Protecting homes, people far outweighs cost of levees

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Have you noticed how often terms like 100-year or 500-year storms have been applied to overwhelming rain events in some areas of the United States? The water experts known as hydrologists dislike that terminology. Rather, one should say that the probability of water reaching a given height is once every 100 years.
Some floods really feel like the 500-1000-year variety. One arresting example is the North Sea storm/flood of Jan. 31, 1953, that killed 1,836 Dutchmen when it overpowered the Netherlands where 20 percent of the land is below sea level. The Dutch immediately formed The Delta Works Commission that laid plans to build a dike ring system around North and South Holland.
The Delta Works (Deltawerken) is a series of dams, sluices, locks, dikes, levees and storm surge barriers that shorten the Dutch coastline, thus reducing the number of dikes that had to be raised. The Zuiderzee Works and the Delta Works have been declared one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
After Katrina, the Army Corps of Engineers built a homespun version of the Dutch marvel around New Orleans. Costing $1.1 billion, the West Closure Complex is one of the engineering marvels of the new system. During a flood event, a floodgate nearly as long as a football field slowly shuts and 11 humongous diesel engines of the world’s largest pump station kick on to pump water out of Jefferson Parish at such a rapid rate that it would fill an Olympic-size swimming pool in three seconds.
The West Closure Complex is part of the $14.5 billion the Corps has spent on fortifications to protect some 900,000 people living in the toe of Louisiana’s boot.
The largest flood control structure is nicknamed the Great Wall of St. Bernard Parish. It’s a 1.8-mile-long barrier designed to protect the city’s eastern flank from a rising Lake Borgne. Some of the steel support piles extend 200 feet into the ground.
Thus far, it has worked well. Now, awakened to the same problem on their own property, the rain-soaked, flooded folks of East Baton Rouge Parish and its environs have been muttering to themselves and aloud about the possibilities of building a similar protective levee system.
After the recent historical rain event swamped 20 civil Louisiana parishes, with more than 120 of his families affected, Father Rick Andrus, SVD, pastor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Baton Rouge, wrote, “I have been knee-deep in water, assisting families evacuate, remove a small amount of belongings, assisted in organizing shelters, getting medical attention to patients suffering from diabetes, heart-disease, seizure disorders and kidney problems. I have also been working with the Red Cross and right now, I am preparing our parish hall as a distribution center for the Red Cross.
“A great team of parishioners, many retired, has been working nonstop since a week ago Saturday providing dry and clean clothes, food and cleaning supplies for those evacuees and the victims of the flood to begin the arduous, seemingly endless task of dragging out carpets, flooring, drywall, furniture, appliances, beds, toys and precious, priceless treasures that have been destroyed by the water. Along with this, I have also been working with a diverse and dynamic group of pastors, men and women of various faiths, to provide spiritual counseling and Sunday worship services in the three Red Cross Evacuation Centers.
“The destruction is unfathomable, the mountains of destroyed possessions and debris is endless along city streets, the stories of rescue and survival are heroic, heartwarming and heartbreaking.
“The Red Cross is doing all that it is able with the staff it has.  There has been a tremendous response by those not affected. What a powerful testament to the goodness, the faith and the compassion in the hearts of so many people across Baton Rouge and far beyond! Total strangers have crossed social, economic, geographic, religious and racial lines and just show up, pitch in to help remove the debris, while others drive through neighborhoods bringing food, ice and water.
“People came from out of state, some of whom have been through similar situations and others who have not, but all felt a ‘need to give back’ to people whose needs are so great.  Some of those who have volunteered are gifted and skilled craftsmen, while others are willing laborers with big hearts and a desire to help out wherever they are needed … and they have.
“However, the harsh reality is that right now, 60,000 homes have been affected. Nearly 3,000 people are still in shelters and thousands of residents are also seeking temporary housing with relatives and friends. It is estimated that it will take longer than a year for everyone to be either back in their homes or to find new housing. Any check donations may be made out to St. Paul the Apostle Flood Relief Fund, 3912 Gus Young Ave. Baton Rouge LA 70802, Attention: Fr. Rick Andrus, SVD. So, folks, considering the staggering total cost of this massive disaster and its raw humiliation and inconvenience to so many thousands of people, the price tag for a Louisiana version of the Netherlands Delta Works pales by comparison. The big plus is that such a one-time remedy can prevent any repeat of the dreaded flooding.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux has been writing Reflections on Life since 1968.)

Much-needed purge inspires reflection on blessings of parishes past

Reflections on Life
Father Jerome LeDoux
Seven months and three weeks had slipped on by and most of my books and other effects were still warehoused in a small back room of Our Mother Of Mercy Church in Fort Worth, Texas. “Enough is enough!” I told myself as the time loomed large for a new pastor.
“I need to clear out whatever belongs to me, to Our Mother Of Mercy Church or to St. Augustine Church in New Orleans. I should just junk the rest.”
