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!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sign of the Times

Earlier this morning I came across an article that should cause all Americans to shudder. The likelihood that it will have little effect on most people is perhaps even more disturbing.

Mayor Parker
Annise Parker, the openly lesbian major of the city of Houston, Texas, has had the city issue subpoenas demanding that several of the city's pastors turn over any of their sermons addressing homosexuality. The issuance of these subpoenas is, of course, completely unconstitutional since it violates the pastors' clear First Amendment rights, both to freedom of religion and speech. As you might expect, the mayor will not state why she wants the sermons, but one can only believe that she hopes to be able to prosecute one or more of the pastors because of "discriminatory" statements they may have made. You can read more about this in an opinion piece here and in a local news story here.

For several years now I have joined many others in predicting increased pressure on the Church to be silent in the face of political correctness imposed by various levels of government. We have already seen this in a number of states where the Catholic Church has been prohibited from facilitating adoptions because it will not permit homosexual individuals or couples to adopt children. We've also seen it in Obamacare as it relates to the provision of "health" services involving both contraception and abortion. 

Among those on the political left there seem to be two issues that trump everything else: homosexual "rights" and abortion. One is no less than a direct attack on the sacrament of marriage with the goal of destroying the traditional family, and the other is an attack on the sanctity of life. Both, of course, are at the same time direct attacks on the Church, and in particular, the Catholic Church. Once the Church and its moral objections are removed, the state can claim its complete authority over virtually all aspects of private life, even life itself.

Cardinal Francis George
In a post written a few weeks ago I quoted Cardinal George, the now retired Archbishop of Chicago, who once stated: "I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die in the public square.” Many who heard the Cardinal say this probably dismissed it as a gross exaggeration, as an example of episcopal hyperbole; but given what is now taking place in our nation and elsewhere in the world, I suspect they may be reconsidering their doubts.

As for myself, I can't recall ever preaching against homosexuality per se, since the Church does not teach that a person's sexuality is, in itself, sinful. The Church, however, does teach that living a homosexual lifestyle and all that it entails is indeed sinful. Homosexual activity is sinful just as heterosexual activity outside of marriage is sinful. And since the Church clearly defines marriage as a sacrament that can be received only by a man and a woman, any homosexual activity must take place outside of marriage. On several occasions, therefore, I have preached against the homosexual lifestyle. To date, however, no politician -- mayor, governor, president, or dogcatcher -- has demanded copies of my homilies. But since I post most of them on this very blog, they really won't have any trouble finding them.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Homily: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year A

Readings: Is 5:1-7; Ps 80; Phil 4:6-9; Mt 21: 33-43

About 30 years ago, after the United States Navy once again transferred me from one coast to the other, Diane and I bought a home in a quiet neighborhood of a then-rural suburb of San Diego. It was the perfect home for our growing family, and beyond the back fence we were blessed with nothing but empty hills. Among its selling points were several mature navel orange trees. It also offered a small corral in the event one wished to own a horse. Why anyone would want to do such a thing has always escaped me.

Anyway, on the fence that circled the corral grew a grapevine. Now this vine intrigued me because it actually had a few bunches of grapes hanging from it. As I examined it on that first day I heard the voice of my neighbor who was peering over the fence.

“Don’t bother,” he said. “Grape vines demand too much attention, lots of pruning and care. And those grapes aren’t very good anyway. But your orange trees are healthy. Just make sure you water them.”

As it turned out, these few words from my nosy neighbor formed the foundation of my future agricultural efforts. Afterwards I often looked at that vine, but since I didn’t prune or water it, or really do anything for it, it produced little, just a few sour grapes. But its mere presence sometimes got me thinking about what Scripture had to say about vines.

Indeed, today we heard a lot of words about vines and vineyards, about good grapes and bad, and about violence and responsibility and love. It all began with the words of our psalm in which we see how God’s chosen ones had long seen themselves as a cherished vine planted by God:

“A vine from Egypt you transplanted; you drove away the nations and planted it” [Ps 80:9].

