Dangerous Expectations

expectationsA priest I’ve known for many years always wishes me a “Blessed” Christmas this time of year.  Never a “Merry” Christmas.  Never a “Happy Christmas.”  And most certainly, never “have a good one.”

After he had done this a couple times, I overcame my natural shyness and asked why he doesn’t say “Merry” like everyone else.  He smiled (with a smile a little like the Cheshire cat) and explained that Christmas isn’t really about being Merry, but about receiving the greatest gift God could give us: His only son.

It was his little way of reminding people that Christmas isn’t really about sugar plum fairies, trips to the mall or a reindeer with a red nose.

Christmas is about the arrival of the Word made flesh, mankind’s ultimate get out of jail free card.  I may have original sin and am not worthy for Him to enter under my roof, but Christ was born to give me a simple (perhaps not easy) path to eternal life.

The importance of that path tends to get lost amid the unrealistic expectations of the season:

  • Everyone who really matters to me will send me a card and come to visit.
  • I’ll send out hundreds of cards and decorate my home to look like a scene from the Nutcracker Suite.
  • I will get exactly the gifts I want.
  • Every gift I give will be the best gift the person receiving it will get.
  • The entire family will gather around the table for Christmas with a perfectly prepared turkey in the center and a photographer from Hallmark present to record the moment.
  • The cookies I bake will be even better than the ones grandma made from the same recipe in the old days.
  • There will be snow for Christmas, but only 3-4 inches and the temperature will be such that it sticks on the lawns and trees and the roads remain clear.
  • The Church service will start on time, the choir will be exquisite, all the children in the congregation will be well-behaved and the service will conclude in under an hour.

Reality will likely fall well short of expectations.  I’ll be lucky to get an email out, I’ll burn the turkey and grandma would be ashamed of my baking.

That is where the “dangerous” part of expectations kicks in.  There can be a wide gap between what we picture in our minds as the perfect Christmas and what actually occurs.

This may be disappointing. For some folks, it can be depressing – I mean medically so.  To unmet expectations add exhaustion, sleep deprivation, last-minute gift panic and too much eggnog and you have a recipe for misery.

And if I’m heading in that direct – even a little bit – I need to remind myself of my Father friend’s wish for my “Blessed” Christmas.  Even if I get a clip-on tie with lighted Santa nose and the gingerbread men are the consistency of hockey pucks, Christmas is a greatest blessed I can ever receive.

And being so blessed, well, makes me feel Merry and Happy.



Frankenstein vs. the Pope

frank2Frankenstein has been the subject of many movies, some campy classics and some rather awful.

Frankenstein with Boris Karloff (1931, is likely THE Frankenstein flick, although there were earlier versions – and a couple dozen later ones.

I admit my favorite in the genre is Bride of Frankenstein (1935). There is something about Elsa Lanchester’s piercing eyes and frizzy hair that touched my taste for the terrifying.

frank3There is a Frankenstein movie for nearly every taste:

  • Son of Frankenstein (1939)
  • The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
  • Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
  • House of Frankenstein (1944)
  • Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
  • I Was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957)
  • Frankenstein Conquers the World (1965)
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet Frankenstein (1999)
  • Lady Frankenstein (1971)
  • Young Frankenstein (1974)

Just to be clear, I’m not recommending you go out and watch any of these.  And in that this is but a fraction of the “Frankies” that have been made, you may think it odd that I believe we need one more.

I’m talking about the yet-to-be-made Frankenstein vs. the Pope.

Frankly, this show won’t have a Frankenstein, but a Canavero.

Sergio Canavero is an Italian doctor who says he will perform the first human head transplant.  He plans to do this in China, the medical authorities in the United States and Europe being understandingly opposed.  He claims to be on the road to medical history, having successfully transplanted heads and bodies of animals and human cadavers.

The doctor says the operation that is supposed to put a living head on a living body not its own requires a couple dozen surgeons, will last 24 hours and cost $100 million.

Leonard_Nimoy_William_Shatner_Spock's_Brain_Star_Trek_1968The closest anyone has ever come to doing something like this was on the original Star Trek, when Dr. McCoy had to restore Spock’s brain after it was stolen by aliens. Wait…that was a television show. It wasn’t real. It was science fiction.

But rather than looking for inspiration from fictional characters or space aliens, I look to Pope Francis.  He recently gave a talk on how we should face the challenges of technical advances in medicine.

He made three key points:

  1. The first is the centrality of the human person, which must be considered an end and not a means.
  2. The second principle it is necessary to remember is that of the universal destination of goods, which also regards those of knowledge and technology.
  3. The principle remains that not all that is technically possible or feasible is therefore ethically acceptable.

I don’t think Frankenstein – I mean Canavero – responds favorably to any of the three points.  But he falls especially short on the third.

Maybe this diabolical doctor really can perform a human head transplant. I seriously doubt it.  And even he admits that if “successful” the resulting being probably wouldn’t live very long.

But for the sake of argument, let’s assume he can do it. Could there be any greater example of something that shouldn’t be done just because it could be done?

The one consistent theme in all the old Frankenstein flicks is that Frankenstein – the doctor — ends up in disgrace. Frankenstein vs. the Pope will end the same way.

Easy Love/Tough Love


When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees,
they gathered together, and one of them,
a scholar of the law tested him by asking,
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22: 34-40

The Gospel from the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time has been rambling around in my brain for the past couple days.  It started Sunday when I read the Holy Father’s address at the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square on the “Great Commandment.”

Then I went to Mass, quietly minding my own business, and the priest told me how challenging this commandment is and how I couldn’t always trust my feelings and my mind started working overtime and I realized that I live in a world that is terribly misinformed in matters of love.  Which isn’t to suggest I’m an expert.

What does it mean to love?  What is love?  Loving God seems like a no-brainer.  After all, how could I not love the source of all that is good?

But part B of this commandment is the tricky one.  How am I supposed to love so many people I encounter who, frankly, don’t seem all that loveable?  The commandment suggests I can – and I must.

How?  By finding love?

Our culture generally defines love in three ways, which often do not overlap.

Definition one:  Love is cute and cuddly, warm and fuzzy, makes you feel happy.

Definition two:  Love is all about the interaction of male and female hormones, meeting someone attractive who can satisfy every carnal passion.

Definition three:  Love is suffering and sacrifice, making oneself miserable for the sake of another, risking death by slaying a dragon to save a damsel in distress.

Each of these definitions depends on the “attractiveness” of the one I love:  A warm puppy, the love of my life, someone so wonderful I would die for them.

But the commandment says to love others as myself. Not just some others.  Not just others who are nice to me.  Not necessarily people I like.

Yes, I’m called to love people I don’t like.  And this turns our cultural perceptions upside down.

As anyone who watches prime-time television can tell you, liking someone precedes loving something.  You like first and if that goes well, you progress to love.  (This requires very little time in some television shows and movies.) But the commandment requires me to love my neighbor and there isn’t any mention of the neighbor’s likeability or fairness or honesty or beauty.

Can I love someone I don’t like?  Absolutely…and it may not be easy, pleasant, warm and fuzzy.  It may be downright unpleasant at times.

A nurse bathing a cranky old patient is showing love for the other; it is hardly a “good time.”

A parent demanding a child eat his green beans and finish his homework is showing love – but likely doesn’t like the child in the midst of the tug and pull of parenting.

A wife may not be feeling warm and fuzzy toward the husband who shows up an hour late for dinner – but still loves him.

I have never accepted the contention of some spiritual directors that feelings don’t matter and can’t be trusted.  Feelings can be unreliable, but they are real to the extent that they can spur actions or freeze us in inaction.

But I have come to believe that love transcends feelings.  I can demonstrate love even when my feelings, my emotions can’t like and tell me to flee something uncomfortable.

I must love. Sometimes that means doing what is best for someone I don’t like and by any objective measure is unlikeable.  Frankly, there are some rather unlikeable people in my life – even in my extended family.  But I have come to love them just the same.


The Pet Report

1028171524cIn Chicago, local television news has gone to the dogs – and various other animals.

I discovered this strange fact one recent night when I watched the local Fox affiliate (not to be confused by Fox News or Fox Business).

Most local television news in Chicago starts at 10 p.m. and lasts for 30 minutes.  The Fox folks start at 9 p.m. and continue for a full hour.

With that much extra time, you might think Fox would do some really in-depth reporting…root out corruption…brings us scenes of crime and tragedy from around the world…reveal the ins and outs of politics.

Instead, I watched several weather segments with amazing graphics that presented very simple information in a very complicated manner.  Despite all sorts of spinning symbols, swirling arrows, flashing lights and pulsating maps, all I learned was the projected temperature, wind and precipitation for the next day.

I had always heard that the motto of local news is “if it bleeds it leads.” Instead, Fox treated me to no less than four stories about animals:

  • The Coast Guard rescued two dogs from a marooned boat. They did mention that two people were rescued, but the focus was on man’s best friends, although the rescued humans were women.
  • There was an update on a coyote pup that had been injured and now lives with a foster coyote mom and her pup, which is now his step-brother pup.
  • Apple has a fancy new store that is all glass, with trees inside and gleaming lights at night. Apple customers love it.  Unfortunately, birds keep flying into the glass and dying.  This at least was a semblance of news; I learned that there is an organization of bird lovers who go around downtown Chicago looking for dead bird who may have flown into a building.
  • A pair of intrepid police officers tracked down an escaped pet rabbit and returned it to its forlorn owner.

Animals are important, valuable and sometimes cute.  Still, this didn’t seem like news and I decided I wouldn’t watch this report again.

But I may have been rash in that decision. After all, reports must be coming about cats, rats, fish and frog.

Time to Renew…again?

karl-fredrickson-27504-768x512I have had the experience a few times.  It happens during Mass and it makes me squirm.  I might even sneak a look around to find out if people are looking at me.  And I’m willing to bet I’m now the only one who has had this particular experience:  The Catholic Creeps.

There I sit in Mass, well-behaved, quiet. The priest is giving a perfectly fine homily.  Then he warns the congregation of a particular shortcoming or temptation that plagues people and I have the sense he is talking directly to me.

Oh no!  Father knows I’m insensitive, impatient, envious…whatever.  And he is calling me out right here in front of everyone!

Of course, he isn’t doing any such thing.  He is raising legitimate concerns and my conscience makes the connection.  That darn conscience.

My pastor can instill The Catholic Creeps on only a few hundred parishioners at a time.  But think of the Pope; he can do it to the multitudes.

Pope Francis dishes out The Catholic Creeps in the best sense, challenging us to be the best versions of Catholic that we can be.  Sometimes it seems like he is talking personally to me, although I’m pretty sure he didn’t roll out of bed thinking of how his homily that day would move little old me.

Likewise, I doubt he saunters over to St. Peter’s Square for a Sunday Angelus thinking, “Hey, have I got a great message today just for Jimbo…he could use a little poke in the side.”

Just the same, that doesn’t prevent his words from having a particular resonance with me, as they seemed to have one Sunday, when the Holy Father celebrated Mass in the square and declared 35 new saints.  (By the way, of all the good things a Pope gets to do, can anything be more fun than declaring saints?)

He gave a beautiful homily based on the day’s gospel about the king and the wedding feast from Matthew 22.  It is here if you would like to read it.

A few phrases popped out that seemed aimed at our Movement:

  • Our relationship with him, then, has to be more than that of devoted subjects with their king, faithful servants with their master, or dedicated students with their teacher.
  • In other words, the Lord wants us, he goes out to seek us and he invites us.
  • For him, it is not enough that we should do our duty and obey his laws. He desires a true communion of life with us, a relationship based on dialogue, trust and forgiveness.
  • Such is the Christian life, a love story with God.
  • No one has a better seat than anyone else, for all enjoy God’s favor.
  • We can ask ourselves if at least once a day we tell the Lord that we love him; if we remember, among everything else we say, to tell him daily, “Lord, I love you; you are my life”
  • They were more interested in having something rather than in risking something, as love demands.
  • This is how love grows cold, not out of malice but out of a preference for what is our own: our security, our self-affirmation, our comfort… We settle into the easy chair of profits, pleasures, or a hobby that brings us some happiness.
  • And we end up aging badly and quickly, because we grow old inside. When our hearts do not expand, they become closed in on themselves.
  • We need to put on God’s love and to renew our choice for him daily.

If you are reading this (and you survived this far into the article), you, like me, likely have had moments when you could stop “renewing.”  I think the Pope just gave us, and every other Christian, the only true answer to that question: never.

