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.
Every year during the Christmas Season, there are articles published that are critical of the song, Mary Did You Know. As expected, in early December, Fr. Robert McTeigue, SJ, published an article with the title, “The Problem With ‘Mary Did You Know.’” In the article, Fr. McTeigue criticized the following lyrics: “Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”
Fr. McTeigue’s complaint was that the lyrics imply that Mary was a sinner who needed to be delivered from her sins. This is contrary to Catholic doctrine which states that Mary was preserved free from all stain of original sin from the moment of her immaculate conception, which allowed her to be a pure vessel in which the Son of God could be conceived and born without ever having come into contact with sin.
Another article that was published before Christmas stated that the song implies that Mary was not fully aware that she was the mother of God. The article went on to say that anyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that Mary possessed knowledge that she was the Mother of God, not only because of the Angel Gabriel’s announcement (Luke 1:26-56), but also because of her “song of praise” — known as “The Magnificat” — which indicated that she was aware of her role in the salvation of mankind. Here are the first two sentences of the Magnificat:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his handmaid. For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; for he who is mighty, has done great things for me and holy is his name. (Luke 1:46-49)
Whenever I read anything about the life of Mary, I think about a book that I read in the early 1980s, while I was in law school. The title of the book was, The Life of The Blessed Virgin Mary. The content for the book was taken from the recorded visions of the well-known 19th-century Catholic mystic, Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774 – 1824).
You may have seen the recent report describing how Pope Francis made a telephone call to a kiosk in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to cancel his daily newspaper delivery service. The call was made a week after the former cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected as our new pope. The person who answered the telephone, Daniel Del Regno, is the son of the owner of the kiosk. When he answered the phone, Del Regno heard a familiar voice say, “Hi Daniel, it’s Cardinal Jorge.”
Del Regno immediately assumed it was a friend of his who was imitating the former archbishop of Buenos Aires. The newly elected pope reassured him by saying, “Seriously, it’s Jorge Bergoglio. I’m calling you from Rome.”
Pope Francis proceeded to thank Del Regno for delivering the paper and extended best wishes to his family. In an interview, Del Regno said that when Cardinal Bergoglio left for Rome, Del Regno asked him if he thought he would be elected pope. The cardinal responded, “That’s too hot to touch. See you in 20 days. Keep delivering the paper.”
Prior to ending the call, Del Regno asked the pope if he would ever return to Buenos Aires. Pope Francis told him that for the time being it would be difficult to return home but that he would remember the people of Buenos Aires in his prayers. The pope then asked Del Regno to pray for him.
During an interview, Del Regno’s father, Luis Del Regno, said that they were paid to deliver the morning newspaper to the former cardinal’s residence every day but that every Sunday the cardinal “would come by the kiosk at 5:30 a.m. and buy the La Nacion [newspaper]. He would chat with us for a few minutes and then take the bus to Lugano, where he would serve mate [tea] to young people and the sick.”
The newspapers delivered to Cardinal Bergoglio were always folded and secured with a rubber band. The elder Del Regno said that at the end of every month, the cardinal always returned the 30 rubber bands he had saved from the previous month’s newspapers.
Last month, a “David vs. Goliath” case was argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. The “David” in the case is Vernon Hugh Bowman, a 75-year-old farmer from Indiana. The “Goliath” is the mighty Monsanto Company.
Monsanto is an American multinational agricultural biotechnology corporation that has its headquarters in Creve Coeur, Missouri. At one time, it was one of the top chemical companies in the United States. You may have heard of some of the controversial chemical compounds used in products it manufactured: Agent Orange, PCBs, and the insecticide DDT. Monsanto sold off its chemical operations in the late 1990s so it could focus on agricultural biotechnology.
One of Monsanto’s most popular products is its genetically modified seeds, which are known as Roundup Ready seeds. These seeds were specifically designed by Monsanto to survive applications of “Roundup,” the company’s number one-selling weed killer. The use of Roundup Ready seeds enables farmers to kill weeds with Roundup without harming the crops.
Roundup Ready seeds have become so popular that they now account for approximately 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States.
In order to purchase and use Roundup Ready seeds, farmers are required to sign a contract that prohibits them from saving and replanting seeds from the resulting crop. Since the offspring of the Roundup Ready seeds contain the same genetically engineered trait as the original seeds, farmers are not allowed to save and replant the second-generation seeds. If farmers wish to benefit from the genetically modified seeds, they are required to buy new seeds from Monsanto for each new planting season.
