The Legacy of D-Day

On this date 75 years ago a dramatic assault by Allied troops against the Nazi regime was undertaken with the invasion of Normandy beaches. This event has been often retold in books and movies. Stephen Ambrose’s book on D-Day, the book and movie series Band of Brothers, the movie Saving Private Ryan have all retold the story of that dramatic day and have all heralded both the heroism and massive losses.

Yet it was still war and war wounds not only bodies but minds and spirits. People by and large don’t like to be reminded of the suffering men and women endure in the name of serving one’s country in battle. We prefer the Hollywood versions were there is victory and rousing welcomes home. We don’t like to be reminded of the depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and suicides that result from the horrible burden of war.

And now the news tells us that the government sabers are rattling, even as we are still embroiled in destructive other wars. Yes, we are more aware of PTSD. Yes we are keeping count of 22 daily veteran suicides. Yet we still turn to war and violence as solutions.

I want to share with you the testimony of actor Charles Durning, a marvelous man of talent whom I especially enjoyed in Tootsie and in True Confessions. He also was a veteran of the Normandy invasion. His testimony speaks to the scars men and women must endure. You can see the anguish on his face and hear it in his voice.

We as a people must stand against war to protect our sons and daughters from carrying such wounds for the rest of their lives. May the courage and suffering of D-Day remind us that, finally, enough is enough. War no more!

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On Memorial Day

Please this weekend reach out to combat veterans grieving the multiple losses of war. Reach out to families who have lost a veteran loved one to suicide. And pray loud and strong “War no more!”

Psyche and Spirit/Richard B. Patterson PhD

I am not a combat veteran, a fact that I communicate to the many combat veterans I see through my work. However, as one vet reminded me before giving me a hug, I am a veteran and so I am a brother.

For many veterans, this is a very difficult weekend where memories they don’t like to recall crowd in. Friends killed before their eyes. Dying children. Word of another vet committing suicide.

My many hours with these heroic men and women have convinced me of the evils of war. There has got to be a better way to settle our differences yet I fear that Plato was right when he wrote “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

I deal with men and women whose minds and spirits have been battered by war. I have dealt with some who considered ending their lives or even attempted it…

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A Mother’s Final Lesson

Mothers’ Day is one of my favorite holidays. It can be hard for those who didn’t have a mother or mother figure. It can be hard for those whose mother was not loving. It is hard for those of us whose mothers are gone. Nonetheless, it is a day to celebrate mothers and to be grateful if we were blessed with a loving mother. And it can be a time to pause and reflect on lessons learned.

Mind you, my mother and I did not have a perfect relationship. For example, she was a master of the Silent Treatment whenever she got upset with any of us. It would be most uncomfortable, especially when it went on for weeks.

I did learn a lot from my mother, especially about faith. But I also learned some things about facing death.

On December 7, 1994 my mother called from the hospital. She had been the primary caretaker of my father since his stroke earlier that year. My father was never an easy person to take care of so when she began to allude to stomach pain I was sure it was stress. So I wasn’t surprised when she said they had diagnosed an ulcer. But then she added “And a tumor”. My quick research into stomach cancer indicated it was usually diagnosed late and therefore did not have a good prognosis.

She was 81 at the time and chose to forego chemotherapy, a decision I supported. Not knowing how much longer she would last, I made plans to head back East, especially after a friend who’d lost a daughter to cancer said “Don’t wait too long.” Thus began her final lesson.

I had spent time with people facing terminal illnesses and had learned much from them. I wanted very much to be there when my mother passed. But she held on. Finally one evening it dawned on me. Very stoic, she was determined to face death alone. I asked her “You want to go it alone, don’t you?” Slowly she nodded and said “Yep.” I realized that she was the one doing the dying and so she was the one, not me, who had the right to make that decision.

The next day, however, she apparently rethought it. She called at 6AM saying “I think I’m going to beat this!” However, by the time I got to the hospital she had again lost ground. Thankfully her doctor showed up and reminded her that he was doing nothing to support fighting. After he left I asked my mother “Are you wanting to fight for yourself or for Dad and Rob (my brother) and me?” She immediately said “Why for you guys of course.” I challenged her. “Mom you’ve lived your whole life for others. For once I want you to make a decision for yourself.” She paused and thought then said “If it’s for me, then I’m ready to go.”

