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!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

John Hathaway - Our Newest Saint

Our dear friends, Nancy and Joe Hathaway, have been staying with us at our home in The Villages, Florida. Nancy, who is battling leukemia and more, is being treated by the wonderful people at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. Because the Hathaways live in South Carolina, they needed a place to stay during Nancy's treatments. And so our home became their home away from home, a far greater blessing for us than for them. 

I'm also the driver, tasked with ensuring they arrive in Tampa (75 miles from our home) in time for Nancy's frequent appointments. I am more than fairly compensated for this since I drive for pizza -- my daily reward is a single slice from the hospital cafeteria, along with a diet Coke, and is reward enough. Of course Diane and I have tried to make this challenging time a bit less difficult for our friends.

But then today everything changed. Early this morning their son, John Hathaway, the youngest of their four children, died at the age of 41 in South Carolina. The call came in the predawn darkness, just a few hours before we had to leave for our drive to Tampa. As you can imagine, it was a time of tears and prayers, a time filled with phone calls and text messages from family and friends, and a time for more tears, and more prayers.
John Hathaway, Heaven's Newest Resident
Indeed, as I write this, Joe and I are shuttling between Moffitt's many waiting rooms while Nancy undergoes transfusions, biopsies, and tests. Yes, it's been a very hard day and I suspect more will follow. But Nancy and Joe, a couple with a deep and living faith, will make their way through this sorrowful time. It's a journey they must make together, but not alone, since they are strongly supported by family and many dear friends. Diane and I will certainly be there for them, able at least to hold a hand, share a comforting word and prayer, and give a hug. 

During my 74 years on this beautiful planet, I've known many saints. Some have returned to the Father and a few are still with us. John Hathaway is now among the former. Truly a most remarkable young man, John suffered his entire life from Marfan Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that affects the body's connective tissue. Because connective tissue is just about everywhere in the body, Marfan Syndrome and the many disorders that stem from it often affect the heart and the body's blood vessels, as well as lungs, bones, joints, eyes, and skin. It can be a devastating illness. (Click here to read more about Marfan Syndrome.)

But despite the pain and the suffering John did not let his illness define him. Once, asked if he were angry with God because of his illness, John replied, "Of course not. Why would I be angry at God for the greatest gift He's ever given me?" Unlike most of us John realized early in life that everything is a gift, especially life itself. And he was always thankful that God in His wisdom knows what is best for each of us, what will lead us to the salvation He has planned for us. 

John Hathaway's life was the very personification of those famous words of St. Paul: 
"We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose" [Rom 8:28]. 

And, oh, did John love the Lord his God and strive mightly to fulfill that purpose, God's holy will. (If you'd like to read John's own view of his illness, written in 2010, read his brief essay on The Ministry of Suffering.)

Interestingly, although I have known John's parents for at least a dozen years, I met John only once, back in 2013. He was a patient in a Charleston, SC hospital recovering from one of his many surgeries and medical emergencies. At the time he could hardly speak but seemed truly happy to meet Diane and me. I gave him a blessing and asked for his prayers. He no longer needs any blessings, but I still need his prayers and trust he will continue to intercede for all of us who know and love him.

The photo below shows John surrounded by his wife, Mary, and their wonderful children. 
John, Mary and their children
All four of their children -- Allie, Gianna, Josef, and Clara --are young people of deep faith, thanks to the loving example of their mom and dad. How blessed this family is to have a husband and father who rests now in God's embrace. I know John is asking the Father to shower His goodness and grace on the family he loves so deeply. 

Diane and I have a special affection for John's eldest daughter since we got to know her when she accompanied her grandparents on one of their brief visits to our home. Allie is now a senior in high school and, like her father, has Marfan Syndrome. But I also expect that, like her father, she will be the strength of her family during the days to come.

John's funeral will be celebrated next Friday in South Carolina. Diane and I will head north with Nancy and Joe so they can say good-bye to John and be with their other children and grandchildren. Given Nancy's health issues this will be a most meaningful visit for the entire Hathaway family. Please keep them all in your prayers.

