1. What’s one of the most memorable Christmas gifts you’ve received?
It was just at that age where I was just learning how to ride a bike – becoming like a big boy, and I wanted a bike and my family we’re not people of means. We’re a pretty hard working family so a bike would be a substantial cost, but a lot of my family knew that I wanted that bike.
It was a Blackhawk; it was a bike from Germany…my jaw just kind of dropped because this is what I wanted, I basically desired this for Christmas, and, of course, the family was beside themselves because they wanted to hide it for Christmas, but the gift was so great, it was such a great gift that they were all pleased and the fact that I loved this gift that they all came together to get for me, so that was a pretty special one.
Christmases are always great. For me, most of the time the great gift is being with family and friends, without a doubt. So, when I look to a specific gift, as a memorable gift, the gifts are material things, but the great thing is family and friends, and even the bike was just a symbol of my family’s affection for me and my affection for them.
2. Describe a dream you’ll never forget.
There was one great, beautiful dream that I had about the death of my aunt. My aunt was my godmother. She was almost like a second mother to me. She lived with us. She was as much a part of the family as everyone and she died very suddenly of a brain aneurism. From all our perspectives, she was way too young – about 48 – when she passed away. Her death really kind of took me emotionally a lot by storm, and I was in second year of college seminary at the time, so I had to work through a lot of things.
It was probably about six months after the death of my aunt; I was dreaming, and I was in the living room on my stomach watching television, that was kind of a normal thing to do. We had a small black and white television and I was watching it, and my aunt was suddenly in the easy chair behind me.
I looked and I was startled, in the dream and I came up to her and I said, “Auntie, what are you doing here? You’re dead.” And she said, “No, I’m fine, I’m fine.”
And then, as she would normally do, she hugged me and says, “So don’t worry about me; I’m fine.”
And so from that moment my sense of loss for her was lifted and it was replaced with a confidence that God has this wonderful person and she’s enjoying eternal happiness. Now, I know from a psychological viewpoint that people try to work out grief, and the psyche kind of attempts to rationalize that, but you’re going to be hard pressed to convince me that this wasn’t a message from the lady who loved me, to tell me that she was OK.
3. If you could choose three songs to listen to for the rest of your life, what would they be?
Thank God that that’s only a question that could be posed in a newspaper article, because I mean, I do like music and so to choose three songs is almost like impossible:
“Nessun Dorma,” but sung by Luciano Pavarotti. When Luciano sings that, your soul has to be totally dead not to feel the power and the impact of that.
In terms of a religious thing, “Panis Angelicus,” is really a great one.
If you’re talking about musicals, and you’re talking about music from musicals, I’d say one of the number of songs from “Les Mis,” which is my favorite musical.…If there was one it would probably be the song of the lead character at the end; it talks about fulfilling his plan or his mission on earth… It’s a great, great musical, because it’s all about salvation and redemption.
I like The Beatles. Don McLean’s “Vincent” – “Starry, Starry Night” – I love those. (Don McLean) had such a fantastic, one-shot deal in “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie,” that people forget what a really good songwriter he is. He’s a very good songwriter. I like some Dylan stuff, but if I have to listen to one over and over again, I want to be inspired.
4. What prayers do you recommend I say or actions do you suggest I take when I’m struggling with my faith?
One I would say is the “Memorare.” There’s great consolation that our spiritual life has in giving us the solicitation of a mother, the care of a mother, and that one basically helps a great deal. The Hail Mary, Our Father, those are the normal ones that people would say, but if someone was looking out to try to grasp something in their life, and to call them to something different, I’d say I’d first tell them to start with the “Memorare.” Nothing feels as good as mother’s arms around you when you’re hurting. I mean there isn’t anything better than that, and God has in his infinite wisdom has given us this woman and it’s almost like her arms are around us when we’re in the midst of our struggle.
5. As a reserve chaplain in the U.S. Army from 1981 to 2004, what’s one experience that sticks with you?
I would go around and do a tremendous amount of services and our military people were very generous; I mean there’s one story after another about their generosity and their sensitivity to people in need. That’s very much a part of their lives, and these were often people who themselves, I would not say people of means, but living hand to mouth, because in the reserves this was basically a second job; oftentimes it was to supplement income and they were dedicated in a patriotic way to the country.
What I used to do as a chaplain, and I don’t know whether this was to enhance participation in the services, but I would do two services. I would do a Catholic service and I would do a general Christian service for those people who were not Catholic. For both of the services, I would bring Dunkin Donuts, pay for it myself and bring it out as a kind of a treat. Now, there are two things to look at: One, great that the chaplain’s generous, but the chaplain has to be real wise, because if you wanted a doughnut, you came to the service.
People were coming to services, they’d take the doughnut and then basically they’d leave. I remember one time, and it stayed with me a long time, we had a young first lieutenant who was a real leader in a lot of ways. You could see he was a leader, and he would always come to the service. He would come to the general Protestant service, or the general Christian service. We finished the service and, of course, everybody grabbed a doughnut quickly, and this first lieutenant grabbed a cup of coffee and a doughnut, and he sat down, and he placed it on a napkin, and he bowed his head in prayer thanking God for the gift. If I had a camera, and just would have taken a picture of that, it said everything about the character of this individual. Why he was like he was, why he was so good, why he was respected, why people could rely upon him because there was a sense that everything that was brought into his life was gift from God and he was forever thankful for it, but that’s one in particular that that’s kind of stayed with me.