February 24, 2018

I’ll Believe It When I See It

Last week, I wrote about one of the challenges that I have as a lawyer, which is the failure of many of my clients to understand the nature and extent of the work I do for them. Much of what I do as an attorney is hidden from my clients.

When I represent a client on a personal injury case, if I’m able to get the case settled without having to file a lawsuit, it customarily takes from 18 to 22 months to conclude the case. If it becomes necessary to file a lawsuit, it can take up to five years from the date of the injury to get the case resolved.

During the time that I work on a client’s case, there is not much that I do that my client can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste. At the end of the case when I collect my fee, which can at times be substantial, I want my clients to understand the breadth and scope of the work that I performed for them. So what is it that I can do to help them understand the extent of the work that I do on their behalf?

From the beginning of time, man has been a visual creature. The serpent seduced Eve to bite into the apple in part because it was so visibly appealing. I suppose you could call the serpent the first advertising and marketing expert that ever existed. He crafted a compelling and irresistible message that enticed Eve to defy God.

After he described the apple as being beautiful, delicious, and life changing, he appealed to her pride by saying, “All you have to do is bite into it to be like God.” There is no doubt that the tree and its apples were beautiful and inviting to the eye. But it was her ability to actually see in her imagination the future that the serpent painted for her — a future that promised that she and Adam would have the same powers as their God — that convinced her to act.

I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s what Saint Thomas said after our Lord’s apostles reported to him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Our Lord later reprimanded him for his lack of faith and said, “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:29

February 17, 2018

The Challenge of Being in a Service Business

Last month, on January 21, 2018, I celebrated the 35th anniversary of the opening my law practice. I graduated from law school in May 1982, and received my license to practice law in November 1982. Two months later, on January 21, 1983, I rented an office from an established Peoria attorney.

Nine years later (1992), I hired my first associate attorney. At that time, I was 35 years old. The attorney that I hired was 10 years younger than me, and had just graduated from law school.

At the time that I hired the attorney, I had an office manager, two full-time secretaries, a full-time receptionist, and a part-time secretary. Hiring an attorney was a big step for me, and I didn’t feel as though I knew enough about running a business to continue to move forward without some assistance.

The same year that I hired the attorney, I signed a contract with Gerber Business Development Corporation to provide me with coaching on how to properly run and grow my business. I had committed to paying the attorney a large salary and I didn’t want to make any catastrophic mistakes in managing and growing my law firm.

I found out about the Gerber company when I read a book that was written by its founder, Michael Gerber. The title of the book was, The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. What Gerber said in his book about small businesses in America hit a raw nerve with me.

I had previously represented several business clients who had done well for a while and then, for one reason or another, had made mistakes that caused their businesses to fail. I had also handled several bankruptcies for individuals who had failed in their own businesses. Many of the businessmen that Gerber wrote about in his book reminded me of my own clients and their failure to succeed in their businesses.

February 10, 2018

The Death of a Special Christ-Like Priest

Georgette and I met on August 4, 1978, when we were both 21 years old. We were married in June 1980, while I was on break from law school. Ten months later, in March 1981, we had our first child, Harry. I graduated from law school in May of the following year.

We moved back to Peoria during the summer of 1982. At that time, Georgette was pregnant with our second child, Anna. I started my law practice in January 1983, and Anna was born the following month. We had our third child, Maria, 13 months later, in March 1984. When Maria was born, I was 26 years old.

It was during this period of time that my mom and my sister Colleen started commenting about how I had become too serious and I needed to lighten up. Colleen is a year and a half younger than me, and of my eight sisters, she was the one I was closest to while we were growing up.

When my mom and sister told me that I had become too serious, I hadn’t realized that my behavior had changed from the young, carefree guy who liked to have a good time and tease other people to an older guy who felt overwhelmed by the burdens of life.

But I wasn’t bothered by their comments about my being too serious. To me, that was what responsible adults did — they grew up and did their best to care for and support their families. In some respects, my mom and my sister were correct. My newfound responsibilities made me feel overwhelmed. At times, I felt as though I was doing well just to keep my head above water. Georgette and I had three babies in three years — Maria was born on Harry’s third birthday — and I was doing my best to support my family while managing my law practice.

Now, more than 30 years later, Georgette and I have 13 grandchildren, with three more on the way. I’m still serious, but I’m having more fun now than I’ve had in years. I’ve given myself permission to lighten up and revert to my childhood when I’m around my grandchildren. Their parents sometimes get irritated with me because they think I get their children riled up too much. But that’s OK with me, because I’m finally able to do what my mom and my sister wanted me to do all those years ago.

