August 31, 2016

Essay: Love and giving thanks

It all comes back to love. Gratitude does, like everything else that is good in the world. Thomas Merton writes that gratitude “takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder….” His subject is the relationship that human beings share with God, but he could just as well be talking about the relationship that two people share when they love each other. Indeed, he’s talking about love of all sorts.   Wonder — and gratitude Young lovers can’t get enough of each other. They want to be together all the time, share every experience, know everything there is to know about the beloved. They are intensely aware of the goodness and richness in the loved one — the humor, the compassion, the beauty, the intelligence, the sweetness. They can’t help but feel wonder — and gratitude. And the imperfections of the loved one? These are recognized, of course. He may be moody or lazy or, well, a little overweight. She may be a couch potato or high-strung or spend too much on clothes. Knowing each other so well and learning more and more each day, the lovers can’t ignore these imperfections. They can’t pretend they don’t […]
July 23, 2014

Alone but not isolated — an essay about the seven sacraments

Life is lonely. We’re born alone. We die alone. No matter how much we’re surrounded by people, even people who love us, we experience life in a way that can only partially be shared. You hear a song that makes your heart soar. But it does nothing for the person standing next to you. You read a book that touches you deeply. But you can’t find the words to make someone else — even a good friend, even a spouse — understand all the many ways it speaks to you. In a deep insight into human nature, the Catholic Church recognizes this reality. Its seven sacraments are outward signs of God’s workings in the world, and six of them are given to individuals. Water was poured on your head at Baptism. The cross was marked in holy oil upon your forehead at Confirmation. When you are gravely ill or near death, it will be your body that is anointed. Marriage Only Marriage is a sacrament that is given to two people at the same moment, “that they might no longer be two, but one flesh.” Marriage is the epitome of all the relationships that people have in life. In any […]
May 23, 2014

The prayer of writing

Norman Mailer called writing “the spooky art.” And anyone who’s been a writer, amateur or professional, knows what Mailer means. There’s a mysterious alchemy that takes place when the writer begins putting words together into sentences. There was nothing; now, there is something. The chaos of existence — that swirling, kaleidoscopic, overwhelming, storm of stimuli — is funneled down to the narrowest of straight lines. Tiny symbols, as regular in size as bricks or building stones but ever so small, are mortared across the page or screen or paper. Sculpture mimics the body. Painting plays the same tricks on the eyes that the physical world does. Music tickles the mathematics of our ears. Writing, though, speaks directly to the brain. The writing goes from one mind to another, from the writer to the reader. It doesn’t exist without a writer and a reader. It is a kind of a prayer, an effort to find and transmit truth, to reach across the chasm that separates people and enable them to see, hear and experience each other. It is God’s work. Something new I am always the first reader of what I write. And I’m always surprised in some way at how […]
March 18, 2014

Living in the moment

This essay initially appeared in the March, 2014 edition of Reality magazine in Ireland. One of the great boons of our era is the ongoing effort at creating better, clearer and more accurate translations of the Bible. But, sometimes, you just can’t top the King James version. Consider the 23rd Psalm. In the New International Version, the fourth verse is translated this way: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” That’s almost — but not quite — identical to the King James translation: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” To my mind, “darkest valley” is pretty bland. Especially when compared to “the valley of the shadow of death.” I’m no Bible expert, so maybe “darkest valley” is closer to the phrasing in the earliest versions we have of the Psalms. Still, “the valley of the shadow of death” is a much more poetic way of saying it — more poignant. That’s because it goes to the heart […]
September 18, 2013

The Woven Lives of a Parish

As a parallel to the story I wrote for National Catholic Reporter in July about St. Gertrude Church and the death of our longtime religious education director, I did a similar piece that was published this month in Reality, a Catholic magazine in Ireland. Here it is: Patrick T. Reardon 9.18.13 If the above copies of the magazine pages are too tough to read, here’s the story in a more readable format:
July 8, 2013

Freedom “for all God’s children”

On August 28, 1963, a solemn, deliberate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began his address at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial — the climax of the March on Washington — with the words: I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. It was the start of what has become known as King’s “I have a dream” speech, one of the most revered and most influential orations in history, a stirring improvised poem of human hope and possibility. At the time, many Americans thought that King was simply speaking about freedom for blacks, freedom from discriminatory laws and discriminatory attitudes and a discriminatory culture. Yet, half a century later, it’s clear that, when King said, “I have a dream today,” his vision was much greater. His dream was twofold. He sought freedom for all people everywhere — each man, woman and child — from the chains of repression. He dreamt that all people everywhere would someday stand on equal footing, without limitations imposed because of race, ethnicity or some other accident of fate. And, over the past fifty years, his […]
November 13, 2012