Yes, I will make it a ruin: it shall not be pruned or hoed - Is 5:6
Then in our 1st reading, as Isaiah begins his prophetic ministry, he speaks poetically to God’s People. We heard an inspired Isaiah agreeing with the psalmist, telling the people they are the vine in God’s vineyard, a vineyard he nurtured with care. But Isaiah’s poem is wrapped in a warning because the people had rejected God’s loving care for them. They were unjust and lawless, and so Isaiah prophesies the destruction of the vineyard. Israel will be no more; its people sent into exile.

If only they had been more attentive to God’s will for them…

If only they had been just…

Yes, if only…they would then have been fruitful.

As St. Paul instructed the people of Philippi in our 2nd reading: “…whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious… think about these things” [Phil 4:8].

This, friends, is how we are called to live. Not as the Israelites did. Not in fear and anxiety. Not in violence and hatred. Not in anger and revenge. Such things should have no place in our hearts. And once we allow God to prune us, once we allow Him to remove those unproductive branches, then, as Paul reminds us, “…the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” [Phil 4:7].

And then, in our Gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus takes Isaiah’s image of the vineyard and vine, and applies it to the chief priests and those who exercise their authority over the people.

In His parable, Jesus describes a vineyard owner whose servants are sent in advance to remind the tenants of all they owe the owner. But the servants are beaten and killed. And believe me; those listening to Jesus knew what He was saying, for that’s exactly what happened to the prophets.

Jesus goes on to predict His own death; for in their willfulness, their lust for power, the tenants commit the horrendous act of killing the owner’s son. Our Lord then asks His audience of chief priests and elders, “What will the owner do to those tenants…?” [Mt 21:40] Prophetically they reply that the owner will punish them and bring in new tenants to replace those motivated by violence and greed. And with that, Jesus turns their own words, their own prophecy, against them: “…the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that will produce its fruit” [Mt 21:43].

And so, it’s through the sacrifice of the Son that the Father makes a relationship with new tenants. He does so by establishing a New Covenant. The Father, you see, doesn’t give up on the vineyard into which he had invested so much. No, the vineyard will endure, but it will be tended by others, tended by a Church that will appreciate all that the Father has done for His people.

Incidentally, I've actually heard Christians use this parable as justification for condemning the Jews. Such thinking goes against all that the Church teaches. As Pope Benedict told a delegation of Jews, the Catholic Church is “called to respect the Covenant established by God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. She also places herself… in the eternal Covenant of the Almighty, who does not repent of his plan and respects the children of the Promise, children of the Covenant, as her beloved brothers in the faith.” In the words of Pope Pius XII, “To be anti-Semitic is to be anti-Christian.”
The kingdom of God will be given to a people that will produce its fruit - Mt 21:43

This parable, then, isn’t a story about winning or losing. To think so is to misunderstand it. No, it’s about how we must tend the vineyard God has given us. For as the vineyard’s new tenants, we are called to care for it as we wait for the harvest. Unlike me, who did nothing to tend my California grapevine, we are called to be waterers and weeders, pruners and feeders.

Interestingly, brothers and sisters, when we tend the vine and make it fruitful, we do the same to ourselves. You see, my neighbor’s words about my unproductive backyard vine brought to mind the words Jesus spoke to the apostles the night before He died. Remember those words?

“I am the vine, you are the branches” [Jn 15:5].

Well, looking at that backyard grapevine of mine, one thing was obvious. The vine wasn’t at all like one of my orange trees with its trunk and the branches growing from it. No, as I looked at the grapevine I could see that the branches and the vine were one. Indeed, the branches are the vine! You can’t separate them.

Just consider what this means. Through the Incarnation, Jesus became more than just one of us. He became us! That’s right He became you and He became me! This is how He can say so emphatically: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” [Mt 25:40].

Just think of that! You and I and Jesus are one. And so to exclude another from your life is to exclude Jesus. To exclude another, to exclude Jesus, is to exclude yourself.

