Monthly Archives: January 2011

On Not “Shaking Hands” . . . or, HIV *does* discriminate

On I-20 between Augusta and Columbia, there’s a billboard that says, “Unlike some of us, HIV doesn’t discriminate,” and it presents the statistics of what a person’s alleged risk for HIV is.

This reminded me of something I read on Facebook a while back. I’m not sure if this is a true story or not, but IIRC, it was presented as such.

A Catholic parent was at a parent-teacher conference where the topic of discussion was sex education and STD prevention. During the formal meeting, the Catholic parent tried to ask why abstinence and chastity were not included in the curriculum. The teacher scoffed at this, and the other parents laughed. The Catholic teacher was rather annoyed and offended, and stopped to say anything else lest she say something unkind. Instead, she prayed for guidance to say the right thing at the right time. When it came time for socialization, feeling out of sorts and out of place, the Catholic parent remained in her seat when everyone went back to socialize.

“Before you start greeting each other and shaking hands,” the teacher said, “We’re going to perform a little experiment. I have a bowl of slips of paper. I’d like each of you to take one out and put it in your pocket, but don’t look at it yet. Then please feel free to go around the room and greet the other parents, and shake the hand of each person you talk to.”

After the meet and greet session, the teacher asked them to pull out their slips of paper. Everyone’s paper was blank, except for one father, whose paper said, “STD”. The teacher said, “Mr. X, you have an STD. Now, let’s say that the hand-shaking was sexual intercourse. Would everyone who shook Mr. X’s hand raise your hand.”
All the parents who shook his hand raised their hands.
“You are all at risk for contracting an STD,” said the teacher. “Now, think about everyone whose hands you shook *after* you shook Mr. X’s hand.” Eventually almost every parent had their hand raised.

“See, in our little exercise, everyone is at risk for an STD. It’s not just about whom a person has sex with, but whom they had sex with previously, and who their partners were with, and so on. Everyone is at risk. Everyone who’s sexually active must be concerned about STDs.”

Then the Catholic mother spoke up. “Not everyone,” she said.

“Why not?” said the teacher.

“I’m not at risk because I didn’t shake anyone’s hand.”

Exclusive Interview with Barack Obama: the President explains it all, right here!

Gadfly: Mr. President, your opponents often call you a ‘Communist.’ Would you please explain why this charge is false?
BO: Well, there are several reasons for that. Communism is an egalitarian system of people living as equals. I don’t believe in that. I believe I really am better than other people, and I believe that most people need government to tell them what to do and look out for them. Egalitarianism and democracy don’t work.
I’m not a Communist. I just believe that history will evolve to a point when we have totally eliminated poverty, wealth, greed, violence and inequality. I believe that we can push this along through the use of government, and I’m just the person to do it. I believe that democracy only works when the people elect the right person and give that person absolute and unopposed power. I believe that the best way to correct economic problems is to have the government buy control of major corporations and run them itself. How does that make me a Communist?
Gadfly: Mr. President, do you think the American people were trying to send you a message in the recent elections?
BO: I think the American people are as greatly disappointed in these election results as I am. I think this election was stolen by a handful of racists and fanatics who manipulated the vote. I was elected with a clear mandate to be the unquestioned dictator of this country, and I used that mandate to pass many of my goals, most notably my sweeping health care reform package. The American people are still behind me, and they know we’re working towards the goal of completely eliminating poverty, disease and injustice, but my administration needs time to complete these goals.
Gadfly: Mr. President, you frequently speak of unity and you denounce what you call “divisive rhetoric.” Could you explain what you think constitutes divisive rhetoric?
BO: Well, again, I am the One. Even Oprah said it. And Chopra too. And Minister Farrakhan. I know what’s best for America, which until my presidency has been a flawed nation with a flawed Constitution. That’s why I was given the Nobel Peace Prize just for being elected president: it shows how this evil country has changed. But there are still racists out there who oppose my agenda for no other reason than the color of my skin. They can’t stand the thought of a person of color as president, and they’ll do everything they can to oppose me.
Gadfly: But why do you insist your opponents are all racists? Isn’t it possible that they have intelligent viewpoints which simply disagree with yours? Isn’t it possible to have a different ideology without making it about race?
BO: Of course not! First, everyone knows that “conservative” is just a code word for “racist,” and “states’ rights” is just a code word for slavery. Just ask Rev. Sharpton, Rev. Farrakhan, Rev. Pfleger or Rev. Wright. Secondly, how is it possible for a position to be intelligent when it’s so blatantly wrong?
Gadfly: Indeed. . . .
BO: For example, all conservatives oppose basic scientific principles like evolution, abortion and that the world is round. Look at the opposition to stem cell research. They just oppose scientific advances. They don’t care about ethics or the value of human life. They just hate science.
Gadfly: Well, could you give an example of what you consider “hate speech” or “divisive rhetoric”?
BO: Yes. Some conservatives, for example, talk about Second Amendment rights. It should be obvious that anyone who talks about the Second Amendment or a “right to bear arms” must obviously want to overthrow the government and shoot anyone they disagree with. And rhetoric like “pro-life” or “abortion is murder.” This is violent, hateful speech that really promotes oppression of women and the murder of innocent humanitarian abortion doctors like Kermit Gosnell. Another example is people who say that homosexual acts are against God’s law, or that same sex attraction is disordered. This is blatantly hate speech, covering up a desire to put people with alternative lifestyles in concentration camps.
Gadfly: What would you suggest as a solution to this? What is the key to unity? Do you see any way of compromising with your opposition?
BO: Compromise is very easy. To compromise, my opponents just have to agree with everything I want to do and stop complaining. That’s the best way to have unity and bipartisanship.
Gadfly: Recently, you’ve talked a lot about how America needs to stop borrowing and start producing. Your critics argue that our government has borrowed more under your administration than pretty much all previous presidencies combined. Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to say that?
BO: Of course not. First, any borrowing my administration did was on a strictly emergency basis. We felt that the best way to stimulate our economy was to borrow money from other countries and give it to corporations and rich people so they could stimulate the economy by investing it. This, by the way, is quite different from trickle down economics. Secondly, any problems we still have in the economy can clearly be traced to the Republicans, and it’s the Tea Party people who are promoting the idea that America can borrow, borrow, borrow. After all, they’re just a bunch of country hicks up to their eyeballs in debt.
Gadfly: Another common charge levied against you is that you’re a Muslim. Can you please explain this one?
BO: Again, this comes from racism. People hear my name, and see the color of my skin, and think I must be a Muslim. I could never be a Muslim because Islam, while it is a highly respected religion and far superior to Christianity in many respects, is just as bad as Christianity when it comes to respecting women and reproductive freedom.
Gadfly: Could you please give America a definitive answer about what, then, your religious beliefs are?
BO: I’ve said it many times. I believe in a Higher Power. I believe we call that Higher Power by many names, but we can find it best by looking into ourselves and finding the wisdom and divinity within us.
Gadfly: Speaking of which, you once said that the question of whether unborn babies are human beings is ‘above your pay grade,’ saying that it was a religious question, not a legal one. There was a time when people expressed doubts that certain races were fully human, and those people tried to use religion to justify their arguments, saying they couldn’t be certain that Native Americans, or Africans, for example, had souls. Aren’t you using the same kind of argument when you say that you can’t be certain an unborn baby is human?
BO: That’s a racist question, and I refuse to answer it.
Gadfly: Well, then. . . . One final question: what would you say to those who think you are selling out our futures to China and the Middle East by the exorbitant debt we owe them?
BO: America’s time of claiming to be the greatest country on earth is at an end. It was a pretense that had to end sooner or later. We need to learn to work together with those we once considered enemies. We need to stop our racist attitudes towards them and learn to accept them, because we’re going to be paying off this debt a long time, and we owe them a lot of money, so we have to be nice to them. You see, I knew that borrowing huge amounts of money from countries that some people consider our country’s enemies was the perfect way to bring peace and harmony to the world–it’s why I was elected, wasn’t it? Don’t forget: I won the Nobel Peace Prize just for being elected. I have to fulfill people’s hopes, and the best way to do that was to force the American people to be in a situation where they have to play nice to China and the Arab nations. This whole concept of being a great nation has to go away, because it’s not true now, and it never was true. I firmly believe that.

