Friday, April 29, 2016

A Day in the Life of a Mother of 7… Similar to a War Hero, Mom Says

          ' I can't get through the day without
           spiritual grace' ( Mary Paschall )  

By Robert R. Schwarz


   How does a married mother of seven children  manage life each day ? Mrs. Mary Paschall , an attractive  woman of  46 years, answered my question in an interview in her kitchen.  She was interrupted a few times  by her youngest child, , five-year-old Andrew , who badly wanted one of the  home-baked cookies he had just  noticed on the  table.  " Later,  later ," the child was told ;  mother  looked over her glasses and , with tongue-in-cheek  and a sincere but slightly  strained smile,  commented,  " Well,  a life of  mother is not as exciting as a war hero but very similar.  " 
Mary has  dark brown hair and blue eyes and  spoke openly about her faith life and  motherhood. She  credited both to a lot of family loving  and praying , effective group communication, and a home that was  run 24-7—well, almost—with  corporate-like organization.  
Key player in all this, of course, is her husband Jim, a 51-year-old patent attorney for UOP,  a Honeywell company   in Des Plaines, Illinois; its a 20-minute drive from the family's  upper-middle class Arlington Heights suburb . Here they live  in a four-bedroom, 3 ½  bathroom home with  cozy ambience inside and out.  
            After Mary told four of her children  to tone down their  play noise in  the living room , she gave an updated   tally of all  the kids :  There is Elizabeth , 21, Bridget, 19—both attending the University of Dallas— James, 17, Theresa, 15 ,  Joseph 11, Maria, 8 , and Andrew—now on the verge of  tears as he  gave a parting glance at the cookie denied him . All children attend Catholic schools, except Andrew, who is home-schooled.  His mother  believes that great schools  won't produce great kids if parents don't do a good job in raising them . " We really wanted our children  to have a Catholic education, though the Arlington  Heights public schools are fabulous. Our next-door neighbor had    eight kids and all have  gone  to Catholic schools and they loved it. "   I couldn't suppress commenting "  boy, that's a lot of tuition !"  Mary took a  deep breath of regret ,  as if to blame that expense  on an obvious fact that she  had no time for even a part-time salaried job to defray it.   
   I teased her : " You have seven— what about number eight ? "
  " The kids would love it, "  she  said.  " When  I was holding Andrew's hand  the other day during a walk, I asked him , ' What am I going to do next year  when I'm all by myself ? '  He  looked at me and said, ' Mom, you just have to have another baby !' "  
I was curious to hear Mary  had handled the daily  stress that naturally came from mothering such a large family . To explain the dynamics of a mother's stress, she first recapped  her own typical day .
It Begins with a Prayer at 6 a.m.
Mom is up at 6 a.m. and spends her first 30 minutes in prayer and a spiritual reading. " I try to  begin my day thinking of God, asking Him  help me plan the day,"  she said.  " I then take a shower and come down and start making  my coffee. "  The kids rise  45 minutes later and  might quibble over first of a bathroom.  " Most like one particular bathroom ,  but  the little ones come into my bathroom. "  Beds are made , and putting on clothes hold to schedule,  though  occasionally   Mom will say to one of the   girls,  " That's a little low cut. Better put a sweater over that ."   Jim  and Mary have made sure that items like sorting bins for clothes  are centrally located in the Paschall home.  Breakfast is a  quiet affair; the kids make their own, usually cereal or eggs. Mary has already made sandwich lunches  for school  and laid them on a counter, along with a banana  and another  fruit of their choice.
The Paschall family on "spring break " in Florida
Getting everyone  on time to school and Jim to work  requires logistics ; the older son drives his car to high school, dropping off his sixth grade  brother  and second grade sister on the way. Dad returns from Mass about 7:15,  eats breakfast and then takes his daughter Theresa to school near his office in Des Plaines.   After school, home-schooled Andrew gets out of the house with Mom to pick up  his  brothers and sisters.  
The real stress arrives for Mom  in late afternoon. " I think I can speak   for moms that those hours between four and six are the crazy hours, "  Mary  says , now suspicious  about the quiet coming from the living room  being too quiet. " Everybody needs Mom then, for homework, for  help for this or that.  " ( Andrew was at the table edge again  for  a cookie. "Now go upstairs, and I'll call you in a few minutes, "  Mom told him,  and then  questioned him about a scratch on his forehead that was not there ten minutes ago.  )  Mary does all the dinner cooking, occasionally crock-pot style,  with Andrew enjoying his chore of cutting up  the vegetables.  
            At the dinner table, Dad says a  traditional family  prayer.  Behind him on  a kitchen wall are  two dry-erase boards , each note-filled with two months of important family events  and chores for  each child .  Mary showed me a list totaling 18 chores  assigned  for a  particular  day.  "Dinner time is  definitely a stressful time for me , " Mary said. "The little ones want to talk but Jim and  I want to hear what the older ones have on  their minds.   It's the    one time the whole family is together and we want to compare notes. "  Glancing up at the two note  boards, she added, "It's all up there for everybody to know what's coming up. We rotate the jobs weekly. It's all about communication.  "  Dad lists the chores and, when needed,  sees that the kids do them .
There are no  serious  discipline problems, Mary said ,explaining  that when  a  need for  discipline does arise,  "the   trick is to discipline  without anger ."  Instead of getting angry when the kids push  Mom to the limit,  she takes a nap . "Most moms  don't do that, " she admitted, and concluded the  topic with  " kids'  whole life is based on the love between the parents. "
After   dinner , Mom's clan  cleans  up the kitchen and then   usually  says a family  Rosary  ( " Hail, Mary, full  of grace…") . The younger ones are in bed at 8:30 , the older  between 10 and  10:30.

