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!


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Storms, Grandchildren, Politics

It's been over a week since I posted anything on the blog, and it will likely be another week before I do so again. With four little grandchildren in the house and large storms on either side of our "sunshine" state, I've been a wee bit preoccupied. Our daughter and the little ones fly back to New England on Wednesday which will give Diane and me a week to prepare for our trip to Rome.

Our hope is that neither Gustav nor Hannah will cause any more damage or loss of life. I've been through many hurricanes in my life (indeed, I was born in the middle of one), and I really don't want to go through another. Pray for those who are in the paths of these violent storms.

One political note (and politics is something I won't often address on this blog): I'm pleased to see that John McCain chose a strong pro-life woman as his running mate. I suspect that his choice of Governor Palin may well result in abortion becoming the major "issue" in the upcoming election. Although I've always believed that we will not eliminate the plague of abortion by political means, and that it will require a collective change of heart by the American people, politics can certainly be an effective way to ensure abortion isn't swept under the national rug.

Praise God, love God, and love His people...,

Friday, August 22, 2008

Rain & Rain, Children & Grandchildren

If Florida has learned one thing these past few days, it's that you can have too much rain, even after a draught. Maybe another lesson is: be careful what you pray for.

Tropical storm Fay apparently decided it liked our state so much that it intends to hang out here for an extended period of time. Here in The Villages it hasn't been too bad, but some communities over on the east coast have been inundated with over two feet of rainfall. As you might imagine, flooding has been a major problem and driven many from their homes. Pray for them.

Our household suffers from only a minor problem: the fact the our four grandchildren have been cooped up in the house for almost their entire visit. For little ones, seven and under, this isn't an easy thing (and, trust me, it's no picnic for the adults either). We've managed to get them to the neighborhood pool one day, and have made several excursions to the local Walmart, but that's been about it. And so we're hopeful that the remaining 11 days of their visit will include at least a few sunny days so we can venture out to see the alligators and manatees.

The Census Bureau recently released a not so sunny report claiming that an increasing number of women in their 40s are childless and that in general women are having fewer children. This, of course, should not be a surprise to anyone who has been following the demographic trends in Western Europe. It would seem that, as a people, we in the West, who once proudly called our civilization, "Christendom," are now committing a form of slow suicide.

The report, based on a 2006 American Community Survey, includes another interesting but depressing statistic. It seems that 28 percent of children born in 2005 were born to mothers who had never been married. And so not only are we gradually wiping out what's left of our civilization by not having a sufficient number of children to replace those who die, but a growing number of us apparently believe marriage and the traditional family are irrelevant. If you'd like to view the entire report (PDF file), click here. Like most statistical reports spewed out by government agencies, it's tedious and chock full of numbers that can lead to all sorts of erroneous conclusions...so have fun.

Today Pope Benedict did something particularly moving. He spoke publicly about his older brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, during a ceremony at which he presented his brother with the honorary citizenship to Castel Gandolfo, the town of the Pope's summer residence. "He has always shown me the path to take, also in difficult situations," the Pope said. "My brother has mentioned the fact that we have arrived at the last stage of our life, old age. The days of life are reduced progressively...But also in this stage my brother helps me to accept with serenity, humility and courage the burden of each day. I thank him."

This brief address at this little ceremony, an event that will probably be ignored by the secular press, offers real insight into Pope Benedict's naturally humble nature. In Benedict we have a Pope with the courage to accept the awesome mantle of papal responsibility, but with the humility to know that no man is worthy of the honor of being Christ's Vicar in earth. And in his humility he credits his older brother as one who guided him throughout his life: "From the beginning of my life," the Pope said, "my brother has always been not only a companion to me but also a guide worthy of trust."

It was this humility that so impressed me when I had my brief encounter with the then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger back in 2000. That he would stop and chat with me, a semi-crazed American deacon, for five minutes on a Roman street was remarkable. But that he actually seemed interested in what I had to say and even posed for a photograph with me is further evidence of the kindness of this man. Then, a month later, when I sent him a copy of the photograph which had appeared in an article in our diocesan newspaper, he responded with a lovely personal letter that I cherish to this day.

And so, Pope Benedict teaches us even through life's simple events. He teaches us that the family matters, that every man, no matter his position, owes much to others who have helped and guided him along the way. It has caused me to recall those who helped and guided me throughout my life. I think tomorrow I'll send those who are still alive notes of thanks.