February 3, 2018

A Dream & The Greatest Showman

I recently joined my wife and some of our children at a local theater to see the movie, The Greatest Showman. The movie is a musical about the life of P.T. Barnum. It begins when Barnum is a boy. He is the son of a poor tailor who does work for a wealthy man. The man looks down on Barnum and his father, because of their lower-class status.

Barnum is a fun-loving boy who is infatuated with the wealthy man’s daughter. The man knows that Barnum likes his daughter and makes it clear to Barnum that he’ll never be good enough for her. After that, the daughter is sent to finishing school for several years. While she is away at school, she and Barnum continue to keep in contact by writing letters to each other.

Years later, when the daughter returns home from school, she is reunited with Barnum. They end up getting married and starting a family. After borrowing money from a local bank, Barnum buys an old museum building in downtown Manhattan. He then sets up Barnum’s American Museum, which showcases wax figures.

After struggling to make his new business work, Barnum’s children tell him that instead of featuring wax figures, he needs to have characters who are “alive.” Barnum likes the idea and begins searching for and hiring “freaks” to serve as performers. As he is rounding up his new cast of characters, Barnum sings the unique and mesmerizing song, Come Alive.

As Barnum’s new show gains popularity in New York, a reporter for the New York Herald is highly critical of Barnum and his “freak show.” The reporter’s columns about Barnum and his show stir up trouble among certain people in the community, including the upper-class members of the community.

To enhance his reputation with the upper-class, Barnum convinces Philip Carlisle, a local playwright from a wealthy family, to join him in his business. To raise Barnum’s status, Carlisle arranges a trip to Europe for Barnum and his cast of characters to meet Queen Victoria.

January 27, 2018

Why is That Church in a Music Video?

I’ve written before about how I was involved in music during my high school and college years. When I was a senior in high school, I formed a barbershop quartet with three of my friends. I did the same thing in college. While my high school quartet had a limited number of performances, my college quartet performed at several community functions and events.

I’ve always been a big fan of quartets and other a cappella groups. One of the groups that I currently pay attention to is Home Free, an American a cappella singing group that consists of five young men. Home Free got its big break in 2013, when it won a competition on the NBC television show, The Sing-Off. The grand prize that year was $100,000, plus a recording contract with Sony.

Last month, Home Free performed at the Peoria Civic Center. Georgette and I attended the show with some friends. My favorite Home Free song is How Great Thou Art. The music video of the song is posted on YouTube. The video has generated more than 13 million views.

In the video, the group is standing on a hill that is surrounded by several hundred acres of land. The scenery in the background includes cascading slopes and mountains. The beautiful harmony of the group is matched by the gorgeous land that surrounds them. The only building in the video is a small country church, which shows up in a field near the end of the video.

I have the video saved on an iPad that sits on a stand on my bathroom counter. Ordinarily, when I’m in the bathroom in the morning getting ready for work, I use the iPad to play educational, self-improvement, or religious recordings. In the evening while I’m getting ready for bed, I usually use the iPad to listen to music.

My son, Harry, and his wife Kathryn live about five minutes away from where my wife and I live. Because they live so close to us, they’re able to stop by our house to visit on a regular basis. Whenever they stop by for a visit, their two oldest sons, Harry and Liam, immediately start looking around the house for me. Harry is 5 years old and Liam is 3 years old.

January 20, 2018

Why Is It So Hard To Practice Patience?

It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, I complain directly to God about something that’s bothering me. Last week, my frustration with an ongoing issue finally got to the point that one of my thoughts went up to God in the form of a question: Why can’t you just have an angel appear to me in a dream and tell me what to do? I’m tired of playing these cat and mouse games where I’m always struggling to try to figure out what I should do.

Of course, I immediately felt guilty about addressing God in this manner. Who did I think I was? A prophet? King Solomon? Saint Joseph?

But I get extremely frustrated at times, because while I want to do the right thing, I often feel as though I need specific direction from God. Although I’ve always been good at solving problems, I don’t like it when I have to wait on God to reveal pieces of the puzzle that are needed to solve the problem I’m struggling with.

I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons God operates this way is to teach me the virtues of humility and patience. If He sent an angel to tell me how to solve my problems, I wouldn’t need to learn and practice humility and patience. I would simply wait for instructions from the angel and then take credit for being a special child of God.

Most of us fail to realize that in order to really be humble, we must first suffer humiliations. And we must accept whatever humiliations that come our way with love and gratitude. While humility is the most important of all virtues, the virtue of patience has to be among the top five virtues. Why? Because it’s so difficult to put into practice.