Regret is a sin against Providence

From a worldly perspective, I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in life.
From the perspective of someone who’s tried to model my life after the saints, I’ve made a lot of bad decisions in life.
The bad decisions in those two categories only occasionally overlap, and often come from the fact that those are counterproductive goals.

In any case, when I look on my life, and on the things I regret, very few of them really hold any water when I look at my life as a hole.

Then there are things which aren’t so much regrets as “What if’s”–what if our lives had gone the way we would have preferred in matters we don’t have any control over.

This is something I tell people all the time now: students, internet friends, etc. Don’t regret. From a secular perspective, if you’ve learned something from an experience, and if you’re trying to do better, there’s no such thing as failure. From a spiritual perspective, if you’re doing your best to live in accord with God’s will (at least now, if not then), and if you can see how God brought good out of the evil in your life, why regret?

A friend brought this up in chat once, a while back. He’s very happily engaged, and he’s had a very difficult spiritual journey, but he had one regret in life. Without getting into too many details of his personal story, he has had a long spiritual journey, partly due to bad romantic decisions. While he’s quite happily engaged *now*, he wondered about a girl in high school who was a seemingly good Catholic girl, who was also quite pretty, who had always been nice to him and interested in him. Perhaps, he wondered, his life might have been different if he’d pursued a relationship with that girl instead of the more liberal girls he did date in high school. I told him I don’t believe in regrets–that even his bad experiences have contributed to the good Catholic man he is today. This girl had no Internet presence, and he had asked some high school acquaintances if they knew what happened to her. A day or two later, he got his answer: she had died of a drug overdose a few years ago. Whatever her story was (and, as Aslan says, we can only ever really know our own stories), she was obviously more troubled than external indicators would suggest, and perhaps my friend would have been in a worse place today if he had followed that path.

Providence is amazing.

There is only one thing I *really* regret. It is that I always wanted an art degree, and I let my advisors talk me out of it. Everyone expected me to get my Ph.D. and go work for some great university. Now, I wish I’d had a back up plan. I could have had a job teaching school right out of college. Of course, even then, I stop to think about what they might have done to my health. . . .

There is the temptation to say we had children too early in our marriage–it’s what people told us early on. Yet, had we waited, they wouldn’t be here. Mary would have eventually found out about having POTS. My health would have deteriorated as it has done in the past couple years. Where would we be?

And we tried spacing with NFP, but had trouble with CCLI and Billings Methods, yet after Clara was born, discovered Marquette Model, which has worked amazingly for us. To see the world Providentially is to recognize that God gave us the knowledge we needed when He wanted us to have it.

A few years ago, we were visiting a friend who is a nun with the Dominicans of St. Cecilia in Nashville. She said she had been studying Theology of the Body, and, if she’d known when she was younger what she knows now, she might have chosen marriage. I said, “If I knew then what I know now, I might have chosen the priesthood–which is exactly why God didn’t give me that knowledge then.”

I could go through so many aspects of my life, so many key points and decisions and say, “if only we’d stayed in that place instead of moving,” or “if only we’d moved sooner,” or “if only we’d waited for a better house,” or “if only I’d been able to get that job,” or “if only Mary had taken that job.”

Yet in every situation, there are innumerable benefits that have sprung from a decision which also brought hardship. Life is always going to be hard. And we look back with “20/20 hindsight” and forget things we’ve learned that we simply didn’t know then–and, again, perhaps God didn’t want us to know them. And if we hadn’t lived there, then we’d never gotten close to that relative before he or she passed away. And if we hadn’t moved there, we’d never have met our best friends. And if we had taken that job, then this other opportunity wouldn’t have presented itself.

Most recently, we moved to North Augusta because we thought I was getting a full time job at a local college. I didn’t get the job. Imagine if I had gotten the job, though: I’d have just started my “big break” full time job and had my aorta dissect!
If we *hadn’t* moved here, we’d still be in our three story townhouse when I had my aortic dissection and stairs became an absolute impossibility. Did walking up and down those stairs for 3+ years contribute to it? I’m sure they did. Did the stress of the move contribute to it? I’m sure it did. But ultimately it was going to happen when it happened. As I always say, I’m 33 with a life expectancy of 20. Every day since June 10, 1996, has been a gift, and while I may not have always lived that fact as well as I might have, I definitely know that it’s far better to look back at how God has kept me alive than it is to look back and say where I might have done better to preserve my life.

God gave me the perfect person for me as a wife. Is she a perfect person? No. Does she meet every fantasy criterion I might have listed for the “ideal” woman? No. But she’s the perfect person to be my wife, and I cannot imagine being married to anyone else, and if I try to imagine it, I only come back to, “but then I wouldn’t be married to Mary!” Even when presented with another woman in a dream, I refuse to be unfaithful to my wife. My one frustration in my marriage is that I wish I had known her much earlier in life, but even then there are reasons that probably wouldn’t have worked.

And then I just figure all those “what ifs” in my head are just opportunities for writing–if I could ever get myself to write them.