The good news? Jesus works right alongside us as we labor in the Father’s vineyard to usher in the Kingdom. Yes, in doing the work of the Father, Jesus does all the heavy lifting. We need only do as He asks.

And, brothers and sisters, the Kingdom bears fruit because the Church – and that’s you and I – is called to be merciful and just, as the Father is merciful and just. The Kingdom bears fruit because, as Jesus promised us, “I am with you always until the end of the age” [Mt 28:20]

And that day is still to come.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Homily: 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Readings: Ez 18:25-28: 7; Ps 103; Phil 2:1-11; Mt 21: 28-32

Some years ago, a friend, a retired a State Trooper, told me of the time he pulled over a well-known politician for speeding and reckless driving. As he was handed the citation, the politician looked at the trooper incredulously and asked, "Don't you realize who I am?"

"Yes, sir," my friend responded, "and that's why you you're not getting a warning. Someone in your position should have more respect for the law than you demonstrated today."

Not a career-enhancing move on the part of the trooper, but a satisfying story for the rest of us.

"Don't you realize who I am?"

Perhaps one day historians will look back on our era and label it, "The Age of Self-esteem". Obsessed with feeling good about ourselves regardless of our behavior, we’re unwilling as a society to accept responsibility for the ills that plague us.

Our children kill each other, so we look for solutions in legislatures and courts, never dreaming that the cause lies much closer to home. But to question our own values and those we instill in our children might damage the self-esteem of both parent and child. And so we slide down the cultural slope ignoring the impact of abortion and euthanasia and capital punishment on the value we place on human life. Protect us from the unwanted, the expendable!

Addictions -- drugs, alcohol, gambling, pornography -- devour the lives of millions and devastate families. So what do we do? Governments go into the gambling business. TV networks air shows glamorizing drug dealers. Government agencies fund the pornographic and sacrilegious because the grant request self-servingly labeled it "Art". But perhaps our most insidious cultural attitude is the idea that a person’s value is best measured by wealth and position – which just leads to another addiction.

A few years ago, I had a conversation with a man who was demonstrably proud that he and his wife, both business professionals, earned nearly a half-million a year. Their children? Well, they were being raised by schools, day-care centers, au pairs, and baby-sitters.

“To succeed today you have to work hard,” he explained. “That means long hours. But we grab all the quality-time we can, and try hard to pass our values on to our children." Lucky kids.

He also mentioned that he and his wife were planning a two-week vacation to the islands…without the children. "Parents need an occasional break from the pressures of family life," he said. I couldn't help but think, "What family life?"

Ezekiel in Exile
How we rationalize to avoid responsibility for our actions and to please ourselves.

Of course this is nothing new. Indeed, in today's first reading the prophet, Ezekiel, reprimands the Jewish people who were then held captive in Babylon. They actually blamed God for their problems, believing He had punished them unfairly for the sins of their ancestors. But Ezekiel tells the exiles, "No!" It’s not God who’s unfair, but you who are sinful. You alone are responsible for your sinfulness, and this will keep you from salvation.

He goes on to explain that they have a choice: they are either for or against God. There’s no avoiding it, no comfortable middle ground, no room for compromise, no acceptable rationalizations to preserve their self-esteem. Ezekiel, the prophet of personal responsibility, leads God's people -- and leads us if we’ll listen -- along the only path to salvation.

We hear a similar message in today’s brief Gospel parable of the two sons [Mt 21:28-32]. One son, when asked by his father to do some work, willfully refuses, but later he thinks better of it and does what was asked of him. The other son at first says "Yes" to his father's request, but ultimately does nothing.

Jesus told this story in the temple in Jerusalem, speaking to the elders and chief priests, men who were overly fond of the power and esteem and wealth that came with their positions. Aware of their self-righteousness and hypocrisy, Jesus wants them to take personal responsibility for their behavior. He contrasts them with those they considered the greatest of sinners: tax collectors and prostitutes.

