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Confirmation… or disappointment.

In autobiography, Orthodox Christianity: in general on August 18, 2008 at 3:51 am

1964: Johnson over Goldwater (WAY over); Bonanza, I Love Lucy, Lassie; first race riots–Harlem, Mississippi; Vietnam War widens; Cassius Clay; Beatles, “I wanna hold your hand”; movie, “Dr Strangelove”; Turkey attacks Cyprus; Kruschev falls from power.  President Kennedy’s assassination in the previous November is still on everyone’s mind.  In this world, I was 13 years old: 7th grade at St Cassian (Roman Catholic) School, Upper Montclair, New Jersey–quiet suburbia about to undergo the cultural tumult.

Like any 7th grader, I am looking forward to the long month of May to end, since that month’s passing signals the approach of summer vacation. In Roman Catholic upbringing, 13-year olds are prepared for Confirmation, the sacramental ritual in which Catholic children are received by the bishop and made responsible members of the church.  We were prepared by our teachers, the Dominican nuns (quite the authority figures! My 8th grade teacher-nun was called “tank” by us in secret!) for the episcopal visit from the Bishop of Newark. On that warm spring-time evening, we all gathered in the parish church of St Cassian. The bishop held a general examination of our faith. He would call upon various individuals to answer specific questions on points of doctrine. We were expected to give the correct answer to these questions as we had been trained from the Baltimore Catechism.  My summer break would be just after the Confirmation service, since school classes were all done. Just this one, last effort…

The bishop called on me. There must have been a hundred kids in that little wooden church! And I have to deliver.  Fortunately, the question was one of those really basic ones which no one could flub. I think it was, “How many persons of God are there?” I aced it–three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After a few others were put on the spot–some with coaching from the bishop himself– we all drew near the altar rail to be confirmed. There we all are, kneeling and ready. The bishop comes down the line, imposing confirmation oil on the forehead and giving a gentle slap on the cheek. (The nuns warned us of this: the slap would come, a sign of the Holy Spirit “hitting” you!). I think we all flinched, expecting a blow.  Childhood imagination runs riot.

Since Roman Catholic confirmation is a sacrament, we were expected now to act like mature catholics. Unfortunately, it is a widespread sentiment that confirmation served the complete opposite function. No longer would our religion classes be as goal oriented as for that occasion. Only the boys who went off to seminary would experience that next step. (I had explored that interest only briefly and rejected it, since it meant that I would have to go far away and would not get to see any girls.) In our Irish / Italian Roman Catholic culture, once you were confirmed, there was a reception at one of the homes. Families celebrated this coming of age in the church with “the first drink”–nothing special, a little drink. Champagne. Only problem here is that no one warned me about the stuff. Looked like bubbly fruit juice to me. I downed the glass rather too quickly. I suppose you could guess what happened next. After everything was cleaned up from the nasal projectile emission, I got to thinking about the awkwardness of it all.  And that got me thinking about what confirmation was supposed to be. What was confirmed? What did I know? What kind of responsible catholic Christian was I going to be? Is it just to get to have champagne?

I had no answers to those questions. Indeed, those questions would pursue me for the many years to come, until one day a quarter of a century later. In that day, I would discover where real confirmation is to be found. And then it took another ten years before I could experience it: the gift of the Holy Spirit through the sacred Myron of the Holy Orthodox-Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Roman Catholic rite failed to grant what it offered, since it was no longer energized by God. The Latin ethos had for centuries lost its interior, mystical ethos. I would have to find holy Orthodoxy to experience the answers to my juvenile confusion. Instead of champagne, I would find inner stability. Thereafter all of my angst, my compulsive searching, my aching for the divine homeland, my longing for God would find an effective treatment, a therapy of the Life-Giver Himself.  How I rejoice in the Gift!

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You Tube postings to provide autobiography…

In autobiography on July 14, 2008 at 8:56 pm

For those of you who wish to watch and hear an evening talk jointly presented by my dear wife, Kh. Christina, and me concerning our journey in life into the Holy Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, you will find that on You Tube:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSIy-yKbZZM is part ONE. For the continuation, goto:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P2s65YIIrA is part TWO. For the continuation, goto:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0GjeRLUOV8 is part THREE.  There may be further YouTube postings, which, if provided, I will pass on here.

These three comprise the opening night’s presentation of the retreat we led at St John the Wonderworker (Serbian Orthodox Diocese of the West) Orthodox Church (Eugene, Oregon), in May 2008 (during the Paschal season).

