Monthly Newspaper • DIOCESE OF BRIDGEPORT

I’m a student of pubs. Maybe it’s because my dad owned one. Maybe it’s because they smell so good, especially that front-door bouquet of stale beer, hamburger, air conditioning, and disinfectant. The flavor profile at my dad’s place included the unmistakable overlay of nicotine, but even without that, the pub smell is a sensory experience beloved of the truly cultured.

Many of the best pubs are decorated with framed Irish blessings. “May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back”—that kind of thing. Here’s a good one: “May those who love us, love us. For those who don’t love us, may God turn their hearts. And if He doesn’t turn their hearts, may He turn their ankles, so we will know them by their limping.”

A lifetime of study has taught me that roughly 72 percent of the Irish pubs in New York feature a toast ending thusly: “May you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.”

We talk a lot about the devil, even if we don’t usually think much about what we mean by the word. Sometimes we use it as a kind of synonym for temptation, or a catch-all excuse for our own bad behavior. “The devil made me do it the first time,” sang Waylon Jennings in 1973, before adding, “the second time I done it on my own.”

The idea of the devil is a bit of a cartoon to us now. If you’re my age, you remember that great line delivered by Kevin Spacey in “The Usual Suspects”: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

The devil most certainly exists. From the grand jury report exposing the shocking sexual abuse of 1,000 victims in Pennsylvania over seven decades to the New York Archdiocese review board’s finding that the allegations of sexual abuse against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick were “credible and substantiated,” this summer has reminded every Catholic that the enemy always has the one true Church in his sights.

My wife and I, like all parents, have always wondered how to approach the problem of evil with our children. When to tell them about the worst things in the world? How to keep innocence from descending into ignorance? No one wants to place vile ideas in clean hearts. No one wants to sully what’s pure. Our love for our children makes us, naturally, protective.

Then again, no one wants a child to end up in a vulnerable position because they’ve been kept in the dark about the filth in the world. We love our children, and we are compelled to keep them safe, but there comes a point when you have to lay it on the line: The devil exists, and he’s working hard to defile everything that’s good, true, free, and holy.

Watch your back. The devil has nothing better to do than try to keep you out of Heaven. And he’s got more than 30 minutes to do it.

My wife and I homeschool our children. This has afforded us the ability to regulate more aggressively than is typical our children’s exposure to the funkier stuff. But we know that it also makes it more likely that they will find out later than their peers that the world can be a terrible place. We worry this will place them at a disadvantage. We know the devil lurks in wait.

The priests of the Basilica of St. John the Evangelist in Stamford solved our problem. They kept alive a tradition that had lately gone lax—recitation of the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of Mass.

“St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle. Be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts, by the power of God, cast into hell Satan, and all evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.”

When we first started attending Mass at St. John’s, this prayer was a mystery to us. It had fallen out of favor during the last few decades in the life of the church—probably because of its unrelenting insistence on the presence of true evil in the world and its clear reference to the existence of the devil.

We learned that prayer. Our children learned that prayer. Now they pray it every night before bed on the principle that it’s better to be safe than sorry. In his wisdom, Bishop Frank J. Caggiano has decreed that in response to the abuse scandal all parishes shall recite this prayer after Mass. I hope it catches on in other dioceses.

Evil spirits seeking the ruin of the souls? Yes, kids, and if St. Michael does his job, you will know them by their limping.

My mother hated the house on Speedwell Avenue. She may have had her reasons. The kitchen was small, the sink was too far from the stove, there was one bathroom for six people, and the whole place drooped slightly so the bedroom doors wouldn’t close. Then again, it was home.

We moved there in 1979. I was six. Before that we’d lived in the house where my dad grew up. It was built in 1886 by my great-grandfather John T. Murphy. My dad told us that John T.’s ghost still lived in the attic. I don’t think my mom liked that house much either.

I didn’t hate those houses. I loved them, especially the Speedwell house, which was quirky in the best way. I loved the sounds it made; the creaks in the floorboards; the squeaks; the little bell my mother hung on the doorknob so she’d know when some late-night sneaker let himself in.

I loved the staircase landing where the laundry baskets piled up; the bathroom with the light switch on the outside; the living-room window that gave the whole neighborhood a view of our Christmas tree; the ancient and faded wallpaper; the decorative Tuscan columns in the living room.

I loved all of it in the way of a child. That’s the way that doesn’t see your parents struggling to pay the electric bill. That’s the way that doesn’t know how annoying it is to have a lawn with grass that just won’t grow or a white picket fence that’s missing a few pickets.

When I drive by that house now I’m shocked at how small the property looks. As a kid I thought it was plenty big—practically an estate. We played every sport imaginable in its friendly confines, with eccentric grounds rules covering Wiffle balls hit over the porch roof or off the side of the house.

The driveway was only wide enough for a single car, and bounded on one side by a hedge, so we played quarter-court basketball. There was room for a layup on the right, but you could only launch jumpers from the left. The hedge led the league in rebounds.

My mother eventually achieved her dream of leaving that house, but before she did 234 Speedwell served as the setting for many great moments in the life of the family. Graduations, birthdays, homecomings, and holidays, of course, but also the unpleasant stuff—the hard Christmas when I dropped out of college, the frightening day my mother fainted and was taken away in an ambulance, my father’s heart attack.

