Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Waiting for Ash Wednesday!

Image result for ash wednesday
Yes, it is that time again. Ash Wednesday is a week away and I am contemplating what I am going to undertake as a resolution for my Lenten adventure this year. As opposed to New Year's resolutions, resolutions for Lent are always in my opinion more spiritually and personally more rewarding than making resolutions based on the calendar year. Lenten resolutions call all of us Catholic believers to remember to sacrifice in order to prepare us for the great celebration of Christ's triumph over death and our own participation in the Paschal Mystery through our own Baptism into the Catholic faith.
My maternal grandmother made Lenten resolutions that always involved giving up foods that she fond of, namely cookies, candies, cakes and chocolates. "Giving up," something for Lent is a common notion of Lenten sacrifice, however the act of giving up something might indeed have some vanity attached to the idea. I embrace the idea of engaging in an activity during Lent that involves not just the sacrifice of some foods and confectioner's delights, but also activities that deepen my appreciation of pray. A daily rosary with the intentions directed for the poor and hungry is a good idea. Perhaps a resolution to attend daily Mass is another admirable intention for Lent. Volunteering in a food pantry or assisting in a soup kitchen is indeed very laudable. This Lent I think should be accompanied with both prayer, personal sacrifice and community service. Sharing the faith with others is more than just engaging in solely personal spiritual activities and personal sacrifices of food and drink. A commitment of service to those that need our acts of charity and time are most rewarding and most likely the best opportunities to experience Jesus in the faces and eyes of those that are suffering and most in need of God's love and grace. I have often thought it is unfortunate that the poor only receive meals at Thanksgiving and Christmas as part of organized efforts to feed those that are hungry. What happens for the other 363 days of the year when those that are less fortunate need to satisfy their physical hunger? While hunger is a physical condition related to our human needs to sustain our lives, spiritual hunger can be just as acutely serious and personally destructive. This Lent, perhaps it is time for all of us to recognize the face of Christ in everyone we meet and greet in our daily encounters of everyday life. Yes we can pray more, sacrifice more and attend more Mass' and contribute more in the collection basket. But we can also make a very positive difference in the world by showing our Catholic faith during Lent by reaching our to those that we consider marginalized and spending time listening to their needs, having a conversation with them, feeding both their bodies and their souls with temporal food and spiritual contributions that recognize the dignity of all peoples that are intrinsically to all human life. Lent is not meant to be a period of gloom and penance,it is intended as a reflective period of spiritual reflection and action. Gathering together as a global family of faith, Lent is the time for Catholics to live their faith as well as pragmatically practice their beliefs in some tangible manner. Ash Wednesday presents us with the opportunity to both pray and put our beliefs into action.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Trophies require blood, sweat and somtimes tears!