Oh, yes, and like the Holy Father, I'll thank our loving and merciful God who has given us everything.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

On Death Camps, Hope and Love

Last week, at his general audience at Castel Gandolfo, Pope Benedict focused on two 20th Century martyrs, St. Teresa Benedicta (Edith Stein) and St. Maximilian Mary Kolbe, who both suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz, Poland. I was particularly struck by one the Holy Father's comments: "It would seem that their existence could be regarded as a defeat, but it is precisely in their martyrdom that the brilliance of Love shines which conquers the darkness of egoism and hatred. Attributed to St. Maximilian Kolbe are the following words which it is said he pronounced at the height of the Nazi persecution: 'Hatred is not a creative force: Love alone is.'"

His comments had special meaning to me because of an experience I had back in 1951, when I was just a lad of seven. My father, an Army Reserve officer, was recalled to active duty and sent to Germany. My mom, my older brother and I joined him soon afterwards in Heidelberg where we lived "on the economy" in a fourth-floor, walk-up, cold-water flat on a little street called Schlosserestrasse -- quite a change from our nice, suburban home in Larchmont, NY. It was an interesting experience. I attended school in a tiny one-room schoolhouse run by Frau Scharmer, a lovely young teacher. As I recall there were about a dozen students, and I was one of two Americans. The other was a girl of eight -- an older woman. I avoided her.

This was in 1951-52, so the war was by no means a distant memory. Germany, along with much of the rest of Europe, was still digging out from under the rubble and, with the help of the Marshall Plan, was rebuilding its devastated infrastructure and at the same time building a new nation.

My father, who believed that a person learned as well from experience as from formal education, took us on frequent short trips to help us experience the country and its people. On one trip to Munich, he decided we should visit Dachau, one of the notorious concentration camps where so many perished. Some might think it cruel and abusive to take young children to such a place with its crematoria and mass graves and bleak barracks, but believe me I have often thanked my dad for the experience. Although many of my childhood memories are vague and indistinct, I can recall those few hours at Dachau with remarkable clarity. And if I learned anything from that day in Dachau it was the same lesson stressed by Pope Benedict: that hatred only destroys, and that God's love is the only true creative force.

It seems odd to me that Auschwitz and Dachau and the Gulags and 911 and the myriad other examples of man's capacity for hatred and cruelty lead so many people to question the existence of a loving God. To me these are instead proofs of it. Left to our own devices we would have destroyed ourselves long ago. It is only through the love and mercy of God that we are able to survive and overcome the effects of original sin . And such martyrs as Teresa and Maximilian and the countless others who preceded and followed them are beacons of hope to the world, outward manifestations of God's love and its power to transform us all...if only we let it.

Storm update: It would seem that Fay has wimped out...thanks be to God. We will likely get lots of needed rainfall, accompanied perhaps by some moderate winds -- just enough bad weather to intensify the grandchildren's cabin fever, but mild enough to keep us all safe and sound. Life is good. Being is good.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Storms, Papal Fur...

Imagine being stuck in a relatively modest retirement home with four grandchildren aged 1 to 7 awaiting the arrival of a tropical storm (and possible hurricane). Well, that's exactly the position I'm in. The youngest (Eduardo) is taking a nap while the other three watch some strange cartoon DVD. Mom and Grandma are out shopping for the staples needed to replenish the larder before the storm arrives. And I'm sitting in my comfortable overstuffed chair typing away while listening to Handel on my noise-canceling headphones. Somehow I can't picture our ancestors doing anything similar with a storm bearing down on them. Of course our ancestors wouldn't have known a storm was approaching until it was almost upon them. Which is worse, suffering through the week-long Weather Channel hype as the forecasters salivate over the possibility of reporting on another destructive storm, or being blindsided by a hurricane that seemingly comes out of the blue? Obviously the latter, but all the TV hype still irritates. And naturally we hope and pray that Fay changes course and either blows harmlessly out to sea or just peters out and simply provides our southern states with some needed rainfall. The photo shows the four little ones, obviously very nervous about the upcoming storm, gathered in that same comfortable, overstuffed chair.