One day I was coming home from high school and found Onyx, my sister Mary Ann’s cat, dead on the side of the road. She’d been hit by a car.

I buried Onyx using a garden spade near my mother’s rose bushes. Mom called Mary Ann to deliver the bad news.

“Mare,” she said. “Onyx bit it.” My mother wasn’t sentimental about pets.

The surprise party for my parents’ 25th wedding anniversary was a famous hooley. A platoon of friends and relatives who’d gathered up the block were led in by a bagpiper. Mary Ann’s 21st birthday party featured a keg of beer that she and her friends couldn’t quite drain. Me and my teenage friends tried to finish the job the following afternoon.

I did the lion’s share of my growing up on Speedwell Avenue.

I tell you all this because we moved recently, leaving behind a house—and a community—that we had grown to love. My son Patrick got emotional when I told him we’d be moving. He’s about to be 10, and probably thinks of Millport Avenue the same way I think of Speedwell Avenue.

Patrick didn’t know the house was too small for us. He didn’t know the long commute was poisoning Daddy’s soul. He didn’t know how badly his parents wanted a house of their own. Millport Avenue was just his home, the setting for his family memories, and he didn’t want to leave.

“I’m gonna miss this place,” he told me, his eyes brimming with tears. “I’m gonna miss all my friends.” I promised he’d make new ones. He didn’t care. All that mattered was that we were going and we weren’t coming back.

How much would I love to walk through that old house again—to hear the bell ring as I come through the door and the stairs creak as I take them two at a time, to flip that hallway switch on my way into the bathroom, to sink a jumper from the left side of the driveway? I’d give anything to look up from the kitchen table and see my mom again, or to hear her sigh because the sink’s too far away from the stove.

I put my arm on Patrick’s shoulder and, pulling him to my side, said, “I know, bud. I know.”

​My friend’s 5-year-old son came home from school and started to share the day’s events with his mother over a glass of milk and cookies. He told her about the show-and-tell that featured a daddy who worked in the hospital emergency department. He told her about the scuffle on the playground between a bully-in-training and a soft-spoken kid. And then he told her about a discussion that left him so confused he had to ask a compelling question: “Mommy, who is God?”

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When our parish’s Mothers’ Group asked me to be a guest speaker, I jumped at the chance. I love to share my faith. And I love being a mother. I was thrilled for the opportunity. But at the same time, I was scared.
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My younger sister, who has MD after her name, regularly sends family members and friends advice on how to live healthy and happy lives so our bodies make it to the average life expectancy of 78.6 years—if not Abraham’s 175 years or Noah’s 950.
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“What is truth?” (Pontius Pilate, John 18:38)

Truth is a serious matter. Truth is the pathway to happiness and freedom. The Book of Sirach tells us that all our human misery comes from mistaking where our true satisfaction lies (cf. Sirach 15:16-17), and there are Jesus’ words “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).

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The thing about spring is you forget how great it’s going to be. Life can be a drag. Winters can overstay. But spring is about hope, and hope is the thing that pokes its way out of a robin’s egg.

We take family walks. By the pond in the cemetery we happen upon a pair of turtles that are, um, trying to start their own family. I turn it into a teaching moment, but biology isn’t my best subject. The best I can do is sing.

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Years ago when I was teaching religion in junior high school, the topic turned to God’s will, which can be a pretty daunting subject even for adults like Augustine and Aquinas, never mind adolescents.
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Again it is stern November— “no butterflies, no bees, no fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds—November!” (Thomas Hood). The aged year is near its end; proud Winter is close at hand.
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Our Billy is a growing boy. He had his first birthday over the summer and has recently taken up toddling. He’s also an early riser, and wants his breakfast on the tray about two seconds after his butt hits the high chair.

Did I mention he’s a yeller?
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“They come! The merry months of beauty, song, and flowers. They come! The gladsome months.” (William Motherwell, “The Merry Summer Months”)

A new summer has begun. We have the gift of another summer, when life is at the apex.
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​I feel pretty good about myself after reading that the average American wastes 13,471 hours a year fiddling with the remote control, trying to find something to watch on TV, which probably doesn’t include the time spent actually watching TV—more than four hours a day or an estimated 9 years for a person who is 65. Just thinking about it makes my brain throb.
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I didn’t always have five children and a wife. It wasn’t that long ago that I had no children and zero wives. On TV, they make bachelorhood seem a paradise of freedom and adventure. Not for me it wasn’t.

The missus and me just blew past our fifteenth wedding anniversary—a mini-milestone. Not to be glib…oh, never mind, glib it is…I’d rather be in jail than be single again.
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We made a family confession. I know that sounds like we subjected ourselves to some bizarre public humiliation ritual. We didn’t.

The director of religious education at our parish graciously arranged for interested families to come for the sacrament together on a Saturday morning. Our priests graciously gave their time. The Hennesseys graciously dragged their carcasses out of bed.

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Swimming Upstream
Without intending to, Pope Francis dashed my hopes of becoming the next Mother Teresa when he said a real sign that you’re headed for sainthood is you never speak ill of anyone.
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