Saturday, April 13, 2024

Saint Wannabes

Saints don’t have to found activist movements, start religious orders, or run colleges. They can also become saints by getting the kids to soccer practice, making dinner, and reading bedtime stories. 


Sunday, April 7, 2024

Dance Marathon II: Racing for Riley

Thanks for having us back. We loved being a part of this event last year, and it’s always a pleasure to support good works – and the work of Riley Children’s Hospital is certainly a good work. 

I love the NASCAR theme this year – a theme revolving around the idea of racing. It’s an apt theme in two ways. First, because of the other theme this week: Easter! You’ll recall on Easter Sunday hearing about Mary Magdalene reporting to the Apostles that she saw the risen Christ, and then both Peter and John raced to the tomb to see for themselves. 

Then, Easter Wednesday, we heard the story about the Road to Emmaus and those two disciples who encountered Jesus on the way, and then they raced back to Jerusalem to make their report. 

Finally, Easter Friday we saw the Apostles going fishing, and when they spied Jesus on the seashore, Peter jumped into the water and swam to shore, winning the race against the others in the boat.  

It was all about racing toward something – in this case, Someone – worth the effort. The prize was worth the sacrifice. 

And that’s the other reason racing is an apt theme today, because so much of the work of Riley Hospital is like a race – a race against the clock. Fortunately, most of us don’t need cutting-edge, advanced healthcare for our kids most the time, but when we do, we’re so blessed to have it right down the road. 

Take our first go-around with Riley Hospital. We brought our daughter Margaret to the doctor for what we thought was the flu, but it turned out to be peritonitis due to a ruptured appendix – and Meg was in serious shape. She was immediately transported to Riley where they drained the infection from her abdomen and, once she was stabilized, removed the appendix itself. 

Then there’s Nick. When he was born, we knew he had a heart murmur, but the echocardiogram did not indicate any need for immediate interventions. Later, when he was just a year old, he did begin showing signs of compromised cardiovascular function, and he was rushed to Riley Hospital for evaluation – and then, rushed into surgery. He had four repairs on his heart and spent some time in the pediatric ICU as he recovered…but look at him now. 

All because of Riley, and we, like so many, are so grateful. Thanks, Riley Hospital, for being there so close when we have to race for help. And thanks to you, all you dance marathoners, for helping Riley help folks like us – like Nick.

But don't take my word for it. Here's Nick to tell his own story!

Nick was privileged to share about his life at the 2024 Saint Mary's College Riley Dance Marathon on Saturday, April 6. The annual event raises funds for Riley Hospital for Children, which provides critical life-saving treatments and healthcare services for kids from our region. For more information or to make a donation, follow this link.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Springs of Salvation & Safety Precautions

With joy you will draw water from the fountains of salvation (Is.12.3).

This is a PSA for anyone who attended the Easter Vigil last night at St. Matthew Cathedral. I was one of the cantors, and I got to sing four of the seven Psalms. 

Maybe you noticed during the second reading that I kept leaning over to my left. Maybe you noticed that I left the sanctuary during the fourth reading and came back during the fifth with a fistful of paper towels. Maybe you noticed that I was a bit distracted as I intoned the fifth and seventh Psalms. 

Here's the deal (or "tea," as they say), not that you care: As I sat down after the first Psalm, my alb knocked over my uncapped water bottle, and a sea of Kroger-brand purified H2O suddenly materialized on the marble floor. 

Damn. I was sitting up in front of a fairly full house. It was pitch black except for the reader's lamp, and the lectern was right in front of me, so all eyes were fixed in our direction. For liturgical decorum's sake, I could've just left the puddle alone, but my nursing conscience kicked in: A pool of water? On a marble floor? And people of varying ages and mobility possibly moving through the area? No way.

So I did the best I could under the circumstances. Sorry if my fussing about was a distraction to you. Sorry to Anna, the sacristan, who had to clean up the mess I left behind. Sorry, too, to Jon, my co-cantor, who was no doubt bewildered by my strange behavior during the solemn liturgy. And I'm sorry if the damp floor resulted, God forbid, in anyone taking a spill (pun intended). I was glad that there were no messages from law firms on our answering machine this a.m. 

Finally, I could use this moist anecdote to segue into an Eastery discourse on baptism and its attendant risks – that allowing yourself to be splashed with salvation means peril, suffering, and death to self – but that would be a metaphorical stretch, so I'll skip it. You're welcome.

Happy Easter! Alleluia!

Thursday, March 14, 2024

Nursing School, Prayer, and Avoiding Burnout

I'm teaching a new Nursing 101 course at Saint Mary's College. It's designed to help sophomores in their transition from classroom to clinical next year. Recently I solicited anonymous feedback from my students, which resulted in this (edited) online announcement.

A few of you turned in notes with comments and questions the other day, and I intend to follow up accordingly. However, two of the notes are worth addressing sooner rather than later, for they overlap and concern our theme for next week. 

The first concerns prayer. "I'm trying to be patient and respectful," one of you wrote, "but I don't understand why we are praying at the beginning of every class." That's a fair question, especially if you haven't yet encountered prayer in the classroom at Saint Mary's. 

