100 Years of Influence, Part II

Edwards family January 1970 copyYou can’t sum up a man’s life in a few hundred words, or even in a hundred years. In fact, you can’t sum up a man’s life at all since a person’s isn’t quite quantifiable. You can list facts, but nothing captures the personality, the passion, or the essence of a unique human being. That’s true for all of us. Duh! Right? But as I continue to reflect on my father’s life, I find that I want to commit more and more of my memories about him  to paper (or at least digital paper). My Dad was born 100 years ago last week. He left this world on Jan. 10, 2000.

My children barely knew my father, and I find that unfortunate. Yes, Dad was a quiet man, but that was part of his charm. He wasn’t boisterous or rude or petty. He was a good solid man of Catholic faith and values and with great love for his children and his wife of many years.

One of my favorite and most touching memories of my father was when I asked my wife to marry me. Cathye and I took a walk at Radnor Lake one Saturday morning. I proposed to her when we stopped at the end walking path while sitting on a bench. By the way, saying yes was probably the only dumb decision my wife has ever made. Anyway, afterwards we both drove over to the house to announce our exciting news. I jokingly quipped that Cathye had asked me to marry her on our hike. Cathye got mad at me, and my Dad  left the room without saying a word. I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I followed him into the kitchen and found him with his head down and tears in his eyes. Dad was happy for me, but his first thought was that he was losing me. I knew my Dad loved me. I never had any doubts, but his reaction reinforced it many times over.

I would often ask him, “Dad, do you love me?” He would always answer, “Feed my lambs.” I would ask him again, “Dad, do you love me?” He would answer, “Feed my sheep.” Finally, I would ask a third time, “Dad, do you love me?” And he would answer, “Feed my lambs.” Small little ritual act, but I loved it. Dad was a man of faith and a man who cared about and loved his family.

In his older years, he couldn’t turn his garden by himself anymore. He also couldn’t manage the trimming of the hedge that encircled his back yard.  The hedge would become a monster if not tamed by my electric shears. I can’t say I ever liked cutting his hedge or digging his garden, but that’s the nature of relationships. But you could say I loved doing it because I loved my Dad. So strange as it may seem, I have very fond memories of sweat and filth and teamwork at those times. Either my kids joined in to help (what little they could at their age) or my wife; and often my Mom and Dad who would drag the branches and other cuttings to the street to be picked up by Metro Public Works. These physical labors of cutting or painting or digging were ways that I showed my affection for my parents. Dad wasn’t a big talker. Mom was much more of a talker, but Dad wasn’t big on sharing feelings or stories. But his presence meant everything t0 me.

Presence – that’s my greatest memory of my Dad. Presence – that’s what he always was to me. He was present in my life, at my ballgames, at Church, at home in the simple chatter of everyday existence. He was present even as we watched television together and through camping trips to Fall Creek Falls or Mammoth Cave, trips to the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the Incline Railway, trips to the beach in Florida or to the Smoky Mountains. Back when no one had a cell phone, someone was always at home to answer our calls for help and assistance, so when I dialed 832-8138 it was always Mom or Dad who answered the phone. Rarely was a call never answered.

Our world has become very busy, and our lives can become quite scattered. We allow money to make too many of our decisions. Mom and Dad sacrificed to send us to Catholic Schools when they only had one income and six kids and my mother worked as a stay at home Mom. They knew it was worth it. And yet they were still always present to us. I fear that’s being lost in our world today, and this is something we must reclaim for the sake of our society’s health and well-being and to safeguard the human family.

I hope that I am present to whomever I encounter, but especially to my family. That’s the legacy that I would always want my father to have successfully left to me.

 

 

100 Years of Influence

(My Dad in his older years, when he married in 1954, and as a baby)

My Dad, were he alive, would have celebrated his 100th birthday this past Monday, August 15th.  He never became famous and didn’t command an audience, but he had a great influence on his children, and me for sure. Joseph Edwin Edwards was born in Nashville to Joseph Edward Edwards and Nora Margaret (Britton) Edwards. I am grateful for his love and his life.

This week brought back a flood of memories. Several of my siblings and I gathered to celebrate his birth at a local restaurant with our families on Sunday after Mass offered on his behalf. He was quite a formative person in my life, and I wouldn’t trade that influence for anything. I suppose many of us would say the same things of our own fathers. We are biased, and we should be! Family ties and loyalty should bind us. I remember silly childhood arguments with classmates over who had the smartest Dad or the most beautiful mother. We are beholdin’ to our own.