But she had one more card up her sleeve. The next day when I came in, she seemed surprised. “What are you doing still here?” she asked. She apparently thought it was Christmas. I looked at her and said “Mom are you trying to stay alive through Christmas?” “Why of course” she said. “I don’t want to spoil everyone’s Christmas.” I argued that I didn’t want her suffering any more. But my mother was stubborn.

My mother slipped into a coma on Christmas night. I called the hospital and had them tell her we’d had a good Christmas. She hung in there for one last visit with my father on the 28th then let go. She was ready to “go and see my girls”. I like to think she had a joyful reunion that day with the two sisters I never knew.

My mother took leave with stoic dignity. Out of love, she hung on for several days, a final act of self-sacrifice out of love. And most especially she took leave in faith, negotiating the time with her Lord so that her beloved children and grandchildren could celebrate Christmas and knowing that she would be reunited with long-gone loved ones.

Reflection: Do you have any particular lessons you’d like to share that you learned from your mother or mother-figure?



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On Finding the Sacred in the Secular

I have come to believe that one does not have to go to a church, synagogue, or mosque to encounter the Sacred. This picture is one I took of one of the most beautiful cathedrals I have ever experienced — Yosemite Valley. The awareness of God’s presence there was much more real and profound than anything I’ve ever experienced in a Church. Such grandeur knows no religion yet is a wondrous celebration of God’s creation.

As I contemplate this cathedral, however, the words of Abraham Joshua Heschel echo in the background: “The road to the sacred leads through the secular.” Heschel’s works suggest that not only is God’s grandeur manifested in Yosemite Valley but also in the people, places, and things I encounter every day in El Paso, my hometown.

In theory I believe all this. After all, Jesus said “The Kingdom of God is within you”, a reminder that the Sacred can be found in each of us. A beautiful thought but one with which I struggle. Why? In part because I am an introvert drawn to the inner path to the Sacred. But I struggle more because I have come to see within myself that I don’t like people very much. I believe we are a troublesome species that has made a mess of things. We people are responsible for everything from wars to poverty to plastic clogging the ocean.

Like my business partner you might be thinking “Isn’t working as a psychologist kind of strange for someone who says he doesn’t like people?” Perhaps. I concluded several years ago, however, that I didn’t have to like someone to be of help to them. This conclusion was very liberating. Rather than be distracted by not liking someone and trying to make myself like them, I could relax and listen without judgment. In some ways, I have come to see that my task is to help each person uncover and listen to the Sacred within him or herself.

I am not naively optimistic about people. We — all of us __ are capable of horrendous evil. We all have a dark side. Thus to believe that everyone I meet has some Sacredness within can be a great challenge. Yet that is what we are called to attempt when we are challenged to love our enemies.

I took all these thoughts with me today on my Good Friday prayer walk. My thoughts got pretty noisy and confused until a favorite Psalms passage came to me: “Be still and know that I am God.” And so I continued quietly on, simply enjoying a warm beautiful El Paso afternoon.

I know there is Sacredness in the people I love and the people I admire. I know there is Sacredness in many of the people who come to me for help. But then I had a thought that jolted me: “But what is Sacred within you?” I struggled with that thought for the rest of my walk. I have written and talked about the importance of loving oneself. It is humbling to be reminded of how difficult that can be. I ended up with a paraphrase of Jesus’ words: “See the Sacred in your neighbor as well as in yourself.” Amen to that!

Reflection: 1. Where do you experience the Sacred in your life?

2. What is Sacred within you?


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On The Coalition of Callousness

Writing in 1962, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel used the phrase “coalition of callousness” when describing a major societal impediment to social consciousness. He reiterated this concept in his efforts to encourage others to protest both racial inequality and the Viet Nam War, challenging people to be wary of “the evil of indifference”.

I wonder what Rabbi Heschel would say about these times. I believe he would see that societal callousness has acquired several more layers of thickness since he first wrote those words. I believe he would be alarmed by the wide-spread evil of indifference. I believe he would see the Wall as a literal layer of callousness. He would challenge the encouragement of inequality that underlies that wall. He viewed us as called to embracing equality and noted that it is more that a virtue. Says Heschel “Equality as a religious commandment means personal involvement (emphasis his) fellowship, mutual reverence, and concern.”

Rabbi Heschel would challenge us first to look within to confront our own callousness and indifference, perhaps even our own latent or blatant racism. He would challenge us to confront our own fears. He would challenge religious professionals to not take the easy way and dish out comfort and rationalization. As he said “Religion may comfort the afflicted but it must also afflict the comfortable.”

