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!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Prayer: Father Jacques Philippe

I've wanted to mention these two books for several weeks now, but always seem to forget. Their author is Father Jacque Philippe, a priest of the Community of the Beatitudes. Both books are well worth reading and have helped me in my prayer life. I hope you find them as valuable as I have.

Interior Freedom and Time for God

For a little background and to get a brief glimpse into Father Philippe's approach to interior prayer, I suggest you read this interview on Xenit. In it Father Philippe discusses how true interior prayer differs from such practices as yoga or other types of meditiation common to many eastern religions.

White House Agenda

President Obama's official website, http://www.whitehouse.gov/, already lists a comprehensive agenda that our new president hopes to enact during his term in office. For those of you who might have doubted his support for abortion, gay-lesbian rights, embryonic stem cell research, and other similar issues, I suggest you go directly to the website and read exactly what his agenda includes:

For women's issues, including abortion and embryonic stem cell research, click here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/women/

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) issues are listed under "civil rights" and can be found here: http://www.whitehouse.gov/agenda/civil_rights/

And if you would like to read the text of President Obama's statement regarding his decision to rescind the previous executive order prohibiting government support for international agencies that promote abortion, click here.

President Obama, why aren't you pro-life?

Click here to view a video of a powerful pro-life ad using President Barack Obama as an example of a typical candidate for abortion, a child born into adverse circumstances.

Embryonic Stem Cell Clinical Trials

With suspiciously good timing, on January 23 the FDA approved the first human subject tests using embryonic stem cells. That this approval came the day after President Bush left office was surely not coincidental. Read here what the New York Times has to say about this move by the FDA.

Pope Benedict & YouTube

How cool is this? Pope Benedict XVI is now on YouTube. That's right, the Vatican is using the popular video website to get the Word out by posting several videos each day. Here's the direct link: http://www.youtube.com/vatican

According to the Xenit News Agency, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office, stated that people throughout the world are "interested in the messages and proposals of a high level moral authority -- as the Pope is, and in general the Catholic Church -- regarding the great problems of the world today."

Father Federico went on to say, "That's why YouTube has been chosen as an adequate platform for being present on the Net, in one of the great Areopagus of communication in the world of today, and to be present regularly, to offer a reference point worthy of trust, and to continue beyond the many fragments of information about the Pope and the Vatican present on the Web in a rather more casual and sprawled-out way."

Enjoy!

The Abortion Irony

There's an element of tragic irony in President Obama's unqualified support for abortion at every stage of pregnancy. Our first African-American president has already begun to manifest that support by quietly issuing an executive order that lifted President Bush's ban on funding for international groups that promote abortion. The President issued the order on the 36th anniversary of the U. S. Supreme Court's infamous Roe v. Wade decision.

The irony in all this -- and it's truly a tragic irony -- is that abortion has decimated the African-American community, the community historically targeted by the abortion industry. It's no accident that Margaret Sanger's openly racist views formed the foundational policies of Planned Parenthood, the organization she founded. This is one of the "open secrets" that nobody talks about but everybody involved recognizes. One would think the President would recognize it as well; but perhaps he, like so many on the American left, prefers to repress any truths that conflict with his worldview. And one of these shocking truths is that the leading cause of death in the African-American community since 1973 is, you guessed it, abortion!

For a brief overview of the disastrous effects of abortion on the African-American community, read this article by Star Parker and Gary Bauer. And for a more thorough discussion of the issue, visit the website of the National Black Catholic Congress.

The Vatican responded almost immediately, criticizing the President's executive order and calling it a "harsh blow not only to us Catholics but to all the people across the world who fight against the slaughter of innocents..." The US Bishops joined the Vatican in its criticism of this early confirmation of the new administration's pro-abortion policies.

Pray for our President, for our nation, and for the innocents who continue to suffer in this holocaust.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Annual Blessing of the Lambs of St. Agnes

Yesterday, January 21, was the feast day of St. Agnes, a young girl barely in her teens, who gave her life for her faith in the early 4th Century. Because her name, Agnes, means lamb, it is also the day when the Holy Father, in her honor, blesses two lambs. As you can see in the photo, the lambs are given special treatment, and each even wears a garland of flowers on its head.

