The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tree Hugging

Sgt Joyce Kilmer (1918)
A month or so ago, while browsing at a used book store, I came across a two-volume edition of Joyce Kilmer's writings, including his poetry, prose and letters. In excellent condition and offered at a very low price, the set was irresistible ...and so I bought it. As you may know, Kilmer was killed in June 1918 by a sniper's bullet during World War I. In fact, I mentioned Kilmer briefly last September in a post memorializing some of the writers who lost their lives in that horrendous war. Kilmer was a Catholic convert and lived in my home town of Larchmont, NY for a time, so, although dead, he was a local celebrity of sorts. 

Anyway, this morning I finally got around to checking out the two-volume set. When I opened Volume One I turned first to what is certainly Kilmer's most famous poem, "Trees", and was surprised to discover that I still remembered every line. I believe it was Sister Mary Andrew, my seventh-grade teacher at St. Augustine School, who insisted we memorize certain poems, including this one by Kilmer. In a way I suppose this sparked my lifelong appreciation of trees.

"Trees" is one of those poems that was (and likely still is) despised by many of Kilmer's fellow poets but is nevertheless loved by the people. Its brevity, its simplicity in rhyme and meter, and its focus on God's creative touch appeal to all but the most sophisticated and cynical. These same attributes, as Sister Mary Andrew evidently knew, also made it easy to memorize.
I think that I shall never see
A Poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
To me Kilmer's poem always calls to mind the beautiful hymn of praise sung by the three young men in King Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace (see Daniel 3:52-90) in which all of God's Creation is called on to "praise and exalt Him above all forever." 

Although I appreciate trees, I really know very little about them. Indeed, their biology represents one of the many voids in my education. I know only a few basic facts: that maple trees provide us with wonderful syrup for my pancakes and waffles; that deciduous trees caused me to spend many hours raking their leaves when I lived up North; that many cute little creatures (squirrels, birds, etc.) make their homes in trees; that the age of some trees can be calculated by the rings of their trunks. I suppose I know some other stuff about trees, but not much more. I'm somewhat ashamed of my vast tree ignorance particularly since I so enjoy their presence.

I especially like old trees. As my children and grandchildren will tell you, my favorite tree is an old European Weeping Beech tree located on the grounds of the Captain Bangs Hallet House in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod. (Here's a link to a description: Old Cape Cod Weeping Beech.) For 25 years we lived only a few miles from this wonderful tree and would occasionally stop by to visit when on our way to the nearby frog pond and nature trails. While this tree is still a youngster, probably less than 200 years old, it has a uniqueness and beauty that sets it apart from most other trees. 

I've included some photos (below) taken just two months ago during a recent trip to visit family on Cape Cod. In the first, one can see that the tree's branches stretch down to the ground forming a magnificent full canopy. In the others one gets a sense of how the branches seem to grow haphazardly in all directions. It's really quite a tree.
Bang Hallet European Weeping Beech

The Beech's Trunk from Below

Under the Canopy

Tree and Sun

Back in my high school years when I first read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was especially taken by the Ents, that race of giant, mobile, slow-talking, tree-like humanoids who inhabited Middle earth and helped rid the neighborhood of the evil Saruman. It seems the Ents, like the trees they cared for, lived extraordinarily long lives. I can't recall whether Tolkien actually mentions the typical lifespan of an Ent, but I think one of these fictional creatures would be hard-pressed to exceed the lifespans of some of the trees living in our world today. Of course Tolkien was the consummate tree-hugger. Here he is (below) next to one of his favorite trees in Oxford, an old black pine which sadly had to be cut down for safety reasons last year.
J.R.R. Tolkien Greeting One of His Favorites
All this talk of trees called to mind an article I stumbled across recently while searching for something completely unrelated to trees. The article focused on several trees, specifically yews, growing in Wales. The age of some of these remarkable trees is estimated at 5,000 years. In other words, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, these ancient trees were already very old, 3,000 years old. When Abraham had folded his tent in Ur and begun his long trek to the Promised Land, they were 1,000 years old. I've included a photo of one ancient yew growing in a churchyard in the village of Defynnog. It's really quite spectacular, don't you think? If I ever get to Wales, I'll have to pay a visit to one of these trees.
Ancient Yew in Defynnog, Wales
The article on the old, Welsh yews is worth your time -- assuming you want to know more about old trees -- so I've included a link here: The Ancient, Sacred, Regenerative, Death-defying Yew.