Oh, yes, one more thing: John posted regularly on his blog, The Lewis Crusade. It overflows with prayerful, funny, thoughtful, and thought-provoking words and is certainly worth a read.

Thank you, John, for touching my life.

Monday, October 8, 2018

St. Michael, Defend Us in Battle

Do you remember the prayer to St. Michael? If you're my age, or even a few years younger, you should. The prayer goes back to 1886 when Pope Leo XIII composed it and asked the faithful of the universal Church to pray it at the end of every low Mass. And because we prayed it so often, I'm sure some of you still remember the words.

St. Michael the Archangel, 
defend us in battle. 
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil. 
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, 
and do thou, 
O Prince of the heavenly hosts, 
by the power of God, 
thrust into hell Satan, 
and all the evil spirits, 
who prowl about the world 
seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
The prayer seemingly fell out of favor in the late sixties, shortly after the Second Vatican Council. I recall asking our priest, at the time a Navy chaplain, why he had suddenly stopped the tradition of this prayer after Mass, and he replied: "Everything is wonderful in the Church now. We really don't need St. Michael's help." It was only later, much later, that I realized how foolish those words were. As it turned out, during the past half-century we've needed the great Archangel's intercession more than ever. 

Given all that's been happening in the Church, I've thought a lot about St. Michael these days; and have included him in my prayers, asking for his intercession. And it's only right that we should do so, for St. Michael is the great cleanser. Just as he cleansed the heavenly precincts of Satan and his ilk, so too can he cleanse the Church. And, oh, does it need cleansing.

Anyway, this got me thinking that perhaps, during this difficult time, we should restore the tradition of communal prayer to St. Michael. So I looked into it and, to my surprise, discovered that a number of dioceses have done just that. I don't know the exact number, but at least a half-dozen bishops in the U.S. have asked the priests of their dioceses to reinstate the Prayer to St. Michael after Mass. What a wonderful thing! The bishops who have done so include:

Archbishop Alexander Sample (Portland)
Archbishop Joseph Naumann (Kansas City)
Bishop David Zubik (Pittsburgh)
Bishop Robert Morlino (Madison, WI)
Bishop Frank Caggiano (Bridgeport, CT)
Bishop Rick Sitka (Knoxville, TN)
Bishop Thomas Paprocki (Springfield, IL)

There may well be more. I hope so. And last month, other bishops -- Cardinal Timothy Dolan (New York) and Bishop Robert Baker (Birmingham) -- asked the faithful to pray a novena to St. Michael in preparation for his feast day. 

As he called for the novena, Cardinal Dolan stated: "I hear from so many of you, God’s People, that we need again the weapons of prayer, reparation, and penance, ammunition the Devil dreads...Enough of you have suggested this to me that I’ve concluded it’s from the Lord: that we seek the help of St. Michael the Archangel in fighting Lucifer’s invasion of the Church."

Note that Cardinal Dolan credits the pleas of God's People for leading him to this decision. Brothers and sisters, never forget that the Church is far more than pope, bishops, priests and deacons. We are all members of Christ's Body, laity and clergy, and most of the good done by the Church is done by God's People, the holy ones who pray and serve.

It seems the Church is beginning once again to recognize the power of St. Michael. Praise God! And take a moment today to let your bishop know that you support the return of the Prayer to St. Michael in our churches.

St. Michael, defend us in battle...

Homily: Monday, 27th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Gal 1:6-12; Ps 111; Lk 10:25-37
Jesus was always teaching, wasn't He? And like any good teacher, He was always being questioned.

Even as a child, as a twelve-year-old in the Temple, Jesus answers the questions of the wise. Luke tells us that "all who heard him were astounded at his understanding and his answers" [Lk 2:47]. And the questions continued right up to that final barrage, as He stood before Pilate facing death. Yes, even Pilate, the upper-class Roman who no doubt considered the Jews little more than rabble, even Pilate sought answers from Jesus, this strange teacher whom he must judge:

"Are you the King of the Jews?" [Jn 18:33]

"Where are you from?" [Jn 19:9]

"Do you not know that I have power to release you and power to crucify you?" [Jn 19:10]

"What is truth?" [Jn 18:38]

Pilate, of course, instead of sneering that final question, should have asked, "Who is truth?", because he was in the presence of "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" [Jn 14:6].