By dint of three days of slavish separating of mine, theirs and junk, all that I had left in Cowtown had been whittled down to two and a half 12” X 12” X 15½” boxes ready for shipment. With less than an hour to leave for DFW airport, the Knights of Peter Claver, who had been meeting in the old convent, descended upon the rectory to say “Hi” and “Bye.” After an exchange of pleasantries, they stared in wonder at the photos, religious trinkets and other items strewn over the carpet.
“What you see is not junk, but all pre-sorted according to category and place of destination,” I observed. “If you see anything you like, collect it for yourself.” At which point, they fell in almost as one, swooping down on photos, holy cards, any kind of keepsake that struck their fancy. It was a delight to watch them go over the whole array, almost displaying guilt by claiming them.
As their ranks thinned out and as flight departure time drew nearer, three of them volunteered to help scoop up the final loose bits scattered here and there. One final smaller box would suffice to swallow this miscellany of items for shipment. All I could do was say, “Thank you, Lord!” and exhale as I have seldom done before.
Once more, brother Aaron Page chauffered me to DFW, but, unexplainably, the Saturday traffic moved like molasses in January. Given our slightly tight window of time, my arrival at the terminal was past the cutoff for boarding passengers. But none of this mattered since I had exhaled and said, “Thank you, Lord!” The kind folks at the ticket counter gave me a boarding pass for a 6:15 p.m. flight out.
Annoyingly, that flight was postponed. Again, nothing at all mattered since the gorilla was off my back. When we were cleared for takeoff, I was gradually able to assess the difference between the Embraer E-190 and the workhorse Boeing 737. After flying the scrappy little Embraer a few times, one is reminded of smooth, stone-slinging David, while returning to the muscular 737 puts one in mind of incredibly powerful Samson. It is hard to believe that this roomy jet ranks among the group of medium-sized jetliners. Cruising smoothly at about 540 miles an hour, it likewise defies belief that this heavier-than-air “hunk” is so agile in flight.
Flying appears to enable our thoughts to soar as well. Moving is usually at best an odious task for most people. We turn a jaundiced eye at the sundry variety of things we have accumulated over the years. A distinct majority of people suffer from the gradual accruing of belongings and just plain junk that they did not take the time to sort out and trash. However, most writers have a built-in problem. It is summed up in the law: “The day you decide to junk something is the day before you need it.”
As one totes up the years, especially a writer, one becomes ever more wary of consigning things to File 13, the trash. As I was processing my remaining effects in Fort Worth, I readily discarded some old newspapers, but slowed to a crawl as I soon saw why I had saved so many articles and stories. Usually, each saved paper contained the makings for one or more columns on subjects across the board. To the casual observer, this was all trash; to the writer, bountiful treasures of knowledge.
The lateness of my flight urged me to overnight in New Orleans. Sunday was decision time for choosing a church to attend Sunday Mass. Ben and Sandra Gordon encouraged me to attend Mass at my former parish, St. Augustine in Faubourg Tremé. I balked at first, still smarting over my rejection there for seven years. As I entered the church, it was obvious that the choice had struck pure gold.
Reacquainting my eyes to the beauty and décor of the church, I was stunned by the outpouring of affection and pleas for blessing from the smiling populace. If a picture is worth a thousand words, perhaps a loving smile is worth several pictures. At any rate, the smiles and cheers abounded as Pastor Emmanuel Mulenga, O.M.I., introduced me. A spontaneous “Shake the Devil Off” rendition shook the building.
“You made many people happy by your appearance this morning,” Sandra said. Yet, they were equally my joy and blessings.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.” (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Seeking good life-coaches

Reflections on Life
Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
Ironically, by the time we get really good at connecting the everyday dots of life, we see that the span of our life is closer to sunset than to sunrise. This curious twilight phenomenon is a sharp variation or do-over of the axiom, “Youth is wasted on the young.” How many athletes have asked themselves, “How good could I have been as a young athlete in my prime had I known then what I know now as a coach?”
It is of great interest that some of the all-time greats in the world of sports have been described as another coach on the field. In mind-bending fashion, if their stance on the infield was not right for an individual batter, centerfielder Willie Mays signaled to infielders where they should be standing for the tendencies of a batter.
As no other, Willie Mays ran the bases at full speed, looking directly behind in order to direct “traffic,” that is, the runners behind him, to stop at a base or to keep running and take the next base. He did all this while touching only the inside point of a bag as he rounded first, second and third, thus not wasting a fraction of a second. It is no wonder that Willie Mays alone hit two inside-the-park homers to left field.
Coaching is not unique to or proprietary to sports or learning institutions of every kind. Rather, coaching is inherent to any learning situation in every activity, work, profession, entertainment or occupation. Since one can coach a debate team, we know that there is someone somewhere who can coach another to learn and/or execute whatever is at hand or coming down the pike to be done. For instance, one can coach another who aspires to write prose or poetry of various kinds. And we know all too well that lawyers coach their clients to testify in court, enabling them to transcend the dots of legal knowledge by connecting the dots of legal practice.
