“Walk With The Pain”

Recently I was asked to write an article on whether the death penalty provided “closure” for families of victims. Closure, I believe, is a concept that in part evolved from Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ famous five steps, the fifth step being acceptance.

Over the years I have sat with people who suffered unimaginable losses and judged themselves because they had not “accepted” the loss. I have also sat with parents who suffered the most unimaginable loss of all — the death of a child.

I grew up in a family in which children died. Did my parents ever “accept” those losses? I don’t think so. I don’t think the pain of those losses ever left my parents. Similarly, in trying to counsel with people who have lost children, I don’t think the goal has ever been “acceptance” or “closure”.

Recently I was told that a referral was made to me of a woman who had lost a child. I asked another friend who had lost a son “What can I tell her?” He paraphrased something he’d heard in a movie titled Wind River. He said “Tell her the pain never goes away. But tell her also that, if she can learn to walk with the pain, she gets to keep the good memories.”

To walk with the pain. This to me is a far better idea than either “closure” or “acceptance”. How can the pain of losing a child ever go away? It can’t. Granted I have known some parents who tried to avoid that pain but those same parents would also complain that they were having trouble remembering the good times. I have also known parents who learned to walk with the pain. In the midst of their tears, they are also able to smile over a good memory.

My own parents didn’t have memories to cherish since my sisters died as infants. But, as they learned to walk with the pain, they were able to envision a joyous reunion. Given that they are both gone, I like to think that the reunion happened for them.

What can I say to someone who has lost a child? Nothing that eases their pain. But perhaps there is some value in having a companion to walk with them as they learn to walk with the pain.

Further Viewing: Wind River is a very good but very violent film. This excerpt is the one referred to above by my friend.




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Further Thoughts on Being a Veteran

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 inaccuracy of that belief, he said simply “It never occurred to me that other men might be afraid.”
  3. A female Command Sergeant Major taught me the realities of sexual discrimination in the military as she shared without self-pity a long story of harassment she faced as she rose to the highest enlisted rank.
  4. I think of a Viet Nam veteran who told me horrific stories of being in combat but only started weeping when he spoke of being spit on by protestors upon his return home.
  5. I think of a man of faith who spoke sadly of finding the body of an Iraqi boy he’d befriended, murdered because the friendship made others suspect the boy was supplying information. I think of a Catholic man who believed his sins were beyond forgiving and that, because he had killed, he could not attend Mass.                                                                                                                                                                                        These and many other brother and sister veterans have taught me that, while some may need professional care, many simply want to tell their story without judgment. They have also helped me see that war is truly wrong, that war destroys in body, mind, and spirit.                                                                                                                                  So if you want to thank a veteran for his or her service, take the time to listen if they choose to honor you with their stories. Those stories will enrich you.                           As you watch the attached, please pray with me: “For God’s sake, bring them all home!”      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tV7NYRimZec
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On Baseball

Last year is here!!

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

For me, baseball is a spiritual matter. It encompasses most of the themes I’ve discussed so far.

I first came to baseball as a spiritual matter back in 1984. I had been sober for a little over a year. While that was a great blessing, I felt my life was tepid ( a not uncommon challenge for people newly sober). I decided I needed to be enthused.

I do not have the gift of enthusiasm. I have known a few who do — some family members, an actor-friend. I have also been privileged to see some people discover that gift once they got out from under oppressive circumstances. But in my case I had to practice. But what could I be enthused about?

After some discernment, I settled on baseball. I would be one of those men who opened the newspaper and cheered or cursed depending upon the latest scores…

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“Why are you still a Catholic?”

The question was posed to me some time ago by a thoughtful spiritual person who had read most of my blogs and books. The question is again in front of me in the face of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report. Indeed why do I hang onto membership in such a dysfunctional organization?

I am still Catholic because I still believe in Jesus’ basic message although I agree with Wendell Berry who observed that current Christianity, although fashionable, has little resemblance to what Jesus had in mind. There are many things that Jesus said — his embracing of the poor and the migrant, his plea for non-violence, his special blessing for children — that are largely ignored by my Church. So I am still Catholic as a statement that I do believe his message can still transform the world and, if embraced, can transform my Church..

