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!


Saturday, December 27, 2008

Christmas Busyness & Birthday Gifts for Jesus

I suppose we can all agree that the Christmas Season is certainly a busy time of the year; indeed, sometimes a bit too busy. So much of our busyness stems from activities and concerns that actually have little to do with the reality of Christmas. It seems instead to be driven by what Christmas has become. Our secular society has pretty well succeeded in its transformation of the Christmas holy day into the winter holiday. Perhaps the best measure of its success is the fact that just speaking the word "Christmas" in the public square is now the height, or rather the depth, of political incorrectness.

Of course, from a secular perspective, it makes perfect sense. The secular world generally measures the value of any nation by its economic health, and things haven't been looking too good lately. And so all of that holiday spending will do nothing but help a sluggish economy. Our secular society knows that if people focus too much on the religious aspects of Christmas, if they try to return the season to its original holiness, they just might question why they're spending all this money on so many frivolous things. And we certainly can't have that!

That very thought crossed my mind as Diane and I opened our few presents on Christmas Eve after the vigil Mass. I even took it a step farther and wondered when this tradition of giving Christmas gifts to each other actually began. Does anyone know? When you think about it, it's really a rather odd tradition. After all, I don't give my brother a birthday gift on my wife's birthday, so why do we give each other gifts on Jesus' birthday? How many of us even consider giving Jesus a gift?

Apparently, if my experience this Christmas is any indication, quite a few people did exactly that. For example, one of our daughters did. She and her husband gave us a goat! OK, we didn't actually get the goat, for which I am exceedingly grateful. No, they bought a goat in our name and the animal will be given to a poor family in Latin America. What a wonderful gift! But it's less a gift for Diane and me, and more a gift for Jesus. One need only read Matthew 25 to come to that conclusion.

But that's not all. Diane is the Thursday cook at our Wildwood Soup Kitchen, and so this year, with Christmas falling on a Thursday, she and I were up before dawn to get things going at the kitchen. Diane gave most of our regular Thursday crew the day off because so many others had asked if they could help. We ended up with about 25 people volunteering to assist during the six hours it took to prepare and serve the Christmas meal. And so, here are 25 more people who gave Jesus a wonderful birthday gift, the gift of their time and service.

And there are more. Art and Karen (I won't give their last name since they're the kind of people who prefer to stay well under the radar) took Diane to Sam's Club and let her spend over $900 for food to be used during the Christmas Season. In Art's words, "It's not from me. It's from Jesus." I know exactly what he meant by that, but it was also a gift to Jesus.

On Christmas Day some fellow volunteers, Ed and Rosemary, gave us $200 to buy some last-minute additions to the Christmas menu. And yesterday a retired priest friend, Father Bill, handed me a check for $1,000 to add to the soup kitchen kitty. A few days earlier a local company sent me an email through the soup kitchen's website and asked me to come by and pick up a check for $2,000. One of our drivers and his wife (in addition to the meals served in-house, the soup kitchen delivers over 100 meals daily) gave us a Christmas check for $500...and the list goes on and on.

Quite simply, all of these people gave birthday gifts to Jesus. They saw Jesus in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger...and some gave relatively large gifts, but many gave the modern equivalent of the widow's mite. Many of our guests, for example, folks who live in real poverty, quietly put a donation in the small wooden donation box at the soup kitchen. And in most instances, I know they gave from their need not from their surplus.

And so perhaps we need to realign our priorities at this time of year and do a little Christmas shopping for Jesus. I have no idea how much the average family spends on Christmas gifts, but if we all cut that spending in half and gave the saved half to Jesus as a birthday gift, I expect we'd end up doing an awful lot of good in the world.

And don't forget to praise God today and thank Him for giving you life!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI on Christmas

The Pope on Christmas. Here's a link to the Holy Father's address at his weekly audience -- December 17 -- in which he takes up the theme of Christmas as an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of our existence.

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The following is my homily for this Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Advent - Year B:

For children Christmas is always a time of surprises. Growing up in my family the surprises began when we returned home from church on the first Sunday of Advent. My mother would hang up advent calendars, and every day for the next four weeks we’d each get to open one of the little windows and be surprised by what was behind it. Ah, yes, we were simple little souls.

And what about surprise snowfalls, the ones we prayed for? How great it was to wake up to a world transformed by a thick white blanket.

My dad surprised us every year with a huge Christmas tree, anywhere from 12 to 18 feet high. But a tree like that was expensive, so Dad would wait until about a week before Christmas when the dealers would sell it at half price. And every year, just when we thought we’d never get a tree, he'd show up with an enormous one tied to the roof of the car.

Our mom would decorate the house with all sorts of wonderful things that had been in the family for generations. It was always the same, but a surprise nonetheless. And I can still remember my surprise when my parents decided I was old enough to attend Midnight Mass. I think I made it through the offertory. Then there was the surprise of Christmas morning. The opening of the presents. And not just our own, but watching my parents’ surprise as they opened the remarkably useless gifts we had given them.

Yes, Christmas has always been a time of surprises, and rightly so, because the Incarnation itself was a surprise. We even see this manifested in the Old Testament in some of the earliest hints of a Messiah. Today's first reading is a good example.

King David, experiencing a respite from warfare, starts thinking about how he's living in a splendid cedar palace, and yet God’s tabernacle is still housed in a tent; and so he decides to build a temple for God.But that evening, God speaks to the prophet, Nathan, and instructs him to "Go back to David and tell him he is not to build a temple for Me. Rather, I will build a house for him, and David's son will build the temple."

What a surprise this must have been for David. And what a house the Lord would build for him. For from that house, God promised to raise up an heir, a King of Kings."I will be a Father to Him," God tells David, "and He shall be a Son to Me. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever…" Though David doesn't say it, much like Mary in the Gospel, his attitude is: "Do to me according to Your word; whatever You say, Lord."

But God had more surprises in store for His people. A thousand years later, the Jewish people, suffering under Roman occupation and rule, still cling to God's promise to David. God had promised them a king, so they watched and they waited, looking for the one who would rise up and restore Israel to its former glory. Perhaps they should have known better. For God had promised a kingdom that would endure forever, surely no earthly kingdom. But they believed what they wanted to believe.

Once again God takes the world by surprise and brings a very different kind of King into the world, in a way no one could ever expect. He chooses a poor, teenage girl, from a tiny village in a remote corner of occupied Palestine, a backwater of the Roman Empire. And to announce His surprise to the world, to reveal the mystery He had kept secret for endless ages, He sends His archangel Gabriel.

Talk about a surprise! Try to imagine how Mary must have felt.Suddenly, this humble young woman, barely out of childhood, is face to face with this magnificent heavenly being. And it's not a social visit.

"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."What is she to make of this greeting? "Full of grace," he calls her, no room within her for anything else but God's saving grace. For God has prepared the Mother of His Son for all eternity and made her unique among humanity -- sinless, immaculately conceived, the only vessel worthy of His Son. But Mary doesn't know this yet. Is she afraid? Probably. So Gabriel takes pains to reassure her, and calls her by name:"Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God." And with this any fear she might have experienced suddenly evaporates, overwhelmed by God's love for her.

Then the great surprise, the unthinkable, God's secret revealed at last -- not to prophets or kings or theologians, but to this simple, Jewish girl."You will conceive and bear a Son, and you shall name Him, Jesus -- Savior."

That's not all. God piles surprise upon surprise. "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of David his father, and He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of His Kingdom there will be no end."

Now Mary, like any Jewish girl of the time, had been exposed to the Hebrew Scriptures -- the Law, the Prophets, the Psalms – and knew exactly what this meant: the thousand years of waiting were over. God's promise was fulfilled. But she was a virgin. So how can this be, she asks Gabriel.

His answer is even more startling than the question, an answer that reveals everything. Another surprise:"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."

It couldn't be clearer. She would bear God's Son. God's Son would be her son.The Father doesn’t command this of Mary. Rather, He gives her a choice, and awaits her answer. Not only God, but the whole world, the entire span of human history, awaits Mary’s answer. For in that decisive moment, God places the salvation of the human race, past, present and future, in her tiny hands. She need utter only one word to embrace the living Word of God in her womb.Her response, straight from the heart, brings a sigh of joy from all creation: “Let it be done to me according to Your word.”

