The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!


Thursday, 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...