Friday, December 6, 2013
G. K. Chesterton Canonization Cause. One of the great Catholic converts of the 20th Century is being considered as a candidate for sainthood. Check out this statement on the Chesterton cause by Father Ian Boyd, C.S.B., President of the G. K. Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture at Seton Hall University.
I was first introduced to Chesterton when I was in high school and accidentally came across a few of his books in my dad's library, and I've loved him ever since. I suppose I can say without fear of contradiction that there are two kinds of people in the world: those who have read Chesterton and those who haven't. If you fall among those in the latter category your life is woefully incomplete. Pick up a copy of Orthodoxy, first published in 1908 before Chesterton's conversion to Catholicism, and still in print, and then just go on from there reading any of the dozens of books written by Chesterton. If you're a Kindle user, try this remarkable collection of 21 Chesterton works: The Chesterton Reader. And if you still want more, you can turn to Ignatius Press which is publishing an ambitious multi-volume edition of Chesterton's complete works.
Atheists Tell Pope Francis Not To Pray. The very presence of atheists has always amazed me. After all, if one believes we're just evolutionary accidents, well, what's the sense of living? Why suffer life's difficulties and pains when one's ultimate end will be just oblivion? I suppose that's why so many atheists end up committing suicide as they begin to experience the physical and mental complications that often accompany old age. But until then they seem to get all excited about anyone who believes in anything more than nothing.
For example, when Pope Francis prayed for those in the Philippines who were suffering from the effects of the recent typhoon, atheists in Southern California came unglued and spent their loose change on a number of billboards. Their complaint? Instead of asking his flock to engage in meaningless prayer, the pope should have asked Catholics to do something constructive by sending money to the storm victims. According to Dave Muscato, spokesman for atheists.org, "We want to make sure that people understand that when you pray the only thing you are doing is making yourself feel better...but if you want to help, you actually need to do something." Of course, Mr. Muscato conveniently overlooks the fact that believers give huge amounts to charity, far more per capita than atheists, who it would seem prefer to spend their money on billboards attacking the pope. Ah well...pray for them.
Obama Administration Fines Catholics for Being Catholic. Yep, that's right...if a Catholic institution does not comply with the contraceptive and abortifacient mandate of the Affordable Care Act (aka, Obamacare), it can expect to be fined big bucks. For example, Belmont Abbey College in North Carolina, a Catholic college run by Benedictine monks, is suing the federal government, charging that Obamacare unconstitutionally forces the college to violate its core religious belief in the sanctity of human life. The act mandates that the college would have to offer contraceptive and abortifacient services in its employee healthcare plans. The fine for the college would be a tidy $7 million. This is just one more example of the increasingly open hostility to religious freedom exercised by our government in general and by this administration in particular. Three loud cheers for Belmont Abbey! Oh, yes, it's worth mentioning that the University of Notre Dame is also suing the federal government for the same reason. To read more, click here.
Euthanasia for Children? Just in case you still believe that civilization is alive and well in the once Christian continent of Europe, here's a news story that should give you pause. A Belgian parliamentary committee overwhelmingly voted to approve euthanasia for children of all ages. It is expected that the full parliament will pass the law easily. How unfortunate for the children of Belgium whose lives will soon be at risk from the moment of conception until old age. Any nation that kills its children simply because they are inconvenient -- and sadly, this includes our own nation -- is inherently evil. Of course I am politically incorrect to the extreme. I also believe that any nation that sends its women into combat is a nation of cowardly men.
Pakistan's Sharia Court: Death for Blasphemers. In one more example of Islamic barbarity, the federal Sharia Court in Pakistan has decided that the only permissible sentence for those convicted of blasphemy is death. It's important to understand that Islam's idea of blasphemy also includes saying anything that insults the name of the prophet Muhammad. Christians and other non-Muslims obviously do not believe that Muhammad was a true prophet. If we accepted him as a prophet, we'd have to throw out the entire New Testament and most of the Old Testament. Since much of Christian belief contradicts what Muhammad included in the Koran, just stating these beliefs could easily be considered a blasphemous insult deserving of the death penalty. It's easy to see why so many Christians have been imprisoned in Pakistan as a result of the blasphemy law. Read more here.