It is a choice of total abandonment to God’s Will. Mary trusted and believed. She said “Yes” to God’s Word and acted on it.

And so, what does Mary offer us in these final days of advent? She shows us how to receive Christ, for He comes to us every day. He comes to us as He first came into the world, in poverty and powerlessness.

This is not pious rhetoric, but God's Word. Jesus comes to us in the hungry, the homeless stranger; in the sick, the imprisoned. Mary saw that even before Her Son proclaimed it. In her Magnificat, her song of joy after Gabriel’s glad tidings, Mary rejoices that God has lifted up the lowly and filled the hungry with good things.

The hungers of the human family still cry out to us: hunger for bread; hunger for freedom from persecution; hunger for peace; hunger for God.It's more than a human cry; it's a cry from the Gospel itself, from God's own Word. And as Jesus’ disciples, we have no choice but to listen to that Word and act on it in the circumstances in which God places us.

One thing is certain: God isn’t telling us to do nothing. Just as He gave Mary a choice, He gives us a choice, the same choice the Apostles made when Jesus said, “Come, follow me.”It's a choice founded on the certainty of God’s promise of eternal life. It's a choice founded on faith and hope, the hope of Jesus’ return when He comes in power and glory. For this is the other Advent we celebrate today.

The good news is in another promise: the promise of Jesus given to the Apostles at the Last Supper: “Whoever loves me will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

So, you see, brothers and sisters, Christ wants to dwell within us, to make us God-bearers like Mary, so we can carry Him to others.With Christ deep within you, and seeing Christ all around you, your life can become a ceaseless Advent, a visible sign to the world of His surprising love.All you have to do is join with Mary’s voice and say, “Whatever you say, Lord.”

And do you know something else? It’s never too late. He continues to call us to Him all the days of our lives…and He's full of surprises…for as Gabriel reminded Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”


Friday, December 19, 2008

Avery Cardinal Dulles, Rest in Peace

Like many Christians, for much of my life I have plodded along doing what I believed, often mistakenly, to be God's will for me. Too often I discovered well after the fact that what I believed God wanted for me was instead what I wanted and nothing more. And so, each time, buoyed by one of these little revelations, I would try to make a "mid-course correction" to redirect my life along the narrow path. This, I think, is how life unfolds for most of us as we make our way to the hoped-for eternal life promised by Jesus Christ.

Among those little revelations I received was the realization that most of our activity as human beings is really not all that important. This, of course, contradicts everything that the world tells us. For example, companies go to extremes to convince employees that the work they do is not only critical to the continuance of the human race, but may also be their only true source of happiness. A few years ago, in a Saturday morning management meeting, the vice president I then worked for expressed his dismay that we did not all share his unbridled passion for our work and our company. He believed that nothing was more important and if we truly loved our work it would be the primary focus of our lives, worth investing 12 hours a day, six days a week...or more! Perhaps the only true response to such thinking is, "Get a life! Get an eternal life!" It's not our work that's important; it's God work. And it's God's work that we should be doing. Our work pays the bills. God's work paves the road to eternal life.

One person who devoted his life to doing God's work was Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., who returned to the Father last Friday, December 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He was 90 years old.

In the course of a life, if one is fortunate, he may have the opportunity to meet some truly extraordinary people, people whom God has chosen to do extraordinary things. For me, one of those people was Cardinal Dulles. For years I had encountered him through his writings, and he probably influenced my thinking on things theological more than other man with the possible exceptions of Pope Benedict XVI and Jean Cardinal Danielou. Not only did I learn from Avery Dulles but I also truly enjoyed reading him.

And then, two years ago, I actually met him. Cardinal Dulles had come to our diocese to speak at a diocesan synod gathering, and before he spoke I had the opportunity to chat with him for about 15 minutes. As you can see by the accompanying photo, I was probably a bit more enthusiastic about the meeting than was the cardinal.

Actually, he was very kind. We chatted about our common experience as naval officers, about my time at Georgetown University, and about a recent article he had written for First Things. He proved to be everything I expected him to be: warm, pleasant, unassuming, and truly interested in the inane comments I made.

I will miss this remarkable man. I will miss his remarkable spiritual and theological insights. And the world too will miss Avery Cardinal Dulles, a man who devoted his life to doing God's work in complete loyalty to His Holy Church. What a blessing he was. May he rest in peace in the loving embrace of the Father.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Advent and a New Liturgical Year

Yesterday, the 1st Sunday of Advent, signifies the beginning of a new liturgical year. This year we change to Cycle B which will focus on the Gospel of Mark. The following is the homily I preached at the two vigil Masses at which I assisted...
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Happy New Year! That’s right. Today is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new year, a new liturgical year. But unlike January 1st, that other New Year’s Day, this New Year kind of creeps up on us, doesn’t it? Suddenly it’s Advent, and with Advent, everything changes.

Among the changes that come with the new liturgical year is the change to Mark’s Gospel. Last year was Matthew and next year will be Luke. But this year we’ll hear a lot from Mark.

One thing about Mark: He doesn’t waste words. He moves through the Gospel story almost breathlessly, powered by a sense of urgency, constantly reminding us of the high stakes involved. There’s little suspense in Mark’s telling of the Gospel story. He doesn’t keep us guessing, but tells us what it’s all about right from the beginning. Indeed, he opens his Gospel with the words, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

This is the beginning, Mark tells us, the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News, the news that the entire world longs to hear, the answer to humanity’s long unanswered question: Why are we here? I’ll answer that question, Mark says…I’ll tell you through the words of Jesus the Christ, the Promised One. For that’s what He is, the Christ, the one promised down through the ages, the one promised to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David…

But Jesus is more than this, Mark tells us in those opening words. He’s not only the Christ, the promised Messiah; He’s so much more. He’s the Son of God Himself. And so Mark doesn’t waste our time, but lets the cat out of the bag right from the very beginning.

Mark moves inexorably toward the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. His focus is on the Cross and the journey Jesus makes along the way. His Gospel is really the passion story with a long introduction.

But Mark also focuses on another journey: the journey of the disciple as he moves from being totally clueless, from a complete lack of understanding, to misunderstanding, to failure, betrayal, abandonment, denial, guilt, and finally to understanding, acceptance and obedience. And it’s in the midst of this journey of the disciple where we find ourselves in today’s Gospel reading from the 13th chapter of Mark.

It’s a passage that begins with a command: “Be watchful! Be alert!” and ends with the same command: “Watch!” Responding to His apostles, Jesus tells them a little about the last days, that time of fulfillment when He will return in glory to judge the living and the dead. He tells them, too, that no one – no man or woman, no angel, not even He, in His humanity, knows the day or the hour. But the actual time, he says, is unimportant. What’s important is how we prepare for it.

To make His point Jesus tells them a parable. But unlike Luke or Matthew, Mark relates the parable in a single verse: “It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his own work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.” That’s it – a one-line parable. Mark includes just enough to make his point: We are commanded to watch, to be ready…but not to wait in idleness. Each is to do his own work, the work of the disciple, the work that God asks of us.

And what is that work? Only moments before Jesus had told the disciples: “the Gospel must first be preached to all nations.” That’s our task as we wait: to proclaim the good news, God’s presence among us, and to proclaim it to everyone. And while we work, Jesus tells us, we are to watch…because we will not know when He will come again. “… whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.”

Jesus actually mentions some specifics here, doesn’t He? He uses the four night watches common in the ancient world: evening, midnight, cockcrow, and morning. It’s no coincidence that each of these times comes into play in the closing chapters of Mark’s gospel. It’s evening when the apostles celebrate the Passover with the Lord. One of them, though, isn’t watchful, but instead allows the attractions of this world to enter his heart and steer him away from Jesus. One of them leaves early that evening, rejecting the gift that Jesus gives His Church at that first celebration of the Eucharist. He leaves to commit an act of betrayal that will lead Jesus to the Cross.

Later, in the garden, as Jesus prays deep into the night, He invites His remaining disciples to watch and pray with Him. But they, too, succumb to weakness and are unable to watch. Each time He returns from prayer Jesus finds them asleep.

And during that same night – it must have been near midnight – Judas returns at the head of a mob and completes his betrayal. Once again the disciples are unprepared. In fear and confusion, they all forsake Him and run away.