I am still Catholic because I believe that the redemption of my Church can only come from within and that the powers that be have lost their ability and their credibility in making that happen. We laity need to demand the reshaping of our church. Perhaps it is time to allow married clergy. Perhaps it is time to allow the ordination of women. Something about the way the Church is structured and governed is not working. Attention gets paid to minimizing damage and not to restoring trust. Yes, many diocese reach out to victims of clergy abuse. Yet the system of governance that gave rise to those abuses remains largely unchanged.

I am still Catholic because I believe that, although the dark side of power has almost destroyed my Church, there is still a potential for healthy power. I have met too many priests and sisters who are aware of the potential dark side of their power and work hard to use it in an affirming way.

I am still Catholic because I believe in the power of redemption. Any of us who are recovering addicts have received that blessing. Redemption can happen within organizations as well. Our Church desperately needs a redemptive experience.

I am still Catholic because of the examples of a few who got it right — Dorothy Day, Daniel Berrigan, Teilherd de Chardin, St. John XXIII. These and others spoke up and suffered for a message much closer to what Jesus had to say. Some of them suffered persecution. They all suffered criticism.

The worst thing that can happen at this point is that the powers that be will “wait out” the current crisis. Indeed I have heard the comment “The Church has survived other such minor crises. The Church will survive”. As one insensitive Catholic said in the presence of a victim “This crisis is just a burp in the Church’s history”. That attitude will merely feed the disease.

The Church as it is may indeed survive. That’s what I am afraid of.

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On Sports

As with religion, sports has of late become politicized as the issue of kneeling for the Star Spangled banner has become a matter discussed and debated by politicians. This, I suppose, is really nothing new. Sports has always had the potential for political statement in part because sports has been a venue in which otherwise suppressed minorities have been able to succeed. From Jesse Owens to Billy Mills to Henry Aaron to Billie Jean King, sports has been a venue in which success sometimes carried with it a political message.

That’s as it should be. But it is important that we not lose the poetry as we ponder the political impact of sports. Beyond that, some sporting events become moments of wonder whereby I have sensed the presence of a God rejoicing not so much in the victory but in the joyful sensual moment. Here are some personal favorites, all of which I witnessed on television. To me, some of these moments had political significance. All were beautiful.

  1. Secretariat at Belmont Stakes 1973.  I am not a big horse racing fan; however, the manner in which the great horse Secretariat ran this race is truly wondrous. To see that animal run with what I can only call joyful abandon was and is quite moving.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V18ui3Rtjz4
  2.  Bill Mazeroski and the 1960 World Series. Baseball has always been my favorite sport. It has even played a role in my recovery, providing me with some which needed enthusiasm in the early days of sobriety. In 1960 the Pittsburgh Pirates were huge underdogs to the much-hated Yankees. Yet the Pirates forced a seventh game, the ending of which was a glorious moment for a 12 year old boy.           https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65Og0gUKfvc&t=89s
  3. Henry Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s record. I liked Babe Ruth when I was growing up. Yet starting in the late 50s I began to pay attention to Henry Aaron, a gifted member of my favorite team at that time, the Milwaukee Braves. And so I found myself in 1974 hoping to see Henry break babe Ruth’s record and put an end to the racist threats he had endured. The great announcer Vin Scully correctly noted the political impact of that moment. And, yes, in my opinion he is the true homerun champion

4. Mohammed Ali vs. George Foreman. Yes I know. Boxing is violent. Many sports are. I had watched Ali for years, amazed by his lighting fist and his Ali shuffle. In this championship fight against George Foreman, Ali introduced a new technique — the rope-a-dope in which he lay on the ropes until Foreman punched himself out then came of the ropes in the 8th round and knocked Foreman out. Ali as much as any athlete was political but was also a victim of politics, losing some of his prime years because of being banned from boxing for his stance against the Viet Nam War

5.  Finally, as everyone knows, I am a committed Redsox fan and was one years before they became successful. Thus 2004 was and is in many ways the most wondrous of my wonderful memories. After years of frustration they won the Series. But the key moment occurred in the AL playoff against the hated Yankees. Down 3 games to 0, the Redsox were close to elimination when Kevin Millar drew a walk. What followed was the turning point from which the Redsox won 4 in a row against the Yankees then made short order of the Cardinals. Here is Dave Roberts and The Steal!

