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!

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 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.

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