The author of this article is Bernie Long, co-host of Pro Life America radio.
I have experienced a calling from the Holy Spirit to write about this man Bill.
Bill will be 98 years old this year. He was born in 1925. I was born 25 years later in 1950. I received a phone call about 7 years ago from Bill saying he saw the advertisement in the church bulletin for a men’s gospel reflection group. While he was not from this parish he had a real desire to be in a group of Catholic Christian men. That call turned out to be a true blessing for me and our whole group. Bill would tell you it was a true blessing for him. He sees our groups as brothers in Christ. I see him as a father figure, a brother and a wonderful blessing from the Lord.
Tom Brokaw wrote a book called The Greatest Generation. In that book he talks about Bill’s generation. Their dedication to family, country, duty and faith allowed them to endure much hardship, defeat tyranny and paved the way for many to experience the American dream. My mother and father were part of that generation. They handed down to my sister and I the greatest loving gift any parent could give – Faith. Bill is one of the last living members of that generation. He too wants to pass along the greatest gift of all –
This is not an attempt to have Bill declared a living saint. Although his daughter Eileen one time responded to me saying – your dad is a saint – she responded he is a saint. What motivates me to write this are the lessons to be learned from this wonderful man. It is good to reflect on how Bill lived his almost 100 years of life with faith and joy. He is Exhibit A on the benefits of being a Catholic Christian.
It will feature 4 parts:
Joy to the world the Lord has come!
Bill gave our group a prayer from his daughter’s friend – Sheila. It is a beautiful prayer – one line says – Help me to be joyful always and give thanks in all circumstances. Well I submit to you that anyone who has played golf can tell you that it is not possible to be joyful always. All kidding aside – it is a tall order to be joyful and thankful always. That prayer is from 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. It is something to contemplate. Bill is a joyful person. It is the best advertisement for evangelization – being joyful.
I remember one time I saw a young man write – being a Catholic takes all the joy out of life. All those rules, they make your life miserable. They leave you filled with guilt for having a good time. Oh yeah I know be miserable now and only find joy only after your dead. Somehow this God that is supposed to love you wants you to be miserable – it makes no sense to me
Wow – This person thoughts are a view that I think is responsible for many young people falling away from their Catholic faith. Well, let these people meet Bill. He will tell them that these rules are out of love. They don’t enslave you – they set healthy boundaries so one can be free to live a meaningful life and one that can be lived in joy. Free to be the person God created you to be. That is the personwho you truly are.
Being a faithful Catholic gives meaning to your suffering, it gives meaning to your works of charity, it gives meaning to death. Guilt is a gift from God – but should only last a short period of time. Show me someone who never admits mistakes or sins, I will show you a narcissistic person who no one wants to be around. The Sacrament of Confession allows our guilt to be washed away in God’s infinite mercy. A person who is racked with guilt cannot be joyful.
Just witness the many seemingly very successful people whose life is without Catholic Christian rules. They have adulation, lots of money, fancy cars, luxury houses, and many sexual partners. Time and again you see them fall into depression and drugs. I have seen studies about successful athletes who make a fortune during their careers. It is astonishing that often within 5 years after playing they have squandered their wealth. They have broken marriages and children who are a mess. They have temporary pleasure but not a joyful life.
Bill is a person who loves to laugh. He cracks corny jokes all the time. When he talks, the guys in our group, we listen. One time he tells us there is a guy in his neighborhood who is vandalizing cars. We say wow that is awful, Bill says well they almost caught the guy last night. In fact they got one handcuff on the guy but somehow he slipped away. Then Bill raises his one arm to straighten his hair. There on his wrist is a pair of fake handcuffs
Bill loves to imitate movie actors of his time. I call him and speak to Jimmy Cagney? Bill without hesitation – YOUUUUU dirty rat – youuuu shot my brudder – yooooo dirty dirty rat!
Is Edward G Robinson there? – yeah he’s here – sooooo you’re a wiseeee guy are ya. He can do John Wayne , Walter Brennan. They only problem, he says with a smile, I am so old most people never heard of them now.