The people's dislike of tax collectors didn't stem from cultural hostility to the idea of taxation. No, the Jews disliked tax collectors because they viewed them as pawns of the Romans, an occupying power, and because many were corrupt, becoming rich from bribes and over-taxation. Matthew, this Gospel’s author, was himself a tax collector when he responded to the Lord's call. Jesus’ association with Matthew and public sinners brought only scorn from the self-righteous elders.

This leads Jesus to compare his audience to the parable’s second son, the outwardly pious son, who says all the correct things, but then goes on to lead a life of self-serving disobedience. And the tax collectors and prostitutes? Like the first son, they repented of their disobedience, accepted God's loving forgiveness, and went on to devote their lives to doing His will. Jesus makes it clear which of the two will be welcome in God's Kingdom.

And so we are left with one word ringing in our 21st Century ears, a word that clashes mightily with our modern sense of who we are: Obedience.

How can I possibly think well of myself if I’m constantly forced to do the will of another? Think of the effect on my self-esteem. Am I not a free person? Do I not have the right to do as I wish…at least within the boundaries of the reigning political correctness? "Don't you realize who I am?"

As usual, St. Paul supplies the answer. Yes, we have the freedom to choose; and with freedom comes personal responsibility for the results of our decisions.

In our second reading Paul instructs the Christians of Philippi to "humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also for those of others" [Phil 2:3-4]. Yes, Paul stands our modern mantra on its head by asking: "Don't you realize who they are?"

Then, in one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament [Phil 2:6-11], he holds up Jesus as the example of freely chosen obedience to God's Will. It's a hymn that reflects both the divinity and the self-effacement of Jesus, Jesus who is God in His very essence: unchangeably, inalienably.

The key is what is called Jesus' kenosis (a Greek word meaning emptiness). It’s the act of Jesus emptying Himself, pouring Himself out until there’s nothing left. He didn't shed His divinity, but rather He shed the privileged status of His divine glory. He didn’t come to exalt Himself by shouting "Don't you realize who I am?" No, He humbled Himself. And for what? For the love and the salvation of the world. Instead, He asks us, “Don’t you realize how much I love you?”
It was all a freely chosen act of obedience to the Will of the Father, a heroic obedience that accepted even the degradation of death on a cross! From that lowest point, the Father exalted Him, and in Paul's words, "bestowed on Him the name above every other name" [Phil 2:9]. For Jesus is the master of all life, brothers and sisters, the master of all creation. We can give Him nothing but the obedience, love and loyalty that no one else can possibly deserve -- not in slavish, broken submission to power and might, but out of recognition of what He did for us. But out of love for Him.

"Don't you realize who He is?"

Jesus Christ is Lord! [Phil 2:11]

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Homily: Wednesday, 23rd Week of Ordinary Time

Given the busyness of my life in recent weeks, I neglected to post this brief weekday homily. Better late than never, I suppose.
Readings: 1 Cor 7:25-31; Ps 45; Lk 6:20-26

How did Paul put it? “The world as we know it is passing away” [1 Cor7:31].

Kind of a scary thought, isn’t it? Well…not really, since it’s one of those statements that’s always going to be true, for the world and those who live in it are always undergoing change, always, in a sense, passing away. So it’s really not that radical a thought…at least not to our way of thinking today.

But for the ancients, who lived when Paul wrote these words –the Greeks, Egyptians, Persians, Romans – these words were radical indeed. About the only people of that time who would have accepted this idea were Jews and Christians. You see, the Greeks and virtually all other pagan societies saw the world in cyclical terms. To their way of thinking, all of life, all of history, imitated the seasons, the movements of the heavenly bodies, always returning, constantly repeating, never moving toward any defined end.

If you think about it, this way of thinking was utterly depressing, and led to nothing but despair. It saw humanity as spending eternity on the global equivalent of a gerbil wheel, expending lots of energy but never really getting anywhere. And their pagan religions mirrored this thinking. The pagan concept of the divine came from within man and depicted the gods as man envisioned them.