The wool from these lambs will be used to make the pallium, a stole-like vestment which the Holy Father will give to new Metropolitan Archbishops. The pallium, is a papal vestment that the Pope gives to archbishops to wear as a sign of their pastoral authority and it typifies their participation in the supreme pastoral power of the pope, who concedes it to them for their proper church.

Interestingly, although the pallium is now reserved, by law and liturgical norms, to metropolitan archbishops, a single exception has become customary: Pope John Paul II conferred a pallium on then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger when the cardinal became dean of the College of Cardinals and therefore also Cardinal Bishop of Ostia, a purely honorary title and one without an archbishopric or metropolitanate attached. When Cardinal Ratzinger was elected Pope Benedict XVI, he continued that exception by conferring the pallium on Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the new dean.

The wool of the two lambs is given to the Benedictine nuns who reside in the monastery adjacent to the Basilica of St. Cecilia in the Trastevere section of Rome. The nuns then use the wool to make each pallium the Pope presents during the upcoming year. By the way, St. Cecilia is a must see if you go to Rome. When you go there be sure to visit the crypt and St. Cecilia's tomb as well as the excavations of her family's home -- all located right beneath the present basilica.

I took the above photo of St. Cecilia's in September when Diane and I visited Rome. The basilica is in the center, surrounded by the monastery. The below photo is of the statue of St. Cecilia in death displayed under the main altar.
And all this because little 12-year-old Agnes gave her life protecting her virtue and out of tremendous love for Our Lord. If you go to Rome, you will find two churches dedicated to St. Agnes: St. Agnes Outside the Walls which claims to have the martyrs body; and St. Agnes in Agony, located in touristy Piazza Navona right behind Bernini's famous Rivers Fountain. The latter church claims to have her head. It would seem St. Agnes is the perfect example of "divide and conquer."
St. Agnes pray for us.

March for Life


Today, on the 36th anniversary of the US Supreme Court's infamous Roe v. Wade decision, several hundred thousand people will march in Washington DC in support of the right to life for all human beings. Just days after the inauguration of our 44th president, an event that received unprecedented media attention, the annual March for Life will most likely be ignored by the mainstream media. I also suspect that our new president, despite his oft-stated intention to reach out in an effort to unite all Americans, will greet those who support life with nothing more than total silence.

Nellie Gray, the tireless president of the March for Life organization, sent President Obama a personal invitation to address those who will participate in the march. To read the invitation, which also clearly outlines the pro-life movement's guiding principles, click here.

Pray for those who will march today. Pray for our president, that he may experience a radical change of heart. Pray for our Congress, that it will reject any attempt to pass the so-called Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). Pray that the American people will come to an understanding of what is at stake, that they will reclaim their sovereignty and instruct their elected representatives and senators to protect human life at every stage from conception until natural death. And in all things let us pray buoyed by hope, by the hope that comes from the sure knowledge that the Author of Life will always triumph.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sure is Easier Being a Catholic

One of the more interesting questions bouncing around DC these days relates to where the Obama family will end up going to church on Sundays. It would seem that the new president will have many options, and it will be interesting to see which he selects. The pundants are all waiting for him to decide so they can speculate on the "political" reasons behind his decision.

That's the nice thing about being a Catholic. Canon Law tells us to worship at our local parish, the one whose boundaries we live within. This, of course, is a law not often followed these days as many Catholics prefer to shop around for a parish that "better addresses their needs."

Anyway, here's the text of a column that appeared in the Wall Street Journal's Opinion Journal on January 16, 2009. It was written by Mark Tooley who directs the United Methodist program at the Institute on Religion and Democracy in Washington.

_________________


Where Will the Obamas Worship?

By Mark Tooley

Where will President Barack Obama attend church in Washington? Thanks to revelations about the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ (UCC) in Chicago, Mr. Obama's church shopping requires more careful political contemplation than a new president typically needs. But his ultimate choice likely will be a noncontroversial church, suitable for young children, with a brief commute and tightly scheduled worship that gets the president back home early on Sunday mornings.

Even so, Washington provides such a wealth of opportunities that more factors than those will come into play. Mr. Obama's own background could point him in several possible directions. His mother, Ann Dunham, was a spiritual seeker drawn to many religions. Both of her husbands were nominal Muslims. Mr. Obama's maternal grandparents were Unitarians.

