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, August 16, 2018

Homily: Monday, 19th Week of Ordinary Time - Year 2

Readings: Ez 1:2-5,24-28 • Ps 148 • Mt 17:22-27
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Jesus spent a lot of time shaping His disciples' hearts, opening their eyes to the Paschal mystery that ultimately must come. He did this first through the example of His own life, and then gradually in their lives. In our passage from Matthew, we see this shaping taking place.'


For some time, now, Jesus' allusions to His death and Resurrection had gained steady momentum. In the two chapters preceding today's reading, He  revealed to them the necessity of His suffering, death and resurrection. But today Jesus tells the disciples openly that, 
"The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day" [Mt 17:22-23].
Although still unable to accept this, the disciples seem to have made some progress.

Remember how Peter reacted almost violently when the Lord first announced His passion? Compare that with their reaction now. They no longer dare argue with Jesus. Instead they're "overwhelmed with grief" [Mt 17:23] 

Jesus' words were plain, their meaning clear. The Apostles certainly don't understand the "why" of it all, but they've begun to accept its inevitability.
Jesus Reveals the Cross
Perhaps that's one of the reasons Jesus often calls Himself the Son of Man. That the Son of Man, the flower of humanity, will be betrayed by men underscores humanity's tragic self-deceit. By betraying God, by killing His Son, Who is also the Son of Man, we actually betray and kill ourselves.

Our loving God doesn't come to us as an all-knowing, omnipotent creator...No, He comes as one of us, as our loving brother.

Years ago, an agnostic friend said to me, "I could never be a Christian. Your idea of God is absolutely crazy...that the God who created the universe would come to this insignificant little planet as a man, and then let us kill Him. That's an insane God."

Yes, indeed, for many men, such love is insane. It's insane to them because they could never love so much. They actually despise how God approaches us in Jesus. They hate it for the same reason Cain despised and killed his brother, Abel.

The motive is clear: Jesus presents us with the reality of our better selves. He shows us how we could be, and we feel in our flesh the sharp edge of judgment and inferiority. And this presents us with two choices:

We can listen to Him and do the Father's will. We can change and become conformed to Jesus' beauty and goodness...

Or we can try to damage that beauty, destroy that goodness, in a feeble attempt to suppress its judgment of our sinfulness.

But Jesus' divine strategy overcomes our foolishness and our sin. He allows Himself to fall into the abuse and violence of men's hands so that, when they wound Him, they will be covered by the tide of His Precious Blood flowing from Calvary, from this very altar and thousands like it. For His blood has the power of absorbing into its love, and therefore neutralizing, the worst hatred of which we are capable.

Victor Frankl, the Austrian Jewish psychotherapist who spent much of World War II as a prisoner in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, wrote a remarkable book of his experiences called, Man's Search for Meaning. In it he describes how in the midst of unbelievable brutality and the most degrading conditions he found so many examples of remarkable faith and unselfish love. Again and again, Frankl encountered people who had achieved victory over the sinfulness that surrounded them. And out of this experience of abject suffering Frankl had a revelation.

He wrote, "Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'"

And yet so many of us, we who have never known such suffering, never come face to face with the kind of evil Frankl encountered, the kind that Jesus encountered on that first Good Friday...most of us in our sufferings only argue and fight with God.

The Apostles, with the help of the Holy Spirit, eventually came to understand what Jesus meant when He connected the necessity of His suffering with the cross His followers must take up daily.

Let's learn from them and today turn to the Holy Spirit. Invite Him into our hearts, to shape us, to give us the joy that only the love of God can bring.

For the Spirit waits patiently, always listening for our call, always responding to our prayer.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

V. S. Naipaul, R.I.P.

This morning I read that the novelist and Nobel laureate, V. S. Naipaul, died yesterday at his London home. His death occurred just a few days before his 86th birthday. Although a native of Trinidad, Naipaul was of Indian descent, hence his full name: Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul. To his few close friends and acquaintances he was simply "Vidia," a blessing to those with Western tongues. Awarded a government scholarship in 1950, he left Trinidad to study at Oxford and thus began the career of this exceptional man of letters.
Image result for v. s. naipaul
V. S. Naipaul
I first read Naipaul in 1979 when I picked up a copy of his newly published novel, A Bend in the River. I had heard of him, but had never read his work, just a few reviews. But the opinions of the critics were so varied and confusing I decided to sample his work and find out for myself. As I read the opening words of the novel -- "The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it." -- I was hooked. Those words, although politically incorrect to many, for me had the ring of worldly truth. Yes, indeed, despite our personal hopes and dreams, "the world is what it is," and Naipaul spent his literary life describing his take on that reality to his readers. 

