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!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Temple and the Presence of God

Jean Danielou, S.J.
Many years ago -- I'm guessing it was about 35 years ago -- I read a little book by Jean Danielou, a French Jesuit and one of the early advocates of the nouvelle théologie, or new theology, that was so influential in the mid-twentieth century and made its mark on the Second Vatican Council. An English translation of the book appeared in 1959 and was published under the title, The Presence of God. It's a wonderful read and introduced me to a whole string of ideas I had never before considered. In some ways it was the catalyst that really sparked my interest in Sacred Scripture.  Sadly the book is now out of print, but I suspect a copy or two can be found on one of the used book websites. 

After first reading Danielou's little book -- the English version is only about 60 pages -- I thought it could form the basis of a brief, but powerful, adult faith formation course. Because the subject matter ran through the entirety of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, it could be the sort of course that would lead people into a deeper relationship with the Word of God. I put this thought on my unlit back burner and basically forgot about it.

These days I facilitate our parish Bible Study program, which consists of two sessions each Wednesday, one morning and one evening. Parishioners can choose which they would like to join. But every summer we take a break, mainly because here in Florida we have so many snowbirds, and they don't want to miss anything while they're cooling off up north. In recent years, however, I have offered some kind of relatively brief Scripture-based course for those parishioners who like me remain here during the summer months. This spring, as I considered the possibilities, I happened to spot Cardinal Danielou's little book in one of my bookcases and decided to prepare and offer a course addressing all those wonderful concepts to which he introduced me so many years ago.


Yves Congar, O.P.
By the way, another book that has helped me during my course development is The Mystery of the Temple (1962) by one of Jean Danielou's contemporaries, the French Dominican Yves Congar. Unfortunately it too is out of print, so if you want the book you'll have to search for used copies.

I divided the course into five sessions, each approximately one hour in length. I conduct it every other Wednesday evening, and we just finished the second session. (I need two weeks between each session since I'm developing the course as we go.) So far it's been pretty well received, with over 50 people participating. What a joy that so many parishioners are interested in deepening their faith through their study of Sacred Scripture.

The course includes PowerPoint presentations for each session, along with a number of other pertinent handouts. If you're interested in checking out the course material, just go to the documents page of my Bible Study website: Click Here and scroll down to the section describing our summer course. Right now only the material for the first two sessions are posted on the site. As we progress I will add additional presentations and their accompanying handout material.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Deja Vu All Over Again

This morning an old Navy friend (and all my Navy friends are old) directed me to a video on YouTube that brought back a lot of memories of my first carrier landings on June 28, 1968. It's hard to believe this took place almost 50 years ago, but that's one thing about time: it doesn't stand still.

Anyway, back then I was in the midst of my U.S. Navy flight training in Pensacola, Florida. I don't think I exaggerate when I say that all naval aviators consider the day of their first carrier landings among the most memorable of their lives. What a thrill! It was the primary skill that separated all of us naval aviators from the rest of the aviation community.

In those days even flight students who were slated to become helicopter pilots -- and that included me -- first learned to fly fixed-wing aircraft and had to qualify by completing a series of arrested landings on an aircraft carrier. For most flight students that carrier was the USS Lexington (CVT-16), a Pensacola-based ship that functioned as the training command's carrier. But in late June 1968, when I was scheduled for carrier qualification, Lexington was having some work done and she was temporarily replaced by the USS Randolph (CV-15). And so, my landings were on Randolph.

My aircraft for carrier qualification was the T-28C, an absolutely wonderful airplane. Among trainers flown in our armed forces at the time it was about as close to a World War II fighter as you could get. No other trainer could compare. In fact, during the Vietnam conflict the South Vietnamese Air force flew the T-28 in combat. I wouldn't be surprised if some countries still fly it in their air forces.