Almost everyone Jesus met asked Him questions, as if they all knew He had the answers, as if they all sensed He was far more than just another teacher or holy man...that He was Other.

What did the centurion realize as he stood at the foot of the Cross?

"Truly, this was the Son of God" [Mt 27:54].

In today's passage from Luke, Jesus is again asked a question:

"Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" [Lk 10:25]

Jesus didn't need to invent an answer, for the answer was already there in the Revealed Word of God. And so the Incarnate Word of God answered with a question of His own: "What is written in the Law?" [Lk 10:26]

The scholar responded correctly, didn't he? He simply went to Scripture:

"You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" [Lk 10:27].

You see, it's not necessary to be a scholar to know God and what He expects of us. Indeed, just moments before Jesus had prayed to the Father:

"I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike" [Lk 10:21].

But unlike the childlike, the scholar, hoping not so much to learn as to justify himself, asks Jesus, "And who is my neighbor?" [Lk 10:29] With that Jesus offers us a gift, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable both scholar and childlike can understand: 

"A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho..." [Lk 10:30-37]

But what exactly did the Samaritan do, this man despised by the Jews and thought to be outside the Law? Quite simply, he listened to God's Word. He obeyed the Law. At the very least, he listened to his conscience, a well-formed conscience, and acted righteously. This set him on the path to eternal life.

Remember that original question? "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" [Lk 10:25]

But two others encountered the wounded man on the road, didn't they? A priest and a Levite. Two men so wrapped up in the minutia of the law, so afraid of becoming unclean by touching the wounded man that they passed by with hardly a glance.

Only the Samaritan stopped, only he did anything to help. Only he looked beyond the letter to the spirit of the Law. How did Jesus put it? "Many are called but few are chosen" [Mt 22:14].

And so today, let's reflect on our own lives.

Who are the wounded you and I encounter? The physically wounded? The mentally wounded? The spiritually wounded? Do we even recognize them amidst the busyness of our lives? Or maybe we see them, but turn away, preferring not to be bothered. Anyway, someone else will take care of them. Is that how we'll inherit eternal life?

As Christians we should know better. To inherit eternal life, we must come to know God, to know Him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But this knowing of God is knowledge of Love. As John reminds us: to know the Truth that is God is to know God, who "is Love" [1 Jn. 4:16]. 

It always comes back to Love, doesn't it?

Just as Jesus rebuked the scholars, the "wise and the learned", so St. Paul in our first reading rebukes the Galatians for forgetting that the Gospel fulfills the Law, that the Gospel calls us to love.

Thank God we need not be scholars. We need only be childlike to love. We need only be childlike to inherit eternal life.

Friday, October 5, 2018

The Decline of Politics

My, oh my, oh my...aren't our politicians absolutely wonderful? 

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I usually vote Republican. My political leanings were formed first by my parents in a home where faith and patriotism, God and country played important roles. My political formation continued when I read Russell Kirk's seminal work, The Conservative Mind, as a high school junior. 

I registered to vote in 1965, when at 21 I was finally old enough. In those ancient days, no one was considered an adult until he turned 21. I had always believed this was arbitrary, and that anyone old enough to fight and die for our nation should be old enough to vote for those who send him into battle. The problem, of course, is that, unlike our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines, many 19-year-olds, especially college freshmen and sophomores, are mentally and emotionally ill-equipped to elect our nation's leaders. I've always believed that the best measure of another person's character is my willingness to trust him with my life. Think about it. If your life were on the line, to which 19-year-old would you turn for help? The marine or the sociology major? 