Although I'm not a Naipaul fanatic, I 've probably read a dozen or more of his books, and enjoyed every one of them. But Naipaul was more than a novelist, and wrote a number of fascinating books describing the places, people, and cultures he encountered during his extensive travels. His observations, opinions, and conclusions often surprise, and sometimes irritate, but always force me to examine my own attitudes and judgments.  Some critics, of course, objected to his cultural characterizations and plastered him with negative labels, apparently hoping that some might stick. He's been called a racist, a misogynist, an Islamophobe, a Hindu nationalist, and more...I've always thought of him as a man who told the truth as he saw it. Can we ask anything more of a writer than this?

If you haven't read Naipaul, by all means do so. I especially enjoyed his semi-biographical novel, The Enigma of Arrival, as well as his much earlier work, A House for Mr. Biswas. Among his non-fiction works, I suppose my favorites include Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey; The Middle Passage; and A Turn in the South.

My bookshelves house 10 volumes of Naipaul's works and, coincidentally, they reside on the same small shelf with about a dozen of Evelyn Waugh's books. Despite their widely varied backgrounds, the two men had much in common. Each could be included among the best writers of his time. Each wrote wonderful novels, often based on his own life experiences. And each wrote exceptional works of non-fiction describing his travels in culturally distant lands. 

Interestingly, both Waugh and Naipaul have also been described as personally irascible, as curmudgeons with few close friends. I can't and won't judge another based on his personality, assuming that what we see of another is rarely an accurate reflection of his true self. Anyway, I would much rather have a handful of close friends who accept me for who I am, than be surrounded by a flock of chirping, faithless acquaintances who come and go with the seasons. 

Religiously the two men were far apart. Although Naipaul often criticized the religious values held by many today, particularly among those who practice Islam, I don't know if he were a man of faith. One can certainly be personally unpleasant and still be an active believer. After all we are all sinners. Evelyn Waugh, of course, was a convert to Catholicism. Once, when asked how he could justify his nasty disposition with his Catholic faith, Waugh replied, "You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I were not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being." Waugh, too, was a man who spoke the truth as he saw it. 

Rest in peace, Vidia, and thank you for your work that caused so many to reexamine the world in which we live. May God shine His face upon you...

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Final Session of our Seminar in Biblical Typology

Earlier this evening we conducted the fourth and final session of our brief summer course in Biblical Typology. It's a big subject, so a four-hour course can only scratch the surface.

We had a wonderful group of  participants. Between 65 and 80 people attended each session. They were obviously very interested in the subject (after all, they kept coming back for more) and I trust they all found it spiritually rewarding.

The course PowerPoint presentations -- in both PowerPoint and PDF formats -- are available on the "Documents" page of my little Bible Study website here: Parish Bible Study

Also available on that page is all the handout material provided to the participants.

If, however, you would rather just view the Session 4 PowerPoint online, you can view it here: Biblical Typology Session 4.


Monday, August 6, 2018

Just A Few Thoughts

This afternoon I took a break from my work on the mini-course I'm teaching, and glanced through the local, national, and world news. A few of the things I encountered got my juices flowing. For example:

A New Socialism? What about that young woman from New York (I've forgotten her name) who calls herself a socialist and it intent on changing the face of the Democrat Party? Interestingly she seems to be achieving some degree of success, at least according to much of the media. And yet, isn't a socialist, by definition, an ignoramus? After all, socialism has been tried many, many times throughout the world and it has always failed. In fact, the only thing socialism achieves is universal poverty. In that sense I suppose one could claim that socialism is the perfect path to true egalitarianism, the kind that doesn't lift but  lowers everyone to the same impoverished level. Oh, wait! There's always one exempted group: the elite, the ones the Soviets called the nomenklatura. These are the folks who, because they're so much smarter than the rest of us, give themselves special privileges. The elites, you see, can't be bothered with all those mundane things that complicate the lives of the hoi polloi. Running every aspect of a society is hard work; and run it they do, right into the ground. 