But Judaism and Christianity were different…very different. You see, their concept of God -- our concept of God – comes from God Himself. It’s not so much a religion as a revelation. The pagans described their gods as they saw them, created in their image. The Jews and later the Christians received God’s revelation of Himself. They described God as He revealed Himself and His relationship with humanity. God creates us in His image.

God reveals Himself to Moses with the words, “I am who am” [Ex 3:14-15] – in other words, I am existence itself -- words no pagan, with the possible exception of Aristotle and perhaps a few other Greek philosophers, would likely have used to describe a divinity.
"I am who I am." ...This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.

At the center of this revelation – this self-disclosure by God – is His plan for the future of humanity. And it has an end – eternal life and the consummation of the world – an end revealed in those closing words of the book of Revelation, “Come, Lord Jesus” [Rev 22:20]. Yes, the world will be consumed, and so as Christians we must avoid getting caught up in the things of this world…always considering ourselves as poor in spirit.

For the Kingdom of God belongs only to those who experience this stark poverty. Brothers and sisters, never deny that reality. Never fail to acknowledge the hunger of your heart for God's food. If we don’t experience poverty in its realistic starkness, let us be poor in spirit and accept our own inner poverty. And let us always be oriented practically to the needs of the poor, Gods blessed ones.

And so let us pray today that we may not be conformed to the world but transformed by the Holy Spirit with the spirit of poverty.

“Come, Lord Jesus.”

Lost in War: In Memoriam

This year, a year in which we mark the centennial of the start of the First World War, we can only look back in sad amazement at the tragic consequences of that global conflict. And once again I cannot ignore the fact that I am far from young. Although I was born 26 years after the end of that war, it never seemed very far away. Growing up I knew many men who had served during World War One, men who on occasion would talk of their experiences. Believe me, if I were there, they certainly had a ready audience for their tales.

As the first conflict that can truly be called global, World War One took a tremendous toll on Europe's youth. And it wasn't just the working class that suffered; no element of society was spared. The total number of military deaths in the war approached 10 million, while 7 million civilians perished. Another 20 million people, civilian and military, were wounded. The following are just the military deaths. 

Germany 1,935,000 
Russia 1,700,000 
France 1,368,000 
Austria-Hungary 1,200,000 
British Empire       942,135
Ottoman Empire 725,000
Italy                680,000 
Romania              300,000 
United States        116,516 
Bulgaria              87,495 
Belgium 45,550
Serbia 45,000 
Greece 23,098 
Portugal 8,145 
Montenegro 3,000 
Japan 1,344

What a tremendous waste of life! Many of those who died were among the best and brightest of their generation. So many poets, so many writers, so many great minds of their time were sacrificed needlessly in a conflict that brought us a century of bloodshed. And so many others, men with families and sweethearts who would never see them again and men with wonderful ideas that would never come to fruition. History may remember only the wars and brutal ideologies that caused them, but we should also remember those whose lives were taken during that century's first war. Here are just a few:

Rupert Brooke (1887-1915). Described as "the handsomest young man in England" Brooke died en route to the Dardanelles and is buried on the Greek island of Skyros. His War Sonnets included "The Soldier" which begins with the famous lines "If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England." 
Julian Grenfell (1888-1915). His celebrated poem "Into Battle" appeared in the same year he was killed at Ypres.

Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918). An American poet who is perhaps best known for his poem, "Trees", Kilmer also wrote much memorable war poetry, including "Memorial Day", "Rouge Bouquet", and "When the Sixty-Ninth Comes Back". He was killed by a sniper's bullet during the Battle of Ourcq. I've always had a particular fondness for Kilmer since he lived for several years in Larchmont, NY, the town where I grew up. As a Catholic he also worshiped in our parish church, St. Augustine.

