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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
On the second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading for the Mass (Luke 9:28-36) described how Jesus took three of His disciples – Peter, John, and James – up on a mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying, His disciples fell asleep. When they woke up, Peter and his companions saw Jesus, Moses, and Elijah standing together. Their bodies were radiant from being in a glorified state.
When Moses and Elijah began to depart from Jesus, Peter reactively said, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (Luke 9:33) While Peter was speaking, Moses and Elijah entered into the cloud, and a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my beloved son, listen to him.” (Luke 9:35)
So why was Peter the only one of the three men who stepped forward with a plan about how to preserve what was taking place?
Last year I listened to an interview of Dave Logan, the author of two best-selling business books, Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization and The Three Laws of Performance: Rewriting the Future of Your Organization and Your Life.
In the interview, Logan was asked to give his definition of leadership. He answered by saying, “Leadership is very simple. If you look over your shoulder and people are following you, you’re a leader. It’s not any more complicated than that.” He later said, “Leadership’s about two things. It’s about making something happen that wasn’t going to happen anyway, and it’s about creating other leaders who can do the same.”
The reason Peter stepped forward and proposed a plan of action to Jesus was that he was a natural leader. He didn’t need to think before he talked. He automatically assumed a leadership position and came up with a plan to make something happen that wasn’t going to happen anyway.
About 15 years ago, while I was at a silent men’s retreat, during a talk about the importance of confession, Fr. John Hardon revealed that he went to confession almost every day. Later that day, while I was meeting with him, I asked, “Father, you said that you go to confession almost every day. What sins do you commit that make you feel as though you need to go to confession every day? I know you don’t lie or steal. You’re never late for anything, you’re always working, and I would bet that you don’t have any problems with coveting your neighbor’s wife or goods. What is it that makes you think you need to go to confession every day?”
Fr. Hardon smiled and responded, “If I told you, you’d be surprised.” Without even thinking, I shot back, “Surprise me, Father! You’re the holiest man I ever met. I can’t imagine you doing anything on a daily basis that would make you feel the need to go to confession. What are you doing every day that’s so offensive to God?”
Fr. Hardon appeared to be surprised by my persistence. He looked at me and said in a kind tone of voice, “Let’s just say that most of my sins have to do with pride, and that’s all I’m going to say about it.”
At the time of our conversation, Fr. Hardon was in his early 80s. Although he was frail and had ongoing health problems, his mind was as sharp as ever.
I had no idea what Fr. Hardon was talking about when he told me that most of his sins were related to pride. Up until that time, I had never confessed any sin that I had associated with pride. The sin of pride was nowhere to be found on my radar screen.
Of the seven capital sins – pride, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, and sloth – the most deadly is pride. It was the sin of pride that led Lucifer to defy God and declare, “I will not serve!” and it was an appeal to pride that persuaded Eve to defy her Creator: “…you shall be as Gods, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:6)
The Modern Catholic Dictionary’s definition of Lent includes the following: “Originally the period of fasting in preparation for Easter did not, as a rule, exceed two or three days. But by the time of the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) forty days were already customary. And ever since, this length of time has been associated with Christ’s forty-day fast in the desert before beginning his public life.”
On the first Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading for the Mass included a reference to the forty-day fast of Christ and then provided details of the three instances in which He was tempted by the devil. (Luke 4:1-13)
The most effective temptations are structured in a way that appeal to a person’s pride, while at the same time taking advantage of his or her weaknesses. That’s the way the devil structured the three temptations that were directed at Christ.
The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines “pride” as:
An inordinate esteem of oneself. It is inordinate because it is contrary to the truth. It is essentially an act or disposition of the will desiring to be considered better than a person really is. Pride may be expressed in different ways: by taking personal credit for gifts or possessions, as if they had not been received from God; by glorying in achievements, as if they were not primarily the result of divine goodness and grace; by minimizing one’s defects or claiming qualities that are not actually possessed; by holding oneself superior to others or disdaining them because they lack what the proud person has; by magnifying the defects of others or dwelling on them. When pride is carried to the extent that a person is unwilling to acknowledge dependence on God and refuses to submit his or her will to God or lawful authority, it is a grave sin. The gravity arises from the fact that a person shows contempt for God or of those who take his place. Otherwise, pride is said to be imperfect and venially wrong.
When my son, Harry, was six years old, his CCD teacher asked her students what they wanted to be when they grew up. One by one, all the students announced to the class what their desires were for the future. When it was Harry’s turn, he said, “I want to go to pope school and become the pope.” One thing that can be said about Harry is that he has always had ambition.
Prior to his marriage in 2010, Harry would have been eligible to become pope. Technically speaking, any baptized Catholic male who is not married is eligible. Traditionally, however, it has been a cardinal who has been chosen to lead the Catholic Church.
I thought about Harry’s desire to become the pope last Monday (February 11) when I read about Pope Benedict’s announcement that he was going to resign. After making his announcement at a meeting of Vatican cardinals, Pope Benedict said:
… in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of St. Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary – strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.
In my opinion, the key phrase in Pope Benedict’s statement was “in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes.” There was a time, not very long ago, when the church could run on auto pilot after an elderly, infirm pope had lost the mental capacity to govern. If it took a pope three or four years to die after becoming incapacitated, it was no big deal, because there were capable individuals in place to make important day-to-day decisions.