But, as you know, SMC is a Catholic institution, and so one can expect that the culture on campus, both in and out of the classroom, will reflect Catholic values and practices to one degree or another. Obviously, there are many at SMC (students, faculty, staff) who aren't Catholic (or even Christian, or religious in any way), and it goes without saying that they are all valued members of the community. Be assured that there will never be pressure or incentive for anyone to become Catholic or adopt Catholic perspectives on anything, in my class or any SMC class.

Nonetheless, a majority of SMC students are Catholic, and they've come to SMC, in part, because it's Catholic. They (and their parents) anticipated that an SMC education would include an integrated Catholic vision of various subjects of study among other, often competing visions, and that there would be room and even encouragement to experience growth in the Faith. The faculty who aren't Catholic might provide less of those things, but it's reasonable that your Catholic faculty would provide more. 

That's what Pope St. John Paul II meant when he wrote that while all professors at Catholic colleges are to be inspired "by the principles of an authentically human life," Catholic professors are called to a higher standard: "Christians among the teachers are called to be witnesses and educators of authentic Christian life, which evidences attained integration between faith and life, and between professional competence and Christian wisdom" (Ex Corde Ecclesia, #22).

I know I don't do it perfectly, but that's what I'm striving to do, and prayer is at the heart of it.

Which brings me to the second note: "What are some ways to prevent nurse burnout," somebody asked. "I am worried since this is always a topic of conversation in healthcare." True enough, which is why we'll be talking about "self-care" next week, strategizing for how to build up your emotional and mental reserves as you head into clinicals next year and your nursing career after that. Prayer can play a key role in that regard. In fact, for those who follow a faith tradition, I'd say it's absolutely vital.

Indeed, I know our guest speaker next week will be talking about prayer along with meditation and other self-care practices, but it's also good to keep in mind that many of your patients may actually seek your prayerful support, which can be an important part of spiritual care. "Regardless of the faith tradition or practices of the patient, family, or nurse," suggest the authors of an article in RN Journal, "the moments taken to pray may provide comfort and renewal for all present."

So, by all means, pray along with me when we pray in class if you wish, or else use it as an opportunity to learn about SMC's Catholic heritage and the ways in which Catholics express their faith. For further conversation about this matter (or anything else), please don't hesitate to make an appointment or come by during my office hours. I'd love to hear from you!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Tithing Pitch

God loveth a cheerful giver (II Cor. 9.7).

A version of this exhortation was presented during Masses at St. Matthew Cathedral, South Bend, Indiana, the weekend of February 10-11, 2024. 

When Nancy and I and our newborn son became parishioners here at St. Matt's nearly 30 years ago, we automatically signed up for collection envelopes. Automatically. As in: No question. For us, to be parishioners – actually, to be Catholic – necessarily included financially supporting the church, our spiritual home. 
That’s not some quirk of the Beckers – or some holdover from my youthful upbringing as a Protestant Christian. It’s in fact the teaching of the Church. As a convert, I discovered that fact through a little red booklet from Liguori Publications, Handbook for Today’s Catholic  the 1978 versionYou see, I joined the Church B.C. (Before the Catechism) and so handy references like my Liguori handbook were vital for navigating a new ecclesial universe.  

And what did I find in that booklet? Among other things, the Precepts of the Church – what the authors describe as “certain specific duties of Catholics” (cf. CCC 2041). Things like Sunday obligation and Easter duty – ideas certainly familiar to cradle Catholics. But there’s also a line about the duty to “strengthen and support the Church,” which naturally includes material support, usually in the form of money – our “tithes” in other words. 
Now, you might know that the idea of tithing is from the Old Testament requirement that God’s people set aside 10% of their income for the Temple and its upkeep. As Christians, we are dispensed from that specific figure, but the requirement to financially support the Church – both local and global – remains. Indeed, St. Paul tells the Corinthians that on “the first day of the week, each of you should set aside whatever one can afford” (I Cor. 16.2). Maybe that’s 10%, maybe not. But Paul makes it clear that giving something is mandatory – it’s not an option. 

That just makes sense for a number of reasons. First, as I said, our parish is our home. Truly. Yes, we come here for Mass every week, but we also come here for nourishment and challenge, camaraderie and inspiration. We come here because our friends are here – some new, some old, some we met when we first got here decades ago. Our kids received their sacraments and their education here. We’ve celebrated births, deaths, and every in-between milestone imaginable here. So, it’s a place we are happy to support with our prayers, yes, and also our cash. 

In our case, we choose to do that through literal tithing – through setting aside at least 10% of our income, and then half of that goes to St. Matt’s, and the other half to the bishop, the missions, and other charitable works. And here’s the thing: We take that 10% off the top before we pay anything else. It’s a priority, you see, and it stays a priority even when we feel the pinch. 

Like a number of years ago when I fell ill and couldn’t work – and I didn’t know when I’d be able to return to work. We had a house full of kids and a mortgage on that house, and I was scared. I went to my pastor looking for advice, but mainly looking for consolation and sympathy, and I enumerated my woes. Father listened, nodded sagely, and then spoke – not words of consolation, not sympathy, but truth: He said, “First of all, don’t stop tithing.” 