Socialists are just polite versions of Communists and National Socialists (i.e., Nazis) in disguise. There's really little difference because socialism in any of its forms cannot stand on its own. Eventually the people who allowed the socialists to gain power realize the mistake they've made. But socialists cannot give up power so they quickly evolve into authoritarians and then totalitarians. This is why so-called "democratic socialism" is a myth. Just try to get rid of it once it's in place. If this new variety of Democrat actually takes power, heaven help us. 

Abuse in the Church. All this abuse business within the Church is taking its toll, but our bishops seem to be unaware of its impact on the faithful. I hear about it almost every day from parishioners and others who share their concerns with me. Many are outraged by the requirements placed on them, especially since the problem seems to be largely the result of actions by priests and bishops. The faithful are fingerprinted and investigated; they are forced to take part in vapid and insulting workshops or on-line programs; they are repeatedly reminded not to do things they've never even thought of doing. It's as if the Church leadership is placing the guilt on the faithful, instead of where it belongs, on those who actually did these reprehensible things and those who tolerated them.

As one parishioner remarked this morning, "How come I have to go through all this garbage [his word], when the bishops exempted themselves from background investigations and fingerprinting and all the rest of it?" A good question from a faithful man who is frustrated by what he sees in the Church he loves.

And God forbid if someone is falsely accused of abuse -- something I suspect has happened many times. Even without proof, he or she will be removed from ministry and you can imagine how that will effect reputation and life.

I was once asked to give a talk to a group of seminarians , and in the course of my comments I told them, "The holiest people you will ever encounter are not seated in the sanctuary; they are in the pews of your parish church. They will look to you for direction and example, but if you don't provide it, they will turn to God. They will find Him in the Sacraments, in Sacred Scripture, and in Sacred Tradition. And it is they who will keep the Church holy."

I truly believe the Church of the future will be much smaller but much holier -- a mere remnant of today's overly bureaucratic organization. In 1969, the then Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, said the following during a broadcast over German radio:
“Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death."
Immigration Root Causes. And while I'm on the subject of our bishops, might I ask why we rarely hear anything from them about the root cause of the immigration problem in the US and elsewhere? Specifically, why do people flee one nation for another? The root cause is not the fault of the destination country, whose societal structures are so attractive to others. No, the root cause is the widespread persecution and corruption that promote general poverty, keep people uneducated, and limit opportunity in the countries of origin. And yet, when it comes to immigration, you would think our nation were the bad guy. I think it's time for the US bishops and the bishops in these other nations to focus on these root causes and not the symptoms. Just a thought.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Homily: Saturday, 17th Week of Ordinary Time - Year 2

Note: The following is a homily unpreached. One of our visiting priests always celebrated our parish's Saturday morning Mass and always asked the assisting deacon to preach. But he is no longer with us, so that particular preaching opportunity left with him. I had already prepared this homily so I thought I should share it with my small but faithful group of followers. God's peace...
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Readings: Jer 26:11-16, 24; Mt 14:1-12
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Matthew, in these verses and in those that precede and follow, seems to offer us a litany of rejections, as we encounter scribes and Pharisees, priests and kings, and even ordinary folks, all rejecting Jesus. 

Each seems to reject Jesus out of a kind of personal pride, that same lack of humility that plagues the human race and leads us to believe we are such independent beings we really don't need the God who created us out of love. 

Matthew's rejecters are actually pretty interesting.

Those scribes and Pharisees, along with the priests and Levites, all wanted to be recognized and respected for their knowledge and scholarship. They wanted to be admired by the people as holy and justified. They certainly didn't want to be criticized and embarrassed, or called out in public as hypocrites, especially by some nobody like Jesus [Mt 15:1-9].
Jesus Rejected by the Pharisees, et al.
Even the people, the ordinary folks of Nazareth, wanted to be lifted up out of their anonymity and the banality of their everyday lives. But they simply couldn't accept that one of their own was something very special [Mt 13:54-58].
Jesus Rejected in Nazareth
Then we encounter a king, Herod Antipas, actually a rather small-time king, who wanted to satisfy his every desire and maintain his power. And Herod, much like his father before him, would exert that power over others to do so [Mt 14:1-12]

It's as if Matthew is running all these people by us, one after another, so we can identify the reasons for our own rejection of Jesus. 

And yet each reason is just a symptom of the same spiritual sickness, one that prevented all of them from recognizing Jesus as He truly is. Yes, indeed, they were all wrapped up in themselves, so tightly wrapped that their minds and hearts couldn't accept the reality that faced them.

