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.

May 30, 2013

School Is Never Out

Cavett Robert (1907-1997), a lawyer and founder of the National Speakers Association, used to say, “School is never out for the professional.”  During the time he was on the national speaking circuit, Cavett sold courses that consisted of workbooks and cassette tapes for people to take home to listen to and study on their own.  He and other well-known speakers emphasized the importance of “spaced repetition,” a learning system that encouraged a person to listen to each cassette a minimum of seven times so the material that was covered would become imbedded in the subconscious mind of the listener.

Can you imagine asking any person today to listen to a set of lengthy audio recordings a total of seven times each so he or she could properly learn the material presented?  Unfortunately, the trend for learning has been going in the opposite direction for the past 30 years.

You may have heard of the recent purchase by of the rights to an app that condenses entire articles to no more than a few sentences.  The app was created by a 17-year-old boy who was then awarded $30 million by Yahoo.  How is it that Yahoo could place such a high value on an app that summarizes the day’s news in a handful of sentences?

One study showed that while our grandparents had an average attention span of 20 minutes, the average attention span of today’s youth is nine seconds.  You read that correctly.  Nine seconds!  But how can anyone be surprised by that statistic when the most common forms of communication have become texting, tweeting, and posting snippets of information on Facebook?

In order to keep people’s attention, we now have to resort to shock and awe.  That’s the primary reason the multibillion-dollar entertainment industry is flourishing in this country.

If it is your desire to raise devout Catholic children, you must insist that they learn how to concentrate and study.  If Christ were on Earth with us today, I would expect that He would say, “School is never out for the devout Catholic.”  He would emphasize the importance of recapturing the intellectual curiosity we were born with, and He would encourage us to develop a deeper thirst for knowledge and understanding.

May 25, 2013

Mother’s Day Behind Bars

Get on the BusDuring the first week of May of each year, most Americans anticipate and plan for the one day that is set aside to honor the women who gave them life and cared for them while they were growing up — their mothers.  The dictionary defines a “mother” as “a female parent” or “a woman in authority.”  Unfortunately, that definition doesn’t really properly reflect the true nature of a mother.

The first person you ever had a relationship with was your mother.  That relationship began the moment you were conceived.  You utilized her flesh and blood to survive and grow.  While you were growing in her womb, you heard each and every one of her heartbeats.  You heard her talk and sing and cry.  You felt her pain and shared in her emotions.  You were continually protected and nourished by her.

For most of us, it was the bond that developed prior to our birth that is still with us today.  That bond is not easily broken.  Yes, there are selfish (and even evil) mothers who intentionally break off that bond before (or after) their children are born, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

The special bond between a mother and her child applies not only to humans but also to most other creatures.  We know we are opening ourselves up to the wrath of a mother when we go near a bear cub or disturb the nest of a bird.

So what happens to the bond between a mother and her child when the mother is sent away to prison?

About 15 years ago, while working with young female prisoners, most of whom were in prison for nonviolent drug-related offenses, Sister Suzanne Jabro, C.S.J., asked the prisoners what they needed.  The majority of them said what they wanted most was to see their children.  One prisoner told her, “Please help me.  I can’t live without touching my child!”

May 18, 2013

A Lesson from Iron Man 3

Iron Man 3Last weekend, I saw Iron Man 3 with Georgette and two of our daughters.  Iron Man 3 is the seventh installment of the Marvel Comic Universe of movies that includes Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Avengers.  The lead character in the Iron Man series is Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), a self-described genius, billionaire, playboy, and philanthropist.

In the original Iron Man movie, Stark was taken prisoner by terrorists and was subsequently transported to Afghanistan where he was held in a heavily guarded prison.  During his confinement, Stark, with the help of a fellow prisoner, invented an iron suit that protected him from weapons of war.  The iron suit was equipped with its own weapons and rocket propelled devices that allowed Stark to fly away from his enemies.

After escaping from Afghanistan, Stark returned home and improved the weaponry on his iron suit and its ability to fly through the air.  He then proceeded to fight off villains and save the world from destruction.

In Iron Man 2, Stark was confronted by two villains who teamed up against him.  With the help of a friend in the military who Stark had provided with an iron suit, he was eventually able to conquer the villains.

After Iron Man 2, Stark showed up again in The Avengers and teamed up with The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Captain America, and a couple of other superheroes.  Together they fought off an alien army that came from outer space to take over the Earth.  The final battle took place in New York City.

Iron Man 3 opens after Tony Stark has returned home from his most recent battle in New York.  For the first time in his life, Stark begins experiencing anxiety attacks, insomnia, and night terrors.  At one point, he tells the woman he loves that although he has been able to successfully fight off every bad guy that has come after him, what he fears most is that because of him, something bad is going to happen to her.