But that would be my biggest regret, and is still my biggest fear in life. It would be nice to think that the six+ years of effort on this blog will outlive me, or my scattered articles. I certainly have a legacy in my wife and children, and my students and friends and family. But my continuous regret and frustration in life is that I have been given so much talent, and yet the combination of pain and fatigue and practical daily realities has always impeded me from expressing it. To have but one success–in my art, my writing and/or my music–to feel like I had truly honored God’s gifts to me in those regards–then I could really say I’ve been a success.

Please pray that God will provide me with the time and energy and strength to use the gifts He has given me in whatever time I have left.

What is an OCDS?

I get the question in various contexts what the initials “OCDS” stand for, and when I say I’m a “Third Order Carmelite,” that, too, comes with a need for explanation.

First of all, the name: OCDS. Comes from Ordo Carmelitarum Discalceatorum Saecularis in Latin, or “Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites” in English. We’re also sometimes called “Third Order” Carmelites.

Now, let’s talk about some basic terminology.

What is an Order?

An Order is an association of the faithful who try to grow together in spirituality. Normally, we speak of “religious orders.” Technically, “monks” and “nuns” are religious men and women, respectively, who live in “cloistered” monasteries, meaning that they live all the time within the confines of monastery property. They rarely, if ever, leave, and they rarely, if ever, encounter outsiders. However, we often informally use the term “monk” to refer to any male religious, and informally use the term “nun” to refer to any female religious. Other forms of religious life include hermits (people who live alone or in very small isolated communities in the wilderness); stylites (in the Eastern church, stylites are/were a kind of hermit who lived in cities but on high towers); anchorites and anchoresses (people who lived inside special cells in the Church walls). The other large (and perhaps now largest) category of religious life is “mendicants”–beggar orders. Franciscans and Dominicans, for example, were the first “mendicant” orders. They didn’t live in cloisters but walked among the people and begged, trying to live the rules Jesus laid out in the Gospels for the “seventy-two”.

An Order usually has a Founder, such as Benedict, Francis, Dominic, etc., and a Rule of Life (usually written by its founder).

What is a “Third Order”? What is a “Secular Order”?

Some orders are just priests, or just brothers, or just sisters. Since historically the Founders have been men, male orders came to be known as “First Orders,” while the women’s orders were the “Second Orders.” Benedict literally founded his male order first, before his sister Scholastica founded her “second” oder of nuns. Francis literally founded his male order first before Clare founded the “second” order of “poor Clares”.

Near the end of the first millennium, the term “third order” began being used for laity who supported an Order. Originally, a “third Order” member was just a layperson who helped support a monastery or attended services at the monastery rather than a parish church.

However, when the “new” form of spirituality promoted by St. Francis of Assisi swept Europe, and lots of people wanted to join the Order of Friars Minor, the concept of a “Third Order” was refined. The Franciscans began a more formal “Third Order” as a way for laypeople to live their lives in the world while practicing the spirituality of St. Francis in accordance with their states without some of the more radical steps taken by religious.

In the Franciscan tradition, there were two kinds of Third Orders: Third Orders Religious and Third Order Secular. The third Order Religious might wear the habit, and they may or may not have lived in community with other members of the Order, but they practiced many aspects of religious life without some of the stricter rules. A third order secular was a regular layperson who prayed with the Order and studied its spirituality.

St. Catherine of Siena, for example, was a Dominican Third Order Religious. She wore the habit and lived basically like a nun but she lived in her parents’ home. St. Louis of France, however, was a Third Order Secular Franciscan and was, quite obviously, a king.

In the Carmelite tradition, there never really was a Third Order Religious, though diocesan priests may be members of the Secular Third Order (since, technically, a diocesan priest is “secular” because he lives in the world and is not a member of an Order).

Those are three separate terms, therefore, often used simultaneously. There’s really no such thing as a “Lay Order,” since priests can be members of a Third Order. The term “Third Order” refers to sequence of founding but has been downplayed since Vatican II to avoid a sense of superiority or inferiority. The term “Secular Order” is preferred.

Many orders founded in the last few centuries follow models that don’t quite fit any of the older forms and may even be closer to “Third Order Religious” than anything else.

What is a Carmelite?

Mt. Carmel was an important location in ancient Israel, because it’s one of the biggest mountains (actually a range of mountains), and it’s a strategic location right by the Sea and in the northern part of the Holy Land. Mt. Carmel was an important location for St. Elijah the Prophet, and, following Elijah’s assumption into Heaven, his successor St. Elishah founded a guild of prophets who lived on Mt. Carmel.

Tradition tells us that a school of prophets following in the school of Elijah and Elishah remained on Mt. Carmel for centuries, that even St. John the Baptist was a member of that school, and that Mt. Carmel remained a popular place for Jewish and Christian hermits to live for thousands of years.

In any case, by the 13th Century, there were a group of men (many of them former European Crusaders turned hermits) living on Carmel, particularly near a particular spring. They called themselves the Brothers of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel. For various reasons, particularly that the Crusaders were losing control over the Holy Land, some of the Carmelites considered going back to Europe. Canon Law at the time forbade the founding of new Orders. The Franciscans and Dominicans had already been founded as exceptions to that ban, since they were new forms of religious life. Further, the Franciscans and Dominicans were so popular that people were trying to start new orders all over the place, and the Pope wasn’t budging anymore.

The Carmelites had the Latin Rite Patriarch of Jerusalem, now known as St. Albert of Jerusalem, write them a Rule, now known as the Rule of St. Albert. When they returned to Europe, they told the Pope that a) they had a Rule already in place and b) they were not a new Order, but actually the oldest of *all* orders, since they traced their history back to St. Elijah the Prophet in the Old Testament!!

The Pope bought the story and the Carmelites took priority over the Benedictines in the honors given to the “oldest” Order.

When the Carmelites arrived in Europe, however, they couldn’t really live as mountain hermits anymore. They began living as a Mendicant Order like the Francsicans and Dominicans.

Over the next few centuries, various changes happened in their Order. And, like most Orders, as time went on, they got rather worldly.

In the 16th Century, during the movemenet known as the Counter Reformation (movements to both fix the authentic problems in the Church Luther had pointed to while also responding to the rise of Protestantism), a Carmelite nun named Teresa of Jesus had a major spiritual conversion after 18 years living in the convent as a rather lukewarm nun. She felt it was necessary for the Carmelites to return to following their “primitive” Rule of St. Albert (which had by then been modified and given many exceptions). She felt they needed to go back to being more eremetic (hermit-like).

She also had received so much confused advice in her own spiritual growth that she sought out holy teachers, particularly from the Jesuit and Franciscan traditions, and she formed a new variant of spirituality from their guidance.