Don’t stop tithing? Didn’t he hear what I said? Shouldn’t I circle the wagons financially? Can’t the church go without my puny tithe until I get back to work? 

But Father was right, because our tithe, our commitment to support our parish isn’t just about the Church, but also about us and out trust in God. By tithing in good times and bad, sickness and health, we demonstrate our radical dependence on God as Father. 

It is said that God will not be outdone in generosity, and certainly that’s a common image in the Scriptures. Like in Luke, when Jesus says “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Lk 6.38). Even so, it’s hard to see in the moment how God will get us through this crisis or that, and our habit of tithing no matter what is a concrete way of declaring and embracing our abandonment to the Lord: We’re not in control; he is. 

So, regular giving to the church – whether it’s 10% or more or less, it doesn’t matter – has a twofold purpose. You’ll see one of them on the Commitment Card in your pew: At the top on one side it says, “Radiating Christ in the World,” and that’s true. Our support of the church and her ministries helps underwrite the extension of Christ through time and space, making him present here and now and into the future. 

But it’s also about receiving that radiation of Christ: The very act of sacrificing and setting aside part of our material wealth for the church manifests our reliance on God and predisposes us to grow in faith, hope, charity, to be ever conformed to Christ. It's not that we're paying God for grace; instead, we’re positioning ourselves to receive it. 

The bottom line is this: Odd as it may sound, regular, even sacrificial, giving to the Church is a gift – it’s a gift that I get to write out checks every month to St. Matt’s, and I’m happy to do it. If it’s not your regular practice, I invite you to try it and see for yourself. I’m pretty confident you won’t regret it.

Saturday, April 22, 2023

Thanks, Riley Hospital! A Dance Marathon Testimonial

Nick lip-synching "You Can't Always Get What You Want" (with an assist from Dad) 

When I introduce myself to people, I generally lead with my primary vocation, my main gig, which is being a husband and a father. Yes, I’m a nurse and a nursing instructor, and I love that career trajectory that I finally got to in life (after multiple false starts), especially now that I’m here at Saint Mary’s – go belles! Belle yeah! But even that takes a back seat to my being married to Nancy and being dad to our seven kids.

Yes, seven kids! Does that sound like a lot? Maybe, but remember that for most families, most the time, kids come one at a time. With each addition to the family, there’s a surge of adjustment and scrambling and redeployments of energy and attention, but, as days and months go by, the craziness settles down, and the now bigger family gets used to a routine again…until the next baby arrives.

And that’s how it went with us, pretty much, until Nick’s arrival. Nick is my sixth child – my third son – and he has Down syndrome. As a nurse, I had a vague idea of what that would mean for him going forward in life – certain adjustments in developmental expectations and educational goals, for example – but not so much in terms of health.

That changed within hours after his birth. “Nick has Down syndrome,” our midwife told us. “He’s at high risk for heart defects, and you’ll have to get him checked out today.” The echocardiogram did indeed identify some defects – four, in fact – but the doctors determined that it was safe to wait on surgery until Nick was a little older, a little bigger and stronger.

A little older, bigger, and stronger turned out to be a couple months after Nick’s first birthday. He had become significantly lethargic, and no amount of sleep restored his usual pep and energy. When Nancy took him to the clinic for a checkup, little did we know that they’d end up heading down to Riley Children’s Hospital in an ambulance directly. The cardiologists there did a heart catheterization on my infant son, and the results led them to schedule open heart surgery for Nick right away.

After it was all done and Nicky was recovering in the pediatric ICU, the cardiothoracic surgeon gave us a rundown on everything he fixed: closing up this hole and that hole that shouldn’t been there, and re-routing Nick’s cardiac flow for optimal health. We thanked him profusely, of course – who wouldn’t? And Nancy still prays for him to this day, 18 years later.

Yes, 18 years later – and now here’s my Nick, 19 years old, and getting ready to move on from Marian High School. He’s living the dream, I tell you, and we’re all grateful to Riley Hospital and the great team there for preserving Nick’s life during those critical days of his youth.

As a dad, I have to say that I’m especially grateful. One of the main jobs of a dad is to protect his wife and children – to be the firewall, either literally or figuratively, between his family and all that would harm them. But in Nick’s case, as his little one-year-old body struggled to thrive despite his broken heart, I couldn’t be that firewall: I didn’t have the knowledge or skills to save him; I needed help.

Riley Children’s Hospital was the help Nick needed, the answer to our prayers. Thanks, Riley, for being part of our family’s story, Nick’s story. And now, here’s Nick to tell you more of his story himself!

Nick was privileged to share his story at the 2023 Saint Mary's College Riley Dance Marathon on April 15. The annual event raises funds for Riley Hospital for Children, which treats children from our area and provides critical life-saving treatments and healthcare services for children and their families.  For more information or to make a donation, follow this link

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Share the Vision: A School Choice Testimony

The Marian community has been an ideal place for Nick to grow into his purpose and be part of helping others grow into theirs.