I don’t believe there are easy answers to the current migrant issue, for example. What I do know is that Christianity as I understand it would stand in opposition to “the coalition of callousness” and would challenge politicians or even religious professionals who tolerate if not foster that coalition.

Ultimately if I am to call myself Christian, I am called to ask myself “Have you become callous? Indifferent? Have you excused yourself because the problems seem too big?” This applies not only to my response to the major social issues of the day but to the manner in which I respond to those around me, even to my loved ones. If I am callous with or indifferent toward those I care about, then how much more so will I be in response to others outside my circle?

Heschel would say that, if these questions make me uncomfortable, I am on the right track.

Reflection: 1. In what ways am I callous? Indifferent?

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On Spring Training

As a counselor, I believe one of my most important tasks is to help people find hope. Hope in themselves and their inner resources or hope that something positive outside them such as a Higher Power. These days it seems to be a precious commodity.

For some time, baseball has been a metaphor for me for all kinds of life events. Its artistry inspires my creativity. Its moments of poetry leave me wondrous. Moments of deep failure lead to reflection on how I deal with my own failures. I can even reflect on the Biblical theme of scapegoats (Remember Bill Buckner? Steve Bartman?) And of course, as George Carlin reminds us, we all have a desire to be safe at home.

Baseball gives me a metaphor for hope for hope springs eternal for all baseball fans when spring training arrives. We all start the new season with hope for our team, even if our team came out on top the previous year. We especially welcome the new season with hope when our team came oh so close. And yes those of us who have rooted for teams that finished in last place yet still believe. Spring training is a time of hope.

Spring training represents a new start. It represents a time to assess what wounds have healed. It may be a time to assess whether it’s time to move into a new phase of my life. As a poet once said, there may be nothing more poignant than an aging ball player playing past his time, unable to let go of one more chance at glory.

There is success in spring training but also much failure. Recall that more players go back to the minor leagues than make the team. Some never make it back. Spring training, after all, is a place of dreams. Players dream of making the team, of having a good year, of winning the World Series. Hope sustains our dreams.

Yes, baseball success is a trivial issue in comparison with hoping for the cure to an illness or relief from poverty or even finding a job. I approached baseball originally because it was an unimportant way to help me rediscover enthusiasm. The same may be true of hope.

So as spring training gets under way, whether you are a baseball fan or not, take the time to reflect on where you are as far as hope is concerned, recalling that perhaps more than anything else hope is life-affirming. Come on! Play ball!

In that spirit, enjoy John Fogarty’s “Center Field”

REFLECTION: 1. How is your level of hope? For what are you hoping?



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Of Walls and Politics and WWJD

El Paso is a most interesting place to live in these days. This past Monday we had the President here defending his Wall. In the nearby town of Tornillo we have migrant children separated from their families. Just down the street from my office we have migrants being force-fed as they undertake a hunger strike. We have a young articulate Democrat being touted as a Presidential candidate. So it goes.

We appear to be living in a spiritual vacuum. Participation in organized religion is decreasing, especially among young people. Hate crimes continue. The Bible is used to justify all kinds of political stances. And many, many of us simply shake our heads, not sure of what to do or who to believe.

You may remember a fad several years ago where people would wear bracelets with the letters WWJD, standing for What Would Jesus Do. These days I find myself thinking a lot about that question — What Would Jesus Do or Say?

I suspect first of all that Jesus would be appalled when people use his message to justify all kinds of actions, especially war. He would be appalled by the prevalence of hate crimes and the justification of such crimes by so-called Christian principles. He would be saddened by evidence of extreme self-involvement and attitudes of entitlement among the young.

But what would he do? Your own answer to that question is important these days because it will point you toward whatever political stance you feel compelled to take. I am not so presumptuous as to claim that I can read Jesus’ mind so I have to try to answer that question for myself based on the evidence of his words and actions.

Here in El Paso Jesus would be out at the Tornillo camp giving plates of tortillas and beans to the children. He would also listen with compassion to the guards frustrated with the enormity of the task.

Jesus very well might picket an abortion clinic but he would also approach with compassion the young teenager as she left that clinic post-abortion.

Jesus would protest any form of war while at the same time reaching out to warriors wounded in body, mind, and spirit.

Jesus would confront politicians acting in ways against his message while at the same time reminding us to love our enemies and to pray for them. Jesus confronted and even became aggressive in the face of people using their positions to enrich themselves but he also had compassion for the merchants, the tax collectors, even the Roman soldiers who wanted to believe there is a better way.

