On Cheating

As I ponder the Major League baseball cheating scandal and the potential downfall of my beloved Redsox, I realize that cheating is nothing new, whether the scenario is baseball, politics, or just day-to-day living. Even my Church has cheated through lying.

The bottom line of cheating appears to be “It’s only a problem if you get caught!” And if we are all honest with ourselves, we sometimes delight in someone “getting away with it.” Take Gaylord Perry, for example. Perry had a Hall of Fame career. Perry also used the spitball, a pitch that was illegal for many years. Perry never hid the fact that he was cheating. When he retired, he said “Well, baseball will be a little drier now.” I confess that I appreciated this trickster figure.

Election cheating is also nothing new, whether it involves preventing poor people from registering to vote to dumping voting machines into Lake Michigan. Persons running for elected office have long been willing to “get away with” illegal/unethical ways of padding their vote.

Cheating in business also seems to be a way of life whether it is knowingly selling an inferior product, falsifying a tax return, billing for services not delivered, etc. Even the  Bible notes the challenge of people cheating in business.

Is honesty going the way of such values as church attendance? In this fast-paced world, is honesty no longer relevant? Like the call to non-violence, does Jesus’ invitation to honesty suggest that he was nothing more than a naive idealist?

The ultimate challenge of honesty is to be honest with oneself. How often do I make excuses? Overlook bad behavior? How often do I justify lying? Perhaps our culture has become so tolerant of cheating that we don’t feel a need to hold ourselves accountable.

Yes, there are uproars. Baseball managers are being fired. Players may be implicated. Election results are being questioned because of cheating through foreign influence. I’d like to think this outrage reflects some moral awakening but I doubt it.

So what do I do? As with the issue of violence, perhaps the only recourse I have is the most important one — do a moral inventory on my own level of dishonesty and take the necessary steps to establish a more honest, cheat-free lifestyle. Perhaps as I point a finger at any suspected cheater from a baseball manager to a President, I need to recall Shakespeare’s words: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in ourselves.”

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On Dementia

Dementia is that category of illness that includes Alzheimer’s as well as other causes of mental deterioration. Some people live with progressive dementia over a long course of time. My father live with it for 6 years.

My father’s dementia was most likely of the vascular type, a result of several strokes. Over time he became difficult to manage because of his temper. He also slowly, slowly lost his past.

It is most often a parent who develops dementia and a child who journeys with them until the parent dies. It can be a long slow journey to that door. However, it also happens to spouses, living day to day “in sickness and in health.”

What I found most difficult about that journey with my father was that I lost him a little bit at a time. My wife commented that, when I came home from visiting with him, I was often sad. Usually there would be some little sign — a forgotten friend, a messed up checkbook, a struggle for a word — that reflected this long slow journey. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer and died 3 weeks later. While that death was very painful, in many ways the manner in which I lost my father was more so because it was so prolonged.

The one positive was that, once he was properly medicated, he was able to greatly enjoy the moment. In our day, it is popular to remind ourselves to live in the moment. The last time I saw my Dad before he fell and lapsed into a week-long coma, my wife also came for a visit. She had put on some make-up and wore a pretty blouse. My father, who always had an eye for a pretty girl, was delighted. He truly was living in the moment.

I was not a 24/7 caretaker for my Dad. Others have shared that journey with me and it is an exquisitely painful one. Such caretakers are vulnerable to depression and physical illness. Seeking help and support is essential.

Given my spiritual struggles, I have often questioned God about this disease. Perhaps God has nothing to do with it. Perhaps it’s simply as my cousin said; “Sometimes we live too long.”

I am grateful that my father was willing to move from Scranton to El Paso so that I could more easily help him. I am grateful that he didn’t fight me on giving up his car. I am grateful that he was able to admit when it was time for me to take over his checkbook. And I was very grateful when the Lord finally took him.

For a while after his death, I could only see the images of him toward the end. Thankfully, in time, I was able to recover the way I wanted to remember him.

So if you are making this journey with a loved one, reach out for help. Find some form of respite care so that you can get a break. And be patient with yourself. It’s a long slow journey.

RESOURCES:  Many communities nowadays have some form of support group for families with members suffering from Alzheimer’s. The book The 36 Hour Day I found extremely helpful.

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War and Peace and Christmas

Peace continues to be elusive yet these stories give hope.

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

Plato once said “Only the dead have seen the end of war”. A dismal observation yet a cursory study of human history reveals that somewhere in our world someone is at war. The Christmas wish of “peace on earth” seems to be only wishful thinking.

In my years working with veterans, I have seen that those veterans have particular difficulty if in some way they came to see “the enemy” as simply another human being. Yet making those connections is where we find hope. Hope that the human spirit is big enough to be able to rise above differences, big enough to resist the pettiness of leaders, big enough to consider that the man or woman bearing a weapon on “the other side” is also a child of God.

