“This is not our day” Memorial Day

This is not our day.

Many people will take the time today to thank living veterans for their service. We who have served appreciate your well wishes, especially on Armed Forces Day during the month of May or on Veterans Day during the month of November.

But today is not OUR day.

Memorial Day is a day set aside for the remembrance of all those who fell in battle, who died in the line of duty, those who died in training…all those servicemembers, men and women, who made the ultimate sacrifice during wartime or while keeping a fragile peace in the service of this nation and it’s citizens.

Joseph Brady Colllins IIMy Great Uncle and namesake…Joseph Brady Collins II, age 19, U.S. Army WW I

Over the years it has morphed into the official start of summer, cookouts, trips to the shore or other vacation spots and the best time to get a “deal” due to all the “Memorial Day Sales”.

It is good to celebrate these things and spend the time with family and friends. And who doesn’t love a deal and saving money? But do not let these things overshadow the meaning of this day.

The veteran will sacrifice his life for his buddy, fellow platoon member or shipmate. He will also make this sacrifice for his loved ones back home. He will die to defend his country and fulfill the oath he took upon enlistment…to support and defend the Constitution of the United States….the ideals that define this nation…

There are not many who would die for an ideal.

Politicians take the same oath when elected to office but do not honor that same oath in day to day business….

I do not believe they would sacrifice their lives to protect that same document…those same ideals.

Enjoy your vacations, your cookouts, your time with friends and your sales….

But as you do enjoy a long weekend with family and friends, please take the time to remember those who’s service and sacrifice have provided you the freedom to do so.

Take time to visit a National Cemetery, Memorial Gardens, and Sites of Remembrance…a local memorial to the honored dead. Or just take a moment during the day to stop and think about those who gave the last full measure of devotion so that you may enjoy the freedoms, the peace and security and the way of life you celebrate today….

 

jbc graveThe grave of my Great Uncle Joe at St Michele in France…he left home at 19 and never returned…

“Requiescat In Pace”

On God and Faith

I hope there is a God….

First, let me give you some background….

I was raised to believe in God as a Catholic because my mother, her mother and her mother’s family back to our ancestors who came from Wales (I was told the family once owned a castle named “Hughes Castle” before World War II), England and Germany were all Catholics. My father was raised Protestant, not that I ever saw him practice his religion.

My brother, sister and I all went to Catechism Class on Sundays, received 1st Holy Communion (reception of the Communion host symbolizing the “body of Christ” it symbolizes the bread which Christ broke at the Last Supper saying “take this, all of you, and eat of it…for this is my body which shall be given up for you…do this in memory of me”),  and Confirmation (reception of the Holy Spirit) attended mass on Christmas and Easter Sunday.

I remember feeling a strange sensation in my chest when we entered the church as a child…a feeling in the center of my chest of fear and awe…feeling that, though “God was everywhere”, as I had been taught, He was definitely in his house, and that made me believe.

As I grew older however I began to question the existence of God. It wasn’t “cool” to believe in God as a teenager in high school, especially in the late 60’s and early 70’s, where social values and morals were changing so drastically.

In addition, I had some doubts about Cannon Law and how it pertains to Catholics. My grandmother, who I dearly loved, was a devout Catholic yet her first marriage was not a happy one, I do not know all the details but I get the impression that it was “rough” at times. She got divorced and later married a man who I knew as my grandfather. He was a good husband to his wife and a good father to my mother. However, my grandmother was excommunicated for remarrying and though she did not speak of it, it was my impression that this hurt her very deeply.

I am personally against abortion but believe that it is not for one human being to tell another what to do with their own body. I believe these decisions should be between that person and their maker. I would also challenge those pro-lifers to each personally back up their words with action and take on the challenge of adopting and raising an unwanted child or the child of a drug addicted mother. There are many arguments that can be made about abstinence, sex out of wedlock, etc but it is not my intent to debate them in this article.

It is for these reasons that I began to question my beliefs, or, at least those beliefs as taught by the Catholic faith.

During my 20 years in the Navy I waffled in and out of my belief in God. For one thing, the majority of behaviors in port of most of the “sailors” I knew (present company included) ran contrary to how I believe the good Lord would have preferred we behave, particularly concerning women and alcohol. It is said that God offers absolution for those who repent (multiple times) and regret their sins.

During the periods when I put my own selfish thoughts and practices aside (somewhat), I studied different religions, Mormon, attended a Pentecostal service, and Baptist services, though I admit I was doing it a little more for the girls I was dating at the time then for matters of the soul. I did attend a Presbyterian church for quite a few years as I really enjoyed the service and the people of the congregation seemed more genuine than those of other religions.