There are, of course, many old trees scattered throughout the world: baobab trees in Africa, cypress trees right here in Florida, ancient oaks on almost all continents. But it seems there might be some controversy as to which living tree is actually the world's oldest. As I read about the Welsh yews I recalled something I had read years ago about ancient pine trees growing in America's West. It seems many of the oldest of these bristlecone pines live in California's high country. Experts estimate that some of them, like the Welsh yews, are upwards of 5,000 years old. Unfortunately, they are not particularly attractive trees and, to me at least, resemble glorified stumps, but I suppose like many of us they don't all age gracefully. I've included a photo below so you can make up your own mind.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine - California's Inyo National Forest
Trying to sort out the controversy, I discovered that the yews and pines are actually youngsters when compared to some other trees that are thought to be far older. For example, there's a spruce tree in Sweden that researchers claim is 9,550 years old. When discovered a few years ago, it was thought to be the world's oldest living tree. It actually looks rather ordinary for a creature that predates history itself (see photo below). It reminds me of Charlie Brown's pathetic but sincere little Christmas Tree. You can read about its discovery here: World's Oldest Tree.
Very Old Swedish Spruce

I was sure this Swedish tree had set the record, but then I came across a truly ancient tree. It seems there are eucalyptus trees in New South Wales, Australia -- only five are known to have survived -- that the experts believe to be 13,000 years old. I've included a photo (below) of one of these unusual trees. It's even less attractive than the bristlecone pine.
Australian 13,000-year-old Eucalyptus
Finally, I heard about Palmer's Oak in Riverside, California which is also believed to be nearly 13,000 years old. Like Australia's ancient eucalyptus, it looks more like a shrub than a tree, but perhaps its low profile has helped it survive over the millennia. It is described here and can be seen in the below photo:
13,000-year-old Palmer's Oak in Riverside, California

And so, when it comes to trees, age and beauty don't always coincide. I will always love my weeping beech, along with the huge (now sadly departed) oak tree that stood tall in the back yard of my childhood home. In our front yard grew two wonderful climbing trees -- Japanese Maples -- in which I spent many a summer afternoon seated comfortably among their branches while reading a book. I suppose, like Tolkien, I too am a bit of a tree-hugger, and I thank God for the gift of these wonderful creations.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Trump, McCain and Keyes

Alan Keyes
A few years ago a friend, who happens to be solidly fused to the far left, jokingly (I think) accused me of being a racist because I had criticized the president and hadn't voted for him. Imagine his reaction when I informed him that I had voted for a black man for president long before he had even heard of Barack Obama. "Who?" he challenged. "Why Alan Keyes, of course. I voted for him in the 2,000 Republican primary." 

This week a different friend, a conservative, issued another challenge when he complained that I had supported John McCain in a recent post (Dump Trump) in which I had severely criticized Donald Trump for his now-famous comments about McCain's years as a POW. Actually, I don't believe I expressed any political support for McCain in that post. Indeed, I never once mentioned McCain's politics but confined my comments to his time as a POW in Hanoi. Did I vote for McCain in 2008? Yes, although I considered him a weak candidate who would likely ensure the election of a far more dangerous and politically savvy Barack Obama. I remain no fan of Senator McCain but I honor his naval service and especially his years of brutal imprisonment by the communists of North Vietnam. My criticism of Donald Trump, who admittedly knows how to say what people want to hear, relates to his character. He appears to me to be the ultimate populist, an opportunist whose record shows clearly that he's willing to change allegiances on a dime. I simply don't trust him.

Given the above, it's only fitting that Alan Keyes, Donald Trump and John McCain should be brought together, at least in print. Alan Keyes, a much smarter man than I, has done just that as he addresses the Trump-McCain brouhaha here: Trump Ignores the Senator, Insults the POW.

I'll make an effort to refrain from political posts in the future.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Aliens? Not!

Jeff Sweitzer, a science policy advisor in Bill Clinton's administration, has come happily unglued since NASA reported the discovery of an Earth-like planet in another star system. This planet, cleverly named Kepler 452b (which I'll just call "Kep" from now on), seems to bear some resemblance to our own dear Earth. It's about 50% larger than Earth, has a 385-day year, and according to NASA might even have a rocky surface and might have water...but that's about it. That's also a lot of "mights". In other words, NASA scientists really know very little about Kep. 

One thing we know for certain is that Kep is a mere 1,400 light years distant from us. For the astronomically challenged, this means that what we can see of Kep is light that left the planet sometime around 600 A.D. A lot has happened since then. Indeed, what we see of this newly discovered planet actually took place when Muhammad was just kicking off his military conquests of the Middle East and North Africa. It was also the time of St. Isadore of Seville, sometimes called the last scholar of the ancient world because he compiled a sort of encyclopedia containing excerpts of many ancient books that would otherwise have been lost. Farther north, the other St. Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, was In the midst of converting the Anglo-Saxons of Britain to Christianity. I suspect that all sorts of exciting things were also taking place in China, India, Africa and Tierra del Fuego, but I have neither the time nor the energy to find out. Anyway, I'm kind of a Western Civilization guy.

Back to Dr. Schweitzer (presumably no relation to Albert), who is convinced the discovery of Kep will kill off God. The good scientist has decided this discovery means that extraterrestrial life, including other civilizations, must exist on planets like Kep. Since God did not reveal the existence of alien life on other planets in the Bible, Christian Scriptures must be phony and God is simply a figment of our fertile imaginations. Don't you just love it? One wonders whether Dr. Schweitzer might have confirmed his theory by visiting Kep via a nearby wormhole. Hey, could happen.

Here are two links that address the discovery. 

The first is a New York Times story of the discovery: Earth-like Kepler 452b Discovered

The second discusses Dr. Schweitzer and his beliefs: New Planet Bad News for God

Personally, I believe -- and have always believed -- that, despite the extraordinary size of the universe, we Earthlings are unique and completely alone. In other words, I've always considered science fiction to be fiction. So far no one has proved me wrong.

Laudato Si -- The Pope Speaks

A few days ago, early, before the Florida sun burned too hot, Maddie and I took our usual morning walk. Maddie is our little Bichon Frise (that's a dog for all you cat lovers), and she and I walk together twice daily. The length of these walks varies -- sometimes a mile, sometimes two miles, sometimes more -- and so too does the direction. I usually let Maddie decide which way to turn as we depart the driveway. It's the least I can do for this loving creature who spends so much of her life obeying others.

An egret
On this particular morning Maddie turned left and led me to a pond about a quarter-mile from our home. It is, of course, an artificial pond, one placed purposely alongside our street which bisects an executive golf course. Our retirement community, The Villages, has kindly placed several benches there so one can sit quietly and watch the waterbirds or listen to the song birds. And so I sat while Maddie engaged in her life's work of sniffing every blade of grass she encounters.

Because it was so early, barely past sunrise, few humans or canines were up and about. Maddie and I could, therefore, more fully appreciate the remarkable beauty and quiet sounds of God's creation. No golf carts, no garbage trucks, no landscapers with their pick-ups and trailers, no handymen hammering, no unnatural noises, just the sound of Maddie quietly sniffing and the plaintive cooing of a mourning dove perched above me in a small magnolia tree. At the edge of the pond, just a few yards from my bench, two great egrets stood motionless, solemnly watching the antics of an anhinga or "snake-bird" that tirelessly dove again and again into the calm waters. Across the pond a family of five black-bellied whistling ducks waddled through the grass toward the opposite shore.
Whistling Ducks

Sitting on that bench in that quiet time of the day, I couldn't help but consider how well man and nature seem to have come together here. Indeed, The Villages has become a virtual bird sanctuary. I have seen herons, egrets and ibises of all sizes and colors, eagles, osprey, and hawks of every kind, flocks of white pelicans, many varieties of songbirds, and, of course, the ubiquitous mockingbird. They all seem to thrive here. We also have alligators, but they tend to avoid all but the stupidest of humans.

Anyway, as I sat, not so much watching and listening as absorbing my surroundings, I couldn't help but think of Pope Francis and his first encyclical, Laudato Si. My immediate setting, while not as wildly pristine as a rain forest in New Guinea or the deep woods of Canada, was certainly not repellant. What were once farmers' fields filled with watermelons, and pastures in which horses and cattle grazed, are now well cared-for neighborhoods. Ponds and green space abound, as do the large live oak trees so common in this part of Florida. I found myself thinking that this transformation of the land from agrarian use to human habitat was not necessarily a step backward. As Christians we understand that man is also a part of creation; indeed, as revealed in Genesis, we are the very pinnacle of God's creative work. This places an awesome responsibility on us: to accept that creation is God's doing, that He "owns" it, and that we are called to be good stewards of all that He has given us.

For those of you who haven't read Laudato Si, and I assume that includes many of you, let me say that it's not a quick and easy read. The encyclical is long -- more than 40,000 words -- and I expect many copies will sit unread on a lot of bookshelves or computer hard drives. I managed to make my way through it, but spent an entire evening doing so. To digest its contents fully I will need to read it again much more slowly. My comments here, then, simply reflect my own first impressions.

When a pope speaks, people listen. But far too many listen less to the pope and more to their own biases and ideological preconceptions. We see this in the range of reactions (including mine) arising in response to what Pope Francis had to say.

Those who pitch their tents among the extreme environmentalists of the far left concentrate their praise on the pope's concern for what he calls the “present ecological crisis” abetted by a "throwaway culture" that contributes greatly to the earth's environmental deterioration. But many of these same folks -- at least those who years ago made the ideological transition from a failed Marxism to green environmentalism -- ignore the Gospel of Creation that forms the foundation of the pope's thinking on humanity's relationship with the earth. In other words, his environmentalism is fine, but why on earth did he have to inject it with God and Jesus Christ and the Gospel and Creation and all that other religious stuff? And so they simply ignore the latter and focus on the former.

Opposed to the environmentalists we hear the complaints of those critics who believe the pope has been co-opted either by far left socialists who blame capitalism for all the world's ills or by "wacko greens" who believe the earth would be a far better place without humanity. For these critics there is no environmental crisis, and even if there were, technology and the free market would solve any ecological problems that might arise. Because some, but certainly not all, of these people are believing Christians they find themselves conflicted by the pope's encyclical and its deep religious roots. They manage to resolve the conflict, appeasing themselves by saying that Pope Francis is, after all, not speaking ex cathedra. Indeed, for them Laudato Si is just the word of a man, not the Word of God, so they really don't have to accept this particular papal teaching. Most, therefore, will simply ignore everything the pope has to say.

Of course there have been other reactions to the encyclical, some favorable and some not. I suspect many of the initial batch of pundits simply reacted to the out of context snippets that appeared in the secular media. Honestly, because my initial exposure to the encyclical was in the form of leaked excerpts, my preconceived notions led me to some erroneous first impressions. There's no need to include them here.

I'm certainly not qualified to discuss every aspect of the encyclical. Like all of us I have my opinions, but I'm not a climatologist and cannot address the science on which Pope Francis relies heavily. The question many Catholics have already asked me is, "Do I have to accept everything the pope says in his encyclical?" I suppose the only correct answer is, "It depends."

When it comes to the science behind climate change and the pope's proposed public policy responses, an informed Catholic might disagree so long as that disagreement is based on a firm foundation. Given the continued debate within the scientific community on the causes and direction of climate change, I believe one might reasonably disagree with the pope on these issues. As for how society should respond, the pope himself recognizes that others might differ with him. After all, if history has shown us one thing it's that science is not static, and future advances in technology might well enable new and better approaches to the use of natural resources and the protection of the environment.

Unfortunately, too many people will focus on the more controversial aspects of the encyclical, elements that might well be overcome by future events, and ignore the crucial theological and moral underpinnings.

It's important to realize that papal concern for the environment did not begin with Pope Francis. Indeed, many of his concerns have been expressed by his predecessors and other Catholic thinkers. He begins by quoting his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, whose Canticle of the Creatures calls the earth "our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us,”. Indeed, that same canticle gives the encyclical its name. 

Continuing his introductory comments Pope Francis refers to Pope Saint John XXIII's 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, to Pope Paul VI's frequent references to humanity's poor environmental stewardship, to the ecological concerns expressed by Pope Saint John Paul II in several of his encyclicals, and to Pope Benedict XVI's demand that as Christians we openly recognize how our irresponsible behavior has damaged the environment. Pope Francis also quotes the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who has often addressed humanity's "sins against creation." In Bartholomew's words, “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”

In other words, the current pontiff's concerns are nothing new. As I read the encyclical I couldn't help but think of the late Jesuit theologian, Romano Guardini (1985-1968), who has had such a significant influence on my own thinking. Guardini was a prolific writer, but the theme of  two of his books in particular seem to resonate with Pope Francis: Letters from Lake Como (1926) and The End of the Modern World (1956). It wasn't until today that I discovered Pope Francis had spent years studying Guardini and his work. To summarize Guardini's thought, he believed the modern world had been transformed in a way that encouraged enmity between humanity and nature. Instead of living within God's creation and nurturing it as a good steward, modern man has decided he must control or master it.

Such themes are also evident in the writings of Feodor Dostoevsky,  J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and others who recognized that both unchecked capitalism and radical Marxism suffer from a common materialism that attempts to excise religion from the human spirit. For example, reading the encyclical, I'm reminded of the words of Dostoevsky's monk in the Brothers Karamazov:
"Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand init. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals,love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you willperceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, youwill begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come atlast to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Love theanimals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joyuntroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive themof their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not prideyourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you,with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, andleave the traces of your foulness after you -- alas, it is true ofalmost every one of us! Love children especially, for they too aresinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our heartsand, as it were, to guide us."
One gets the sense that Pope Francis has been greatly influenced by the thinking of such men as these, although he certainly has his own ideas on how it relates to the world today.

This post is already too long, so let me wrap it up with my agreements and disagreements. I agree with the pope's concerns about the world's deepening addiction to consumerism, about humanity's elites and their general disregard for the poor and the common good, and about the rise of technocrats and the misuse of science and the technology that flows from it. I also greatly appreciate the pope's focus on the environmental damage that one encounters, especially in the second and third world where the accession of power too often trumps everything else. Finally, we need to be reminded of our own place in God's creation, and of the responsibilities this places on us.

My concerns relate to the pope's belief that there is a scientific consensus about both global warming and its causes. His thinking seems to echo the kind of naive view of science often heard from Al Gore and others like him. Perhaps more importantly, though, the pope also, in seeming contradiction to his own warnings about the rise of technocrats, recommends that we come together globally, applying our technology to the environmental problems facing us. The problem with giving governments or global agencies the power to carry out such a worldwide mandate is that those who wield this power will almost surely misuse it. Even when applied with the best of intentions, such power usually leads to negative unintended consequences that often create a whole new set of problems. Lastly, I had hoped that Pope Francis, following the lead of his predecessors, would use this encyclical to teach his flock about how our faith and morality are affected by these issues plaguing the modern world. Instead, he has given us an encyclical that, at least in part, reminds one of the sort of quasi-political documents produced by committees at the United Nations.

Laudato Si will surely be studied, talked about, and written about for years to come. I trust this study will lead to a clearer understanding of man's place in the world and how best to address the problems we have created for ourselves. In the meantime, once it cools down this afternoon, I intend to take Maddie for another walk, thanking God for her and for all of His creation.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Brit Hume: The Abortion Industry

On Monday of this week Brit Hume, Senior Political Analyst for Fox News, accurately described the abortion industry and our nation's pathetic response to this decades-long genocide.

Pray for our country.

Corporate Panic on Planned Parenthood

Yesterday's Daily Signal story on corporate supporters of Planned Parenthood apparently struck a nerve. A number of these corporations are backing away from their previous support and have demanded that Planned Parenthood remove their names from its list of corporate sponsors. Here's a link to the Daily Signal's follow-up story: Planned Parenthood Pulls Names of Corporations.

The Daily Signal went on to ask each of the corporations involved to address their support for Planned Parenthood. Their responses, at least those who dared to respond, are wonderful examples of public relations spin: We don't contribute to PP. It's our silly employees who do that. We simply match those gifts because we're an enlightened company. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Companies Supporting Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood murders more unborn babies in the U.S. than any other "abortion provider". They receive hundreds of millions from the federal government, but they are also recipients of financial support from dozens of U.S. corporations and major non-profits. Indeed, these donations represent 25% of the organization's $1.3 billion annual budget. 

The following is a list of 39 companies that directly fund Planned Parenthood. For details, follow this link: Companies that donate to Planned Parenthood. 

I was surprised to discover that I use far too many of the products and services provided by these corporations. I will have to do something about this.

  1. Adobe
  2. American Cancer Society
  3. American Express
  4. AT&T
  5. Avon
  6. Bank of America
  7. Bath & Body Works
  8. Ben & Jerry’s
  9. Clorox
  10. Coca-Cola
  11. Converse
  12. Deutsche Bank
  13. Dockers
  14. Energizer
  15. Expedia
  16. ExxonMobil
  17. Fannie Mae
  18. Groupon
  19. Intuit
  20. Johnson & Johnson
  21. La Senza
  22. Levi Strauss
  23. Liberty Mutual
  24. Macy’s
  25. March of Dimes
  26. Microsoft
  27. Morgan Stanley
  28. Nike
  29. Oracle
  30. PepsiCo
  31. Pfizer
  32. Progressive
  33. Starbucks
  34. Susan G. Komen
  35. Tostitos
  36. Unilever
  37. United Way
  38. Verizon
  39. Wells Fargo

The President, the Plutocrat and the Socialist

Just a recommendation to read Victor Davis Hanson's latest on President Obama and Donald Trump.

Here's the link: Two of a Kind

...and another by Kevin D. Williamson on Bernie Sanders' strange brand of socialism:

 Sanders a National Socialist?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Dump Trump

I don't often get political on this blog. Occasionally, though, stuff happens that simply cannot be ignored. Donald Trump would be eminently ignorable were he not so addicted to the kind of outrageous behavior and statements that attract the media as flies are attracted to...well, whatever attracts flies. In defense of the media, Donald Trump does not make ignoring him easy. He is seemingly unable to disagree with someone without turning a reasonable difference of opinion into an opportunity to launch a personal attack. Case in point: Senator John S. McCain III.

I'd like to say what I really think about Donald Trump's comments on Senator McCain but it would be unfit for publication on this blog. That this narcissist, who actively avoided military service during the Viet Nam conflict, would dare to question McCain's heroism is unbelievable. Actually, that's wrong. Given Trump's past and his consistent record of bizarre and offensive statements, his comments are quite believable. 

As a man who seems to measure others solely in terms of their net worth, Trump would likely consider Mother Teresa a complete failure. I'm actually surprised he hasn't praised the sales and marketing heroics of El Chapo, the billionaire Mexican drug lord and mass murderer who recently tunneled his way to freedom. Of course, El Chapo is a Mexican and we all know what Trump thinks about our southern neighbors. But should we expect anything less from someone who recently claimed to be a Christian who had never asked God for forgiveness? One can only speculate why. Perhaps he thinks that between equals there's no need for repentance.

I have never met Donald Trump and probably never will. I did, however, once meet John McCain, many years ago, long before he was a senator. He had only recently returned from Hanoi where he had spent over five years as a POW. Our brief conversation centered on his father, Admiral John S. McCain, Jr.. On several occasions the admiral, then Commander-in-Chief Pacific (CINCPAC), had been a passenger in my Navy helicopter. It was during this time that his son was a POW in Hanoi. I was a mere Lieutenant, but on these flights the admiral would chat with me and my co-pilot, asking our opinions on all sorts of Navy-related issues. I had tremendous respect for Admiral McCain and I know his son appreciated my saying so.

When the younger McCain was shot down over North Viet Nam, he suffered several severe injuries and was grossly maltreated by his communst captors. Because his father was a high-ranking naval officer (a four-star admiral), McCain was offered an early release of sorts. He refused to accept the offer and willingly remained a POW, accepting instead years of starvation, torture and solitary confinement. (To read McCain's own story of his imprisonment, click here.) Donald Trump, of course, considers this less than heroic. One struggles to identify heroism of any sort in the life of this son of fortune who seems unable to form a sentence in which he is not the subject. One hopes his supporters will eventually recognize the man for what he truly is, bringing his candidacy to a speedy conclusion.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Homily: Saturday, 15th Week of Ordianary Time - Mass & Healing Service

Readings: EX 12:37-42 • Psalm 136 • Gospel: Mt 12:14-21

Good morning, everyone! And it is a good morning, for we’re here today to celebrate God’s gift to us: the gift of life itself! That’s right! We’re here to celebrate and give thanks for our very being – each of us created out of love by our God. You and I created and destined to share eternally in the Divine Life.

But that’s not all. In this Mass, as in every Mass, we especially thank the Father for the gift of His Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, Who took on our nature, became one of us, one with us, and gave His life for us. It’s through Jesus, brothers and sisters, and only through Jesus, that we can share in the Divine life. Through His tremendous act of humility, Jesus took the sin of the world – that’s your sin and my sin – on Himself; He is indeed the Lamb of God, the sacrificial offering who came here to heal.

In a sense, then, Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection form a glorious act of healing, one which we re-present here on this altar. Every Mass, then, is a healing Mass, because of Christ’s healing presence in the Eucharist. When you receive the Blessed Sacrament, you should expect miracles, miracles of grace.

Yes, Jesus is the Great Healer. That was and remains His mission: to heal humanity, to repair our brokenness, to bring us to wholeness. This is the will of the Father.

And so today we Praise God! Praised be Jesus Christ! Praise His Holy Name!

And speaking of His Name, did you happen to catch that final verse of today’s passage from Matthew’s Gospel?
“And in His name the Gentiles will hope” [Mt 12:21].
How about you? Do you hope? Do you? I trust you do, or I suspect you wouldn’t be here today.

As one the great theological virtues, hope is sandwiched between faith and love; in a sense forming a bridge between the two. Indeed, if our faith is weak, so too is our hope. It’s through faith in Jesus Christ that we can hope, and it’s out of that hope, that hope for the gift of eternal life, that we come to realize our obligation to return God’s love by loving Him and our neighbor.

Hope. Hope is an expectation, isn’t it? It’s the expectation that God will fulfill His promises to us. God loves to make promises…and keep them. We encounter them again and again throughout Scripture. Matthew reminds us of several promises in today’s Gospel passage. The apostle recalls the words of the prophet Isaiah:
“…I shall place my Spirit upon him, and he will proclaim justice to the Gentiles…in His name the Gentiles will hope” [Mt 12:18, 21].
What a wonderful promise! Jesus, filled with the Holy Spirit, will proclaim justice and in His name we shall hope. Do you believe this promise? Do you?

If you’re here today to ask for healing, in what or in whom do you hope? Do you place all your hopes in medical science, or your doctors? Or maybe you look only to yourself, assuming you can heal yourself through an act of will?

Hard questions indeed. After all medicine has come a long way in recent years. And when you or I suffer from a chronic illness, the temptation is great to place all our hopes in the medical profession. A cure might be just around the corner. Yes, perhaps…and it’s certainly not bad to hope that science might offer you a path to regain your health. But by placing all your hopes there you, in effect, turn your back on God.

I think of my own family. One of our sons suffered from meningitis when he was just a toddler.  Thankfully he survived, but he didn’t emerge unchanged; no he lost almost all of his hearing. Today, just a few decades later, children are vaccinated so they won’t contract this dreadful disease. But back then, 40 years ago, we could do nothing but turn to God in hope and trust, knowing that He listens to our prayers.

As St. Paul reminds us:

“We know that all things work for good for those who love God” [Rom 8:28]. 

And St. James echoed this when he wrote:

“…every perfect gift is from above…” [Jas 1:17]
Keep that truth in mind: God is the source of every good. And what can be more perfect than the gift of healing, the gift that restores?

And so we return to Matthew and his reference to the prophet Isaiah. The question becomes obvious: Do you and I hope in Jesus’ Name?

Turn again to today’s Gospel passage. Jesus was confronted by two groups of people, two very different groups.

The first were the Pharisees. This day Jesus defied them by affecting a cure in the synagogue on the Sabbath. In their smallness, in their inward-turning self-absorption, the Pharisees had come to despise Jesus, and refused to accept His healing. How does Matthew put it? They “took counsel against him to put him to death” [Mt 12:14]. They did what evil always does. It seeks out other evil, joins together with it, and conspires in the darkness of secrecy.

And so Jesus “withdrew from that place” [Mt 12:15]. Was He afraid of them and their deadly plots? Not at all. Quite simply His hour had not yet come. Anyway, Jesus cannot hide when hundreds, perhaps thousands, are following Him. No, He wasn’t afraid of the Pharisees; He feared for them, for their salvation.