Saturday, November 30, 2013
As is our custom on Thanksgiving, we gave our usual crew of Thursday volunteers the day off and solicited others to join us on this special day. We always have far more Thanksgiving volunteers than we can handle, and have to turn away some folks; otherwise we'd be tripping over each other. This year we probably accepted more volunteers than usual, and divided them into two shifts: one from seven to ten a.m., and the other from ten a.m. until one p.m. This made things a bit more manageable, but even then we still had a crowd.
The first shift -- which must have included at least 20 people -- assisted Diane as she prepared the meal. Diane and our regular Thursday team had already done much of the necessary prep work in advance. And many other regular soup kitchen volunteers had cooked and sliced turkeys earlier in the week. As I recall, these good folks cooked twelve or thirteen large turkeys for us. This still left a lot of work for our first shift volunteers, and as "Thursday Captain" (a rather overblown title), I tried to organize them into effective work groups. Everything seemed to go pretty well and the meal was ready on time. The first shift then served up 140 meals for delivery to shut-ins who live in Wildwood. Our volunteer drivers, who use their own cars (and gasoline), each deliver 30-40 meals...and what wonderful and generous people folks they are!
At this point we encountered out first challenge: trying to get the first shift to quit and go home. They were enjoying themselves so much they didn't want to leave. Unfortunately we had about 30 people in the second shift waiting to take over. Finally Diane and I had to order all those happy first-shift volunteers to get out and make room for others.
At 10:30 a.m. we opened the doors to our guests, and served the meal between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Once again, though, we did things differently on Thanksgiving. Instead of having the guests pick up their own meals as they walk through the serving line, we met and greeted them as they arrived, took them to their seats, got them a drink -- coffee, iced tea, lemonade, etc. -- and then asked them to check off the menu items they would like. A volunteer then went through the serving line, filling the order, and took the meal to the guest. Another group of volunteers carried trays of desserts in the dining room, letting each guest choose which dessert he or she would like. It's really quite an operation, but thanks to all our enthusiastic and giving volunteers, it all went very smoothly.
The result was a record Thanksgiving Day. I never know whether to be pleased or upset when we break attendance records at the soup kitchen. I'm pleased and thankful that we have always been able to feed all those who come through our doors; but the fact that we must serve so many says a lot about the state of the economy. Including our delivered meals, we served nearly 330 meals on Thursday. On previous Thanksgivings our numbers were always much lower then this.
As always, our guests were truly appreciative and raved about the meal. Indeed, they liked it so much that many took a second meal home with them -- so many, in fact, that at the end of the day, we had virtually nothing left, another very rare occurrence. Next year we'll just have to cook more turkeys.
Of course, Diane and I couldn't have done any of this on our own. It was truly a joy that we were joined by all those good people who volunteered to give up part of their Thanksgiving to help others. What a blessing that so many were willing and able to be with us on this day of thanks!
Take some time today, and every day, to thank God for all that you have been given, and for your very being, for the gift of life you have received. Recall the words of St. Paul:
"What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?"[1 Cor 4:7]If you're interested in knowing more about the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, click here.
Wednesday, November 27, 2013
But this morning I didn't realize I was scheduled to preach until after I arrived at the church. And so I had about five minutes to give the readings some thought and decide what I would say about them. The two readings: Dn 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28 and Lk 21:12-19. As well as I can recall my words, here's what I had to say:
Last night I had a dream, a very strange dream. I woke up at about 2 a.m. with the dream fresh in my mind. I was in a church, not this church, but a very large church, and as I walked up to the ambo to preach I saw that the church was filled with people. But as soon as I began to preach, everybody in the church simply stood up and left the building. I'm not kidding. That's exactly what happened...at least in my dream.
Now as I lay there in the dark at 2 a.m. I had no idea what this might mean. I think perhaps I need a Daniel to interpret it for me. But after reading today's Gospel passage from Luke earlier this morning, I began to think that it might relate to how well I'm doing as an evangelist. And, apparently, if the dream is accurate, not very well.
