Levittown Tribune 2016
The Levittown Tribune has been carrying a column written by Father Ralph.
Here are the online versions of his reflections on the "Spirit of Levittown"
Publication Date: March 2, 2016
Praying at the Turnpike
Dozens of people have lost their lives or have been injured along Hempstead Turnpike over the years. It's not the only dangerous place, though. People who live on the corner of one of Levittown's many stop signs know that there is reckless driving in our neighborhood. Even the simple act of dropping a child off at school or church can cause tempers to boil because of careless driving and dangerous moves.
But Hempstead Turnpike remains a symbol of danger because of its volume of traffic and the many opportunities for people to turn onto the road from a variety of side streets and shopping centers.
So one day the staff at Saint Bernard's got to thinking: Maybe we should do a prayer at the Turnpike. Why don't we ask God to bless all who travel to and through our community on this road? Why don't we invite members of the Levittown community to join us in this prayer?
One of the Catholic traditions that we follow at this time of year is called "The Stations of the Cross." This prayer is done in procession with a brief stop at each place where Jesus stopped as he was lead to his crucifixion. Many people have seen news reports of how recent popes have lead this procession through the Coliseum in Rome. They recalled not only Jesus' death, but the death of so many who died in the Coliseum, as well as others who have died for their faith throughout the world.
We thought of combining this traditional prayer with the prayer for safety along Hempstead Turnpike. We would remember the names of those who died on this road in Levittown. We would ask God's blessings upon the first responders who are so often called upon when there is an accident. We would ask God to bless all travelers who pass this way. And we would do this in the context of the Stations of the Cross.
As I shared this idea with people in the community, I heard from many that they would appreciate being part of this prayer, or at least they were appreciative of the idea that we'd ask for blessings of safety. So we applied for a permit for the procession and we've set the date for Saturday, March 12th at 12noon. Now I'm inviting you to join members of Saint Bernard's parish for this prayer walk.
This is for people of all ages, as long as they're able to travel the mile-and-a-half route of the procession. Parents are encouraged and welcome to wheel their young ones in strollers. Cars should be parked in the parking lot at St. Bernard's and then people can walk to the starting point: The Levittown Veteran's Memorial Park, off Shelter Lane (across from the Library.) We'll start the prayer and the walk at noon and proceed up the service road to the King Kullen shopping center and then double back to the church where we'll conclude.
The Stations of the Cross is a profound form of prayer for Christians because we see that despite the terrible moments that led to Jesus' death, in the end, it was he himself who conquered death. We want to have that same hope for our community too: that despite the deaths and accidents that happen in our midst, that we can rise above those experiences and be a safe community of life and tranquility. All are welcomed to join in this procession together.
Publication Date: February 18, 2016
Mercy vs Bullying
Last month people gathered to consider caring for elderly relatives as part of Saint Bernard's "Mercy in Motion" series. This month our focus on mercy switches to children who are being bullied. For among the people who need to experience mercy, bullied children really appreciate merciful moments.
Studies of bullying tell us things like: (a) There are three kinds of bullying: verbal, physical and social; (b) girls bully differently from the way boys bully; (c) playground bullying takes place once every seven minutes; (d) 90 percent of children have been bullied in some fashion.
Now my first reaction to these statics flows from my own childhood. For a time I was relentlessly bullied in middle school and I didn't like one second of it. Yet I survived and thrived despite the taunts and punches. So one part of me doesn't want to re-live those memories and since I turned out OK I'm tempted to say, "Being bullied is part of growing up. Kids today will get through it just as I did and they'll be fine."
Yet when I do think back to those days, I remember the moments of mercy more clearly than I do the actual bullied moments: a look of sympathy from the girls in my class, another kid simply asking with concern, "Are you OK?", my parents sitting on the edge of my bed before I went to sleep offering words of understanding. None of these things stopped the bullying, but they went far to fortify me and keep me from being completely reduced by the cruel behavior of other children.
As an adult I've come to learn the awkward truth that children who bully often are mirroring behavior of their parents. When a child hears cruel words being spoken in a parental fight, when they hear parents respond to the news of the day by calling elected officials "idiots", when they hear them screaming against the refs or see them belittling coaches or teachers, they are being formed in the skills of bullying.
And it continues to amaze me how people publish hate-filled bullying words on their Facebook pages for everyone else to see!
I believe that adult bullying behavior may indeed spring from their own childhood experience of being powerless in the face of bullies. They are repeating what was done to them. Were there no acts of mercy that can now rise to guide our responses to the frustrations of our lives?
So while I don't even begin to know how to eradicate bullying from our children's lives, I do know this: the more moments of mercy we can share with our young people, the more we can help break the cycle of bullying. Perhaps it would be a fruitful exercise to pay close attention to what words come out of our mouths. How many lean toward mercy? How many lean toward bullying? Such self-reflection could be enlightening.