Throughout the rest of my Naval career and after retirement I would go through periods where I would attend services on a regular basis. During my last 2 years in and my subsequent retirement in the Groton, Connecticut area I attended Catholic services at the Shepard of the Sea chapel, which was one of the two chapels for the U.S. Submarine Base New London.

I attended Catholic services for a number of reasons. I enjoyed the Catholic chaplain. He lived right around the corner from me in Groton and we had talked from time to time. In addition, I was impressed in the way he conducted Mass. I have seen many priests who have conducted Mass by just going through the motions, no passion, no joy, some priests who have acted like they wanted to be anywhere else but at Mass that morning and then those priests who like to scare the hell out of you. They preach the fear of the wrath of God to enforce obedience, rather than teaching people to come to God through love and encouragement and to seek God in times of trouble. The chaplain at The Shepard was one of those priests who took the love approach. That man gave the perception that there was no calling he’d rather have then teaching the love of God and no place he’d rather be on a Sunday morning. Though I haven’t always agreed with ALL the teachings of the Catholic faith, I deeply admired the depth of his personal faith and his willingness to discuss other religious points of view.

Though I had always questioned the sincerity of a service that pretty much uses the same prayers in the same format every Sunday, I did enjoy the sermons and have always strove to listen to the priest’s homily and truly meditate on what was being said. In addition, I could see how the ritual of the same prayers in the same order during the Mass could be comforting to many. I’ve always looked at christian religions as teaching everyone the same thing in different ways. You go with what speaks to you the best.

That does not, however, condone those who practice prejudice and prejudgement against others. These are not christian principles. Christ has been quoted having said “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” and ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I must also point out that these principles are not a solely christian province just as God is not a solely christian province. And there are many other non christian religions, along with agnostics and atheists who practice these principles as well. “God loves kind Atheists over hateful Christians”….

I’ve been married twice. The first marriage broke my heart and when I first started dating my current wife I told her that I never wanted to get married again and that I didn’t want to have a child. Then, 9 years later, we had a child.

When my son was born I wanted him to be brought up to believe in God. I believe that I would raise him with up with the same foundation I had and that when he was old enough to form his own opinions he would follow his own council. I too raised him in the Catholic faith as both my wife and I had been.

At the time my son was old enough for baptism, though I attended Catholic church, I did not consider myself Catholic. Because I wanted my child baptized and raised as a Catholic, I spoke with the chaplain and told him of my first marriage, my current marital situation and my feelings on getting married. But I also told him of my desire to raise my son in the same faith and, that because of my deep respect for his conviction, I would like him to perform the baptism. I said that I thought the Catholic church should be happy that we wanted to bring my son up Catholic and that my son should not be punished for MY actions in living with a woman out of wedlock. The chaplain agreed and performed the baptism.

Later on, I finally did decide to get married. It was my intent to get married in the Catholic church which I had received Communion and Confirmation in as a child but the parish priest made such a big production over the administrative requirements of having my previous marriage annulled and his whole attitude was one of annoyance that he had to go through the policies and procedures, rather than one who should be happy that “a lamb was returning to the fold” that I decided instead to get married in an Episcopalian church. That priest was more than happy to perform the pre-marriage counseling required, eagerly assisted in ensuring that, though I was previously married, that I met the current requirements to marry in the church. He was very pleasant and welcoming and did an excellent job in officiating over the ceremony. It seemed he viewed performing the marriage as an honor…not an onerous chore.

As my son became old enough to start attending CCD in preparation for his 1st Holy Communion we switched from attending the Episcopalian church to the Catholic church my wife had attended in her childhood. In deference to Cannon Law and out of respect for Catholic rules I did not accept communion as my marriage was not recognized by the Catholic church, even though, for me, Communion is the central and most meaningful part of the Mass. However, my wife was concerned about how our son would feel walking up to accept communion alone while I sat in the pew. The Monsignor was very pleasant and helpful in counseling us on the procedure for annulment within the Catholic church. We submitted the paperwork

Another reason is that to be able to accept Communion in the Catholic faith is that you must observe the Sacrament of  Confession and reconciliation. This requires you to confess your sins to a priest. In Catholic theology it is believed that priests are the liturgical(?) ancestors of his original disciples, in who Christ is to have given the authority of absolution for sin, “If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained,”. However, I have an issue with having to confess my sins to anyone else but God. I pray to God frequently, everyday and multiple times throughout the day.