He and I share love of baseball –especially old time baseball teams and players. He can tell you about the players on the ‘29 Phila A’s. He can talk about his favorite team, other than the Phillies, the St Louis Cardinals. Stan “the man” Musial was a boyhood hero. He also liked Richie Ashburn of the Phillies. We would talk about some of the greatest hitters of all time and his admiration for their skills. Bill is left handed. I noticed that all of the players he talked about were left handed hitters. Musial, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig etc. Hey Bill all lefties He smiles with his palms up – “I just call them as I see them” Life is interesting to Bill. When we talk about old players stats etc he very often says Wow Life is full of things that leave you with Wow if you look for them.
He noted how all these great players were so unique. They all fabulously successful but all had very different batting styles. He notes just as every person is also unique never to be duplicated. The same with saints they all unique. You can learn from others but the Lord made you unique and precious in His eyes. It is a wonderful thing to contemplate how you are special, never to be replicated. If you never live the life God is calling you to be there is a loss. Bill is a perfect example of a someone who has strived to be the person God created him to be.
Bill played a lot of baseball as a boy. He can tell you about games he played over 80 years ago. He was a pitcher. He talked about how he was very small and light so he pitched “vertically” as he called it. As a hitter he was so small – he was a singles hitter. He now has lots of leg problems – ironically he tells me he could really run as a boy.
I love hearing his story’s. Life is interesting to Bill. He has so many memories. He does not let politics or turmoil in the church steal his joy.
Jesus only founded one church – Bill will tell us. It will not fail. Jesus promises us in Matthew 16:18 that the powers of death will not prevail against his church.
Now if you asked Bill he would say his life was very blessed. He has so much to be grateful for. From a distance he has had a “Brady Bunch” life. He has had two wonderful wives – Mary and Margaret. Five Children of his own with Mary. She sadly passed away . He married Margaret who was a widow. Margaret had two children of her own. He had two wonderful marriages, his children love and cherish him. He had a successful real estate business. No wonder he is joyful.
Not so fast. Yes it is easy to be joyful if life is one of peaches and cream so to speak.
Bill has had more than his share of trial and tribulations. “Don’t waste suffering” Bill tells us. Scripture tells us to take up our cross and follow Jesus daily. No escaping the crosses of life. Some get more than others. Life is not fair.
Here are “Crosses” in Bills life that could have left him depressed and sad; maybe even bitter
His older brother, killed in WW ll was only 22.
Bill and his first wife Mary had 5 children. His middle child Paul was born with Down’s syndrome. We were told little Paul’s heart defect was so severe he would not live .
Paul’s short life was spent in a play pen for his own safety.
Bill’s beloved wife Mary, after giving birth to their 5th child Marty, was diagnosed with cancer. Her prognosis was grim.
Bill, with a sick wife and healthy young children he had to take care of, plus a job, was forced to have baby Marty taken in by others.
Bill had to inform his dying wife that Paul had passed away.
Mary passed away months after Paul. Their youngest son Marty never knew his mother.
Once more – Bill marries Margaret a widow who had 3 children of her own. They had years of a wonderful marriage but tragically Margaret was also struck with cancer and died some years ago.
So I ask Bill – so your wife is dying shortly after giving birth to your 5th child. You have a new born and a handicapped child and three other children. How did you handle this? You had to be overwhelmed? Depressed – feel sorry for yourself? He says no I really was not. I had my faith in the Lord and it was no time for self pity. I had a family that needed me – I was too busy for self pity.
So what about little Paul? How did he handle the news of his condition? It must have been so hard hearing that he could never really have a normal childhood. It is so unfair. Sadly he was not able to die in the loving arms of his mother or father. Bill says well – we felt it was God’s will and we have to accept it. We felt that Paul was incapable of sin and would go right to heaven. That was a great comfort to us.
Bill did tell me a story that gave me goose bumps about Paul. It is something that I like to picture in my mind. Little Paul was often confined alone in a playpen. At times his brother would get into the playpen with him to play. When he did that little Paul would squeal with pure joy. Wow something to ponder. This poor little child was longing for someone to play with. Bill believed it was a little preview of the Joy that awaited Paul and all of us in heaven.
Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, what God has ready for those who love Him.
1 Corinthians 2:9
“I let my golden chances pass me by”.