North American T-28C Trojan
The T-28 (the  B and C models we flew in training) was powered by a Wright Cyclone R-1820, a huge radial, 9-cylinder engine, that generated (if I remember correctly) 1,425 horsepower. It was quite a machine. When you strapped into the T-28 and cranked up that engine, you knew you were flying something special. It's cruising speed was about 220 knots and, as I recall, it's maximum speed was almost 300 knots. Despite the noise and the oil leaks and all of its odd little idiosyncrasies, it was a joy to fly.
R-1820 Engine in a T-28 (engine cowl removed)

The first video included below is a Navy training film designed to demonstrate the procedures used for landing a T-28C on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The voice of the narrator is one of the most familiar to anyone who served in the Navy. He must have narrated 1,000 films. 

I have a vague recollection of watching this particular film (or another version) way back when. But no video could replace the hours in the airplane practicing carrier landings at Barin Field in Foley, Alabama. By this time in our training we were already fairly competent T-28 pilots, so the carrier qualification training took only a couple of weeks. But it was a demanding two weeks and included almost 100 field carrier landings or FCLs designed to simulate landing on the carrier. For those of you interested in how naval aviators landed on carriers in the good ol' T-28, here's the training film:



On that very hot June day in 1968 when our flight took off, we joined up in formation and headed South to rendezvous with USS Randolph in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, one after another, we each completed touch-and-go landings, followed by six arrested landings. I've embedded another video (below) that depicts the first carrier landings of a flight of budding naval aviators around that time. It's an amateur video, taken with an 8mm movie camera, and has no audio. The quality is poor, but it depicts touch-and-goes, wave-offs, bolters (that's when you miss the arresting wire), and arrested landings. 



I'll never forget the date (June 28) because that was also my mom's birthday, and that evening I called her to wish her a happy birthday and tell her my exciting news.

That day was eclipsed by only a few others, the foremost being our wedding day four months later on November 2. Then, just two weeks later, on November 15, 1968, I received my Navy wings of gold which were pinned on by my new bride, Dear Diane. This was followed by the days each of our four children were born in 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1977. Twenty years later, on May 24, 1997, I was ordained a permanent deacon and with Diane at my side began this new life journey. Since then God has blessed us with nine wonderful grandchildren; and so the important days continue to add up.

This tremendous wealth of wonderful memories is what makes getting old so downright enjoyable. It's the one thing we have that the young don't.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Audio Homily - Solemnity of Body and Blood of Christ

Our IT people at the parish recorded my homily last Sunday and gave me a copy. Apparently it was supposed to be a video recording but some glitch left the video screen pitch black. And so my voice comes from out of the darkness. 

Anyway, if you liked the printed version that I posted a few days ago -- click here: Homily -- you can listen to the audio version below. Just don't expect to see anything.



...and don't forget, God loves you in spite of yourself.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Homily: Monday, 11th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Cor 6:1-10; Psalm 98; Mt 5:38-42
-----------------------

A few years ago, while Diane and I were on a cruise, we met a couple at dinner that happened to be from a nearby town here in central Florida. The man was from a ranching family, and since we shared the same dinner table every day, we heard many wonderful stories about Florida life years ago.

One evening, when he learned that I was a deacon, he told us that his family was one of the few Catholic families in the area. He said he used to get beat up a lot in school because of his faith, but then laughed and said, "I got used to it."

Years later, he told us, he ran into an old classmate who had become a Baptist minister. As they talked, the man said he had recently converted to Catholicism, a journey that began when he used to see our new friend get beat up in school.

"You were a big guy, but you never retaliated. You just took it and went on. I realized I was witnessing the Sermon on the Mount in action. That got me interested in the Catholic faith."

Whenever I think of him and then read the Sermon on the Mount, especially the words of today's Gospel passage, I find myself wondering whether I am savable.

How often do we find ourselves treated badly by others? How often do people take advantage of us? And how often do we want to respond in kind? It's so very human, isn't it? We get angry, or hostile, or indignant, all because we were treated badly. And, Oh, we do find ways to get even, don't we?