Here's an interesting one that just reinforces the conviction that insanity reigns among a vocal if insignificant portion of the population. The animal "rights" folks in Italy petitioned Pope Benedict asking him to stop wearing any of the traditional papal fur-lined garments. Doing so would, they believe, be a sign of "love and peace to give a strong signal towards the protection of animals and the environment through a small but very significant personal sacrifice." (See CNS story.) But the best part is a response by Cardinal Andrea Cordero Lanza di Montezemolo (Apostolic Nuncio Emeritus to Italy) : "There are human beings who merit more urgent assistance that no one is taking care of. And if we eat animals, we can wear them." Well said, Eminence.

Brief post today. Grandchildren call and hatches must be battened down.

Love the Lord and pray for His people.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Grandchildren...and Interesting Things

Once again it's early morning, probably the only truly quiet time in our home...at least for a few weeks. You see, one of our daughters and four of our grandchildren are visiting us here in Florida and this makes for a more lively environment than Diane and I are used to. But we love every minute of it.

The little guys, three boys and one girl who range in age from 1 1/2 to 7, are a true joy and full of wonderful surprises. And what surprises me most are their differences. These four, tiny human beings, raised and nurtured by the same parents and spoiled by the same grandparents, have four completely different personalities. This can be only the outcome of an act of God, a God who revels in the variety of His creation. And they are such angelic little people that I sometimes find myself just staring at them in wonder and marveling at the simple fact of their existence. This, in itself, is proof enough for me that we are created by God and are not the products of some cosmic lottery, that we didn't evolve from some primordial slime. No, these beautiful children are not the mere accidents of an unthinking "nature"; rather they can be only the result of the conscious creation of a loving God. And for this we thank Him and praise Him.

And when these four little ones return home to Cape Cod, Diane and I will await the arrival of our other two equally beautiful grandchildren...soon, we hope.

A few more interesting things...

I facilitate a parish Bible study and in the course of it always seem to be apologizing for the arrogance expressed by some of our Catholic scriptural scholars who, blinded by their academic arrogance, seem to believe that they are so much smarter than St. Paul or St. Peter or the early Church Fathers. But some apparently believe they are even smarter than Jesus. Here's something I can across the other evening while browsing on Catholic World News:
The Liturgical Press of Collegeville, Minnesota, whose lectionary commentaries are used across the USA, has this comment on the Gospel for June 21: "First-century Christians lived a simpler life....Jesus, however, could hardly imagine the pressures of a twenty-first century world."

You can almost hear the subtext struggling to break free from this ridiculous comment: Yes, if only Jesus could have appreciated the oh so difficult challenges we 21st century Christians face, I'm sure he wouldn't have been so unyielding in his teachings, so narrow in his views of morality. But Jesus was really just a simple country boy from Galilee so how can we expect him to have understood the subtle complexities of our more sophisticated lives today?

Such thinking will naturally lead to the rationalizing of...well, anything. We need only say that Jesus simply didn't understand, and that if He were alive today He would surely support __________ (fill in the blank). Of course, what this says about their belief in the eternal divinity of Jesus Christ is an entirely other matter.

Fortunately, we have a truly scholarly Pope who is unafraid to take on these so-called scholars. Pray for him.

Another interesting liturgical item is the latest directive from the Congregation for Divine Worship ruling that the Name of God, commonly rendered as "Yahweh," should not be pronounced in the Catholic liturgy. The new directive reminds bishops that in the Hebrew tradition, which the early Christians adopted, the faithful avoided pronouncing the Name of God., which "as an expression of the infinite greatness and majesty of God, it was held to be unpronounceable."

The directive states that authorized Catholic translations of the Bible reflect the Hebrew tradition and that liturgical language should adhere carefully to the Scriptural texts, so that the Word of God is "conserved and transmitted in an integral and faithful manner."

The ruling requires no changes in the language of liturgy, since the Name of God is not spelled out in any authorized translation of the Roman Missal; however some hymns will obviously be inappropriate for liturgical use. Let's hope our liturgists and music directors can cope.

It is, of course, a wonderful ruling if only because it reminds the faithful of the majesty of our God, the Creator of all existence. Praise Him.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympics, translations, good Knights, Roman birthdays...