Katey Feit: Listening to the voice inside

Jesus was a carpenter, and the people in Nazareth knew him as one of the village’s young men. Then he heard the “still, small voice” of his Father and began his ministry. Katey Feit grew up in my parish, St. Gertrude, on the Far North Side of Chicago. She was the product of a middle-class family, the third child of six, the second girl. She went to grade school at St. Gertrude and later trained to be a pediatric nurse. Then, she followed the stirrings of her conscience and went to prison. In their quiet way Today, when there is much about the Catholic church that is disturbing — the pedophile scandal, the way the Vatican is bullying nuns — I take heart from people like Katey who, in their quiet way, provide an example of living a good life.
November 9, 2011

Fully American: The election of JFK and the place of Catholics in the U.S.

When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, I thought he would be canonized. St. JFK? It seems silly now. Now that all the stories of Kennedy’s womanizing have become public knowledge. Now that the glow of his presidency has faded and the memory of his glamour has soured. I was just a kid, a freshman in a high school seminary. I’d turned 14 on the day he was killed. But I wasn’t alone. There was much talk among Catholics and other Americans about “our martyred president.” In the hours immediately following the shooting, Federal Judge James B. Parsons, chairman of the Chicago Conference on Race and Religion, indicated his belief that Kennedy’s murder was the result of his Catholicism and his support of civil rights for U.S. blacks. “Like Christ, the President has died for the sin of racial and religious bigotry among us,” Parsons said. Fully American When Kennedy was elected to the White House on Nov. 8, 1960, he was a breath of fresh air. After decades of elderly and even infirm presidents, Americans were captivated by his easy charm, his beautiful wife, his youthfulness and young family, his sparkling smile. He was a superstar before […]
October 15, 2011

“Father Bernardin”

During a career as a news reporter that spanned nearly 40 years, I interviewed my share of high-ranking officials. When I was part of a small group of journalists to meet with President Jimmy Carter, I called him “Mr. President.” At a news conference or in an interview, I called Mayor Richard M. Daley “Mr. Mayor.” As a good Catholic from birth, I knew that, when conversing with a Cardinal, you addressed the man as “Your Eminence” or, at least, “Cardinal.” So I was surprised back in December, 1990, when I had my one and only interview with Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. It was during a period when Bernardin was having to close many parish schools for financial reasons, and he had just appeared on a radio show to talk about some new development. I was there in the lobby of the radio station with a reporter from another newspaper, and, when the Cardinal was off the air, we sat down with him for 10 or 15 minutes to run some questions past him. Nothing very memorable. When we were done and he’d left, I started walking back to my office when it dawned on me. For some reason — probably […]
October 15, 2011

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin: Model pastor, “saintly man”

For a long time, Eugene Kennedy was certain that Joseph Bernardin, the soft-spoken, bridge-building archbishop of Cincinnati, would become the first American-born Pope. “He was a perfect candidate for it,” says Kennedy, a psychologist, former priest and widely published writer who became Bernardin’s friend. “He was internationally known. He was internationally respected. He would have been a pope of peace.” But, even as Bernardin was raised in 1982 to head the archdiocese of Chicago, the largest in the nation at the time, and, a few months later, was consecrated as a cardinal, his star was on the wane. Reaction to the Second Vatican Council was setting in. The new pope, John Paul II, was much more conservative than the open-the-windows liberalism of the 1960s, and he was appointing regiments of new cardinals of a similar mind. Eventually, it became clear to even the most hopeful that Bernardin would never be pope. “He became something else,” Kennedy says. “He became a saint.” At the height of his success as Chicago’s Cardinal, Bernardin underwent three soul-shuddering trials — an accusation of sexual abuse, later recanted; an attack of cancer; and then a recurrence of the disease in a virulent and inoperable form […]
August 14, 2011

10 reasons why kids at Mass are great preachers

At St. Gertrude Church, my home parish, our pastor emeritus is a brilliant guy who still gives homilies that are both witty and profound, erudite and down-to-earth. His replacement, our new pastor, is a story-teller. He enjoys teasing out theological insights from the simplicity (and complexity) of everyday life. But as much as I like to hear what these smart, holy men have to say, and as much as I learn from them, I usually don’t sit as close to the pulpit as I probably should. Instead, I’m in the back of church because that’s where parents with little kids tend to hang out. I’m a sucker for little kids. I loved watching my own at that age, and it’s still great fun to see the latest crop of tiny new humans toddle around and stare with wonder at this world of ours. And, more than fun, these children — many of whom have a vocabulary limited to “Mommy” and “Daddy” — preach the greatest sermons in the world. Totally unselfconscious, little kids teach great lessons because they interact with life directly. They don’t second-guess themselves. When they’re face to face with life, they don’t blink. For anyone trying to […]