If all in Heaven want to praise what they see in Me, it is because they see that I have no value which is not received from You. Yes, I am Your Mother, but You are infinitely more to Me, because You, My most beloved Jesus, are the Almighty, who demonstrates in Me how far reaching your Omnipotence can be.
My adored Son, for all that You have done for Me, I, with the power that You give Me, now gather souls in order to give them to You. For all the attention which You have lavished on Me, I now go around the world in order to light up the fire of charity [love] for You, My heavenly Son, the joy of My eyes, beauty without equal. I shall never be able to equal You in love, but, nonetheless, You have given Me so much that many in the world treat Me with immense love.
I am the oldest of five, and my mom died when I was fifteen. My brothers were eleven, six, and two. My sister was twelve. Grandma lived with us and decided that dad had killed her daughter. Mom, who had just turned forty, had died of leukemia; so grandma was wrong. But dad believed that we kids were better off with Grandma looking after us than him doing it. He was wrong too
Since there was no reasoning with her, dad became a constant patron of the local saloons. (We lived in the south Bronx, and there were plenty of “watering holes” for him to choose from). The truth of it was—he could not live with her as she berated him mercilessly every chance she had, including calling him a no-good murderer. Yup, in keeping away from her got to know a lot of people, and everyone loved him.
Two years after mom passed on, Grandma had a massive stroke. Some events are emblazoned into your memory forever as if they just happened and this was one of them. Dad was home, and he yelled to me, “Something’s wrong with your grandmother. She needs your help. I’m calling the priest.”
I heard the word “priest” and hurried into the kitchen. Grandma was standing with her head arched into her shoulder and her hands were clamped like vise-grips onto the cupboard door. I had to pry her fingers up one at a time, so I could drag her to her bed. My little brothers and sister were staring at this spectacle taking place. It was surely a surreal moment.
I managed to drag her convulsing and contorted body to her bed. Dad was home and called the rectory. She was squeezing my hands so tight I thought they might break. She was conscious and looking me in the eyes as I looked into hers. “Grandma, pray with me. Okay grandma, C’mon, pray with me.”
Together we prayed the “Our Father.” Barely able to speak, she made an Act of Contrition. She sort of relaxed a bit and her eyes closed. Father Quirk hurried in and gave her the Last Rites. She died soon after as I held her in my arms. The ambulance was too late.
Dad was like a lost pup. Monsignor Martin gave him some work at the church, and he drove a cab a few days a week. He was not living as much as he was existing. He drank too much and two years later he died of an acute attack of Pancreatitis. That was the moment we officially became orphans. I was old enough to work so things worked (pun intended) out—as best they could.
My brother Bobby passed away unexpectedly ten years ago, from a heart attack. He was 53. The baby of the family, Johnny, sad to say, took his own life when he was 55. He had alcohol and other drug issues during his life and any deep-seated issues he may have had were never resolved. He had just turned two when Mom died and (according to several medical health professionals) his suicide was the final result of the losses he suffered during his formative years.
My high-school sweetheart, Loretta, stuck by my side (I had three brothers I was taking care of) , and her family was not too happy about her and I being together. In hindsight, I understand why. But her loyalty and love for me was unshakable and we tied the knot several years later. We were married thirty-five wonderful years.
In 1978, she was expecting our fourth child and was in her sixth month of pregnancy when the baby was still-born. We named her Theresa Mary, and she is buried with my parents. Loretta became ill in 1991, was sick for a long time, and passed away from melanoma in 2003.
Four years later I married again. Her name was Marty (Martha), and we were both members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. In March of 2017, Marty passed away after fighting lymphoma and Alzheimer’s disease for six years. We had made it to our tenth anniversary.
So there you have it; our lives will all end in death. Many have reached out to God and embraced the faith He has gifted us. Many have rejected it. That is called a “choice.” For those who have embraced the God given gift of Faith they know that death is a NEW beginning. Having that gift to live with can help make living gratifying, no matter what the circumstances.
During the early morning hours of November 24, 1906, a ship quietly slid against the ebb-tide waters of the Narrows and entered New York harbor. On board were almost 2000 people, mostly immigrating Europeans. Through the emerging light of the new dawn, the Statue of Liberty came into view. The appearance of the great icon had them mesmerized. They had arrived at their new home, America.
Among the people on board was a little girl from Hungaria. Her name was Julia, and she was four years old. She held a small rag doll tightly in her arms. At that moment in time, it was the only link she had to security and happiness.