And then there was the cockcrow…the cockcrow that shattered the pre-dawn silence and sounded Peter's guilt. Peter, the leader, the one chosen by Jesus to be the rock on which He would build His Church, the one so full of empty promises and bluster…Yes, Peter the rock is, at this point, still Peter the weakling. For Peter could watch only from the shadows, and overcome by fear, would repeatedly deny His Lord.

And finally, the morning, very early on that first Easter morning, the Risen Lord appears to the disciples and is greeted with disbelief…for they are still caught off guard; they are still unprepared to accept fully the gift of faith and its challenges. Yes, at first the disciples failed miserably at their halfhearted attempts to keep watch. But are you and I really any different?

While we’re having the time of our lives, the actual time of our lives is slipping away, bringing us ever closer to that moment when we will stand face to face before our God.

You see, time is God’s domain, His gift. None of us can predict what tomorrow will bring, not even the next hour nor the next minute. Time is God’s possession alone. In time, God encounters us and we encounter God.

Time holds the very presence of God. We need only open our eyes — our inner eyes — to find Him. God is always present, and there’s never a time when we are without Him. This is Advent, brothers and sisters, a time of finding, a time when we celebrate God’s coming among us. We relive His first coming, His Incarnation as one of us, a coming that leads ultimately to the Resurrection, an event that profoundly changed both time and history…an event that erased the line separating earthly time and eternal time.

Because of Jesus’ coming and living among us, we who exist in time also exist in eternity. And so time doesn’t just pass away; no, our time is the stuff of which our eternity is made, transforming us until we enter into the fullness of God’s presence.

Advent is meant to awaken us again to this truth. In the midst of our busy lives, Advent calls us to slow down, to recognize God’s presence, His continuous comings among us. Jesus’ words are so needed today: “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.”

Yes, rushing from one thing to another, when and where do we find the time to welcome the Lord into our lives? This is to what Advent calls us to do — to watch, to be alert, to wait with God, growing into His habitual presence. It calls us to recognize God’s presence in all that we do.

Advent calls us to use God’s gift of time wisely, to simply be: to be with God — to sit with God and to look at our lives through His eyes. When we allow God to be who He is within us…we can learn to know Him, not just know about Him.

Learn from the experience of Mary who each day pondered who Jesus was, what he was about. This Advent may we consciously choose to live as if God’s presence invades each of us, invades all men and women, invades all human experience, invades every part of God’s creation. When we jump out of bed in the morning (or perhaps crawl or groan out of bed) may we drink in God as we drink that first cup of coffee.

May we bring God with us into all we do that day.

May we truly live in God’s time, ever alert, ever watchful for His saving presence.

Come Lord Jesus!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Christ the King

Today, on this last Sunday of the liturgical year, we turn our minds and hearts to Jesus, to Christ the King. It's especially appropriate that we do so today as we look toward Advent, anticipating that season when we are called by the Church to meditate on both the Incarnation and the Second Coming of Jesus. Yes, we will celebrate His first coming as the helpless infant who humbled Himself to become one of us, but we will also celebrate that day when He will return in glory to judge the world and bring all things to their fulfillment.

The following is the homily I gave today -- my thoughts on this solemnity of Christ the King:

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Back in the mid-sixties, several of my classmates and I were invited to be escorts at a debutante ball in New York City. It was a very posh affair, held at the Waldorf Astoria, and we felt like fish out of water, like party crashers, since we had absolutely nothing in common with most of the people present. After a while we concluded that we'd been invited only because we were Naval Academy Midshipmen and someone thought we'd make a nice scenic backdrop standing around in our full dress uniforms.

It wasn't a particularly fun evening, but it was interesting, seeing how the other two percent lived. I can't recall much about it now, but I do remember that at one point in the evening, they presented each new debutante, presumably signifying her entrance into polite society. What amazed me at the time was that several of them had royal titles, with really terrific names like...Princess Beate Amanda von Hapsburg Johnson of Vienna and Brooklyn. Countess Margarite von Keutel Schmidt of Hungary and West Hempstead.

Everyone seemed suitably impressed. And these young women looked truly elegant in their long gowns and tiaras as they glided across the ballroom floor. But as I watched, I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for them. For they were royals without a realm, remnants of royal families who had long ago been stripped of their kingdoms, their power and their palaces. All they had left were their titles -- titles that signified nothing but a seemingly desperate attempt to hold onto a world that no longer existed.

If there's one thing that history tells us, it's that kings and queens and kingdoms and empires come and go, sometimes quietly, but often violently, in the midst of revolution and war. For the kingdoms of this world, like all human institutions, are transient. They certainly can’t be counted among what T. S. Eliot called the "permanent things."

And yet today the Church celebrates a King and a Kingdom that are permanent, an eternal Kingdom that will outlast the world itself. During the past twelve months the liturgy has led us from Advent and the world’s expectation of a Savior, to His arrival among us as a helpless infant, through His ministry, His passion and His death, to His resurrection and His return to the Father. Then, beginning with Pentecost, we experienced the Church’s pilgrimage as it awaits Christ’s final coming in glorified splendor.

And so today, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we celebrate the very pinnacle of salvation history, when all that is, ever was, and ever will be is subjected to Christ’s rule. As usual, St. Paul says it best in today's second reading: "...then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to his God and Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.When everything is subjected to him..."

For there can be only one eternal King, and all human authority must be subjected to Him. This is why the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King when it does. It not only brings the movement of salvation history to a decisive end, but also presents us with something wonderfully new...because God's Kingdom is a kingdom like no other. “My kingdom does not belong to this world,” Jesus told Pilate.

Exactly so. For Jesus brought His kingdom into this world. Indeed, that he came to establish a Kingdom was clear from the beginning of His ministry. He affirmed it openly and unequivocally. Read the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Then reread the Gospel parables in which Jesus reveals its mysteries. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…like leaven…a treasure hidden in a field…a merchant in search of fine pearls…a net thrown into the sea.

Yes, Jesus' Kingdom is not of this world…but it’s certainly in this world. It’s in the Church He founded. It’s in each one of us who bears witness to the truth of God’s revelation. His Kingdom isn’t a place. It’s a people: God’s people of faith responding in obedience and love to the will of their King…a King who owns us body and soul, who purchased us on the cross with his blood.

And what kind of King is Jesus? Well, I’ve always liked the prophet Ezekiel’s answer to this question. It’s among the earliest portrayals of God as a shepherd lovingly tending His flock. "I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark...I will give them rest…The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal…" Yes, Ezekiel tells us, we have a loving God, a God who cares deeply about every aspect of our lives.

But Ezekiel doesn’t stop there, for our King is also a judge. "…the sleek and strong I will destroy…I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats..." – words echoed by Jesus in today's reading from Matthew’s Gospel.

Yes, He will judge us all. And I suppose the outcome will depend on the extent that we acknowledge Jesus as Lord, when, in faith, we do the Father's will. Empty words mean nothing. How did Jesus put it? “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.”

How often do we plead with God to save us, and yet remain indifferent to His Will? God’s not looking for words; He’s looking for conversion. But conversion can occur only if you and I freely allow God’s grace to shape our wills to His, only if we allow Christ the King to rule over us.

You see, God calls us to obedience, but never forces Himself on us. He lets us decide whether to serve Him or reject Him. In effect, God places the keys to His Kingdom in each of our hands. And what does He call us to do? Nothing less than His work, the work of the shepherd. Even as He hung on the cross, dying, Jesus was both good shepherd and king, loving and forgiving the thief hanging by His side and inviting him into the kingdom. Pilate had that sign tacked to the cross for one reason only: as a not so subtle way to ridicule both Jesus and the Jews. How ironic that a thief, seeing that sign over Jesus’ head, should be moved to plead: “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

For Jesus suffered and died for us all, not just for a select few. Everyone, no matter how sinful, how separated from God, remains a child of God, a product of His infinite love. You see, Jesus is telling us that we can't separate God's two great commandments. When we love God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, we must also love each other. To deny one is to deny the other. To ignore this truth is to run the risk of one day hearing those forbidding words, "Depart from me…For I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison and you did not care for me."

In a few moments Father will recite the Preface of Christ the King which affirms a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” This is the kingdom we are called to serve.

The question is: are we willing to serve, to carry the Word of God to an unbelieving world?