As we just heard, Jesus rejects this, the Mosaic Law spelled out in Leviticus [Lv 24:19-20] and Exodus [Ex 21:24], the idea of "an eye for an eye..." It's often what is called lex talionis, or the law of retaliation. In truth this law really wasn't an encouragement to take revenge, since revenge was often excessive. No, the law stressed that punishment for an assault should be restricted, and never exceed the suffering experienced; i.e., an eye for an eye. From a human perspective it seems reasonable, and is certainly present in many aspects of our criminal law today.

But Jesus calls us to something greater, something so un-human it can only be divine. And it's another of those hard sayings that fill the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus just seems to overturn everything the world believes to be right.

What does He tell us? Don't repay evil with more of the same. Instead, offer no resistance to the one who does evil. Then He utters that famous command: "turn the other cheek" [Mt 5:39]. But He doesn't stop there. If someone takes your coat, give him the rest of your clothing. If someone asks for your help, double it. And don't turn away beggars and borrowers.

As you might imagine, not many Christians spend a lot of time mulling over these verses. Best to ignore them. After all, Jesus is probably exaggerating - a little Jewish hyperbole. A bit of a maybe if we ignore it it'll go away sort of thing. But Jesus doesn't say things He doesn't mean...so what exactly does He mean? Should we take Him literally? 

And who should we imitate, some movie action-hero, one of those Arnold Schwarzenegger characters who makes sure the bad guys pay, or Jesus Christ, who let the bad guys nail Him to a Cross, and then forgave them? Jesus certainly turned the other cheek, didn't He? He didn't resist as they spat at Him, beat Him, and then killed Him.

After all, Jesus wasn't defenseless. What did He say to the Apostles in the garden?
"Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?" [Mt 26:53]
Jesus, you see, is no victim here. He remains in total control. Those who torment Him are barbaric, but Jesus maintains His dignity and His strength.

Is He telling us, then, that we cannot act in self-defense? Not at all, taking revenge is very different from protecting oneself, or one's family, or one's country. No, in urging us to follow His example, Jesus calls on us to use self-restraint, and in turn to call others to him through love and forgiveness. Being vengeful is the easy path, the human way, but not the better or divine way. And we are called to perfection, aren't we?

You and I don't have to look farther than the headlines or the TV news to see the results of revenge and retaliation. Too often it leads only to a never-ending cycle of violence.

And keep in mind, when we follow Jesus' example, we are, in effect, turning it all over to the Father, and allowing Him to act in our lives, just as He has since the beginning of time. By following Jesus we show that we understand the nature of our relationship with the Father: He is sovereign and we are His children.

In our first reading Paul reminds us "not to receive the grace of God in vain" [2 Cor 6:1]. Indeed, without the constant flow of God's grace, you and I can do nothing good. We need His Holy Spirit acting within us. Only then, when we are open to the Spirit, will God act through us to overcome the evil of the world with good...for we certainly can't do it alone.

Homily: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Dt 8:2-3,14-16; Ps 147; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58

---------------------------

First of all...Happy Father's Day to all the fathers here today. I know, being a good father is a tough job, but somebody has to do it. And don't sneak out early or you'll miss the special blessing for fathers at the end of Mass.

Speaking of fathers and sons, some years ago, my elder son, who's into genealogy, asked me to look through my boxes of family documents for anything of interest. One of the first things I came across was the 65-year-old certificate from my First Holy Communion. Talk about a forgotten relic!


It provides only basic information: name, date, the parish, the pastor, all handwritten. Most of the certificate is a picture of a young boy and girl, dressed in their First Communion finery, kneeling at the altar rail. Remember altar rails? Standing behind the rail in the sanctuary, holding a host in one hand and a chalice in the other is Jesus, with two angels posed prayerfully behind Him.

It's a pious scene, a sweet scene, the sort of scene that today might bring about a few condescending smiles, even some cynicism. Yes, such naiveté is fine for children, but we adults...well, ours is a more sophisticated faith.