Eight days earlier, Julia had hugged her poppa good-bye. She remembered his stubbly beard tickling her face and how he had reached into the pocket of his big wool overcoat and pulled out a surprise. It was a doll. He smiled and said, “For you, Shkutabella (my little pretty). Her name is Rachel, and I made her for you. As long as you have her, I will always be with you even if I am not there. Do you understand?”
Julia nodded her head up and down, and her mom said, “Please Bollassar, please come with us. I do not like going without you.”
“Viola, it is all right. I will be over in a year. My brother George will take care of you. It is all right.”
A week had passed, and as Viola and Julia stood on the deck, a life-boat broke free from its support cable. It fell and hit Viola, killing her instantly. Julia’s mom had been standing next to her and then she was lying lifeless on the deck. The child’s young mind could not understand why her mom did not move. She screamed at her to wake up. That would never happen. As the ship docked at the pier all Julia knew was fear and loneliness.
At Ellis Island, a bizarre series of events saw Julia shuffled from one official to another and when a lady smiled at her, the official nearby assumed they were together and made Julia go with the lady. The woman took Julia as far as Broome and Varick Streets in lower Manhattan. She told the child to stay there and walked away. Just like that Julia had become another abandoned child on the streets of the city.
Little Julia, holding Rachel, had been standing in the same spot for more than an hour. She was cold, hungry, and frightened beyond belief when the beat cop, Paddy Dolan, approached her. He was instantly smitten with the dark-haired, blue-eyed child and asked her her name. Hesitatingly she said, “Julia.”
Officer Dolan brought her with him to the station-house, and after checking as much as anyone could in 1906, she was declared an orphan. But this orphan was not going to an orphanage. Paddy Dolan brought her home.
Paddy’s wife, Aileen, a wee wisp of a gal from County Galway in Ireland, could not have children. Paddy and Aileen adopted Julia, and she became Julie Dolan. She grew up to be a teacher, married a man named Tommy O’Rourke, (also a policeman), and they had three children, two boys, and a girl. The girl was named Viola.
On Thanksgiving day, 1951, Julia, her daughter Viola, and Viola’s four-year-old daughter, Karen, went to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. They stood in the crowd at 63rd Street and Central Park West and, as Santa passed by, Viola suggested that they go to the Squire’s Restaurant a few blocks away.
Karen was holding Rachel, Julia’s doll. Karen loved the doll and, in a moment of weakness, grandma Julia had allowed her to take the doll with her to the parade. Rachel had not been out of the house in over forty years.
They sat in a booth and Karen placed Rachel on the table. Julia reached over and fingered the doll lovingly. Suddenly a man stood by their table. He was old and weathered and quite nervous. A chill ran down Julia’s spine. The man pointed to the doll and nervously said, “Excuse me…is..is that doll named Rachel?”
Viola, not seeing her mother turning pale, answered, “Why yes, how could you know such a thing?”
As tears fell from the old man’s eyes, he looked at Julia and softly said, “Is it really you, Shkutabella?”
Julia jumped from her seat and threw her arms around the old man. “Oh Poppa, Poppa, Poppa. I can’t believe it. Yes, it is. It is. It is ME.”
My father has been dead for many years but he is still teaching me how to be Catholic. He is doing this by living in my mind via memories of his personal Christianity in action. The Feast of All Saint’s Day flips a switch that turns on one of these memories. That is also when I began to embrace the fact that the vast majority of the first Catholics were born and raised Jewish .
I remember that Friday night long ago. We lived in the south Bronx in a five-story walk-up on Sherman Ave. There were eight of us in a four-room apartment and we never even considered that it was small and cramped. The neighborhood was the same for all families except for those living up on the upscale Grand Concourse. That’s where the “money” people lived in buildings with courtyards and sometimes the courtyards even had fish ponds in the middle.
It was still September and summer had not yet left. Back then no-one had air-conditioning and everyone kept their windows open praying for a breeze. The screaming started a little past midnight. It filled the back alleyway and floated unmercifully upward and into the open windows. Our apartment was directly above the window from where the screams were coming and on this night they seemed exceptionally close and blood-curdling. Pop got up and my brother, Danny, whispered from his bed, “I think he’s going down there.”
We watched as Pop left our apartment and headed down the stairs. We followed and quietly sat on the upper landing stretching our necks so our heads would make a right-angle turn to see down and around the landing below. We watched our father, who without hesitation, walked over to the apartment door and began banging on it with his fist.
This was the apartment of Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz. Leo was the landlord and he owned the building. No one dared complain to the landlord about noise coming from his apartment even if it was about midnight screams that curled the hairs on your neck. But Pop was not going down to complain. He was going to see if he could help. He had this way about him and sometimes he was uncommonly instinctive.