“We need to put on God’s love and to renew our choice for him daily.”  Each day is an opportunity to love anew…to accept God’s love…to renew.

Days of Disaster

Gioacchino_Assereto_-_Christ_healing_the_blind_manDevastating hurricanes hit the Caribbean and Southern United States.  Terrifying earthquakes strike Mexico.  For reasons unknown, a man rains terror on a concert crowd in Las Vegas, killing dozens and wounding hundreds.

What an awful summer, filled with despair and destruction.

We pray for those suffering. We send money and supplies.  People who are able, volunteer their labor.

And we look for someone or something to blame.

Perhaps the hurricanes are the result of global warming, caused by industrial emissions, created by greedy capitalists.  On the other hand, history suggests that hurricanes happen and there isn’t much (if anything) we can do to prevent them.  Of course, we can build on high ground and run away when they approach.

Perhaps earthquakes are caused by fracking to obtain natural gas.  Perhaps they are caused by loud salsa bands.  Perhaps there is volcanic activity in the earth and earthquakes simply happen.

As for mass killers, theories abound. Perhaps the Vegas killer had a miserable childhood.  Perhaps he ate too much refined white sugar.  Maybe he watched too many episodes of TV crime shows.

Or, he just might be an example of evil personified. Nothing complicated. Nobody to blame. Just pure evil.

A question since humans could think and came to believe in a power greater than themselves:  Why does God let this happen?

For primitive people, the explanation was simple, if likely inaccurate.  God was powerful and vengeful and if man did something God didn’t like, bad things would happen.  So…if there was an earthquake, someone sinned – or slacked off on sacrifices at the altar.

Some folks still think that way, assuming that this sudden spate of natural disasters is the result of unbiblical lifestyles, video games or mistreatment of farm animals.

Some brilliant, sensitive people have written on this subject.

Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl, tried to make sense of the suffering in German concentration camps during World War II.  Frankl survived years in the camps, his parents, wife and brother all dying.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold S. Kushner, tried to make sense of the sorrow experienced when he learned his young son had a terrible disease and would live only a few years.

At the other end of the spectrum of elegance is the political saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”  This has been attributed to everyone from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to Winston Churchill.  The inference is that a smart politician can use a crisis to his own benefit.  A rather cynical thought.

But I have a much less cynical view, and none of my friends would accuse me of being a Pollyanna.  I believe that as terrible as a crisis (hurricane, earthquake, mass murder) may be, it will unleash God’s grace and the remarkable nobility of the human spirit.

In Houston, fishermen in their small boats cruised flooded neighborhoods, rescuing threatened homeowners and ferrying them to safety.

In Mexico, college students searched for survivors and brought relief to those in need.

During the Las Vegas shooting, a young man shielded his fiancé with his body. She was safe; he died.

Bad things have been happening ever since Adam and Eve made a mess of things in the Garden of Eden.  But every bad thing has allowed good to surface.

I’ve seen it in my own family, where the debilitating diseases of an aging parent brought distant family members together to face a common challenge to provide care.  In one instance, the family member deemed least likely to make great sacrifices, did just that.

Perhaps we’ll never stop trying to assign blame when disaster strikes.  But it could be we’re looking at this backwards.  Maybe we should be looking at the good arising from the bad.

Recall Jesus’ healing of the blind man in the ninth chapter of John.  The disciples wanted to know if the man was blind because of his own sins or the sins of his parents.

Jesus replied (I have to think he chuckled a bit in doing so) that it was neither the sins of the man nor his parents “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

Yes, it has been a summer of disaster.  It also has been summer of God’s glory.

Grateful Grandpa

1001171228aI got a new title this weekend:  GRANDPA.

That’s better than President, Chairman, General, Doctor, Esquire or Supreme Commander.

The job requirements to hold my new title are rather fuzzy…but warm.  The key elements are love, hugging, smiling, tears of joy and a heart bursting with gratitude.

I’m grateful for my daughter and her husband.  And I’m grateful for the two babies who qualify me to be grandpa.

Juliana Therese and Lucy Faustina are fraternal twins.  You probably notice from their names that the family is Catholic.  I’m grateful for that.

I know.  I’m sounding really sweet and annoyingly happy.  But I can’t help it.

My wife and I will mark 43 years of marriage in a few days.  Yes, I’m grateful for that.  And people who know me realize that she must be a saint.