But as I continued to gaze at that picture I found myself transported from our adult world of pragmatism to a very different world...to a world where miracles abound and God's hand touches all of creation...to a world of real faith in which the truth of a theological mystery like the Eucharist is readily accepted. I knew then that a world in which a child can be filled with wonder over God's presence in the Eucharist - that this is the real world. I also realized how misleading, how utterly false our grown-up world can be.

Instead of marveling at God's wondrous gifts, we spend our lives worrying about and fretting over every conceivable worldly thing. We worry about money and jobs and retirement and health. We worry about our children and our grandchildren, about their education, their jobs, and their worldly success. We worry about impressing others, about our friendships, about the clothes we wear, the house we live in, the vacations we take.

Yes, our place in this world so monopolizes our lives, we even define ourselves by how we earn a living. When someone asks "What do you do?" - or for most of us, "What did you do?" - we provide the standard answers: an attorney...a mechanic...an engineer...a sales rep...a teacher...a beautician...a mechanic...a policeman.

How many of us have ever answered, "I'm a Christian, a child of God seeking salvation"?

And why not? After all, that's your true vocation; that's why God created you in the first place. He didn't create you for a job that pays the bills, or promises a nice pension in retirement.

Yes, we live lives littered with all these important and urgent things, concerns so crucial that when placed alongside salvation they become...well, absolutely trivial. 

We ignore the mystery of God's creation and come to believe we can control our little piece of the world...until we're confronted with the stark reality of an illness, or an accident, or the death of one we love.

In our growing-up we've lost that childlike sense of wonder, the capacity to see and marvel at the mystery that fills our world. Lacking this we fail to recognize the face of God even when He's standing right before us.

This is why Jesus instructs us to be like the child, to be childlike, not childish. He wants us to reclaim that wonderful gift of faith He bestowed on us when we were children. How did Jesus put it?
"Father, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike" [Mt 11:25].
He wants us to believe as we once did, and to love as we once did. Brothers and sisters, God created us to love Him, and to serve Him by loving and serving others, and to spend our lives doing just that.

This is how we live our faith, the same faith I saw in the eyes of the children in that picture. Kneeling to receive Jesus in the Eucharist - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity - they don't see a mere piece of bread. No, they see Jesus Christ standing before them, loving them, offering them the greatest gift he can offer: Himself.

Contrast them with those in today's Gospel passage, people who had lost their sense of childlike wonder and, when confronted with Jesus' words about the Eucharist, denied the mystery of God's power. Quarrelling among themselves, they ask, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" [Jn 6:52]

"This man..." They had witnessed miracle after miracle, acts only God could perform, but Jesus was still simply, "this man."

But Jesus won't let them take refuge in their cynical, adult ways. He forces the issue, repeating and expanding His claims.
"...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" [Jn 6:53-56].
These were hard words for that incredulous crowd, just as they are for so many today. On that day in Galilee, John tells us, after hearing these words, "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" [Jn 6:66]. Just as many leave the Church today and the very Bread of Life because they cannot accept Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist. If they accepted it, they would never leave.

It's just a symbol, they say. Well, if it's just a symbol it's meaningless. Read the words of John's Gospel [Jn 6] once again...

No symbol can fill you with divine life.

No symbol can give you eternal life.

No symbol can raise you on the last day.

No symbol can bring you into communion with Jesus where He is in you and you in Him.

How did St. Paul put it in our second reading? 
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" [1 Cor 10:16]
And later in that same First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warns not to receive Jesus in the Eucharist unworthily: 
"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord"  [1 Cor 11:27].
We don't have to answer to God for a mere symbol. We must answer for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

This is what we celebrate today, Jesus' redemptive sacrifice, the beautiful Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. We used to call it simply Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ - and many of us will probably continue to call it that, if only out of habit.

But in her wisdom the Church changed its name to reflect more accurately the reality of what happened at Calvary and at the Last Supper, and what will soon happen on this altar at St. Vincent de Paul Church. For it is the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant that was shed from the Body of Christ on the Cross.