I've not always been a happy Republican. All those years living in Massachusetts ensured that. Politicians of every stripe are generally weak-willed, unable, or at least unwilling, to resist the zeitgeist and remain true to the values that led voters to support them. Quite simply, far too many politicians cave under pressure because their first loyalty is not to the nation or its foundational principles. They are instead loyal only to themselves -- another reason I support term-limits. Because of this, I've tended to support candidates whose roots are apolitical, who don't view politics as a career. Yes, we need a government -- as James Madison reminded us, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary" -- but we should be represented not by those loyal only to themselves and the moneyed special interests, but by those who come from and represent the people. After all, in the United States it is the people, not the politicians or bureaucrats or large corporations, who are sovereign.
Senator Schumer wows the mob
Today some in our nation seem to be trying to relive the turbulent 1960s, the political Petrie dish of the Schumers and Pelosis. These and others like them carry the water for the hard left's true believers. Most of their followers, confused and inexplicably angry, couldn't tell a fascist from a communist. Indeed, the folks protesting today outside the Supreme Court in Washington, remind me of the 1960s protesters.

Between 1962 and 1967 I spent a year in Army R.O.T.C. at Georgetown U., followed by four years as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. During those and subsequent years of protests and riots, I'd occasionally visit college  campuses and chat with students at the local pub. I encountered very few students who actually believed all the leftist drivel screamed by the protest leaders. Most joined the protests just because it was "cool." Once you poured a few beers into the guys, they revealed their true feelings: they simply didn't want to go to Vietnam and maybe get shot. In other words, they were driven not by politics, but by their cowardice. The left has always relied on the mass of Lenin's "useful idiots" who don't have a clue and can be discarded once they are no longer useful.

The "Useful" Ones: Flush the Rule of Law
Since the election of Barack Obama, the Democrat party has raised the curtain and openly embraced the far left. The televised theater of the Senate's Judiciary Committee -- a theater of the absurd -- is simply a symptom of what we can expect in the future. 

The rule of law, the principle of presumed innocence, the tradition of civil discourse, the Constitutional protections of our Bill of Rights, the very idea that elections, the voice of the people, must be respected -- all of this is cast aside and trampled on by the Democrats. Why? Not because they actually believe the completely unsubstantiated charges leveled against Judge Kavanaugh. No, they strive mightily to destroy this good man's reputation and life simply because it is politically expedient to do so. They hope to energize their base in advance of next month's elections. They might instead discover that they've energized their opponents.

You see, even after two years, the party leadership cannot accept the fact that Donald Trump was elected president. Their hatred of the man apparently blinds them to his  accomplishments. But the issue that truly drives them is abortion. At the national level pro-life Democrats no longer exist. It has become the party of death and, dare I say it, the party doing Satan's work. Satan, the "murderer," seeks nothing but death, especially the deaths of the most innocent. How did Jesus describe him?
"You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies" [Jn 8:44].
Pray for our politicians of both parties. And pray, too, for our bishops since too many seem to mirror our politicians who fear unpopularity more than God. I once heard a pastor tell a deacon to "ease up on the pro-life homilies" because they upset some of the wealthy parishioners. When the deacon mentioned this to his bishop, he was told to "listen to your pastor." Priorities, priorities...Yes, indeed, the "smoke of Satan..."

Satan Cast Down (Doré etching)
In the long run, of course, if we are faithful we need not worry about Satan. For as Paul told the Romans, "the God of peace will quickly crush Satan under your feet" [Rom 16:20]. That will indeed happen, how quickly we just don't know. 

So...what of the future? I expect the population of supportive "useful idiots" to grow. And if the far left ever takes full control of the government, I can't envision a return to normalcy. Of course, far left governments inevitably fail because true socialism always fails. Unfortunately the failure can sometimes be catastrophic. From a human perspective, then, I expect my grandchildren just might experience the end of the American experiment, an end that will come suddenly rather than gradually.

But God can, and often does, change everything. The Lord of History steps into His creation and manifests His will in ways we can never imagine. And He sometimes chooses the most unlikely person to carry out His will in the world. As for you and me, we should be good citizens, vote our faith, and not be afraid to speak the truth. 

Pray for our Church and our nation. St. Michael, be our protection...

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Homily: Wednesday. 25th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Proverbs 30:5-9; Psalm 119; Luke 9:1-6
When Diane and I travel we always overpack. Hotel bellman cry out with prayers of thanksgiving for the expected tips. Yes, despite our best intentions we carry all sorts of baggage on our journey. It's certainly not very apostolic of us. 