The door opened and Leo poked his head out. Pop started talking to him and, incredibly, Leo just stood there listening. The man was short, maybe 5’2″, he had a droopy mustache that needed tending and his sagging shoulders said he was obviously worn out. He held a pipe off to the side of his head and his face seemed to be saying, “Please help me.”
Pop continued talking for a minute or so and suddenly Leo Rabinowitz, the “feared” Jewish landlord, buried his head in my father’s chest and began crying unashamedly. Danny and I were stunned. Then Pop, his arm around Leo’s shoulder, disappeared into Leo’s apartment.
We both went back into our apartment and lay there conjecturing away at all the possibilities that may have caused this unexpected union between a landlord and tenant, a Jewish man and a Catholic man, between two people who were neighbors but were not really except for location and who had nothing in common.
Within fifteen minutes Bobby, Johnny, and Carolyn had joined Danny and I in the conversation and by the time our five imaginations extrapolated each other’s ideas, we “knew” that Leo Rabinowitz was a communist spy and he had somehow killed our father and disposed of his dismembered body in the coal furnace down in the basement.
As we plotted our course of action Pop came back into our apartment. It had been a few hours, or at least it seemed that way. Pop just walked through our bedroom and headed to the back room moving ever so slowly. When he paused by his workbench he sat on the stool, lowered his head into his upraised fingers, took in a deep breath and sighed. Then, ever so quietly, he pulled his beads from his pocket and started praying the rosary. None of us interrupted and I think we all just fell asleep.
We found out about those screams the next morning. Sophie was having nightmares all right, nightmares of her two boys, ages 12 and 9, being clubbed to death with rifle butts by the Nazis, who also insisted that the boy’s mom and dad watch as they killed their sons. To this day I cannot imagine what those moments in their lives were like.
They were loving parents and were rendered helpless as godless people murdered their children, enjoying inflicting their heinous butchery on innocents. The ultimate torture distributed by the Nazis was allowing Leo and Sophie to watch. Sophie’s screams told that story night after night, year after year after year. How ghastly and cruel those memories had to be.
All Saint’s Day is celebrated on November 1. The gospel reading for the day is from Matthew 5:1-12, The Beatitudes. When the priest reads them the switch will flip and I will go back to that Friday once again. It always happens. I hear #2, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”; then #5, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy”; and #7, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
Pop lived all three of those Beatitudes that Friday night long ago. He mourned with his Jewish neighbors, he was merciful to them and he brought a sense of peace into their lives. My gift was being able to remember how a Catholic man reached out to his Jewish neighbors and how they became friends. I also remember that because of that friendship Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz became friends with other folks in the building and in the neighborhood.
My final lesson in all of this was when Pop told me to get out my missal and read the Roman Canon. I did and began reading., silently. “Out loud”, he said. I paused for a moment and looked at him. He said, “Just do it.”
I did until I got to the part that read, “whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary—, and blessed Joseph, her spouse—“, etc. “Okay, stop,” he said. “Tell me about all those people.”
“What about them?” I don’t understand.”
“Never ever forget that almost all of them were Jewish, including Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Our roots are deeply embedded in Judaism. We Catholic/Christians and Jews are joined at the spiritual hip “in perpetuity”. Leo and Sophie Rabinowitz are our brother and sister too. Never forget that.”
If you and your spouse have lived within a marriage that has been filled with an unconditional, unselfish, love for each other, then you have been truly blessed. Giving of oneself to another “no matter what,” creates a connection that can never be broken, and it leaves behind a journey that has been sheathed with laughter, joy, comfort, and compassion powered by that love.
This was God’s plan, and many have embraced it and lived it and reaped the rewards of truly being ONE. Loving someone more than yourself can be a hard thing to do and many have tried but failed. But far more have tried and succeeded by emptying themselves for each other.
I have two dear friends, better yet I shall call them the BEST friends anyone could ever have. Their names are Mike and Roberta, and we met 35 years ago when our sons were playing youth baseball. Their friendship was unconditional, unquestioned, and given freely, without reservation. They were unhesitatingly there for my family and later, after my wife, Loretta had passed, for me.
As is the way of things time never waits for anyone and keeps moving forward. Now Roberta looks at the dying person in the bed before her and realizes that part of herself is lying there too. Suddenly their lives together scroll before her. The courtship, the wedding, the birth of their child, the laughter, the good times and the bad, the crying, and so forth. This is when having God in your life is crucial. Hope springs eternal and therein lies the truth of the power of faith.
