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).
If you pay any attention to the national news, you know about the mass murder of 59 people last month by a lone gunman in Las Vegas. You also know about the terrorist in New York who killed eight people by driving a rented truck into a crowded bike path. In addition to the killings, within the past month, there has been a wave of news stories about several well-known Hollywood male executives and celebrities who have been accused of routinely abusing women and getting away with it.
There’s something that the killers and the abusive men have in common. Do you know what it is?
Prior to their criminal acts, these men’s hearts turned cold and black. Over time, the evil values that they embraced became embedded within their hearts.
With each of the incidents that were referenced above, the mainstream media followed the same path that they always follow. They spent an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out what was going on in the minds of the men who had committed the crimes. As usual, they couldn’t figure out why the men had behaved the way they did.
While the media always consults with so-called experts to figure out what’s going on in the minds of the criminals, they should instead be focusing on what’s going on in the hearts of the criminals.
Behavioral experts have been trying to explain and understand human behavior for centuries. The oldest model for understanding human behavior dates back to at least the time of the Greeks and maybe even to the time of the Egyptians.
Back then, experts focused on three elements of human behavior. The first element of behavior was known as “cognitive,” which is related to the conscious, intellectual activity of the brain (thinking, reasoning, and remembering).
The second element of behavior was known as “affective,” which is related to the emotional and feeling attributes that each of us have.
The year was 1970. I was in the eighth grade at St. Mark’s school in Peoria. I remember the day like it was yesterday. One of my classmates — I’ll call him Paul — brought a Polaroid picture to school to show to his friends. Paul and I were the same age — 13 years old. The person in the picture was the girlfriend of Paul’s older brother. She and Paul’s brother were in high school. She was a student at Academy of Our Lady and Paul’s brother was a student at Spalding Institute.
The picture showed the girl lying on a couch with no clothes on. She was facing the camera and was obviously posing for the picture. It was the type of picture you would see in Playboy magazine, and she was behaving like a “Playboy Bunny.” It didn’t take very long before a crowd of boys gathered around Paul to see the picture his brother had taken. Shortly after the crowd gathered, one of our teachers, James Lediger, noticed the crowd and came over to see what was going on.
By the time Paul saw Mr. Lediger, it was too late. Lediger had already seen that there was a picture and ordered the boy to turn it over to him. Lediger immediately tore up the picture into small pieces, and then asked Paul where he had obtained the picture. Then he gave a stern warning to Paul that if he ever brought another picture to school, he would be disciplined.
That incident happened 47 years ago. At the time, there were only two ways for consumers to get a photograph printed. The first way was to use a Polaroid camera, which printed the picture directly from the camera. The second was to use a camera that had film inside. In order to get pictures printed, the film had to be developed by a company that was in the business of developing and printing photographs. Back then, none of the consumer-based film processing companies were willing to print nude photographs.
With another April Fools’ Day having come and gone, I thought I’d share some thoughts about how we fool ourselves. April Fools’ Day is all about dreaming up ways to fool other people, but on every other day of the year, we fool ourselves into thinking that we’re something we’re not.
About 20 years ago, while I was attending Mass at Sacred Heart Church in downtown Peoria, I heard a homily from a priest about how we all have a way of fooling ourselves. The priest was Fr. Marne Breckensiek, who at that time was the pastor of Sacred Heart Church.
Fr. Marne started his homily by talking about how when we drive a vehicle, we have to always make sure to check our side view mirror before we change lanes. He reminded us that when we check our mirror, there is always an area to the side and back of our vehicle that is not picked up by the mirror. That area is customarily called “the blind spot.”
After he reminded us of the blind spot, Fr. Marne pointed out that each of us has one or more blind spots (faults) that may be obvious to others, but that we are unaware of. He indicated that we have an obligation to ourselves and to the people around us to identify those faults and to work on eliminating them.
My daughter Teresa recently told me about a boy in one of her college classes who is incredibly lazy. She said that everyone in class, including the teacher, knows that he’s lazy. The problem is that the boy doesn’t realize how lazy he really is, and he isn’t aware of the fact that everyone around him has noticed how lazy he is. I expect that the boy would be horrified if he was made aware of the fact that his teacher and classmates have noticed that he has a serious problem with laziness.