In many places when this feast is celebrated, Catholics will process through the streets carrying the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ to a disbelieving world. In the same way, you and I are called to take Him - "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" [Jn 14:6] - to a world searching for meaning and hope, a world begging for God's love and Presence.

We are called to be like joyful children once again, ever amazed at God's gift of life, fully aware that we are "fearfully, wonderfully made" [Ps 139:14], and thankful for the miraculous gift of Christ's Real Presence to nourish our hearts and our spirits.

When we gather for Mass, we become one with Christ, transformed by history's deepest act of love. We become one with Christ in the starving child who aches for a piece of bread, in the victim of violence lying in the emergency room, in the young Marine dying of wounds in Afghanistan, in the African mother whose daughter was kidnapped by terrorists.

Did you know that all this happens here at Mass? We join our souls to Christ and offer our bodies with his on the Cross for the healing of the entire world. We do it for the salvation of the world, for the salvation of souls so that God's "will be done on earth as it is in heaven" [Mt 6:10]

This is what happens at Mass. The sacrifice of Christ - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity - saves us anew. No words can explain it. But a child can understand it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Homily: Monday, 9th Week of Ordinary Time (Year 1)

Readings: Tb 1:3; 2:1a-8 • Psalm 112 • Mk 12:1-12

Our readings today are both beginnings of a sort. We begin a week of readings from Chapter 12 of Mark's Gospel, and also begin a weeklong series of readings from the Book of Tobit.

Tobit is a delightful book, one of the inspired books the Church includes in its canon, but one considered apocryphal by our Protestant bothers and sisters. That's too bad, and I always encourage my Protestant friends to read the book because Tobit offers us a wonderful story of suffering, of faithfulness, of charity, and of the presence of God and His love. It reminds us of the nearness of God, who is always merciful to those who turn to Him in need.

Tobit and his family are Jews living in Nineveh, exiled among the Assyrians, and yet in the face of persecution they keep the faith and follow the Law as God intended. When the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, allowed the persecution and killing of the exiled Jews, Tobit secretly buried the dead. For these acts of charity he had to go into hiding until the king was assassinated by his own relatives.

Now back home with Anna, his wife, and Tobias, his son, he prepares to celebrate Pentecost, the Jewish feast of the harvest, 50 days after Passover. We celebrate Pentecost 50 days after Easter, and even for us it is a feast of harvest, the birthday of the Church and the harvest of souls for God.

Back to Tobit...Before the feast, he sends Tobias to find a needy devout Jew among the exiles and ask him to join the family for the meal. But Tobias returns and reports instead that a Jew had been murdered and his lifeless body left in the street. At great personal risk, Tobit goes out and brings the body back to his home for burial. And for this he is mocked by his neighbors, who are more concerned for their personal safety than for helping those in need, especially for this corporal work of mercy: to bury the dead.
Tobit and his son, Tobias bury the dead
Tobit, of course, sets a wonderful example for us. He rejects the challenges and mockery of the world and instead commits to doing acts of true justice in accordance with God's will. When, like Tobit, we accept God's call to be active witnesses of His love and mercy, we can change the world.

St. Boniface, whose memorial we celebrate today, did exactly that: at great personal risk he changed the world by converting the barbarian German tribes, a vocation that ultimately led to his martyrdom.
St. Boniface (Bishop & Martyr), Apostle to German Tribes
When we contrast the courageous Boniface and the just Tobit with the attitudes Jesus encounters in today's Gospel passage, the difference could hardly be greater.

Jesus confronts the priests, scribes and elders with a parable that points to Himself as the Son of God, as the foundation of the new Temple, the cornerstone rejected by those who thrive in the old. This they cannot bear. It threatens their way of life, a way of life centered on themselves and not on the true worship God desires of them.