How  Does Mom Deal with that  Stress ?
We talked more about  Mom's stress:  Some of it comes when Mary is obligated to leave   home    for a half-day or evening  to watch one of the children's sporting events or to attend an important meeting  , such as taking  charge of planning  a mother-daughter luncheon .  " I turn to God a lot during the day, " she said. "I can't get through it without that spiritual grace.  You know, Mom sets the tone in the home, and that can be such a demand. After all these years, I know that when I'm cheerful, my children are too, and when I'm down and out and having a bad day , so are my children.  Somebody once asked me why do you want so many children ? Isn't it hard to divide  your time and energy   so much ?   And I answered no, with each child your heart expands.  It's all about love and forgiveness. I think that being a mother is one of the most important and profound jobs created by God. "
            What saddens Mary is when teenage children unintentionally turn their  parents against each 'But Mom  said I didn't  have to do that ! '  That's not their  goal,  but that's how they naturally behave ." Again she stressed  the importance of good family communication , a principle  Mary advocates  at classes she conducts about good parenting.  She becomes sad when her kids are ill , and  happy when they are happy.  The fatal heart attack of  her father-in-law also saddened her but  also brought  the family and her marriage stronger , she said.
Mary as Mary Poppins and as a mom for all
seasons (Halloween ) with Andrew and Maria  
at school
other, like when a son or  daughter   contradicts the father's directive by saying ,
Anything that  Mary had to learn the hard way ? " Well, " she replied with humored  self-deprecation,  " It  kind of runs in an Irish Catholic family, but I can be a  very opinionated woman, and so I have to be careful of what I say and how I say it . And I know I need to develop more compassion for those  who don't necessary agree with my faith , for those who don't have  all of the gifts of   faith I have . "  She added, however, " We need to practice  that faith ,  for example,  by helping these people to understand  that it's not  okay to live with your boyfriend  . Mary and her husband have "very good dialogue  " about moral issues of the day.
Milestones in Mom's life include  meeting Jim  and  giving birth to her first child .  Mary's  father  , whom Mary recalls as a faith-filled man who gave her  the roots of her Catholic life and who  shaped it  more than anyone else,  had been praying for years for his daughter to find a good husband.  During Mary's first two years after college graduation, she  lived alone in a Chicago apartment .  On this fateful  day , she saw Jim for the first  time while  exiting an legal  office  after a job interview for secretary.  " I was walking down the hall and Jim saw me and I saw him, and I went home  and told my sister ,   ' I don't think I'll take the  job, but there was this real cute attorney in the hallway.' "  Mary did take the job  and six months later ,  the couple were together  teaching an eighth grade confirmation class —and soon engaged.
Theresa with Mom and Dad  on 8th grade graduation day
When Mary  is having a bad  day, really challenged,  she prays  the "Memorare " . It's a prayer  she learned as a child and  prayed when her son  Joseph, then age 3, was  being wheeled into an  operating room for  the  first of ten surgeries to  save his eye . The youth had  accidentally stabbed it  with a knife while "clandestinely" opening up a bag of chocolate cookies in his mother's kitchen .   The prayer: Remember,  O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come; before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen. 
People , Mary said,  were praying this all over the world because of her  and Jim's involvement  with Opus Dei ( Work of God ),  an international  prelature of the Catholic Church compose  mostly of laity and secular priests who believe that everyone is called to holiness and that ordinary life is a path to sanctity. " I just kept praying it over and    over again, and it just comforted me to know that Our Lady was taking the burden from me. "  As a child , Mary went daily to Mass ,  where she "unloaded " her troubles .
Joseph's surgery was successful , but left his  eye light-sensitive .
For fun and recreation, the family watches movies on television, goes biking together,  and fills their  11-passenger Suburban  during the summer for a week's visit with Mary's mother-in-law in Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.  The kids frequent the public library and swim at a Park District pool, where a daughter  and son are lifeguards.  Mary herself likes to take a neighborhood walk , and currently is reading the classic  Russian novel "Anna Karenina ".

Loss of a Baby, a Pivotal Event in Mary's Motherhood
Near the end of our interview, Mary related what she considered had hugely defined much of her  life . " There's a hidden sorrow in the world, and it's mothers who have lost a baby,"  she began.  " Jim and I had been praying for more children because we wanted a large family …"   
Cookie time during  those  "crazy hours " 
In her sixth week of pregnancy with Joseph,  Mary was rushed to the hospital with severe abdominal  pains that had forced her to bed, not knowing she was hemorrhaging internally.  Doctors  could not diagnose her condition  because  being pregnant prevented an x-ray or MRI. But because appendicitis was suspected, exploratory surgery was done .
 " My husband, not knowing of this complication, had  the presence of mind to call a priest, who came and anointed me., " Mary recalled. " After that, I felt unbelievable comfort, like  I could fly . But just before the surgery,  I wanted a cross. If I could see one, I knew I'd be fine. There was none, but then when the surgical nurse secured my arms to the surgery table, I suddenly saw  that my outstretched arms had shaped me as a cross . And I was on it . "
Two babies—not one baby as Jim and Mary had believed—were inside Mary.  One of them was now dead in her Fallopian tube, which had ruptured, causing  that severe pain. The other, Joseph, was very much alive and healthy  in his mother's uterus.   Mary had an ectopic pregnancy, a rare  situation  where the fertilized ovum has developed outside  the uterus, in the Fallopian tube.
Mary believes this experience has made her a better mother and given her a stronger sense  that  she is " a child of God " and that He loves her.  " I am a person who likes to have control ,  but when I was in bed for several weeks  after Joseph's birth  and saw how  my husband was capable of doing so much for our family , I was able to let go  of this need for control  . What was a serious sorrow  became a joy.  I learned that in life we have to take all our crosses and turn them into joy." 
One of Mary's goals today is to figure out a daily plan that includes God in all her activities. An artistic rendering  Mary has seen frequently of  Saint Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary, prompted this reply when I asked Mary  how she'd  like to be remembered  when the Lord takes her home: " As a  mother  and wife who loved much."

"Mom," her youngest son  told her, " You just have  to have
another baby ! "

The End
All comments are welcome.

© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Ex Gang Chief, Now a Deacon Bringing Faith To Cook County Jail Inmates

By Robert R. Schwarz
Keep watching and praying, that you may not come
into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is
weak.   ( Mark 14: 38… Jesus to his disciples )

Some will fall away from the faith, paying  attention
 to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.
( 1 Timothy 4: 1 )

So faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word
 of Christ. ( Romans 10:17 )

  Even on the most colorful of  Spring days, the outside of  the  Cook County jail on the Southwest side of Chicago  with its  eleven  buildings spread over eight city blocks  is a foreboding site.  After you have squeezed your  car into a space along California Avenue  (which might have a mal-functioning parking   meter)  and ask yourself when the long stretch of curbside rubble  was last picked up,  you are engulfed  by a world of steel gates and   tombstone-gray cement . Your walk across the street , and on the way to the jail's main entrance,  you notice  the grim faces , not of released inmates but of visitors .  If you dread   going in , that's normal, as is your being thankful you are not among one of the 8, 200 male inmates  here nor one of the  five hundred confined  women. 
            Two blocks from the jail's main entrance is the Assumption Church  and the Kolbe House  (named after Saint Maximilian Kolbe , the Polish Franciscan friar who volunteered to die in place of another prisoner in the Nazi  death camp of Auschwitz ) . Now pulling into the Kolbe   parking lot after a drive from his home near Midway Airport is  Pablo Perez, age 49 .  He is a Catholic deacon and the  Kolbe associate director, managing 30 volunteers. He also  is a former  street gang chief who narrowly avoided   becoming one of the  inmates to whom  he now ministers as their chaplain. 
  An hour later Pablo is in the  jail's depths , in a chapel crowded with a dozen young men—average age  30—who are  gathered for their weekly communion service . They  begin reading from the Old and New Testaments,   the  communion liturgy . Pablo leads them in prayer, followed by group  discussions facilitated  by Kolbe House volunteers.  Most of the men  are Afro-Americans,  perhaps a  fourth  Hispanic  and one or two are  Caucasian.  Their religious backgrounds are  Catholic and various Protestant denominations; an estimated 40 per cent of all inmates with whom Pablo interacts are Catholic,  many nominally  so.  Services for non-Christian denominations  such as Islam  are also held in the jail.    
         Most inmates will be freed after two months of confinement ; some  will be confined for as many as two years waiting  for a court trial  because they cannot  afford a lawyer and have to depend on a public defender  overburdened with cases.
One by one the men come to the altar to orally take the    wheat host Pablo offers them and then to  return to the pews before he gives  the final blessing. Communion wine is  forbidden. As the men exit the room, a few  men  linger for an opportunity to approach their deacon in semi-privacy. Some simply seek an encouraging  word from him ,  others for a final blessing after he has heard  their "confession . " Pablo hears their regret or sense of guilt  for stealing,   for drug addiction (  quite common here ) , even for offenses such as drunk driving or driving  with a revoked license. No one during Pablo's tenure as chaplain has confessed murder to him.  Pablo gives them spiritual comfort and guidance, but  the Catholic church  authorizes only   priests to  absolve an individual from a church-recognized  sin. He also is chaplain for the 675 inmates at the Lake County jail in nearby Waukegan , where he ministers to inmates only individually.
This deacon Pablo prays often for the
inmates and they for him. 

             When I had asked Deacon Pablo during our interview in his office  about the most  commonly confessed offense ,  I expected to hear about prostitution or violent crimes. He  replied instead : " They regret they walked away from their faith—as an adult.  They tell me they never would have done those things nor be where they are now if they had not walked away from God . "

Pablo's Gang Life and Conversion

 Pablo  is a stocky five-foot-seven  inches tall . His black hair is cut short , he wears glasses ,  and  during our conversation  he wore H a plain  black sweater. When I asked him to describe the details of his past street  gang activity,  he took off his glasses and looked away as a man  about to revisit an unforgettable  dream .  
It is a June morning on the North Side of Chicago , and sixteen-year-old Pablo and seven  members of the gang he leads are hanging on the busy , noisy corner of Montrose  and Paulina. The few square yards of cements on which they stand—their bodies in constant motion and  their Spanish anything but genteel—provides them with a sort of jungle thicket secrecy even in the midst of a constant pedestrian flow. Though Pablo's mother knows she can always find her son here, she has never known he belongs to a neighborhood gang (and has since  age 14 )  and that he  leads it— nor that her son is on the brink of drug addiction.   
Approaching them now are four white teenager,  three boys and a girl. They are Baptists and each is carrying a Bible. They ask the  gang if  they could pray for them. The invitation scatters the gang . Except for Pablo, who stays. His father, a Catholic who had raised his son Catholic,  had instilled in him respect for anyone from a church, regardless of its  denomination.  And Dad also had made sure that no matter how hung-over his son was on Sunday morning after a night of drinking,  Pablo went to church.
The Baptist teens and Pablo all  hold  hands and  pray. It is  the very first time he has prayed earnestly , seriously.  Yet, all  Pablo would ever remember of this was  the question  they now ask him:  "Do you accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior?"  Pablo says  yes.   Two weeks later he quits his gang.
But the gang does  not quit him.  They want him dead, or,  at the least, beaten savagely. They hate him not only because his leadership   behavior towards them  has been aggressive, sometimes violent, but more so because they take  his conversion  as an intolerable , unforgivable attack upon  their self-worth.  
In our interview, Pablo  said that quitting the gang was the best  choice ever made in his life.  "  I had many fears that  I was going to wind up in prison or dead because of how involved I was getting. Being a gang member you can't avoid crime in your life. But   I never went to jail. I was one of the lucky ones. "
Five years after his street corner conversion , Pablo married  a  Juanita , a convert from the Pentecostal faith who today is a surgical coordinator at the University of Illinois,  Chicago campus . Their marriage from the start,  however, was seriously threatened by Pablo's continuing drug addiction. He came home one day  to discover that his wife had left him.  Pablo recalls that in that moment, he  realized he could not have both  the highs of his  drugs and his family. Once again he  vowed a life-changing yes.