How about you? Are you an evangelist...yet? You do know that as a Christian you are called to evangelize, don't you? Indeed, the last three popes -- John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis -- have all made evangelization a key priority of the papacy and, therefore, of the entire Church. For evangelization is the Church's one mission, the mission that Jesus gave to the disciples and to us with His last words before He returned to the Father:
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” [Mt 28:19-20].He addressed these words to all of us, brothers and sisters. Yes, you and I are called to make disciples and to teach. We are all called to evangelize. And Jesus, in those last words of His, gives us the consolation of His presence. He will be with us until the end of the age, just as He is with us now. He is with us in the Eucharist until He returns in glory. We have Him, the Real Presence, in our presence every day. What a consolation that is!
And we will certainly need Him because evangelization comes with a cost. Did you hear what Jesus said in our Gospel passage?
“They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name...and they will put some of you to death...You will be hated by all because of my name" [Lk 21:12,16-17].Not very comforting is it? But this is the cost; this is the price you and I must pay if we are to evangelize in a world that rejects Jesus, a world that rejects the Word of God. And so we need His presence if we are to answer Jesus's call to evangelization.
Recall, too, that He will inspire us through His Holy Spirit. How did He put it?
"It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute." [Lk 21:13-15]Lord knows I didn't prepare these words today, so if they're of any value, they are the Spirit's words. not mine.
And so, today, perhaps you and I should take some time to think about this call issued by Jesus, this call to evangelization.
Are you an evangelist...yet? If not, why not? And don't worry, because God will be with you always, leading the way.
God love you.
Thursday, November 7, 2013
Tuesday, 5 November 2013 -- At Sea
Okay, not quite. Our first sighting of land is still several hundred miles to the west, but today is our last full day at sea before our arrival in Nassau tomorrow morning. We had another in a series of time changes last night so, of course, I awoke at 4 a.m. ready to start my day. Once again I sit here in the dark tapping away while Dear Diane sleeps soundly.
Last night, for the first time since last week's transit of the Bay of Biscay on the way to La Rochelle, the seas have been other than calm. I believe we're feeling some of the residual effects of the storms that have been moving up the east coast of the U.S. Overnight the ship developed a distinct roll, one that helped me sleep well, just like a baby in a cradle, at least until 4 a.m. We're still rolling, and because it's quite dark outside, I can't see whether we have an overcast or clear skies. I could certainly get a better view by sliding open the noisy door to the balcony, but that would surely awaken Diane, not a wise thing to do.
Yesterday, extending the celebration of our anniversary a bit, we gave ourselves a treat and had lunch at one of the specialty restaurants, the S.S. United States. The restaurant seems to be a kind of shrine to that once famous ship that carried folks across the Atlantic back in the fifties and sixties. I remember when it was first put into service and, if I recall correctly, it set a speed record for the transatlantic voyage between New York and Southhampton. I'll have to look that up and see if my memory is correct. Anyhow, the meal was wonderful, the best since we've been aboard Infinty.
Other than that, our day was just one of those relaxing, do-nothing days. We napped (well, Diane napped), we read, we watched the sea roll past our little balcony, we sampled some of the gelato served on deck five by a lovely Italian girl (coconut and cinnamon turned out to be a great combination), and we met with a couple -- friends of a friend -- whom we looked up a few days ago. I expect today to be more of the same, except we will probably do some initial packing so we won't be too hurried our last evening aboard.
It's still dark. Diane still sleeps soundly. More later, assuming there's anything worth writing about.
Wednesday, 6 November 2013 -- Nassau, Bahamas
We arrived in Nassau this morning under sunny skies and tied up at the pier along with four other cruise ships. With all those ships in port, Nassau's downtown streets were clogged with tourists anxious to part with their money in the jewelry stores, craft stalls, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Diane and I did our small part to aid the local economy by purchasing a few baubles and other little things. We also sat on an outside deck at one of those noisy and fun waterfront eateries and ate huge and tasty hamburgers. But Nassau, at least its downtown, could only hold our interest for a few hours so by mid-afternoon we decided to stroll back to the ship. The ship departed at 4 p.m in a wonderful display of seamanship and now we're on our last leg, a short trip to Miami.