My friend, Mike, was raised in an orphanage in Philadelphia. Long ago, his mother dropped him off in front of the place on a snowy, Christmas Eve. She left him standing there with a note pinned to his jacket. He was four years old. When he turned eighteen, he was dismissed from the orphanage, given a few bucks, and offered “best wishes and God’s blessings.”
He walked away from that place and immediately joined the United States Marine Corp. From that day forward, Mike, who was a trucker, has walked, talked and looked like a Marine. Most of all he has loved his family and his country as completely as he could.
Roberta, who was a florist, was one of three sisters and was also from Philadelphia. Her life looks like different chapters in a novel whose genre could be considered “urban legend melodrama.” She was one of three sisters and was abused as a child. She lost her first husband to diabetes when she was thirty-one years old. Her father, an alcoholic, was burned over 75% of his body and she cared for him until he recovered and could somewhat function on his own.
Then she turned to alcohol which ultimately led her to Alcoholics Anonymous. Mike was also attending AA, and that is where they met. He became her sponsor, and he was relentless in his quest to get her to stop drinking. She eventually did, and they got married. (Neither of them has had a drink in over 50 years).
A half-century of climbing and struggling down into the valleys and over the mountains of the journey called “life” has passed. They never wavered, stood tall, and together stared down and conquered all obstacles in their path. They raised a son who grew up to be the chief pilot for a well-known airline. Mike and Roberta are a living definition of the word, marriage.
One more challenge stands before them. The only problem is, this time only one of them can confront the challenge. And, upon completing that challenge, that person will be alone.
Mike has been attacked by the cruel demon known as Alzheimer’s disease. It began erasing his memory some years ago, and it has relentlessly worked its evil 24/7. Today Mike is in a “memory care unit” inside a nursing home. He remembers nothing yet his face lights up and he smiles ear to ear when his dear Roberta walks into the room. He thinks she is his “mommy.” Except she is not. He also has lost the ability to swallow and can no longer eat or drink.
His lover and best friend is now faced with the task of watching him leave her forever. She has asked Hospice to keep him pain-free and as comfortable as possible. The journey of the long goodbye has reached the last turn before arriving at the station. All that Roberta can do is embrace what was and know that his spirit will always be with her. Then she can take comfort in knowing that one day, holding hands, they will stand together again.
May God bless and have mercy on all Alzheimer’s victims and their families.
I found myself writing this for Mother’s Day because the legal definition of “gender” has become controversial. I begin with a quote from Cardinal Giovanni Ravasi; President of the Pontifical Council of Culture: “The love of man and woman, capable of generating life, is a sign that points to God.”
The following comes from personal experience. My youngest brother, Johnny, had just turned two when Mom died. The previous six months she had been, for the most part, in the hospital. Johnny grew up without ever knowing his mom and her hugs or her voice or her caress. His ‘shrink,’ told him his “problems” with relationships were due to the fact he had lost his Mom as a baby. Johnny took his own life three years ago.
Bobby was six years old when Mom died. He always had an anger in him that could expose itself to perceived provocations. He passed away suddenly, eleven years ago. His killer was congestive heart failure. I still think his heart had been irreparably broken at age six and it just took another forty years to give out.
Danny was ten. He is still fine, and we are in frequent contact. I was the oldest, and my sister was second. Dad died a few years after Mom, and we tried to be a mom and a dad to our three brothers. We did our best, but we were in water way over our heads. We did survive as a family but, as you can see, having no Mom had profound consequences (the dad part I will leave for another day).
I move ahead 16 years to the birth of my daughter. Times were changing, and when Mary came along, I was present, and all decked out in my scrubs and sterile gloves (Prior to that time, Dads were not allowed into the delivery room).
I was sitting at the end of the delivery room table with my right hand holding the top of my wife’s head. I was looking up into a mirror watching the birth take place. And then, Doctor Butler began to lift his arms and in his hands was a baby. Our baby—a girl.
It seemed that almost instantly the nurse was next to me handing me, my daughter. Her face was still gooey, and her eyes were wide open. She was not crying but rather, she kept staring at me. Her eyes were as blue as the sky and as big as saucers. That was my moment, etched within my mind forever. A more profound moment was on the way.
Within moments baby Mary was being lifted from my hands and taken to her waiting Mom. Still lying on the delivery table, Loretta reached out for her baby. That was the moment I understood the power and intrinsic importance of a mom. A mother and her child are forever bound by an unbreakable bond that can only be felt between them. I also believe that dynamic is similar to every child that a mom gives birth too.