The recent revelation that the NFL's James Harrison is returning all of his sons' trophies received for participation in various sporting events is a magnificent example of one that understands the value of participation and the results of competition. Ever since the most ancient Olympic games in Greece, the winners were awarded symbols of accolades for yes participation, but WINNING in their respective sporting activities. The relatively recent notion of rewarding everyone with a trophy promotes complacency and not the competitive drive to be the best in whatever sport, academic activity or even occupation individuals might engage. Like it or not, one competes in a sport in order to win. Competitive events related to sports are not intended to reward everyone that happens to show up at an activity...we reward the most competitive and the most successful athletes with trophies, Super Bowl rings and even trips to Disney World. If indeed we continue to award participation trophies in sports perhaps even the tailgaters at athletic events should receive the much coveted participation award as well. After all...they showed up and participated in some capacity and within the parameters of granting the participation trophy...they too qualify. Too often the notion of blanket equality obscures the realities of real life. Not everyone performs in a manner that is superlative in life. That's why in academia the distinctions of Magna cum laude, Summa cum laude and Cum laude adorn academic degrees to acknowledge achievement in professional studies. Otherwise, what is the real point of fostering notions of excellence in academic performance if everyone received degrees with notions of academic kudos even when they didn't earn such accolades? Mr. Harrison's return of trophies that are unearned because of just showing up is a commendable action and it needs to be duplicated all over the United States from kindergartens to corporate boardrooms. The right to wear the symbol of superlative performance is earned and competitively won not granted by reason of one's physical presence in an activity, a sport or even a job. We need to stop teaching youth that they are entitled simply because they participate in a sporting event. No one is entitled. Such a noble dignity is earned through hard work, proficiency at a particular sport or academic skill and raw determination and endurance. These points represent a winner, not just a participant. American's need again to embrace the skills of winning and accept the fact that not everyone is accorded the title of a winner. How the notion began of providing everyone with the idea that everyone is a winner is something that mystifies the imagination. Have these individuals that consider all participants as equal ever played Monopoly, school yard basketball, stick ball or event jacks? Someone always wins and de facto someone needs to loose. This is true in love, in war, in applying for acceptance to colleges and even jobs. Why then should it not be true of sporting events? Collectively perhaps we need to teach youth and reacquaint all of American society about the nature and purpose of competition and then reaffirm the consequences that are associated with each and every competitive activity that occurs in our lives. Loosing is not a bad thing, it is the logical and natural consequence of not winning regardless of the activity. If everyone always was considered a winner with a pseudo acknowledgement of competitive superiority (such as a participation trophy) then our entire hierarchy of society and the personal need for self development would entirely collapse! Mr. Harrison is providing all of us with a long overdue cold bucket over our heads of Gatorade! Reward excellence and teach persistence and yes...the notion of humility in loosing well.  Sometimes as parents we want to see our children develop such an positive self image and intrinsic sense of personal value we forget to also point out deficient factors at the risk of negating our good intentions. Maybe we need to instill not just praise but also add constructive criticism as a tool to inspire better participation and performance in any events our children participate. Equating excellence with just participation is not a natural response when acclimating anyone for the competitive realities of modern life. Fortunately we are indeed all created equal...after that it is up to each and every one of us to develop our highest potential in whatever activities or lifestyles we choose. Awarding trophies to everyone just for showing up is equal to giving everyone a performance bonus at work despite each employees'  positive or negative performance. It doesn't work in the workplace, it should not work on the athletic fields of competition. If indeed there is anything to learn from this laudable action from Mr.Harrison it is simply this: Winners get trophies, not everyone! If this notion offends some people then they need to think back to the events in their own lives when they were awarded for superlative performance of any category. Would they have celebrated the achievement if everyone else received the same award just for the heck of it! I don't think so! Reward those that work hard, sweat with profusion, study with a determined purpose and sacrifice everything to be THE BEST in their respective activities and fields. Everyone else...take note of those that just earned their trophies and appropriate accolades. They worked hard for them!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Still much to be said about historical preservation.

  This article is a reprint of my Sept. 2010 comments regarding the state of Assumption Church. Recently, events have changed and a demolition permit has been issues. Perhaps there is nothing left to say regarding this particular Catholic parish. However, there are volumes to be written and said regarding the need to develop a responsible plan of historical conservation among all of the various architecturally significant churches of all denominations in Philadelphia. We need to no preserve for our future, not the best examples of the worst architectural achievements. Rather we need to objectively preserve, restore and reuse, "the Best of the Best!"


Opportunity for Philadelphia to honor John Neumann & Katharine Drexel...Philadelphia Citizens.