My thanks to Peter and ChrisAnn Mead for their planning and initiative, to the Rev. Fr David Lubliner for his hospitality, and for the parish community of St John the Wonderworker Church for their love.

Long hair and freedom of sorts: my Bio, part five

In autobiography on June 10, 2008 at 6:40 pm

When the Beatles began their stellar career, I was finishing eighth grade. During that summer I was reading the books which I chose from off of the reading list required by the high school I would attend in the fall. It was the summer of 1965.  We had just lived through 1964: Johnson over Goldwater (WAY over); on TV were Bonanza, I Love Lucy, Lassie; first race riots–Haarlem, Mississippi; Vietnam War widened in scope; Cassius Clay; movie, “Dr Strangelove”; Turkey attacked Cyprus; Kruschev fell from power in the Soviet Union.

The Beatles had just released “I wanna hold your hand.” At school, it was popular to ask each other the question, “Who was your favorite Beatle?” Well, I couldn’t have cared less for that question or its answer; however, I sure did like all of them from the viewpoint of their hair. So, I let mine grow out.  But wait. If you are not old enough to remember this era, you might think of what long hairs look like now. You might want to look at some old photographs: long hair meant that the front of the hair grew long, hanging in the eyes. But the hair in the back of the neck and ears was still barbered short. These mid-60s long-haired youths such as I went about constantly throwing their heads to one side, to get the hair to fly out of the way. After a minute or two, the head throwing would repeat itself. The long hair was a way in which we youths were proclaiming ourselves. Such are things with adolescents: childhood fades; the awesome challenging and intoxicating freedom of adulthood beckons. We knew little of responsibility and a lot of longings and vision!  Growing the hair out differently like that was a way of saying “I am ME and not YOU.”

Only some three years later, after earning my high school diploma (I dropped out of high school in the 11th grade due to boredom and took the state GED exam–hey, I am free, right?), I left my native New Jersey and began a journey across the country, working odd jobs and hitch-hiking. Flipping burgers in New York, working in a leather clothing factory in Albequerque, picking fruit in California, tree planting in Oregon, apple harvesting in Washington. During these travels, I encountered many wonderful people: strange ones, scary ones, loving and compassionate ones. During my journey across Kansas I got a ride with a guy driving a juiced up Chrysler with a huge engine. He had a gallon jug of some clear liquid which he swilled constantly while he gesticulated wildly, foot hard-pressed on the accelerator: I believe we flew over the mild rises along the roadway. His speedometer pegged out at 110, I think. After begging leave from that ride, I got a ride with a couple of guys who demanded “payment” after a few miles. I lost everything to them except the clothing on my back. Other encounters rather less edifying can remain undescribed here, but through mercy’s sake, I lived through them. So, this is freedom?

Then I arrived in the wild West. Yes, “wild West,” you see, because I grew up on TV westerns like Bonanza. I thought that folks out west still rode horses everywhere and that lumberjacks still walked in Oregon with calk boots and lumberjack shirts.  There was one night when I fell asleep standing up, by the side of the road. NOT A SINGLE CAR CAME BY ALL NIGHT! And, indeed, I awoke from sleep standing there. I walked dreaming of hot coffee for hours… Then, there was the time when I was picked up, but it was by a Colorado State Police cruiser. I was booked and jailed for hitch-hiking: such was illegal in Colorado. Now, what of my freedom?  After three days confinement, I was escorted to the county line.  At least I liked their coffee.

After journeying to California, I celebrated my 18th birthday: February 26. It was 82 degrees out, in a quiet dirt road passing through the San Joaquin Valley just west of Bakersfield. 82 degrees in February! How is that possible? I was in California, that golden state of mythic proportions in my young mind. I camped in heat, in rain, by the sea, under the coastal forest canopy. My heart ached within me. What is the meaning of freedom? Does freedom mean that I may do whatever I like, go wherever I like? Is there not something more to freedom than this? How is it that the world I am discovering is so beautiful and free and my heart so dull and shackled?

Then, just north of San Francisco (what a disappointment S.F. and Berkeley held for me!), I traveled up the winding state route 1 along the coast. Near Mendecino, north of grape country, a small VW bus (that was the closest thing there was in those days to the modern mini-van) stopped to give me a ride. Other long-hairs! But these were much different. There was no electronic wild “music,” no intoxicating or inebriating substances, and yet they were “hip.”  And what they would offer me, and the impression they would make on me would forever change my life. I could sense it and I knew: these guys were FREE!