As for us, whether we accept Jesus with faith or reject Him with indifference, our choice, like the choices these others made, will reflect our circumstances and our desires. Just look at Herod Antipas and his desires, his weaknesses, his fears...

Matthew presents this son of Herod the Great as a self-important, power-hungry, lustful little man, whose shabbiness symbolizes the evil and sin that rule his life. 

We also encounter a fearful man, one so afraid of John the Baptist's moral authority that he must shut him up by locking him up. Like the prophet Jeremiah in our first reading, the Lord sent John to Herod "to speak those things for you to hear" [Jer 26:15]. Of course Herod didn't want to hear them.
John the Baptist Rebukes Herod and Herodias
Herod killed John to satisfy his lust and his pride, and his wife's anger and need for revenge. And then in a communion of evil, at a self-absorbed feast celebrating his birthday, he had John's head brought to Salome, his niece and stepdaughter, on a platter.
Passion of John the Baptist (Caravaggio)
It seems that even Herod had a conscience, though one grossly deformed, deformed by his fears. But It's not a fear of God that motivated Herod; rather a fear that this Jesus, who has such mighty powers, might be John resurrected. How would the people react to that?

Then, speaking of John, he uttered those words that seem blasphemous from one such as Herod, for they are the same words the angel speaks to the women at Jesus' tomb:
"He has been raised from the dead" [Mt 14:2; 28:6-7].
We sense that Herod didn't see God at work in this false resurrection, but that he believes those "mighty powers" are more like the magical powers of Satan and his followers. No, Herod couldn't bear the thought of God and His justice, or even His mercy.

Perhaps this petty king hoped this evil distortion of the true Resurrection would free him of the guilt he carries for John's murder and so much else. 

Satan was certainly working overtime in Herod's palace.

And note the verbs Matthew used to describe Herod's actions: arrested, bound, imprisoned, feared, killed, beheaded...Yes, Herod wanted a world safe for his desires and would do anything to maintain it.

Are we all like Herod? One would hope not, but I can speak only for myself, where the difference is perhaps just a matter of degree.

What Herod lacked, and what every sinner lacks is the virtue of humility, the one virtue without which all the others cannot be.

And so perhaps each day, as we wake and greet our loving God, we should thank Him for making us so dependent on His love.

We should thank Him for our smallness, for our weakness, and for the gift of recognizing the presence of His love, His greatness, in all the others we will encounter this day.

And perhaps, too, we should do the same at the end of each day, thanking Him for all the opportunities he gave us to share His love, and repenting for those opportunities we missed.

Then, like John, we too can be joyful as we pray: 
"He must increase; I must decrease" [Jn 3:30]

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Course Presentation: Biblical Typology Session 3

We had our third session of the course yesterday evening and, as usual, I went 15-20 minutes longer then advertised...but once again everyone stayed until the end.

Between 60 and 70 people attended, and I assume they found it interesting and enjoyable since, again, I escaped without wounds that say otherwise. 

A rewarding moment (at least for me) came just before the start of the evening's session when one of the participants excitedly said that she had recognized the typology in the previous Sunday's readings and homily. It was something she had never before recognized and she believed it had truly enhanced her understanding of the passages chosen by the Church for the Sunday liturgy. How wonderful for her, and how good that our little course has not been without value. 


This week we discussed the typology of Moses and Isaac, and also glanced at some of the prophets. The final piece was a brief study of typology in the Book of Job, all thanks to St. Gregory the Great who wrote extensively on the subject.

You can go directly to my Bible Study page and view the course presentations and other handout material: Bible Study Website

Or, if you prefer, here's a direct link to the PowerPoint presentation on authorstream.com:

Biblical Typology: Session 3



Saturday, July 28, 2018

Course Presentation: Biblical Typology Session 2

I conducted the second session of the course in Biblical Typology on Wednesday evening. Again, we had a good crowd of almost 80 people. I didn't get pelted by soft fruit so I assume the session was well received. I'll conduct session three next Wednesday evening.

You can either go directly to my Bible Study page and view the course presentations and other handout material: Bible Study Website

...or you can view the PowerPoint here: Typology Session 2

(I corrected the bad link to the Session 1 presentation in the previous post. My apologies, and thanks to those who pointed it out to me.)