Thoughts on Notre Dame Cathedral

Earlier this week we learned to our horror that Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was on fire. Because of the bravery of the Paris Fire Department, and particularly the actions of Notre Dame’s Chaplain Fr. Jean Marc Fournier it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.

Construction began in 1160 and wasn’t completed until 1260: nobody who began the construction lived to see its completion and nobody who witnessed its completion was born when it was began. In the last 800 years people from all over the world have gathered to worship there. Modern day visitors to Paris know they need to visit three places: Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, and the Louvre.

I have to confess that I’ve never been to Paris and I haven’t had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame, but I understand its attraction. My parents and grandparents belonged to Notre Dame de St. Rosary parish, that we all call “Holy Rosary.” My grandmother, Imelda Cazeault (1909-1981) told me about how, as a child, she witnessed the delivery of the bell that was raised into the bell tower.

When she died I was one of her pallbearers and as we carried her into Holy Rosary for the last time, the bell tolled for her (as it did for all funerals). At that moment, in 1981, I found myself carried back to 1915 when she was six years old and watched that same bell hoisted up into the tower. I was also carried back to November 18, 1918 when my father’s parents (recent immigrants from Canada) married.

The sound of the bells became timeless to me. It brought me back to 1915 and 1918, but also to 1931 when my father was baptized, to 1938 when my mother was baptized, and to 1958 when my parents were married. It also brought me back to 1994 when I returned to Holy Rosary as a priest to celebrate my (3rd) first mass and to 1995 when I returned to celebrate the funeral mass for my grandfather (and namesake), Thomas Cazeault (1902-1995).

I write this to illustrate the place Notre Dame de Paris holds in the hearts of Catholics. While Notre Dame de Gardner is more than a century old, Notre Dame de Paris is over 800 years old. Its place in history is clear.

Notre Dame de Paris will rebuild and we will all rejoice. But we should also rejoice that its history will continue well into the future, to Christians who aren’t yet born but will find its place in their lives.

Congratulations to My Father in Law on His First 100 Years

On January 23, 1919 Paul Graff (1882-1967) and his wife Theresa Sailer Graff (1892-1978) gave birth to their first child, Al Graff.

Today we celebrate his 100th birthday.

Several years ago I got a copy of his parents’ marriage license from Mandan, North Dakota. They married on September 10, 1917. Their marriage license was incredibly involved. A physician (whose name I can’t read) attested that they weren’t related and neither was “an idiot, epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded person, common drunkard, insane person or person who has heretofore been afflicted with hereditary insanity, or afflicted with pulmonary tuberculosis in its advanced stages, or afflicted with any contagious venereal disease.” Another part of the application attests that neither of them “has one-eighth or more negro blood.” I’ve often thought it would be good to have a document that attests that I’m not an idiot, imbecile, or feeble minded person.

By any measure Al has lived an incredible life. He came of age during the Great Depression. He and his cousin Paul Graner attended Loyola High School because the pastor of their parish, Our Mother of Sorrows paid their tuition in return for them spending each Saturday cleaning the church.

After high school Al worked for a year at the Cudahy Packing Factory to save money for college. He was then able to attend the University of California, Berkeley and graduated in 1942 with a degree in engineering.

Seven months before he graduated the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He and his classmates were told to stay in school and hone their skills. After graduation General Electric hired him and moved him to Schenectady, New York. He was deferred from service during World War II because he worked on a team that developed the first jet engines.

After the war he married his sweetheart Marion Goetz (1922-2000). In 1958 they moved to Rancho Santa Fe, California and joined St James and St. Leo’s Catholic Church.

As his career in engineering wound down he began studies to become a permanent deacon. In 1983 he was ordained and began his second career.

As a deacon he preached, taught, counseled, and served the people of God. And even into his 90’s his generosity wasn’t done. He donated seed money to St. James Academy, ensuring that future generations could be given the opportunity he was given as a member of the class of 1936 at Loyola High School. He paid it forward.

Full disclosure: I’m his son-in-law, married to his youngest daughter Nancy. Twenty one years ago he welcomed me into his family with enthusiasm and joy. Eighteen years ago, after Marion died, he agreed that we should purchase a house together and we live in a wonderful neighborhood.

For the last two decades I’ve been blessed to stand in his shadow and benefit from his generosity. He has perfected the ability to give without remembering and accept without forgetting. His belief that God’s love for us surpasses our ability to create chaos and hurt each other has taught me the seismic ability of God’s forgiveness.

I stand in awe.