Reflections: Any sports memories that are precious to you?



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On Famous People whose Deaths Touched Me Deeply

The other night my wife and I watched a documentary titled “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” It tells the story of Fred Rogers in a very touching way. As we talked about the film, I realized that I had been effected by his passing in a way deeper than the sadness I might feel when someone dies whom I admire.

Here then are 5 people whose lives touched me at a deep level.

Fred Rogers

When Mister Rogers died, I felt that a great light had gone out in an otherwise very dark world. I wonder what he would have to say about this very dark time in our land?

Mickey Mantle

Image result for mickey mantle

Yes, I know. A Yankee? Indeed I am an avid Boston Redsox fan. But as a boy growing up in northeast Pennsylvania, I especially loved great ballplayers. Mickey was one of the best. I think as with many men my age, his passing represented the loss of our boyhoods. The loss of dreams. The progression of life. I was sad over the passing of other great ballplayers. Ted Williams, Yogi Berra. Red Schoendienst. But Mickey’s passing touched a deeper spot.

John Denver

Other musicians’ passing also saddened me. Mary Travers. Don Williams. Yes, even Elvis. But the Music of John Denver spoke to me deeply and so his unexpected death struck deeply. In the summer of my own 27th year, I felt born. I was coming into my own as a therapist. I had my first personal therapy experience and began to face some of my own pain. Thus “Rocky Mountain High” had major significance. Other of his songs spoke to me, especially “Looking for Space”, which helped me grieve the loss of a loved one and also articulated much of my own spirituality. There is an enduring image of him from the concert my wife and I saw here in El Paso — the image of him standing alone on the stage at the end of his concert singing “This Old Guitar.”

Robert Kennedy

Image result for robert kennedy

One evening in June 1968 I had stayed up quite late watching the returns of the Democratic primary in California. I was excited that Robert Kennedy had one and, right after he said “So it’s on to Chicago and let’s win there”, I turned off the TV and went to bed. When I came downstairs the next morning, my mother said “Robert Kennedy was hot last night. He’s dying.” When he died, much of my political idealism died with him. I had read his book “To Seek a Newer World” and was greatly affected by his idealistic approach to such key issues as race, poverty, and the war in Viet Nam. The 1960s was the era of assassinations and the losses of JFK and Martin Luther King had greatly affected me. But when Bobby Kennedy died, I felt something deeper die with him.

Gregory Peck and Atticus Finch

Gregory Peck was a great actor who gave us many wonderful performances. But for me he was and always will be Atticus Finch. The novel To Kill a Mockingbird is about the only novel which, when I finished reading it, I turned back to the first page and read it again. Similarly, after I first saw the movie, the next night I went back and saw it again. Beyond its important lessons on bigotry, the movie and Atticus Finch gave me a role model that helped me shape my own fatherhood. And so when Gregory Peck and with him Atticus Finch died, I felt I had lost a mentor.

As I said above, deaths of famous people have touched me in many ways. I grieve the four I mention here and am grateful that, from a distance and unknown to them, they touched my life.

Reflection: Who is on your list and how did they touch your life?









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The Church and Betrayal: A Reaction to the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report

Twenty years ago, I wrote an article for America magazine titled “My Church is Dying”. It offended some people and got me into some trouble within the El Paso diocese. Sadly, I am not convinced that the phoenix has risen from the dust since I wrote that article. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report gave me some painful insight as to why.

To be clear, I was never molested by a Catholic priest. There was the time as a teenager I was visiting at a seminary and roomed with a seminarian who, during the night, tried to fondle me. I put an end to that by yelling “What the f–ck do you think you’re doing?” That apparently scared him off. It was an early contact with the dark side of the Church.

In El Paso in the late 1980s I began to treat persons who had been molested and even assaulted by priests. During that time, the mother of one of those victims referred me to a book titled Lead Us Not Into Temptation.  This book focused on incidents of clergy abuse and was a further eye-opener. The diocese of El Paso at that time was doing nothing to identify perpetrators or to help victims. I played a role in creating a response but paid the price of being labelled “an enemy of the Church”.