Her two most notable spiritual mentors were themselves ultimately canonized. One was St. Francis Borgia, SJ–yes *those* Borgias–the great-grandson of the infamous Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander VI. His mother was the illegitimate child of an archbishop, who was himself the illegitimate child of King Fredinand II of Christopher Columbus fame. Francis was always devout. He was married at a young age (as common for the time) and had some children before his wife died. He was moved by viewing the corpse of Empress Isabella of Portugal to reevaluate his life. He handed over his estate to his kids and joined the recently formed Society of Jesus. The spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola permeates the teachings of Teresa of Avila on prayer.

Another influence was the Franciscan reformer St. Peter of Alcantara, who did a lot of the same kinds of reforms in his order and encouraged Teresa to reform the Carmelites. He was known for his great austerity of living, as well as his mysticism. and was in many ways similar to the modern St. Padre Pio.

Teresa ended up founding a stricter observance that came to be known as the “Order of Discalced Carmelites.” “Discalced” means they didn’t wear shoes, a symbolic gesture of being more like hermits or cloistered monks and nuns than mendicant friars.

Teresa was joined in her reform by a much younger priest named John of the Cross. In addition to founding their own order (or “reform” of an order), they also were two of the greatest mystics and spiritual masters in the history of the Church, and the Order they founded, the OCD (NOT “obsessive compulsive disorder”), came to be known for being “experts” at prayer and contemplation. “The Carmelites” (usually meaning the nuns) are popularly regarded among laity as the best and most efficacious “pray-ers”.

Over time, the OCD has produced many other writers. Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, never canonized a saint, wrote a book called _Practice of the Presence of God_ which is even popular among Protestants for its explanation of everyday spirituality. The Carmelite nuns of Compiegne, a monastery whose primary purpose was, ironically, to provide a convent for English Catholic women (since it was illegal at the time to be a Catholic nun in England), were martyred as the last victims of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution. A nun in France named Therese of the Child Jesus lived at the Carmel of Lisieux with 3 biological sisters and a cousin from the age of 15 till her death at 24 of TB. Her autobiography, written under obedience, became an instant best-seller when the nuns thought it was worth publishing, and John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church, along with her order’s founders.

A Jewish atheist philosophy professor named Edith Stein read the autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila one night at a friend’s house–she picked it up off the night stand and stayed up all night reading it. This inspired her to both convert to Catholicism (becoming ostracized by her Jewish family) and become a Carmelite nun. She died in a Nazi concentration camp, along with another Carmelite friar, Titus Brandsma.

In 1917, three children at Fatima, Portugal, received apparitions from the Blessed Mother, St. Joseph and an angel who presented himself as the Guardian Angel of Portugal. Two of the children, Bl. Jacinta and Francisco, died in childhood. The third grew to joined the Order of Discalced Carmelites as Sr. Lucia de los Santos, dying in 2005, a month before John Paul II (who, it is commonly believed though not 100% documented, was a Third Order Carmelite).

The Teresian Carmel, or OCD, has thus produced much fruit in the Church. The Carmelites also oversee 2 popular devotions. A religious habit has an outer layer called a “Scapular.” The Scapular is basically an apron worn over the rest of the habit, and its original purpose was to protect the habit when the nuns and monks were working–Scapulars were not worn in church, originally. One of the first Carmelites in Europe, Simon Stock, an Englishman, received a vision of the Blessed Mother where she presented him with a smaller version of the Scapular for laity to wear, with the promise that this fragment of the habit of “her” Order would protect the person who wore it with her mantle, and that anyone who died wearing this brown scapular would die with her protection.

It used to be a common practice for all Catholic children to be inducted into the fraternity of the Brown Scapular (NOT to be confused with the Third Order of Carmel) as part of First Communion, though this practice was dropped after Vatican II as part of the effort to clarify the difference between liturgy and private devotion.

The Carmelites also oversee the devotion to the Infant Jesus of Prague and its Confraternity.

So, what is an OCDS?
As an OCDS, I pray with the Carmelite Order, and I try to live out Carmelite spirituality in my life as a layman in the Church. In my case, Carmelite spirituality helps me to deal with my sufferings from Marfan syndrome.

Prior to the twentieth century, the Third Order only existed where there were Carmelite priests or nuns, but the Third Order was solidified as an organization in the Twentieth Century, even before Vatican II but especially since. Now, there are OCDS communities all over, whether they are in association with monasteries or not. Some OCDS live as “Isolates” because they have no local community, but this status is mostly reserved for fully professed members who move out of range of a community.

I presently attend a community in Columbia, SC, that has been in existence since 1994. Interestingly, Columbia has 2 secular Carmelite communities. The original Carmelites (“old Observance”) from whom St. Teresa of Avila “broke off” are known today as the Order of Carmel (O.Carm.), and their Third Order is the “Third Order of Carmel” (T.O.Carm). Columbia has both OCDS and TOCarm communities.

As an OCDS, I have to live out the spirituality of John and Teresa and the Rule of St. Albert–again, in accordance with my state in life. I attend my community’s monthly meeting, which consists of prayer, a spiritual talk, fellowship, a business meeting, a lesson on the Catechism by our “spiritual advisor”, and small group classes for those at various stages of formation, where we we study the works of the Carmelite masters.

Currently, I have made my temporary promises, and in three years, if I live long enough, I hope to make my definitive promises that will bind me to the Order for life. At that point, the only way to leave the Order would be to file a formal Canonical process.

I am not permitted, as a Carmelite, to be a member of any other organization or spirituality in the Church that requires a vow or oath or consecration. We are greatly discouraged, and older versions of our statues required, from being involved in “too much stuff.” The general guideline is one form of spirituality (covered by Carmel) and one “apostolate.” Our local communities are strongly advised to have a community apostolate (for example, a local community might choose to gather once a month to pray at an abortion clinic for an hour, or a local community might get together to volunteer at a soup kitchen once a month). If we don’t, individuals can and must choose an apostolate. This blog, and my Facebook page, are my apostolates.

I am expected to pray daily: Morning and Evening Prayer of the Divine Office, 1/2 hour of meditation, some kind of Marian devotion like the Rosary, and Mass, if possible.

Third Orders are often misunderstood, even by those who have some level of understanding. People think of them like they’re social clubs, or “merely” lay associations like Cursillo. However, a Third Order is a binding commitment to membership of the Order’s spiritual family, just as much as membership in a monastery or convent. I am not just in Carmel for my own spiritual benefit, but I owe a certain duty to my local community and to the Order as a whole.

Joe Hargrave Tells it Like it is

Joe Hargrave has this to say (on Facebook) about liberals and their complaints about a “climate of hate”:

I will never listen to a single word about a “climate of hate” and “rhetoric of violence” from these people. They are swimming in the blood and guts of 53 million slaughtered innocents. It’s like a crack addict telling me not to drink a beer.

Equal Rights for the Unborn

So, what makes a person?