For Jesus tells the apostles to take next to nothing! And do you know something? He tells us to do the same. You see, Jesus knew that the more we take on this journey of ours, the more we'll rely on those things and the less we'll rely on God. The less we rely on God, the harder it will be to see God in others, especially those who lack the material blessings we've been given. And I suspect the more we're encumbered with stuff, the harder it is for others to see God in us.

A few months ago, in a conversation with one of my fellow volunteers at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, I remarked that the meal we were serving that day looked particularly appetizing. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, "I suppose so, but I really don't think much about food." Just then one of our guests, who had overheard her comment, said, "You would if you didn't have any."

What do you think? Did he see God in us that day? It's easy to overlook another's empty plate when our own is overflowing. Perhaps having too much to eat is worse than having too little. It tends to make us insensitive to those who hunger, and ungrateful to God for all His gifts.

Jesus invites us to rely on Him for everything we need, so we're not tempted to take credit for the good in our lives.
When He sent out the Apostles, He gave them something far more valuable than things. He gave them a companion and a message; he also gave them power and authority. He took away their transportation, their luggage, food, money, and extra clothes. He didn't make reservations for them at the Ritz Carlton, or the Holiday Inn, or even Motel 6. Instead he told them, "Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there" [Lk 9:4]

Too often we do exactly the opposite of what Jesus tells us, with predictable results. Why? Because we just don't trust God enough to do it His way.

This is a particularly fitting theme for our parish because tomorrow we celebrate the memorial of our patron, St. Vincent de Paul. Vincent was the epitome of trust. Like Mother Teresa, 300 years later, he placed total trust in God and achieved great things. Listen to what Vincent once said about trust:
"Free your mind from all that troubles you; God will take care of things. You will be unable to make haste in this (choice) without, so to speak, grieving the heart of God, because he sees that you do not honor him sufficiently with holy trust. Trust in him, I beg you, and you will have the fulfillment of what your heart desires."
St. Vincent knew poverty because he lived a life of poverty, and devoted himself and the orders he founded to helping the poor.

His life was an echo of today's reading from Proverbs: 
Put falsehood and lying far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only with the food I need; lest being full, I deny you, saying, "Who is the Lord?" Or, being in want, I steal and profane the name of my God [Prv 30:8-9].
Yes, St. Vincent knew that "poverty of spirit" frees us from greed and preoccupation with possessions and gives God room to act in our lives.

The Lord wants us, His disciples, to be dependent on Him and not on ourselves - for then He will work through and in each of us for his glory. So, the question for us today is: Are we ready to handle the power and authority God wants us to exercise on His behalf? 

He entrusts us with His gifts and talents.  Are we eager to place ourselves at his service, to do whatever He asks, and to witness His truth and saving power to all He sends to us?

Political Correctness

Among modern man's more puzzling traits is his seeming unwillingness to name that which is trying to destroy him. It's a particularly dangerous trait since it even goes so far as to disguise its own name. We are urged to call it "political correctness" which has both an innocent and positive ring to it. But political correctness really has little to do with true politics, and because it is inherently deceiving, it is far from correct. In truth it is nothing but a lie. 

I've always believed that all lies have their origin with Satan and his flunkies. He is, after all, the father of lies, as Jesus reminded those who refused to accept Him:
"You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies" [Jn 8:44].
How many today accept these words of Jesus? How many accept that Satan even exists? I'm reminded of that line from the movie, The Usual Suspects, when Kevin Spacey's character Verbal says: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn't exist." This revelation didn't originate in Hollywood, but is actually found in the book of Revelation:
"The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it" [Rev 12:9].
Yes, he "who deceived the whole world" continues to deceive, and has many willing to help him. The idea of political correctness, indeed even the actual term, was a clever semantic innovation by Stalinists in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Its purpose, then and now, is to bully and/or brainwash the public in order to squash debate on any subject that might undermine the state's ideological foundation. For the communist this includes virtually every subject imaginable, from art to science, from architecture to engineering, from philosophy to politics, and, yes, even religion. We don't call them totalitarians for nothing. 

