And so it goes


St. Mary Cemetery, Evergreen Park, Illinois

I went to WhirlyBall with my son Adam for his eighth grade outing. Adam was all excited about this trip because he’s graduating from grade school this year. Well, I’m excited, too, if you must know.

We met in the Most Holy Redeemer Church parking lot. The bus ride was a boisterous event for all the eighth graders because they’re graduating very soon–but not soon enough for them. This would be an evening of WhirlyBall and all the pizza we could eat and all the pop we could drink.

WhirlyBall is a game like lacrosse or polo, but it’s played in bumper cars. All the kids were excited about playing WhirlyBall and so were some of the parents. Me? I had never even heard of WhirlyBall before. But I like to be open-minded and try new things. I actually had no choice. Adam made sure I went out and played. He also made sure I had plenty of pizza to eat and pop to drink. He insisted that I drink a beer from the bar, but I didn’t want to drink and drive the very first time I played WhirlyBall.

The father who organized the outing made up schedules so that everyone would have a chance to play. I was impressed with his organizational skills–something I sadly lack. He had all the eighth graders playing each other in every combination possible on one court and the parents playing on the other. For the last hour, parents and their eighth graders would play on the same team. An elaborate set of brackets was designed for a tournament in which one team would be victorious and be awarded a special prize.

Well, we played exactly one match of the bracket when the tournament came to a screeching halt. I wasn’t sure why the next match wasn’t starting, so I started walking back to the organizer. I saw an eighth grade boy walking to a corner table. Then, I noticed he was crying. As I entered the main party room, everyone was very quiet. Adam told me that one eighth grader’s mother, Mrs. Menke, had just died. All the eighth grade girls had gathered together and started crying. About half of the boys were crying. Many of the mothers were also crying because they knew Mrs. Menke, or Patty as they called her. The organizer made a brief announcement about the death and then led the group in a short prayer. I had no idea that she was sick and that she was expected to die.

Needless to say, no more WhirlyBall was played. No one was in the mood to play WhirlyBall anymore. We soon boarded the buses and headed back to Most Holy Redeemer. The bus was very quiet. So quiet that I was afraid to ask Adam more details about Mrs. Menke’s death. He told me that she had thyroid cancer and that the doctors said she would die very soon. That’s why her son didn’t come on this outing. She only weighed about fifty pounds when she died. When we were about halfway back, one of the parents made the announcement that we would return to the church for a short service.

The eighth graders had the day off from school for the funeral, but any student who wanted to attend the funeral could also take the day off. I went to the funeral with my sons Adam and Alex. I didn’t actually know Mrs. Menke, but I always saw her at school activities. I felt that I should go to the funeral to be with my sons who were affected by her death. The church was full of family, friends, students and teachers from Most Holy Redeemer and Brother Rice High School, where she taught. The church was quite full. The funeral procession was also very long for the short drive to St. Mary Cemetery in Evergreen Park. Her whole life seemed to revolve around Evergreen Park and according to the speakers at the funeral mass she was very happy. Unfortunately, her life ended at age 47.

The funeral is a ceremony to honor and to pray for the deceased. But funerals are also for the living, to remind us that you and I must also go the way of all flesh. So live each day as if it were your last.

Confirmation


Most Holy Redeemer Church, Evergreen Park, Illinois

My son Adam was confirmed today. And I recalled many things past and present about being Roman Catholic.

The holy sacrament of Confirmation is usually the fourth sacrament that a Roman Catholic receives. A Christian baby is baptized soon after birth and then around the age of eight makes his or her Confession and receives his or her First Holy Communion. Then around age twelve or thirteen, usually, he or she makes a conscious decision to denounce Satan and become a Christian, unlike Baptism where an innocent baby has no choice but to be baptized a Catholic.

I am a Roman Catholic (or just plain Catholic). There were times in the past when I told people that I was an ex-Catholic or a lapsed Catholic. I was once hospitalized at St. Anthony’s Hospital and when I was asked my religion I said, “Catholic” just out of guilt. A Catholic priest then came to visit me everyday. I told him that I wasn’t sure if I was still Catholic and he told me that it was normal to doubt. Now, whenever someone asks me my religion, I say I’m Catholic. If I think about Catholicism very objectively, I realize that, once you go through all of my religious training, I will always be a Catholic and never an ex- or lapsed Catholic. That would be the equivalent of saying, “I used to be Mexican.”

Today, I tried to compare Adam’s confirmation to mine. But I couldn’t remember my confirmation because I was baptized in México when I was about two months old. When it came time for my class to get confirmed at Holy Cross, my mother told me that I was already confirmed. That was news to me! Whenever we had confirmation classes, Sister Cecilia would just look at me with disdain and shake her head. She couldn’t understand how Mexicans could confirm babies. That was so contradictory to the whole concept of confirming that one voluntarily and willingly wanted to be a Catholic. Well, I was an outsider during the whole confirmation process. I had to go to the Confirmation, but I couldn’t sit with the class because I wasn’t getting confirmed. I didn’t feel very Catholic that day. Or today when I tried to compare my confirmation with my son’s.

I was happy for my son, but this was an awkward day for me. Since the divorce, we no longer celebrate anything as a family. But such is life.