Coaching sometimes parades under other names, such as being the master to an apprentice who works side by side to see and imitate each technique, move and progression in getting a job or performance done. Thus, the apprentice method of learning is one of the most time-honored in the history of humankind, and, though it has morphed over the centuries, it still retains its luster amid modern technologies.
Highly significant is also the fact that the best coaches do not usually come from the ranks of the superstars and not even from among the better players. Some of the best coaches in baseball in particular did not even earn a spot on a major league team. Superstars such as Ted Williams, who also coached, have a problem relating to the challenges incurred by more pedestrian, journeyman players. They literally don’t know how to connect the practical ballgame dots for mortal players.
This means that great knowledge and skill can be secondary among the assets of a great coach, well behind the coach’s heart and a willingness to learn how to tap into the mind, emotions and heart of the people who are being coached. This is a variant of, “It’s not the dog that’s in the fight; it’s the fight that’s in the dog.” Time after time, we see very journeyman individuals who are world-beaters as a team.
Parents are the first and most basic coaches in life for all of us. This is great when both parents are on the scene, alert and heart-and-soul involved in the physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual development of children. Mother and father need not be astute or sophisticated if their head and heart are right.
Sadly, it is not an exaggeration to say that most families, especially black families, are partially dysfunctional, and have been growing more dysfunctional each year since the halcyon days of 1964, when 76.4 percent of black families were nuclear – a mark that exceeded even the favored white families of the U.S. Yes, both marital coaches, mama and papa, were working hand in hand to develop each child. Nuclear black families now teeter around 30 percent with the bottom falling out.
So, despite heroic efforts of many single parents, overall horrendous effects are seen in our youth at home, in school and on gang/drug-ridden streets, because Coach Papa is not aiding Coach Mama. Literally, sometimes it is the sports coach at school who adopts clueless children and “fathers”/”mothers” them in the ways of life, gently helping to connect the dots where the home coach is not on the job.
With at times near uncoachable, faltering apostles, Coach Jesus was hands down the greatest of all coaches, holding his crew to the highest standards possible.
Parents, who are our prototeachers, other teachers, spiritual directors, coaches of every kind and at every level need always follow the template, the Man from Galilee, who can and will show us how to connect the dots of life when no one else can.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, lives in retirement at Sacred Heart Residence in Bay St. Louis. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Self knowledge a life-long lesson

Reflections on Life
Father Jerome LeDoux
Letting go of anyone, anything at any level, in any relationship, under any circumstances and at any time can be one of the most difficult of all things to learn and, finally, to do. It is also one of the most necessary things that we have to do in life, for, unless we let go at those times when it behooves us to, we can never be free of anxiety, at peace, relaxed, or enabled to be all we can be. This takes a lifetime.
Above all, there is that “Let go, let God” mandate that is so crucial to our life both material and spiritual. I first heard “Let go, let God” regularly in 1965 at Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon meetings where the desperate of the desperate found the answer to a mystery disorder that had taken over their mind and body.
There are simply some things that we cannot do on our own. So we admit this to ourselves and to the rest of the world, we recognize and profess that there is a Higher Power who created everyone, and we allow God to take over our lives. We spend a lifetime learning this, making room for God to operate freely in our lives.
At that point, something wonderful happens. Out of our weakness, the power of God breaks through, just as we read in the epic life struggle of St. Paul sharply described to us in 2 Corinthians 12. In order that Paul might not be tempted to pride because of his mystical experiences, “whether in the body or out of the body,” “a thorn in the flesh was given to me, an angel of Satan… Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’
“Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Paul was slipping into early middle age by the time he learned this. “Let go, let God” is basically allowing God to supply whatever is lacking in our weaknesses. It consists in doing what hardly any of us cares to do: relinquish control and step aside, get out of God’s way, letting God work the magic Jesus always did.
And Jesus worked those wonders because he was all about doing his Father’s will for his Father’s glory, always declaring, as in John 14:13, “Whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
We definitely spend our whole life acquiring the most intimate and most important knowledge of life: self-knowledge. Over the decades, this is a topic that I have revisited in writing a half dozen times or more because it is so indispensable, so seminal and so critical in the rooting and formation of who and what we are and hope to become someday in our bodies, minds, emotions and souls.
But will-o’-the-wisp that it is, self-knowledge is as slippery as an eel, as elusive as a wild goose and as untouchable as a phantom. Just when we think we are getting to know ourselves, we are startled by some new surprise or wrinkle within. And, while no one can know us from without, we do well to listen to their criticisms.
Unless we are very careful and vigilant, much of our life can be an illusion because at times we so willingly allow, maybe even invite illusion into our personal, private world. The greatest illusion is that it is easier to deal with illusion than with reality. That is the last step before insanity, crippling our ability to discern fantasy from reality by denying the good, the bad and the ugly in our everyday living. Step by step, living in denial will cost us peace, joy and, at some juncture, our sanity.