One of Levittown's grandmas, who happens to be a social worker in the Levittown School District, will be the guest presenter at the next "Mercy in Motion" series. All are invited to a workshop led by Nina Glenn on Thursday evening, February 25th at 7:30pm in the Parish Center. There are some ways we can address the negative experiences our children have when being bullied and Nina will offer some paths to follow. This will be one of those moments that is worth putting our busy lives on pause and coming together to grow in mercy.
Publication Date: February 10, 2016
Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down
For those who read the Levittown Tribune on Wednesdays, you might notice that there are a lot of people walking around with dirt on their faces today. Actually, those are ashes. For many Christians, today is Ash Wednesday, the first of forty days of Lent. So, what's with the ashes?
The ancient reason for using ashes comes from our Jewish heritage where people would sometimes heap ashes on themselves as a sign of repentance before God. So too we mark our foreheads with ashes today, because each of us has at least a little something to repent of. But I'd like to suggest a couple of other considerations as to why ashes are appropriate for our time.
First, it's normal to have a dirty face when we've been working. Whether we're gardening or cleaning the garage or attic, we often see the smears of dust and dirt on our faces when we go in to wash up. They are outward signs that we've been at work. I suggest that the ashes are equally signs that we're at work. What work? Helping others in need, making peace at work or in our families, visiting or caring for someone who is sick, and yes, even physically working to clean up our planet -- picking up trash, etc.
Second, you might remember that childhood rhyme, "Ring around the rosey, pockets full of posies, ashes, ashes, we all fall down." While the origin of this chant was connected to the plague in Europe (google it!), I like the truth of it: "ashes, ashes, we all fall down." There isn't a person I know who hasn't fallen down in life. People fall from their diets, fall from being patient, fall from fidelity, fall from sobriety, fall from being generous, fall from taking care of themselves or others. There are lots of falls. And we ALL fall down.
So ashes are a sign that we're in this together. As people who fail and fall we can have sympathy and mercy for those who fail us. Ashes are a reminder that none of us are perfect and that we need each other's help in getting up from our falls. We won't settle for the tag line of that old commercial, "I've fallen and I can't get up."
For Christians, Lent is all about "up." Sure we "give up" things as an act of penance or as a discipline that lets us live as better people. (Imagine if those crazy drivers rushing through your block gave up such recklessness? That would make it easier to give up cursing!)
But "up" is not just about giving up. Up is about living a more noble, balanced, healthy, holy life. Up is about holding our heads up high because, though we have fallen at times, we don't let our failures define who we are. So often people dwell more on what's wrong with them then what's right with them.
So we take this day and wear what's wrong on our foreheads. And then we wash the ashes off. And we're up again, ready again, to trust again, give again, forgive again and love again.
Publication Date: February 3, 2016
Care for the Caregivers
Since Pope Francis declared this to be a "Year of Mercy", Saint Bernard's parish has been designing a series of "Mercy in Motion" workshops that cover some common experiences that people share where mercy is needed. And it was no surprise that we filled our meeting room for the first workshop entitled "Facing Concerns about Elderly Relatives". Social Worker Nora Molloy led a conversation about the concerns people had about caring for their loved ones.
The concerns included caring for relatives with Alzheimer's disease, financial concerns about paying for in-home care or assisted living facilities, when to call for hospice care, dealing with other diseases such as cancer and muscular dystrophy and Parkinson's disease. The question of how to deal with elderly relatives who ought not be driving was also discussed.
While the situations varied from family to family, it became apparent that there was one thing every care-giver had in common: they were not making time to care for themselves. While everyone recognized that self-care was essential to helping others, no one had figured out how to regularly carve out some time for respite and re-charging their own spirits.
Nora used the analogy of the preflight safety instructions where the flight attendant reminds all that the passenger should always fit his or her own mask before helping children, the disabled, or persons requiring assistance. "If you can't breathe, you can't help others to breathe," she said. So too it is with caring for elderly relatives. We all need to "breathe."
This is one of those easier-said-than-done propositions. While it would be great if other relatives came over to lend a hand, they often don't. While we'd have the best of intentions to see a movie or walk the boardwalk or go out with friends, the demands of the moment often derail these plans. And if we do leave for a while, we're wondering what's happening back home or we feel guilty that we took time for ourselves.
So what to do? First, don't give up on the idea that taking some quality time to re-charge is as essential as providing a meal, or making doctor's appointments for an elderly loved one. Do something small each day that helps to feed your spirit. Do something more substantial each week. Going to church is not a bad idea -- and everyone is welcome to stop in to say a prayer in Saint Bernard's during the week. The church is open til 9pm.
Listening to concerns of caregivers prompts me to write to two other types of readers: First, if you are growing old and you've resisted going to the doctor for a full health evaluation or if you know in your heart that it's time to give up the car, why not face the fears you have and give your loved ones the peace of mind that you are choosing the safe course of action? You've been a loving person your whole life long. Don't let the last adjectives to describe you be "stubborn and frustrating."
I also want to reach out to those who are not caring for an elderly person at this time. Can you offer some small comfort for your neighbor who is? Make soup. Offer to stay with grandpa for an evening. If you belong to the same gym, nudge your neighbor to go with you. Invite them to church with you. The possibilities are only limited by our imaginations. There will come a day where you will join the ranks of caregivers and will appreciate any kindnesses, great or small.
