Category Archives: fan mail

Manliness and a Perfect Funeral

A beautiful tribute to my beloved John.

grayscale photo of wheelchair

Photo by Patrick De Boeck on


“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: . 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 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!

When you’ve won an Internet debate and when the topic is just beaten to death.

Internet discussions get resolved five ways:

1. The two people actually meet some sort of compromise or agreement. I’ve been meaning to blog for some time about the merits of Facebook in this regard. I think part of it is that Facebook is more “real”, forrcing us out of the anonymity we’ve gotten used to, but another is that Facebook combox discussions tend to be more limited.

On blogs and message boards, the discussions go on between lots of people with various voices confusing threads and issues.

Or, on a blog like this one, it’s almost entirely controversial. I’ve once or twice had some fair minded interlocutors pop up here to engage in an open-minded exchange. I’ve more often than not had people from the Left who come here in complete attack mode.

But on Facebook, I’ve found that even contentious discussions often even out in a compromise, each person leaving a bit enlightened by the conversation. I’ve had arguments with people on a mutual friend’s Facebook thread, then those arguments have turned to us friending each other.

Getting back to the three ways:

2. Boredom. Most people may post a comment or two in a combox discussion, but they wander off after that. Most people leave discussions because they’ve trailed on down the line, or gotten bored with the topic.

The question of “victory,” if it applies at all, comes into play with the next two.

3. I will admit that from time to time I find myself facing a worthy adversary. As well-read as I am on most of the subjects I stick to on this blog, dollars to doughnoughts, Satan will find some person who’s just a little better read in some dimension, then that person will come on here and start not only attacking my ideas, but me personally, calling me an idiot and even challenging my academic and professional credentials.

Usually, what happens in such situations is that a) I do whatever level of research I feel is worth the conversation, b) consult some authorities on the matter in question for back-up, and c) after giving up the conversation, I retreat from blogging for a bit because the exchange was so exhausting.

If “debate” is the goal, like a kind of sport, I presume the other person claims victory. Indeed, looking at the website of one such recent interlocutor, I find that he/she/it likes to go to pro-life blogs, attack the blogger on some picayune detail, challenge the blogger’s intelligence, and then go home to his/her/its blog and claim “victory.”

Meanwhile, when dealing with such people, I balance three impulses: making sure I’m not just doing it for pride, making sure there’s an adequate response made so readers will not be influenced by the enemy’s voice, and realizing that the pig-headed adversary probably won’t be moved by anything I say.

Giving up out of fatigue or humility is not ceding ideological victory but merely prioritizing that a blog post should not cost this much.

A blog is like a news column. I write to share my ideas and my insights or to share things I come across that I believe are significant to the purposes of this blog. This is not a scholarly research journal, and I don’t claim it to be. If I am going to take the time and energy to do scholarly research, I am certainly not going to waste the research by posting it here without trying for professional publication first, and I owe no interlocutor the time of day to do that.

I posted a hand-out, made to give my students a general guideline on what to consider when they want to write about controversial issues, and this individual launched into a full-fledged assault, which, having responded to, I am considering deleting from the comments (and closing comments on that thread) to keep the original intent pure. It was not meant to be a dissertation nor a comprehensive list, but merely questions to consider–questions that, if properly considered, would have led to the points this person raised, anyway.

There are two clear remaining possible ends, and those are the ones where some sort of victory or stalemate can properly be claimed on intellectual grounds, rather than simple exhaustion:

4. The question that can’t be answered. This is sort of like situation 3. The main differences are that it often comes early in the discussion, and the discussion may proceed without it, and it has more to do with logic than information.

It’s the question that gets dodged. The opponent’s response is to ignore it, throw out a red herring, or something. For example, I retold the “peas and carrots” last week, and a commentor threw out a red herring about starving children in Africa. Then, when I asked the question why an atheist would care about starving children in Africa, there was no response.

I know how troubling it is for me when I’m presented with a paradox I haven’t considered, or evidence I haven’t considered, and I need to regroup and reorganize it. Therefore, I know when I’ve hit a nerve with my interlocutor because he or she refuses to even address the question. Even a snark, an ad hominem or a half-hearted challenge shows some level of retained confidence. Silence says to me, “I really have no idea how to begin confronting that question.”

That lead, early on, to what I call the “three strikes” rule: I make a point three times, and, if it’s not responded to, I give up on the discussion.

5. True victory is achieved only when you get the other side to admit to the paradox. For example: Getting the pro-abortionist to get beyond all the superficial rhetoric and get to his or her fundamental belief that some people are more worthy of life than others. I phrase this, when I’m trying to be purely Socratic, as the “is it OK to kill blind people” question.
In other words, the unborn baby is lacking in some quality that makes it “less worthy of human rights.” Ultimately, for any pro-abortionist with a brain, this gets to dependence on the mother for survival. So I raise the qusetion if it’s OK for parents to throw their kids outside and abandon them, since the kids are totally dependent upon the parents for survival. Or the question of people with disabilities.

And, of course, for a truly consistent pro-abort, there is some level of disability at which they will deny people the right of human dignity, for the same reason they deny it to unborn children. I once had an interlocutor admit, after a long Socratic exchange, that she believed it was OK to kill anyone on life support.