It’s the question “pro-choice” people hate to address. It forces them to examine what they really stand for. I’ve applied it, Socratically, in many an online discussion to get one of the following results:

1. The person tries to say I’m improperly using Socratic logic or analogy.
2. The person says the question is absurd and refuses to answer it
3. The person is honest and admits there are standards by which he or she would deny the right to life to a born person.

So, the question is:
“Is it OK to kill blind people?”
Presumably, the person will say, of couse not.
To this, I respond,
“Well, then, the lack of sight doesn’t deprive one of the right to live?”
No.
“OK, well, what about the lack of hearing? mobility? and so on.”

What faculty do you believe is necessary for a person to have human rights?
At what point does the loss of some particular faculty deprive one of human rights?

After all, an unborn baby is deprived of the right to life merely because of some missing faculty. For many who support abortion, especially our president, that missing faculty is visibility. Wait–for Barack Obama, it’s not even visibility, since he says it’s OK to starve or suffocate newborn babies to death if they’re born in “botched” abortions.

And for the average person who *has* an abortion, visibility is the missing factor, because people don’t take the time to think about such things.

Death Roe

A Day that will live in Infamy

One of the most powerful pro-life talks I’ve ever attended was given by Dr. John Bruchalski of the Tepeyac Clinic, several years ago at adult education night at St. William of York in Stafford, VA. He shared a lot of the “inside scoop” as a medical professional, a revert who used to work in the clinic that pioneered in vitro fertilization in the US. I’ve discussed some of these before, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat.

Some of the key points:

1. There will never be a male contraceptive on the market. Whenever they test a male contraceptive pill, the test subjects did not like what it did to them, how shall we say, aesthetically. The estrogen pill doubles a woman’s risk of stroke or heart attack and increases the risk of various cancers. Any other drug with the estrogen pill’s side effects would be pulled from the market. Double standard, anyone?

2. When conception occurs, the newly formed embryo sends out an electrical impulse to tell the mother’s brain, “Hey! I’m here!” It is possible to detect pregnancy within moments of fertilization, since there are *immediate* changes to the mother’s biochemistry. When conception occurs in a petri dish, there is a visible flash of light. He says that, back when he worked at the IVF lab, they used to watch and wait for that flash of light, and they would cheer.

3. On January 22, 1973, he came home from school and found his father dressed in his funeral clothes. He asked him who died, and his father said, “I am in mourning for America, because today America legalized abortion.”

I hate it when I lose thoughts

There was some big story earlier this week that I wanted to comment on, and didn’t, and of course forgot which story and what I was going to say. Hate it when that happens.

And there have been a lot of big stories, so I thought I’d just give a run down of opinions:

1. The Arizona shooting:
a. the whole thing is a huge win for Obama.
b. If Giffords was so concerned about safety, why didn’t she use better security? She didn’t use basic security protocols at these events, and she put people’s lives in danger.
c. Everyone keeps trying to claim the shooter for the other side, but he really just exemplifies what I’ve been warning about since 2006: a generation of people who’ve been raised on MTV and Comedy Central, Michael Moore and Glenn Beck, who don’t necessarily have a coherent political philosophy other than anger at “the establishment.”
d. Sarah Palin is evil because she used a “targeting” metaphor (and I agree the way she did it was in bad taste, especially for a pro-lifer, and especially someone who has been a victim of some equally vicious rhetoric). But let’s not forget 8 years of “kill Bush”, Alec Baldwin’s tirade about Henry Hyde, and all the hateful things that the liberals have said and are saying about Palin. They are such hypocrites.

2. The arrest of Abortionist Kermit Gosnell in Pennsylvania. Yet another example of the kind of depraved monsters who engage in this “medical practice.”

3. Rick Santorum says it’s hypocritical for Barack Obama, an African American, to suggest we can define who is and isn’t human, and the liberals say that Santorum should apologize for making such an “offensive” comment. HUH?

4. EWTN is acquiring the National Catholic Register. Good to get the Register out of the hands of the Legion of Christ, but is it a wise move for EWTN, which is in perpetual financial trouble, to buy a newspaper, when print news is a rapidly dying medium? And, as one of my Facebook friends pointed out, they should have bought the National Catholic Reporter and then fired everyone who works for it.

5. John Paul II’s speedy canonization will proceed with a beatification on May 1. So much for the photos showing JPII standing with Maciel and Maciel’s illegitimate family. So much for concerns that too many of JPII’s “friends” were speaking out of turn. They won’t beatify Pius XII because of calumnies that are spread against him which have no basis in fact and scandalize non-believers, yet John Paul II, who did so much to scandalize faithful Catholics, is getting fast-tracked. I don’t even necessarily question his sainthood, but I get tired of the attitude that we are supposed to just ignore the Koran Kissing, the pagan sacrifices at the Assisi Conference, his association with Maciel, and other damaging facts. These need to be *explained*. The explanations are there. I often use some them myself. Some things I’m still waiting for better clarity on. But if they’re going to beatify him, and they’re *not* going to beatify Pius XII, then they need to do some explaining.

6. Monday our country honored the life and death of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who said we should judge people by the content of their character and not the color of their skin. King was himself an adulterer, and one of his closest associates, Bayard Rustin, was a Communist and a homosexual. Forty years after his death, Americans elected Barack Obama, a man of no discernible character, due to the color of his skin.

7. A secular news story has tried to make a stink about the disappearance of Fr. Thomas Euteneuer from public eye. Most notably, Euteneuer’s book on exorcism which came out last summer is out of print and is selling for hundreds of dollars online. HLI says that the book merely sold out, and they opted not to reprint it, since Fr. Euteneuer left HLI.

When Fr. Euteneuer announced his resignation from HLI, I said at the time I didn’t think this was any conspiracy or “smack down.” There are ways things are phrased. When the Jesuits tried to use obedience to silence Fr. Fessio a while back, his public statements honored obedience while making it clear he didn’t agree with their decision. When Cardinal Egan recalled Fr. Pavone from Priests for Life, Fr. Pavone said he was complying but looking for options (and did).

Fr. Euteneuer’s statement expressed full compliance. I think he requested to be recalled by his bishop. Exorcists are supposed to be generally out of the spotlight, for a variety of reasons (avoiding sensationalism, maintaining personal humility, etc.) I think that he has chosen this change in direction of his life, and we should honor that.

8. As if Ellen Degenerate wasn’t bad enough, that strange looking creature they hired to replace Simon on American Idol is just too disturbing to look at, even on advertisements.
That brings up the point that one of the effects of my dissection is that I’ve narrowed down a lot of my viewing even more. I’m trying to avoid anything that will unnecessarily raise my blood pressure, and trying to avoid anything that might possibly be an occasion of sin.

Still feel like there’s another big news story of the week I wanted to comment on, but that covers most of ’em.

Attack of the Gorillabot

“They like me! They really, really like me!”

A few days ago, I posted a tribute to my parents’ late friend, Fr. Gregory Leopold (I had set it up in advance last summer), for the anniversary of his death. Fr. Leopold’s parents were the couple who introduced my parents to one another. Once, when Mom was pregnant with me, they expressed the common concern of parents about bringing a child into such an evil world. “Maybe your child will be the one who makes a difference,” Fr. Leopold said. At times, in recounting this story, I’ve been told it’s a common statement, but it’s always meant something in my life.

I have had few visionary experiences I can recall. One time, though, when I was about 2 years old, I came down from my nap and said that, while I was lying in my crib, God smiled at me. Once, when I was in high school and seriously ill, my mom was sitting in the observation room while I had my first MRI, and she saw a vision of Jesus appear over my heart.

Another Fr. Greg who’s a friend of my parents, Fr. Gregory Kirsch, is currently battling cancer (please pray for him through the intercession of Ven. Demetrius Augustine Gallitzin). My parents were talking to Fr. Kirsch while in Erie a few months ago, and he talked about how he never realized how important he was to my life.

You never realize how important you are to people, especially in the spiritual and psychological realms. To a Christian, it is important to know one has been effective in bringing others closer to Christ. I hope this post doesn’t appear as prideful or arrogant. I have always battled self-esteem issues, and my disability often causes me to feel like a failure.

I hope that I will be able to finally write at least one book, fiction or non-fiction, before the Lord takes me Home. Following my aortic dissection, death looms that more ominously over my shoulder than it ever has before. Yes, I could successfully undergo surgery to replace my aorta. Yes, I could live many years (I’ve communicated in the past couple days with Marfans who have survived 7 years with the same dissection I have and haven’t had surgery). Or the next time I get a little too stressed out–as I did on New Year’s Eve–my aorta could dissect again and finish the job this time.

So I’m going to be even more disabled than before, and death is more imminent than before, and either prospect leaves me with the age old concern that, in a worldly sense, I haven’t done much with my life (granted, I’ve produced and begun the education of 4 amazing children. I have theses on C. S. Lewis on reserve at two university libraries, and my book article on Till We Have Faces should be forthcoming. I have my other magazine and book articles. Then there’s my daily prayer CD, Hide Me In Your Wounds (click here for MP3 version), which, while it has not sold as well as I might have liked, really has made a difference in people’s lives. I know I’ve touched people along the way. So I shouldn’t feel down on myself, but I do.

Last Monday, my dad said, “Knowing the people you’ve impacted with your blog and your Facebook page, I am proud of you enough for that alone. If all you do from here on out is write your blog and Facebook, even if you don’t get a book written, I’ll be proud of you.”

I’ve received some wonderful comments from people this past week and a half, and both for my own archival purposes and to thank them, I wanted to catalogue many of the great e-mails, phone conversations, blog responses and Facebook messages I’ve received.

My profound thanks go out to all who’ve reached out to me in these trying times, and to all who’ve been praying for me.

On Monday, I finally spoke with Allie’s godfather, one of the most pious men I know, and he told me how Hide Me In Your Wounds has profoundly changed his prayer life. A gave him a bunch of copies to distribute after Allie’s First Communion, and he said everyone he’s given copies to has found it inspiring–mainly because of Allie’s participation in the project. Last year, Sr. Martha, a friend of my mother who has been a nun for over 50 years, said the CD changed her prayer life as well, and she bought 10 copies for her family.

On Facebook, a long-lost cousin came out of the woodwork.

Hi John its your cousin [M] from Ohio. Your family is beautiful and I hope you all are doing well. I’m glad your surgery went well. My prays are with you always. . . . I will keep following your posts. I’m glad I found you on here, you have always been in my thoughts and prayers. I think about you a lot. I will have to send you some pictures of artwork that you and I worked on together. You have made a good lasting impression on me over the years. Please tell your Mom and Dad hello for me. I Love You All.

Tonight, I got a PM on Facebook from none other than Dawn Eden:

Dear John – I just read about your illness on your blog and want to let you know that I’m praying for you. Am not on Facebook much, so if you respond, please write [email address]. Attached is an article I wrote on Father Daniel A. Lord that you may find inspiring. The recording by Father Lord that I mention in the article is online here: http://playlist.citr.ca/podcasting/audio/20090310-130319-to-20090310-134522.mp3 . Asking St. Teresa of Avila to intercede for you and your family. Thank you so much for offering up your suffering for others and helping people to accept God’s will for their lives. God bless – Dawn

A Facebook friend wrote on her wall (can’t retrieve the post right now) that even though we’re only virtual friends, she considers me one of her dearest friends in the world, and an important spiritual guide, and several mutual friends responded to that wall post with very kind words.

In response to one of my posts, the same person wrote,

It is my firm opinion that we don’t need a new saint up in Heaven anytime soon, at least not one who was born in my home state, so you should come through this, but just in case, I’ll be praying for you times a million anyway.

From Bernadette, a Carmelite friend: “John..I mentioned you to our good Lord at Mass today..I know He hears our prayers..esp at His Holy Sacrifice..I told Him to please help you out and do what is best for you according to His Will. Also for courage..You have fought the good fight John..you are a brother Carmelite..always in my prayers. Thank God for Seculars.”

From Melissa, who suffers from CF, regarding my post on “doing fine“:

You have the great ability to be honest and forthright in your discussion of your challenges, but you are never despondent or “whiny.” It’s very inspiring.

From a really nice lady named Margie:

Hi John, glad to see all is going well, look forward to seeing you back on facebook regularly….I have no one to argue with…..Just kidding….love ya! God bless

From Clarita:

I have been worried about you since I saw your post about going to bed after some tears. I had no idea of the mega cross you are carrying my brother. Thank you for keeping us privy to your state. I have to say that my late husband and I wen…t through an experience similar to yours and by the Grace of God he pulled us through it. I thank God for the many years of having my beloved husband with me after the fact. I lost him 2 years ago and he is still with me every moment of the day. I trust God will pull you through this and you will be on the other side giving another person some strength and words of wisdom from Our Heavenly Father to guide them through their period of darkness that you will have gone through my dear brother. I am praying so diligently for you and your family. I trust God will be there for you each step of the way. God Bless you, John. +++

From a fellow named Ed:

Just want you to know, John, that you are in my prayers daily, and I think about you often during the day and send up a simple ejaculation for you and Mary. You are a very special person, one that God had used quite effectively to further His Kingdom. When you reach your final home, though we have never met, please remember me there to our Creator.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Facebook feedback has been how many people who never directly reply to my posts are replying and talking about how much my statuses mean to them, etc.

To Mary, from a mutual FB friend named Stella:

Mary, you are a strong person to be able to support John and your children throughout this uncertainty. Please God that you all get the strength that you need right now. God bless you all.