The End of An Era

A little over 12 years ago I bought a Toyota Prius. Since I drive for my job I needed a car with good gas mileage. By any measure I got that: it took me 270,000 miles (for a perspective it’s only 238,900 miles from the earth to the moon). A few weeks ago I learned that repairs on my car would cost $3,300 and it was only valued at $3,000. It’s time had come. Yesterday I picked up my new car: a Honda Clarity plug in hybrid. I hope I get as much satisfaction with this car as I did with my Prius.

Toronto In the Rear View Mirror

Each year my wife attends a medical conference and every year it’s in a different city. This year we had the pleasure of meeting in Toronto, Ontario. Like most years, it was a wonderful week.

While Nancy attends the conference I get to play. Most years I walk enough to nearly offset the calories I consume at various restaurants, and this year was no exception. Here’s what I want to share about this trip:

  • If you have a choice of airlines, don’t choose Air Canada Rouge. It isn’t Air Canada and it’s not even close. The crew is fantastic and food is passable, but “rouge” doesn’t mean “red” as much as it means “slave ship.” The seats were so close that none of us were able to move. On the way back we paid enormous bucks to upgrade to a seat next to an emergency exit. Those seats were good but expensive.
  • Toronto is a beautiful city. If you’re willing to walk there’s more to see than you can do in a week. While Nancy was in meetings I had the pleasure of exploring not only downtown but also Cabbagetown and its annual Forsythia Festival.
  • I belong to the community of people who photograph gravestones and it took a few hours but I found and photographed the grave of Fr. Joseph Basil Doyle CSP (1893-1969).
  • The people of Toronto are wonderful and welcoming. Without exception everyone I met went out of his way to make certain my visit was a good one. I only hope I present San Diego as well as they present Toronto.

Next year we meet in Baltimore and it’s likely Nancy will retire before her convention returns to Toronto. But if our wandering returns us to Toronto I’ll be happy.

Yosemite 2018

As readers of this blog know, Nancy and I travel to Yosemite National Park every winter.  We began this in 2000 when we stumbled on what was called then “Chef’s Holidays” but is now called Taste of Yosemite.

It’s a magical time as we avoid the gridlock that happens most of the year but it’s also terrific for Nancy who attends several cooking demonstrations (and Tom who gets to eat the recipes she brings home).

We also enjoy hiking the valley floor and taking pictures of what we see.  But several of the last few years we’ve been concerned over the effect of climate change and this year was no exception.

I recognize that many of you who read this blog live in areas that would love warmer temperatures in the winter but that misses the point.  Yosemite thrives on a weather pattern that is not affected by human interference.  This year we heard the sound of chainsaws and learned that hundreds (perhaps thousands) of trees were cut down as a result of drought and infestation of bark beetles.

Climate change harms all of us, but not right away and not all at once.  We who love Yosemite and other national parks fear that the things that make these places magical are in danger.  In addition to drought and beetle infestation, Yosemite has also endured fires that scar it for decades.

We pray that 2019 is more like 2017.

Celebrating Our Ordination

On the morning of May 14, 1994 I was ordained a Catholic priest as a member of the Paulist Fathers along with Fr. Paul Reynolds, Fr. Don Andrie, and Fr. Jerry Tully. By the way, if you click on Jerry’s page he talks about his ministry in Tennessee but he’s now assigned to St. Paul the Apostle in Los Angeles.

Alas, a little over three years after my ordination I fell in love and left the Paulist Fathers to get married. But I still celebrate my ordination and still think of myself as a priest. As a hospice chaplain I’ve celebrated the sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing when a local priest was not available.

I don’t regret my seminary formation, and Nancy and I continue to support the Paulist Fathers financially. I don’t know how the Paulists view me, but I continue to keep in touch with several of those I met as a Paulist. I hope they celebrate with me.

Vaccines: They Have Your Back (and Your Childrens' Back Too)

National Infant Immunization Week Blog-a-thon with woman holding baby. #ivax2protect

This week we celebrate National Infant Immunization Week, sponsored by the CDC, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I’ve filed this post under both “celebrating” and “ranting” and with good reason. Two hundred and twenty one years ago Edward Jenner (1749-1823) began to explore smallpox, a virus that devastated populations at that time. Thirty percent of those who came down with the disease died of it and many of those who didn’t were scarred for life. Mr. Jenner noticed that those who suffered from a much milder disease, cowpox, appeared to be immune to smallpox. He suggested that if he could give people cowpox (which was virtually never fatal) he could ensure that they would not be in danger of contracting the much more dangerous smallpox.

He was right. And more to the point, he gave birth to the vaccine movement. Today we see vaccines as a treatment, a way to introduce something into our bodies that will protect us from dangerous diseases.