There are a few historical events that give me hope. After the fall of Richmond, President Lincoln was touring a hospital…

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My Home Town

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   Our spiritual journeys all start somewhere. Mine started in my home town of Scranton Pennsylvania, a town best known as the setting of the TV show The Office (yes the opening scenes really are of Scranton) as well as the birthplace of Joe Biden.

“Macon was a tired old town”. Whenever I hear Scout Finch say those words at the beginning of To Kill A Mockingbird, I see myself standing on Lackawanna Ave, thinking “So is Scranton. A tired old town.”

Scranton wasn’t always that way. Oh, it was kind of run down back in the 50s and 60s. After all, the coal mines were mostly closed and there wasn’t a whole lot that had taken the place of coal in terms of putting food on people’s tables.

But downtown Scranton was a place to go. There were three department stores to roam around. There were two hotels. There were places of forbidden wonder, mainly strip joints and bars. And there were three movie theaters. Three! Two of them – the Comerford and the Strand were first-run. But the best was the Riviera.

Every Saturday afternoon, the Riviera ran a double-header made up of science fiction or monster movies. One Saturday I might see Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers paired with I Was A Teenage Werewolf. The next week It might be It Came From Beneath The Sea and X The Unknown.

Scranton had its neighborhood movie theaters as well. Dunmore had the Orient. Our theater in the Green Ridge neighborhood was the Roosevelt, better known as the Roosey. Every Saturday featured a Kiddie Matinee which might consist of 22 Cartoons. (Bugs Bunny was the best! I’d go get some candy or popcorn when Caspar the Friendly Ghost came on). Mainly, though, they would show an old movie. It was at these matinees that I met some characters that became truly beloved. There was Manuel in Captains Courageous, Gunga Din. Captain Nathan Brittles in She Wore A Yellow Ribbon. I also had early stirrings as I watched Anne Francis in Forbidden Planet. I’m sure I stayed to watch it a second time to see the very cool special effects. But it was nice watching Anne Francis as well.

One day it was announced that the Riviera would be closing. I was devastated. We were told it would be replaced by a new first-run state-of-the-art theater called the Center. The first movie to play there (for several months!) was Ben Hur. I went to this fancy theater many times to include years later with the girl who eventually became my wife. We watched Camelot  together. But I never got over the demise of the Riviera.

There’s not much left to downtown Scranton. The department stores are gone. The Dry Goods and Samters are boarded up. The Globe houses government offices. The book store I used to haunt is a restaurant. Even Tony Hardings’, the great purveyor of French fries with gravy no longer exists. If Scranton were a Wild West town, you’d expect to see tumbleweeds blowing along Lackawanna Ave.

There are a few remnants. There is Preeno’s, a good Italian restaurant (although to get really good Italian food you have to scour the neighborhoods of Dunmore or Old Forge). There is the courthouse square, largely unchanged from the political gatherings of the 60s such as Earth Day or the Viet Nam protests. But there is especially the Coney Island hotdog restaurant.

This place used to be in a basement across the street from Tony Hardings. Their specialty was and is a wiener dog drenched in onions and a meat sauce somewhere between a Sloppy Joe sauce and chili. Time was you’d go in there and order six dogs. The owner with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of his mouth would line six rolls along his hairy arm, then would load each roll with a wiener, some onions, and the magical Coney Island sauce. Nowadays the place is obviously more compliant with the Health Department. But the dogs still beckon.

So does Scranton.

REFLECTION: 1. How did your home town shape your spiritual journey?

 

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Lessons Learned as a Mailman

Be kind to your mail person, especially this time of year. Mail delivery is one of the many services we often take for granted. I don’t, however. For 4 summers and 3 Christmases I worked as a mailman. It was a job I greatly enjoyed. This was in the days before mail delivery was done by truck. At that time the mail person walked the route. Yes, there were dogs and, yes, there were grumpy customers. But in general I loved it, in part because of some lessons learned.

I have many images from those times. An old coal miner sitting on his porch, attached to an oxygen machine, explaining to me that he had black lung disease. He seemed to be waiting. A young mother with a child asking me to check through my bag to see if her welfare check was there so that she could get to the bank before it closed (I found it!). The remnants of a coal miners village, what they called the Patch.

But what also has stayed with me are some random acts of kindness.

One summer day it was cold and rainy. I was miserable as I stepped into a small family restaurant, hoping to get a cup of coffee to warm up. The waitress behind the counter brought me the coffee and asked “Would you like a bowl of pastafazool?” I honestly admitted that I paid for the coffee with my last quarter. She smiled and said “Oh no! It’s on the house.” To this day, I can smell and taste what may be the greatest bowl of soup ever. The garlic! The tomato sauce! The oregano! The noodles! A young college kid learning kindness through a memorable bowl of pastafazool.