Are we men and women of truth, conformed to God’s Will and faithful to His commandments and to the teachings of His Church?

Does Christ our King truly live in us? Will the grace we receive today in the Eucharist transform our minds and hearts, making us into new creations?

Can we put aside the pragmatism of human justice and accept God’s perfect justice into our hearts?

Do we shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, visit the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned? Are we fathers to the fatherless? Mothers to the motherless?

Is our love for one another as outstretched as the arms of Christ on the cross?

God knows, I am not accusing you. For my own answers to these questions only show me how far I am from the kingdom.

And so, brothers and sisters, until the king returns in glory, we all have a fair amount of work to do.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Liturgy, homiletics, etc.

This morning, in my capacity as my parish's director of liturgy, I attended a diocesan workshop focused on liturgical issues surrounding the Lent and Easter seasons. It was, I am sorry to admit, the first time I ever attended one of these periodic workshops. (I'm really not a big "workshop" guy.) I was, however, pleasantly surprised. Fr. Bob Webster, our diocesan director of liturgy, gave an excellent introductory talk on the Lenten and Easter liturgies of cycle B, and then conducted an equally informative workshop during which he provided us with some valuable suggestions. I was anticipating one of those touchy-feely sessions filled with questionable liturgical "adaptations." But what we received was just the opposite: a sound discussion on these two very important seasons of the liturgical year.

The workshop actually tied in nicely with a seminar I attended a week or so ago. (I'm just becoming a seminar-workshop fool.) It was conducted by Fr. Donald Senior, C.P., New Testament scholar and President of the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. The seminar, attended by priests and deacons of the diocese, addressed Preaching in Cycle B, with particular emphasis on the Gospel of Mark. It, too, was a valuable experience for me and Fr. Senior offered many unique insights into Mark that I will certainly revisit when I sit down to prepare my homilies during the coming liturgical year.

I have attended far too many sessions in the past that did nothing but waste my time, so many, in fact, that in recent years I have tried to avoid attending them whenever possible. How nice that my time was so well spent by attending these two programs.

God's peace...

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Elections and other stuff

President Obama. The past few weeks have certainly been interesting, and not just politically. The American people have spoken and in doing so have elected Barack Obama as our next president. With the exception of Mr. Obama himself, how many people one year ago would have dared to predict this outcome? Back then, if you'll recall, most of the "smart" money was on Hillary Clinton and Rudy Giuliani as the likely nominees of their respective parties. Just shows how smart the smart money really is.

I'm not going to address the politics of the campaign and its results, other than to say the American people often send mixed messages. In electing Senator Obama as their next president, they chose the senator with perhaps the most liberal voting record, and yet in all three states where same-sex marriage was on the ballot, the people voted to define marriage in the traditional way. I suspect that many people who voted for Senator Obama did so out of emotion, without considering such mundane things as his voting record or his public stances on specific issues. When it comes to electing people, voters tend to choose the most likable candidate; but when faced with a clearly defined issue such as same-sex marriage, they often instinctively know how they should vote. I really believe they simply liked Barack Obama more than they liked John McCain, and seemingly bought into Obama's campaign slogans and his promise of "change" without any real understanding what this change might involve. Even the president-elect himself doesn't seem to have a solid grasp on what he plans to do once he takes office.

One of the changes Obama did address during his campaign was a promise to sign a Freedom of Choice Act which would remove any and all restrictions on abortion up to the moment of birth. It would also prohibit parental notification for teens requesting an abortion. In effect it would overturn virtually all the state and federal laws that pro-lifers have managed to enact over the years. I would guess (hope?) that most people who voted for Barack Obama did not realize what this campaign promise would lead to if it were kept.

I did not vote for Senator Obama. I could not; and in fact I have never been able to vote for any pro-abortion candidate in any election. I believe that the Church's magisterial teaching on this subject is right on target: to vote knowingly for a pro-abortion candidate when an alternative is available is seriously sinful. And considering the number of Catholics who ignored this teaching, I guess folks just aren't all that concerned about their salvation these days. The parable of the sower comes to mind. It would seem that for many Catholics the roots of their faith run very shallow indeed.

At this point about all we can do is wait and see, and pray that our new president will undergo a change of heart when it comes to abortion, marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, and other life issues. Remember, with God all things are possible. I can't stress this enough; prayer is always our best -- and not simply our last -- resort.

The myth of human power. Maybe this is a good time for us to reflect on the fact that God is indeed the Lord of History, that ultimately He calls the shots in our world. Just because we like to play God doesn't mean we are gods. Just because we can decide which innocent human life is allowed to continue living and which will be killed, doesn't mean that we actually possess the authority to make these decisions. Life is a gift. It's not a gift from the President or the Congress or the U. S. Supreme Court or the United Nations. It's a gift from God to each individual human being. For us to treat that gift with total disdain and to ignore its true source is to replace God Himself with the idol of human power. 1,500 years ago St. Augustine preached and wrote against the vanity and futility of the cult of human power, and we apparently have still not learned.

Bishops speaking out. I must admit, I was surprised at the number of U. S. bishops who publicly spoke out in the final days and weeks of the campaign to remind their flocks that human life is sacred and that abortion is an intrinsic evil that may never be supported. I was surprised because so often in the past many bishops have either remained silent during the political season or stressed that abortion is just one issue among many that we, as voters, should consider when casting our ballots. Rarely did one hear the words "intrinsic evil" and "abortion" uttered in the same breath.

Of course some bishops continued to make the same sort of vague, dampened noises this time around as well, but that's to be expected. Like the rest of us, some bishops are simply moral relativists, the sort who still cringe whenever they hear the words, Humanae Vitae. Others are image-obsessed pragmatists whose overriding priority is to maintain friendly relations with the media, the politicians, and the big donors in their communities. And I suppose some are simply weak. But perhaps this is changing. Perhaps a growing number of our bishops have decided that enough is enough, that Catholic politicians who consistently legislate in direct opposition to Church teaching should be called to task.

Those bishops who did speak out in strong support of life should be commended. I guess my only complaint is that I didn't hear very much from them during the primaries or the early months of the national campaign. But our bishops can't do everything. We, too, have a responsibility to speak the truth and remind others that God's love extends to all, and especially to the most innocent and helpless among us. Sometimes the faithful have to set the example and remind bishops, priests, and, yes, even us deacons, that God's expectations of us are higher than we think. Pray for us all.

God's peace...

Friday, November 7, 2008

God's Word is for all

Among the many good things that have happened recently is the Synod of Bishops that concluded in Rome on October 23. The Synod, called by Pope Benedict XVI to address the Word of God, strongly encouraged all the faithful to read the Bible regularly, making Holy Scripture a part of their daily lives.

Sadly, too many Catholics never open the Bible and, therefore, are ignorant of the very foundations of their faith. The Holy Scriptures were not written for scriptural scholars and the clergy; they were written for all of us. They are a wonderful gift by which God reveals Himself to us and makes His marvelous plan for humanity known to us. It is a plan founded in God's love for us and stretches from the very act of creation to its fulfillment at some time still in the future. The Bible also tells us how God wants us to respond to His love. In other words, it tells us how to live.

While it's wonderful that the Holy Father and the synod's bishops are encouraging all Catholics to read and study the Bible regularly, that's all they can really do: encourage us. The actual work must be done at the parish level where, in effect, the rubber meets the church parking lot. Pastors must actively support those parishioners who take the initiative to start parish Bible Study groups, and they must continue to support these efforts by talking about these programs from the pulpit. Other than the sacraments themselves, I can think of nothing else that will have a more positive spiritual effect on God's people than regular reading and study of Holy Scripture. Bible Study is also an excellent starting point for deepening parishioners' knowledge of all aspects of their Catholic faith; for our faith is thoroughly grounded in Scripture and Apostolic Tradition.

I began a parish Bible Study two years ago and we now offer two sessions that parishioners may choose from. Although it requires a lot of preparation and additional work on my part, it has become one of the most enjoyable activities of my week. If you would like to check out our Bible Study web page, click here.

It won't be easy to spread God's Word to all His People. Our parish has well over 1,000 families and only 30 people attend these Bible Study sessions. In addition to general apathy, there are other obstacles as well.

