A Grateful Heart

This is a season of thanksgiving and in that spirit I am thinking of the many ways that I have been blessed this year and in my life in general. I’m grateful for my life, my wife and family too. In a few weeks I’ll be sixty-one. Each year everyone seems to be getting younger and my definition of what constitutes an elderly person gets older. I’m grateful to be retired and volunteering at The Warming House and Blount Library. On Friday I was asked to serve on the Blount Library Board. That’s a great honor and I’ll be reunited with some of my former colleagues. I’m grateful for the opportunity to attend daily Mass at St. Philomena’s Church in Franklinville. I’m grateful to have worked with so many wonderful people at Franklinville Central School, who treated me to a wonderful dinner at the VFW and presents from the Franklinville Teachers Association. I’m grateful to be able to renew my passion for reading in general. Today I finished a book I borrowed yesterday from the Chautauqua-Cattaraugus Library System. It was an ebook that I borrowed wirelessly, Dr. J: An Autobiography. I’m grateful for the new opportunities to serve and grow. I’m even grateful for the snow and winter that has arrived.

A full and thankful heart

Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States and for many of us it has many meanings. My earliest recollections were trips to my grandmother’s home and dinner with all the cousins. Later in life it was dinner at Mom’s. Still later it was turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing in US Navy chow halls. Those years made made me long for the earlier ones. Eventually I got married and thanksgiving meant dinner at our home. My wife was the hostess for our extended families and our children. Grandpa Joe says grace and then we all dive in for turkey, corn, all the trimmings and pies too.

I woke up early this morning and began reading Gratefulness.org which is one of my favorite websites on the entire Internet. I started tweeting and sharing some of their links and stories about the positive effects of Gratefulness. I dozed off again for a few hours and then re-awakened around 8:30AM. to my surprise a couple of those tweets were retweeted and the circle of Gratefulness was extended to at least 2300 others and God only knows who else will retweet again. This demonstrates the power of gratitude and social networks.

Today I’m grateful to God as I understand him and to my lovely wife and children which now include our lovely daughter-in-law. They are tangible evidence of his love and abundance. I’m grateful for my co-workers who continue to inspire me each day. I’m grateful for their patient encouragement which inspired me to return to college a couple of years ago and to graduate in May 2011 from St. Bonaventure University at the top of my class. I’m grateful to my boss, Michelle, a beautiful lady who supported me through four internships and continues to lovingly mentor me. I’m grateful to all the lovely ladies, Jessica, Greta & Katie who took me on as an intern along the way. I’m grateful to my professors and fellow students who encouraged a reluctant student to find my way. I’m grateful for the many Franciscan mentors who help to animate my life each day.

I’m grateful for my Mom who never gave up on me and continues to buoy my spirit when I get blue. I’m most grateful to my wife who has truly been God’s agent in my life. She continues to provide inspiration, love and an occasional kick in the butt to keep me on course. My blessings are so many this day that I cannot count them all. I’m closing this post with one of my favorite prayers that hangs on the wall at Mt. Irenaeus

It is not you that shapes God
it is God that shapes you.
If you are the work of God
await the hand of the artist
who does all things in due season.
Offer Him your heart,
soft and tractable,
and keep the form
in which the artist has fashioned you.
Let your clay be moist,
lest you grow hard
and lose the imprint of his fingers.

– St. Irenaeus

Peace to all and Happy Thanksgiving!


Happy Thanksgiving to everyone who reads this blog. Later today our family will begin to arrive at our home and we’ll once more be re-united with those we hold close to our hearts. My mother, 83 years young will be here along with Diane’s Mom and Dad. Our children will be here and also my brothers and sisters in law and a couple of cute little girls who are the new generation of grand-children in the family. God has been good to us and to me in particular. I’m planning on driving to Mt. Irenaeus for Mass later this morning. The friars celebrate Eucharist at 11 AM. It’s very quiet as I sit here this morning in the dawn’s early light. It’s overcast today, but I know that somewhere the sun in shining. I’m brewing a pot of coffee and enjoying the smell of it perking.