I have great plans for the twins.  I’m going to teach them how to fish.  I’m thinking they will take piano lessons.  Maybe they will be artistic, like their grandma.  The might write a little.

But if all those dreamy plans go by the wayside, it really isn’t important.  The only thing I need is to look and them and thank God.

A different flavor of PDB

prayer-1427565125dg4-300x200The President of the United States gets many perks.  Living in the White House.  Smart folks to help.  Air Force One.  Camp David.

And he also has each morning should he wish it, the opportunity to review the President’s Daily Brief (PDB).  Frankly, I think this is more a penalty than a perk.  It is the report from the intelligence community about what the greatest threats against peace and stability are that particular day.

Although I’ve never seen one of these reports, it isn’t difficult to figure out the things that might be covered.  There’s a 50 percent chance that goofy little guy in North Korean will launch a rocket.  There’s a 10 percent chance the Indians and Pakistanis will lob grenades at each other at a mountain checkpoint.  A plane will be shot down in Syria, a riot will break out in Baltimore, the Iranians are three steps closer to a nuclear bomb and a revolution could go live in Venezuela.

I have to think this report is pretty depressing reading, although there is the upliftinglikelihood that most of the awful things predicted the previous day didn’t happen.

Of course, the American president isn’t the only world leader who likely has sobering reading material over breakfast.  Think about Pope Francis.  Does he get a Papal Daily Brief (PDB)?

He isn’t worried about where to deploy his secret agents, armies, navies and bombs.  He has a different sort of weapon:  prayer.  We’ve needed a lot of that weapon of late, as the year of natural disasters continues.

Imagine you are the Pope and you want to pray for people who are suffering.  Where do you start – let alone finish?  In 2017, we’ve had hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.  Mexico has experienced two horrible earthquakes.  Around the world there have been floods, wildfires, mud slides and immigration tragedies.  Add in war, terrorism and plagues and you figure the Pope has a pretty thick prayer book.

Pope Francis often issues a statement of solidarity for those suffering in some disaster.  There have been so many that I wonder if he has standardized forms for hurricanes, typhoons, mud slides, earthquakes and general mayhem.  Maybe he reads the morning news, then turns to an aide and says:  “Monsignor, please get me two hurricane forms, one expression of sorrow over a kidnapping and a novena for the conversion of a mad dictator.

This isn’t to make light of a horrendous situation; the world needs prayer, fraternity, solidarity, mercy, peace and the love of Jesus Christ.  You know the Pope is praying for these intentions each and every day.

I admit to sometimes having doubt about the power of my own prayers, a doubt I doubt the Pope has.  But I think we all need to chip in with our prayers and help the Holy Father.

There is no limit to the prayers God can process.  I’m going to add to the chorus.

Don’t exaggerate death

tree-2649411_960_720The report of my death was an exaggeration. – Mark Twain

I hope never to read my own obituary.  On the one hand, if it were accurate, I would be dead.  On the other hand, if it were inaccurate I might not like it.  On still another hand (oops, that’s three), it might be accurate and I like it even less.

From where I sit in Chicago, the death of the Church might not seem all that exaggerated.  This isn’t to say there are not great things happening, people getting involved, souls saved and all sorts of great things. It is an obituary I do no enjoy.

But if you pick out some obvious statistics, well, it can be sobering.  For example, from 1975 to 2015, the number of diocesan priests in Chicago fell from 1,261 to 776.  Ordinations totaled 37 in 1975 and only 14 in 2015. In 1975, Chicago had 6,497 women religious; in 2015 the number was 1,536. (See all the Chicago data here.)

I could go on with various other statistics that would indicate a decline in Chicago, and I bet I would find similar uninspiring statistics in other major American cities.  Most have or will have significant parish consolidations.  We’re getting ready for major parish closings in Chicago and it will be emotional, painful – and necessary.

If you look at the statistics for the Church in the United States as a whole, you get a similar impression.  We have 20,000 few priests than in 1975.  We lost nearly 90,000 women religious over the same period. And you can get all sorts of detailed statistics at the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate.  The American statistics won’t make you feel like dancing, unless you are a closet member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

On still another hand, if you look at the global statistics, you might feel like a waltz.  You use the same link as the US stats, but have to click on the “global” data.