I've become one of those people who greets the Olympic games with a yawn. I wasn't always that way. I can recall being glued to the TV screen, fascinated by the enthusiasm and spirit of the amateur athletes who once competed in these games. In those days -- 30 or more years ago -- they all seemed happy just to be there. I hope it's still that way for most of today's Olympic athletes, but I somehow doubt it. Something has happened along the way. The Olympics have become as professional as the NFL and NBA. With the exception of those who compete in the few obscure sports that lack the following needed for sponsors and media attention, many Olympic athletes are now paid professionals and many of these are very highly paid indeed. The members of our basketball, tennis, hockey, and volleyball teams are all professionals, as are many of our track and field athletes. Somehow I find it difficult to cheer wildly for a team of millionaires as they compete against some third-world team that had to scrape together the money for their airfare.

Remember the Jamaican bobsled team? How could anyone root against those guys? And what about the "miracle on ice," the remarkable victories of the United States ice hockey team over the Soviet Union and Finland in 1980? Although some members on that team went on to play in the NHL, they were just college kids at the time, playing for the love of the sport. I'm afraid those days are gone forever. Of course we do have Lopez Lomong, the US flag bearer from the Sudan, Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, and the other swimmers...

The other thing that bothers me about the Olympics are the accompanying ceremonies that increasingly resemble pagan or new age religious rites. One can only pray that one day the entire world will have as much respect for the Eucharist as it seems to have for the Olympic torch.

Enough grumbling, or I'll risk turning into a curmudgeon. Anyway, I won't have time to watch much of this year's summer Olympics since our elder daughter and four of our grandchildren arrive Wednesday. I'll have better, un-curmudgeonlike things to do.

And speaking of better things, I'm pleased to see that the Vatican's Congregation for Divine Worship has approved the new English translation of the Order of the Mass. From what I've read so far, it corrects many of the mistranslations found in the current Ordo Missae. It's also refreshing to read that Cardinal Arinze, the Prefect of the Congregation, does not want the changes made immediately, but explained that time is needed "for the pastoral preparation of priests, deacons and for appropriate catechesis of the lay faithful. It will likewise facilitate the devising of musical settings for parts of the Mass.” A nice change from the approach taken back in the 60s and 70s when major liturgical changes were introduced almost overnight with little or no catechesis. Some bishops and liturgists are, of course, upset about the revisions, even though their purpose is simply to ensure the English accurately reflects the Latin of the Roman Missal on which all translations are supposedly based. Read more about it here.

It is also good to see that some Catholic organizations still have the courage to support publicly the Catholic Church's teaching on so-called "controversial" issues. The Knights of Columbus, at their supreme convention in Quebec City, approved resolutions calling for the legal protection of marriage and asking Catholics holding elected office to “be true” to their faith by acting “bravely and publicly in defense of life.” How sad that the Knights had to do this. How sad that so many Catholic politicians, judges and government policy makers reject Church teaching out of hand. And it's especially sad that we have regressed so far morally that such issues as the protection of innocent lives and Christian marriage have become "controversial." Click here for more on the Knights' convention.

But any sadness I feel is outweighed by joy because organizations like the Knights are willing to stand up publicly and tell our society to "Stop!" This is something we can all do. These life issues are not as complicated as some would have us believe. One need not be a physician or biologist to know that abortion is the wrongful taking of a human life. One need not be a sociologist or psychologist to know that same-sex marriage is simply not marriage. And one need not be a Christian to know these things. You and I and every human being knows them in our hearts because God has blessed us with Natural Law, the law that enables us to discern right from wrong, the law that governs our human nature. And so, don't fall prey to the obfuscations of the "experts" or the rationalizations of the politicians. Listen instead to your Church, a Church guided today, as it has always been, by the Holy Spirit. And pray for those who obstinately refuse to listen to and follow the Church's consistent and inerrant teachings on faith and morals.

Note on our upcoming trip to Rome: The mad planner (that is I) has struck again. In addition to the papal audience and the tour of the excavations under St. Peter Basilica, I have also booked a tour of the Vatican Gardens and a combined tour of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. We visited the Museum and Sistine Chapel back in 2000, but it's all far too much to take in on a single visit. But even with all these planned events, we'll still have time for good food, good wine, and good times.