I’m thankful for this year. There is renewed purpose in my life. I’m teaching again and attending graduate school at St. Bonaventure University. I’m learning anew and being challenged by my classmates and professor. Five months has made a big difference in my life. A retreat at Mt. Irenaeus, taking inventory and sharing with my friend led to a renewed spirit. “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect,” from Romans 12:2. I think of how much the scriptures inform and transform my life.

My friend, Paul is being greeted by Sister Death and I’ve had the privilege of being with him and his family as he leaves this life bound for the next. Paul has been sick for a couple of months. He’s 87 and he broke his hip in late September. It’s been a tough couple of months for he and his family but he’s at peace and so are they. Sure there is grief, but amidst the grief there is much happiness for a life well lived. I’ve know Paul for 30 years and in that time we’ve grown very close. He’s been a rock in my life and as he grew older and his eyes dimmed many of us helped him get to where he needed to be. He lives almost ten miles from nowhere in hamlet that is almost forgotten. We help ourselves most when we help others and our concern for Paul and his needs have drawn us closer together. The night he fell he was surrounded by brothers, most of them half his age. It has been something to witness this tremendous outpouring of love. One of Paul’s favorite poems became one of my favorites and whenever I think of him I think of it. It’s a story of our lives and it’s a story of redemption too and all of us who knew Paul have been redeemed.

I FLED Him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
And shot, precipitated,
Adown Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.
But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbèd pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
They beat—and a Voice beat
More instant than the Feet—
‘All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.’

You can read the whole poem here. We will all miss Paul, but I for one am very thankful that our paths crossed and for thirty years we were friends and that he shared so much of his life and insight with me and with us.


This is a day and a season of thanksgiving and this year I’m most thankful for all that has happened. This has been a watershed year of memories and a chance to reconnect with people and memories from the past. Just yesterday I received a note from a surgeon who was once my boss at the Naval Submarine Medical Center in New London, CT. A few weeks ago I decided to write this man whom I had last seen on January 17, 1975. Dr. Biesecker was Lieutenant Commander in the United States Navy Medical Corps when I last saw him.  I always called him sir, or Dr. Biesecker and all these years later when I decided to write a letter that’s how I addressed him. I thanked him for his influence on my life both then and now. A week ago I received an email from another former Navy medical officer, Dr. Copeland,  with whom I served. I’m thankful to my nephew Tom Watkins who joined the U.S. Navy in January of this year, because it was Tom who helped rekindle this spirit within me.

When I left active duty in 1975 and the active reserves in 1977 I rarely looked back at my naval service. I was proud of it, but I got on with life. Other than a three semesters on the GI Bill I really never took advantage of the benefits veterans are due. Perhaps it was pride, but I never looked for a handout.  I never joined the American Legion. I kept my uniform and mementos of my service, but I kept a low profile. About ten years ago at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes dinner the speaker, Clebe McClary, invited those of us who were veterans to stand. It was really the first public recognition of my military service that had ever occurred. That was the beginning of a journey that continues to this day. Tom’s enlistment made the fire burn a bit more brightly. If it hadn’t been for Tom I don’t think I’d have gone to Albany, GA this year. If it hadn’t been for Tom I’d never have gone to Great Lakes Naval Training Center again. Because of Tom I relived a very special chapter of my life again. I tried to live that experience more mindfully this time.

I called Tom today to thank him for his service to our country and to tell him that I loved him and I’m damned proud of all that he’s done. I hope those of you who read what I have written will take the time to thank a member of the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines or Coast Guard. If you meet a veteran, thank them for their service. I pray daily for an end to war and I try to be an instrument of peace knowing well that there are war torn areas of our world that cry out for help.


Tomorrow will mark the day most folks in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving. It’s the official holiday. I try to remember to be grateful more often than once a year. I don’t remember to give thanks everyday, but when I do I remember that I have much to be grateful for. Continue reading “Thanksgiving”