My Dad was a bit older than the average father. While many had Dads in their twenties or thirties, my Dad was 47 when I was born and well into his 50’s when I was old enough to remember and be particularly active.  I understand that he used to wrestle on the floor with my older siblings on Saturday nights, but when I came along, those wrestling days were behind him. I am 53 now, and the idea of having a five year old is hard to grasp. Nonetheless, that was the norm in my household, and I still had a younger brother who was born when Dad was 52. Dad gave us his all; and in a certain way, I think it helped to keep him young.

I didn’t like it at the time, but the chores assigned to me were also formative. I mainly remember the chores my father created–cutting the grass with a push mower, digging the garden with a spade, shoveling out the chicken house of manure and such, and pulling Johnson grass for the Guinea pigs of which Dad owned dozens. We’d sometimes have to go to the chicken house to gather eggs too. Some of those chores were quite fun, but I never liked going out to pull grass. Don’t know why. Maybe it was too frequent a job. We had to stuff a paper grocery sack full so that the Guinea pigs could eat fresh grass. I know they deserved fresh grass, but I didn’t want to be the one to have to gather it. These particular chores are quite memorable. Maybe it’s because they taught me so much about basic survival, growing food, where food itself comes from, but they were also jobs that reinforced humility, like shoveling poop. You can’t get too high on your horse while shoveling chicken and Guinea pig poop.

While I wouldn’t trade where I am today for anything, I do miss those days. I miss seeing my Dad in the chicken house feeding the chickens and Guinea pigs and he and I working together to build chicken coops and runs. I miss pleasing my Dad by clearing brush and cutting the grass all the way down to the creek. I miss my Dad pointing out the beauty of the flowers I only took for granted at the time, and Dad trying to get me to eat fresh produce from the garden when I was too young to appreciate it. I also miss all the things I should’ve and could’ve learned from my Dad if I had just paid more attention and given his ideas and experience more credence. I finally started paying more attention when I got older and entered into my own marriage, but if only I had paid attention sooner. Ah, well!

There may be very few of you that are at all interested in these recollections but it’s on my mind and this week marks one hundred years of Eddie Edwards’ influence.  Between he and my mother, there are at least 24 lives that now exist but which would never have existed were it not for him. Not a massive number but respectable. Thank you Dad!  I love you!

Not such a new Nemesis?

Who is my nemesis? And why would I even want one?

The idea of having a nemesis sounds exciting and cool, even fashionable. It’s attractive sounding probably because it makes us feel important. Am I important enough that someone else would desire my downfall? Am I important enough to have a nemesis? – someone who is dead-set against me and who desires my pain and discomfort and is opposed to me as a person and my way of life. Doesn’t sound so pleasant to me, but I assure you that we all have one, individually and collectively.

In a previous post, I wrote about my nemesis the mole, a varmint which has been eating away at my sweet potato plants and onion sets from the underside of my garden. This is a sneaky little creature who tunnels and destroys without regard for my work of planting and my cost of purchasing said plants. I found it a frustrating experience, not a cool or pleasant one.

Harry Potter had a nemesis – Voldemort! That’s sounds cool, even if a bit frightening to young readers. Batman’s nemesis, among many others , was the Joker. Superman’s was Lex Luthor . These adversarial pairings garner excitement and intrigue. My mole nemesis is nothing like this. Nor is my squirrel nemesis. My garden is overrun with them. It’s hard to control the little tree rats! They are numerous, too numerous to count. They eat my corn and my tomatoes, but are they really my nemesis?

I realize that they are not hell bent on my destruction like a true nemesis would be, nor are they my equal. Therefore, perhaps they aren’t a nemesis at all. Despite feelings of frustration and anger, the squirrel and the mole are, after all, just doing what squirrels and moles do.

And while Satan is not my equal – he was created by God as a great creature of enormous potential and intellect and power – Satan is definitely a true nemesis, the great adversary. He is hell bent on my destruction. He desires my downfall. He wants me to give in to his selfish desires and agenda and to rebel against God. And he is very sneaky.