For example, just to prove that old habits die very slowly, I'll describe something that happened to me this past week. One of our volunteers at the soup kitchen approached me with a question. She attends a local Presbyterian Church and had asked two of her neighbors, both Catholics, if they wanted to attend a concert of spiritual music put on by her church choir. They replied that Catholics weren't permitted to enter Protestant churches. When the conversation somehow turned to the Bible, they also informed her that the Church tells Catholics not to read the Bible. My friend, knowing that I conduct a Bible Study at our parish, asked me if what her neighbors had said were true. I filled her in on the Church's teaching, and explained that her neighbors were grossly misinformed.

Admittedly, both of my friend's neighbors are senior citizens and are probably overly influenced by what they may have heard 60 years ago. But this is less an excuse than it is a sad commentary on how poorly we have catechized adult Catholics over the years. Do they sleep through the Sunday readings and homily? Do they never read the parish bulletin or the diocesan newspaper? Or, perhaps more likely, are they what I call "semi-lapsed" Catholics who might occasionally stop by the church for a Saturday afternoon vigil Mass when they don't have a serious conflict like a late tee-time.

Let's hope and pray that our bishops, pastors, priests and deacons listen to the words of the synod and take the necessary steps to open the Scriptures to God's People.

To get a sense of what happened at the Synod, check out the US Bishops' website.

God's peace...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Catholics cooperating with evil

As Election Day approaches, more Catholic bishops have been acting like true shepherds and courageously speaking out on the inescapable fact that large numbers of Catholic voters will consciously cast their votes for openly pro-abortion politicians. Of course, the most evident of these is presidential candidate Barack Obama.

Dallas & Fort Worth. Two bishops who recently issued a strong statement on this are Bishop Kevin Farrell of Dallas and Bishop Kevin Vann of Forth Worth, who stated plainly that to vote for a pro-abortion candidate when there is an alternative available is to cooperate with evil. In a joint statement the bishops stated, "We cannot make more clear the seriousness of the overriding issue of abortion -- while not the 'only issue' -- it is the defining, moral issue, not only today, but of the last 35 years...This electoral cycle affords us an opportunity to promote the culture of life in our nation...As Catholics we are morally obligated to pray, to act and to vote to abolish the evil of abortion in America, limiting it as much as we can until it is finally abolished."

The bishops went on to say that, although voters must examine candidates' positions on many critical issues, "...let us be clear: Issues of prudential judgment are not morally equivalent to issues involving intrinsic evils. No matter how right a given candidate is on any of these issues, it does not outweigh a candidate's unacceptable position in favor of an intrinsic evil or the protection of 'abortion rights.'"

And that's not all. In the event Catholic voters didn't fully understand the above, the bishops said, "To vote for a candidate who supports the intrinsic evil of abortion or 'abortion rights' when there is a morally acceptable alternative would be to cooperate in the evil -- and, therefore, morally impermissible." They concluded their statement by reminding voters that their decisions may affect their individual salvation.

To read the bishops' complete statement, click here.

Denver. In a recent speech Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver made some very blunt comments about Barack Obama and the Democrat Party platform. Speaking as a private citizen and author, the archbishop stated, "...the party platform Senator Obama runs on this year is not only aggressively 'pro-choice," it has also removed any suggestion that killing an unborn child might be a regrettable thing. On the question of homicide against the unborn child -- and let's remember that the great Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer [who was murdered by Hitler in the final days of World war II] explicitly called abortion 'murder' -- the Democrat platform that emerged from Denver in August 2008 is clearly anti-life." The archbishop also called Senator Obama the "most committed 'abortion rights' presidential candidate...since the Roe v. Wade abortion decision in 1973."

To read more about Archbishop Chaput's comments, click here.

Kansas City-St. Joseph Missouri. Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph, in his column in the diocesan newspaper, has asked the people of his diocese to join him in prayer in advance of the upcoming election.

Bishop Finn begins by quoting the choice Moses offered God's People (Deut 30:19): "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live." He then goes on to quote Pope Benedict XVI: "The fundamental human right, the presupposition of every other right, is the right to life itself. This is true of life from the moment of conception until its natural end. Abortion, consequently, cannot be a human right - it is the very opposite. It is 'a deep wound in society.'"

The bishop asks his flock to pray, to pray for the protection of human life. He asks them to pray the Rosary and to invoke "the Guardian Angels of 47 million babies lost through abortion in our country in the last thirty-five years." He asks them not only to pray but to "make some sacrifices for our country." To read Bishop Finn's entire column (Oct. 24), click here.

Our bishops are finally speaking out strongly in defense of life. Perhaps they have come to realize they have nothing to fear, that their task as bishops is to work for the salvation of those under their care. Bishop Finn in his latest column (Oct. 31) states this clearly when he writes, "What is at stake in this battle is our immortal soul, our salvation. My responsibility as bishop is with the eternal destiny of those entrusted to my care. My total energies must be directed to the well being of those who otherwise may come under the spell of a radically flawed and fundamentally distorted moral sense, at odds with what our Mother the Church teaches. There are objective and transcendent truths. There is such a thing as right and wrong. There is a legitimate hierarchy of moral evils, and the direct willful destruction of human life can never be justified; it can never be supported. Do you believe this firm teaching of the Church?"

Pray for our Holy Father and our bishops, that they continue to speak out courageously in defense of life.

God's peace...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Did they really say that?

Browsing some of my favorite websites this morning I encountered some interesting comments that I believe are worth sharing. They represent the not so wise utterances of some very confused people, but each in its own way helps us understand the nature of the battle we face in a world increasingly hostile to the Church and its teachings.

"No human being can ever be God, and Jesus was a human being. It is as simple as that."

The most interesting thing about this comment is that it was made by an Australian Catholic priest, Fr. Peter Dresser. The comment comes from a booklet written by Fr. Dresser. The booklet, which inexplicably is for sale at several parishes in Brisbane, goes on to deny the virgin birth and a number of other truths included in the Nicene Creed. Indeed, if one denies the divinity of Jesus Christ, one must also deny the Trinity itself. And so, it seems to me that a priest who publicly denies the foundational beliefs of our Catholic Faith can safely be labeled a heretic and should be sent on his way. If you would like to read more about the alleged reverend,
click here.

"Justice Breyer has devoted his life to the public good...[He is] a brilliant, influential, and path-breaking scholar...[whose] opinions have been marked by thoughtfulness, balance, rigor and a commitment to justice and liberty. He has been an eloquent and forceful champion of judicial integrity."

These words, praising Supreme Court Justice Stephen G. Breyer, whose decisions have consistently supported the evil of abortion, were made by William G. Treanor, dean of the law school at Fordham University in New York. The occasion was the university's award of its 2008 Fordham-Stein Ethics Prize to Justice Breyer. In case you don't know or have forgotten, Fordham is reportedly a Catholic university run by the Jesuits.

Cardinal Egan, Archbishop of New York, strongly and publicly opposed the university's action but was rebuffed by the school. Fordham went ahead and presented the award to Breyer in a private ceremony. So much for listening to your bishop...

It is so sad to witness the virtual apostasy of so many of our once-Catholic universities. I attended Georgetown University for one year in 1962, before accepting a congressional appointment to the Naval Academy. Back then, almost a half-century ago, Jesuit-run universities like Georgetown and Fordham were still Catholic and would never have considered giving an "ethics" award to someone who strongly opposed Church teaching on such a fundamental issue as the sacredness of human life. I've come to believe that the only reason schools like Fordham still call themselves "Catholic" is to fool the parents of future students who continue to pay big bucks under the mistaken belief that their children will actually receive what was once called a "Catholic education."

To read the full story on Fordham's award to Justice Breyer, click here.

“From…the persecution of homosexuals under Nazis to today…full equality for gay and lesbian couples has not been achieved…there are forces which even would like to roll back what has been achieved.”

This comment, in essence comparing those who oppose same-sex marriage to Hitler's Nazis, was made by Germany’s Consul General in San Francisco, Rolf Schuette. Schuette was defending
German Federal Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries who, along with Schuette, has campaigned actively in California to defeat Proposition 8, the state's voter initiative to defend traditional marriage. That a diplomat and a cabinet-level government official from another nation would interfere so blatantly in an American domestic matter is unbelievable...well, it would be if it weren't such a politically correct issue. It's also interesting that the above comment would be made by a German whose parents and grandparents probably lifted their arms in Nazi salutes. Is this a case of overcompensation?