Because atheism is among the basic tenets of communist ideology, that original political correctness and its modern descendants strive to eliminate all things religious from the public square. Christian values are particularly troublesome to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes because of Christianity's embrace of freedom, the freedom of the individual to choose the good. This, of course, runs afoul of the state's desire to control every aspect of the citizen's life. 

In a totalitarian state political correctness can be enforced rather easily: the government need only exert its extensive state power through education, forced re-education, imprisonment, or even execution. But in a constitutional republic like the United States, the application of political correctness demands a more subtle approach. By flooding the educational establishment with ideological fellow travelers, the state can control the thinking of future generations. Other tactics include publicly accusing violators of being homophobic, racist, sexist, or any other convenient "ist" that connotes hatred. Once applied by the elites and their allies in the media, these labels tend to stick, and go on to ruin reputations and remove the targets and their ideas from the public discourse.

Progressives also target constitutional protections, particularly those supported by our Bill of Rights. They ridicule the Constitution as another old document, or as President Obama said in his 2017 farewell address, "It's really just a piece of parchment" and presumably no longer applicable to the lives of modern Americans. For progressives it must instead become a "living document," one demanding constant change so it can reflect our society's evolving norms. I also recall when Barack Obama echoed this interpretation by stating, "The Constitution is a living document; no strict constructionism." Such thinking, of course, makes the Constitution as written by our founders irrelevant.

Many see political correctness as essentially harmless, but I suggest it becomes truly dangerous when those who exercise state power adopt it as their governing attitude.  Just look at the record of the police in the U.K. In the 12 months ending in March 2008, the police in the U.K. made 1.5 million arrests, while nine years later, in the 12 months ending in March 2017, they made only 780,000 arrests. Now this might lead one to believe that this almost 50% decrease in arrests resulted from a corresponding decrease in crime. But this assumption would be wrong...very, very wrong. Although arrests were down by 48%, crime increased drastically. In just the past year violent crime in the U.K. increased by almost 20%, rape by 22%, knifings by 26%, and in a nation where gun ownership is almost non-existent, gun crime increased by 27%. Similar increases were reported for both burglary and robbery.

Why so few arrests in the face of so much crime? The answer is simple. Instead of solving real crimes, the police have focused on "hate incidents" and "malicious communications." In London, which by the way is now more dangerous than New York City, arrests for making offensive online comments rose 53%. And so freedom of speech, once a cherished right among the British, gets crushed by political correctness...and so do peoples lives.

St. Michael, protect us...from ourselves.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Christ and His Church

The other morning after Mass I exposed the Blessed Sacrament on our church's altar for an hour of adoration by the faithful. I left the church for about 20 minutes to take care of a few things in the parish office and then returned to spend the rest of the hour with the Lord before Benediction. 

I prayed and gazed upon the gift of Christ's Real Presence in the monstrance, but as usual my prayers were lacking -- self-absorbed prayers of petition driven not by the Father's will but by mine. At some point I realized how imperfect my prayer had become, and glanced up at the large crucifix suspended over the sanctuary. 

As my thoughts turned from my petty problems, I found myself pondering Jesus Christ and His Church. When we see Jesus we see the Church, His Mystical Body, for He is its head and we are its members. Where Jesus is, so too is His Church. There, high over the sanctuary, is Jesus, nailed to that Cross to redeem us, to forgive us of our sinfulness, to free us from our enslavement. And there, too, is His Church, crucified by the sins of its own members. Every sin is yet another pounding of the hammer on those nails. Every sin is another of God's people admitting that he prefers slavery to true freedom. Things really haven't changed much since the days of Moses. Here we are, three millennia later, and like God's chosen ones, we too are willing to toss freedom aside in exchange for the modern equivalent of the fleshpots of Egypt [Ex 16:3]. 

I experienced a kind of vision as I knelt at the foot of the altar looking up at our crucified Jesus. High on the back wall of the sanctuary a window framed  the large crucifix, and beyond that window clouds rushed across the blue Florida sky. And, oh, did they rush! They moved quickly, so quickly a single cloud was visible for only a second or two before another took its place. I had been outside earlier and it hadn't been at all windy, and yet those clouds flew by that window. Watching them, I thought only of the passage of time, the centuries moving through God's Creation and carrying us, His Church, with them. But there, in stark contrast to the fleeting clouds, was Jesus on the Cross, unmovable, constant, the Lord of History, the Eternal Word, a sign of God's unchanging love.