What teenagers must endure… my Bio, Part III

In autobiography on May 27, 2008 at 5:14 pm

Life can be hell for teenagers. They aren’t children anymore; and neither are they adults. It is interesting that the very term, teenager, is of very late invention. Before the onset of the Industrial Age, under an agricultural or traditional economy, children “came of age.” Boys entered into their craft or estate and girls became marriageable. This coming of age was usually marked with some kind of cultural event. In fact, in Mexico, they still have the quincenero: the party for a 15-year old girl, setting her out as of marriageable age.  But in our day, in our urbanized, technological, post-industrial society, the delay of marriage for the purpose of lengthened schooling is the norm.

The body wants a wife or husband long before school is out, in the early to mid 20s! And, with the state of public schooling is such disrepair, much of the discipline needed to sustain this delayed gratification has fallen down. Teens get a bum rap out of all this. When I was a high-school teacher, one student told me, “high school is a warehouse for teenagers until we (society) can figure out what to do with them.” You say that is cynical? Of course it is. But I didn’t say it; a high schooler did, to many an “amen!”

I started high school in a fine Jesuit preparatory school, after having completed K-8 at St Cassian Elementary School, where I was schooled by Dominican nuns. Sr Mary Joseph was the principal.  Few applicants were accepted at St Peter’s where I went. There was a sense of being select, special, elite.  The 9th grade curriculum was 1st year Latin, Western Civilization, English, Advanced Algebra, Religion. Since the school was located in Jersey City, I had to ride a train and a bus every day, starting very early and coming home just before 5 PM. The stink of the Secaucus meadows and the air heavy with raw pollution from burning garbage piles prefaced every school day, as the train crossed the delta of the Passaic River. St Peter’s Prep was located near the west bank of the Hudson River, just a couple of blocks from the Colgate-Palmolive factory. Imagine learning the 1st conjugation to the overwhelming odor of toothpaste in the making! Laudo, laudas, laudat, laudamus, laudatis, laudant; did I brush my teeth this morning?

Life at St Peter’s was old-school jesuit discipline. The Jesuit fathers trace their roots back to the outbreak of the Lutheran revolt, in the early 16th century. There, in Germany, especially the southern portions: Bavaria, the Rhineland, these “the Pope’s shock troops” took back many areas from Luther and restored them to Rome. The Jesuits, members of “the Society of Jesus,” found their strength in intellectual achievements. They would practice the Counter-Reformation by out-smarting their Protestant rivals. We teens at St Peter’s would certainly be marked by that spirit. So, our teachers were dead set on showing us just who was in charge. There was a rule that frosh (freshmen, 9th graders) could not cross the street to the corner store during lunch or breaks. That was for upper-classmen only. A few of us put that to the test. We entered the store and purchased orange sodas. There, standing on the corner and swilling our orangeades and enjoying the sun, all seemed promising. We would finish our sodas and return to classes. All this fear-mongering by the upper-classmen was of no account. Until the black robe appeared. The father crossed the street, and without a word, seized our drinks from us and poured their contents into the sewer by the curb. We were duly detained after school for discipline. Yep, they meant what they said. Tow the line, or else. I took a late train that night…

Greet the most precious person in my life’s journey…

In autobiography on May 26, 2008 at 2:24 am

Here is my wife, without whose loving, patient, and enduring friendship, I could not become something more than I am.  We endured many trials and afflictions and the Lord delivered us out of them all. Christina is the accompaniment to the song of love for God in my soul.

When I am full of myself, she gently points me out, away from myself.

When I am depressed, she brightens my eyes and delivers me from my greyness.

When I am lonely, she takes me by the hand, and we go for a walk.

When I am confused, she shows me what to focus on.

As we approach our 33rd wedding anniversary, I say to my bride: God grant you many years!

 

so here is another, for those who didn’t like the first photo

In autobiography on May 20, 2008 at 10:05 pm

yes, here I am, without the luminosity of my wife. Now you can offer a prayer for the unworthy presbyter, Patrick!