I'll celebrate my sixty-fourth birthday while we're in Rome (September 13 - St. John Chrysostom) and in anticipation of this minor milestone could not help but recall the old Beatles' song. Remember the lyrics? "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?" When I posed this question to Diane today, she nodded, although a bit reluctantly it seemed to me. And so, I guess this means I'm good for another year. One more reason to praise God.

God's peace...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Temporal Bias

A few months ago, while conducting a brief, overview course on the history of the Catholic Church for catechists and Catholic school teachers, I asked the general question: "Is the world a better place today than it was in earlier times?" The responses from the class were -- at least to me -- somewhat surprising. Virtually everyone answered, "Yes." (As I recall, among the 20 plus participants there was only one dissenting voice.) When I probed more deeply, it became evident that, for some, their answers were largely influenced by humanity's tremendous technological progress during the past century. But an equal number based their responses on the idea that today we are wiser, more knowledgeable, more compassionate, even more intelligent than those who preceded us.

I will accept that the question as I phrased it was somewhat ambiguous, but I assumed that the setting -- a class on Church history -- would have some influence on their thinking. Apparently not. When I asked for specifics to support their beliefs, I received only generalities in reply. One person, however, did call upon the Second Vatican Council as evidence that the modern world is a wiser and more enlightened world. She believed that the Council fathers had displayed a degree of compassion, tolerance, and wisdom absent from the Church's previous general councils. "Unlike the other councils, they didn't get all wrapped up in heresy and hierarchy," she added.

At that point I reminded her that Pope John XXIII and the Council fathers had explicitly declared their acceptance of the decisions of all previous councils, that in Pope John's words, "...it is necessary first of all that the Church should never depart from the sacred patrimony of truth received from the Fathers." I then reminded her that Vatican II was both a call to holiness -- a renewal of the Church's inner life -- and a call to engage in a dynamic dialog with a world that had become increasingly secular, irreligious and violent. Neither comment solicited much more than a raised eyebrow. Eventually I had to pull out my copy of the Documents of Vatican II and read a few relevant passages to her. She later admitted that she had never actually read any of the Council's documents. (The Vatican's website has all 16 documents online - click here.)

It's sad that here we are over 40 years after the Council and very few of the faithful have read any of these wonderful texts. Pope John Paul, commenting on the Council, wrote, "Through the whole experience of the Council we have contracted a debt toward the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ who speaks to the churches." It is apparently a debt that has largely gone unpaid through our ignorance of what the Council actually taught. I can recall one commentator (I've forgotten who) comparing this to the Gospel passage describing the talents being buried (Mt 25:18).

But back to my original concern: the apparent popularity of the idea that we've built a better world than that of our predecessors. Now, it seems to me (and if you want to argue this conclusion of mine, I'd love to hear from you), that we are by no means better off than those who lived in earlier times. Of course, one's view of this will depend on one's concept of what it means to be "better off." If the sole criterion is material or physical well-being, then perhaps you can make a case for the present; but even then I'd argue that much of the world's population benefits little, if at all, from most of our technological advances. And then there's the pesky presence of all those modern wars, not to mention the ideologically based oppression of hundreds of millions by totalitarian regimes.

Indeed, it's pretty much agreed that more people died as a direct result of war and oppression during the past century than in all previous recorded history. That doesn't sound too compassionate to me. And then there's the loss of religious faith and a corresponding decrease in religious practice. In most European nations church attendance is near 10% or less and religion has been almost completely removed from the public square. Unfortunately, the United States isn't far behind. What Max Picard in 1934 called The Flight from God has become a reality. Christendom is gone and has taken Christian morality with it. We now murder our unwanted, unborn children by the tens of millions, and consider "physician assisted suicide" a merciful act.

How can we as a people be better off when a growing number of us have turned our backs on God and His commandments? If we Christians believe "better off" means being closer to salvation, then it would seem, in one sense at least, that we live in the worst of times, not the best. I've come to believe that the basic cause of this belief that we are somehow better off (and smarter, kinder, and gentler) than those who went before us is a form of temporal bias that assumes a constant evolution on the part of humanity in all aspects of our lives; that is, all is "progress." Many have come to believe that, despite the evidence to the contrary, just as we have progressed technologically, we have also progressed in every other way. Of course such beliefs ignore the truths of history.