Jesus would stroke the brow of a person dying of AIDS. He would reach out to the young man or woman considering suicide rather than tell a parent he or she is gay. He would be at the El Paso bus station passing out bottles of water to migrants left there by the Border Patrol. He would sit with the Border Patrol agent in turmoil because his own parents were immigrants.

Jesus would reassure the victim of clergy abuse that they did no wrong and would want them to heal. And yes he would confront the church officials who covered up for the abusers. And yes he would forgive the abuser.

What do YOU say Jesus would do?


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On Christian Protest

Today I spoke with another Viet Nam veteran who was devastated by the reception he received upon returning home. Yes, I marched in the anti-war marches but I never spit at anyone and never called anyone a baby-killer.

The issue of protest in ugly seemingly non-Christian ways is with us today, fostered in part by a political dialogue that is often filled with name-calling and mocking. Yet the need for protest is as great as ever. Wars continue. Our environment gets more polluted. Our religions avoid accountability. Our leaders flaunt their ability to function by a different moral standard.

Yet we also see images of name-calling and mockery. We see abortion clinics get bombed. We see peaceful protesters mowed down by vehicles. We see people judged, condemned, even assaulted because their sexual orientation goes against so-called Biblical principles. We see migrants being accused of all manner of social ills.

Jesus was a radical who engaged in public protest in an effort to reform the Judaism of his time. He spoke out on behalf of the poor, the migrant, the outsider, encouraging us all to embrace the marginalized. His protests, especially against the establishment, got him killed.

So is there such a thing as Christian protest, i.e., a way of protesting that is consistent with principles of Christian living? A key Christian principle is to hate the sin while loving the sinner. This would be a cornerstone of Christian protest — to stay focused on the issue while not being side-tracked by personalities or by a less-than-Christian response from the other side. Christian protest would also need to be guided by a mutual effort to maintain respect and to listen. Only by listening can we establish meaningful dialogue.

And, yes, there is such a thing as righteous anger, modeled for us not only as Jesus tore up the Temple and threw out the merchants. He also modeled for us righteous anger when he confronted the powers that be. Yes, Jesus did call them names such as whitened sepulchers. He most especially challenged the powers as hypocrites who focused more on rules than on compassion. Some protest needs to be angry. The citizens of Flint MI for example are justifiably angry over the poisoning of their children by governments playing with their water supply. Government officials do indeed need to be confronted about their indifference and/or selfishness not only in Flint but in many other areas where the needs of the marginalized are ignored.

We must always balance our righteous anger by the command to love our enemy, probably Jesus’ greatest challenge. Yet if I allow my anger toward the enemy to consume me, then I am no better than protesters who name-call and assault in the name of so-called Christian principles.


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Life According to Vin Scully

My early days of baseball depended upon a transistor radio. During the memorable 1960 World Series, for example, I tucked the radio inside my shirt, ran the earpiece up my sleeve and sat listening, convinced I was fooling the nun but, more importantly, tracking the Pirates as they went back and forth against the hated Yankees in Game 7.

Those early days with my radio introduced me to many great announcers. Television introduced me to more great announcers such as Curt Gowdy of my beloved Redsox. But. like 98% of baseball fans, the one I especially enjoyed was Vin Scully, voice of the Dodgers until 2016. He was a wealth of stories and, in the presence of a dramatic moment, had the good sense to stay quiet. Over the years, Vin said some pretty profound things. Here are a few:

“That is the way the game is. You win, you lose, you celebrate and you suffer.” If we can accept the realities of all four and that all four are transitory, it at least makes it possible to get through life without being bitter.

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between an All-star game and an old-timers game.” To pause and wonder at the rapid passing of time is a necessary step toward appreciating the time we are given.

“Don’t let the winds blow your dreams away…or steal your faith in God.” Vin is actually a man of deep faith but recognizes here how our faith is challenged by suffering and hardship. Having dreams and having faith are great resources for negotiating life’s gales.

And finally “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day. Aren’t we all?” In the business of psychology, mindfulness and the challenge to “live in the moment” are very popular concepts these days. It is important that we recognize that that can all change in an instant, be it a stroke, an IED, or a simple fall. I have seen people’s lives turn in a completely different direction without warning. We must learn not to live in fear of that reality while at the same time live in gratitude.

Here then are some of Vin Scully’s best calls:

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The Myth of Closure

Here is the link for my most recent article in St Anthony Messenger, titled “The Death Penalty and the Myth of Closure”.

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