We've had a wonderful month, but it's time to return to our home and once again take up the routine of our lives.
Monday, November 4, 2013
We had booked a room at a lovely B&B, The Bath House, located only a block or two from the city's center. Because we had made our reservation a bit late (rooms in Bath are always in demand) we were given a room on the top floor of the house. Fortunately, our host was a strong, young man who happily carried our bags up the two flights of stairs. The room was very nice with a king-size bed, an en suite bath, and also included a wonderful English breakfast delivered to our room each morning. And most conveniently, and a true rarity in Bath, the B&B also had free on-site parking. The only problem we encountered that weekend was the weather: it rained almost constantly.
After our late afternoon arrival, we walked into town, passed by the Jane Austen Center which we decided to visit the next morning, and strolled up Gay Street to the Circus, one of Bath's many architectural wonders. The first photo below shows only one of the three segments of the Circus. In the second photo you can see the three types of classic columns present on the three levels of the building. It had started to drizzle so we stopped by a pub, grabbed a bite to eat, and then returned to our B&B. It had been a long day and so we called if a night, hoping to see all the sights on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, after our in-room breakfast, we walked the few short blocks to the Jane Austen Center where we were greeted by the doorman dressed in Regency period clothing, but looking more like a character out of Dickens. Here are a couple of photos...
The Center itself is well worth a visit. First we listened to an interesting talk delivered by a lovely young lady who spoke eloquently about Jane Austen's time in Bath; then we spent about an hour browsing through the museum which focused on various aspects of life in early 19th-century Bath. Of course we also stopped by their gift shop and contributed to the economy of 21st-century Bath. I've included a photo below of Diane standing alongside a faceless mannequin wearing a period dress, and a young boy writing with a quill pen. For one so young he actually did quite well. Bright lad.
We spent much of the day roaming about the city trying to stay dry. We walked to the Royal Crescent, another of those uniquely designed Bath buildings. In the photo below you can see the ha-ha, the depressed wall in front of the Crescent, an unusual construction commonly used at the time to keep animals and other undesirable critters from desecrating the front lawns of the wealthy. It could not be easily seen from above; hence the name.
We visited the Bath Abbey (see first photo below) and spent quite a while in the ancient Roman baths, another must-see when visiting Bath. The museum takes one through the early history of the city from pre-Roman times to the present.
Sadly, the poor weather prevented us from seeing many of the sights we had hoped to visit, and I was particularly disappointed in missing out on a planned boat trip on the River Avon. Indeed, late that afternoon we were caught in a downpour that, despite raincoats and umbrellas, completely drenched us as we hurried back to our lodgings. We were thoroughly soaked and quite cold by the time we returned to our room. It continued to rain throughout the evening and the next morning we had to drive to London's Gatwick Airport to drop off our car. Perhaps we'll be able to travel to Bath again someday, and see all those places we were unable to visit. I've included a few random Bath photos below...
Now...back to our ocean voyage.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Later at dinner our maître'd and wait staff surprised us with a special anniversary cake which was surprisingly good. And when we returned to our room our bed was covered with rose petals and one of our room attendants had drawn a rather good caricature of the two of us...in living color! And there, too, on our coffee table was another anniversary cake. I thought it a rather nice conclusion to a wonderful, relaxing day.
Before going to bed we heard that the ship would experience a partial eclipse of the sun from about 7 to 9 a.m. So we rose a bit earlier than usual and made our way topside to deck 11. Some folks had come fully prepared with special darkened viewing cards that enabled them to watch the eclipse without destroying their eyesight. One kind gentleman must have had dozens of these cards and gave one to anyone who asked, including us. As it turned out, the eclipse, although partial, covered about 90% of the sun's surface. And so all of us oohed and aahed as we watched the moon slowly move across the surface of the sun. Here are a few photos, including one taken through a make-shift filter during the eclipse...