To read more about the Germans and California's Proposition 8, click here.

"It's too dangerous for you to come out as gay to your superiors, but I believe that if you work for the ordination of women in your church, you will go a long way toward opening the door for the acceptance of gay priests."

This comment was made by openly homosexual Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson at a "confidential retreat" he claims to have conducted for homosexual Catholic priests a few years ago. According to Robinson, the retreat was attended by 75 Catholic priests who did so without notifying their bishops or religious superiors. The most interesting thing about his comment is that, as far as I can see, "gay priests" are already pretty widely accepted by far too many bishops. In many dioceses in the US, open and active homosexuality among large numbers of priests is simply overlooked by their bishops who have no intention of ensuring that future seminarians are not homosexuals.

Click here to read how the secular press (AP) covered this "story."

I think that's enough. Perhaps tomorrow I'll share a few of the wiser comments I encountered on my brief cyber-journey.

Do not despair. No matter how we try to frustrate His will, God is always in charge. His will be done.

Thank God for today, and don't worry about tomorrow.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

New Americans

We're up in Massachusetts now, visiting the kids and grandkids, and not at all appreciative of the colder weather. The change in temperature really didn't hit home until this morning when we left the hotel, got into the rental car, and discovered that the windows were covered with a nice layer of ice. Naturally we didn't have a scraper, so we had to wait 10 minutes for the defroster to do its work. This only reinforced our comfort with our decision to move to Florida five years ago. Tomorrow should be warmer; they predict a high near 60. Whoopee!

We didn't fly up here to complain about the weather, though. One of the primary reasons for our trip was to attend a naturalization ceremony, which was held yesterday at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston. It was our first visit to the library, even though we lived in Massachusetts for 25 years. Of course, I was never a big Kennedy fan, so I suppose I just didn't consider a visit to be a major priority. But that's all irrelevant. The ceremony was absolutely wonderful.
220 new Americans were sworn in as citizens of the USA in the presence of their proud families and friends. Among them was our son-in-law, Airton, a native of Brazil, and a fine young man. He's not only the husband of our elder daughter, Erin, but also the father of four of our grandchildren. And we are suitably proud of him for his decision to become an American citizen. His sister-in-law (our other daughter, Siobhan) and her husband felt compelled to give him one of those big Uncle Sam hats and, not surprisingly, Airton plopped it right down on his formerly Brazilian head.

The new citizens were a remarkable cross section of humanity. They came from 60 different countries and ranged from 20-somethings to mid-eighties. After the ceremony I approached one of the latter, an elderly woman from Latin American who I discovered was 84 years old. When I asked if I could take her picture, she just beamed a said, "Yes, yes, please do." She wore a rosary around her neck and proudly displayed her new certificate of citizenship. I'm sorry I didn't catch her name, but I thought I'd post her picture anyway. Truly a wonderful day for everyone involved.

It's now Friday and I'm sitting at our daughter's kitchen table watching four of our grandchildren prepare for an evening of trick or treating in their Cape Cod neighborhood. Halloween, of course, means that tomorrow is All Saints Day. Wouldn't it be wonderful if everyone took some time tomorrow to ask their patron saint to intercede on behalf of our country as we approach election day?
Just think of it: all of heaven asking God to bless this nation as it chooses its next president. Just a thought.

And take a moment tomorrow to let someone know that God loves them.

Blessings...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Wildwood Soup Kitchen

As a deacon, one of the ministries in which I'm actively involved is the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, located, appropriately enough, in Wildwood, Florida. An ecumenical ministry operated exclusively by volunteers (almost 150 volunteers from 30+ local churches), the soup kitchen will serve approximately 60,000 meals this year.

I'm the current president of the board of directors, but my most fulfilling job is working as a kitchen flunky every Thursday under the firm and knowledgeable supervision of my wife, Diane, who happens to be the Thursday cook. All of our cooks are wonderful, but Diane, a native Floridian, knows how to satisfy those Southern appetites with good home cookin'. Today's main course, Brunswick Stew, received rave reviews.

I'm especially proud of the fact that the soup kitchen accepts no government funds or materials and is completely dependent on donations of money, food, equipment, and services from individuals, businesses, churches and local civic and neighborhood associations. What a blessing that so many are willing to help the hungry, the poor and the lonely. As you might imagine, fundraising has turned into my most time-consuming task.

Today was a record day for us. We served 134 meals to walk-ins and delivered 125 meals to those unable to get to the kitchen for a variety of reasons. It's one of those records that I hope will remain unbroken. Unfortunately, given the uneven state of the economy these days I suspect we will continue to serve large numbers of people daily.

This is a wonderful ministry, and I recommend it to anyone who wants to take a more active role in doing God's work by fulfilling the Gospel mandate to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, and welcome the stranger. [See Matthew 24:35.] We feed anyone who walks in the door looking for a meal. No one asks to see a 1040 or W-2. We just feed the hungry.

If you'd like to view my latest PowerPoint presentation on the soup kitchen, click here. We also have a website: http://www.wildwoodsoupkitchen.com/

I'll take some time every so often to fill you in on some of the ministries I'm involved in with the hope that someone reading this might listen more attentively to God's call to love Him and their neighbor.

Blessings and God's Peace...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

More politics? Praise and thanksgiving at the jail.

No matter how I try to focus on other issues, I keep coming back to politics and the upcoming election. I suppose I should actually say current election, since here in Florida the polls opened this morning for early voting. Personally, I'll be glad when it's all over, but until then...

Some interesting things transpired in recent days. Archbishop Chaput of Denver argued that several prominent Catholics who have publicly supported Barack Obama "have done a disservice to the Church, confused the natural priorities of Catholic social teaching, undermined the progress pro-lifers have made, and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue instead of fighting within their parties and at the ballot box to protect the unborn." Wow! I've always found the Archbishop to be sensible and clear-thinking, but now have to add courageous as well. (That's the Archbishop's photo above.)


Naturally his comments didn't go unnoticed by those in the hierarchy who would like abortion to just "go away" so they wouldn't have to apologize constantly for their favorite politicians. One bishop who disagrees with Archbishop Chaput is Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Gabino Zavala who remarked that all those fervent anti-abortion Catholics are "mistaken" because the Catholic Church isn't a one-issue church. He wants Catholics to consider all issues, including economic issues that affect people's lives. Presumably, he believes that something like abortion would be trumped by these other issues.

Of course, all of this only leads to a confused Catholic citizenry. And the source of all the confusion, in addition to the politicians themselves, is the muddled statement of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on voting, Faithful Citizenship, that allegedly instructs Catholics on how to weigh critical issues when making decisions in the voting booth. Naturally, like most documents driven by the need to compromise, Faithful Citizenship, will only confuse any Catholic voter who takes the document seriously. After reading the document one can make a case for placing the willful destruction of 50 million innocent unborn children on a par with economic policies that negatively impact the lives of single mothers. This can be inferred because the document refuses to tell Catholics that they should never vote for any politician who supports abortion. I like the comment by Bishop Martino of Scranton, who tried to place things in proper perspective when he said, "No social issue has caused the death of 50 million people." He then went on to let his flock know that the USCCB document, Faithful Citizenship, is not relevant in his diocese. Way to go, Bishop!

Here in Florida we have the opportunity to vote on a state constitutional amendment that will define marriage as a bond between only a man and a woman. I feel confident that it will pass, but I've been fooled before.

I spent the afternoon at our county jail sharing God's Word and His Love with the inmates. I spoke to them about grace, that wonderful undeserved gift of God that keeps our faith alive, gives us hope, and allows us to do God's will in the world by loving Him and each other. They appeared to respond well to what I shared with them. And they certainly enjoyed singing all those hymns when we made our joyful noise unto the Lord. Interestingly, not one of the inmates -- not a single man or woman -- ever mentioned the elections. It's amazing, isn't it? I guess they had other things on their minds.

I suppose the best thing we can do at this point, other than doing our civic duty by voting, is to pray that God's will be done in all things, including elections.

Praise God and thank Him today for creating you.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Under-reported News

Persecution of Indian Christians. Perhaps one of the most under-reported news stories involves what is happening to Christians, and particularly to Catholics, in India. It's especially sad that this persecution is taking place in a nation frequently referred to as the "world's largest democracy" and is often carried out with the assistance of local police.