Last week, I wrote about the three grades of patience, which are, to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy. It would be impossible to put the three grades of patience into practice if we were to try to do it without God’s assistance.

January 13, 2018

The Difficulties That Arise After Years of Marriage

Last week, I wrote about a couple who was having financial problems because of the husband’s inability to work. Here’s what I wrote at the end of the article:
I’ve been a lawyer for more than 35 years. I’ve dealt with hundreds of couples who, after years of marriage, are facing an unexpected crisis. You would think that after being married for 20 or more years, married couples would be more patient and forgiving of each other than they were when they were newly married. But that’s usually not the case. The fact that they’ve spent years together seems to somehow inhibit their ability to practice real patience and forgiveness toward each other.

Instead of being patient and forgiving, they’re extremely frustrated and angry with each other. Why?

When couples get married, there’s always great hope for the future. With that hope comes the expectation that they will be able to work out all their problems. There is also an expectation that they will someday be able to overcome whatever bad habits or deficiencies they have.

Unfortunately, as each year passes, nothing really changes. Husbands and wives stop making the effort that is required to please each other. It’s almost as if they’ve been through too much together. They’re worn out and exhausted. They’ve run out of patience.

I’ve written before about a saying that is common in the business world: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This saying stands for the proposition that the more familiar you are with a person, the more contemptible that person becomes.

Over time, as people in the business world become more familiar with each other, their defects and weaknesses become more evident. They are exposed to and become tired of each other’s excuses, bad habits, broken promises, lack of respect, mood swings, angry outbursts, and lack of appreciation. Before long, their patience wears thin, and the slightest infraction causes them to treat each other with contempt.

January 6, 2018

Something Married Couples Face After Years of Marriage

Last week, I had an appointment with a man — I’ll call him Jim — who hired me eight months ago to represent him on a personal injury case. As usual, Jim brought his wife with him to the appointment. I’ve met with Jim and his wife on four occasions over the past eight months. Jim was injured when a large truck disregarded a stop sign and collided with his vehicle in the middle of an intersection. Because of his injuries, Jim has not been able to return to work. He’s been without an income for eight months.

Jim and his wife are in their late 30s. He’s a skilled tradesman who has been a member of a trade union for more than 20 years. Jim has never had any problem finding work, primarily because he is willing to travel to other states to work, when necessary. Since the accident, Jim’s financial situation has become progressively worse. He has had to borrow money to support his wife and children, and he also recently cashed in part of his retirement, so he could keep up with his bills.

Prior to the accident, Jim’s wife did not work outside the home. A few months after the accident, she felt that she had no other choice but to get a job, so she applied for and secured a job at a local business.

Each of the times I’ve met with Jim, he’s been upbeat and happy. He’s an intelligent, good-natured person who likes to talk and tell stories. His wife has come to all his appointments and has always been courteous and friendly — until last week.

Last week, when I entered the conference room to meet with them, Jim was the same as he’s always been, but his wife was quiet and had an angry look on her face. Her demeanor indicated to me that she and Jim either argued on the way to my office, or she was fed up with his situation.

I talked to Jim about his condition and he indicated to me that he was still receiving physical therapy three times a week. He said that he probably wasn’t going to be able to return to work for at least another 10 to 12 months. He told me that before the accident, he worked at the same trade for 20 years.

August 31, 2012

A Missing Virtue

Last week I told you that there are two virtues that we as baptized Catholics have that Jesus neither had nor needed.  The first is the virtue of faith.  The second is the virtue of hope.  Our Lord did not need the virtue of faith because He had the beatific vision.  He did not need the virtue of hope because he was already in possession of the heavenly kingdom.

The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines “hope” as follows:

The confident desire of obtaining a future good that is difficult to attain.  It is therefore a desire, which implies seeking and pursuing; some future good that is not yet possessed but wanted, unlike fear that shrinks from a future evil.  This future good draws out a person’s volition.  Hope is confident that what is desired will certainly be attained.  It is the opposite of despair.  Yet it recognizes that the object wanted is not easily obtained and that it requires effort to overcome whatever obstacles stand in the way.

Christian hope requires faith and desire – faith in God and the desire for everlasting life with Him in heaven.  We are driven by what our minds present to us as desirable.  Without faith, there can be no desire to reach heaven.

As children, our lives were filled with great hope and anticipation.  Unfortunately, as we grow older, the burdens and struggles of life overwhelm us and our youthful hope sometimes turns into discouragement and despair.

Do you ever feel discouraged?  If you do, the virtue of hope gives you the power to replace your discouragement with anticipation of the heavenly glory that awaits you.