Satan has done an incredible job of making anything said about him seem ridiculous and trite. As  you read this, many of you are already mocking me and reducing anything I write to a bunch of outdated ideas and silly religious fantasy. When we hear “Satan” or “the devil” and imagine a funny looking red suited horned fellow with a pitchfork, then he is well on his way to success. Indeed Satan is a master of cloaking his existence but broadcasting his influence.

Satan knows how to elicit the worst in us and encourages judgment of others. He delights in our weaknesses and works to exploit all of our imperfections. He manipulates by persuasive arguments which berate others and encourage selfish pleasures rather than loving sacrifice. He desires our destruction, not our well-being. Sacrifice is verboten to Satan. Satan knows no sacrifice and has no love. He wants us to think only about ourselves and gratifying ourselves in the here and now. He seeks to normalize every kind of offense against God and has even figured out how to frame the Christian – the true Christian – into the bad guy who is intolerant and judgmental and bigoted.

A squirrel is no nemesis. A mole is no nemesis. But Satan surely is! Evil of every kind is our enemy, so don’t embrace it. Evil is a worthy adversary. Oppose it at every turn. Always stand against it. 

Angel of God, my guardian dear, to whom God’s love commits me here. Ever this day be at my side, to light to guard to rule to guide. Amen.

This is a prayer often un-prayed. It’s a simple prayer that is often misunderstood, especially by children. But it’s a prayer which upsets Satan to no end. We must believe in the existence of Satan and his desire to corrupt God’s beautiful creation, including the human person created in the image and likeness of God, or we will forever be subject to Satan’s influence.

Satan is nothing new! Not a new nemesis either! But his methods are constantly adjusting to the times in which we live. Pray for protection. Pray for peace.

Is a Church Marriage Antiquated? Surely Not.

I’ve performed enough weddings through the years to notice patterns, and I’ve been asked enough questions about weddings to realize that the focus for many is not on “Church” but on “wedding”, my wedding to be exact. To many couples, the setting of the wedding is more important than the sacrament.  The dream wedding in this 2nd millennium has become a primarily secular event. Not that many years ago, few Catholic couples would have ever considered a marriage outside of the Church.

Citizenship in the United States affords Americans both privileges and responsibilities, and sometimes restrictions. For example, a marriage is not regarded as valid if not conducted by a valid official deputed by the state. There are many laws which govern human behavior, define illegal activities, set speed limits, etc. Violation of state laws limits certain freedoms, even to the point of imprisonment, loss of voting privileges, holding public office, etc. Such is the case also within the Catholic Church. A citizen (member) of the Catholic Church is also afforded both privileges and responsibilities, and sometimes restrictions. If a Catholic marries without the presence of a valid Catholic Church deputed minister, then the marriage is not recognized. Loss of the privilege of receiving Holy Communion would be common in such circumstances.

Some might see such Church laws as controlling or antiquated, but that’s where responsibility comes in. By virtue of Baptism and Confirmation, by virtue of the privilege of receiving the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Catholics have committed themselves through Church membership to abide by Church laws.

For some, I will seem too rigid and rule oriented. But I truly love the Church! You can’t really belong to something without obligations. The Church is critical to our life with Christ and in Christ. The Church has given us the Scriptures, the testimony of the apostles, and the structure through which we receive the guidance of the Holy Spirit. By virtue of our membership, we are incorporated into the body of Christ. Unfortunately some will pay lip service to membership in the Church and pick and choose what they want to believe or feel bound by. Can you imagine that happening in a marriage between husband and wife? In marriage, you marry the whole person and are obligated to faithfulness to the whole person. Should it be any different with our obligations to the body of Christ?

Marriage is much more than a piece of paper, and much more than a civil contract. It is the uniting of man and woman in the matrimonial sacrament which is a holy and powerful event. Sacraments are mediated by the Church, not by civil authorities. We are bound by a holy covenant overseen by Christ himself. With our Christian understanding, there is no marriage if it is not bound together in Christ.

To belong to Christ is to belong to his Church. To belong to a spouse is to belong to Christ. Christ and the Church are intimately bound up in each other. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians writes, Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians, 5:25-27)

This is the spousal analogy. Christ by his death and resurrection has married the Church, and the two are one just as a husband and wife were once two but are now one. This spousal analogy is especially instructional. Jesus is the body of which we are all a part, and to marry outside that body is like trying to breathe without air or stay alive without water. Christ is the breath that sustains us and the living water who gives eternal life.