Three weeks later Juanita returned  to an addiction-free husband  and today, after 27 years of marriage,  the couple have raised three children , ages 26, 25, and 21. They attend a Catholic church.  " And none of them ever joined a gang,"  Pablo affirms. "I made sure of that.  I was involved with them  all the time, knew what they were doing and who their friends were . " He still sits down and talks  with these friends—"as I talk to my adult  kids, " he says.  

Becoming a Chaplain
Pablo was born in Guatemala and immigrated here  at age four  with his  parents and a younger brother  . The family settled in Chicago,  and his  father went to  work in a factory .   Years after graduating  from Senn high school , Pablo felt called to become a deacon. "I prayed about this for two years to make sure this was what I really wanted to do ." After five years of study at the Mundelein Seminary in Libertyville ,  Illinois , he was ordained a deacon . Juanita took  some of the classes with Pablo as a church requirement  to ensure that wives share their husband's  commitment to become a deacon . As part of his  deaconate training, he worked as a volunteer at Kolbe House for two years. " I fell in love then with jail ministry  and knew then I'd want to come back as jail chaplain. "
And so he did, in  2008. At first, it was  difficult for  Pablo to minister face-to-face with  inmates who had been charged with sexually molesting  boys ; he had a problem passing   judgment on  the inmates for the long-term consequences they had inflicted on these  boys.   How Pablo  eventually learned to deal successfully with this challenge came from  the founder and first director of Kolbe House, Father Larry Craig .  The priest  died in 2006 during  Pablo's first week as a volunteer.  " Before he died, he told me I needed to be able to go into jail and see Christ's face in  the inmates I visited. Since then, I've seen the Holy Spirit in the lives of  some of the inmates during chapel services.   It's pretty hard  to explain , but  when you observe certain actions and behaviors of  some inmates,  you sense the presence of Christ and the opportunity they are having  to change their lives. That  makes me happy. "
        What saddens  this deacon " is seeing too many men and women incarcerated and not me being able to do any more  that what I  do. "  It also  saddens him to see so many 19- and 20-year-olds in jail.  When Pablo is depressed  and   senses himself to be in that "dark valley " mentioned in his favorite Holy  Scripture, Psalm 23, he meditates  on that psalm.
The Joy of Conversion and the Sorrow of Recidivism

On a hard-snowing evening last   Feb. 14, Pablo drove to the St. James church in Arlington Heights to share his story with 18 teenagers from nearby suburban high schools.  Standing before his youthful audience,  Pablo no  doubt saw that  its profile—i.e.,  faith life, education,   gang-free, drug-dealer- free neighborhoods —contrasted sharply with his  county jail  youths . What Pablo told these 18 suburban teens about life in jail and the neighborhood of his youth was an " eye-opener for a lot of us who came," commented Sr. Faustina Ferko,  one of the event coordinators.  Few , if any of the high school students , knew that the Cook County jail admits annually 100,000 detainees or that its enormity includes  ten divisions , each with its own dispensary, visiting area, law library , chapel, and day room for eating and watching  television.  On a large poster board in the room the teens had written words of encouragement for the deacon  and , in large letters , " We're Praying for You. "
When  questioned about the validity of Christian  conversions in  his  jail and  how many of  those inmates are again imprisoned after their release,  Pablo had a lot to say.   "They have many  questions about a faith they have never practiced or, for many reasons,  have stopped practicing.   But in jail they have had time to pay attention to  their faith , or lack of it ,   and to Holy Scripture. They become more knowledgeable as the months pass.   Oh, yes, I see the  transformations that these men and women have throughout the weeks and months that they are here. " He adds that  maybe  half of the men and women with whom he  seriously  interacts as a deacon "accept Christ as their  Savior" and are converted.  Though Kolbe House does not follow up on released inmates nor contacts their  probation officers , Pablo says many of them begin to regularly attend churches of various denominations , some visiting the  Kolbe House Assumption church.   

Why They Return to Jail:  No Job, No Support
As for recidivism,  he is disheartened by the fact that fifty percent of  all jail inmates will be re-arrested within three years of their release from the Cook County jail  (statistics show it's the same or a bit higher for all inmates throughout Illinois ).  The most common cause of recidivism  in Cook County , he explains,  " is not having a job or a place to live.  " What he said next may come as a surprise to  some:  "Some people  would think that once an inmate is  converted , he or she would not  do something  they knowingly would have them re-arrested . "The reality is that ,  if month after month  you cannot find a job because of your background and no one else is helping you, what are  you going to do ? That's our biggest job at Kolbe House, trying to find jobs for these former inmates. And when they do find a job, more than likely it's at minimum wage.  And many times they cannot go back to their families  for support  because the family is  scared  , especially if  their ex felon  family  member  had a drug addiction or was a drug dealer,  then they wonder if her or she has truly changed  despite their conversion. Spouses who  don't want a parolee  living with them, move on, too . So, if after months  of having  no job or they can't find housing,  you ask, how are they going to survive?  The whole approach of the justice system has to change . That whole mentality of warehousing the people is not the answer. We  have to work with what that person's problem really is, the root cause , which we  don't pay attention to. " 
I pressed Pablo with the question : But wouldn't  their  new Christian faith  now enable them to resist  destructive temptations ?    " But with faith, " the deacon replied, " you need some action, someone to give you an opportunity. And that's the problem : people don't want to take a chance with these  ex-inmates.  We Christians are supposed to be their brothers and sisters,  but we don't act like that. " 
            What Byron Johnson wrote in  his  American Outlook magazine article   ("Jailhouse Religion, Spiritual Transformation, and Long Term Change"  )   echoes today with Pablo's concerns .