May 16, 2013

Cooperation With God

There was a time when all the Catholic grade schools in the country held an event every May that celebrated the crowning of Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth.  The event included a procession with music, followed by a crown of flowers being placed on the head of a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Among devout Catholics, the month of May has always been known as the month of Mary.

As children, we learned that Mary was the “New Eve.”  Like Eve, she was created without the stain of any sin.  Unlike Eve, she humbly submitted herself to God and fully cooperated with His divine will.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she had been chosen to be the mother of God, she agreed to cooperate with God by stating, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”  Luke 1:38.  What would have happened if she had refused to cooperate with God?  Would you and I be Catholics today?  Would there even be a Catholic Church?

The definition of “cooperate” is “to act or work with another or others” or “to associate with another or others for mutual benefit.”  We were all created to cooperate with God.  God has a plan for each of us.  In order for His plan to come to full fruition, we have to agree to cooperate with Him.  If we refuse to cooperate, He is limited in what He can accomplish through us.

The modern world fails to recognize that the primary way in which God acts is through others who have agreed to cooperate with Him.

How can we determine when we are being asked by God to specifically cooperate with Him on a certain matter?  The most effective way of knowing when He is asking for our cooperation is by turning to His mother for assistance and guidance.  As the mother of God and Queen of Heaven and Earth, she is the most qualified to teach us how to listen and respond to Him.

May 11, 2013

A Mother Makes An Obscene Gesture Toward Me

MotherhoodLast month, I stopped at Schnucks in Peoria to purchase a couple of items.  After I left the store, I drove alongside the curb in front of the store toward Glen Avenue.  The weather was warm and there were a lot of people walking near the area where I was driving.  After stopping at one of the small stop signs between Schnucks and Bed Bath & Beyond, I proceeded forward.

All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw that there were a couple of people within inches of the driver’s side of my car.  I don’t know why I didn’t see them when I pulled away from the stop sign.  After passing them, I realized they might have intended to cross in front of my car while I was stopped.

I looked in my rearview mirror and saw it was a woman with a young girl about four or five years old.  They were holding hands and, as they crossed behind my car, the woman glared at me and sent me a message by thrusting her left middle finger into the air.  She kept her finger up while she continued to hold the girl’s hand and walk toward the entrance of Bed Bath & Beyond.

My first thoughts were, Did I almost hit them with my car?  Why didn’t I see them?  My next thought was, My mom would never have behaved that way in front of one of her children.  (I may have been wrong, but I assumed that the girl was the woman’s daughter.)

One of my daughters, Maria, lives near Chicago with her husband, Joe, and their two young daughters, Grace and Katie.  Grace is two years old and Katie is four months old.  Last weekend, Georgette and I went to Chicago.  When we returned home, we brought Maria and her two daughters with us to stay at our house for the week.

After we arrived home on Sunday evening, we went downstairs to rearrange the furniture in our spare bedroom.  When we were about halfway done, I realized that I needed something from upstairs, so I left the room to go look for what I needed.  A few minutes after I left, Georgette called up to me and said that they needed my help moving a couple more items.  I told her that I would come downstairs to help in a few minutes.

May 7, 2013

Believers vs. Nonbelievers

PrayerReallyChangeThingsI recently read an article on the Internet that discussed a recent study that was performed by McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.  The study found that belief in God can help treat depression.

Over the course of a year, researchers followed 159 patients who were involved in the Behavioral Health Partial Hospital Program.  Participants were asked to rate on a five-point scale their belief in God and their expectations for treatment.

Levels of depression, well-being, and self-harm were measured at the beginning and end of the program, and researchers found that the patients who had disclosed that they had either “no” or only “slight” belief in God were twice as likely not to respond to treatment as the patients who had expressed higher levels of belief.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, states, “Our work suggests that people with a moderate to high level of belief in a higher power do significantly better in short-term psychiatric treatment than those without, regardless of their affiliation.”

For those of us who believe in God, the results of the study are no surprise.  Not only do we benefit from the healing grace we receive when we pray for assistance, we also benefit from the trust and confidence we have in God that He will assist us in our treatment and recovery.

I read through the comments that were posted under the article, and here’s a sampling of what some of the nonbelievers said:

•    Replacing one mental illness with another is not a cure.

•    Believing in Santa can bring you toys.  Prayer is just another letter to Santa by another name.

•    It’s good that believers can be saved from their depression.  What do they take for their delusion?

•    What rubbish!  All it does is misguide the person who is depressed.