In the parable, Jesus portrays them as murderers, who will do anything to protect themselves. In that sense it is, of course, a prophecy through which Jesus, once again, describes His own death. Interestingly, in Mark's version, he tells us that the tenants "seized him [the son] and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard" [Mk 12:8]. But both Matthew [Mt 21:39] and Luke [Lk 20:15] reverse the order, and the son is first thrown out of the vineyard and then killed. This, of course, is more in keeping with the reality, in which Jesus is thrown from the vineyard, from Jerusalem, and killed outside its walls on Golgotha.

As we listen to this parable we run the risk of applying it only to the scribes and Pharisees, and forgetting that the Gospel isn't about all the others in our lives, all the "thems," but about us, about you and me.

How often do we resemble those Pharisees or those neighbors of Tobit?

How often do we turn away from God's way and choose our own path, one that leads to sin and alienation?

Yes, like those who reject Jesus outright, we too need mercy and reconciliation. We, too, need to drop to our knees and come to God in repentance, and then rise up and do His work in the world.

Lord, teach us to serve you in all things, to measure our lives not by our will but by yours. Help us to serve you by serving those who enter our lives, those you place there in need of your love and mercy.

Thank God for Strife

Sometimes, inundated as we are by all the craziness and violence, all the strife of the world, we can be tempted to question whether God is paying attention to His creation. But such thinking is deeply heretical and simply echoes the beliefs of the deists that God is a kind of eternal, cosmic watchmaker who makes the watch, winds it up, and then just sits back and watches it run for good or ill. God, of course, is nothing like that. He is the God who creates out of love, the God who enters into His creation and into the lives of those He loves, and does so to the extreme. No divine "watchmaker," no indifferent God would send His Son into the world to be killed by those He created in a divine act of redemption. No, indeed, our loving God does the unthinkable.

Anyway, this all crossed my mind this morning after Mass as I stood at the copying machine in the parish office waiting for some of my course materials to be copied. (I do some of my more serious thinking while standing around waiting for things.) As I waited my cellphone buzzed, alerting me to a news flash. Apparently a shooting in nearby Orlando had resulted in several fatalities. I said a quiet prayer for those who had died and then oddly found myself offering a prayer of thanksgiving.

Kilmer in Uniform
I wasn't sure why I was thanking God for strife and mayhem, but then recalled a poem I had read a few weeks ago. It was written by Joyce Kilmer, an American poet killed by a sniper's bullet during the Battle of the Marne in World War One. The father of five, he was only 31 years old.

Most people remember Kilmer because of his most famous poem, "Trees," which you might have been forced to memorize in 8th grade as I was. (Thanks to the late, great Sister Francis Jane, O.P. for that.)

In my library I have a two-volume edition of Kilmer's Poems, Essays and Letters that I occasionally open. My liking for him probably relates to the fact that he lived for a time in my hometown of Larchmont, NY and attended the same church my family attended -- St. Augustine Parish. The poem in question is appropriately titled, "Thanksgiving":

Thanksgiving
By Joyce Kilmer

The roar of the world in my ears.
                Thank God for the roar of the world!
          Thank God for the mighty tide of fears
  Against me always hurled!

                     Thank God for the bitter and ceaseless strife,
                    And the sting of His chastening rod!
                      Thank God for the stress and the pain of life,
        And Oh, thank God for God!

Yes, indeed, we, not God, are responsible for all the strife in the world, and it is only by His grace that we continue. And for this, and even for the "sting of His chastening rod," we can thank God.

The critics never cared much for Joyce Kilmer's work. Most considered his poetry too simple and far too religious. These, as you might imagine, are the very traits I find most enjoyable in his poems.

Apparently, however, the leadership at the New Jersey Turnpike Authority disagree with the critics and, like me, enjoy Kilmer's work. As you travel north on the turnpike, you will encounter the "Joyce Kilmer Service Area" where you can stop for high-priced gasoline and even higher-priced fast food. I consider it a mandatory stop, a waypoint on a minor pilgrimage of sorts, and buy milkshakes for Dear Diane and me.