The second story is a Christmas story that I shared hear some years ago. But a good story is worth re-telling. It was snowing and windy cold when I stepped into an apartment building where the mail was to be delivered to several mail boxes. An old man stood by waiting. I ignored him as I went about my business. Then he spoke something I couldn’t quite hear. “Great!” I thought. “probably complaining because I am running late.” Then he reached into his pocket and took out the type of small microphone used by throat cancer sufferers to help them speak. Through the static I heard “Merry Christmas!” I mumbled a merry Christmas in return and as I locked up the mail boxes he added “And a Happy New Year!” I left that place touched and humbled.

It’s important at some point in your life to work in a service job. We tend to see people at their worst as any waitress, airplane flight attendant, or mail person can tell you. But at times we also get to see people at their best. I did thanks to a memorable bowl of soup and a raspy Christmas greeting.

 

 

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Further Thoughts on Being a Veteran

Another year and too many are still sacrificing life and limb. Bring ’em home!

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

At Mass this morning, the priest (an Army chaplain himself) asked all veterans to stand and be blessed. I looked around and saw young and old, male and female. I wondered what their stories are. Who served in combat? What stories do they have to tell?

I have spoken with veterans of every war from World War II to the present conflicts. Here are a few things they have taught me:

  1. A World War II veteran gave me the best definition I know of for PTSD. When I asked him about the daily nightmares he suffered, he said simply “I assumed it was the price men pay for going to war.”
  2. Another World War II taught me how important it is to talk about trauma. He had carried within him for 60 years the belief he was a coward for being afraid. When I managed to help him see the…

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On Martyrs: St. Oscar Romero

Oscar Romero is a saint and prophet of our times. He accomplished and continues to accomplish what a true saint and prophet should — he makes us uneasy.

Oscar Romero grew up in El Salvador, became a Catholic priest, and in time its Archbishop. Initially he avoided political involvement despite the persecution of Salvadorans by its own government. He did not align himself with progressive priests who called all Catholics to witness to this persecution and to advocate on behalf of the poor. The assassination of his friend Father Rutilio Grande became a personal moment of transformation for him. Archbishop Romero became a vocal proponent of social justice for Salvadoran poor and openly challenged his government as well as guerrilla groups who saw violence as the only solution. He even challenged President Carter to stop sending arms to the Salvadoran army, arms that were used to kill Salvadoran peasants who protested.

Why does St. Oscar Romero make me uncomfortable? First of all, he challenges me to live Christ’s message and to embrace the poor. His message challenges me to confront my own government as it tries to prevent poor people from finding a better life not only by building walls but by labeling all migrants as criminals.

Jesus clearly calls us to hear and respond to “the cry of the poor”. Archbishop Romero heard that call and responded by giving his life.

Archbishop Romero was rejected by his own fellow Bishops, some of whom suggested he developed Marxist leanings. Interesting, isn’t it, that even in our own country, anyone who speaks for the poor is accused of being a “socialist”. Such accusations of Marxist Church leaders and socialist presidential candidates would undoubtedly make Joe McCarthy smile if he were still around.

I don’t have any easy answer as to how I as a Christian should embrace the cause of the poor. But I do know that I must continue to listen to and learn from the great prophets who challenge me to speak to the needs of the poor, be they in El Salvador or Africa or even in the slums of my own country. I cannot call myself Christian and ignore them.

RESOURCES: Many of St. Oscar Romero’s writings, sermons, and radio addresses are collected in the Modern Spiritual Masters series on him edited by Marie Dennis

The film Romero with Raul Julia is a superb and accurate portrayal of St. Oscar Romero’s transformation. It is graphic in its portrayal of the killings, disappearances, and torture of the poor and those who spoke for them.

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The Joys of Doubting

When I was growing up Catholic, questioning aspects of my faith was frowned on, even at times suggested to be sinful. And yet at an early age I questioned, perhaps because of trying to make sense of early tragedies in my family. For years I felt guilty, a “less-than” Catholic. However, when I finally confronted addiction and encountered the concept of “the God of my understanding”, I found that my questions were not only liberating but enriching.

The reality, though, is that I have few if any answers and more and more questions as I age. Certainty has its advantages. Those who don’t question, who don’t argue with God, find a certain security that I at times envy. And yet I continue to embrace my doubts and have come to see that the greatest gift of embracing one’s doubts is the journey itself.