So did I miss out on anything by being comfirmed so young?

Basketball


My son is a blur!

 I was never good enough to play on my high school basketball team. I never even played any sport in any kind of league. That may have been due to a lack of opportunity, but I might not have been good enough anyway. Now, as a father of three sons, I play sports vicariously through my sons. I have always encouraged them to try out for every team sport at their school. I enjoy watching them play because they enjoy playing sports so much. They have played little league baseball and basketball and football for their teams at Most Holy Redeemer School.

One of the main reasons that I encourage them to play team sports is that if they didn’t, they would be playing video games in their free time. This way they get some exercise while they’re having fun. Their basketball team usually loses most games. I don’t really mind because they’re getting plenty of exercises whether or not they win. They enjoy playing despite losing. I always tell them that we’ll play more basketball over the summer vacation so they get some practice in. But they never want to. Perhaps that’s why they lose so many games. In fact, whenever I drive around in the summer, I see kids playing basketball in the driveway all over the south side and the neighboring suburbs. In Evergreen Park where my sons live, no one plays basketball in the driveway during the summer! They must all be inside playing video games. Well, that explains why the other teams are so much better.

When I was a boy, we played sports, too, but not as part of any organized league. We literally played baseball all year-round. It’s a great feeling to slide into second base with snow on the ground! In the winter, I loved playing ice hockey. I was a fearless goalie! I was usually picked first or second. We played basketball, but my friends were so lazy! Even when we had five players per team, they stilled wanted to play half court so they wouldn’t have to run as much. Yet they claimed to be great athletes!

My father always want to play soccer with us whenever we went on a picnic or paseo. Actually, he called it fútbol. None of my friends played soccer, so I never wanted to play soccer with my father. Sometimes we would play basketball together, but I didn’t know the rules very well the first time we played. I didn’t know that once you stopped dribbling, you couldn’t dribble again. I would dribble. Stop dribbling. Start dribbling again. In fact, I would do it several times. My father told me that was double dribble. I didn’t believe him because I didn’t know the rules. I remember telling him, “We’re not playing by Mexican rules. Let’s play the American way.” “That is the American way!” he told me. But I didn’t believe him until I asked some of my friends who confirmed that my father was, in fact, right. Imagine that! I was stunned.

Sometimes when I watch my sons play basketball, I remember how I played sports as a boy. I remember how fun my friends and I had playing sports even though we didn’t play in any leagues. I feel as I made up for that by watching my sons play.

 

Church


Immaculate Heart of Mary, Back of the Yards, Chicago, Illinois

I don’t often go to church, but when I don’t, I don’t feel guilty at all. When I was in grade school at Holy Cross, I went to church at least six times per week. So, now, I don’t feel any real need to attend church.If I average out my church attendance over the span of my life, I’ve gone to mass more times than many people who claim to be Catholic. Of course, I still go several times a year. This year, I’ve gone every time my son Alex went to mass before his football game. Last spring, I went to my second cousin’s confirmation. Last week, I went to my cousin Shirley’s funeral. But other than that, I haven’t gone to church. I’m not against going to church, but I never think of going on my own without any compelling reason for going.

I suppose the real question for me to answer is, “Do I believe in God?” Well, the answer is, “Once upon a time, I used to.” I was baptized a Catholic and I was confirmed by the time I was three months old. At one time when I was about twelve, I believed in God so much that I really wanted to become a priest. But then I saw the light. I realized that many Catholics were hypocrites, clergy included, and my faith in God was shaken.

When I was in the Marines, I used to go talk to the Catholic chaplain on a regular basis. I’ll be honest: I went to get out of my work detail, rather than discussing any true critical religious crisis. So I figured I had better make it good. I told the chaplain that I no longer believed in God. Which I didn’t at the time. And I still don’t. But I still feel Catholic. Since I was baptized and raised a Catholic, I plan to remain a Catholic and I will never convert to another religion. I’ve known Catholics who converted and became fanatical about their new religion.

I even baptized my sons as Catholics and sent them to a Catholic school. I’ve had friends ask me why I would do that if I’m not really Catholic. I like the sense of tradition.Two of my friends from Spain once grilled me about my Catholicism. “Are you Catholic?” “Yes.” “Do you go to church every Sunday?” “No.” “Then you’re not Catholic!” “I was baptized a Catholic!” “Are your sons Catholic?” “They were baptized Catholic.” “But you’re not Catholic! Why did you baptize them?” “If nothing else, we have something in common.” They were dumbfounded by my logic.

This morning I took my son Alex to his football mass at Most Holy Redeemer Church. I remembered most of the prayers, but there were some new ones. My mind drifted away from the mass several times. I recalled how mass used to be when I was a boy. Things were so different now. When I was an altar boy, only males were allowed near the altar during mass. Today, there were no altar boys. Only altar girls. And about half of the Eucharist ministers were women. And the dress code is no longer the stringent dress shirt with a tie and dress pants for males and nice dresses for females with their heads covered. I was shocked to see worshipers coming to mass wearing jeans, shorts, gym shoes, flip flops, and t-shirts. On the other hand, the church was fairly full and most people participated in the prayers and hymns. Overall, I got the feeling that they were true believers.