One can only hope the poet would be amused, if not altogether pleased.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Europe's Suicidal Option for Sterility

We normally think of historians as those who look to the past and chronicle human history. Historians examine events and people, identify the most influential, and strive to help us understand better both past and present. Some do this well and others not so well. Many are overly influenced by ideology and other biases, while a few actually search for the truth. Of course, to search for the truth one must first believe that truth exists, something most progressive relativists, historians included, cannot accept. And yet the very best historians, and they are indeed a rare breed, are often prophetic in that, based on their understanding of history's truths, they offer us realistic insights into what the future holds. 

I certainly have my favorite historians, and among these I include Lord Acton, Christopher Dawson, Henri Pirenne, Arnold Toynbee and Eric Voegelin. I'll also add G. K. Chesterton to my short list, even though he considered himself a journalist and not an historian. I suppose, though,  good journalists are historians of sorts in that they chronicle the recent past. This, of course, was exactly what Chesterton did, and in doing so he shared many prophetic insights with his readers.

George Weigel
I'm not really sure why my thoughts turned to historians, but it guess it began this morning after reading a brief essay by George Weigel, an intellectual who, like Chesterton, probably doesn't consider himself an historian. A Catholic theologian, biographer of St. John Paul II, and all-around commentator on the meeting and separation of the religious and the secular in the modern world, Weigel included some surprising truths in his essay, Catholic Lite and Europe's Demographic Suicide (published online on the First Things website). 

Addressing what can be seen only as a war on children, Weigel focuses on the demographics of the once-Christian population of Europe, a population that is quickly disappearing. Interestingly, Weigel implies that Europe's political leadership -- and much of its relgious leadership -- is fully aware of the situation but really doesn't seem to care. He mentions a conversation he had a decade ago with a member of the Brussels-based European Parliament in which the Italian politician said,  “Look, we know we’re finished. We’re trying to arrange things so that we can die comfortably in our beds. Don’t you Yanks come over here and start stirring things up.” 

One can only wonder what motivates a politician to prefer personal comfort and societal suicide to his responsibility to preserve and protect the society he supposedly serves. The most obvious answer is a degree of selfishness taken to the extreme, of the sort that can only have a demonic source. Political correctness is, of course, tailor-made for the promulgation of such an attitude. Once a society decides that speaking the truth is not only unacceptable, but also punishable, the lie -- any lie that fits -- becomes the "new truth." Sadly, Europe has already reached this point in its decline. 

Europe's sterility is epitomized by another remarkable fact pointed out by Weigel: "...the prime ministers or presidents of Europe’s largest economies — and of all the European members of that exclusive global club, the G7 — are without children..." Good heavens! Just consider the example these childless leaders set for their constituents.

(Of course the one growing segment of Europe's population is the Muslim segment. Even if some of this segment consider their children expendable and fitting candidates for suicide bombings, the majority apparently see their children as their future.)

Weigel goes on to place much of the blame for Europe's suicidal option for sterility on the so-called Catholic Lite accommodation to secular values, what he rightly considers a "colossal evangelical failure." Much of the Church's leadership, particularly in Germany and the Low Countries, have been virtually silent in the face of European society's widespread acceptance of contraception, abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. Given the seriousness of Our Lord's warning in Matthew's Gospel, I suspect personal weakness and fear of persecution are not acceptable excuses:
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" [Mt 18:6-7]
George Weigel is always worth reading and if this subject interests you, I suggest picking up a copy of his little book on Europe, America and the Church: The Cube and the Cathedral.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Sad Happenings...and Odd

The slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa continues, but at least our president openly addressed this ongoing tragedy when he spoke to the gathering of the leaders of Muslim nations in Saudi Arabia. He didn't parrot the foolish political correctness of the previous administration, but identified the enemy as Islamist terrorists.

President Trump in Saudi Arabia
It was also refreshing to hear him scold those leaders for their halfhearted, at best, efforts to rid Islam of this cancer. Now we'll see if they actually do anything. I'm not holding my breath because in far too many of these nations a sizable percentage of the population actually support some of the terrorists' goals, specifically the universal imposition of sharia law. (See Pew Research Center's polling results.)