Last week the Historical Commission of the City of Philadelphia voted to permit demolition of the former Assumption Parish on Spring Garden Street. Seemingly this is the end of a long struggle to preserve the historically significant structure that has languished for many years waiting for the final rendering to come. There are many levels of culpability and many individual groups and individuals that have contributed to the demise of this architecturally significant piece of Philadelphia’s long legacy. My point is not to lay blame or to indicate what could have been, should have been or might have been in regards to the proper administration of the former parish.
The facts concerning Assumption are simple and clear. The parish holds historical significance for the people of Philadelphia because of two individuals that were part of the life of the historical parish of the 19th and 20th centuries; John Neumann and Katharine Drexel. As Bishop of Philadelphia, John Neumann assisted in the solemn consecration of the newly constructed church. As a newborn child, Katharine Drexel was baptized at the church, entering the Catholic faith destined for a life in excess of ninety years. Remarkably, if not for the events that happened in the years after both Neumann’s and Drexel’s common association with Assumption Church, the events would have disappeared into history.
We know however, that the lives of these two Philadelphians, one a priest and bishop, the other an heiress to a large financial legacy and later the foundress of a community of sisters would transform life for not only Philadelphia, but individuals throughout the world.
Bishop Neumann, as Bishop of Philadelphia, deserves recognition not just because he participated in the consecration of Assumption Church, but because he was one of the most influential Philadelphians of the 19th century. His pastoral initiatives encompassed the entire State of Pennsylvania, Delaware and Southern New Jersey. He was the principle driving force behind the foundation of the Catholic educational system in Philadelphia and subsequently the entire United States. He worked as a priest and bishop to zealously unite the multicultural tapestry of 19th century Philadelphia into a cohesive city that lived up to the ideals of Penn’s vision of a City of Brotherly Love.
Katharine Drexel as a citizen of Philadelphia nurtured a vision of charity that extended to peoples of all races, especially African-American and Native American peoples. Coupled with her love of the Catholic Eucharist, a perspective on the unity of all peoples, courage in addressing social inequities among minorities and total distribution of her personal inheritance to victims of poverty and racial injustices; Katharine Drexel’s legacy straddles the 19th & 20th centuries in Philadelphia and the entire United States.
The period of Katharine Drexel’s life was one that witnessed an incredible amount of racial inequality between African Americans and Caucasian peoples. In Philadelphia, Katharine Drexel provided the bedrock foundation of the American Civil Rights Movement, long before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had a dream of racial equality in America. Mother Katharine Drexel established a religious community of sisters that exclusively ministered to the needs of what was then called, Black and Indian Peoples.
Over the course of her lifetime the Sisters of the Most Blessed Sacrament distributed more than 39 million dollars to the needs of African Americans and Native Americans in order to insure that these minorities were properly educated and received proper care and nutrition.
Both Bishop Neumann & Mother Katharine Drexel have been the victims of recognition and oversight on the part of the Philadelphia Historical Society in relationship to their participation in the life of Assumption Parish on Spring Garden Street.
The purpose of historical preservation is to preserve, restore and conserve significant places in Philadelphia not simply because of their architectural importance. The mission of the Philadelphia Historical Commission is to accomplish these points because a historical person or event took place at or in the place that has received a historical designation from the commission.
In addition to the exceptional architectural heritage with the connection to the prolific ecclesiastical architect of the period, Patrick Charles Keely; the Church provides the historical structure for two of the most significant citizens of Philadelphia’s life and history since Benjamin Franklin.
The City of Philadelphia has been especially generous in honoring Benjamin Franklin. The Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Franklin Institute, the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and so on. However, there are no streets, parks or sites named to commemorate the lives and accomplishments of Saints John Neumann and Katharine Drexel.
The most significant acknowledgement of both Neumann & Drexel is of course the Catholic Church’s elevation of both of these exceptional individuals to the altars and designations of Sainthood. However, both Neumann & Drexel deserve recognition from a civil perspective in recognition of their lives and accomplishments in making Philadelphia a city of racial and religious tolerance in the 19th & 20th centuries.
Most notably, the battle to preserve Assumption Parish on Spring Garden Street is now lost. The shifting demographics of Catholics in addition to other factors contributed to its elongated process of death. However, Philadelphia Catholics and quite frankly all Philadelphians need to learn a lesson from this parish and the need to preserve our historical treasures that transcend points of architectural significance but point to a significance of the promotion of religious and ethnic harmony between peoples of all races, creeds and colors.
The Philadelphia Historical Committee needs to step back after this insensitive oversight against not only Philadelphia’s Catholics, but all Philadelphians of good will and recognize Saints John Neumann & Katharine Drexel with a park, a street and yes perhaps even statues on the illustrious Benjamin Franklin Parkway, not because they were and are Catholic Saints, but because they were illustrious Philadelphians that transformed Philadelphia and the world towards peace, harmony and racial tolerance.
The Sisters Cities Plaza that is directly in front of the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul would especially benefit from a new designation in honor of Bishop Neumann & Katharine Drexel. Without diminishing the importance of “Sister Cities”, both Neumann & Drexel as Philadelphia Catholics participated in events at the Cathedral-Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul. What an appropriate place to honor and recognize their contributions than the development of a commemorative park dedicated to the principles of religious and racial tolerance for all peoples of Philadelphia and the nation.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Unbridled Grace...a book to read this Memorial Day weekend!