I have seen the film Spotlight several times and been moved by by the pain of the victims and by the appalling arrogance of the Church hierarchy. Most diocese now have in place some form of outreach to victims. Many dioceses also now screen diocesan employees and volunteers for any sort of criminal background. In many parishes, there is increased attention to liability.

Yesterday I learned of the report of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury on the clergy abuse issues. The stories of cover-ups were appalling but unfortunately not new. One of the diocese discussed was the Scranton diocese, the one in which I grew up. A list of priests found to have committed acts of abuse in that diocese was included. I knew 4 of the names on that list. One of the priests was well-known to me. He had enlisted me to teach younger boys how to be altar boys, a role that was a big honor. He also found me a summer job. He never laid a hand on me but the news that he was a convicted pedophile undercut my memories of him. What I often thought of as kindness was now undermined by the thought that he was grooming me. I don’t know that for a fact but I wonder. What I do feel today is that much of what I experienced as positive as a young Catholic has been undercut by patterns of lying and distortion by the Catholic powers-that-be.

Mind you, I have been blessed with knowing many fine priests — dedicated, deeply spiritual men who wanted only to be of service. Some of these men I actually regard as saintly. And I understand that offending priests are a minority. My problem is with a hierarchy that acted out of self-protection, in flagrant violation of Christ’s teachings, thereby undermining their message.

Victims of clergy abuse have suffered betrayal at multiple levels. The damage, however, goes beyond those victims and touches all of us who are Catholic. We too feel betrayed, not so much by the perpetrators but by the hierarchy that covered up the crimes and that now is often guided by “damage control”. As one Catholic friend observes, the Church is now run by lawyers.

As an institution, we have lost our way. We are all at fault. We laity rely too much on clergy to guide us on the spiritual path. We need to respond to betrayal by taking responsibility for our own spiritual paths and moral compasses, viewing clergy as resources but not final words. We need to decide what if anything being Catholic means to each one of us at this point. Are we Catholic out of habit? Out of fear? Or is there something still there for us?

Sadly I continue to believe that my Church is dying. Yet I continue to hold onto the hope that we must first die to something to be renewed. That renewal, however, needs to come from we laity. After all, the Church starts with us.

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Excerpt from “Mysticism for the Masses”

I’d like to share with you an excerpt from my article “Mysticism for the Masses” that appears in the August issue of St. Anthony Messenger. If you’d like to receive a copy of the full article, e-mail me at <richp45198@aol.com>

We can’t manufacture them (mystical experiences) as much as we might try. The best that we can do is to remain open. This is a hard lesson for me as I like to be in control. Thus, one time I headed out to the Guadalupe Mountains about 90 miles from El Paso. I had been to this place often and had some remarkable mystical encounters with various wildlife. On this particular day, I set out planning to have such a mystical experience. None happened. As I prepared to follow the trail down from the mountains, I thought “It’s not going to happen today” and let go of the expectation. Believe it or not, in that moment of letting go, I took a last look around and there was a young deer watching me! I could almost hear God chuckling. Only by accepting that I was unable to manufacture a mystical experience could I become open to one.

Many of these experiences have indeed come to me when I have been away from day-to-day living. So, to become a mystic, must I become like Henry Thoreau or John Muir and retreat to the wilderness? Here Rabbi David Wolpe’s notion of “the normal mystic” is very helpful: “In the eye of another human being, in the daily activity of average people, the normal mystic seeks the presence of God. ..The normal mystic looks at life as you and I know it, but with an acute eye, one that tracks the almost imperceptible or often overlooked suggestion of God in every corner, at each turn.” (The Healer of Shattered Hearts, 1990, p. 81). Recalling James’ comment about passivity, Wolpe helps us see that we nonetheless can pay attention!

Wolpe’s reflections also remind us that we can sense God’s presence in the ordinary as well as the spectacular. Essential to mystical experience is the sense of connection, not only to God in some transpersonal way but to also God in the angry driver in the car next to me, to the homeless veteran on the street corner, to the brother or sister addict struggling to get on the path of recovery. Clearly I feel connected to the people I love. But mystical experience reminds me we are all connected and that the source of that connection is found in God.