Because of our fallen human nature, each of us has faults that are tied to one or more of the seven capital sins: pride, lust, anger, covetousness, envy, gluttony, and sloth.
Last week, I wrote about how I was able to convince a prosecuting attorney to agree to reduce a felony charge to a misdemeanor for a client who had been accused of committing a serious crime. The attorney accused me of being a whiner when I refused to stop pushing him to work with me. In the end, I got what I wanted; he agreed to reduce the charge.
I had forgotten about the incident with the prosecuting attorney until I heard an audio recording of an interview with Donald Trump. The interview was conducted by Chris Cuomo and was posted on the CNN website. Here’s the exchange that took place between Cuomo and Trump:
CUOMO: Rich Lowry says that you’re the most fabulous whiner in the world. And you’ve shown that if you were to sit across from Putin, or Mexico, or the Middle East leaders, that as soon as they said something you didn’t like you would become a whiner and snipe-y, and you’d start attacking them as losers, and not get anything done. What do you say to that?
TRUMP: I am the most fabulous whiner. I do whine, because I want to win. I’m not
CUOMO: Are whiners winners?
TRUMP: — and I’m a whiner and I keep whining and whining until I win, and I’m gonna win for the country and I’m gonna make our country great again.
CUOMO: How do you work with government?
TRUMP: Chris, I’ve been better at working with government.
CUOMO: You can’t just come back at everybody when they insult you!
TRUMP: Hey, Chris? I’m worth more than $10 billion!
If you’ve been paying any attention to Trump’s presidential campaign, you’ve probably noticed that he is a master at diffusing criticism and then turning the criticism to his advantage. He has two primary techniques that he uses to deal with criticism.
The first technique he uses to respond to criticism is that he immediately acknowledges that the critical comment is correct, and then he goes on to boldly and confidently proclaim that what he was criticized for is actually a great strength that can be used to his advantage and to the advantage of the American people.
After I graduated from Saint Louis University law school in 1982, my wife and I moved back to Peoria. At that time, my wife was pregnant with our second child. Shortly after returning to Peoria, I began teaching CCD classes on Sunday mornings at St. Sharbel Catholic Church to seventh- and eighth-grade students.
That year, as Christmas approached, I was asked to be Santa Claus at a Christmas party that was being planned for the children of the parish. At the party, I sat down on a throne-like chair, and the children lined up to sit on my lap and tell me what they wanted for Christmas.
There was one thing about my experience as Santa Claus that had a lasting impact on me. It was the look in each of the children’s eyes when they approached me. Each one of them looked at me with awe and admiration. It was as though they were looking at God Himself. I had never had anyone look at me the way those children looked at me.
I have to admit that the look in those children’s eyes made me feel special. Wouldn’t we all like to be looked at by others with awe and admiration?
There was a period of time after each of our children was born when they would gaze at my wife with awe and admiration. Although this period of time didn’t last very long, every time it happened my wife told me how good she felt when her newborn child looked at her as though she was the only person in the world.
Whether or not we are willing to admit it, we all have a deep desire to be admired and adored by others. Since the beginning of time, this desire has been used by Satan to tempt us. He has a lot of experience using this particular temptation. The first time he used it was when he tempted Eve to sin against God. He told her that if she did what he said, she would be like a god.
That’s the way I felt at that Christmas party — like a god who was being worshipped by children.
Last week, I reread two documents: the U.S. Constitution, which was written more than 200 years ago, and The Communist Manifesto, which was written more than 150 years ago. James Madison and the other authors of the Constitution were primarily concerned with guaranteeing the freedom and liberty of all Americans by placing severe limitations on the power of the federal government. Karl Marx, the author of The Communist Manifesto, mapped out what would become a blueprint for dictators whose primary aim was to achieve power by exercising complete control over the lives of their citizens.
The Communist Manifesto was written in 1848, and in addition to inspiring communist dictators in the USSR, China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and Venezuela, it also influenced the beliefs of Mussolini in Italy, Hitler in Nazi Germany, and Franco in Spain. It continues to provide inspiration to thousands of individuals worldwide, including the religious leaders who seek to take control of and rule over the citizens of various countries in the Middle East.