Vaccines stimulate our immune systems to protect us from dangerous diseases. You can find the list of these diseases here.

That’s why I’m celebrating. But I’m also ranting because in 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield published and article in The Lancet that claimed there was a link between the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine and autism.

As you can imagine this created incredible anxiety among parents of infants. Nothing frightens parents more than the idea that they are doing something that will harm their children.

In the immediate aftermath of Wakefield’s article, the percentage of children who received vaccinations plummeted.

But on further observation it became clear that Wakefield lied. Other doctors replicated his experiment and none of them replicated his results. The Lancet withdrew its support as did everyone who partnered with him and in 2010 he lost his license to practice medicine.

I’d like to tell you that Mr. Wakefield’s fraudulent claims had no traction and that parents once again vaccinated their children, but this is simply not true. The combination of Mr. Wakefield’s lies, his influence on American celebrities like Jenny McCarthy, and the general belief in health conspiracies leave us with the reality that thousands of our children are not properly protected from easily avoidable diseases.

Some of these parents mean well and are overwhelmed by bad information from sources who capitalize on their ignorance. Others find misinformation an easy way to punish the other parent in custody disputes.

Regardless, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children place them in needless harm’s way. They claim that vaccines are “poison” that will harm their child when in reality vaccines make their bodies work better. Vaccines have our backs in the sense that they make us stronger.

This week, if you’re the parent of an infant or know someone who is, please encourage them to keep up with their vaccine schedule. When these infants are old enough to talk they will thank you (and so will I). While I didn’t like getting shots as an infant, toddler, or child, I’m grateful to my parents that they protected me.

We live in a time of “alternative facts” and conspiracies, where bloggers and (so called) journalists find an income stream in lying. I don’t begrudge their income stream, but I do wish to call out plan to put children in danger to make a buck.

Don’t believe them. Vaccinate your children.

Happy Birthday To My Prius

Eleven years ago today I bought a brand new Prius. As I drive for my job it’s important that I get a car with good gas mileage. Today it has a few dings and I had to replace the battery 3 years ago, but with 242,040 miles on it it’s doing well. Happy birthday Prius!

Our Annual Pilgrimage to Yosemite Nation Park

Each year since 2000 Nancy and I have driven to Yosemite National Park. Each year nearly 4 million people visit but most people come during the summer; they don’t know what they’re missing.

In addition to Yosemite being magical in the snow, we also attend a wonderful event. It used to be called “Chef’s Hoidays” but because of a trademark dispute the event is now called A Taste of Yosemite. Each year they bring in gourmet chefs from around the country. Anita Lo topped the bill for our session. Nancy attends cooking demonstrations while I hike and read (and we both hike).

A few years ago I bemoaned the fact that the weather was getting warmer and I feared it was getting worse. It was better last year, and fantastic this year. A few days before our arrival they received a nice coating of snow and it snowed while we were there. When we left yesterday morning we needed to leave by a different route because of the snow, but it was well worth it.

In addition to Anita, we also met another chef, Scott Youkilis, who with his brother Kevin have opened a restaurant, Loma Brewing Company in Los Gatos, California.

And finally, we had several wonderful conversations with Gayle Pirie and John Clark, the owners of Foreign Cinema in San Francisco. I’m not dropping these names to puff up my importance, but to encourage anyone who lives in or near New York, San Francisco, and Los Gatos, you should eat there.

The only blemish on this trip was something I foreshadowed last year. For the past 20 years or so, much of Yosemite Valley was contracted to Delaware North but starting last spring it changed to Aramark. We noticed a few differences, including the dinner package itself. The crowd was much smaller than we remembered, and we were told that Aramark did very little marketing and we found the web page much harder to navigate. Hopefully by next year they will have learned how to do this.

In any case, we’ll be back in 2018.

Happy Birthday to my Prius. It's 10 Years 0ld and has 218,860 Miles

Ten years ago today I drove off with my brand new Toyota Prius. At the time I wasn’t sure how long I would keep it, but I generally keep cars for as long as they last. Ten years and 218,860 miles it’s still getting me where I need to go.

Three years ago I had to replace the large battery and that was a few thousand dollars. But other than that, a few minor repairs, and routine maintenance, it’s been great. The first battery lasted seven years and when I replaced it I assumed I’d keep it for the life of the second battery. There’s no way to know how long this battery will last, but assuming I have four years left, that may do it.

I’ve averaged 21,886 miles per year (and assuming all trends continue) the odometer will read 306,404 on March 17, 2020. At that point it will be a 14 year old car and I don’t imagine I’ll pony up for another battery.

But who knows?