show me off to all passers-by.

We had a great talk, and it was a wonderful treat for me to catch up with her face to face instead of in a letter. She was very interested to hear about my teaching experience, and shared in my eager hopes and prayers to get a job. I also got to learn more about her career as a teacher, learning for the first time that she had been a principal (I'm assuming in the early 60's) at the Church and School where she grew up in Buffalo, Corpus Christi. She had 12 nuns under her as superior of the School and Convent. Laughing, she told me some of the nuns were much older and ready to retire, having "given their best years already in their youth". They used to go into her office to nap, and she (the then principal) would cover their classes! She was always so kind hearted.

She is very happy in her retirement, though wishes she was in better health to be able to physically do more for her community. Because of her health, her motion and energy are limited, but she likes to keep the other sisters company, and she prays... a LOT... for her sisters, her former "pupils" and for the world. I never saw someone so content to be in such constant prayer. I told her that her prayerful contribution was a great gift to the world, and never to think for a second she isn't "doing something" worth wild!

She had a small package to give me... and I had totally forgotten about Sister's gifts. She doesn't have much of her own, but what she has.. she gives. She had a small brown bag with some pens and pencils in it, some sugar free chocolate (she is diabetic), and a small plastic statue of St. Francis. She told me to use whatever I could (figuring a teacher could always use more pens and pencils!), and anything I didn't need or want to "you know what to do".. her code for "throw it away". She was always like that. "Here, you like it? Keep it!". She has so little, and yet gives so much.

It was great to spend the hour and a half with her, and perhaps I will go to see her again in October when the leaves change. She will be celebrating a birthday on September 1st. She never would tell me (or anyone) how old she is. Guessing by the number of years she has been a nun, I'm guess 85, if those 67 years start when she first entered... maybe closer to 90 if they only count the years since their final vows.

Regardless of her age, her face still radiates love and kindness. She was one of the strongest inspirations in my life for wanting to be a teacher. She is the exact opposite of all the mean, hurtful nun jokes and stereotypes. To me, she has always been the personification of the motto of her order's founder, Mother Hilbert: "In all things, charity."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Following Directions

From the day we begin school, we are constantly told to read and/or listen carefully to directions. We're not supposed to just plunge ahead, assuming we know what we are doing. This concept is a basic life lesson, applicable to more than just a Regents exam.
Working with the public in retail, I see on a daily basis how people of all age groups refuse to pay attention to directions. The end result is usually a product they are not happy with, as well as the embarrassment of having to be corrected by an employee for something they will later find was right in front of them.
Don't be one of those people. Remember the advice of your teachers: READ and/or LISTEN to directions carefully. Save yourself the time and embarrassment.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Catching Up

Wednesday I had some friends over for "game night". Joe and Rich both went through "teacher boot camp" with me last year. We had a few classes together, and became friends. Rich, his girlfriend Jamie and I have been going to Joe's apartment about once a week to watch a movie and hang out. I wanted to have them over here for a change. It's always nice to have visitors, and my small living room holds only up to four comfortably. It was a snug but quaint visit.

We played an old game called "party lines", and our own version of "win lose or draw" using dry erase boards. Wine, wine coolers and some beer made for some fun moments while playing. It was nice to have people over again, and have some sense of having an independent life of my own... even though I still live with my folks, and have yet to get a permanent teaching position.

Joe is one of the few from our group that has been successful at getting a teaching job in the area, though I do know of one guy who managed to get a Social Studies position at his old high school here in Western New York. I've only been certified for a full year now, but it seems as if I've been searching for a permanent position for ever. I know I have to be patient, but with the prospects that are out there, each passing day makes the concept of having to move away all the more real.... and all the more frightening.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Drive Thru Faith

I was recently talking with a family member of mine whose baby grandson is being baptized in a Presbyterian Church. She (my cousin) told me that since her daughter and son in law never made their Confirmation, or were married in the Catholic Church, their local parish (which I'm assuming neither is a member of) declined to do the baptism. "The Catholic Church is not very welcoming", was my cousins response. The Presbyterians will baptize the baby "no questions asked".