Publication Date: January 13, 2016
A Musical Bargain
One of my favorite nephews (I have three of them) got to sing on the stage of Radio City Music Hall before Christmas since he's part of Holy Trinity High School's Select Chorus. His proud parents and proud uncle each shelled out $75 to see him and the ensuing show, replete with the Rockettes, a hundred Santas, and a few moments of the baby Jesus who was again traditionally upstaged by a menagerie which included live camels. And if you haven't been since a child, the Radio City show is a pleasant diversion in the midst of the busy-ness of the holiday season.
While Radio City appeared to be sold out, there were plenty of seats available at a more local gem, namely the winter concerts at our Levittown High Schools. I was able to attend only the instrumental and vocal concerts at Division Avenue High School but I imagine that the musical offerings at MacArthur were equally worth experiencing. And these concerts are free. And unlike a trip to the city, the parking is free as well.
Of course there were many proud parents and grandparents attending these concerts, but I'd like to suggest that for others whose hard-earned money goes to pay the taxes that support our schools, one way to "get your money's worth" out of the tax bill is to avail themselves of these wonderful concerts.
Seriously -- the music at the high school level in Levittown is spirited, professional, and really moving. Seriously -- you ought to go sometime. I've also enjoyed the musicals performed at MacArthur and Division (best $10 admission spent!) and what makes it especially nice for me is that I get to see young people I've known from church in a different light as they share their musical and creative talents. But even if you don't know the performers personally, these musical concerts and plays are really enjoyable on their own merits. So keep an eye open for when the next set of musical productions comes around and stop by to encourage our young people and to enjoy a night out.
I also got to see my favorite nephew in the Christmas Show at Trinity High School. Once again, the young people at that school didn't disappoint. I'm constantly amazed at the artistic ability of kids who only a few short years ago treated their parents to painful renditions of "Hot Cross Buns," often played unintendedly in the style of John Cage. But now they are budding artists, often self-critical over a sour note or a missed cue. And while I rejoice in the moment at all this artistry, I also feel badly that once graduation comes, some will never pick up that instrument again and others will only join in singing a requisite "happy birthday" and some boisterous choruses at their friends' weddings someday. I keep thinking it would be nice if we could keep that talent going into the adult years of life.
Which is why I was happy that for the closing number at both Trinity and Division Avenue's Winter Concert, all alumni or adults who knew a part in Handel's Halleluiah Chorus were invited up to the stage and join the young people's chorus. I, for one, had a blast!
Publication Date: January 6, 2016
Not for the Eight Percent
Are you ready to lose ten pounds? To quit smoking? To re-organize your closets or paper piles? To start going to church again? To take the clothes off the treadmill and use it for what it was intended for? To really work on a relationship? To get better grades?
Get ready to make and break your New Year's Resolutions! I'm sorry if that sounds too negative and fatalistic but studies show that only about eight percent of people actually keep their resolutions. So if you're one of those, you can skip reading the rest of this column. I'm writing for the rest of us who have the best intentions, but find that old habits poison the desire for a new way of living.
I'm going to suggest "yoking". For those of us who haven't farmed with horses or oxen lately, the idea of a yoke might be foreign to us. Basically a yoke connects two or more animals together so that as they pull a plow or a cart, each shares the load, rather than one pulling the whole load. So since a resolution often feels like a burden (at least at first), if we could yoke ourselves to someone else who wants to help us with our resolution, we've got a better chance of success.
So people who find a partner to walk with or exercise with are going to have a better chance of keeping that resolution. If your goal is to not treat Levittown's stop signs as suggestions (let's face it, our streets corners have been dangerous for years), tell the people you usually ride with to help you count the full stops you make between home and your destination. It becomes like a game, they won't be buried in their electronic device for the ride, and your success is measurable.
If your goal is to pray more, arrange to meet someone at your church each week. That "someone" might indeed be your spouse or your children or a friend. At home agree to say a prayer before meals or before bedtime -- whatever works for you. Being "yoked" in this intention will indeed make it happen.
It's in my line of work (not to mention my personal experience) to suggest that for people who believe in God, picking God as a yoke-partner is also very helpful. Alas some people believe that God is the source of some burdens in life. They blame the Divine for sickness, death, accidents, and other things that adversely impinge on their well being. So there is a temptation not to ask God to be our yoke-partner. It disturbs me when people say "God gives us only the troubles he knows we can handle." God doesn't give troubles. When I read the gospels, I can't find a time where God gave anyone blindness -- he cured blindness. Can't find a place where he caused death -- he raised from death. Can't find a place where he placed a burden on another -- he invited the burdened to come to him and they'd find rest!
So for the ninety-two percent of us who struggle to be successful at our New Year's Resolutions, finding the right yoke-partner might be the key to this year's success.
And I'm happy to partner with my neighbors in Levittown through my prayers for a blessed 2016 ahead.