Today’s savants give great discourses and write books about self-knowledge, treading and retreading the same ground trod by the ancients such as the Greeks who had much to say about self-knowledge as the most basic thing in life. They thumbnailed it in γνῶθι σαὐτόν (Temet nosce in Latin): Know yourself!
Γ Ν Ω Θ Ι   Σ Α Υ Τ Ο Ν (Greek in caps) is the same precept set in gold letters over the portico of the temple at Delphi. So powerful is it that its authorship has been ascribed to Pythagoras, to several of the wise men of Greece, and to Phemonoe, a mythical Greek poetess. According to Juvenal, this precept descended from heaven.
We can safely say that this is a precept that has heavenly overtones. It is akin to the poet Alexander Pope’s famous line: “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Pope improved the dictum of Seneca the younger: “To err is human; to persist, diabolical.” So difficult are both of these that, when the discussion comes down to the degree of difficulty, self-knowledge and true forgiveness run a mighty tight race. Yes, it takes a hard-fought lifetime to come to know ourselves fully as God alone knows us.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, lives in retirement at the Sacred Heart Residence in Bay St. Louis. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969).

Made holy by osmosis with God

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
The greatest threat out there in the uncaring, oft cruel world is what we can conveniently call osmosis. Be patient and go slow with this strange definition. For biology’s sake, osmosis is “the spontaneous net movement of solvent molecules through a semi-permeable membrane into a region of higher solute concentration, in the direction that tends to equalize the solute concentrations on the two sides.”
So, the molecules must be solvent; the membrane, semi-permeable. Believe it or not, that sounds like us human beings. As we go about our daily being, saying and doing the everyday things of life, we are ever solvent and soluble, surrounded by the semi-permeable membrane of our choosing, and constantly interacting back and forth with the solute concentrations of our immediate, intimate environment. In a word, as in osmosis, we absorb people, TV, electronics, etc. in which we are steeped.
In this, you undoubtedly see the huge importance of the moral and social fiber of the people with whom you hang out, the culture of life or death in which you live, the quality of life in the neighborhood that touches you most hours of the day.
We are not just being there and living there. As molecules do in osmosis, we are constantly absorbing into our mind, body and soul, for better or worse, everyone and everything that surrounds us.
Since we cannot choose our relatives, the only choice we have in the matter is that of selecting our friends and associates, although business needs and, to some extent, church and civic duties take our choice away.
Genesis 5:24 instructs us how to be with God, “Enoch walked with God, and he was no longer here, for God took him.” The language of that Scripture is mystical, for Enoch’s daily, hourly walk with God became a life-giving thing more and more by the minute, so sustaining life in him that he did not die. God just took him as he was.
How often do we tell someone, “If you talk the talk, you must walk the walk?” Too many people talk a great fight, but, when it comes to walking with us, joining us in the trenches, they are nowhere to be seen. This is where the osmosis of hanging out with Jesus pays off. Our walk is super strong as long as we walk with Jesus. Thus, in the Holy Blues the slaves sang, “I want Jesus to walk with me!”
Osmosis is at work all over the world and in each nook and cranny. We have numerous ways of stating this. Listen to the familiar, “Birds of a feather flock together” that the old folks never tired of drumming into our consciousness. Of course, it means a lot more than our wonderful world of fabulous birds. It means, as we know so well, that either people of like mind hang out together, or people are drawn to become of like mind by associating with each other – for better or worse!
Colonel Chaplain Louis Verlin LeDoux has special permission from his bishop in Tacoma, Washington, to maintain his own chapel – Blessed Sacrament and all – in  his home. It is the most prized part of his life, the topic of most frequent mention in the course of conversations. Morning prayer and Mass are a given, of course. From there it starts to turn almost into an über-monastic sort of thing.
My big brother “Verl” definitely would not like what I am writing here, for he is a private kind of guy who has no truck with this manner of speaking about one’s personal business.
My elder by three and a half years, Verl was ordained a priest on Dec. 27, 1952, at Sacred Heart Church in our hometown, Lake Charles, La. After pastoring three years at St. Mary Church in smallish Port Barre, La, his bishop, Jules B. Jeanmard, of the Diocese of Lafayette allowed him to become a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force.
Among numerous other assignments over a span of 35 years, Verl spent a horrendous year in Vietnam at its worst, experiencing such things as seeing an airman riding in a jeep with him cut in half by machine gun fire, spattering Verl with blood. Returning to the States, he did a lot of pacing back and forth for almost a year, constantly praying the rosary and drinking more coffee than the law allows.
Anyway, this same Verl hangs close to his home chapel now, spending at least four hours each day in the chapel. Is that über-monastic or what? Spending “Holy Hour” in church demands much attention and concentration. But four hours, even if spread over the day? My Lord!
I would rate that as very high spiritual osmosis where we take on the characteristics of Father/Jesus/Holy Spirit by their nearness. I’m whispering in your ear – don’t let Verl know that I told you these things.
