Sunday, July 31, 2011

This is a wait I don't mind......much

There was a long line waiting outside the confessional when I arrived at church Saturday afternoon, at about 3:20 p.m. I wanted to go to confession, too, so I took my place at the back of the line.

There were at least a half-dozen people in front of me, and I knew that it could be a close call to get in before it was time for Mass. Some people take only a few minutes for confession....others can take a half hour.

Confession is difficult for most non-Catholics to understand, let alone appreciate. Many Catholics also struggle with this sacrament, mortified at the thought of confessing their sins to a priest --- a priest who likely knows them if they are regular Mass participants.

But I have found frequent confessions to be an integral part of not just practicing my faith, but living my life well. There is something indisputably cleansing and healing about an honest, heartfelt act of confession, and the graces that come from it easily outweigh any human hesitancy about partaking.

I have heard critics say they don't need a priest inside a box to forgive their sins; they can just speak directly to God and get it that way. And while I always encourage people to foster a personal relationship with God, and to talk to Him regularly --- and, yes, asked for His forgiveness while at home or driving or just about my day-to-day affairs --- there's no substitute for the actual sacrament. I'm no theologian, so I can't give a definitive explanation as to why, but I imagine has to do with the fact that the sacrament itself brings special graces because it is a gift bestowed by Christ to his flock via the priest (and articulated in the New Testament).

It's not the confessional itself, because I've known priests who heard confessions at campgrounds, at music festivals, even inside a popular Wichita bar one night (a woman discovered that a priest was with our group after a wedding, and asked if he would hear her confession....he naturally agreed).

I know I'm at my best as a person when I'm able to make it to confession regularly. And that's why I wasn't too upset when I saw so many people in that line on Saturday. If it means so much to me, I can only hope it enriches them as well.

I've heard it said an important measure of a parish's spiritual health is how long the lines are for confession ---- the longer the better. It means the flock is partaking of the sacraments. And I've always thought of confession as a vital one for a person's spiritual and emotional health.

Yes, as the afternoon melted away and the line barely budged as Mass time neared, I fretted periodically that I would not make it in time. If someone's in there for a long time, I figure they really needed it.

I know I have been in there for lengthy spells, often because the priest is discussing something he wanted to ask me -- or because he simply wanted to hear how I've been. After one longer-than-I-realized chat, an elderly woman in line touched my arm and said, "We were getting worried about you." I couldn't help but chuckle.

One particular confession Saturday took more than 15 minutes, and I was resigned to not making it before Mass started. But, with about five minutes to spare, I was able to step inside. There were two others behind me, so I was efficient. No matter how fast or slow you go, however, it has to be honest and genuinely heartfelt, or it won't matter.

To the priest's credit, he waited and heard their confessions, too - even though it meant Mass started a bit late. I'm sure anyone there who has stood at the back of a long line for confession wasn't particularly trouble by that.

In fact, I was grateful he started Mass late, for the sake of those at the end of the line.

Monday, July 25, 2011

It was just another drive home to the farm - until....

.....I slowed to make the turn north onto U.S. 281 from westbound U.S. 50. 

With the changes in speed limits and the deterioration of 4th Street Road from Hutchinson to Stafford County, I found trips home went better by taking K-96 to U.S. 50 nearly to St. John, then U.S. 281 north to K-19 into Larned.

And that's just what I did a couple of Fridays ago, on my way to a few days at the farm and Rozel's 125th anniversary celebration. I noticed the sedan at the stop sign, but didn't think much of it as I closed in on the corner and prepared to turn. Surely they knew better than to come north through the intersection with U.S. 50 until I had finished my turn.

I was wrong.

The sedan pulled out from the stop sign, surprising me. I stood on my brakes to come to a stop, fearing he would hit me if I made the turn.

He never got that far. A truck pulling a trailer slammed nearly full speed into the front passenger door of the sedan, sending it flying into the northwest ditch.

There was a woman in the passenger seat. I found out later her name is Em.

"I could see the look on her face just before we hit them," the wife of the truck driver told me as we watched emergency crews using the Jaws of Life to cut open the passenger door. I had pulled off to the side of the road after turning onto U.S. 281.

"Are you calling 911?" I asked another driver who had also witnessed the collision.

"Yes! Yes I have!" she answered, her voice shaky.

There was nothing the truck driver could have done to avoid the collision. I waited for traffic to part and walked over to the sedan to see what, if anything, I could do for them. Another man had the same idea. Em hadn't been wearing her seat belt, and she was thrown sideways - pinned between the steering column and the driver's legs.

He sat behind the wheel in shock, unsure what to do. The other man who approached the car with me pried open the driver's door and gently tugged him out, hoping it would free up enough room for Em to get out. But she was still pinned.

The car was hissing, the odor of antifreeze strong. I watched for sparks and sniffed for the odor of leaking fuel, praying a fire wouldn't start. Explosions after car crashes are actually pretty rare, but a fire with Em trapped in the car would have grim consequences.

I walked over to the truck when I saw the wife of the driver climb out of the cab.

"Are you OK?" I asked her. "Is anyone in your truck hurt?"

"No, we're fine," she said, obviously shaken, staring at the sedan.

We watched as law enforcement officers arrived and immediately tried to render aid.