Bill and music go together. Bill was the Director of the choir at Saint Charles Borromeo in Drexel Hill. I can stay up with him with baseball but when Bill speaks of a Soprano Alto Tenor or Bass he leaves me in the dust. He has a wonderful voice. We often ask him to close our meeting with a song. He sang at his own weddings and at his sons and daughters weddings. His musical talents are such a beautiful way to spread joy and prayer.
I showed Bill my father’s 50th reunion Communion Breakfast brochure from West Catholic. Sure enough there was Bill listed as leading the choir.
Very recently I was visiting him and two ladies with guitars were there from the care taking agency he uses. They travel around and serenade their elderly clients. They told us that one lady who no longer remembered the names of her children would light up when they played the beautiful songs of her era.
I felt so blessed to witness this as Bill would make song requests and the ladies would play and Bill would sing along.
Two songs in particular stuck out to me.
If I Loved You –
This is from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Carousel – it is song about two lovers who can’t bring themselves to say there true feelings about each other. Here are some of the lyrics
If I loved you time and again I would try to say all I want you to know.
If I loved you words wouldn’t come in easy way round in circles I go.
Longing to tell you but afraid and shy I let my golden chances pass me by.
If you lived long enough we all have regrets. Regrets of things we’ve done and regrets of things we failed to do. Sometimes we might think we have let our golden chances pass us by.
Well Bill would tell you that there is a God who loves you more than we can imagine and there is nothing you have done or failed to do that is beyond His Mercy.
Bill makes it clear how much he loves his family and those around him. We are called to evangelize the Good News of Jesus Christ. Well Bill uses every chance he has to talk about the joy of being a follower of Jesus Christ and being a member of the Church the Lord founded- the Catholic Church. Bill does not let his golden chances pass him by.
Always was written by Irving Berlin. Bill requested this and told the ladies this is a song that he sang to his “Bride Mary” on their wedding day. Here are some of the lyrics
I’ll be loving you Always
With a love that’s true Always
When the things you’ve planned
Need a helping hand
I will understand Always
Days may not be fair Always
That’s when I’ll be there Always
Not for just an hour
Not for just a day
Not for just a year
Wow . Listening to Bill sing this left the lady with tears in her eyes- me too. Bills daughter Eileen told me that her mom and dad were so in love.
You know we live in a world that is greatly troubled. I believe there are two answers to the world’s troubles. Faith in the Lord is first. Second, we need more intact loving families. Bill’s generation valued faith and family. Marriage and family was sacred commitment – a covenant before the Lord.
Studies show that married people are healthier, wealthier and happier. Children of intact families with a mother and father are much less likely to be involved with drugs, drop out of school and to get pregnant before marriage.
Bill’s devotion to his faith and family was the “ Always”. In marriage the best you can do in this life love and cherish in good times and bad until death do us part.
“Do whatever he tells you”
Bill told me when he was in high school he had a Christian Brother tell him to always carry a rosary. Bill listened. When he was in the service he became very sick from food poisoning. He prayed to Our Lady that if she would ask her son to help him he would always have devotion to the rosary. Bill recovered and he has a lifelong devotion to the Blessed Mother.
This is often a very misunderstood part of Catholicism. Why do they pray to Mary, she is not God? Where in the bible does it say pray to Mary?
John 21:2 ,The Wedding Feast of Cana. It’s the water into wine Gospel. Well in that account Mary and Jesus are at a wedding. They run out of wine. Troubled they go to Mary. Why? Does this divine revelation have a message for us today?
Did they think Mary was going to go out and jump on her donkey and go to the nearest liquor store? They don’t go to Jesus they go to Mary and she goes to Jesus.
The amazing thing is Jesus does not initially want to help. “Woman my time has not come”. In Luke 21 the calling her woman is tied into the woman in the Garden of Eden – Eve. Mary is the new Eve. She succeeded where Eve failed. Jesus is the new Adam He succeeds where Adam failed. Jesus eventually does what his mother asks of him. The last words of Mary in the Gospel – telling them to go to her son – “do whatever he tells you”. John 2 1-11.
This is Jesus’ start of his public ministry. This is his first miracle. All accomplished due to the intercession of his mother. She did not change the water into wine but she went to her son. That is what Mary does for us; lead us to her son.
Later in John 19 – 25-29 —-one of Jesus’ last words was “Behold Your Mother”. He says that to the unnamed “beloved disciple”. That is for us – we are His Beloved Disciple and Jesus is giving us a Spiritual mother.