Here we begin to get a sense as to why people are not in such a hurry to pursue the Mystic’s Way. If I truly aspire to become a mystic, then I am embracing not just the wonder. I am embracing the pain. For to feel a connection is to feel pain as well as wonder. Mystical experience may be the experience of wonder but it also can be the experience of deep compassion that is grounded in a faith that understands God’s presence in pain.

I encourage you to become open to the possibility of mysticism as a special faith-enriching part of your spiritual journey. You don’t have to go to a monastery or even to a National Park. Just pay attention and remember that God is a God of plenty. Monasteries and National Parks can indeed be doorways to the Divine. But there are just as many doorways to the Divine in your hometown. That’s how God planned it.

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On the Stories of Our Childhood

It has been said that we can gain insight into our adult personality by reflecting on our favorite stories from childhood — that those stories would reflect themes that would come to occupy a central place in our lives. Maybe so. A the very least, it can be fun to revisit those stories. I have two.

Image result for ferdinand the bull

I still have my original copy of The Story of Ferdinand complete with scribbling done by my brother when he was mad at me. It is a story about being different and coming to accept ourselves as we are and not as others think we should be. It also is a wonderful metaphor for non-violence. For me, though, Ferdinand reflected my own introversion. As all the other bulls would run and jump, Ferdinand would just sit under his favorite cork tree and smell the flowers. Many of us introverts grow up believing that our quietness and desire for solitude are aberrations. Somehow at an early age Ferdinand reassured me that it was OK to like being alone and enjoy simple things. And let me go on record and say that I can’t stand the Walt Disney cartoon version or the more recent full-length movie. The story of Ferdinand is simple and profound as is.

The second book that I read multiple times was The Story of Doctor Doolittle.

Image result for the story of doctor dolittle

This story captivated me not only because Doctor Doolittle could talk to animals but because he loved adventure. I think that this appealed to the dreamer inside of me and I think it also helped me believe in magic and wonder. The talking animals as well as the great adventures encouraged me to look beyond the situation as it is and to seek out the situation as it could be. I hope I never lose that child-like capacity to wonder and to dream. Perhaps it was no accident that the first date I had with my wife was the movie version of Doctor Doolittle with Rex Harrison.

The world has gotten complicated and, for many, has lost its magic, reflected perhaps in current popular children’s books with titles like Walter the Farting Dog and Captain Underpants. For that reason I sent my newest grandson his copy of Ferdinand.

Reflection: What are some favorite stories from your childhood? What themes did they foreshadow?

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On Scripture and Politicians

Tornillo Texas is on the outskirts of my hometown of El Paso and currently is housing hundreds of children who were separated from their parents while crossing the border. There has been a huge outcry such that the government is now claiming that these children will be reunited with their parents. In the midst of this crisis Attorney General Jeff Sessions used a quote from the Bible to essentially tell us to be quiet and obey the government.

Politicians quoting from any sort of Scripture is problematic. In part, it seems to fly in the face of the idea of separation of church and state. But more offensive to me is the indiscriminate use of scripture to justify some controversial government programs.

Regarding the Bible, I have read it 5 times and find it to be an impressive but complicated book in which it is easy to take quotes out of context to justify a political position. For example, in exhorting us to behave and support the government in its decisions regarding immigrants, Mr. Sessions conveniently avoided other parts of the Bible. The Book of Deuteronomy for example tells us that God “Loves the foreigners living among you and gives them food and clothing. So too you must show love to foreigners.” The Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying “I was a stranger and you took me in.” These and other parts of scripture were conveniently  ignored by Mr. Sessions.

In a letter I recently wrote to the New York Times I suggested a constitutional amendment to prevent politicians from quoting the Bible, Torah, Quran or any other sacred writings. These issues before us are complicated and while we need to respond in a manner consistent with any holy scripture, the dialogue is not advanced by politicians quoting such scripture.

I am all for persons of power governing from a spiritual perspective. Lord knows they need the help of God, Yahweh, Allah and any other spiritual beings to govern with wisdom and not get caught up in the Dark Side of power. I just don’t trust that they will quote scripture to further the dialogue. As Shakespeare said, “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose.”

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