So what do I suggest?  Think about the sacramental bond. Be a little old-fashioned because not everything old-fashioned is antiquated and out of date. Christ revealed himself two thousand years ago, so he might be considered old-fashioned too but necessary to making a marriage that will last.

Summertime, Priest Ordinations, Golden Tate, My Nemesis the Mole, and Whatever Else Matters!

It’s Summertime and school is out! Reunion weekends and swimming are in play. I witnessed two priest ordinations on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus last week, and I got the chance to cut my grass with my new lawnmower and weed the garden – important summertime obligations. Saw Golden Tate! Fought my nemesis the mole, and I slightly miss my students – but you better not tell them!

I have long felt that the best time of year for a teacher is when there are no students in the building. And an added bonus is that you don’t have to be in the school building either. In fact, I’ve always wondered when my school opened why we had to ruin the pristine beauty of a fine new building with students. Teachers had the beautiful experience before kids arrived of writing  and studying and planning without interference.

Well, obviously that’s easily answered. It would get boring very quickly without the students, just like the summer gets “kind of” boring quickly without the students. Don’t tell any students that I said that! I don’t want them thinking I miss them or like them or anything of the sort, even if I do miss them and like them and all sorts of things. I suppose it’s good for us to be apart for a while in order to more greatly develop our affection for one another.

Last week I attended, in my free summer days, an ordination of two new priests for the Diocese of Nashville. It was a beautiful ceremony and reminded me of my own diaconal ordination and the resulting obligations. My wife and I met up with my Washington, D.C.. niece’s fiancé who by chance is friends with one of the ordinands. Not only did it give us the chance to partake in the ordination festivities, but it also gave us a chance to get to know my niece’s fiancé better. We had lunch at the reception with him and his out of town priest friends, but we also got a chance to have dinner with him downtown on Lower Broad and to further get to know him better. Our niece picked a good one who makes faith a primary part of his life, and even more importantly, loves our niece too. You couldn’t ask for better.

Tonight I just returned from a wonderful celebration of a JPII 2007 graduate.  JPII officially retired Golden Tate’s jersey – number 23. After being reminded of and re-living some of his JPII football highlights and career, he spoke to the gathered crowd of family and teammates, classmates, and former faculty and current coaches and the football team, and he praised God for his successes, his talents and his opportunities.  I am very proud of our most famous graduate who isn’t afraid to praise God and who wants to contribute to the world in a positive way. Maybe his family, JPII and Notre Dame did him some good. And he’s willing to do good for others also. He’s started a tradition of a JPII football camp and a scholarship fund.

Finally, I drove to Lebanon today. Didn’t really plan to drive that far.  I was in Mt. Juliet and went by a fireworks store that wasn’t open. I drove further, consulted Siri who told me that the closest fireworks store was in Lebanon on Murfreesboro Road. I undertook the drive because I’m at war. Yes, I’m at war! I’m at war with the moles who are eating not only my sweet potatoes but also my onions. I’ve never liked having them in my yard, but this is the first time that they’ve ever infested my garden.

I review my garden every day or two and occasionally find a wilted sweet potato plant. I’ll reach down and touch the plant, in fact lift it up to discover that it’s been eaten from the underside. And then I discover that there is a hole from underneath and that the plant (and sometimes more than one) has been eaten by these little burrowing pests. I normally don’t worry about moles too much. Yes, we have them in the yard, but their habits and patterns have usually only concerned the grass. Now it’s full-on war. They are actually costing me money. They have eaten (destroyed) at least 12 of my sweet potato plants and chewed away at several of my larger onions.

I’ve tried spraying my garden with castor oil and Dawn dishwashing liquid and mouthwash. I’ve tried a beeping solar device to drive them away, but all they did was eat the plant next to it. I’ve tried Tomcat poison worms (and I had mixed feelings about deploying this option, but I did). And finally I’ve resorted to bombing their burrowing runs with M-800’s (giant firecrackers) hoping that they will be uncomfortable enough with the sound to move along. Hence my trip to Lebanon today. I don’t know what else I can do.

War! Yes! With these pesky little varmints who are destroying my garden. Now, don’t get onto me for fighting against them. I have a healthy respect for them, but not when they steal my plants and cost me money!

Maybe you didn’t want to be caught up on my life, but like it or not, now you are! God bless each of you!