Speaking of rapid changes, within the past two years we’ve seen revolutions in Libya and Egypt result in the fall of the Libyan and Egyptian governments, which were replaced by Islamic fundamentalists who are now systematically persecuting and murdering Christians. The rapid success of the revolutions in both of those countries would have been impossible 10 or more years ago. The ability of the leaders to use Twitter, Facebook, and other social media to instantly communicate with tens of thousands of people at one time allowed them to organize and launch massive demonstrations before the local police were even aware of what was going on.
Every Ash Wednesday we hear the following words while a priest places ashes on our foreheads in the form of a cross: “Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” It was in the book of Genesis that we were told that man was created from the dust of the Earth and will ultimately return to dust. (Genesis 3:19)
As a result of original sin, our flesh, organs, and bones will begin to decompose after our death and eventually turn into dust. There are only two individuals who have escaped this fate: Jesus Christ and His mother, Mary. Rather than being left on Earth to decompose, after their deaths Christ ascended body and soul into heaven and Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven.
It was John the Evangelist, the only apostle who did not suffer a martyr’s death, who said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:1,14)
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 “became flesh” and took on an additional (human) nature.
The foundation of our Catholic faith is our belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ. In order to be true Christians, we must first believe that Christ was divine – that He is the second person of the Blessed Trinity. Is it difficult for some to believe in His divinity? Yes; even Thomas, one of His own apostles, doubted His divinity after being told that Christ had appeared to the other apostles after His death on the cross.
On January 29, 2013, the faith-based marriage enrichment organization, Worldwide Marriage Encounter, announced the winners of its 2013 Longest Married Couple Project. The winners were John and Ann Betar of Fairfield, Connecticut. John, who is 101 years old, and Ann, who is 97, celebrated their 80th wedding anniversary on November 25, 2012.
John and Ann grew up in the same ethnic (Syrian) neighborhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut. John fell in love with Ann after he started driving her and her friends to high school every day. When Ann was 17 years old, her dad arranged for her to marry a man who was 20 years her senior. Horrified at the prospect of being forced into a marriage, Ann asked a friend to pick her up at her house and take her to John, who at that time was 21 years old. They then drove to Harrison, New York, and got married.
The year they were married (1932), the cost of a New York daily newspaper was two cents, a gallon of gas was 10 cents, a loaf of bread was six cents, a postage stamp was three cents, and a movie ticket was 22 cents.
When they got married, John had a well-paid job operating a fruit stand. He owned his own car, a Ford Roadster, which he had purchased for $539. Later, in 1938, he opened up his own grocery store, Betar’s Market, in the south end of Bridgeport.
John and Ann had five children, 14 grandchildren, and 16 great-grandchildren. In a recent interview, Ann said, “The worst thing that can happen to two people is to lose a child, whether they’re two years old or 60. We’ve lost two of them, and that’s the hardest thing to face.” Their son John died in 2000, at the age of 60, and their daughter Joan died in 2006, at the age of 68.
As Christians and founding members of the St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Church in Bridgeport, John and Ann Betar behaved the old-fashioned way – they stayed married.
I haven’t been feeling well for the past couple of days. I finished writing my meditation on the sin of sloth yesterday, and all I want to do right now is go home, take some Advil and decongestant, and get some sleep. My head is clogged up, my eyes are watering, and I’m having chills.
It’s on days like this that I long for eternity – a “place” where there is no pain, suffering, or conflict; a “place” where I can sit with our Lord, our Lady, a few of the saints, and my loved ones, to eat a nutritious meal and enjoy each other’s company; a “place” where the sun is always shining but never too hot; a “place” where I can listen to heavenly music and sing in the heavenly choir. (You probably don’t know this, but I almost majored in music in college; however, I didn’t want to get stuck teaching unappreciative high school students for minimal pay, so I ended up majoring in accounting and minoring in music.)
So why don’t I go home and get some sleep? I could easily justify it if I wanted to. I’m great at persuading myself to surrender when I don’t feel like doing something. But here’s one problem that I have: This voice in my head keeps ordering me not to feel sorry for myself or give in to laziness.
The voice I’m hearing is Fr. John A. Hardon’s. Although he left this Earth twelve years ago for that “place” I happen to be longing for right now, I can still hear his voice in my head.
It was at the silent retreats for men – which I attended for eleven straight years, from 1989 through 1998 – that Fr. Hardon left his impression on me. Most of the seventy or so men who showed up each year were business owners and professionals. Each year, Fr. Hardon focused at least one of his twelve sessions (meditations) on the sin of laziness.
Do you know the first words of Jesus Christ that were recorded in the Bible? His mother asked Him why He had not told her where He had been for three days, and the twelve-year-old Son of God responded, “How is it that you sought Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)
What was this young boy talking about? What was His Father’s business?
Do you know the last words that were spoken by Jesus immediately prior to surrendering His life to His Father? They were, “It is finished.”
What was our Lord talking about? What was He finished with?
On both occasions – when He was going about His Father’s “business” and when He said that “it” was “finished” – He was referring to the work He was sent to perform on Earth.
The word “business” is defined as “purposeful activity” or “an immediate task or objective” or “a particular field of endeavor.” Similarly, “work” is defined as “activity in which one exerts strength or faculties to do or perform sustained physical or mental effort to overcome obstacles and achieve an objective or result.”
As children, we were taught that we were created by God to know, love, and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next. Saying that we were created to know, love, and serve God can be translated into saying that we were created to work. We were put on this Earth to be about our Father’s business from at least the age of twelve until we are “finished.” When are we finished? When we die.
That brings us to the sin of sloth. The simple definition of “sloth” is this: the failure to engage in the work – which includes the physical, mental, and spiritual activity – that we were created by God to perform. The Modern Catholic Dictionary provides a more formal definition of sloth: