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!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Navy Beats Army Once Again

West Point's football team gave Navy a bit of a scare today but Navy pulled away and once again beat Army (for the 13th consecutive year). Naturally, I am pleased. And in anticipation of next year's game: Go Navy, beat Army!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Homily: 1st Sunday of Advent - Year B

Readings: Is 63:16b-17, 19b; 64:2-7; Psalm 80; 1 Cor 1:3-9; Mk 13:33-37

Happy New Year!

That’s right. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year, a new liturgical year. But unlike January 1st, that other New Year’s Day, this New Year kind of creeps up on us, doesn’t it? Suddenly it’s Advent, and with Advent, everything changes.

Among the changes that come with the new liturgical year is the change to Mark’s Gospel. Last year was Matthew and next year will be Luke. But this year we’ll hear a lot from Mark. One thing about Mark: He doesn’t waste words. He moves through the Gospel story almost breathlessly, powered by a sense of urgency, constantly reminding us of the high stakes involved.

Mark tells the Gospel story without suspense. He tells us what it’s all about right from the beginning. Indeed, he opens his Gospel with the words, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” [Mk 1:1]

“The beginning,” Mark tells us, the beginning of Christ’s appearance in the world, a beginning that points back to another beginning, to a beginning of creation with God. From the first verse of Genesis – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” [Gen 1:1] –  to the first verse of John’s Gospel – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” [Jn 1:1]

Yes, the Word has an eternal beginning in God; and the Gospel has a beginning in time in the world. This, Mark tells us, is the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News the entire world longs to hear. In the Gospel we have the answer to humanity’s long-pondered question: Why are we here?

God answers through the words of His Son, Jesus the Christ, the Promised One. For that’s what He is, the Christ, the One promised down through the ages, the One promised to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David…But Mark tells us this Jesus is more than that, more than the Messiah; He’s the Son of God Himself.

Yes, indeed, Mark doesn’t waste our time, but lets the cat out of the bag right from the very beginning: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” From there Mark moves inexorably toward Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection, toward the Cross and the journey Jesus makes along the way.

But Mark also focuses on another journey: the journey of the disciples as they move from cluelessness, to misunderstanding, to failure, betrayal, abandonment, denial, guilt, and finally to understanding, acceptance and obedience. Yes, you and I often find ourselves on that same journey. And it’s in the midst of this journey where we find ourselves in today’s Gospel passage from the 13th chapter of Mark.

It begins with a command: “Be watchful! Be alert!” [Mk 13:33] and ends with the same command: “Watch!” [Mk 13:37] Responding to His apostles, Jesus had just told them a little about the last days, the time of fulfillment when He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. But no one – no man or woman, no angel, not even He, in His humanity, knows the day or the hour – only the Father [Mk 13:5-32].

Jesus then relates a parable in which the “when” is far less important than how we prepare for it. Listen again to His Word:

“It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.”
That’s it – a one-line parable – but long enough to make his point. We are commanded to watch, to be ready…but not to wait in idleness. Each is to do his own work, the work of the disciple, the work that God asks of us.

And what is that work? Only moments before Jesus had told the disciples: “the Gospel must first be preached to all nations” [Mk 13:10] That’s our task as we wait: to proclaim the Good News, God’s presence among us, and to proclaim it to everyone. How much Gospel proclaiming have you and I  done lately?

And while we do His work, we’re also to watch, because we won’t  know when He’ll come again: “… whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping” [Mk 13:35-36]

Jesus actually gets specific here, doesn’t He? He uses the four night watches common in the ancient world: evening, midnight, cockcrow, and morning. It’s no coincidence that each of these times comes into play in the closing chapters of Mark’s gospel.

It’s evening when the apostles celebrate the Passover with the Lord -- watching, waiting. One of them, though, isn’t watchful, but leaves early that evening. He rejects Jesus’ gift to His Church at that first celebration of the Eucharist. He leaves to commit an act of betrayal.

Later, in the garden, as Jesus prays deep into the night, He invites His remaining disciples to watch and pray with Him. It must have been near midnight. But they, too, succumb to weakness and are unable to watch. Each time He returns from prayer Jesus finds them asleep. And it’s then that Judas returns at the head of a mob and completes his betrayal. Once again the disciples are unprepared. In fear and confusion, they all forsake Him and run away.

And the cockcrow…Who can forget the fateful cockcrow that marks the threefold denial of Peter? Peter, the leader, the one chosen by Jesus to be the rock on which He would build His Church, the one so full of empty promises and bluster…Yes, Peter the rock is, at this point,  still Peter the weakling. For Peter could watch only from the shadows, and overcome by fear, would repeatedly deny His Lord.

And finally, the morning, very early on that first Easter morning, the Risen Lord appears to the disciples and is greeted with disbelief; for they are still caught off guard; they are still unprepared for the challenges of faith.

Yes, at first the disciples failed miserably at their halfhearted attempts to keep watch. But are you and I really any different? While we’re having the time of our lives, the actual time of our lives is slipping away, bringing us ever closer to that moment when we will stand face to face before our God.

You see, time is God’s domain, His gift. None of us can predict what tomorrow will bring, not even the next hour nor the next minute. Time is God’s possession alone. In time, God encounters us and we encounter God. Time holds the very presence of God. We need only open our eyes — our inner eyes — to find Him. God is always present, and there’s never a time when we’re without Him.

Brothers and sisters, let’s make this Advent a time of finding, a time when we celebrate God’s coming among us. In Advent we relive His first coming, His Incarnation as one of us, a coming that leads ultimately to the Resurrection, an event that profoundly changed both time and history…an event that erased the line separating earthly time and eternal time.

Because of Jesus’ coming and living among us, we who exist in time also exist in eternity. And so time doesn’t just pass away; no, our time is the stuff of which eternity is made, transforming us until we enter into the fullness of God’s presence. Advent is meant to awaken us again to this truth. In the midst of our busy lives, Advent calls us to slow down, to recognize God’s presence, His continuous comings among us.

Jesus’ words are so needed today: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” Yes, rushing from one thing to another, when and where do we find the time to welcome the Lord into our lives? This is to what Advent calls us to do — to watch, to be alert, to wait with God, growing into His habitual presence. It calls us to recognize God’s presence in all that we do. Our time should be less and less our possession and more and more God’s time, so that when He needs us, when He calls us, we shall be ready.

Advent calls us to use God’s gift of time wisely, to simply be: to be with God — to sit with God and to look at our lives through His eyes. When we allow God to be who He is within us, we can learn to know Him, not just know about Him. Learn from the experience of Mary who each day pondered who Jesus was, what He was about.

This Advent may we consciously choose to live as if God’s presence invades each of us, invades all men and women, invades all human experience, invades every part of God’s creation. When we jump out of bed in the morning (or perhaps crawl or groan out of bed) may we drink in God as we drink that first cup of coffee.

May we bring God with us into all we do each day.

May we truly live in God’s time, ever alert, ever watchful for His saving presence.

Come Lord Jesus!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Go Navy!!

On Friday Dear Diane and I left Williamsburg and made the drive to Fairfax without driving a mile on an interstate highway. As a result we were blessed with some beautiful scenery and even encountered three bald eagles that flew alongside the car only feet away from us. What magnificent birds! Unfortunately I was driving (and being tailgated by a local in a pickup) and was unable to take any photos without careening off the road. 

Above: fall colors in rural Virginia

We're now enjoying the hospitality and lovely home of our old friends, the Lees, who have agreed to put up with us for a few days. Yesterday, while Nancy and Diane roamed through the shops of Annapolis, Dave and I took advantage of his season tickets and spent the afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as the Naval Academy's football team beat Georgia Southern, 53-19 -- a wonderful day for Navy football.

Above: Navy on its way to another score

Above: the Navy stadium during the game

Before the game the four of us went to the Midshipmen Store to pick up a few USNA souvenirs and then took a short walk to check out the statue of Tecumseh who's always painted up for each game. I also took advantage of the opportunity to stop by my Class of 1967 tailgate get-together and renew some old friendships. 

Above: Tecumseh ready for Georgia Southern

Above: Nancy and Dave at USNA

Above: Dear Diane and I standing outside the window to my room back in 1966-67

Above: 1967 classmates -- Dave Church, me, Pete Nanos

This morning we attended Mass with the Lees at their parish church, Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Annandale, a welcoming and Spirit-filled parish. We decided just to chill this afternoon and watch football -- a needed day of rest. Tomorrow we leave Virginia and begin our trip home. We've had a wonderful stay but look forward to returning to the warm air of sunny Florida.

Pax et bonum...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jamestown and Williamsburg

Yesterday the two of us spent the morning at the Jamestown Settlement, an extensive museum and outdoor exhibit depicting the first permanent English settlement in America. Our visit once again began with a film describing the colony's first difficult years. We then roamed through the museum displays, joined by hundreds of children on school field trips. One can only hope they absorbed some of the history to which they were exposed.

The outdoor exhibits include replicas of three period ships, a recreation of the settlement's fort, and a typical Indian village. We boarded the Discovery, the smallest of the three ships, and could not imagine sailing across the Atlantic on so small a vessel. Brave hearts in those days! At the Indian village Diane and I spent some time chatting with a young woman who was making needles from pieces of deer bone. The fort, a reproduction of the sort built by the English colonists, was equally interesting and underscored the challenges faced by those who left their homeland to settle in this rather hostile wilderness. 

Above: Diane aboard Discovery

Above: Powhaten "Indians" 

Leaving Jamestown, we returned to the riverside town of Yorktown to spend a little time in a used bookstore we had noticed on our previous visit. After a mediocre lunch in a local restaurant we drove to Williamsburg and revisited the shops and exhibits. 

In the midst of our ramblings along Duke of Gloucester Street we encountered the traitorous Benedict Arnold, now an officer in the British Army and accompanied by a squad of redcoats. Addressing the people of Williamsburg, he attempted to rationalize his actions with little success. In truth as a British Brigadier General, Arnold actually did carry the war to Virginia and even captured Richmond. He eventually settled in London and died there in 1801 at the age of 60. He was generally disliked by both the Americans and the English.

Above: Arnold the traitor addresses a hostile crowd

Above: Basket makers in Williamsburg

Above: a typical Williamsburg house

Today we head to Northern Virginia to join our friends, the Lees; and tomorrow it's on to Annapolis where Dave and I hope to attend the Navy football game. The weather, however, has turned much colder, especially for those of us who live in Florida.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Yorktown: America's Battle

Yesterday the four of us visited Yorktown to see the battlefield.  With the exception of a few skirmishes, Yorktown was really less of a battle and more of a short-term siege. But its happy result was the beginning of the end for the British in the 13 former colonies. Within two years the Treaty of Paris had been signed, the war was officially over, and Great Britain accepted (more or less) the independence of the United States of America.

Above: Nancy and Diane with George W., who seems to be enjoying it.

At first we visited Virginia's Yorktown Victory Center, a well-designed and well-run museum that addresses the Revolutionary period but focuses largely on the climactic American victory at Yorktowm. The period displays of a Continental Army encampment and of a small eighteenth-century family farm were extremely interesting. We were particularly impressed by the docents who described the period's medical practices as well as the weaponry and tactics of the army during the war -- interesting stuff. Of course, I took pictures.

Above: a colonial turkey

Above: a colonial farmhouse, a one-room fixer-upper

Above: a Continental Army encampment

Above: a musket is fired at the enemy

Above: the medical officer's tent

We then drove a mile to the actual Yorktown Battlefield site run by the National Park Service. We sat through an interesting film and then joined the walking tour conducted by a young park ranger from Kentucky named Jenny. What a joy! Jenny not only knows her subject well, but she also presents it with enthusiasm and humor. Her 45 minutes with us was one of the highlights of our stay here in Virginia. She deserves a raise!

Above: Jenny, our tour guide and National Park Ranger

Above: Redoubt #9 -- Scene on the Yorktown battlefield

As you can see, yesterday was another wonderful day. Sadly our friends had to leave us last evening and return to their home in Northern Virginia. We will follow and join them on Friday. But today, Dear Diane and I visited the Jamestown Settlement and also made a return visit to Colonial Williamsburg, something I'll describe in my next post.

Pray for our country, and that honest, courageous leaders will arise from the people and return us to the principles that guided our founding fathers.

Williamsburg Scenes

Before describing yesterday's visit to the Yorktown Battlefield, I'll post a few more photos of Tuesday's day-long stroll through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg.

Above: a view of the Capitol

Above: In the stocks

Above: the stage rumbles through the city

Above: a shop window

Above: view through the window of a wig shop

Above: enjoying a lovely fall day and a good book

Above: the Colonial Virginia Capitol

Above: the jail (gaol)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Williamsburg: Oxen, Taverns and Shops

Yesterday, in celebration of Veterans Day, Dear Diane and I, along with our friends, Nancy and Dave Lee, spent much of the day at Colonial Williamsburg. It had been several decades since our last visit and the changes were considerable. Of course Williamsburg itself was much the same, with the exception of some new shops along Duke of Gloucester Street, the historic site's main drag; but now there's also a large Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center designed to introduce visitors to the history of the city and to separate them from their cash in the expansive gift and book shops. We purchased three-day passes and then, shunning the shuttle bus, walked the half-mile into the city.

Our first stop along the way was at Great Hopes Plantation, a re-creation of a period working farm just a few hundred yards along the path from the Visitors Center. The folks who run the farm are dressed in period costumes and play their roles well. I was particularly impressed by the young woman driving a team of oxen that pulled a plow to break up the soil of a large field (see photo below). It's not often one sees a team of yoked oxen these days, and as I watched this slip of a woman lead these two huge beasts, I couldn't help but call to mind the Lord's words: "...for my yoke is easy, my burden is light" [Mt 11:30].

Among the more interesting things we encountered at the plantation was a small barn in which air-cured tobacco leaves hung from the ceiling (see below).

After leaving the farm and entering Colonial Williamsburg, I had a more personal encounter with another ox, a rather pleasant animal named Dan. I noticed him cozying up to a group of tourists and decided to join them. As soon as I approached the fence he walked right up to me and posed for a few photos as I patted his rather massive head. Dan was really very friendly and also took an interest in my camera which I managed to keep safely away from him. Here are a couple of photos of Dan...

As we strolled along Duke of Gloucester Street, Dave and I enjoyed the local sights and sounds as the ladies browsed in the shops. Here's a photo of my three companions, Nancy, Dave and Dear Diane (left to right).

I tried to look the part of a colonial preacher by trying on a period clerical hat, but decided it really didn't fit well with my image as 21st-century deacon...

A highlight of our day was lunch at Shields Tavern, an establishment founded by James Shields in the mid-eighteenth century. Dear Diane is a direct descendent of Mr. Shields, so a visit there was a must. Our lunch was actually quite good and was accompanied by a woman playing an Irish harp. Photos follow...

We stopped by the old cemetery at the Episcopal Church and came across an unusual headstone. Take a moment to read the inscription (photo below). Do you see what troubled me about it? Hint: Do the math. We decided the stone-cutter made an error and put 1845 for the year of Mr. Smith's death instead of 1843. Follow-up on 11/13: I went back today and took a closer look at the headstone. It seems there's a small chip out of the last number on Mr. Smith's date of death. That minor damage makes a "3" look very much like a "5". And so, all is well in the cemetery.

The weather was quite nice, generally sunny with unseasonably warm temperatures pushing seventy degrees by mid-afternoon, although we were subjected to a little rainstorm just as we were leaving the city. All things considered, however, we had a very pleasant day and we're ready for a quiet evening back at our little condo.

I'll add some more photos of our Williamsburg visit in my next post which will also address today's excursion to the site of the crucial Battle of Yorktown.
God's peace...

Colonial Roads Less Traveled

In my most recent post I neglected to mention our minor (very minor) adventure on the James River Ferry. Because I tend to avoid the interstate highways whenever I have the time to do so, we made our way from Smithfield, NC to Williamsburg, VA on "blue highways." In this instance my TomTom GPS included a short ferry trip across the James River. Along with about 30 other vehicles we drove aboard the Pocahontas and crossed the river in much more interesting than a mere bridge crossing. The only inconvenience related to the timing of our arrival at the ferry. We had missed the boat by only two minutes and had to wait a half-hour for its return. But since we were in no hurry, it mattered little and gave me an opportunity to get out of the car, stretch my tired muscles, chat with the fellow lined up behind us, and take a few photos.

And speaking of blue highways, traveling along them provides opportunities to see and experience that which no interstate can offer. For example, you'll never see this on I-95:

...nor will you ever get "up close and personal" with a cotton ball when barreling along I-40. But while driving on state and county roads all things are possible:

We spent yesterday, Veterans Day, with the other tourists at Colonial Williamsburg. I have no time this morning to share our adventures. Later today...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

To Williamsburg...

Another enjoyable day! I really do enjoy traveling, even if it's to less than exotic places. Wherever we go, Dear Diane and I meet the most pleasant and interesting people. The staff at the Holiday Inn Express in Smithfield, NC were helpful, cheerful and seemed to truly enjoy their work. After our excellent complementary breakfast we got back in our Kia and made our way to downtown Smithfield, all of a mile away. We parked the car and strolled along Main Street as we waited for the Ava Gardner Museum to open. Smithfield seems like a pleasant town, one of those nice, comfortable small cities undergoing a bit of a renaissance. We parked near the Greenway that runs alongside the Buffalo Creek and Neuse River and enjoyed the view. I took a short stroll on the riverwalk so I could snap a few photos.

The Ava Gardner Museum is actually quite interesting and well designed. Our visit began with a brief (20-minute) film on her life, after which we viewed the many displays highlighting her early years in Smithfield, her film career, and her later life outside of Hollywood. Diane, a devotee of old movies, took it all in, and the docent on duty, a lovely woman named Sarah, answered every question with a smile. After an hour or so we had probably learned more than enough about Ava Gardner and her three show-biz husbands: Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra. Here's a photo of Ava and Frank, a romance that ended like the others in divorce.

I bought a coffee mug and Diane a book from the museum's shop.

Leaving Smithfield in mid-morning we made our way north to Virginia along country highways. As we passed through one rural county after another it became obvious that we were in cotton country. Most of the fields had already been harvested, but I was surprised that so many were still filled with unpicked cotton. Actually, a cotton field that's ready to be harvested is a beautiful sight, so I was pleased to see so many and took a bunch of photos.

We stopped for lunch at the Hungry Rooster, a nice little restaurant in the unusually named town of Boykins, Virginia. The food was quite good, the prices reasonable, and our waitress was just about a nice as she could be. 

By mid-afternoon we had arrived here at Williamsburg where we met up with our friends. We moved into our temporary home, a two-bedroom suite at the Holiday Inn Club Resort, caught up on family news over a glass of wine, then went out for a light dinner. On Tuesday we hope to take in the wonders of colonial Williamsburg.