One of the issues I have with confessing to a priest is that they are men…and no man is perfect. witness the antics of various “men of the cloth” in various religious sects, not just Catholic, throughout most of the history of religion. Though I believe that a majority are devout in convictions and take their holy orders seriously some of them have proven to be absolute stinkers…and why should I have to confess my sins to someone like that?

Another issue is that if you truly believe then you must believe that the priest does have the divine power and authority of absolution…and that by his actions your sins are forgiven by God. If you don’t believe that then you are just going through the motions. It’s one thing to be comfortable with the ritual and framework of the Mass…it’s another to be going to Confession just to check off a mark on your holy requirements list…kinda like showing up every week for Mass, but showing up late, leaving early, or cursing and cutting off people in the parking lot after Mass…like your “punching your ticket” that pretty much makes you a hypocrite and God’s not that stupid.

But, as I did want to be able to accept Communion, for myself as well as my son, I finally did go to Confession  figuring that the odds were pretty good that I would get a priest who was good and truly believed in his faith. And if he truly believed then perhaps there was something to absolution after all, and that, regardless, God was listening and he was the one who was going to have the final say anyway.

So, at present, I do attend church on a fairly regular basis and have faith in God…but I also question that faith on a daily basis…

For one thing, many would argue that there is no quantifiable scientific evidence proving the existence of God…

I have my best friend, who is a good man who is suffering in the last stages from TWO very aggressive forms of cancer. These cancers normally affect those who smoke yet my friend has never smoked and has always been in good shape until he got sick. He will leave behind a wife and two sons who are grown, but my heart almost broke when his wife told me about him saying that he regrets that he will never see his sons get married and never hold his grandchildren…why, God?

I’ve lost two other friends and shipmates to cancers, who were also good men, who left behind wives and children of various ages…why, God?

I have a friend and shipmate who lost his young wife, a woman who worked as an oncology nurse helping cancer patients. She died of cancer and left behind a son and a daughter who are transitioning from high school to adulthood…why, God?

I read this evening, on Facebook, a post from a woman who I know is a devout Christian, who prays and gives praise and works hard. She’s suffered some medical problems and as recently as yesterday has suffered major hits to her financial situation and her income. She has not lost faith but she is scared for the future…why, God?

All I’ve ever prayed for is to be worthy of my sons and to be able to support my family. I have always strove to be good to others, to treat them fairly and with respect and to do no harm, physically and emotionally. I haven’t always succeeded but I still try, everyday. I’m not asking God for a handout (though I wouldn’t say no to hitting the lottery) just that He guide me in my endeavors to build a secure and comfortable life for my family. Yet, despite my prayers, lately it seems that the “challenges” have become tougher, with very bad outcomes and have multiplied greatly. I’m really struggling not to give in to despair and hopelessness and I ask…why, God

When I read stories of children who are abused, tortured and murdered and think of them scared, in pain and knowing that monsters are real and no one will save them I think…why, God?

I know about the teaching that the greatest gift God bestowed upon man was “free will” and that the crimes against each other are due to man exercising that free will and the evils of one man against the other but still have to ask…why, God?

On the other side I see stories of people saved from situations they should not have lived through. People who have recovered from illnesses or injuries that should have killed them, people who were pronounced “clinically dead” who have come back to life.

I myself, lived through a motorcycle accident that probably should have killed me…when I got catapulted off on my head at 70 miles an hour.

A few decades ago, when I was at a very low point in my life, I remember getting into my car and praying…I asked “why, God?”…and as I turned the car on I heard Mick Jagger sing “you can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes…you just might find…you get what you need”

I believe that math, sciences and logic display the mind of man…but that arts and music display the soul…which is God’s province.

I hope there is a God because I don’t want to think that I spent all those years of my life praying and believing in something that wasn’t there.

I hope there’s a God because I want to believe in miracles. In things like love, loyalty, friendship, honor, consideration and caring for one another…these things carry no logical, practical, monetary or material value yet a majority of us choose to practice them anyway.

I hope there’s a God because if all we have to look forward to is this life of toil and struggle, the machinations and rule of current world governments and the kindness, civility and charity of the current world populace to look  forward to for the rest of our lives then we are well and truly screwed.

I hope there’s a God because I do truly wish to be reunited with those I love in an afterlife….

So there you are…my personal treatise on God and Faith. But I believe that beliefs and faiths should be questioned and examined from time to time…not just followed blindly.

and, perhaps, the main tenet of faith is choosing to believe though you don’t have all the answers….

So I hope…and pray…there is a God….