Since the invention of Roundup Ready seeds, Monsanto has sued farmers on 146 different occasions for violating the terms of the contracts they signed. The cases have involved farmers in 27 states. Of the 146 cases, Monsanto has settled 135 in its favor and won the 11 cases that went to trial.
What was it that Jesus wrote on the ground when the gang of scribes and Pharisees brought the woman to Him and told Him that because she had been caught in the act of adultery, the law of Moses commanded that she be stoned to death? How long was He writing before the eldest man in the group walked away? Did He intentionally knock out the eldest man first because he was the leader of the group? Did He write new information after each man left? Those are some of the questions that came to mind when I listened to the Gospel reading last Sunday (the fifth Sunday of Lent). The relevant part of the Gospel is as follows:
But Jesus bowing himself down wrote with his finger on the ground. When therefore they continued asking him, he lifted himself up and said to them: He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her. And again stooping down, he wrote on the ground. But they hearing this, went out one by one, beginning with the eldest. (John 8:6-9)
Imagine that your name is Ramose and you’re the eldest man in the gang of scribes and Pharisees who want to stone the woman to death. When Jesus begins writing on the ground, He writes down your name and underlines it. Underneath your name, He writes the name of your mistress. He does this immediately after announcing that the first man who is without sin should cast the first stone.
You are horrified that Jesus knows about your mistress. You become fearful that Jesus will disclose information about your mistress to your wife and the community that holds you in high esteem. In order to avoid such a disclosure, you immediately turn around and leave, hoping that Jesus will refrain from revealing the information about you.
After you walk away, Jesus erases what he wrote with His hand and writes the name of Hunefer, the next eldest man among the scribes and Pharisees. Underneath Hunefer’s name, Jesus writes the word “corrupt” and then the name of a man who bribed Hunefer to overlook a violation of a law that the man had committed. Immediately realizing that he will lose his position of respect and authority among his peers if word gets out about the bribery, he scurries away like a cockroach that has a light shined on it.
There’s a well-known Internet marketing expert with whom I have consulted on a few occasions. His name is Rich Schefren. I first learned about Rich when I read the Internet Business Manifesto, a report that he wrote and released in 2006. Rich is one of two experts in the marketing world who have had the most influence over me. The other marketing expert is Dan Kennedy.
Both Rich and Dan teach that, in order to influence a person to purchase your product or service, you have to connect with the person on both an emotional and an intellectual level. At a marketing conference where Rich spoke a couple of years ago, he shared a true story about a friend of his (John) who lives in New York and is adept at identifying the type of message that is needed to persuade a person to make a buying decision.
On one occasion, John was going out on a date for the first time with a woman he really liked. He made reservations at an expensive upscale New York restaurant, picked up his date, and parked his car about a block away from the restaurant. While he and his date were walking to the restaurant, they passed a homeless man who was standing on a sidewalk near the restaurant. The message on the homeless man’s sign said, “Homeless, Please Help.”
In an attempt to impress his date, John stopped and told the homeless man that he could make a lot more money if he changed the message on his sign. John told the homeless man that if he allowed John to change the message, John would give him two dollars, and when John was done eating at the restaurant, if the homeless man was still in the same place using John’s message, John would give him an additional five dollars.
The homeless man agreed, and John wrote a different message on the other side of the sign. Two hours later, when John and his date came out of the restaurant, they approached the homeless man and asked how he had done. The man told them that he had collected sixty dollars while they were in the restaurant, which was ten to twelve times more than he normally would have collected over a similar two-hour time period.
Last Sunday (the fourth Sunday of Lent) the Gospel reading for the Mass (Luke 15:1-3, 11-32) described how the prodigal son asked and received half of his father’s inheritance, moved to a distant region, then proceeded to squander the money he received on alcohol and women.
After he ran out of money, the son had no other choice but to go to work for a farmer, feeding and tending to the farmer’s swine. When he realized that the swine were eating better than he was, he decided to go home, apologize for his behavior, and ask his father for a job as a hired hand. As soon as the father saw his son, he ran up to him, kissed him, and ordered the servants to dress him in fine clothing and to prepare a feast so they could all celebrate his return.
Upon finding out how well the son was being treated, the other son was furious and refused to participate in the feast. He complained that his father had never shown any appreciation for his loyalty and dedication.
Although the father would have been completely justified in being angry with the prodigal son, he showed heroic kindness, forgiveness, and gratitude in responding to his son’s return.
On the other hand, the brother’s anger was completely unjustified.
He conveniently overlooked the fact that when his father split up the estate, he received the same share of the inheritance as the prodigal son. He also failed to take into consideration the fact that he was born into a wealthy family and was blessed in ways that his father’s servants and hired hands could only dream about. Instead of showing gratitude for what his father had done for him over the years, he lashed out in anger against his father.