I can't write about the horrendous sins of some priests, bishops, and others (deacons?), at least not today, because I simply don't know the facts. In truth I'm not sure I want to know the facts, all the sordid details. I have enough trouble confronting my own sinfulness without having to deal with the sins of others. But the facts will ultimately be revealed because the truth cannot be hidden forever. How did Jesus put it in today's Gospel passage from Luke?

"For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light" [Lk 8:17].

The truth can't be stashed in some chancery closet because God's suffering Church demands the truth. And the truth will set us free even if it leads to seemingly hard times for the Church in the days to come. The Church, like Jesus on the Cross, will always be a suffering Church. But despite the sinfulness of its people, the Church itself remains holy.

Pope Francis and our bishops should perhaps listen to the words of St. Catherine of Siena who, in the year 1380, in the midst of another crisis that threatened to tear the Church apart, wrote the following to Pope Urban VI:

“You cannot with a single stroke wipe out all of the sins people in general are committing within the Christian religion, especially within the clerical order, over whom you should be even more watchful. But you certainly can and are obligated to do it, and if you don’t, you would have it on your conscience. At least do what you can. You must cleanse the Church’s womb — that is, see to it that those who surround you closely are wiped clean of filth, and put people there who are attentive to God’s honor and your welfare and the good of holy Church. …”

St. Catherine went on to warn the pope:

“Do you know what will happen to you if you don’t set things right by doing what you can? God wants you to reform his bride completely; he doesn’t want her to be leprous any longer. If your holiness does not do all you can about this — because God has appointed you and given you such dignity for no other purposes — God will do it himself by using all sorts of troubles.”

Yes, indeed, if we do not act God will "do it himself" as he has many times in the past...just as he did it himself when he stretched out his arms at Calvary.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

God and Politics

I'm tired. I'm tired of the arguments, tired of defending the truth to people who should know better. Sometimes I just want to crawl into my tent, close the flap, and get away from it all. 

For example, the other day after Mass, a parishioner approached and, I guess, challenged me. I don't know why he came to me, but for some reason I was his target of opportunity.

"Religion and politics don't mix," he told me. "The Church should stay away from politics, and politicians should stay clear of religion." 

He had thrown down the gauntlet and I should have addressed the many errors in his statement, but the thought of another long I said, I'm tired. My reply? "I'm sure many people agree with you, but I'm not one of them. Maybe we can talk about it later, when I have the time." With that I turned and entered the safety of the sacristy, my tent.

As I removed my vestments I couldn't help but recall the words of St. Paul, who seems to delight in reminding me of my weaknesses:
"Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer" [Rom 12:11-12].
In other words, "Keep going, pal. If you're not tired, you're probably not doing what you're called to do." And so I resolved to talk with that parishioner the next chance I get. 

Politics, of course, is just one of many human activities. It involves the how and why of governance, the practice of directing the affairs of human society, particularly public policy. 

Religion involves man's relationship with God, the Creator of all. And since that relationship must involve every aspect of human life, neither politics nor any other human activity can be divorced from religion. 
Some, of course, will wrongly argue that our Constitution's First Amendment is designed to do just that, to separate religion from politics. But that's not its intent. It merely tells citizens (and politicians) that the state may not favor one religious group over others by establishing a state religion. It also tells the state that it cannot prohibit its citizens from freely exercising their religious beliefs. Those who drafted our Constitution recognized the pervasive and beneficial role religion plays in regulating human activity, and sought to protect religion from those who would place unjust limitations on it.

Anyway, in the strange way my mind works, this got me thinking about World War One, and that brought to mind my Uncle Bill. He was my mother's half-brother -- I guess that makes him my half-uncle -- and was a Navy veteran of World War One. We will "celebrate" the 100th anniversary of that war's conclusion at 11 a.m. on November 11. The irony, of course, is that this "war to end all wars" and its aftermath brought us the even more devastating World War Two and all the other wars that followed. 