H. H. Munro (1870-1916). Best known by his pen name, Saki, Munro wrote many wonderfully humorous stories, most of which were delightful satires of life in Edwardian England. When I need a bit of amusement, I always turn to Saki. Munro refused a commission, preferring to serve as a regular trooper, and was noted for his courage. He was killed by a sniper during the Battle of Ancre.

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918). His poem "Greater Lovefrom his Collected Poems gave us the famous openings lines: "Red lips are not so red as the stained stones kissed by the English dead." Owen won the Military Cross and was killed just a week before the Armistice.

Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918). Although Rosenberg, a Jewish-English poet, was killed in action in 1918, his Collected Works weren't published until 1937. Their publication confirmed his importance as a writer of realistic war poetry.

Charles Sorley (1895-1915). Sorely was only 20 when he was killed at the battle of Loos. He left comparatively few complete poems but was well regarded by his contemporary poets.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917). Encouraged to write by the great American poet, Robert Frost, Thomas was killed at Arras and his work, including his war poetry, is now highly regarded.

Top L to R: H. H. Munro, Wilfred Owen, Joyce Kilmer, Charles Sorley; 
Bottom L to R: Edward Thomas, Isaac Rosenberg, Julian Grenfell, Rupert Brooke

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Strange Doings

Every so often I come across a few isolated news stories that together offer more than a glimpse into the decay of our once-civilized society. Interestingly, this decline is most obviously manifested among those otherwise thought to be the most civilized among us: lawyers who ignore the rule of law; doctors who murder the most innocent of their "patients"; politicians who place their own welfare above the good of the country and the people; philosophers who arrogantly reject the thought of all who preceded them; religious leaders who redefine truth and morality to align with the current zeitgeist. Such attitudes are nothing new, but sadly they have in recent years become more the rule than the exception, and this downward spiral into modern barbarism seems to be picking up speed.

The most obvious cause of this decay, especially in Western Europe, is the decline of religious faith among those once considered Christians. In much of Western Europe approximately a quarter of population no longer believes in God, essentially making them atheists. Among the rest a large percentage believe not in God, but in some ill-defined Star Wars-like "force". In the UK, for example, only 37% agree with the statement "I believe there is a God." (Poll results available here.) Once the religious "cult" is removed from the culture, nothing much remains. Here are a few examples from the news:

Immorality of Down's Syndrome. Oxford professor and professional atheist, Richard Dawkins, has stated that it is immoral for parents to allow a Down's Syndrome baby to be born. They should, in his words, "abort it and try again." I apologize to my dear friend Michael for the doctor's thoughtless comments and assure Michael that I am very happy God and his loving parents gave him the gift of life.

I'm always amazed when I encounter an atheist who speaks of things moral and immoral. After all, if we are simply biological accidents, the products of an impersonal evolutionary process, where exactly does morality come from? Should we not, then, always act in our own individual best interests and simply do what will provide the most pleasure in this brief life. Maybe killing Down's Syndrome babies gives the good professor pleasure.

Sainsbury: Politically Correct Ani-Semitism. In another story from the UK, Sainsbury, the large supermarket chain, decided to appease anti-Israeli (i.e., pro-Hamas terrorists) protestors by removing all kosher foods from its shelves. Of course, kosher foods are not Israeli; they are Jewish. Sainsbury, therefore, showed its hand and its raw anti-Semitism. Click on the above link and you will encounter other examples of the reemergence of Jew-hatred in polite society. Only 70 years since the holocaust and it's apparently become an acceptable mainstream attitude in Western Europe.

Fine for Refusing to Host a Lesbian "Wedding": $13,000. An upstate NY couple were fined a total of $13,000 by the state's curiously named Division of Human Rights (DHR) because they chooses not to host a lesbian couple's wedding on their farm. Apparently, then, in the land of the free a family owned small business can no longer base a business decision on strongly held moral and religious beliefs.

Let's see, how does that first clause of the First Amendment to our Constitution go? "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." It would seem that the owners of the farm were simply exercising their religious freedom. And didn't the federal courts just support Hobby Lobby's freedom to do just that?