My First-Born Is Graduating!

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Georgetown will soon have another graduate, and I’m sure he’ll be one of the best. Why? For a few reasons. For one, I’m partial. For another, he’s not interested in amassing wealth or fame. He’s interested in giving back to the Church and the community, and he thinks far beyond himself. And of course, his graduation just simply reminds me that I’m getting older and older.

I’m sure he doesn’t want me to praise him, so I have to be careful going further than what I’ve already said. He really is quite humble. But I write this not so much to focus on him, but instead to remind all of us – myself included – of the importance of giving back to the Church and the community and of thinking far beyond our own immediate interests.

My son is planning on spending the next year or two volunteering in a very poor section of our country. He’s choosing a spartan existence to make ends meet, and he’ll live in community with other volunteers close to his age. Seems like quite the challenge to me! And in community there are bound to be even more challenges since few of them will know each other and they’ll have to grow accustomed to each other’s foibles, differing ideas of community, and even tastes in food.

Hey, when you think about it, that’s a lot like what a husband and a wife go through when they marry and move in together and begin making daily decisions about house and lifestyle. The first few years are quite the challenge, but if they survive the early years, they’ll have a much greater chance of staying together for life.

A variety of challenges greets every graduate. Hopefully the challenge of amassing great wealth isn’t the primary goal of graduates across the country. Of more importance and with greater meaning are the challenges of serving the needy, ministering to those who struggle, spiritually guiding the young, sacrificing for the love for spouse and children or even aging parents. These are the challenges that mean something and which have enduring consequences. Amassing wealth and status is fleeting.

Would I turn it down if I won a massive lottery? No! Do I buy lottery tickets? Only occasionally, but Yes! I don’t have great wealth, and I’m not opposed to having it, but it could pose significant problems to the health of my soul if I don’t think beyond it and only think about it. I like having financial resources. I could use more money. I’d like to have more comforts. But that’s just it. I don’t think I would ever be satisfied with any amount of money. I’d probably always want more and more and justify it in some ridiculous way.

I remember a client I once had in a mental health center when I was working full time as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). He was a blind teenage boy with borderline intelligence. After asking me about my life, he said to me, “You must be rich”.  I thought he was referring to my job and I said that I really didn’t get paid that much.  He said, “No, I mean rich in love.” He was referring to my role as a husband and a father, not to my counseling position and pay grade. He forced me (the counselor) to reflect for a moment on true wealth. And to my great astonishment, it was the blind teenager with borderline intelligence who for that moment saw so clearly and was so intelligent in his observation. I am rich! I am “rich in love”, and that’s what matters most.

The gospel of Mark records Jesus saying, For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and to lose his soul? (Mark 8:36) Well of course, it doesn’t profit us anything. Our deaths leave all physical accumulations behind. We only take our soul with us. Later God will raise up our bodies, but upon our deaths even the body is left behind. And we will be accountable for our decisions, our beliefs, our actions and even our thoughts. 

As my son graduates from Georgetown, I am proud of who he is and what he finds important. I am thrilled at his willingness to tackle a huge challenge both culturally and geographically as well as economically. I know he will grow spiritually from the experience and learn a great deal about himself. I trust his judgment. He has grown into a mighty fine young man. God bless you my boy!

 

St. Matthias and My Diaconal Ordination

Today’s date marks the 17th anniversary of my ordination to the diaconate. On Saturday morning, May 14, 1999 – the feast of St. Matthias the Apostle – along with about 23 other men of the Diocese of Nashville, I received Holy Orders through the laying on of hands by Bishop Edward Kmiec. I have been very privileged to serve in the role of Deacon. I’m just glad the diocese didn’t vet me more closely because they might not have been willing to ordain me – whew!

I have been honored to preside at the baptisms of around 300 children and young people, about 25 weddings, and a number of funerals and graveside services. I have been blessed to be able to deliver hundreds of homilies at my parish and JPII High School, among other locations.

I ask you each to pray for me and my class of 24 deacons. Some have died and others have retired, but many of us are still plugging away. Your prayers for all permanent deacons would go a long way toward strengthening us in this often misunderstood and sometimes undervalued holy order.

St. Stephen, pray for us!

St. Lawrence, pray for us!

St. Ephrem, pray for us!

All holy men and women, pray for us!

And on this Feast of the Apostle – St. Matthias, pray for us!