To Mary, from Deacon Tom, a fellow admirer of the Keurig Machine (tea, in my case) whom I helped with a repair he couldn’t figure out a while back:

Yes, prayers continue…always. Tell him I think of him each morning…I got a new Keurig Coffee Machine for Christmas from two of my sons. 🙂 God bless.

From one of our best friends:

Well honestly you two are on my top ten list of favorite people in the world. It’s just a good day when I get to hang out for a while with one the Hathaways. So for purely selfish reasons, I am not pleased at the prospect of one dead and one grieving. Plus I hate it for you guys, too. (And I double hate the combination of inevitabililty and unpredictability — though I really really like this spell of unpredictably good.)

From the president of my Carmelite (aka Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, aka OCDS) community:

Thank you so much for sending the information via your blog. I just have no way of imagining what you are going through.

I do know God ordains every moment though, so whatever choices we make are just what makes up our life. Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow is not here. For all of us, we only have the present. So regrets have no part of our lives. it sounds like you have more than come to terms with that. I am only affirming what you have stated in other words. I pray each moment of the present will be special gift. The prayer “Jesus I Trust in You” is what I hear.

For your extraordinary courage and faith in all you have tried to accomplish, the word valiant comes to mind. I pray that God will bring a peace only He can give as you go through all of these changes. Sometimes when we give up utterly, God can do very good things.

From another friend from my local OCDS Community, in response to my blog post:

We have been praying for you, John and will continue to do so.
Your writing was excellent, you still have it.

And, in honor of humility and humor, the following from another sister in Carmel whom I don’t know very well:

this is embarassing but is John the one in the wheelchair at our meetings?

So, again, my profound thanks to all of you who have shared such sentiments. It really does mean the world to me, and I can only say likewise. I’m praying and suffering for all of you!

Hey, atheists! Think there’s no evidence of miracles? Think prayers aren’t answered?

Two interesting phone conversations:

1. We have a very good friend, Jen Fitz. Her husband is a very hard working man, and he attends an evangelical faith community, so we do not know him as well as we know Jen, but he’s a great guy. If Jen had told me this, it would be one thing. However, *Jon* Fitz told me on the phone that he woke up early last Sunday morning, jumped up, and had an inspiration to pray for me, specifically.

A little later, they got up, and when his wife checked the computer, she had Mary’s e-mail about my aortic dissection (and my arterial bypass surgery which was going on at that point).

2. This evening, my best friend called me and talked to me for the first time extensively about my experiences of the past week (and his–the fact that we are best friends is indicated that even with what I’ve been through, he still knows he can talk to me about his own frustrations).

Anyway, he said that sometime recently he began praying specifically for Mary’s and my extended families, that we could heal some of our longtime wounds and that our families would be more active in helping us with our needs. He told me this after I’d shared to him both the wonderful Christmas visits we had with both sides of the family and the wonderful outreach that various family members have made this past week.

“The will of God won’t ever lead you where the grace of God can’t keep you.”

<blockquote>Thanks for the learning and teaching of these past years (for it works both ways for both of us).  It’s always a struggle to know how to be loving, in the classroom or out, but I believe the answer lies in knowing and doing the Lord’s will.  Inasmuch as you’ve allowed me to share in that struggle — giving the ‘hardware’ and sharing the ‘software’ of life — a part of me goes with you, and you will always have a place in my heart and my prayers.  Pray for me in my struggles, too.  Stay close to Jesus and never forget:

The will of God won’t ever lead you
Where the grace of God can’t keep you.

May God lead you & love you,
Fr. L </blockquote>

Rev. Fr. Gregory L. Leopold
Born September 12, 1947
Ordained May 11, 1972
Died Janaury 8, 1984

Fr. Leopold had written this note of gratitude to the students of Central Christian High School, DuBois, Pennsylvania, shortly before his untimely death, in preparation for leaving to do missionary work in South America.

How to Offer it Up

I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever actually written out my belief/practice on offering up one’s suffering in an official blog-post type way. I might have forgotten, but it bears repeating, so here goes.

The concept of offering one’s sufferings is one of the best things about Catholicism, in spite of those who, having been taught an abused notion of the concept, consider it “Catholic guilt,” or those who consider it as detracting from Christ’s sacrifice.

There are, as I have said before, two basic ways of looking at the Passion. Some Christians say, “Jesus suffered for me so I don’t have to.” Others of us say “Jesus suffered for me to give me an example.” I like to use the analogy of two heirs: One says, “Dad worked so hard all his life so I didn’t have to; I’d be dishonoring him if I slaved away needlessly.” The other says, “Dad worked so hard to provide me with security that I should work hard to provide my own children with security.”

It is a mistake to think that the Crucifixion is something “in the past.” It is the moment when God “died”. It is, with the Incarnation and Resurrection, one of the key moments when time and eternity intersected. God, who is Eternal, allowed Himself to die. God, who is eternal, and knows and remembers everything, allowed Himself to endure the worst tortures human beings can muster. Given His memory, He basically experiences that Moment always through Eternity.

(I proposed once that this is why God allows possession: so that, through the Rite of Exorcism, He can make the demons experience physical torments they would not otherwise endure).

Christ’s suffering is eternal and infinite, so that is why it can absorb the eternal suffering each of us deserves in Hell.

And so, when we are facing pain, we must remember what He did for us, and how we deserve every bit of pain we get for our most petty sins and our most egregious sins alike.

When I am about to be stuck by a medical needle, for example, I pray, “Dear Jesus, Your hands were pierced by nails, and You didn’t deserve it. I shrink because my hand will be pierced by a mere needle, and I deserve far more. I offer this pain in conjunction with your suffering on the Cross for _____[here I state my intention]”

1 in 6 Americans live in Poverty

One of the great debates about “poverty level” is the relative standard to a society. A common economic conservative charge, often leveled by me, and valid in some other contexts, is that the “poor” in America (this writer included) have a higher standard of living than most people in the world, that even the poorest Americans cannot compare themselves to those in, say, Haiti or Ethiopia.
Another argument goes that judged in terms of “wealth” or “net worth” or “success,” a “poor” subsistence farmer in a third world country is actually wealther than most Americans, because he owns his own property outright, owns his labor and the product of his labor, and lives within his means. Since even most “wealthy” Americans rely on debt in some way, the zero-debt, owns-his-land and produce farmer has greater net worth, security and success than most millionaires.

A new study redefines the poverty level based upon the expected standard of living in the US. Consider, for example, that in countries like Haiti, most people don’t own cars. Most people walk, or ride in old-fashioned carts, or hitchhike. In Haiti, you show up when you show up (except Mass–you get to Mass on time every morning).