"I could see the expression on her face just before we hit," the truck driver's wife said sadly.

Surprise. Fear. Helplessness.

As I returned to the sedan, I noticed Em kept trying to rise up from under the steering wheel.

"No, no," the law enforcement officer next to her said. "Stay down. Stay down."

He didn't want her to further injure herself trying to pull herself free.

The driver, a 30-year-old man I later learned was likely her son, was placed on a stretcher and taken to the first ambulance. He seemed shaken, but - remarkably - not seriously hurt.

Efforts to free Em through the driver's side were proving useless, so the Jaws of Life was brought out.Within minutes, the ambulance crew told the law enforcement officers to notify Wichita and have a medical helicopter launched. She was in bad shape, and needed to get to Wichita quickly. They would meet the helicopter in Stafford.

I gave my witness statement to a St. John police officer, and they told me a sheriff's deputy would be in touch if they needed more information. Em's wails of agony as they wheeled her to the second ambulance on a gurney cut through the muggy summer afternoon.

I had feared the worst when I saw the collision and realized there was a passenger where the truck hit. Her cries were a bit of good news to me, actually, because I knew she was still alive.

The day after I returned to Wichita, I learned from the Kansas Highway Patrol that Em was at St. Francis. A hospital spokeswoman told me she was still alive, but in critical condition. I could tell her recovery was not a foregone conclusion --- but at least she was still fighting for life.

They had been on just another drive, on just another summer day...until that fateful Friday moment.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A moment of silence, please......

........well, actually, more than a moment, if you will.

I watched the opening of the All Star Game tonight. I thought it fitting and touching that they held a moment of silence for the victims of the assassination attempt on Congressman Gabrielle Giffords.

It lasted less than 10 seconds. In fact, it seemed like they couldn't get it over with fast enough.

Which, to me, defeats the purpose.

When European sports hold a moment of silence, it's a full minute.

Of silence.

Of quiet.

Of stillness.

It's as if they actually have time to reflect on whomever the "moment" is honoring. Isn't that the point of these tributes?

When you zip through them in a few seconds, there's no time for any reflection. But I fear most Americans actually prefer that.

Don't make me think. Don't make me feel. Don't make me veer from my self-absorbed, attention-deflected existence. Don't tell me anything that's a downer.

In fact, that last sentence may be the key: We want to go through the motions of honoring someone, without actually being depressing about it.

And that's depressing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

8,000 pages

Here are a few photos of the crate of papers documenting the case for canonization for Fr. Emil Kapaun, taken at the "closing Mass" for the diocesan portion of the investigation.

It was so hot during the Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception that it wasn't easy to get the wax to cool enough to imprint the seal. I'm glad I didn't wear my black suit!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Why It's Important for the Wichita Eagle to run the stories on Fr. Emil Kapaun

I've been reading a lot of criticism of the Eagle recently for its decision to run stories about the review process currently under way to determine whether Father Emil Kapaun (he pronounced it Ka-PAWN) is worthy of being declared a saint by the Catholic Church.

Kapaun was born on a farm outside Pilsen in Marion County and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Wichita. He went on to serve as an Army chaplain in both World War II and the Korean War. It was for his fearless yet humble exploits in the Korean War - in combat and later in a prisoner-of-war camp - that Kapaun is best remembered.

I won't go into those acts of bravery, courage, selflessness and unyielding faith here. You can read Roy Wenzl's stories on the Eagle's website, and draw your own conclusions.

Critics have accused the Eagle of promoting Kapaun's cause, of being an adjunct of the Catholic Church. But they miss the point of the stories entirely. Only two people born in America have ever been declared saints by the Catholic Church (a Native American, Kateri Tekakwitha, who died in 1680, was declared a saint in 1980).

The Church's process for canonization is incredibly thorough and time-consuming --- and for good reason. By declaring someone a saint, the Church is stating that the person is unquestionably in Heaven, and worthy of the highest honor the Church on earth can bestow.

Kapaun has already been declared a "Servant of God" by the Church, and before he can be declared "Blessed" (one step below sainthood) a miracle must be verified. Another miracle must then occur (a healing, for instance, in which no earthly explanation for it can be found) for the candidate to be canonized).

In Kapaun's case, three alleged miracles have occurred - in Kansas, no less - and their "cases" are so strong they are being submitted to the Vatican for consideration. The Vatican official overseeing the gathering of documentation has stated each of the alleged miracles is compelling.

Though it took a lot of time and effort on Roy's part, he was finally able to convince all three families to share their stories of the incidents and healings that comprise the alleged miracles. To not tell those stories would be akin to saying a soldier was being considered for the Medal of Honor but not detailing the incident that prompted the consideration.

That would be an injustice to readers everywhere --- not just Eagle subscribers.

Kapaun's story is of a simple Kansas farm boy who yearned to be a priest and from his humble origins went on to live a life that continues to deeply move countless people more than a half-century after his death.

It's a story that should inspire people of all walks of faith, no matter where they live, because it demonstrates how even those with the most ordinary of backgrounds can make a profound difference in the world by how they live their life.

That has a universal resonance to it, and is yet another reason Kapaun's story deserves ---- no, needs ---- to be told.