Unless other faith-based- ministries on the outside of prisons are willing to do more to intentionally work with ex-prisoners, new converts would have a hard time making it in the free world. In essence, my position was that a conversion experience is really only the first step in a 
much longer journey. Spiritual transformation is an ongoing process that cannot be averted once an inmate leaves prison….. Just because an inmate  makes a profession of faith in prison does not change the fact that he or she will struggle to find stable employment, acceptable housing, adequate transportation, and supportive family members. ….Because reentry is so difficult, the decision to bypass the church is a recipe for disaster—effectively separating former prisoners from the support they would absolutely have to have in order to live a law-abiding and productive life in the free world. Without connections to the church, ex-prisoners will not have a mentor to hold them accountable, and they will not have access to the vibrant networks of social support that exist in so many congregations.

          Last February ,  Victor B. Dickson, president and CEO of  the Safer  Foundation, and Esther  Franco-Payne, deputy director of the Illinois Justice Project ( both representing the  Justice Coalition for Safety and Fairness ),  stated the following in a guest column of the Arlington Heights  Daily Herald :
The   State Commission  on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform…now  turns its attention to the hard problems of the second prong of overcrowding , the    lengthy sentences that drive prison crowding without delivering any public safety benefit and the recidivism caused by the consequences of having a prison record, which consign people to a life of poverty and — too frequently — committing more crimes. 
The Combat with Temptation
          Does all this societal neglect  ever depress Pablo ? "No," he says. " I just keep on going.    I always  hope that they will change and never have to  go back.  But if they do, we as a church will always be here for them.  We pray for them all the time  and they pray for us .Many times I've  asked them to pray for me, and they don't hesitate. They are men of strong  faith here but,    when they get out they have a hard time dealing with all those temptations.  , especially those with drug addictions."
                        Then  Pablo's  voice lowers  as if he  were once more facing a disheartening  reality he will face tomorrow and the next day, a reality he himself  once faced : that the human struggle to steadfastly use our God-given  free will to  master  destructive temptations , is a struggle far more intense for people for  whom Pablo prays, for in a tone conveying both resignation and hope,  he says: "But once you're on the street , only the strong will stay strong. " Those who think  they are strong but are weak will fall again. " 
            Ah,  yes—temptation. Fr. Alfred Delp , a Jesuit priest  , wrote this in his journal  shortly before he was hanged in Auschwitz in 1942 for his  steadfast   repudiation  of Nazism :
No one can escape the hour  of temptation. It is only in that hour that
we begin to sense our weakness and to have a  faint inkling of  the
vital decisions we are expected to make. If only I can manage to keep
 a hold on this perilous perch and not faint and let go . I have
committed my soul to God and I rely on the help of friends…In the
darkest hours…patience and faith are needed, not because we believe
 in earth, or in our stars, or our temperament or our good disposition,
but because we have received the message of God's herald angel and
 have our selves encountered him. " …[ from various meditations,
including excerpts from  the books "The People of Advent" and " Even
Unto Death " , edited by Jeanne Kun for World Among Us Press, 
and from  the website .  ]

          What does Pablo do for   fun or recreation ? Not much, he admits.  " As a deacon, I'm always busy. " He reads a lot of spiritual books, he says, and once on a while sees an "inspirational movie." And then there's  football ( the Bears ) and basketball ( the Bulls ) on television.  He sees his life's milestones as marrying his wife Juanita and  their  raising three children who never joined a gang.  His goal is to do missionary work in a  foreign land , and he would like to be remembered as  a "faithful servant of the Lord. "
                My last question to Pablo was what can people living in secure, upscale communities  learn from what he has shared  in this interview. " Prayer will change people. Pray for these incarcerated men and women, even if you don't know their names. The Lord knows them. "
A favorite hymn from the St. James church where Deacon Pablo Perez recently spoke:

Deep within I will plant my law,
not on stone, but in your heart.
Follow me, I will bring you back, you will
be my own, and I will be your God.
(tune by David Haas, text from  Holy Scripture )  
Deacon Pablo Perez  and, above him , a
portrait of  the martyred  Saint Maximilian Kolbe 

The End
Editor's Note: The author was inspired
to write this article from his experiences
as  a life skills workshop leader at the
Cook County jail, as a volunteer for
the Prison Fellowship organization ,
as  a former police-beat reporter for the
erstwhile Chicago City News Bureau,
and  from a harrowing ten-day
imprisonment in Bratislava,
Czechoslovakia ,  during  the Cold War.
All comments are welcome.
© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz

is goalH


Saturday, February 27, 2016

A Spiritual Director Who Answers Questions Like, "Is It Really from God or …" ?

A Trail Guide for Those on Life's Journey 

By Robert R. Schwarz

                                            Spiritual direction is the practice of being with people as 
                                              they  attempt to deepen their relationship with the divine...
                                            It is not psychotherapy, financial planning, or counselling.
           ( From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia )

Fr. Paul ( left) at a Cubs-White Sox game with his  pastoral
assistant  ( center )  and  parish member
  Fr. Paul Wachdorf  hears people of all ages confess  sins, helps them discern if their plans are the will of God or lies from the Devil, and , on occasion might offer a practical suggestion to a domestic problem .  He also will play  his ukulele while singing with  the children's choir,  and perform a professional juggling act while giving his homily .  He loves mystery novels , anything with chocolate, and roller coaster rides—he says   took 50 of them last year at the Great America amusement park . Fr. Paul is the former director of spiritual life and prayer formation  at the Mundelein Seminary in Libertyville, Illinois  and nowadays, at age 66, pastors St. Gregory the Great Church in Chicago, where he is also a noted  spiritual director .  We talked in his office. 
            He is a thin six-feet tall and has white hair . His wit is fast, tends to be  precise and is  augmented with a personality that validates that,  which he says , makes him happy—meeting people.  Neither his  degree in psychology nor his  master's in divinity  over-weighed the clarity of his answers to my questions, which waded into deep theological waters . Questions like::   

            What are most  people looking for in spiritual direction?

           Most want a spiritual companion , like me, to accompany them  on their spiritual journey in life. They want to know what God is inviting them to do with their life, their talents. . 
With  two friends 

            Don't they also want to see the fruits of their efforts?