I would like to think that most of the people around us are not only pleasant but good by every measure of body, mind, heart, nerves, emotions, especially soul.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, retired to Sacred Heart Residence in Bay St. Louis He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Templates of love teach timeless lessons

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux
For the purpose of discussing, analyzing and understanding, love is broken down into types (kinds) of love and styles of loving. In his book, “The Four Loves,”C.S. Lewis speaks of the Greeks’ modes. Storge, or empathy bond that likes someone through the fondness of familiarity, such as family members in gift-love, or people bonded by chance in such a way that there is a need-love.
Storge has great potential for good or bad. Of this love we say, “It’s a thin line between love and hate,” whether through jealousy, envy or smothering, for “familiarity breeds contempt,” since familiar folks are so sensitized to each other.
Philia, or friend bond, is the strong bond that exists between people, usually equals, who share common values, interests or activities. This kind of love does not have romantic features, but it is a great foundation for romantic love between man and woman. In fact, without it, romantic love can be dangerous, relying on erotic emotions that may have an all-too-short shelf life in everyday love. Love is much more enduring if it begins with friendship, with like instead of love.
Eros is the emotional expression of sexual love, of the desire to be as close together as possible through our sense of touch, taste, smell, sight and hearing. Erotic love glories in and is expressed through our five senses. One who is in love cannot get enough of love’s enhancement through the five senses. Perhaps the greatest danger to us is that we will love without first liking the person we love. Again, friendship – like – is the human foundation for lasting agape.
Agape is the highest kind of love, good will, benevolence that is predicated of God and secondarily of us. This benevolence or well-wishing derives directly from the Latin bene volens, the radical theme of the song of the angels over the hills of Bethlehem Christmas morning, “Peace on earth, good will to humans.”
The way kinds or types of love are expressed in our life is further explained by styles of loving. Based on and akin to the kinds of love, styles of loving, or love styles, actually track the types of love while adding three other types. In his 1973 book, “Colours of Love,” researcher John A. Lee uses six Greek words to explain six distinct styles of loving, even assigning colors to each style: eros, red; ludus, blue; storge, yellow; pragma, green; manic, violet; agape, orange.
Naturally, just as in the case of kinds of love, descriptions of the styles of loving overlap what the Greeks had to say about love. Added to this overlap are insights arising from John Lee’s personal experiences and conversations with others about the subject of love. What we have said about the kinds of love remains true as we discuss the styles of loving. There are but a few specific additions to make.
Ludus, or ludic love (Latin ludus or game) is a playful form of love that can have a good purpose, such as people in love teasing each other, or a harmful bent, such as a man or woman playing the field and not becoming serious about anything. Pragma, pragmatic love, has a shopping list of qualities and assets desirable in a prospective partner. This, obviously, has an upside and downside.
Mania is self-explanatory, driven by possessiveness and jealousy too painful to live with and extremely destructive of any human love relationship. Minus this one, a wise blend of the other kinds and styles of loving is desirable for us.
Apart from individuals in relatively small enclaves of cynics or emotionally scarred victims of childhood/adolescent/adult physical and/or sexual abuse, all of us feel a strong attraction to love. But love is so gripping and euphoric that we must constantly choose the best blends of love. Though of spurious origin, the saying, “Love makes the world go round” is true at home, at school, at church, everywhere.
So, either consciously or subconsciously, we constantly scour our environs for the best templates of love. For instance, iconic basketball coach John Wooden said famously, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” (I also heard this attributed to Father Theodore Hesburgh, longtime president of Notre Dame University)
Of course, the good coach was spot on, but only 50 percent so. The other 50 percent is, “The best thing a woman can do for her children is to love their father.” We give him a pass for omitting the 50 percent that perhaps most men would. In any case, children will imitate the template of love most immediate to them at home. We can safely say that there is nothing more important in the earliest years of a child.
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Guardian angels surround us, inspire works of mercy

reflections on life
Jerome LeDoux, SVD
The knuckles of Tanner and his brother Chase Brownlee turned white and bloodless as they clung to their $50,000 at the car auction. Having been able to raise only $50,000, they knew that they might easily be outbid for the car they coveted. The police cruiser was a 2010 Dodge Charger with 100,000 miles on it.
It was not just any car, mind you. The car being auctioned at the Weld County’s Sheriff’s Office was WC679, the Greeley, Colorado patrol car of their father, Deputy Sam Brownlee, who had been killed in a one of those dreaded car chases in 2010. Although Tanner and Chase were dealing in dollars, the car was priceless.
Valued at $12,500, the bar was set high above that price, since the auction was all about helping a charity. As the bids quickly soared above $50,000, their hearts sank and their spirits fell. Inconsolable, they bit their lips and fought back the tears that were beginning to wet their eyes. Little did they suspect that a guardian angel was hovering over them “all night, all day” in the guise of a stranger, one of the bidders who on the surface appeared to be their archenemy.