There are many moms who have, because of whatever circumstance and oftentimes out of love and humility, given their child up for adoption. In my heart of hearts, I do not believe any woman “happily” gives away her own child. Interestingly, the adoptive parents will generally love that child as if she or he was their very own and the children would assuredly love them back.
But, at some point in time, the children have a need arise within themselves to ‘find” their Birth Mom and/or Birth Dad. That is because an unbreakable bond is always there. No one can remove it or take it away or replace it. It is what it is.
For some, Gender Neutrality may be the “feel good” movement for the present moment. But it is a premise built on quicksand and defies all of the Natural Law. Pope St. John Paul II summed it up best: “God has assigned a duty to every man, the dignity of every woman.”
Within those words are the inspiration for both men and women to defend what God has created.
Wishing all Moms, both living and passed on, a HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY
And please say a prayer for all those folks who cannot remember what having a Mom was like.
It was the spring of 2014. Ed and Cathy Carmello (not their real last name) had only been my neighbors for a short time, less than a year I think. They had met when Ed was 60 and Cathy was 40. They fell in love and, never having been married, happily “tied the knot.” They had just celebrated their silver wedding anniversary and were simply enjoying retired life together.
There was a problem. Ed’s prostate cancer had returned with a vengeance and was destroying him quickly. Cathy was in her final battle with Stage IV melanoma. Since I was a prostate cancer survivor and my first wife had died of melanoma, I was able to discuss their cancers openly with them. They knew I understood.
It was a Thursday afternoon around 4 .p.m. when I left to take my daily walk. I headed down the street, and there was Cathy standing on her front lawn supported by her walker. I could see she was fighting to hold herself up. A bit anxious, I hurried over and said, “Hey, Cathy, what’s going on? Is everything all right?”
“I was waiting for you, Larry. I need to talk to you.”
I was dumbfounded. “Are you kidding me? I never walk at this time of day, and you say you were waiting for me?”
“I just knew you were coming by. I can’t explain it.”
A bit unnerved, I leaned against her SUV as she leaned heavily on her walker. “You know Ed is dying, right?”
“Yeah, Cathy, I know. We talked about it. He’s an amazing guy. What about your prognosis? Any change?”
She smiled and looked me right in the eye saying, “They told me I only have a few weeks left.”
I tightened my lips, took a breath, and asked, “What can I do?”
They knew that I was Catholic and an EMHC (Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion). Cathy asked me if I could bring a priest over. She told me that they had been non-practicing Catholics and had not been to church in years. It was time for them to “make things right with God.” I said, “I will put a call into Father as soon as I get back to the house.”
“Thank you so much. That is why I was out here waiting for you.”
I simply nodded. She smiled and thanked me and I walked her back to the house. She did not mention herself once, only her husband. She told me how she wished she could ease his suffering and how wonderful it might be if they could go for a bicycle ride just one more time. Then she mentioned how she thanked God for every moment they had had together.
We went inside and she, Ed, and I hung out for about ten minutes just chatting. Cathy excused herself and slowly walked back to the bedroom. Ed quickly told me how he wished he could ease her suffering and how God had been so good to him allowing him to find such a great woman to share his life with. I took in a deep breath. (You know, when God is present sometimes it is hard to breathe).
I called our newly ordained priest, Father Scott. He came over the next day and spent about an hour with Ed and Cathy. Ed and the young priest both had roots in Roanoke, Virginia, and talked and laughed and had a raucous good time together. Even though the two of them were separated by more than 50 years, it did not matter. It was as if they had grown up together. It was beautiful.
Father heard their confessions, anointed both of them and gave them Holy Communion. He told them he would come back the first chance he could. Sunday was Palm Sunday. It was the beginning of Holy Week, and he would be busy. They all hugged and said good-bye. On Palm Sunday I had the honor of bringing them Holy Communion.
Easter Sunday I was again privileged to bring Ed and Cathy Holy Communion. In so doing, an unexpected sight was forever etched in my mind. They were lying next to each other in bed, holding hands. Ed smiled and said, “Larry, we are SO happy. This is the greatest Easter we ever had.”
He turned and looked at his wife who was smiling lovingly at him. She reached over and wiped his wet, happy eyes. They kept looking into each other’s eyes, and I thought they were maybe looking into each other’s souls. It was a moment that was filled with a shared spirituality I had never seen before. I could actually feel it. I have no doubt that at that moment Jesus was there with them holding their hands in His.
As for me, I thank God for their friendship and for being a part of their final journey. Sometimes I like to think that I took two people in love to the airport and watched them get on a plane for a a true flight to paradise.