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).
I recently heard about a conversation that took place between some members of my extended family. The question they were apparently attempting to answer was, Why does Harry take the time to write a religious article every week? They came to the conclusion that I probably have some deep-seated guilt about my past that compels me to write. Writing a weekly article is apparently the only way I can atone for my guilt.
When I heard about the discussion, I was amused that people who really don’t know me as well as they think they do would waste their time attempting to figure me out. I’m 58 years old and I’m still trying to figure myself out.
I’ve written before about the annual Catholic men’s retreats that I attended during the 1990s. The retreat master was Fr. John Hardin. Every year, Fr. Hardin made it clear to the men who were in attendance that we had an obligation to spread the Catholic faith through the written word. He emphasized that writing was not an option. It was an obligation.
I suppose the question of why I take time out of my busy schedule every week to write is a worthwhile question to ask. That question would be relevant in any situation in which someone showed that he or she had the ambition and drive to accomplish something that most other people were unwilling or unable to accomplish.
Consider the following questions:
• What motivated my parents to adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church and have 17 children, while most of their friends and relatives decided to take the easy route of defying church law by using contraceptive birth control to limit the size of their families?
• What motivated your parish priest to forego marriage and a family of his own so he could dedicate his life to God through the Sacrament of Holy Orders?
• What motivated Donald Trump to become a billionaire?
According to Dorothea Brande, author of the book, Wake Up and Live, the most important success secret she has ever discovered is to “[A]ct as if it were impossible to fail, and it shall be.” From a business perspective, I can tell you that in my 31 years of practicing law and working with numerous business owners, Brande’s “secret” really is one of the true principles of success in the business world.
I believe that this same success principle is critical to spiritual growth. Two people who practiced and lived this success principle were Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II. Both of these great Catholics acted as though it were impossible to fail because they had a strong belief that as long as they were doing the work of God, they would not fail. They had faith that God’s grace was with them in everything they did. Our own achievements pale in comparison to what they were able to accomplish.
As a lawyer, I regularly deal with people who have problems that they believe are insurmountable. These people suffer immense mental anguish because they feel as though their lives are out of control.
As humans, we get frustrated when we are not able to exercise complete control over everything in our lives, including our health, jobs, relationships, and financial security. But as we grow older, we realize that most of the things we worry about really are beyond our control. In the chaotic and unpredictable world we live in, how can a person ever hope to maintain a sense of control over his or her life?
Psychologists tell us that before individuals can have true peace of mind, they must first have a feeling of being in control of their lives. I’m not so sure this is true. I rarely have a feeling of being in complete control of my life. I do, however, often feel at peace after completing a holy hour in the presence of our Lord in the adoration chapel.
One of the greatest benefits of growing up in a large family and raising seven children of my own was that there were always young children around the house. No matter how frustrating life got, I could always count on a baby or young child saying or doing something that would put a smile on my face.
Years ago, I got into an argument with one of my teenage daughters about a minor issue that had been blown out of proportion. I was angry about what we were arguing about and finally told her I wasn’t willing to discuss the matter anymore. We weren’t making any progress, and I didn’t want to say anything that I would later regret.
When I walked out of the kitchen and into the living room, I noticed my three-year-old and one-year-old daughters playing with their dolls and singing a song together. They were oblivious to what was going on around them. I couldn’t help but stop and smile. My entire mood changed as I watched them play.
It was refreshing to see how excited my young children were by what they were doing. That’s the way children are. They’re not bogged down by anxiety and worry. They view everything they do as new and exciting. They attack each day with eagerness and enthusiasm.
The dictionary defines enthusiasm as (1) ardent and lively interest or eagerness, (2) an object of keen interest or passion, or (3) something inspiring zeal or fervor. Some synonyms for enthusiasm are: eagerness, earnestness, energy, exhilaration, fervor, zest, fire, intensity, joyfulness, pep, spirit, and zealousness.
The great essayist, philosopher, and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) once said:
Enthusiasm is one of the most powerful engines of success. When you do a thing, do it with all your mind. Put your whole soul to it. Stamp it with your own personality. Be active, be energetic, be enthusiastic and faithful, and you will accomplish your object. Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
One of the most memorable events of my honeymoon with Georgette in 1980 was when we went to Disney World. At that time, we were both 23 years old and we had big dreams for our future together. While we were browsing through one of the gift shops at Disney, Georgette picked out two outfits she wanted to buy to be set aside for the future (to be worn at a later time). Two years later, she was able to dress our son Harry in the Mickey Mouse outfit she bought at Disney World, and two years after that she was able to dress our daughter Anna in the Minnie Mouse outfit.
Needless to say, Harry and Anna were the cutest Mickey and Minnie we had (and have) ever seen.
I thought about the Mickey and Minnie outfits recently when I read an article about Walt Disney and the empire he built that still bears his name. Of course, as you know, it all started with an idea in the mind of Disney to bring a mouse to life on screen.
One interesting tidbit that’s worth pointing out concerned the legendary Lionel Train Company. The Lionel Train Company was founded in 1901 and was famous for its toy trains. My cousin, Chuck Couri, had a Lionel train set when we were boys. He had tracks laid out in a section of his parents’ living room with a train that chugged along and made stops at various places on the tracks.
During the Great Depression, after experiencing a dramatic plunge in sales and taking on a massive amount of debt, the Lionel Train Company filed for bankruptcy. It appeared as though it was the end of the line for the famous maker of toy trains until the company asked the bankruptcy judge to allow it to manufacture and sell only one new train for the upcoming Christmas season – a Mickey & Minnie Mouse Christmas Train (with licensing fees to be paid to the Walt Disney Company). The judge approved the request and the sales from that one train wiped out Lionel’s entire debt.