How bad is it? In just the past few weeks over 100 Christians have been murdered, 180 churches have been destroyed, and 4,500 homes have been burned to the ground. This has generated over 50,000 Christian refugees who are treated like criminals by the local police agencies.

Hindu fundamentalists are behind this persecution, which has apparently become almost methodical and even continues within the refugee camps set up to house the dispossessed Christians.

Pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in India, and pray for their persecutors.

For more details, read the story on AsiaNews.it -- click here.

Pope Benedict's Scripture Reading Marathon. On October 5, Pope Benedict XVI began a non-stop 7x24 Bible reading marathon that was fully covered on Italian television. While the Pope kicked off the marathon by reading Genesis 1, he was followed by over 1,200 different readers from all walks of life. Readers were not exclusively Catholic but also included those from a variety of Christian denominations as well as Jews and Muslims. The reading went on for six days. Click here for the CNS story.

When I first read the article about this wonderful event, the thing that immediately came to mind was that beautiful scene from Nehemiah 8 where Ezra and the Levites read the Scriptures to the Jews living in post-exilic Jerusalem. The result? The people listened and wept, and then, filled with remorse for their sinfulness and that of their fathers, they repented and confessed their sins. Ezra continued the readings during the seven days of the Feast of Booths. I suspect that our Holy Father had Ezra in mind. Let's pray that it may lead to similar results.

Tomorrow Diane and I join the diocese's other deacons on a continuing education weekend. I expect it will, as usual, be a valuable and pleasant experience. Keep us in your prayers.

Praise God for all things...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Campaigning without ideas

If you have turned on a television or a radio lately, you certainly know we're in the middle of political prime time. Maybe I've just forgotten what it was like in previous years, but it seems that we are being subjected to more political ads this time around than ever before. And not just a few more, but a lot more. They seem to run longer too. Some of them just go on and on telling us all kinds of things about the candidate or his opponent, mostly inconsequential things.

The trouble is, these are the very things upon which people tend to base their vote. Most people in their daily lives deal only with other people and events, and the political spin doctors know this. And so political ads focus on people and events. What you will almost never encounter in political ads are the very things that should be seriously weighed before voting: ideas.

Ideas, however, demand abstract thought, something in which most people have never engaged. Our educational system certainly doesn't encourage this kind of thinking, and neither do the task-oriented lives that most people lead. And so the politician appeals to the lowest level, attacking his opponent personally while depicting himself as a good guy or, at least, as a better guy. And when he tires of that he focuses on events and things, but he never talks about ideas for fear that millions of eyes and minds would glaze over.

Too bad, isn't it? Because ideas are what actually matter. Ideas, real philosophical ideas, will ultimately determine how the candidate will act once he's elected. And so the only way to judge a candidate with any accuracy is to understand the ideas that drive and influence him. If a candidate doesn't openly discuss these ideas, be suspicious. Pay no attention to his campaign promises or the happy family photos, but examine instead his record. By looking closely at a candidate's record a pattern of behavior will generally emerge, and from that pattern one can usually identify the ideas that motivate him. One can also learn more about a candidate's character from his record than from his words.

That's enough on the elections. Pray for all the candidates, even those you oppose. And don't forget to thank God for your being.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

...and things just get stranger.

I haven't posted much of late simply because I've been so busy. But even though I haven't written anything, I have pondered a few things. As a result of these rather random musings, I have become more firm in my conviction that the world we live in is insane.

Symptoms and problems. Since our return from Rome two weeks ago, much has happened to bolster this conviction. It seems like only yesterday (perhaps it was) that people's major concern was the rapidly increasing price of gasoline along with a corresponding decline of the dollar against the Euro. And so what's happened? The price of gasoline is falling like a rock and the dollar is gaining just as quickly. Why, then, aren't people happy? Because these seemingly positive reversals were brought about by some very unwelcome changes. And it's these changes, the disruptions in our worldwide financial system, that have become the new concern. Who's talking about the price of gas today? Who's celebrating the dollar's growing value?

Yes, we love to focus on the symptoms of our problems simply because we can all see them, we are all affected by them, and we all believe that if we only remove them, the problem will go away. It's also a lot easier to focus on today's very evident symptoms than to try to uncover the problem's root cause, which often enough was brought about by our own past stupidity. But, of course, the symptoms change over time as the problem worsens and so fighting symptoms is always a losing battle. That's one reason that price controls never work. They always address yesterday's symptoms, and therefore only generate new problems.

But I'm neither an economist nor a politician, so what do I know? And I really shouldn't enjoy watching all the supposedly smart people blame each other and make fools of themselves, but I can't help myself. It's such good entertainment.

God's Word and Prayer. At the Synod of Bishops currently taking place at the Vatican, the bishops are focusing on "The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church." One of the more interesting comments came from a bishop of an Eastern Catholic Church, Bishop George Punnakottil of India. Bishop Punnakottil is a bishop of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, which traces its origins back to the Apostle Thomas and is one of 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in full communion with Rome. The bishop, unhappy with the Synod's failure to address the spirituality of Eastern Catholics, made the point that Scripture is both historical and spiritual. He went on to say, "Reasoning is not enough. Spiritual contemplation of the Word is required. True theologians are true saints. Reading presupposes a state of prayer. Prayer illumines the mind to grasp what one reads. Reading of the Word should lead to the substantial Word, that is Jesus." I agree, and based on what Pope Benedict has written over the years, I'm pretty sure he would too. Unfortunately, I suspect many of our scriptural scholars would not. The good bishop from India is another example of the Catholic Church as a bastion of sanity. (The image is of the St. Thomas Cross, the official symbol of the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church.)

Oh, and here's some interesting information on the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church. The Church, to serve its 3,675,000 members, has 3,500 priests and 2,400 seminarians. They also have 30,000 women religious and about a thousand brothers. It would seem they're doing something right.

Portugal says "No!" The Portuguese parliament overwhelmingly defeated a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage. The proposal was supported by only a handful of far-left legislators from the Green Party and a far-left Bloc. Three cheers for Portugal and let's pray that they don't buckle under the pressure that will no doubt come from the European Union and the European courts. Click here for the AP story. Sanity still has a grip in Portugal...if not in the place of my birth, Connecticut.

Electoral hatred. Last week I asked a parishioner why he planned to vote for Senator Obama. (He had an Obama bumper sticker on his car.) His answer was telling: "Because I hate Bush." Here again we brush up against insanity, the kind of thinking that takes a single irrational idea (hatred of another human being) and makes it the driving force behind one's actions and decisions. Because the president cannot run for office, this man is unable to express his hatred of George Bush in any meaningful way, so he compounds his insanity by joining other Bush-haters in their opposition to...not George Bush, but John McCain. Go figure.

Pope Pius XII. I can think of no man who has been the object of more vicious slander than Pope Pius XII. The revisionist historians (aka, liars) have rewritten history in an attempt to portray this saintly, courageous pope as an anti-Semite and Nazi collaborator. Fortunately, his defenders, particularly his Jewish defenders, are fighting back against the bigots (the insane bigots) and telling the world the truth about this wonderful man. Click here for some current insight. If you want to read a complete intereview of Paolo Mieli, a secular Jewish journalist, that appeared in the Vatican's newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, click here.

And yet, despite all the insanity, the Lord of History remains in charge...Praise God!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Photos of Rome

OK, I've placed almost 100 of the photos I took while in Rome on flickr.com. If you want to view them, click here. Then, click on "Slide Show" if you want to view them all. Or can you go directly to the slide show by clicking here.

I'll probably add more soon.

I hope you enjoy them.

God's peace...

Monday, September 29, 2008

Photos of Rome

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I actually took about 1,200 photos when we were in Rome. This, of course, wouldn't have happened ten years ago, before the advent of the digital camera. But now, armed with my trusty Canon Digital Rebel SLR and a few extra lenses, I can take hundreds of photos without worrying about the cost of film. I can take multiple exposures of the same subject and simply select the best later; and I can even improve on the original photo thanks to the powerful software on my PC. All in all a wonderful innovation. Unfortunately, because I took so many photos, it's taking me a while to go through them all and select some of the more interesting ones for inclusion on the blog. I hope to post some later this week. I might even add a few photos retroactively to some of the postings from Rome. We'll see...