Global Destruction of Churches. Although the Chinese Communist government's hostility toward Christians has received a lot of press coverage lately, they aren't alone when it comes to the destruction of religious buildings, whether churches, synagogues or mosques. Perhaps most surprisingly Russia joins the Chinese as leaders in this category. Close behind are Tajikistan, Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, Central Afridan Republic, Kenya, India and Iraq. Unfortunately when it comes to religious freedom, the trends all seem to be heading in the wrong direction. As Christianity grows -- and it's definitely growing in Africa and Asia -- it is perceived as a threat not only by other religions, but also by statists and others who can't abide the worship of a higher power than man himself.

What is the one place in the Middle East where Christians are safe? An interesting question and one answered clearly by Eastern Orthodox priest, Fr. Gabriel Nadaf, who lives and ministers in Nazareth. Fr. Nadaf makes a powerful case that Christians in the Middle East are safest in Israel, "the only free country in the region." In every other nation in the region -- and I challenge any reader to offer convincing evidence to the contrary -- Christians are persecuted. Click on the link and read more about Fr. Nadaf.

Each of these stories points to a future in which any expression of religious faith, especially Christian faith, will be increasingly attacked and both socially and legally. Get ready to be marginalized, folks. 

A few years ago Cardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago, speaking to group of priests, made the following prophetic comment:
“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison and his successor will die a martyr in the public square. His successor will pick up the shards of a ruined society and slowly help rebuild civilization, as the church has done so often in human history.”
Given the direction the world and our nation are headed, I believe the cardinal is probably on target with his prediction. 

Pray for our nation. Pray for our world.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Odd World

Nothing surprises me anymore. I don't know whether the world has degenerated into absolute weirdness or that nothing can escape the attention of the worldwide web. I suspect the latter. Sins that were once kept private are now shouted from rooftops so high the entire world can hear them. But we're now exposed to more than the public airing of personal and communal sins. We're also subjected to a steady stream of videos in which humans delight in sharing their own stupidity or their pets' intelligence. I must receive five or six of these video-infected emails daily. I used to watch a few, but now simply drop them unopened into the virtual trash can. Even worse are the dozens of cutsie, Photo-Shopped digital pics that arrive all bundled together in emails telling me my day won't be complete unless I look at them all. These too I trash. Maybe with my recent birthday (I turned 70 last week) I have evolved into the next stage of life: curmudgeon-hood. This would explain my hostility toward online gossip and forced cuteness. But what really irks me are the surprising things said and done by those who should know better. Here is a sampling encountered in today's news:

Justin Welby, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, stated in a recent interview that he sometimes doubts the existence of God, a rather interesting public admission from the religious head of the established Church of England. According to the church, only about 3% of Britain's population regularly attend Church of England services. It's just one more reason to praise the wisdom of our founding fathers who rejected the idea of a government-established religion.

And then there's our Commander-in-Chief who insists on repeatedly telling our enemies what he won't do when it comes to the use of military force. Talk about making the enemy's job easier! He then goes on to confirm this remarkable lack of leadership by stating that as Commander-in-Chief he will personally approve every target to be attacked by our Navy and Air Force aircraft. One can only marvel at the depth of the President's military knowledge, gained no doubt during his years as a community organizer in Chicago.

Not to be outdone by his boss, the Vice President insists on speaking in public. Remember how the media pummeled Vice President Dan Quayle for his so-called gaffes? Compared to Joe Biden Quayle was the personification of eloquence. At least he didn't call lenders "Shylocks", or praise a former senator who resigned in disgrace for sexual misconduct, or offend Asians with a perceived ethnic slur...and those are just a few of this week's Bidenisms.