Do you ever feel alone?  If you do, the virtue of hope holds the promise that when you reach heaven, you will share in the eternal companionship of all the angels and saints.

Do you ever feel threatened?  If you do, it is the virtue of hope that protects you and promises a time when you will rest for all eternity in the bosom of the Blessed Trinity.

August 25, 2012

Engaging In Conflict

A client (I’ll call him Joe) recently agreed to do some home improvement work for a couple.  Joe called me after he was almost finished with the job and told me that the couple was accusing him of not doing the work in accordance with their agreement.  Although he had an initial proposal that was signed by the couple, they had changed the plans a few times and added several new items to the original proposal.  Unfortunately, Joe didn’t have any of the changes or additions in writing.

When he called, the job was about 80 percent complete.  Upon completion, the couple would owe him $30,000.  My advice to Joe was to sit down with them and discuss all outstanding problems and issues.  I told him to make sure to bring along a trusted employee as a witness and to outline exactly how they were going to proceed with the project.  I emphasized that every problem and outstanding issue needed to be detailed in the outline, including how final payment would be made.  I told him that he and the couple needed to date and sign the written outline before any more work was done.

After I was done telling him how he should handle the situation, he said,

I appreciate your advice, but I don’t like confrontation.  I guess I’m just too nice to people.  What I’ll probably do is finish the job and then bill them for the work.  I’m afraid they won’t be willing to sign anything and they’ll tell me to get off their property.  If that happens I won’t get paid, and I really need the money to pay my vendors and other bills.  I can’t afford to lose the money that’s owed to me.

I responded by telling him that if the couple wasn’t willing to meet with him and sign a written outline as to how the project would be completed, they probably wouldn’t be willing to pay him when the job was completed.  In that case, he would be worse off because he would have invested additional time and resources in the project that he wouldn’t get paid for.

August 24, 2012

Capturing Jesus on YouTube

Have you ever wondered why Jesus chose to come to Earth during the time of Herod rather than now?  Wouldn’t it have been better if his sermons were recorded so all of us could see and hear Him on television and the Internet?  Wouldn’t it be a lot easier to convince others to become believers if we could show them online videos of our Lord’s miracles?  And wouldn’t we benefit from watching before-and-after videos of individuals who were mentally and physically healed by Jesus?

Why did our Lord decide to come live among us at a time when there were no video recorders, cameras, cell phones, movie theaters, televisions, copiers, or Internet?  He knew there was going to be a time in the future when all these devices and technology would be available and in use.  Why did he come then rather than now?

Consider this: There are two virtues that we as baptized Catholics have that our Lord did not need or have.  Do you know which two virtues I’m referring to?  One of the virtues is faith.  Our Lord did not need the virtue of faith because He had the beatific vision.

The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines “faith” as follows:

The acceptance of the word of another, trusting that one knows what the other is saying and is honest in telling the truth. The basic motive of all faith is the authority (or right to be believed) of someone who is speaking.  This authority is an adequate knowledge of what he or she is talking about, and integrity in not wanting to deceive.  It is called divine faith when the one believed is God, and human faith when the persons believed are human beings.

When Thomas refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead, he told his fellow apostles, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25).  When Jesus later appeared to Thomas, He said, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing” (John 20:27).  Jesus then said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed?  Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed” (John 20:29).

August 18, 2012

The Poison Pipeline

I recently settled an auto accident injury case for a university professor.  For purposes of discussion, I’m going to call him John (not his real name).  John told me that he originally came to the United States in the early 1980s to attend college.  After graduating, he accepted a job offer from a large U.S. corporation.  He eventually became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

John is currently employed as a professor at a university.  During one of our conversations, he told me that several of his students are from the country he came from.  When I asked him if the students are as dedicated to their studies as he was, he shook his head and said, “No.”

John told me that when he came to the United States, it took three generations for the descendents of foreigners to become “Americanized” (his word).  He said that when he started college in the United States, the American students partied all the time, while he and the other students from his country spent all their leisure time studying.  With a tone of frustration in his voice he told me that now the students who come to college from his country are already Americanized.  He said that they party as much as the Americans do.

When I asked John what his explanation was for the change in behavior between the time he was in school 30 years ago and now, he responded, “It’s the Internet.  All the young people in the other countries have access to the Internet and watch YouTube and replays of American movies and television shows.  They now have the ability to become completely immersed in the culture of America before they ever set foot in this country.  By the time they get here they behave the same way the American students behave.”

When I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s, the only media available was the print media (newspapers, magazines, etc.), three network television stations, and movies that were shown only in theaters.  During that period of time, the sexual revolution was in full bloom and the moral fabric of our country was starting to unravel.