But don't be discouraged, because this is really good news. That's right, the good news is that you and I live in these challenging times, that God wants us in the here and now so we can take His Good News to our needy, confused world. Do you see how blessed we are to be given this mission? We are, in a sense, more like the Apostles than our immediate predecessors in that we must introduce (and in some instances, re-introduce) Jesus Christ to a pagan, materialistic world.

And let's never forget that Jesus Christ the King is in charge, so we need never fear. In the words of the Mexican Jesuit priest, Blessed Miguel Pro, as he faced death as a 20th Century martyr, "Viva Cristo Rey" -- Long live Christ the King. The above photo shows Fr. Pro just moments before he was shot by a firing squad.

God's peace...

Friday, August 8, 2008

Going to Rome!

Diane (my beautiful and wonderful wife of 40 years) and I have decided to make another pilgrimage to Rome. We'll spend ten days in the eternal city next month. This wasn't something we had planned, but was (for us, at least) somewhat of a snap decision.

It all began a few days ago when I received an email from British Air touting some remarkably low airfares to Europe. The catch? To take advantage of the sale I had only 48 hours to book the flights. We gave it a few seconds of serious consideration and then closed the deal. Of course when one adds up all the additional expenses -- hotel, meals, local transportation, shopping and the rest -- and factors in the weak dollar, the overall cost of the trip well exceeds what we can afford. But we're not getting any younger...

On our last visit to Rome, back in 2005, Diane and I stayed at the Hotel Nazionale, a nice hotel next door to the Italian Parliament building in Piazza Montecitorio, and only a short walk from the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. It was a great location for doing all the touristy stuff one needs to do at least once in Rome. And we sure did it! The only drawback was its distance from the Vatican, a bit of a hike for this aging deacon and his bride. And so we usually took one of Rome's expensive cabs whose drivers must be certified as suicidal before they are issued a license.

Hoping to survive our upcoming trip, we decided to stay somewhere closer to St. Peter's. I had considered trying to book a room in one of the religious guest houses that surround the Vatican, but found that those with the highest recommendations were already fully booked. So we nosed around and made a reservation at a small hotel not far (less than a half-mile) from St. Peter's Square. It has the enticing name of The Vatican Garden Inn and seems to be the kind of place we like. It's located in what appears to be a reasonably quiet, residential neighborhood on via Germanico. We'll see. You can expect an online review shortly after our arrival. One nice amenity is free wireless internet throughout the hotel, so I should be able to blog daily.

Since Diane and I have never visited the excavations and the tomb of St. Peter beneath the basilica, I emailed the Vatican Excavations Office and made reservations for a tour. I also emailed the visitors office at the North American College and got tickets for the Wednesday general papal audience. On our last visit we were fortunate to be seated up on the steps only a few yards from Pope Benedict. I hope we'll be equally fortunate this time around. I'd also like to visit the Vatican Gardens and the Vatican Museum-Sistine Chapel, so I'd better get busy and line up the tours.

On our first visit to Rome in 2000, while on a Jubilee Year pilgrimage with hundreds of other deacons and their wives, Diane and I had the unexpected pleasure of encountering the then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the streets of Rome. We were walking back to the Vatican after a pleasant lunch with our Polish friend, Father Adam Domanski, when Father Adam, in his usual understated way, glanced up and said, "Now there's a rather important man in the Church." I recognized his Eminence immediately and, as probably the ugliest of "ugly Americans," I simply accosted him right there on the street. Being a man of extraordinary kindness, he stopped and spent several minutes with us. I thanked him for his books and he thanked me for my ministry as a deacon. We spoke briefly about our son, who was then still a seminarian, and Diane's work as a teacher in a Catholic elementary school. And then I asked Fr. Adam to take our picture. You can observe the result. Anyway, I don't suppose it's very likely that we'll run into him again, at least not on the street.

As you can no doubt tell, we're looking forward to our trip. Being an unrepentant planner, I have lots to do before we board that plane at Orlando International. How wonderful that we can make such a trip so easily today. And how my grandparents would have marveled at the very idea of flying to Rome in just a few hours. Yes, being is good! And being alive today is especially good; for today is where God has placed us. Praise Him!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Thanks be to God: A Beautiful Morning; A Wonderful Pope

It's another beautiful morning...I think. It's 5 a.m. and still quite dark outside, but here in central Florida most days are beautiful so I'll just assume today will be as well.