While all these astronomical events were taking place, we were also entertained by a seabird, some sort of hawk-like bird of prey that gave us a remarkable demonstration of airborne acrobatics. I had noticed him yesterday when he made a high-speed pass down the length of the ship just a few feet from my balcony, so I suspect he's taken up residence in his own little aerie somewhere high up on the ship.
And then the entertainment shifted to the ocean's surface as we watched many tiny flying fish leave the water and skim over its surface for quite a long distance. We see them often when they break the surface to escape the bulk of the ship as it disturbs their habitat. You can barely make out three of them in the following photo. They're the three white specks in a line from upper left to lower right.
As you can tell, I am easily entertained...
Take a moment today to thank God for His creation.
Saturday, November 2, 2013
Our captain is Greek, a nice enough fellow who seems a bit shy. He gives us a brief update over the ship's public address system each day at 10 a.m. and occasionally walks through the public spaces, greeting passengers and asking if we're pleased with everything or have any complaints. Today he informed us that we are just about half-way to Nassau, having covered over 1,700 miles since leaving Lisbon. The seas remain relatively calm and the skies clear with only a few fair-weather cumulus clouds.
Of course, the crew members with whom we have the most contact are our two cabin attendants and the wait staff in our little Aqua Class restaurant. Marcelino (from Goa, India) and Edy (from Indonesia) take care of our cabin, doing all those big and little things that make life aboard ship comfortable. They are real treasures, pleasant young men who go out of their way to keep us happy, although Diane and I are not particularly demanding. I trust we have made their jobs a bit easier.
The wait staff in our restaurant form an eclectic group, from Serbia, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, India, Nicaragua, Argentina and a half-dozen other countries. They're all wonderful. In no time they have learned our likes and dislikes and recommend menu selections accordingly. A few of them seem to know what I'll like before I've even thought about it. And Maria keeps my coffee cup full at breakfast. For what more could I ask?
Naturally, the cruise line is in business to make money, so I suppose happy guests cruise again and again. And although I have no financial data on this company, I can't help but believe they're doing very well. They have certainly found many creative ways to separate their guests from their money. Casinos, bars, specialty restaurants, spas, shops, port excursions, wines -- all of these things are "extras" and all generate a lot of cash. I'm very fortunate not to be an alcoholic gambler who likes massages, exotic foods, and Swiss watches.
I'm back on our little balcony, but it's almost time for lunch which today will be only a simple plate of fruit. I must get back on the diet and exercise regimen that allowed me to lose 20 pounds in the three months prior to our leaving home. I suspect I've gained half of it back thanks to pub food, good British ale, and a ship that feeds me constantly.
Dear Diane sleeps alongside me as I quietly tap away on the iPad. With all the time changes crossing the Atlantic, I've been waking up earlier each morning. Today it was 4:45. It's a bit like switching from daylight savings time to standard time on five or six consecutive days. These changes don't seem to bother Diane so very much though. She is able to sleep through all the resettings of the clocks and only occasionally awakens to ask me the time. I usually have no idea since my iPad, iPhone and watch all display different times. Perhaps they will all magically synchronize by the time we reach Florida.
Once again we have a lovely, calm day at sea. After showering and dressing I moved out to our little balcony to enjoy the sea air. Each day is warmer than the last and even now, at this early time of day, I am comfortable in shorts and polo shirt. This is just about the most relaxing activity (if I may call it that) in which one can engage. I can see why zillionaires own big yachts. It ain't a bad way to spend one's leisure time. Of course, had I such wealth I could never live that way. I feel guilty enough just sitting here undeservedly on my little balcony.
Time now for an early breakfast. Later I hope to find one of those quiet spots topside where I can read in peace while I bask in the warmth of the Atlantic sun. If not, there's always this wonderful little balcony.
We have nothing over-the-top special planned for the day. I believe Dear Diane and I decided to keep it low-key and simply relax in each other's presence. Of course, I might well be wrong. Even after 45 years of wedded bliss, I am often very, very wrong.