Spoiler alert:  If you look at global numbers, the Catholic Church is growing…a lot.  The number of priests is fairly stable: 404,783 in 1975; 415,656 in 2015.  The number of women religious is down.  But in other areas…

Priestly ordination:  4,140 in 1975; 5,947 in 2015.

Graduate-level seminarians:  24,183 in 1975; 55,988 in 2015.

Permanent deacons:  2,686 in 1975; 44,627 in 2015.  (Yes, that is a 16-fold increase.)

Catholic elementary schools:  79,424 in 1975; 95,644 in 2015.

Catholic secondary schools:  27,542 in 1975; 47,415 in 2015.

World Catholic population:  709.6 million in 1975; 1.285 billion in 2015.

I could go on with many more statistics that show the growth of the Church.  And there are some troubling trends with the Catholic population:  fewer marriages of Catholics to Catholics, fewer baptisms of babies, fewer Catholic hospitals.  But the trend clearly is toward a bigger, broader, more global Catholic Church.

So what do I learn from this as a resident of a big American diocese that is struggling to stop the bleeding?  It tells me if I want to have a Church as vibrant as it should be I better start evangelizing.  And I probably should expect that my future priestly role model may look and sound less like Bing Crosby in Going My Way and more like Cardinal Peter Turkson.

As a convert, I’m deeply grateful to have found the Catholic Church, mostly through the love and patience of a wonderful wife.  And it is rather thrilling to know the rest of the world is finding the faith, too.

I don’t want to lose my head

Altartafel_Kapelle_Spannweid_Zürich_StadtheiligeI learned a new word last week:  cephalophore.  Actually, it is an old word, so it is more accurate to say I learned a word that other people learned long ago.  An old word was new to me.

The word came up in a gathering of serious practicing Catholics.  As a convert, I thought I had a good excuse not to know the word.  Some of those present were cradle Catholics; they had less of an excuse.

But I’m straying from my point of discussing the word, cephalophore.  It is an art form that depicts a saint carrying his (or her) own head. The idea is that a saint can be decapitated and still have the presence of mind (albeit at arm’s length) to hold the severed head and, perhaps, express some holy sentiment.  Tradition has it that St. Paul spoke the name of Jesus after being decapitated.

Around 120 saints are so depicted in art.  The more famous include St. Paul, St. Dennis and St. Aphrodisius.  Of course, the Bible recounts some beheadings, St. John the Baptist likely being the best known. John didn’t get to hold his head, it being placed on a platter to please the whims of a dancing girl and her lecherous king.

Beheadings also show up in the news these days.  Muslim terrorist groups like ISIS like cutting off heads.  (This is where I add the standard disclaimer that not all Muslims are terrorists, nor do any but a pathetic few remove the heads of their enemies.)

As you might imagine, the history of beheadings is long and disquieting.  I did a little research and learned that execution by beheading seems to be a part of nearly every culture in every part of the world.  Executioners see it as a fast and effective way to kill – and certain to be useful as a behavior modification tool.

Some cultures used beheading as a more humane option to other methods such as burning at the stake, boiling in oil or hanging by the neck.  St. Paul was a Roman citizen and thus given the “humane” beheading rather than the alternative: crucifixion.

The French use of the Guillotine during in the wake of their revolution would seem to make them the beheading all stars.  During those terrifying times, the French removed the heads of a great many people, some of them quite famous:  Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Maximilien Robespierre.

But I’m not willing to crown the French the best at beheading; the English started the practice early and did it often.  Losing a battle, failing to gain a crown or refusing to agree with a king brought many a noble Englishman (or woman) to the chopping block:  Sir Thomas Moore, Anne Boleyn, Jane Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell, Sir William Wallace (AKA Braveheart).

In cinema and literature characters occasionally lose their heads.  For example, Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow gives us the headless horseman.  The rider was hardly a saint, but the United States produced a postage stamp in his honor.

Saints seldom show up on stamps, certainly not without their heads.  And it might seem rather obscure (random, as my daughter would say), but the way the world is going, the cephalophore could make a comeback as an art form.

Christians are persecuted around the world; thousands are killed for their faith each year.  And, yes, many are beheaded.  I don’t know if any are able to literally utter words after the horrid act.  But their conviction and courage speaks louder than words to my heart.