Everything turned into a black cloud without a silver lining for Tanner and Chase as oil-land-rich local rancher Steve Wells soundly outdistanced all bidders with his bid of $60,000. Almost too heartbroken to bear it, the brothers stared in anguish as the auctioneer closed the bidding with the statement, “Sold it your way, Mr. Steve Wells. Thank you very much. $60,000!”
But that guardian angel had been busy with a special plan all along. Smiling to himself as the Brownlee brothers suffered through the terrible ordeal of being outbid, millionaire Steve Wells sprang a totally unexpected surprise. Immediately upon receiving the car keys from the auctioneer, he whipped around toward Tanner and handed him the keys with the glad tidings, “Tanner, here is your car!”
While Tanner got up to hug Wells, the room exploded with applause. Not just one, but everybody had won. Steve Wells had won the bidding, but gained infinitely more by immediately giving his prize away. Tanner, Chase and their family had won through the inspiring generosity of Steve Wells. Concerns of Police Survivors (C.0.P.S.), a charity that helps the families of fallen police officers, won by receiving $70,000 from the $60,000 Wells bid and other donations. Suffice it to say that there were no losers there, but all huge winners going forward into the future.
“This is just so huge,” Tanner told Steve Wells and the adoring crowd. “I mean, me and my dad built a fence and stuff, but having something I can use and drive around that he drove around, it just means a lot.”
Some guardian angels are only five-years-old, as in the case of Josiah Duncan who asked his mother about a man hanging around a Prattville, Ala., Waffle House. Informed that the man was homeless with no place to stay and with a few rags and an old bicycle, Josiah begged his mother to buy him some food. But, when no one waited on him, Josiah gave the man a menu. He ordered only a cheeseburger.
“Get as much as you want!” Josiah’s mother Ava Faulk advised him. When the food came, Josiah stood across from the man and sang the blessing aloud, bringing the man and all 11 customers to tears. Going viral, the incident brought thousands of others to tears and no doubt is still reverberating endlessly over the cyberwaves.
Mary Lapkowicz has known her guardian angel since fourth grade when she and Ben Moser made a pact to attend their high school prom together. Ben watched over her throughout elementary school. A special Down syndrome student, Mary and Ben had gone to separate high schools. Mary became the equipment manager in her school, while Ben became the quarterback in his. When their schools met in a game, Mary and Ben reunited and renewed their pact for the upcoming prom. To no one’s surprise, but to the admiration of all, they were the hit of the prom.
Guardian angels appear with regularity at supermarket checkouts. With moving frequency, one sees someone struggling to find the last few dollars to complete a purchase when a voice from behind asks the cashier, “How much?”
It warms one’s heart to offer payment to a waiter or waitress, only to be informed that some unknown person has already paid the tab. On such and similar occasions, we are lifted far above all our earthly bonds of debt, and we are forced to recall that a most special Man died on Calvary that the baleful debt of all our sins and the sins of the world could be stamped once for all time, “PAID IN FULL!”
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Intersection of faith, salvation and action

Reflections on life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
“Why me?” is the oft-repeated query when dark, painful times descend upon us hapless human beings. “What have I done to deserve this?” is another familiar way of asking the same question. One can say that there are three stages of belief in God, of which the third is often the most difficult for perhaps most people.
Blaise Pascal’s wager tackles the first stage of belief in God. In summary of a lengthy philosophical dissertation, the wager states:
1. If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.
2. If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to live in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.
3. If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus a finite loss.
4. If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus a finite gain.
Criticisms of the wager strike me as being pedantic and cerebral instead of simple and down-to-earth. Critics object that the wager presupposes many things such as an immortal soul and a Judaeo/Christian-based notion of God that affirms the faith of believers rather than converts non-believers, since it posits one God to believe in, thereby excluding another god or gods that people may believe in. But Pascal was not militating for Christian belief, but rather for the raw belief in God that one living in the totally isolated world of an undiscovered jungle might have.
Therefore, even though Pascal speaks of God in the singular, it seems that he does not want his wager to exclude polytheists, those who believe in multiple gods. In fact, the Church includes polytheists and everyone else in its statement on the will of God that all people be saved, “Facienti quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam.”
Translated roughly in the plural, “God does not deny grace to those who do what they are capable of doing.” That means, “those who follow the light of reason.”
Thus, aborigines in the deepest jungles, who have had no contact with any people, the Bible or any knowledge beyond the stone age, will be saved – given the grace of God – if they believe and do what is in their understanding to believe and do, even if that understanding is deficient as to the true nature of God. The other way of saying it is that God does not condemn us because of invincible ignorance; that is, ignorance for which we are not responsible and cannot do anything about. The stipulation is that those aborigines are willing to accept whatever God wants.
“Whatever God wants” makes everything implicit in the generic belief in God that knows no details about God or religion. An aborigine or anyone who knows nothing about all the knowledge, science, writings and other media and marvels of the modern world may have a somewhat fuzzy idea of a Supreme Being or may find deities in the sun, moon, oceans, mountains or universe. Nonetheless, if such a person submits herself/himself to the will of the Creator, everything falls into place.