Local politicians can also surprise. Charles Barron, a NY City councilman and candidate for the state assembly, wants to play host to Robert Mugabe, the blood-thirsty, murderous dictator of Zimbabwe, should the African "leader" pay another visit to NY. In an interview this week Barron called Mugabe "a shining example of an African leader" and included the dictator in his pantheon of heroes, along with Cuba's Fidel Castro and the late Libyan dictator Muammar el-Quaddafi. According to Barron, "All my heroes were America's enemies." One wonders why this man remains here when he could move to an earthly paradise like Zimbabwe...or Cuba...or even Libya.

The United States Air Force has decided to allow enlisted personnel and officers to omit the words " help me God" from re-enlistment and appointment oaths. Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James issued the order as a result of a complaint from a Nevada airman. According to Secretary James, “We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected.” I find it interesting that she somehow believes such rights were ignored for the past 225 years.

Finally, it seems the current polarization isn't limited to things political. According to a recent survey by Pew Research, liberals and conservatives have very different views when it comes to instiling religious values in children. Apparently conservatives believe teaching religious faith is more important than teaching tolerance, while liberals believe the opposite. It's an interesting survey, although I dislike the use of the word "tolerance." Simply tolerating another does not seem especially Christian. We are, after all, called to love others, not merely to tolerate them. And there are certainly things we should never tolerate. The religious values of the Islamic State (or ISIS or ISIL) should not be tolerated. We are called to love the terrorist but not what he does or the horribly misguided religious faith that motivates him. Anyway, I never get too excited about polls and surveys since far too often respondents are forced to assign relative priorities to a range of unrelated values. What's more important, curiosity or creativity? 

I suppose that's enough. Anyway, there's a football game to watch.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Homly: Wednesday, 21st Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Thes 3:6-10, 16-18 • Ps 128 • Mt 23:27-32

Today's Gospel passage includes two of what are called the “seven woes” – seven convincing and sad condemnations of religious hypocrisy that Jesus delivers rapid-fire to the disciples and the crowd. And it’s certainly hard to mistake His meaning.

Hypocrisy is not all that rare, and like most failings, it’s always easier to spot in others, isn’t it? And so we see it all around us. We see it in those people who appear to be so outwardly religious, but whose deeds and words lack any trace of kindness and mercy.

Because we love judging others we assume Jesus’ words were really addressed only to those nasty Pharisees. That would be a big mistake. Jesus was just using the Pharisees as an example because they were such obvious hypocrites. He wasn’t speaking just to the Pharisees; He was also speaking to His disciples and the people. He was speaking to us, warning us.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus came to call sinners – that’s you and me and the Pharisees -- but He came to call us to holiness. He expected His disciples to turn away from sin, not remain in it.

By issuing this call to us, Jesus makes it clear that some sins, like religious hypocrisy, have graver consequences. Why? Because it often leads others astray, even deeper into the darkness of sin. It can cause others to believe that it’s enough just to look religious, despite the evil one does in secret.

Jesus says, “No, don’t believe it!” And He says it loudly. Such people are no better than a tomb, all painted to look nice, but in reality just a cover for a corpse.

Let’s just forget about all those who come to mind when we think of hypocrisy. The real question is:  What about me? What about you?

Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees for ignoring the high standards they demanded of others. How often are you and I like that? He chastised those who professed admiration for the prophets and yet opposed the prophets' message and closed their ears to the word of God. How many of us call ourselves Catholic and yet ignore the Church’s teachings on one or another moral issue? How many of us rewrite the Gospel to reflect our so-called lifestyle?

Like the Pharisees, we are called to change, to conversion of heart. They rejected Jesus and His message because their hearts were hardened to the voice of God. But don’t we do the same when we submerge the Gospel message beneath the cluttered mess of our own wants and desires? How did Chesterton put it? “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Yes, we are called to conversion, to holiness. And we are called to humility, for only then can we accept God’s pardon and healing. How blessed we are that the Lord who judges is also a Lord who forgives.

The Holy Spirit will renew our minds and hearts; He’ll teach us God's way of love and holiness. Turn to Him and He will purify your heart. Invite Him in and He will give you the grace you need for real inner conversion.