No time to write much today. One of our sons is visiting and requires entertaining and I have a Bible Study and liturgy course to prepare. Busy week...

Just remember to take a moment to thank God for creating you.

Praise God.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Elections and Disintegration

The above is a strange title but it's just the outcome of a some equally strange thoughts that bubbled up in my brain earlier today as I thought about our upcoming presidential election. It really started a few evenings ago when I was thinking about what took place in Greece -- specifically in Athens -- about 2,500 years ago.

Athens, for a good three or four hundred years, was a pretty marvelous place. Ordinary citizens were given a major role in the political life of Athenian society. The creative genius of the people flourished in this open atmosphere, a creativity from which we still benefit today. But something went wrong, as something always goes wrong with every society. Athens, faced with overcrowding and subsistence farming, expanded overseas through colonization. And then there was the remarkable victory over the Persians. With these events came a marked change in societal attitudes, a change driven by pride and greed. Moral leadership cannot exist once pride and greed take hold. And so the still seemingly great Athens found itself facing the revolt of its neighbors led by Sparta. During the Peloponnesian Wars hatred and injustice and barbarity led to a steady loss of freedom and creativity. Ultimately, the old Athens disappeared, becoming just one more nation that crumbled into nothingness as a result of war and violence.

Not a pleasant story but it got me thinking about our own nation. Internally we have lost any sense of morality and with it the moral leadership our nation once exerted. The best example, of course, is how we murder our unborn babies at a horrific rate, discarding their tiny torn bodies in the garbage. And there is virtually no outrage over this. Oh, some politicians call themselves pro-life and wring their hands publicly -- particularly at election time -- over the "issue" but do absolutely nothing.

Sadly, the Catholic Church in America is in pretty much the same state. Yes, some bishops write pastoral letters and occasional editorials in their diocesan newspapers on the evils of abortion, but that's about it. Most still schmooze with the pro-abortion politicians (especially the Catholic ones) and talk a lot about "conscience" and "seamless garments" and "a multitude of critical issues." But in their moral cowardice they seem far more concerned about capital campaigns and maintaining their tax-exempt status than they are about the modern slaughter of the innocents going on right under their noses.

I wonder what a bishop thinks when he realizes that his Catholic flock votes for pro-abortion politicians at virtually the same rate as the rest of the population. Does this bother him? Does he think that perhaps he's not doing what Christ commanded him to do? Or does he just write it off as another symptom of societal change over which he really has little control? And how about Massachusetts, a state that I believe is at least 50% Catholic, voting for homosexual marriage? The bishops of Massachusetts should be embarrassed and ashamed. Of course, when bishops turn a blind eye to blatant homosexuality among some of their priests, I suspect the average layperson won't care much about a radical redefinition of the sacred bond of marriage.

And greed? Oh, my, do we have greed. Indeed, it seems that our economy now runs and thrives on greed. No return is high enough. No profit big enough. No lottery payoff great enough. No government program or handout expansive enough. Yes, as greed eventually pervades every level of society it destroys a nation just as effectively as a devastating war. Indeed, national collective greed usually leads to war because of the hatred it engenders in others. And to think that some people don't believe in original sin.

No society can long survive this massive loss of moral direction. When the good is redefined as that which is most useful and when justice becomes that which serves the current special interest -- when these things happen, the society is in serious decline.

That's why this election will be so critical and so interesting. I don't know whether our nation will or can restore itself to what it once was, or remake itself into something else, something different but good. I suspect not. I'm neither smart enough nor prescient enough to call that one. But it would appear we're at a crossroads of sorts, because the choice facing us as Americans is a real choice. It's not a perfect choice, because no choice between two human beings is ever perfect, but it is nevertheless a real choice between a culture of life and a culture of death. I believe that the Lord of History is giving us an opportunity to redeem ourselves as a nation, to do as Moses commanded God's chosen people: to choose life.

I hope we make that choice. Pray for our nation, for those we have elected to office, for our judges. And pray for our bishops that they have the courage to be true shepherds.

Now that I've criticized those bishops who have avoided criticizing our anti-life politicians, I should thank the bishops of Florida for their election year statement reminding us that we may not in good conscience vote for candidates who consistently support intrinsic evils like abortion. I'm also pleased to note that the bishops of Kansas City published a similar joint pastoral letter on the upcoming election. Click here for the EWTN news story. Let's hope that the pastors of Florida's parishes, along with those of the archdiocese of Kansas City and the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, listen to and preach the bishops' words from the pulpit. Click here for the complete pastoral letter. And we should also thank our US bishops for their public corrections of the grossly inaccurate comments of two pro-abortion politicians, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. Sadly, correction seems to have no impact on those who place politics above all else, even the lives of innocents and their own salvation. One more piece of good news is the talk Bishop Jaime Soto gave to the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries. Read the story here.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic, because I'm not. Despite all these worldly concerns -- and the rise and fall of governments and nations are truly worldly concerns -- we can look to the future with hope, because we have a loving God who is always in charge, a God who is true to His promises. Yes, being here in the world today is a good thing. Give God thanks for the fact of your being.

Oh, yes...one more thing: Check out the website CatholicVote.com. It's worth a visit.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back Home Again...

Although we've been home for several days, it's taken us that long to fully recover from the jet lag and the fact that we really took no downtime after our trip. Trying to hit the ground running the day after one's return from a trip abroad is not something I would recommend...especially at my age.

In any event, before I delve into deeper subjects, I thought it would be well to describe our last day in Rome. So here goes...

One church I badly wanted to visit was St. Cecilia in Trastevere. On our last visit to Rome in 2005 we tried to see the church, but it was closed for renovations and all we could do was view its exterior. So this time we did our homework and made sure the church was open for visitors.

First we took our trusty tourist bus to its first stop, Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of Rome's oldest churches. We stopped by for a brief look, and once inside wished we had more time. Like many Roman churches it's been rebuilt several times, and if I remember correctly, the existing Romanesque church was built in the 12th century. Of particular interest are the beautiful 13th century mosaics by Cavallini. One could spend hours enjoying them and the other marvels hidden in this wonderful church...but time (and the fact that rain threatened) didn't permit more than a brief visit. As you can see in the photo, Diane did have time to light a candle and offer prayers for special intentions.

And so we walked on through the winding, narrow streets of Trastevere (aided by my TomTom handheld GPS) and made our way to St. Cecilia. What a treat this was!

One of the most moving works of art in the church is the sculpture of St. Cecilia displayed under the main altar just over her tomb. The sculpture, by Stefano Maderno, shows Cecilia's incorrupt body positioned just as it was when it was exhumed from her grave in the 16th century. Cecilia, of course, is the patron saint of music. Given the state of music in the Church today, perhaps we should send some intercessory prayers her way.

We also visited the crypt where the saint is buried as well as the adjacent excavations beneath the church. The church was built over a 2nd century Roman home (thought to be the home of Cecilia and her husband, Valerian) and the home has been remarkably well restored by the archaeologists responsible for the excavations. It is truly worth a visit.

As we left the church we stopped by the neighboring convent where (for a small fee) we went upstairs and were able to view Cavallini's "Last Judgment" -- a remarkable medieval painting on a wall of the convent. This is another "must-see" in Trastevere. The photo is of the Church of St. Cecilia.

By this time our feet were getting tired and it had started to rain. Our thoughts were also beginning to turn to food and so we decided to search for a restaurant. The one we settled on was a nice, little restaurant that obviously caters to the locals but still warmly welcomes tourists like us. The meal was good, as was the wine. It's name is Hostaria Dar Buttero and it's located at Via della Lungaretta, 156. I recommend it.

Earlier we had thought about spending the afternoon at the Forum, but the increasingly heavy rain convinced us to shelve that idea and save it for a later trip. We took the bus back to St. Peter's and from there walked in the rain to our hotel where we enjoyed a nice afternoon nap. The evening was spent packing, enjoying a last dinner at our favorite local restaurant, and then to bed in preparation for our 4:30 a.m. wake-up.

The trip home, like every long, non-first class flight was semi-miserable, although British Air did their best to make it as endurable as possible.

I am still going through the 1,200 photos I took and will post a few on the blog in the coming days.

All in all, dear Diane and I had a wonderful trip, but it is, as always, good to be back home in the USA.

God love you...