In the movie Saving Private Ryan they depicted mortally wounded young soldiers calling out to their mothers in their time of dire need. When we are in trouble we often call out to our mothers. There is such a wonderful special bond between mother and child. That is the tragedy of abortion that a mother would be so lost and desperate as to take the life of her own child.
One time I was away playing golf in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The nice couple we were staying with had a great devotion to Mary and the rosary. So we went early to church where they were saying the rosary before mass. With us was a good Christian man who apparently was never exposed to the rosary. Anyway he said to me why do they keep saying the same thing over and over? It is a fair question.
I told him about the mysteries of the rosary. He responded all I hear them doing is saying the same thing over and over. It is a challenge to keep your mind from wandering while saying 50 Hail Mary’s.
Bill comes to the rescue. Bill leads us in a rosary where he intertwines the mystery in the middle of the decade of the rosary. It helps you to mediate on the mystery and breaks the repetitive nature of the Hail Mary’s.
We have all seen beautiful pictures depicting Mary holding her sleeping infant son Jesus in her arms. Bill has a statute of the Pieta – a crucified Jesus in the arms of his broken hearted mother. I believe all of us long to have a loving relationship with our Blessed Mother. .
Please share my joy in adoring the real presence.
This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?
The joy line is from the introduction of Bills paper titled Our Adorable Lord Eucharist – A gathering of thirty mediations for adoration. Anything written about Bill has to include his absolute devotion and belief in the true presence of our Lord in the Eucharist.
Bill carries a card which states that he is a Eucharistic Adoration Consultant. He believes the cornerstone of our Catholic faith is our conviction in the real presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. One thing that is paramount in Bill’s faith ideology is that when the Priest prays the words of concentration that this tiny sliver of bread is transubstantiated into the Body Blood Soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The same with the wine it is turned into the blood of Christ.
Other than the Holy Mass Bill believes Eucharistic adoration is a wonderful way to experiencing the Lord’s love in our lives and time spent in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.
This is a hard saying; who can listen to it? This is from John 6 :60. It was true in Jesus’ time – it is difficult for many today. How can we eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus? I heard a priest on EWTN say that he thought that Judas began his betrayal when he, like many others, walked away from Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in John 6. He went on to say that priests who betray their priestly vows do so because they to find the notion that they can change bread and wine in to the body and blood of Jesus Christ to be too hard.
So where does this belief come from. Catholics are often challenged where is that in the bible? Well I believe the support for this teaching in the Bible is incontrovertible.
So in the three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – their last supper passages are all similar. Jesus on the night before he died he took bread blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples saying “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. When supper was ended “This cup which is poured for you is the new covenant in my blood”. Luke 22-17-20.
Bill tells us remembrance means “make present, Jesus in His love for us wants us to experience presence in our lives now. It is His gift to us. Wow, He does not say this is a symbol of my body.
John 6 the “Bread of Life” discourse is one I believe makes Jesus intention incontrovertible.
I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall not thirst. John 6:35
I am the bread of life, your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that many eat of it and not die . John 6:48 -50
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. John 6-51
The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, how can this man give us his flesh to eat? Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. John 6:52-54. Bill would say Wow, what a gift!!!.
For my flesh is food indeed and my blood is drink indeed. John 6:55
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in him. As the Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. John 6:56-57
This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as our fathers ate and died, he who eats this bread will live forever John 6:58
Wow, how many times does Jesus have to say it? Is there anything in this where Jesus backs off from the eating His flesh or drinking His blood? Does that sound like he means it symbolically to you?
After many of his disciples drew back and no longer went with Jesus, He said to the twelve “Will you also go away” John 6:67. Wow, again Jesus did not say wait please don’t go away let me explain it another way. I really did not mean eating my flesh. Don’t go. He did not!. To this day many people go away. His teaching is too hard. Bill would say come back and experience the Lord being “made present” to us in the Eucharist.
I have used the term Wow because Bill at 97 still finds life full of Wows. It is my hope and prayer that you grow closer to Jesus and his Blessed Mother.
Let’s pray that someday we can all meet in heaven and squeal with joy in meeting our Lord and Savior and say together- Wow
Written by Bernie Long with assistance by Eileen who is Bill’s daughter