Monday, August 27, 2018

What does “Sic transit gloria mundi” mean? 

He was a Paulist priest “star.” He could do almost everything spectacularly well. He impacted the lives of multitudes. So, a large white marble “Icon” or plaque was constructed in his honor listing his triumphs and priestly labors for all to see. Yet as the years went on, his name faded from public awareness and attention focused on current affairs, other events and achievements of others.. The plaque, finally, wound up against a basement wall wedged between trash boxes and musty old furniture. 

Should a research scholar writing the history of the earlier Paulist priests ask to see the famous icon, he might be greeted with a quizzical look and an honest question…” Alexander who?” Such a discursive narrative is not unusual. It is the stuff of which time is partially made. The human mind so operates perhaps for its own survival. How often do we hear ” The King is dead. Long live the King”? Or variations thereof ? 

I recall with great clarity the instance of the Paulist priest who was universally viewed as our rare Saint. At the funeral Mass, heavily attended by the members of his community, his virtues were formally sung and poetic opinions were raised about his quick entrance into Paradise. Yet at lunch not one word was spoken of him..only eager observations about baseball, the weather or community gossip. It was as if that Icon of holiness had never lived. So quickly this communal phenomenon occured after the somewhat mechanical rituals of praise. 

Was such behavior a kind of defense? Perhaps even a need to blot out the “elephant” in one’s own awareness? That I too must die? It is the experience of most human beings that we forget frighteningly quickly those whom we have loved and to whom we promised eternal fealty? As time passes, so does clarity and sharp recollection. The media, except for bright eyed zealots, often run by the adage “Nothing is so dead as yesterday’s news”. 

Yet perhaps there are deep emotional drives unseen and unrecognized operating within the apparantly sophisticated and escatalogically oriented priests? 

Was it some kind of masculine masking so as not to express the sorrow of losing a beloved person? Or not knowing what to say? Or was it simply what it appeared to be? We have done our job.That is done. What’s next? We don’t really want to remember. Or is forget fulness built into human survival? 

Without completely analysing this type of human behavior, the student of life might still draw some rules for healthy behavior. The old Romans knew something of this. Hence, the Latin title of this little piece. “Thus goes the glory of the world”!!!! It was apparently the pagan custom that a slave would stand behind a returning victorious General who was receiving the plaudits of the crowd to remind the hero. It all passes. Glory is a fleeting thing. You too will pass. Out of sight.Out of mind. 

This sounds suprisingly similar to the thinking of the great Spanish mystic, Teresa of Avila. “Let nothing affright thee…… 
all things pass….One thing alone remains………” It is God alone Who is present to me always whether I am aware of His Presence or not. 

Is there some kind of wistful thinking that “they” will nostalgically remember me with fondness and tenderness when I am called back to God? When in fact the human mind forgets so quickly? Think how we recover from the devestation of grief when we lose a loved one in death. Even a parent! This is the way it is !! 

As Puck opined: “What fools we mortals be…” I am urged by my Insight (or perhaps by the Holy Spirit) to say: “Fie upon thee” to people pleasing and to hopes of being remembered by others. My energy and attention and love must ultimately be driven by and to my Lord and my God, Jesus Himself. And surprise!!!! When I do that, everything I ever wanted comes to me. Maybe, the message of the “Hound of Heaven” is true and pragmatic after all.

On Reaching 85 years of age!!!! April 3, 2006

I was born (85 years ago today) in the ground floor apartment of a New York City Brownstone. It was Easter Sunday morning, at dawn. Although, the old Catholic ladies of that era thought that the Sun danced on Easter morn, I was too occupied to check it out. I was grasping for the dawn in that dingy front bedroom—as the local Physician, Dr. Sprague, was tugging me out of my mother’s womb. My mother’s (twin and older) sisters had just returned from Mass at the Paulist church and were agog with the excitement that there was a new Catholic (and half- Jewish) boy in the McArdle clan.

I would live in a circumscribed neighborhood for the immediate future, worshipping at the Paulist Church, learning the “ropes” of our own street (called in the local parlance “sixty foist” street) with the local dirty necks, of which I was one, attending the Paulist grammar school for eight years and occasionally  risking the long trek to Central Park where we played baseball, football and watched the awesome animals in the zoo. We, also, liked to see a tree occasionally. We played creative street games  which cost nothing for equipment or space. In our ignorance of how the other half lived, we were “happy.” 

We were apparently poor. I was never aware of that since we always had three meals a day, had cyclically new clothes and we laughed a lot. Everyone I knew lived the same way. Once in a while some family would be “evicted” or thrown out on the street with all their furniture and few belongings. This never happened to me. Hence, I never gave that possibility a thought. It never struck me that because I didn’t go away on vacations or that my family didn’t have a car  (or “machine” as they called it), that there was something inferior to my way of life. I lived in the present and felt very loved by all my family, especially by my Jewish father and my laughing Irish mother and my loving Grandmother. I was relatively content. It was the Great Depression era anyway.  It was the era of “Buddy can you spare a dime” and of well dressed guys selling apples on the corner. I felt lucky, blessed and very secure. I just somehow knew that I would always have three squares and a “flop.”