Recently I had the pleasure to read, Unbridled Grace: A True Story about the Power of Choice by Dr. Michael Norman. The book recounts the choices made by Dr. Norman as he begins his chiropractic medical career and the many twists and turns that unfortunately threaten to derail his career, his marriage and family and ultimately his moral convictions.
Dr. Norman recounts the events of his first part -time chiropractic position with an organization that seemingly is too good to be true and after happily working for the medical group it is revealed they are a clandestine front for Russian organized crime. The Russian crime fa├žade is in reality an elaborate operation to launder money, encourage insurance fraud and engage in many other acts of criminal deception and covert acts of conspiracy on an international scale.
The book then recounts the author’s many unfortunate encounters with the criminal justice system as he endures Federal indictment, raids on his home and office by Federal agents and the ever developing risk of incarceration and deprivation of contact with his wife, daughter and closest friends and colleagues.  Forced with the difficult decision to either remain silent or serve prison time for criminal felonies he did not commit, the author recounts the long journey both he and his wife encounter in order to vindicate his personal and professional integrity and restore his shattered life and career.
Despite the threat of Dr. Norman’s judicial demise, the author keenly recounts his conscious choice to invoke God’s power as assistance in the struggle against the forces maligned against him and his family. At this point the book really becomes a didactic primer that shows the great power of grace and conversion one experiences when entrusting the destination of personal struggles and difficulties to the miraculous power of God’s power and love.
Without any manifestation of God’s presence through any extraordinary means the author recounts the way God’s presence evolves in his life through prayer, reflection and meditation that brings consolation and finally delivery from Dr. Norman’s multilevel  battle between good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral actions.
The book shows the reader clearly that all of us can benefit from the power of God’s presence in our lives, and how much we truly need God’s assistance and grace in both difficult times and good ones. While reading Dr. Norman’s book, I was frequently reminded of the biblical stories of Job in the Old Testament; despite every sort of persecution and trial, Job remained faithful to God’s restorative grace and power. Dr. Norman’s experiences recount trials and great tribulations in a manner similar to the great woes of the Prophet Job, and again reveal the ongoing process of conversion to which God calls all of us.
Dr. Norman’s book is well written and very personal. His redaction of the unfortunate events that afflicted his life is intimately connected with examples of prayer and meditation that counter balance the narrative exposition of the unfortunate felonious events that are the center focus of this book. What is most refreshing however from a Christian perspective is the manner I which Dr. Norman develops and shows us his alternative method of dealing with his struggle…through the power of prayer and hope for God’s assistance that is unlimited and unbridled.
Dr. Norman’s book is published by Dog Ear Publishing and is available at their website: . Additionally, the book is available at, Barnes and Noble and booksellers throughout the United States.
Dr. Norman’s book is a great personal recounting of how all Christians struggle with the power of evil on a daily basis, and how sometimes things are not as they first appear to be in our first observations. However, just as Dr. Norman experienced unfortunate series of choices, there is always the hope of conversion towards the power of God’s love and grace, despite whatever offenses we have committed either intentionally or through duped choices.
When reading this book, one realizes the great power of God’s grace and the only thing we need to do as human beings is simply ask for His grace and assistance. Dr. Norman’s book keenly shows all of us that struggle that divine assistance is simply a prayer away….

Hugh J.McNichol is a Catholic author and journalist that comments on Catholic topics and issues. Hugh studied both philosophy and theology at Philadelphia’s Saint Charles Borromeo Seminary. He is currently in an advanced theology degree program at Villanova University in suburban Philadelphia. He writes daily at , . Hugh writes on his Irish Catholic parochial experiences at
He also contributes writings to The Irish Catholic, Dublin, British Broadcasting Company, and provides Catholic book reviews for multiple Catholic periodicals and publishers, including Vatican Publishing House.
Hugh lives in Delaware’s Brandywine Valley with his wife and daughter.
Hugh welcomes your comments via

Saturday, April 23, 2011