The second group confronting Jesus was the people, those who knew they were in need of healing. The Pharisees also needed healing, just as the people of Galilee did, just as you and I do. The Pharisees just didn’t know it; or knowing it, they refused to accept it.

But the people, oh, the people, they knew how broken they were. They knew they needed healing. They followed Jesus, seeking wholeness. They were like Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho, who cried out as Our Lord passed by: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” [Mk 10:47] That’s right – “Jesus, Son of David” – Bartimaeus certainly hoped in Jesus’ Name, didn’t He?

And we can only believe that the people of Galilee were overwhelmed by that same hope, for as Matthew tells us:

“Many people followed Him, and He cured them all…” [Mt 12:15] 

Many people followed Him, and he cured them all
Many followed Jesus. We don’t know how many – just “many”. And these He cured – not some of them, but all of them. Physical illness or spiritual illness, whether our own or that of someone we love, can be heavy burdens indeed.

But just a short time before Jesus had promised the people:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” [Mt 11:28].

Jesus issues this invitation to all: Come to Him, follow Him. He will take on our burdens, our weariness.

You see, in His humanity Jesus knows these burdens of ours; He knows our physical weaknesses; He knows our spiritual weaknesses; He knows the disappointments, the sorrows, the grief, and the pain that visit us. And He knows our sinfulness, the sins of the flesh, the sins of the heart, all that separate us from God’s healing love. He will take on our burdens. He will heal. Yes, in the Gospel Jesus cures them all, because they followed Him and allowed themselves to be loved.

True liberation from all that divides our hearts comes from allowing ourselves to be lifted by a God who loves beyond words -- from allowing yourself to be loved, allowing yourself to be healed. As Pope Francis is fond of reminding us, Jesus Christ is the source of all peace, the source of all healing, the source from which flows such gentle power.

Now, I have a question for you. Does God will illness? Does He want us to get sick or injured? No! Of course not. God doesn’t look at us and say, “You know, Betty’s been pretty healthy lately. I think I’ll get her attention and afflict her with, oh let’s go with rheumatoid arthritis.” No, God is not like that, for He is a loving God.

One evening some years ago I was asked to conduct a vigil service for a young man who had been killed by a drunk driver. As I was about to begin the service I heard a man say to the widow and her children, “It was God’s will. All we can do is accept it.”

Well, let me tell you, I almost came unglued. I approached them and said: “No! God did not will this to happen. What happened was an evil thing, and God does not will evil. The death of this good man, this husband and father, was the result of sin, not his sin, but the sinfulness of the world. Only God can overcome that sin, but if we turn to Him in faith, if we ask Him to help us cope with this tragedy in our lives, He will give us the grace we need. God didn’t will this to happen, for Jesus told us clearly, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly’ [Jn 10:10].”

Forgives and heals
Yes, Jesus went about that land of patriarchs and prophets taking this message and the remarkable gift of newness to people. Through a word or a touch, and often a challenge, He brought every kind of healing -- physical, mental, and most importantly spiritual. Through healing He brought to birth the Kingdom of God that has finally broken into a fallen world.

Jesus brings God’s healing power into the world, and offers a glimpse of heaven to all who are ready to declare their total dependence on God and their need for His healing, saving presence.

For those He healed, the experience carried them to the very limits of our human horizons. To these belong the peace the world cannot give…, as St. Paul said, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” [Phil 4:7]. And that peace, that healing, was a real manifestation of the very core of the Gospel message, a message of forgiveness.

Jesus calls those who dare to be healed to let go of their anger and hurts, to offer and accept forgiveness, to embrace those we have hurt and those who have hurt us. It’s in this very letting go, in this embracing, that we find true inner healing, the healing love of Jesus Christ, the greatest healing of all.

Turn to the Holy Spirit, sisters and brothers, allow yourselves to experience new freedom in your life, and taste God’s forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation. And extend that same forgiveness to others – a forgiveness that’s so often needs to be coupled with self-forgiveness – so that you and they will be able to accept and experience God’s healing power.

“Heal me, Lord.” Let that be your prayer, today. “Heal me, Lord, of all that’s keeping me from being one with you.”

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.