I also applaud President Trump's strong support for our ally, Israel, perhaps the only nation in that part of the world that doesn't hope for our destruction.
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Yesterday's slaughter of Coptic Christians in Egypt provided an interesting juxtaposition alongside the recent terrorist attack in the UK. While the UK attack has almost monopolized the news for several days,  I suspect we'll hear much less about the wholesale murder of a larger number of Egyptian Christians, many of whom were also children. I'm not belittling the tragedy in Manchester, far from it, but what happened in Egypt is no less tragic.
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In a related story Thomas Mair, the mayor of Greater Manchester, speaking about the horrific terrorist bombing in his city, stated: “This is an extremist act and the person who did it no more represents the Muslim community than the person who killed Jo Cox represents the white Christian community.” Jo Cox, you might recall, was the Labour MP who was stabbed to death a week before the "Brexit" referendum. The problem with the mayor's statement is that I'm pretty certain the vast majority of the UK's white Christian community doesn't support the indiscriminate killing of Muslims and would report such plots to the authorities. Sadly, a recent poll indicated that a majority of the UK's Mulims would not report suspected Jihadist activity to the police.
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I found it interesting that Nancy Pelosi, now perhaps the most irrelevant of left-coast politicians, for some unknown reason chided the president for visiting Saudi Arabia on his first international trip. She seems to think he instead should have visited Canada, or perhaps one of those needy foreign people's republics like San Francisco. I expect some in her party are urging her to retire before she does even more damage to their collective credibility.
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Greg Gianforte, Body-Slammer
And speaking of the credibility of the Democrat Party...Things must be very bad indeed when a Montana Republican, Greg Gianforte, wins a special election for a U.S. Congressional seat the day after he's charged with misdemeanor assault for body-slamming a pesky reporter. The Democrats had expected the election to result in an anti-Trump win for their party, an expectation considered a certainty after the Wednesday assault. Last-minute radio and tv ads by the Democrats focused almost exclusively on the assault, and three Montana newspapers pulled their endorsements of Gianforte. But the Repblican still won, and by a decent margin. I certainly don't support assualting reporters, even those who are purveyors of fake news, but the incident certainly says something about the mood of the country. Mr. Gianforte has since publicly apologized for his ill-considered aggression toward the media.
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Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's Finance Minister, another of Europe's brighter lights, suggests that Germany's Christians can learn from its growing Muslim population. What can they learn? In the minister's words, “Many human values are very strongly realised in Islam. Think of hospitality, and other things like, what is there… And also tolerance, I believe, for example.” Hospitality and tolerance were certainly in evidence in Manchester and Nice and Paris and San Bernardino and Egypt and...the list goes on. Of course many, perhaps most, Muslims are hospitable and tolerant, but to deny the religious basis of Islamist terrorism is not just foolish in the short term, but suicidal in the long term. 
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I have to admit, I've pretty much written off all career politicians, a class of people epitomized primarily by their inability to tell the truth. It's no wonder people are rejecting the liars and increasingly voting for politically inexperienced men and women. It's a trend I suspect (and hope) will continue. 
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One of my heroes, the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, believed strongly that the Islamic world would eventually convert to Christianity through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. He expected that Mary, because she occupies an especially exalted position in Islamic theology, would draw the Islamic world to her Son and Christianity. She will bring this about as Our Lady of Fatima, a title that has some fascinating Islamic roots.

I've always thought that Archbishop Sheen was likely correct about all this and that our politicians, as usual, will follow a much less productive course. This, of course, is just another good reason for all Catholics to pray the Rosary daily, not just for the conversion of Russia, but for the conversion of the entire world. After all, as St. Paul reminds us: 
"This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" [1 Tim 2:3-4].
"All men to be saved..." Why not? With God all things are possible.


And how fitting that we should turn to Our Lady of Fatima this year, the 100th anniversary of her apparition to the three children of Fatima. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.