In the US, we expect everyone *on time*, down to the second. The standard is based upon the presumption that everyone should have a car at his or her disposal. The extra time it takes to travel by mass transit or cab or bicycle or whatever is not taken into account.

Similarly, what about getting to work? Our Third World subsistence farmer can walk out of his house and go to work. Most people in his country do the same. In our country, people can work hundreds of miles from where they live.

There are many expectations we make of our citizenry just so they can exist.

So a new standard of measuring poverty doesn’t really change the poverty index so much as adjusting people’s income for the costs of just existing in America. Poverty index is based upon traditional food, shelter and clothing. This new study tries to level things out for the cost of earning a living to begin with.

Torn

Well, I’ve had a lot of blog posts I’d wanted to write: reviews of _Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I_ or _Chronicles of Narnia Voyage of the “Dawn Treader”_; commentaries on cultural Santa Claus, liturgical issues or secular Christmas songs written by Jews. . . .

Then, on New Year’s Eve, everything changed.

Can’t say “It’s Just Another New Year’s Eve” this year, since this New Year’s Eve really did change my life completely.

At approximately 1:11 AM on 1/1/11, I began having the most severe pain I’ve ever experienced. I had already taken a hydrocodone before bed, so the fact that I was having this pain–a throbbing, tearing pain up from my heart and down my back–and it was so severe led me to call 9/11. Mary says she’d never heard me scream like that.

Well, the aorta has a couple aneurysms, the biggest of which is 4 cm, and a dissection (tear) along the inside wall, going all the way down. First thing I need to know, as I realized this evening, is what the actual damage was, since the only CT was taken at 3 AM on the 1st, and I had pain in my aorta for 36 hours after that.

Got to Medical College of Georgia by ambulance around 2. They amazingly fast tracked me: EKG was in the room in less than 1 minute. They brought me something to paralyze my GI tract, both to rule out any GI related pain and to avoid complications of a possible stomach bug (the reason I’d taken a stronger pain pill than usual).

The EKG was the classic “I think this EKG machine must be screwed up.” Then they did the echo, which was “fine.” (Of course, I knew that an echo says nothing about an aortic dissection). While they said they’d do a CT just to be safe, they thought I was going to be fine.

The CT was done after about an hour, and very shortly they came back with the initial result that I might have an aortic dissection, but they wanted to confirm it. At 5 AM they confirmed that my aorta had dissected from the artificial root to the groin, and the blood flow to my right leg was gone. They said I needed a bypass operation to restore blood flow to the leg, but they were debating whether to do it immediately or wait till I had stabilized. That afternoon, they transferred me to Emory to get a second opinion on my aorta.

Emory got the report that I’d had a “type B” aortic dissection (the kind that doesn’t rip through), although the only CT was done while the dissection was in progress.
On Sunday morning, 1/2, Emory did the bypass operation to take an artifiicial tube from my left iliac artery to my right iliac artery beyond where it was damaged. This not only restored blood flow to my right leg, but made my “bad leg” feel better than it has *ever* felt. (Doctors: “If you’ve had problems with this leg before, why has no one done anything?” “Because they’ve always told me it was in my head).

By Sunday evening, I could tell that the pain in the aorta had subsided. At that point, I had not resumed morphine since the surgery, because I still had residual anesthesia.

At MCG on Saturday, I saw both a vascular surgeon and a cardiothoracic surgeon within a few hours of my CT. After 2days at Emory, no sign of a cardiothoracic surgeon. At 6 PM, the surgeon finally called me on the phone . He said he wanted another CT to assess the final damage–that i’d have it “tomorrow”, and that the aorta expert was coming off vacation “tomorrow.”

At 7 PM on Monday, I found out I lost my job. By bedtime, we had decided this was the final sign that we have to just move in with my parents. On Tuesday, I waited all around for a cardiothoracic surgeon or CT scan and received neither.

Get moved from ICU to private room on Tuesday, with the usual mix-up in paperwork. Since I have never *seen* a cardiothoracic surgeon in person, the name of my attending is changed from the guy I spoke with on the phone for 2 minutes to the guy who did my surgery, with nothing in my official file about being under the care of the Cardiothoracic team. I hadn’t had the second CT (keep in mind that the *only* CT so far was done an hour or so into the process; it wasn’t even a final picture of the disssection since I still had pain for 36 hours later), and it had been 3 days in the facility without seeing a single doctor for cardiothoracic. Now it was going to be anohter day to get that stuff done. Plus, while I sat up to eat, I started getting tachycardia, nauseua and severe pain. Asked for a blood pressure check and, as I could have predicted, it was 150/70, with a MAP of 100 (they said they wanted the MAP to be no more than 80, and since 120 is what I shoot for with diastolic at home, that’s what they went for here).

So, we really don’t know what the physiological status of my aorta is. We know there are at least two aneurysms, one in the thoracic descending and one in the abdomin. We know the abdominal aneurysm is 4cm. We know there’s a dissection on the inside that goes down the entirety of the aorta.

1) Best case scenario is I go on the right blend of medicines and lifestyle changes, and the dissection scars over, and the aneurysms don’t grow, and I focus on trying not to make them worse.
2) The only surgical option at this point is a complete aortic replacement–which in many way is a relief, as one of the things I’ve dreaded over the years was multiple surgeries.
3) If the dissection is any worse than the think, gets any worse, keeps bleeding, or the aneurysms get any worse, they’ll definitely operate.
4) If I have the operation, then we have to take into consideration the issues of my brain aneurysm, venous ectasia and tortuous carotid. The tortuous carotid is the particular worry, since that really can’t be measured or assessed the way an aneurysm can.

They could replace my whole aorta, fix the two blood vessels in the brain, and then the carotid artery blows the next time my BP goes up.

So we’re facing all those issues and decisions right now.

As for “how we’re doing,” this is, overall, a great blessing. The potential-and various manifestations-of a dissection have been a constant shadow over us. What I most dreaded was multiple surgeries, slow deterioration, and the constant deception that “I…’m ok now.” I’ve spent ten years trying not to be a burden on anyone yet being moore of a burden. Now that’s all moot. I wasn’t expecting this stage till 40 or 50, but now it’s here. The guesswork is more or less over. We know the rules of the game, and, hopefully, it seems the family do (though some of the ‘why did you even get married,’ ‘why didn’t you do that’ blaming still hovers). So we’re content.

We’re either going to move in with my parents, or they’ll move in with us. I’m done with the constant quest to try and be a normal husband and father and support my family financially. Aortic dissection is on the list of specific illnesses that qualify one for SSI or SSDI. My grandfather said, “Take the SSI money and run!” So we’re just going to take it step by step and not worry anymore.

If I have a few hours, a few weeks or a few years left, we’re ready for whatever God has in store for us.