Such a moment constitutes an impasse but at least gets beyond the other side’s veneer.

Yay! My first hate-filled post by a "moderate"!

Of course, “moderate”=”liberal.”

The reply was irrelevant to the thread it was posted to, so I’m copying it here:

“Anonymous said…
The whole concept of Lewis Crusade is ridiculous and demeaning to all moderate, sensible and compassionate catholics – surely you header should mention what you believe in not what you want to fight against…jesus was a pacifist afterall!”

1. I *allow* anonymous posting, but I don’t like it. Anonymous posting is a sign of cowardice. You indicate that you’re not really interested in discussion but merely lobbing attacks.

2. What is a “moderate, sensible and compassionate” Catholic?? Normally, that means, at least, a Catholic who supports artificial contraception. And they demean themselves by doing so. Don’t shoot the messenger.

What is “moderate, sensible and compassionate” about the Left’s agenda to eradicate the poor and the disabled using contraception, abortion and euthanasia?

What was “moderate, sensible and compassionate” about what starving Terri Schiavo to death?
What was “moderate, sensible and compassionate” about forcing pregnant women with rubella to get abortions so their babies could be used for research?
What is “moderate, sensible and compassionate” about telling people with genetic disorders to use IVF and sacrifice their “defective” children to embryonic stem cell research??

3. Why is it your business what my header says? In point of fact, it *does* say what I believe in: “the Lord Jesus Christ and His Catholic Church, the right to life, the institution of the family, the rights of the disabled, and all the little children.”

4. You say the “whole concept of the Lewis Crusade.” Do you even know what the “whole concept” is, why we call it the “Lewis” Crusade? Typical of a liberal “non-judgemental,” so-called “moderate” Catholic, you’re the one being judgemental and hateful without knowing the whole story–read the early posts.

5. Jesus was not a “pacifist”, at least not in the way you mean. Liberals always bring up
“pacifism” as the straw man against pro-lifers. The Church very clearly teaches that individuals and societies have the right to self-defense, so complete pacifism is *not* in accordance with Catholic teaching.

Secondly, it is quite obvious that, by “fighting,” I mean intellectually and spiritually. To that end, are these the words and deeds of a “pacifist”?

“34 Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send
peace, but the sword. 35 For I came to set a man at variance against his father,
and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother
in law. ” (Mt 10:34-35).

“And when he had made, as it were, a scourge of little cords, he drove them
all out of the temple, the sheep also and the oxen, and the money of the
changers he poured out, and the tables he overthrew.” (Jn 2:15).

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven
suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away. ” (Mt 11:12).

“Then said he unto them: But now he that hath a purse, let him take it, and
likewise a scrip; and he that hath not, let him sell his coat, and buy a sword.
37 For I say to you, that this that is written must yet be fulfilled in me: And
with the wicked was he reckoned. For the things concerning me have an end. 38
But they said: Lord, behold here are two swords. And he said to them, It is
enough. ” (Luke 22:36-38).

Of course, the passage normally cited to claim Jesus as a “pacifist” is the following:

“52 Then Jesus saith to him: Put up again thy sword into its place: for all that take the sword shall perish with the sword. 53 Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels? 54 How then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that so it must be done?” (Mt 26:52-54).

Yes, Jesus says “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” but He said it just as He was about to “die by the sword.” He said it to Peter, who would also “die by the sword.” It is not so much “don’t use the sword,” as “don’t use the sword unless you’re willing to pay the price.” And certainly, the rendering in John:

“Jesus therefore said to Peter: Put up thy sword into the scabbard. The chalice
which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?” (Jn 18:11).

Confirms the idea that, in saying, “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword,” Jesus is referring to Himself. This is He of whom Simeon prophesied:

“Behold this child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in
Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted; 35 And thy own soul a sword
shall pierce” (Luke 2:34-35).

One of the best way to tell a liberal priest is when you come to these Gospels in the Lectionary, and the priest starts his homily, “This sure doesn’t sound like Jesus, does it?”

Lastly, here are Jesus’ words to so-called “moderates”:

“I know thy works, that thou art neither cold, nor hot. I would thou wert
cold, or hot. But because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold, not hot, I
will begin to vomit thee out of my mouth. ” (Rev 3:15-16).

Saints are not “moderate”. They are certainly not “sensible.” They do what the world considers irrational and foolish. Heroic virtue is extremist. Thomas Aquinas chased the prostitute out of his room with a hot poker. John of the Cross was censured by the Carmelites for being “too extreme” in his asceticism. Same with Padre Pio and the Capuchins. St. Jerome condemned one of his disciples for leaving the Desert to go be a parish priest, saying that was the pinnacle of inexcusible worldliness. Teresa of Calcutta served the poorest of the poor. Francis of Assisi stripped naked in the Cathedral. Joan of Arc led the armies of France into battle. Soon-to-be Blessed Louis Martin would not allow any secular literature into his household.

These are not “sensible,” “moderate” actions.
All of the martyrs rejected the “sensible,” “moderate” choice of compromise with the world and chose to die rather than betray their values.