Fr Patrick bio, Part II: the power of the angelic salutation

In autobiography on May 20, 2008 at 9:52 pm

I was eight years old and it was a typical evening at home, probably a school night. As was typical in those days, the late 50s, in another cultural world now all but gone, a Catholic family would place a crucifix in each room of their house. I had one over my bed and could easily look at it to my right, as I lay in bed preparing for sleep. We were never taught to pray at home. In fact, my family was not at all religious beyond the Sunday mass attendance in common practice. In fact, I never saw my parents pray outside of Mass (the Roman Catholic nickname given to their liturgy). My father would attend the parish church for morning prayers during weekdays in Lent–as I remember in my small boy’s memory, since he would arouse me from sleep to accompany him there before going to school.

So, there I am, the 8 year old, awaiting sleep. I sensed being called. What is this? Who is in the room with me here? Who is summoning? I lay there, aware of a presence. Again, a call. The heart is a mystery; it breathes for, aspires to, and does not rest short of, the Voice. The ancient Hebrews called it the Qol Yhwh: the Voice of the LORD.  When God speaks, “let all the earth keep silence before Him.” Everything in the mind and heart trembles and grows still: “the Voice of the LORD is upon the waters, the Voice of the LORD shatters cedars,… grinds the cedars of Lebanon to powder, the Voice of the Lord cuts through fiery flames; … shakes the desert of Kadesh… and in His temple, everyone says ‘Glory!'” (Ps 28). I lay there in fear and wonderment, perplexed as to how to respond. What answer can I give? What is His Name?

I rolled out of bed, dropped to my knees and took up these words, “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Ok, so that is what the nuns who were my school teachers taught us to pray. It was awkward and I felt embarrassed. The moment passed. I lay in bed and fell asleep and did not awake again for 11 long, painful years.  But I said the NAME; Jesus. She taught me to do that, “whatever He tells you, do it!” (Mary to the servants at the wedding in Cana, the first of Jesus’ miracles: John 2: 5).  And that ONE who carries the Name of salvation, Jesus, would call me again, for keeps…

In the Orthodox Church, we use the angelic salutation as a way to stand with the Virgin and share in her holy moment when the uncreated Master of the Ages overshadowed her. With these words, the Angel announced the conception of God to become man. He announced it: Annunciation, Evangelismos, in Greek.  The event and the feast is the Evangelism of God-become-man! Mary is the select vessel: pure, obedient, ready to serve God. “The angels offer a hymn; the heavens, a star; the Magi, gifts; the shepherds, their wonder; the earth, a cave; the wilderness, a manger; and we offer Thee a Virgin Mother. O Pre-eternal God, have mercy on us!” (prosomoion for Vespers, Feast of Nativity).

Fr Patrick B. O’Grady–an introduction to friends and foes: Part I

In autobiography on May 20, 2008 at 4:17 am

As I grasp this medium, you will witness all sorts of flailings and false starts. As with any new mode of communication, experimentation provides the best learning.  To set the stage, it seems a short bio might be in order. This is the first of several parts.  I will attempt to include a gem from the Holy Scriptures or the sacred writings of the Fathers of the Church with each post.

I am a native of New Jersey, USA.  I grew up, second of seven children, in a typical post WWII suburban large family. Unfortunately, my father died young, leaving my mother with the seven of us, 1 month old up to 11 years old. That led to a state of affairs consisting of general familial chaos, out of which I survived to seek my way in life.  Having been raised Roman Catholic and attending Catholic school up through the 9th grade, I was unprepared for the cultural decadence which struck in 1967: the “summer of love” in San Francisco, the full-on effect of the reforms of Vatican II desecrating the old Roman Mass (who wants to go to church anymore?), the Six-Day War in Palestine, along with all of its apocalyptic portendings, and that lining up with adolescence and coming-of-age. Yikes! I actually lived through that.  To be continued…

photo break for the family: The lady next to me in the picture above, Christina–properly, Khouria (see NOTE below, on this title) Christina–is my beloved wife, with whom I have journeyed in this life for now approaching 33 years in marriage (our anniversary is on May 31st).  By the way, rejoice with us: our only son, Christopher (Reader John) O’Grady, of Boise, Idaho, is engaged to be married this summer!

NOTE: “Khouria” (Arabic, with no direct equivalent in English), pronounced “hoo-REE-ah” (a heavy initial H sound), is the title appropriate for the priest’s wife.  So, in Orthodox Christianity, we call the priest “father” and his wife “khouria.”  In our sister churches, the Greeks call her “presvytera” [prez-vee-TEH-rah], and the Russians, “matushka” [MAH-toosh-kah].

“We do not seek conquest, but rather the return of brethren, the separation of whom is tearing us”–St Gregory of Nazianzen (4th century).