            Well, remember that the fabled Johnny Appleseed who sowed apple seeds all over the countryside,  he never got to see even one of his apple trees . 

            Can you be more specific ?

            Spiritual direction can be clear if people respond to what Saint Ignatius exhorted  [ 16th Century priest and theologian who founded  the Jesuit religious  order ]  : " The hand of God is found in everything ." 

Even, for example, in a mother's housework ?

Yes. Even in secular things.

Can anyone benefit from seeing a spiritual director?

I suspect that everybody at some time could benefit from a spiritual director. Some see me weekly or monthly , like some see their doctor for a periodic checkup. Others when something comes up in their life they want to process or talk about. But most who come to me are not dealing with serious psychological problems. In that case, I might refer them to a counselor.

I understand that most Catholics don't see a spiritual director. Why ? 

Most feel they don't need one. Most Catholics don't go to confession, much less to a spiritual director. Some fear a spiritual director will judge them, think less of them or that he will try to control me in some way. Or maybe they had parents who were too intimidating with authority. I'm not aware, however, of any Protestant denomination that has spiritual directors—it’s been a Catholic phenomena throughout history. Nevertheless, I believe most people come to a point in their lives when they want to be helped out by someone who's been on the journey. 

What about evil,  that word which everybody seems to either shy away from or use rather loosely ?

Waiting with his uncle for an aerial tour of Chicago
You can't do Ignition spirituality work without belief in the evil spirit.  There definitely                          is a presence of evil that influences us because of our  flawed nature  [  that which Adam and Eve incurred in the Garden of Eden when they disobeyed God's command not to eat that apple ] .    You can spend too much time trying to discern  whether this influence is from  the Devil  or from our  flawed nature  [ sometimes  called our  "Old Man"  ] .   I'd rather deal with  evil simply as a reality I can't ignore. Everyone, regardless of  church denomination,  should be aware of the ways in which we are tempted or seduced to act against our best selves , 

such as tearing  down others or not  loving  God and neighbor as our selves.

Can you mention some of the Devil's tactics ? 

One is to hit us at our Achilles'  Heel, where we are the weakest, such as being impatience or lustful.  But when an individual matures in his or her spiritual life and becomes aware of this tactic, then the Devil can appear as  an "an angel of light " , as something or someone good, and steers us down a bad path. 

Say something about the evils of  pride , like when we are unaware of  having too much ego attached to a respectable  work  project , even when it's for a good cause ?

I call that kind of pride   the "tail of the snake ."  When you see it or sense it, run from it!

  For those not inclined to seek out a spiritual director yet want to learn more about  all of this, can  you recommend, for example, a book ? 

One of the best book I ever read on evil and how the Devil attempts to seduce us  is " The Screw Tapes Letters"    by C.S. Lewis .   

Care to say anything about demonic possession ?

[ Smiling ]  It's a topic that the public gets interested in whenever Hollywood comes out with a movie like  " The Exorcist. "  Actual incidents of demonic possession , I would say, are extremely rare. 

Do you have a spiritual director?

Yes, I do.

And  go to confession?

I try to go two or three times a year.

[ With hesitation ]  But you do sin now and then ? 

[ With a chuckle ]  Of course.

[ Laughing ] I'm not going to ask you what your sins are. 

[ Enjoying the humor ] Nor would I tell them to you.

Generally speaking, what sins are people confessing nowadays?

A lot of nitty-gritty things like impatience with my spouse and children or impurity, such as lustful thoughts, gossiping, being judgmental towards people or having been dishonest during past confessions to a priest . No one has ever confessed a murder to me, but shoplifting—yes. As for children,  I hear things like,   " I  fought with my brother and  sister . "

Do you see ever the faces of those making a confession ?

Not in the confessional booth.

Your goals as a spiritual director?

"My biggest challenge is not to make people into my own
image and likeness "
I want people to grow in their relationship with God , to increase  in the  three theological virtues of  hope, faith and love and to be more discerning about  what their  "God moments" are  and what might be " Devil moments." As a pastor, I want  them to know what it means to be a  follower of Christ.   For myself, I want to practice every day what I believe God is inviting me to do to bring about His kingdom. 

I see that you do have challenges !

My biggest challenge is not to  make people into my own image and likeness, not  to impose my agenda on others. Though I have certain  ways I prefer to pray, to live out my Catholicism,  and though this or that  has  value for me, it well may not have value for you. That's one of the pitfalls of being a spiritual director . He needs to respect the diversity or people and their life story.

Is this  a discipline you have learned ?

As a matter of fact –yes.  During my four summers studying spirituality at Creighton University [ in Omaha, Nebraska  ] , I was taught, by role-playing , to be a good listener,  to  focus on the other person's "story" and not on my  personal values. 

Other skills or talents you have ?

I juggle, sometimes sing with the children's choir , and  play the ukulele—have been for forty years. 
Sounds like you come from a musical family. My father had a  three-piece band in the 50's and 60's called the " Diplomats. "  He himself played the sax and clarinet and gave music lessons in our home.  He did  this to  augment his income as  a display ad salesman for the South Town Economist newspapers. [ Fr. Paul was raised on Chicago's South Side; his father is deceased, his mother is 98. ]                                          
Anything you had to learn the hard way ?
Fr. Paul at Aspen and on his way to win a  "top tier" medal in
the National Standard ski race

I learned  [ when instructing international students at Mundelein Seminary ] that  talking louder to a student for whom English is a second language doesn't help them to better understand. That was an awkward lesson. I also had to learn that my homilies or sermons had to reflect the background of  my audience .    
What in your life  do you believe shaped you the most ?

            My parents and my mother's parents. They  came from Ireland, from County Mayo , near the national shrine of Knock .  [ Where an  apparition  of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, John the Evangelist, angels , and the Lamb of God ( Jesus )  appeared to several observers of all ages  in 1879.]  My grandparents lived across the street, and  my grandmother and  mother would walk my sister and me  to church every day. But the definitive moment in my life was being ordained.