Thus, baptism, a condition sine qua non of salvation, is included in the will of the Creator embraced by the generic believer. Such baptism is known as baptism of desire. Ditto for the implicit acceptance of Jesus Christ, without whom there is no salvation. Implicit in accepting what God wants is, “If I but knew Jesus, I would embrace him and all his teachings.” The same goes for acceptance of God’s Church.
So, unconditional belief in God and the acceptance of God’s will cover all our spiritual needs, no matter how little we have heard or read about them. Still, it is not enough to believe in God, Jesus and their Holy Spirit. James 2:19 warns us, “You believe that God is one. You do well. Even the demons believe that and tremble.”
It is the third part of faith that is so difficult, because it challenges us and our petty agendas, faults, sins, doubts, pains, grief, deprivations, disappointments and failures. Enter Thomas, Didymus, the one of little faith, who had to see and touch the nail prints in the hands and Jesus and the lance scar in his side. He was not unlike Peter, who denied Jesus thrice, and all the other apostles who fled before the ferocity of the Roman soldiers on Good Friday. (John managed to sneak back later.)
Together with the other apostles – and everyone else except the three steadfast Marys – Thomas was numb when confronted with the reality that Jesus had risen from the dead. It had to be a ghost, not flesh and blood! Actually, they were in a tailspin, cowering for fear of the Jews until the rending event of Pentecost.
Resurrection through Jesus – that final prerequisite of faith and salvation – will carry us through all doubt, fear, anxiety, pain, grief, depression and failure.
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Pastor still moving at four-score and five

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD
A 20-something lady was helping me transfer things from one car to another. Perhaps noticing that her lively pace outstepped me at every turn, she volunteered pointedly with a satisfied smile, “I am enjoying my youth!” Translated, that almost seemed to be saying, “How on earth do you old coots tolerate creeping old age?”
“You’ll enjoy your old age too, God willing,” I returned so low that she might have missed completely my hesitant effort to respond to such a pointed remark.
To get her attention, I could have said that at her age I could whistle a baseball toward the catcher well into the nineties, could break off a mean curve, could drive the ball 400-plus feet, run with the best, could snare a football pass nine feet in the air on a dead run-and-leap, could jump under a basketball rim and pop it.
“That was yesterday,” I mused, and as the song continues, “but yesterday’s gone.” One distant day a weightlifting high school seminarian at St. Augustine Seminary in Bay Saint Louis  was pressing 100 pounds. To his utter surprise, I reached down with my right hand and snatched it over my head. When he winced, for seconds I reached down again and snatched it over my head once more.
Needless to say, if I tried anything close to that now, I would need both an osteopath and a chiropractor. “Flights of fancy,” we call such memories we all have. Such was the case as I topped the hill of four score and five on February 26. And how is life in the mid-eighties? So far, I can hardly tell the difference from one year ago.
Nevertheless, there are some pointed items of interest. Never too cool to school, I notice that the tendency to shuffle is trying to grow stronger. This means that, unless he exerts extra caution, an older person compensates for a decrease in physical strength by dragging his feet instead of lifting them, especially on turns.
When one drags his feet in making a sudden turn to the left or right, the sole of the sandal/shoe grabs the rug or uneven surface, setting up a serious stumble or trip. In this maneuver, the body turns before the feet do, causing an entanglement of the feet that can easily trigger a painful fall that may result in some kind of injury.
A hazardous carryover from dragging one’s feet can happen when one moves to go around a chair, table or other object. The slouchiness resulting from weakened muscles inclines one to take shortcuts, and that causes one to clip the edges of objects instead of moving cleanly around them. That in turn can end in a crash. In spite of this ever-looming threat, I must continually remind myself to move wide.
This same awareness and caution of movement holds doubly strong for vertical travel up and down steps or hills. Weakening muscles also try to avoid the labor of lifting one’s feet high enough above a stair step to avoid tripping. More and more, a conscious effort must be made to assure one of stepping high enough.
For decades, all the way into my late forties, I literally streaked up and down flights of stairs, often mounting the flight in two bounds. In all those years I had one harmless slip on a flight of stairs, one slip on a landing and one interesting stumble halfway down a 22-step staircase. Flying through the air with the greatest of ease, I hit the deck with a crash and roll, no worse for the wear. So hard is a young body.
Nowadays, the very thought of such a stumble and rough landing steadies my every move around stairs, high precipices and uneven surfaces. For the young, the key to sureness and safety of movement is the combination of power, balance and dexterity of motion. Eventually eroded by time and usage, that great combination can be salvaged only partially by meticulous attention to one’s environs.
In a blast from the past, every now and then, I catch myself striding with near abandon, although running with abandon is out of the picture. I invariably smile as I walk that special walk, remembering the way it was so many summers ago.