I see that, had I not allowed myself to question, I would have missed out. I would not have explored writers and thinkers from other traditions or no traditions. Through their writings, I would never have met Abraham Joshua Heschel, Thich Naht Hahn, Annie Dillard, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and dozens of others. If I never questioned, I might not have discovered great cathedrals outside of Catholic churches. I would have missed God’s presence in Yosemite or Big Bend or the Skelligs. Had I not come to see that creation did not end after seven days, I would not have encountered the thought that creation continues and that I am invited to participate. I would never have found God in the paintings of Van Gogh, the poems of Robert Frost, the plays of Thornton Wilder. I likely would not be writing these words.

Had I not doubted, I would never have had profound encounters with God that I have experienced when angry with Him/Her. Rabbi Harold Kushner suggests that what satisfied Job was not any answers God gave (there were none!), but that, through his anger, Job had a profound encounter with God. I understand that. My arguments with God are real and honest, not couched in piety. I feel God’s presence quite deeply during those moments.

I love my Catholicism. The sacraments have great meaning to me. The saints inspire me. But I can only be a Catholic who questions. If I embrace the old beliefs and define my doubts as wrong, then I will take the vitality out of my Catholic faith. That perhaps would be the ultimate sin.

REFLECTION: What if any role has doubting played in your spiritual journey?

 

 

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Excerpt from “Why Am I Still a Catholic?”

The following is an excerpt from my article “Why Am I Still A Catholic?” which appears in the October 2019 issue of St. Anthony Messenger

When the movie Spotlight came out, I was overwhelmed with emotion when I saw my two homes — Scranton Pennsylvania and El Paso Texas — listed at the end as cities with confirmed incidents of clergy abuse. I thought of survivors I had evaluated and counseled, especially one young man who had been molested by a priest mentioned in the movie. After that film, I again struggled with why I remain Catholic as I saw just how massive that crisis had been both in the United States and internationally.

After the Pennsylvania report (on clergy abuse) I had some hope for a new, more honest response from the Church. But I also have a fear based on something a victim told me. Although as a boy he had been abused by a priest, this man served the Church in many meaningful ways. One night he sat in a committee meeting in his parish. When the topic of the clergy abuse crisis came up, one woman said “This crisis is only a small blip in the Church’s history. The Church will survive.”

My fear is that many Catholics will proceed under the assumption — the evil assumption — that the crisis will pass and nothing really major needs to change.

And yet I am still Catholic. Why? I am still Catholic because I believe in Jesus’ message. His way is a path to live out the message that love can overcome all and that we are all here to take care of one another. But I also agree with Wendell Berry when he writes in Blesses Are the Peacemakers that Christianity has become fashionable in the United States but in fact “has remarkably little to do with things that Jesus Christ actually taught.”

 

Further information: If you are interested in receiving the entire article send me your e-mail address for an electronic copy of the article or mailing address for a hard copy. My e-mail address is <richp45198@aol.com>

 

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ADD Adventures

I’ve never formally been diagnosed with ADD and never took medication, mainly because it wasn’t diagnosed in those days. Rather, we were known as behavioral problems or, as my 7th grade teacher labelled me, a “villain” and a “leader in badness”. In high school, the basketball coach referred to me as “static in the attic”. These days I’m viewed in El Paso as “eccentric”.

I have to admit I found some relief when I realized I suffered from ADD. It reassured me that I wasn’t some delinquent, doomed to hell. But nonetheless it had its challenges. Impulsive behavior, both verbal and behavioral. Trouble staying focused. Overwhelmed by too much input. And, above all, misplacing things. The classic example here was the morning I was roaring around the house, yelling “Where are my damn glasses?” My daughter looked at me like I had lobsters coming out my ears and said “Dad, you’re wearing your glasses!” So I was.

My granddaughter is in the eighth grade. One of my finer ADD moments occurred during my eighth grade year. I was sitting right in front of Sister’s desk (a space commonly reserved for behavior problems). One morning, bored to tears, I started a pantomime. I threw an imaginary rope to the other student’s desk, secured it, and then with my fingers made the little man begin to walk across. I became aware that the class was very quiet. I looked out the corner of my eye to see Sister staring at me. “What are you doing?” she said. I shrugged my shoulders and said “I’m making the little man walk across the canyon on a tightrope.” She stared a moment, then simply said “Oh”, clearly at a loss as to what to say or do.

ADD has its plus side. We do notice more. We catch details others might miss. We are on the lookout for new opportunities. We crave information. And in the midst of our often cluttered minds are some rich corners with fascinating things.

I did see a book titled ADD as a Gift. I’m not quite prepared to go there but I can see they may have a point.

For your enjoyment, then, is this classic Dick Van Dyke sketch of a man trying to write. Although not labelled as ADD in any way, it illustrates how ADD can be a challenge when I sit down to write. Most of us writers can relate

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