While the U.S. Constitution was designed to be an operations manual for limited government, The Communist Manifesto was designed to create conflict between the working class (the proletariat) and the wealthy and privileged class (the bourgeoisie) — those who owned and operated businesses that took advantage of the workers.
The primary purpose of The Communist Manifesto was to stir up the emotions of the workers who felt as though they were being taken advantage of by the businesses they worked for. The remedy Marx proposed was to replace existing governmental leaders with a leader who would represent the interests of the workers. This could be done either by an election or through revolution.
Marx made it appear as though he was for the defenseless workers. He was a master at creating anger and resentment among the workers by claiming that wealthy business owners considered the workers to be “social scum” and the “passively rotting mass” that were to be thrown away and discarded when they were no longer useful. (Unlike the Founding Fathers, Marx used very interesting and colorful language in his manifesto.)
Hell came into existence because of the pride and envy of Lucifer and his followers. Lucifer envied God’s perfection and authority over him. He also envied the happiness of our first parents and did everything in his power to alienate them from God.
Because of our fallen human nature, we all desire respect, praise, honor, and glory. We become envious of others who possess gifts or qualities that we don’t possess. Envy occurs when we focus on ourselves rather than on others. It can spread like a virus and infect groups of people and entire nations.
Fr. John A. Hardon’s Modern Catholic Dictionary defines envy as:
Sadness or discontent at the excellence, good fortune, or success of another person. It implies that one considers oneself somehow deprived by what one envies in another or even that an injustice has been done. Essential to envy is this sense of deprivation. Consequently it is not merely sadness that someone else has some desirable talent or possession, nor certainly the ambition to equal or surpass another person, which can be laudable emulation.
Envy differs from jealousy in that jealousy consists of an excessive love of our own good combined with fear that we will be deprived of it by others. A person who is jealous is unwilling to share with someone else the natural and supernatural gifts that he or she possesses.
In his book Victory Over Vice (originally published in 1939), Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said,
If envy is on the increase today, as it undoubtedly is, it is because of the surrender of the belief of a future life and righteous divine justice. If this life is all, they think they should have all. From that point on, envy of others becomes their rule of life.
We know from the Old Testament that as a result of envy, Cain murdered his brother, Abel; the brothers of Joseph threw him into a well and sold him into slavery (because he was favored by his father); and, despite the fact that Saul was a king, he sought to murder David (because of David’s success and popularity).
We were all born with a strong tendency toward pride, the mother of all sins. Because of our fallen human nature, we were also born with a tendency toward each of the other root passions of lust, anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, and sloth; furthermore, as a result of the individual unique traits that each of us were born with, combined with the environment we grew up in and our life experiences, we each entered adolescence, and later adulthood, with a predominant tendency toward one of the other six root passions.
A predominant tendency toward anger, envy, or sloth can oftentimes be recognized in a child, while a predominant tendency toward lust, avarice, or gluttony does not ordinarily manifest itself until later in life, when an individual becomes a teenager or adult.
If there is no active intervention that takes place to manage and control a predominant tendency, it eventually turns into a primary fault. While a predominant tendency represents a proneness to a particular root passion, a primary fault represents a learned and developed ability to make use of the predominant tendency to serve the self-interests of the individual.
For example, when a child who has a predominant tendency toward anger is not taught to appropriately manage and control his anger, he learns to use his anger to get what he wants, serve his own self-interests, and satisfy his own pride. Over time, he becomes adept at manipulating others through the use of intimidation, shame, bullying, and at times, physical abuse. At that point, the predominant tendency toward anger has matured into a primary fault.
Another example would be a child who has a predominant tendency toward sloth. If he is not taught to manage and control his slothfulness, he learns to use it to get what he wants, serve his own self-interests, and satisfy his pride. Over time, he becomes adept at getting out of doing things, making excuses for his failure to follow through on tasks, and manipulating others to do things for him. At that point, the predominant tendency toward sloth has matured into a primary fault.