That eerie sense of confidence has always stayed with me all these years. “Somehow” I have known I’ll be OK and will always make it. More than hormones or ganglia, this sense of trust has fed my joie de vivre and my enthusiasm for what others have called the banal and repetitious. My prayer has been: My God stands by me. I place all my trust in Him. I have had a great life, or more accurately a delicious one. I have experienced the profundity of the Catholic Faith which has sustained and nourished me through stress and 

strain. The faith which clearly taught me the endless love of God the Father for me, the marvelous comradeship of Jesus the Lord, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It has made real the affection of the Blessed Mother and the endless and dazzling array of saints I can pray to.

I have had unbelievable deep friendships. I have had good health. I have been honored with the priesthood of the Jesus Himself. I have traveled much of the world and been appropriately impressed. I have experienced the thrill of higher education, of teaching on graduate levels, the challenges of modern radio and television broadcasting. I have had the confidences and trust of Archbishops, priests, religious brothers, nuns, married people, and single ones, the very young and the very old, the bright and the slow, who have asked me to walk with them through their fears and joys and perplexities. Scientists, police chiefs, Broadway personnel, frightened street people, alcoholics, sexaholics, anorexics, varlets with anorexic sideburns, all have trusted me with their secrets. 

In my later life I had the inexpressible privilege to minister to the good Catholic souls (of Courage) who struggle with the unasked for disordered tendency of Same Sex attraction. Week after week I have been spiritually wide eyed as I watch the miracle of God’s grace transform men of discouragement and despair to men of hope and self esteem.. 

Through the mysterious plan of the Lord, I became a local confessor for the fabulous Sisters of Life at the Sacred Heart convent where I had more than privilege or pleasure but deep seated joy. I saw the beauty of real Vocation and the noble lifestyle that confronts and challenges the contemporary Christian.

How much joy can the heart hold?  Or how does one articulate to the Lord the dimensions of Gratitude? How does one put into words one’s depth of feeling? Perhaps, there is no way except to stand in awe in His gracious and ineffable Presence and be still. Be still.  Be still.

I have been able to recognize my gifts, as Rush says: “On loan from God”. I have used them unhestitatingly, with joy and without apology. There is always something missing, to be sure. But that is the meaning of Paradise and life with Lord in eternity. On balance, it has been a really great ride especially for a primitive, dirty necked kid from the West side.     I am filled with gratitude to the Lord and my friends and family. Hallejuia.

Thursday, July 13, 2017



It was a very  hot Saturday afternoon in the middle of August in the year 1940. I was walking down 9th avenue on the East side of the avenue trying to become accustomed to an avenue now denuded of the elevated railway,  the “el”,  which had been a staple for me since I was a child. It all seemed so strange in a strange world. And rumor had it that the iron was sold as scrap to the Empire of Japan  which was making omninous rumblings in the Far East.

I was 19, a college student, with no money. No job. I had  recently broken up with my girl friend, Dolly, the best looking girl in the parish. She was an extremely smooth ball room dancer which fed into my adolescent fantasy that we made a great team on the dance floor. But our dates over cherry cokes had become blah as we talked endlessly of Benny Goodman and Glen Miller. It wasn’t working!

I hadn’t the foggiest what I would do with my life. Engineering? Medicine— to please my father? Teaching? Nothing seemed to grab me. I had some ROTC  training  at CCNY. Should I go into the military?  Theatre —like my parents?  I felt no pull towards anything. The worst thing was that I didn’t  know if I wanted anything.  Nothing seemed to matter. It was dull. Drab. Deadly.  I was sleeping excessively and wasting time day after day.

I had had great academic success in my educational experience—honor student all the way.   Awards and recognition. But it didn’t matter.I was hanging out at Broker’s, the soda fountain watering hole on Columbus and 59th but my high school friends were disappearing  for one reason or another.Loneliness and boredom and alienation  were my affective companions.  Meaninglessness, a disease, was taking me over.

Even the most poorly prepared modern mental health professional would instantly recognize the  symptoms of what we call today  “depression.”

But some thing  happened  to me  that day in 1940. I had stopped  to look in the window of the huge Castle’s Pawn shop just opposite the Paulist Church.  I turned aound and looked across the avenue  and saw a priest in full soutane or cassock, wearing a biretta ( or priest’s head  covering) taking a break from his onerous job hearing confessions on a Saturday afternoon in a stifling box with no air conditioning (and which was heavily curtained to preserve the anonymity of the penitent).  He was leaning over the great gray stone parapet—which is still there to this day—  lazily watching the passing parade on the avenue.

I cannot explain or understand what happened to me —-in such a flash. He seemed so peaceful. So content.  So sure he had some thing important to give. He seemed not to have to explain himself to anyone. Even to himself. Priesthood! That was it !!  How come it never struck me? It took me  two more years  to make the move but  I became a Paulist, for never looked back.  The years of excitement and meaning and friendship  and God  have been all consuming. 

I learned later that this priest was Scottish, a convert to the Faith and an ex -British Naval officer from World War I. But who  he was personally doesn’t really matter, I suppose, but what does matter is that God writes His messages  through what ever messenger He wishes.

It doesn’t have to add up logically. I  believe  with A. Einstein who said:  “I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.” Whatever hidden cerebral and emotional pathways may have been at work are basically uninteresting to me. It is where I landed  that gives me cause for  gratitude and personal joy. A bolt out of the blue! An  “ah ha” moment!
Ultimately, it means  that my God spoke to me.