It still startles me that I live free of any dependence on reading or magnifying glasses, reading a computer screen for many hours with no signs of strain, reading books or annoyingly-small texts of food ingredients or signs in the ambient world.
Since April 30, 1996, forgoing all meats, seafood, dairy, salt, sugar and caffeine has served me well, normalizing all my body organs and fluids to the point where I live free of pain and medications, except for the baby aspirin daily regimen.
No day is a work day, because every day is a bonus, a vacation, a special gift of God that brings with it more joy, more rewards, more thanks for all the relatives, friends and others in my life. How long will I live? Till I die. That’s enough for me.
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)

Prayer meeting surprises reluctant pastor

Reflections on Life
By Father Jerome Le Doux
With prayer meeting scheduled for 7:00 Sunday evening, my battery was perhaps only 70 percent recharged from the drain of three Masses and chatter. Three good snoozes only invited a fourth. Furthermore, the acclaimed Schindler’s List was due to show on the All Heroes Channel, and I had not yet seen it.
Encountering me at the wake of Isabell Mesker’s mother, Martin Daley invited me to attend the Sunday evening prayer meeting at the St. Peter Church chapel. “Come if you can!” he pleaded. “Mostly women attend the Thursday meeting, but we men will be at the Sunday evening meeting. We would love to have you.”
He called a couple of days later, then he called again Sunday afternoon to remind me.
This tug of war continued long enough to make me a bit late for the meeting. Upon entering, I laid eyes on a 160-seat chapel brimming with a standing room only crowd of eager, attentive folks keying in on Dan Bradley, a guitar player who sounded for all the world like a somewhat muted James Taylor. Finger work complemented his voice that led a devotional rendering of Alleluia and a medley of sacred compositions.
All was quiet, meditative singing, and, off and on, many hands were raised in thanksgiving and praise, while voices from all around reverently accompanied most of the songs. After a half dozen or so songs, a young lady named Cassie was invited up to sing and then to share a guitar piece. With her strum, strum, strum and at times a thrumpa, thrumpa thrump, she was less polished than Dan, but still good.
Very politely, a handful of folks invited me to move from my standing spot in the rear to a seat somewhere in the nave. I declined until finally I was taken almost by force to the very front right. When Cassie was done, a teen-aged lad next to me was called up to play the guitar and sing. Having accomplished both very well, he returned to his seat and introduced himself as Jim McDonald, grandson of Dan.
Obviously, he came by his musical talents honestly through his grandfather, although his grandfather later told me that he had stopped playing for 20 years until he resumed playing in order to play and sing for his grandchildren. What a loving and pleasant testimony to his grandchildren! Frankly, he sounded professional.
From his up-and-down movement and orchestration of the goings-on, Pat Gorman seemed to be master of ceremonies of the whole prayer meeting. And there I was musing, “I came for a prayer meeting, and here we have a religious concert as an added attraction. As Peter, James and John said on the mountain at the time of the Transfiguration, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here!’”
A mature lady sang “How Great Thou Art” and Pat Gorman sang a couple of songs, one of which he himself had composed. Ted Daley, who had sung delightfully at the wake of Isabell Mesker’s mother, edified us with a baritone selection. Throughout, there were random testimonies and prayers from the congregation about the illness or other problems of relatives or friends of the Irish Travelers.
Though it is understood that all ethnic groups have problems peculiar to their group, the Irish Travelers are people of powerful, expressive faith, of loyalty to their families and friends, and of considerable generosity. It is amazing that I have yet to encounter one person who called or came to beg or borrow. Hitting my bowl of roasted peanuts is the one exception to which everyone – Irish or not – is partial.
Smiling as I say this, I assure you that I have never been enriched by so many calls for confessions, sessions of counseling and impromptu visits as from the Irish Travelers of all ages from teenagers to mature keenagers. It has been an honor to receive visits from a handful to as many as 20 teenagers at a time.
Called to speak toward the end, I noted the close bond between Irish and black music. “’Oh Danny Boy’ is the most famous example,” I told them. Backed by Dan in C, I sang “Danny Boy” a la Jackie Wilson. Then I sang Dottie Rambo’s 1967 soul lyrics to that same Londonderry melody, “Amazing Grace, shall always be my song of praise,” known also as “He Looked Beyond My Fault And Saw My Need.”
All prayer meetings are edifying and inspirational, but, by its sheer size and intensity, this one turned out to be the mother of all the prayer meetings I have attended. Holding hands in conclusion, we formed a power circle that had to be doubled in spots because of the great number. “Lead us in your Our Father!” they asked me expectantly. So, to a sea of smiling faces, we sang the popular “Echo Our Father” that keeps repeating “Hallowed Be Thy Name” after each verse.
“God is love, and all who abide in love abide in God and God in them.”   (1 John 4:16)
(Father Jerome LeDoux, SVD, is pastor of Our Mother of Mercy Parish in Fort Worth, Texas. He has written “Reflections on Life since 1969.)