August 16, 2012

A Mother and Her Son

In 451 bishops from throughout the Mediterranean traveled to Constantinople for the Council of Chalcedon.  At the council Marcian, the emperor of Constantinople, asked the patriarch of Jerusalem if he would provide the emperor with some relics of Mary, the Mother of God.  The emperor wanted to enshrine the relics in Constantinople.  The patriarch had to explain to the emperor that no such relics existed.

There were no relics because after Mary died, her body was placed in a tomb and, as was the case with Jesus, the tomb was later found to be empty.  The apostles who were present when Mary died concluded that her body had been taken up (assumed) into heaven by her Son.

Today (August 15) is the day we celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven.  Although Catholics generally believed that Mary was assumed into heaven after her death, it wasn’t until 1950 that Pope Pius XII formally proclaimed that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.

We know from our faith that there are three divine persons in the Blessed Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Although the Son of God is one person, He possesses two natures – one human and one divine.

Prior to the incarnation, Jesus was a divine person with a divine nature.  When He was conceived in the womb of Mary, He took on an additional (human) nature.

I have a question for you: Why did Christ choose to be born of a woman when He could have simply appeared among us?

Could the reason be that He wanted to prove for all time that He was a true man and that it was necessary for our redemption that a true (God) man die on the cross for our sins?

Another question worth considering: Why did our Lord take His mother directly into heaven after her death?

Could the reason be that He did not want her flesh – the same flesh that had given Him His human nature – to be corrupted?

August 11, 2012

An Eternal Contract

In the mid-1980s, I taught a Business Law class at Illinois Central College (ICC).  One of the areas of law that was covered in the class was contract law.  I taught my students that there are four conditions that are necessary in order for a contract (or agreement) to be legally valid and binding.  The four conditions are:

1. Offer – An offer must be made by an individual or company to sell goods or services to another individual or company;

2. Acceptance – The individual or company that receives the offer has to accept the terms and conditions of the offer;

3. Consideration – The individual or company that accepts the offer must agree to exchange something of value for the goods or services; and

4. Capacity – The parties to the agreement must have the legal and mental capacity to enter into an agreement.

As an example, let’s say that my 17-year-old daughter Christine agrees to buy a 1996 Chevrolet Impala from her 18-year-old friend.  The friend offers to sell his car for $2,000 as long as Christine agrees to pay him within 7 days.  Christine agrees to pay the $2,000.  In order to memorialize their agreement, the friend takes out a sheet of paper and writes down what they’ve agreed upon and both of them sign the paper.

After signing the agreement, Christine comes home and tells me that she agreed to buy the car.  The next day I stop by her friend’s house to take a look at the car and conclude that it’s a pile of junk.  When I get home, I tell Christine that I don’t want her to buy the car.  Christine tells her friend that she doesn’t want to go against her dad and refuses to pay for the car.  A week later, Christine’s friend files a lawsuit against her in small claims court.

Is the signed contract between Christine and her friend legally valid and enforceable?  The answer is “No.”  Only three of the four required conditions were met.  There was an offer, acceptance and consideration, but Christine did not have the legal capacity to enter into a contract.  In Illinois, a person has to be at least 18 years old in order to legally enter into a contract.  Now, if it had been my 20-year-old daughter Mary who signed the agreement with the friend, all four conditions would have been met and he would win his case against her in small claims court.

August 4, 2012

Living a Life of Quality and Personal Leadership

Last month, there was an event that caused me to stop what I was doing and think back to 1989.  That was the year I purchased The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, a book written by Stephen Covey.  The event that caused me to stop and think about Covey’s book was a report on the news that he had passed away.  Covey died on July 16, 2012, at the age of 79.  At the time of his death, he was a professor at the John Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University.

Although Stephen Covey wrote several books, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People was the book he was best known for.  It was eventually published in 38 languages, and to date, more than 25 million copies have been sold throughout the world.  Here are some of my favorite Stephen Covey quotes:

• “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”

• “Most of us spend too much time on what is urgent and not enough time on what is important.”

• “I am not a product of my circumstances.  I am a product of my decisions.”

• “Strength lies in differences, not in similarities.”

• “To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”

• “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved your way into!”

• “We are not human beings on a spiritual journey.  We are spiritual beings on a human journey.”

• “Words are like eggs dropped from great heights.  You could no more call them back than ignore the mess they left when they fell.”

• “If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control – myself.”

Although Covey was known as an author, businessman, educator, and motivational speaker, he was first and foremost a family man.  He believed that the most significant work a person could do in life and in the world was the work that went on within the four walls of the person’s home.