            So, what makes you happy ?

            Being with people. My encounters with them are just fascinating.  And riding roller  coasters gives me great joy. Last summer I rode them fifty times  at Great America. 

            And sad?

            Dealing with   people who are sick or suffering or dying, and with their families.  What particularly saddens me now is the drastic cutbacks of services which   social  agencies in Illinois are being forced to make because of the state's legislature  prolonged disunity in budgeting. 

            What about recreation or fun?

            For something completely different,  I like  to read murder mystery novels [ by James Patterson ] and solve them like Sherlock Holmes might.  I saw the movies  "13 Hours" and "Bridge of Spies " and want to see " Spotlight. " 

            Anything else ?

            I love anything chocolate and meatloaf, the way my mother made it.

            One last question: How would you like people to remember you ?

            As a priest who loved and cared for his people.  

The day of his ordination as a priest, with his mother Justina
( on left ),  and father Henry and sister Cecilia

Note:  A list of online  websites on Fr.
Paul can be searched  by typing in " Fr.
Paul Wachdorf. "

All comments are welcome.
© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz

Friday, February 26, 2016

Music Director with Heart For Voices that Sing to God

Defining  the Awe of Religious Music

By  Robert R. Schwarz

Music is an inherent part of every society. The unearthly sounds
of throat-singing in Mongolia and Siberia are as important to
their cultures as Bach is to European cultures or drum-driven
song and dance are to Native American cultures. Since music
is such an important part of life, it should not be surprising
that the Bible says much about it; in fact, the longest book
in the Bible is its song book—Psalms. ( from " Got",
a volunteer, non-denominational ministry )

                        He who sings well, prays twice . ( Saint Augustine of Hippo ) 

   Eighteen-year-old Tamaron Conseur is driving across a long bridge that connects San Diego to Coronado Island  in the Pacific . At the end of this 45-minute drive he will audition for the job as  music director  who leads a section of church  choir . He senses it can be a defining moment of his start-up career, and , considering his age, he is quite nervous about the outcome.
            He pulls in to the small parking lot of the Graham Memorial Presbyterian church ; it is a small church attended by many senior citizens proud of their several decades of worship tradition.  Tamaron , wearing a black suit  jacket  and green shirt, takes a  final glance in the rear view mirror, alights from  his car and heads inside.
            He walks to a small room and is greeted by the music director Vicki , a woman in her mid-sixties who, sensing Tamaron's  nervousness, immediately puts her applicant at ease with a sincere, welcoming smile.   Tamaron will remember her as a "youthful  appearing  woman with no false nature.  "   He will also remember how his nervousness now  increased because Vicki  was "so nice , " and that meant he had to please her.
            Vicki soon was at an upright piano playing two songs which Tamaron had never heard.  Standing behind her, this young man with his  baritone  voice sings both selections,  one an opera aria. Vicki then  picks up a hymnal , hands it to Tamaron, and requests that he sing a particular hymn . Not only is Tamaron completely unfamiliar with the piece but he must sing it without any accompaniment other that the one note Vicki now taps on the piano.
            Today Tamaron will tell you that by his standards he did poorly, yet Vicki offered an "encouraging word" after he had finished singing and then asked him to come back in an hour to meet the choir section .  Her  invitation brings a smile to his heart. When he returns after a turkey sandwich at a nearby outdoor cafĂ©, Tamaron is introduced to 18  men , most between  the ages of 70 and  75.  This is  the choir section which Tamaron would direct if hired, and when he reflects on what they would expect from him—improve their musical accuracy, sound, and tone quality—he begins  to sweat.
            But at day's end, Vicki asks Tamaron if he'll take the position.  " I'll  do it right away!" he says.  
            Tamaron later describes this climax: " It was at this moment that I realized this isn't just a  job; it would be a  family ; it felt like home ! A place I wanted to be , a place in my life  that had been missing. "   

12 Years Later

" Taste and see the goodness of the Lord ."
                                              ( refrain   of a  hymn inspired by Psalm 34 )
            Tamaron—or "Tam", as he is known—is once again waiting for an audition, though this time confident of his  professional skills, which have been honed by 12 years of  directing church music.  He sits in a  darkened  church sanctuary , waiting to be ushered down to the church basement . There he will  be evaluated  for the position of music director of the St. James church in   Arlington  Heights , Illinois  .  St. James, with its more than 12,.000 parishioners and five choirs  ( three adult , one children's, and a teen choir ) has an illustrious history of  producing  semi-professional Broadway musicals in which one or more or its three priests frequently  make cameo appearances. 
As the baritone soloist at a high school
honors music festival
Tam  wants to know more about the sound quality of the sanctuary  and begins to test it by listening to his own whistling. Minutes later, he is downstairs and being introduced to one of the choirs and to the music director search committee.  The church pastor, Fr. Matt Foley, will arrive later.  In a no-nonsense business  tone , Tam  is  told,  "You have 30 minutes .  "  At that moment , he remembers the  advice given from other  music directors:  Use time effectively.      
            Tam's final test comes when he is asked to direct the  hymn, " Taste and See."  It happens to be his favorite , and it allows him to express his  core belief: We always have to sing our faith.  When the choir sings it,   Tam feels  "connected" to everyone in the room , especially the  choir members, whom  Tam perceives are enjoying this same connection. He is also feeling  what  he had felt intensely  in  that  small church room 12 years ago: I  am at  home !
            Fr. Matt has arrived ,  and he perceives that the singing has  energy unusual and  spirited . It is exactly what Tam wanted to achieve.  The priest   shares what he has just  felt with Tam , who later say during our interview, "I knew then that I really wanted the job . " 