[By the way, if you're interested in a fascinating book about the end of World War One and the deadly and pointless fighting that continued right up to the final minute on that first Armistice Day, read Joseph Persico's fascinating book, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour.]
I was just a teenager when Uncle Bill died, but I remember him talking about WWI and his pride in having served. On one of our visits I recall him saying something to the effect that, "But the politicians sure made a mess of things afterwards. Maybe if they'd been more Christian…" And with those words, Uncle Bill beautifully summed up the mess the politicians made of the 20th century.  

"...if they'd been more Christian…" We suffer today because human powers decided to remove God from the political decisions that formed our modern world. God's Word was ruled out 100 years ago at Versailles. Instead of forgiveness, the ruling word was "revenge." The victors sought retaliation and reparations at any cost, and the world paid a high price indeed. The desperation of the Central Powers also sent Lenin's train to Russia, an act that ultimately cost far more innocent lives than the war itself.
I am not a pacifist. I accept that nations have a right to defend themselves from those who would attack them. I am well aware that sometimes just action can include the waging of war in order to prevent even greater evil. But when men try to repair a broken world by forgetting God and following only man's faulty wisdom, more brokenness inevitably follows.

But how many politicians actually take the Sermon on the Mount seriously? How many of us...?

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" [Mt 5:43-44]. 
I know of no nation that has integrated this mandate of Jesus into its foreign policy. Is that what Jesus wants? Can we 
love our enemies and still defend ourselves from them? Yes, I believe so. But loving them still places demands on us, the kind of demands ignored by the victors at Versailles. And note Jesus' other command: "...pray for those who persecute you." In other words, at some point we must bring God into the picture, for that's what prayer is intended to do.

We cannot expel God from politics, war, economics, or any other human activity. He simply won't let us, and will insert Himself as He wills. He is, after all, the Lord of History. But to include Him in all we do as a nation involves far more than an annual prayer breakfast at the Capitol or the occasional speech-ending "God Bless America."  No, it means struggling to be imitators of God, to live up to our creation in His image and likeness, to strive to do what is impossible for man.
"Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Jesus concludes His teaching on loving our enemies with a  command impossible to obey, at least on our own: 

"So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Mt 5:48].
To strive for this perfection that God desires of us means we must turn to Him in all things, and that even includes politics. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to vote for a politician who was striving for the perfection of our heavenly Father?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Truth Will Set You Free

Archbishop Vigano
Just a brief post today. My comments will mean nothing in light of what has already been said and will likely be said in the days and weeks to come. Of course I write about Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Papal Nuncio to the United States, and his detailed 11-page testimony related to the serial homosexual abuse committed by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The archbishop also addresses what he sees as the willful cover-up of McCarrick's crimes by many in the Church's hierarchy. 

I read the document as soon as it was published and was saddened by what the archbishop wrote. I do not know Archbishop Vigano personally, but I have two acquaintances who know him well, and both have stated that he is an honest, honorable and faithful priest to whom we should listen. If what he writes is true he is also a courageous priest. Here's a link to the archbishop's testimony: Archbishop Vigano 

I also know that there are those who are very uncomfortable with the idea of making all of this evil, this corruption and widespread perversion, public. It will damage the Church in ways we can't imagine, they tell us. Perhaps it will, but more importantly, " will know the truth and the truth will set you free" [Jn 8:32]. I've always believed that, and one hopes the Church's bishops believe it too. We must demand the truth! And if what Archbishop Vigano has written is substantiated, then I agree with him when he pleads with all those who covered up this depravity to resign. The depravity of McCarick and too many others like him is a horrendous evil, but to cover it up and allow it to continue is even worse. As I remarked in a homily the other day, it is time to begin again as the Church always has when it must root out sin and corruption within its walls.

There are brave bishops out there and here's what just two of them have written about what is happening in the Church today:

Letter to the Faithful by Bishop Robert Morlino, Diocese of Madison

Comments by South African Cardinal Wilfred Napier

Pray for our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.