A little while ago I heard the garbage truck pass by as it collected our trash and that of our neighbors from the curbside. Every day these men awake long before dawn and spend the early morning hours carting off the refuse of our lives. It's not only a messy, dirty job, but it's also a thankless job. Oh, they get paid for their work, but unlike others who help us function in this rather complex society we've created, trash collectors are rarely thanked by those they serve. I know I've never thanked one personally. I've never stood outside in the darkness and waited for their truck so I could tell them how much I appreciate them for doing their so necessary work. Maybe I'll do just that one of these Tuesday or Friday mornings...but in the meantime, I'll say a prayer of thanks for all those who, like our trash collectors, take care of our daily needs.

The director of my home diocese's permanent diaconate office sent each deacon a copy of a booklet (Origins published by the Catholic News Service and the US Bishops) containing all of Pope Benedict's addresses and homilies during his recent visit to the US. Although I had already listened to or read most of them, I began to reread them this morning. How blessed we are that the Holy Spirit chose Benedict to be our Holy Father!

The first address listed, Pope Benedict's address to the US Bishops at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on April 16, is filled with wisdom, and we can only hope and pray that our bishops listened well.

Benedict began by praising the Church in the United States, thanking us for our generosity and remarking on the deep faith and religious spirit exhibited by so many American Catholics. But then he issued some warnings related to the growing but "subtle influence of secularism" that leads people to compartmentalize their religious and secular lives. "Any tendency to treat religion as a private matter must be resisted," Benedict warned, "Only when their faith permeates every aspect of their lives do Christians become truly open to the transforming power of the Gospel."

Oh, yes, it's good to be reminded of this from time to time. If I ask myself, "Does my faith permeate every aspect of my life?" I can only answer, "No." And I suspect I'm not much different from anyone else who might be reading this.

The Holy Father then cautioned the bishops about the dangers of materialism and its impact on our society. "It is easy," he told them, "to be entranced by the almost unlimited possibilities that science and technology place before us; it is easy to make the mistake of thinking we can obtain by our own efforts the fulfillment of our deepest needs. This is an illusion. Without God, who alone bestows upon us what we by ourselves cannot attain, our lives are ultimately empty." And there are certainly many empty lives out there today, lives that are (in the words of the popular song) "looking for love in all the wrong places."

Benedict then encouraged his brother bishops to take the lead in reminding the people of God to "cultivate a relationship with him who came that we might have life in abundance." At this point in his address he added something that I believe every priest, every deacon, every catechist must be reminded of: "The goal of all our pastoral and catechetical work, the object of our preaching and the focus of our sacramental ministry should be to help people establish and nurture that living relationship with Christ Jesus, our hope." Once again, I am chastised and humbled by Benedict as he reminds me of the many times I have not done this. One of my ministries down here is conducting courses for the diocesan certification of catechists and Catholic school teachers. In the future I will be sure to emphasize this goal as articulated by our Holy Father.

He went on to issue another warning, this one aimed at those who have fallen prey to the individualism we encounter in both our Church and the society as a whole. "...it is easy to lose sight," Benedict said, "of our dependence on others as well as the responsibilities we bear toward them." As president (and flunky) of a local soup kitchen I see evidence of this almost daily. Perhaps we Christians should begin each day by reading Matthew 25:31-46, the only place in Scripture where the last judgment is described in any detail. It's especially interesting to note how Jesus will judge us (and what he doesn't mention). If we truly believed these words of Jesus, would we lead our lives any differently?

Then, addressing the impact of individualism in the Church, the Pope noted how it is "...giving rise to a form of piety which sometimes emphasizes our private relationship with God at the expense of our calling to be members of a redeemed community...We were created as social beings who find fulfillment only in love -- for God and for our neighbor."

That's enough for now. I'll try to include more of my thoughts on Pope Benedict's address to the U. S. Bishops in the next post. Click here for his complete address which I recommend reading.

Oh, yes, one more thing. Our elder daughter took her four little ones to a Boston Pops concert in the park this past weekend. It was a hot summer evening, and as the kids listened to the music and ate popcorn a photographer for the local newspaper snapped a photo of the three eldest (left to right: ages 5, 7 and 4). I love the picture so much it's this week's wallpaper on my PC. Indeed, it's just one more reason to say "Being is Good" -- Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.