A Music Director's Challenges and Some  Opinions about Music 

            During our recent interview in Tam's   small , task-filled  office,  he talked   openly and often candidly about work and life.   One quickly notices that  he runs  on high voltage and  welcomes meaningful conversation . He is a tad over six feet tall,  has blue eyes and dark brown hair, and wears glasses. His workday clothes were khaki pants, a necktie, and a checked dress shirt with sleeves partially rolled up .  
With new bride Natalie 
 Since his singing roles in the Lyric Opera chorus included the tragedies " Faust "  and the " Damnation of Faust, a logical question was : What in life makes him  sad  ? "People who can’t see life for the goodness and possibilities that can be,  " he replied. Hatred and homeless people also sadden  him . He tries not to read newspapers too often. As for what gives him happiness, it is his wife , Natalie,  and  three children:  Julian 7, Claire 4,   and Daniel, 15 months.  "I know it sounds sort of dorky, but I really do love coming to church on Sundays. I just love being   here with everybody and glorifying God. "   For fun, he plays a lot of basketball at a local X-Sport Fitness.  He's a Cubs and Bulls fan and has remained loyal  to the Los Angeles Lakers . And he loves to "make a good steak for the family.  "
            Tam  weighs 180 pounds, a  100 pounds less than when a high school senior.  He admits dieting was perhaps his   biggest life challenge, especially  making up his mind to say no to certain foods and realizing  he could not  be in complete in control  of his life.   It was a year of  discipline with Weight Watchers. The result: " It changed my life. I became more of a take-charge person. "
            "Music has always been a part of my life and has been at the heart of my faith and spirituality," Tam said.  He grew up in a house "always filled " with music.   "My dad was a drummer, and my sister and I were always performing different things for my father and his friends who came over. Tam's mother used to dance with a modern ballet company in Los Angeles. Tm started playing the piano at age six . "  Because music was all he knew when he started college, Tam today  advises youths who seek a career in  music —a career known to often  be  financially unrewarding—to have a backup career in mind.
The Eucharist Prompts His Conversion

            In 2006, Tam began attending the Catholic mass with his wife and two years later made his profession of faith after attending classes of the church's Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults.  Music had  played no small role in Tam's conversion. While attending the Catholic  mass , he had been  giving  rapt attention to how its music and liturgy "had this elegant flow . "  He also had thought a lot about the church's "beautiful faith history" and how the Eucharist  seemed to be " drawing  him into a faith  I   longed to be a part of. "
Dad , baby Claire and son Julian 
    Asked  how people in church should listen to its music to get the most out of it, Tam said: "It's all about the text and the Word [ of God ] .  The text is the most important thing and how the music colors its words. The emotion comes from the music but the words guide us where our emotion should go. The beauty of  hymn  'Ave Maria '  helps us to deepen our relationship with the Holy Mother and to contemplate the gift which she was able to bring into this world. " Cantors, he said, can also help people  develop their faith.
            Tam wants his St. James congregation to sing wholeheartedly so they will then sing as one "communal" voice . " When that occurs, " he said with some passion,  "It's a really moving experience and helps people grow in faith. When I sing,  I try to let myself go   and let my spirit  in. " His personal favorites are the  Mozart and Verdi requiems and Bach's " Saint John Passion", whose chorus he has sung with  several times.
As for secular music,  Tam owns probably every album of the Beatles and  often listens to the music of " Radiohead,"  an English rock band formed in   1985.  Though he maintained that  some  secular music "doesn't have a whole lot of purpose,"  he also credited some of it as having "a deep connection to the soul. "  For example, he mentioned  the jazz of Miles Davis , "where raw emotion of the music enables one  to  feel what the musician is feeling. " 
            In discussing how  Americans since the 1960's  have radically changed their taste in popular music , Tam said that  listening to today's hit tunes is "an altogether different experience; a lot of it is pointless and repetitious  and without a meaningful message of love or loss. Some of it can be very crude. "
            Two technical questions (perhaps with  obvious answers?)  were  posed to Tam: What's  the fundamental difference in sound quality between a high school orchestra and a top professional one; and, can an orchestra play well without a conductor ?  Good orchestra sound, Tim explained, occurs when the  musicians , after years of experience, blow and bow their instruments with greatly  matured skill and when the orchestra "blends"  its music  and faithfully follows how the music score, its style  and dynamics  ( softness and loudness ) . With singers,  he said, it's a matter of how their voices have seasoned physically. "The quality of a really good singer is how  softly can he or she sing those low  notes with  the audience still able to clearly hear the text. "
Answering the second question, Tam explained that while the chorus must watch its director continuously,  some orchestras can play without a director if  "they're all feeling the music together."  He explained,  however, it's different with a director who knows exactly what he wants  from his orchestra, such as the late Leonard Bernstein (who composed "West Side Story") .
Challenges and Goals Today

            Music naturally has a prominent role in a large parish like St. James with its almost 80 ministries.  No  wonder then  that Tam's  biggest daily challenge is organizational  or, as he said,  "keeping the choirs and accompanists  informed  as to what's going on. "  Another full-time challenge he expressed this way: " Because you have various  levels of experience and talent , you don't want to squash anyone's  desire to lift his or her  voice up to God . It's not necessarily how good  each musician is;  it's working hard to find the choir's singular  voice ." He works especially hard  to help a choir  "hone its vowels " and  fine tune its sounds. "It's a difficult tight-rope act because you want them to lift up their voices to God  to make their singing a prayerful experience.   If the choir gets passionate about a song they're doing, then  you can get a sound that's from heaven. "  The director, he added,  must inspire and motivate  a choir as would the manager of a champion athletic team . 
      Said John Towner, a  key member of the church's music ministry: "Tam has an outstanding voice and it is a joy to listen to him sing.  He is able to demonstrate with ease different vocal examples during choir rehearsals.  One of his best attributes is his calm confidence.  Having worked with a number of music directors over the years, I know well how stressful being a  music director can be.  He has a lot of good, solid ideas to move our ministry forward . "
Tam's other goal?  " Right now, I'm living my dream. I want to help  inspire others to reach a deeper level of understanding of Christ and to deepen their faith through music.  "   He paused, then affirmed: " And I want to be a good father and husband, because at the end of it, family is the most important thing for me. "

All comments are welcome.

© 2016 Robert R. Schwarz