This is not the first story I have heard of people who have been "turned" down by a priest for special occasions such as weddings and baptisms.... though every story has a common theme. The person or persons in question are not active members of the Church, and perhaps only go to a Church for a wedding or funeral.

People forget that when you ask to receive a sacrament, it is a commitment. Take the sacrament of baptism, which happens to be the center of the controversy with my cousin. Baptism is not just pouring water over the baby's head, it is a commitment on behalf of the parents to raise their child in the Christian faith, according to the teachings of the Church. Most couples today, however, over look this vow that they make on behalf of their child. They are focused on having a quaint ceremony..preferably short.. in a pretty Church, and then an elaborate party afterward. I too would turn people like this away. They aren't ready yet or are not serious about the pledge they are making. They want an excuse for a party, not to enter into a covenant with God and His Church.

There is a crisis of faith, especially in America today, and the last thing we need is more "Catholics" in name only. "Catholics" who only show up to Church for weddings and funerals, who see the sacraments as something they "have to do" because of a parent or grandparent, and or because they get a party afterward. This is an abuse, and these people are simply using the Church for it's buildings and special occasions. If you have no intentions of really practicing the faith, then don't insult those of us who do by using our buildings and expressions of faith for the sake of a photo op.

I have to admire our more orthodox Jewish brothers and sisters. They have a custom of refusing a convert three times before they will accept them into classes to become Jewish. The Rabbi wants to make sure the person is committed to the journey they are about to take, and serious about the covenant in which they are about to enter. If you are not ready, come back when you are.

People will spend hundreds of dollars on gym memberships, and hours at the gym exercising in order to take care of their bodies. They will follow the meticulous rules of diets and nutritionists to get the body they desire. When it comes to their immortal soul, doing the bare minimum seems like a brutal task. Giving a small weekly donation is asking too much, and is "proof" to them of a money hungry Church. Having rules and regulations on how to live your life is infringing on your freedom. The emphasis is on the physical and temporary, on the self, not on the Divine, and the eternal. A sad commentary on the mentality of our times. These people wouldn't think of eat from a drive thru window menu, but want a drive thru faith... keep it fast, simple, and keep it moving. My life is too busy to stop.

For anyone out there who has encountered a similar "problem" where they were "turned away" for some special occasion within the Church, I have this piece of advice for you: Learn your faith, practice your faith and live your faith. Then you will be ready to understand the commitment these sacraments ask of us, and to go through with them properly. If you just want a pretty building for your wedding or baptism, so you can get the formalities out of the way before your guests come over for cake, I hear the Presbyterian Church is open for business.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Donations needed

Yes.. it's that time of year again. I am helping my friend Jim raise money for the yearly bike marathon he participates in to help raise money for aids research. Instead of me rambling on about it, I have posted a letter from Jim as well as the link where you could donate.

I know I tend to plug these events quite a bit, but the cause is near and dear to my heart. Every little counts, so give what you can, if you can!!!

After a great week last week of 123 miles total riding I am setting my sights on making this the best Braking the Cycle ever. After years you would think I have this down to a science but it still takes tons of hard work.

For those of you that do not know Braking the Cycle is a 3 day 300 mile bike ride across 4 states to raise money and awareness for HIV/AIDS Services. A lot of people think that the AIDS crisis is over, or that AIDS has become a manageable, chronic illness. That’s simply not true. Living with HIV is hard. The medications have all sorts of horrible side effects. Even worse, AIDS still kill – over 1,400 people last year in New York City alone. I think that’s tragic and unacceptable. That’s why I’m getting on the road to do something.

So, from September 11-13, I’ll ride. It won’t be easy. At least one day I will be riding more than 100 miles. I’ve already started training, and I’ve got a lot of work to do. In fact, every weekend and on weeknights, I’m in the gym or on the road getting in my practice miles. I’m determined to ride every single mile.

On this ride each rider raises a minimum of $3500. This money directly goes to HIV/AIDS care and prevention services. I am telling you this because this is where you come in. I am hoping you will be generous as to make a tax deductible donation. At this time I know money is tight, but your donation is so vital. To make a donation please visit if you need more information please feel free to contact me

Thank you in advance for supporting me. And be on the look out for more updates.