There are times when we all feel slighted or cheated out of something we feel we deserve. There are also times when we feel as though another person has received favors or recognition that should have instead gone to us.
One of my younger brothers, John, has lived in Minnesota with his wife and children for the past 26 years. He makes one or two trips to Peoria each year to visit with the family. A couple of years ago, he came to spend a few days and attend a family get-together, and he and I spent some time talking and catching up on what had been going on in our lives since the last time we talked.
At one point, John asked me if I had ever seen Bill O’Reilly’s show on the Fox News channel. I answered that I had seen the show on a few occasions. He asked me what I thought of O’Reilly, and I responded, “He’s all right, but there’s something about him that rubs me the wrong way. I don’t like the way he acts. He’s obnoxious. I get irritated when I watch his show.”
I asked John what he thought of O’Reilly and he said, “I like watching his show. A lot of what he does reminds me of you.” Of course, at that point I thought, I just told you that O’Reilly is obnoxious and that he irritates me, and you’re now saying that he reminds you of me? Am I that obnoxious? Do I irritate people the same way he irritates me?
I followed up with the question, “Why does he remind you of me?” John responded, “Because he’s not afraid to speak the truth. He doesn’t care what people think – he just says it like it is.”
In 1978, after Georgette and I started dating, a guy she knew who had previously asked her out, and was turned down, told her he was shocked that she was dating me. He said, “Harry’s the most obnoxious guy I ever met.” When Georgette told me about the comment, I considered it a badge of honor and told her, “He’s just jealous because you’re dating me and not him.”
On another occasion, when I was in college, I came down with the flu and was out of commission for a few days. After about a week, when I was back to full strength, I got into an argument with one of my roommates. After I had verbally beaten him down, he blurted out, “I see that you’ve recovered from being sick and that you’re now back to full obnoxiousness!”
A couple of weeks ago Americans were treated to the Oscars (also known as the Academy Awards), the annual ceremony where awards are given to actors, directors, and other individuals who have important roles in the making of movies. As usual, there was an area where the actors and actresses posed for pictures before walking into the auditorium where the ceremony took place.
It is at the Oscars and other ceremonies, such as the Golden Globe Awards, the GRAMMY Awards, and the MTV Video Music Awards, where some of the most beautiful and talented people in the world show up to be photographed and honored. We identify these people as celebrities. Unfortunately, for most of them the gifts they were given by God are used for the primary purpose of acquiring great worldly wealth and recognition. They are adored by their fans and adorned with the finest jewelry and clothing.
I thought of all those beautiful people last Sunday (the third Sunday of Lent) while I was listening to the Gospel reading for the Mass. The Gospel included the well-known parable of the fig tree,
A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none. And he said to the dresser of the vineyard: Behold, for these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it done therefore: why cumbereth it the ground? But he answering, said to him: Lord, let it alone this year also, until I dig about it, and dung it. And if happily it bear fruit: but if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down. (Luke 13:6-9)
According to the dictionary, within the context of bearing fruit, the definition of the word “bear” is “to give birth” or “to produce as yield” or “to permit growth.” The word “fruit” is defined as “a product of fertilization in a plant with its modified envelopes or appendages; specifically, the ripened ovary of a seed plant and its contents.”
There was a period of time in the mid-1990s when Georgette was homeschooling five of our children at the same time, all of whom were at different grade levels. During that time, she was also taking care of our two youngest children, who were not yet in school. Because she was so overwhelmed, we had several conversations about putting some or all of our children in the school system.
Although we eventually decided to enroll our younger children as part-time students at Illinois Central College when they turned 15, I was always against sending them to grade school or high school. My animosity toward the school system was primarily based on my own negative experiences in grade school, combined with my personal observations of how some of my brothers’ and sisters’ belief systems were adversely affected by their teachers and peers while they were in school.
In many respects, Georgette felt the same way I did about the school system. Her parents had immigrated to the United States when she was an infant. Because she was not fluent in English when she started grade school, she had trouble understanding what was going on in the classroom and was discriminated against by several of her teachers and fellow students. She knew from personal experience how cruel children can be toward their peers, and she didn’t want to expose any of our children to the types of cruelty she was forced to endure.
Every time Georgette and I engaged in a serious discussion about whether to place our children in school, my position was the same. I always ended up telling her, “Don’t worry about teaching a full curriculum. Until you get some breathing room, just focus on teaching them the faith and how to read. As long as they’re well-grounded in their faith and are good readers, they’ll eventually catch up on everything else.”