Mr. Obama's early Chicago activism took him to Trinity. At an altar call, he professed faith in Christ. Trinity is a black congregation within the nearly all white 1.2 million United Church of Christ. Although it originated with New England's Puritans, the UCC has mostly shed its strict Calvinism of past centuries and arguably is America's most liberal mainline Protestant denomination.

A UCC church in Washington could be a comfortable fit for a former member of Chicago's Trinity. Trinity's social liberalism -- on issues of gay rights and abortion rights, for instance -- is more like that of other UCC congregations than of historically black denominations, which typically are theologically conservative. The 2.5 million member African Methodist Episcopal Church, for instance, voted unanimously in 2004 to prohibit same-sex unions. Pastor Wright's flamboyant preaching style echoes that seen in many black churches. But his radicalized Social Gospel more resembles that of white mainline Protestants.

Mr. Obama seems to share the cool rationalism of the UCC's liberal New England roots more than the evangelistic and emotive black church tradition. Talking to the Chicago Sun-Times about his faith in 2004, he cited his "suspicion of dogma" and "too much certainty," and said he preferred a "dose of doubt" in religion. Somewhat deflecting questions about prayer, Jesus and the afterlife, Mr. Obama defined sin as "being out of alignment with my values."

In 2007, Mr. Obama addressed the UCC's governing synod. "Doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning," he told an enthusiastic audience of 9,000. Despite Mr. Obama's resignation from Trinity after the Wright controversy, John Thomas, president of the UCC, wrote to him after his November win, speaking of the denomination's pride and hope in the president-elect and offering him the "hospitality" of its congregations in Washington.

All this suggests that Mr. Obama could choose one of the UCC's seven churches in the nation's capital, two of which are predominantly black. Or, will he gravitate instead to one of the city's historically black denominations in a majority black city? Whatever denomination attracts him, will he choose a white or racially diverse church?

The guessing game has been going on for a while now, but it often ignores the importance of location and duration. Presidential churches usually lie within one short mile of the White House, and have short, one-hour services. Typical black-church worship is longer. Newly inaugurated George W. Bush learned this when he attended an exuberant two-hour service at a black congregation on Capitol Hill. Though he is a Methodist, Bush settled on convenient St. John's Episcopal, one block from the White House.

Time magazine has suggested that President Obama might attend the multiracial Church of the Epiphany, only three blocks away, noting that several members of Abraham Lincoln's cabinet worshiped there. But perhaps Time forgot that Confederate President Jefferson Davis was also a regular at Epiphany in the days before the Civil War. Now liberal and socially progressive, Church of the Epiphany nevertheless uses a liturgy that may seem too formal for Mr. Obama, accustomed to the UCC's minimal use of ritual.

So, how about First Congregational UCC, where Calvin Coolidge worshiped? Only six blocks from the White House, it was founded by abolitionists, is liberal politically, and has a multiracial congregation. But the old sanctuary is being replaced with a glass office building, whose ground floor will house worship in the future. President Obama may prefer a more settled venue.

If so, he could worship at Grace Reformed UCC, where Teddy Roosevelt attended services, just seven blocks away. The stately original sanctuary is now surrounded by a neighborhood of hip, condo-owning yuppies. A special room displays Roosevelt relics, and undoubtedly the church would like to add some artifacts of a more recent president to its collection.

A few blocks closer to the White House stands the imposing Washington City Church, which Lyndon Johnson frequented. Part of the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church), its nonritualistic, low-church worship resembles the UCC's. The church hosts annual rallies by liberal evangelical Jim Wallis, a strong Obama promoter.

Mr. Obama probably is not likely to attend Foundry United Methodist, where the Clintons worshiped (and whose then-pastor defended Bill during Monicagate). But nearby is First Baptist, where Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter prayed. More liberal than most Baptist churches, it has a female interim pastor.

If Mr. Obama prefers a black congregation, Asbury United Methodist Church, just seven blocks from the White House, promises a 55-minute, 8:30 a.m. service. Like Chicago's Trinity, Asbury is a black church in a 90% white denomination. But Asbury's clergy are traditional black preachers who mostly avoid controversy. And it touts a popular Sunday school that might suit Mr. Obama's daughters well.My prediction? Even closer to the White House is New York Avenue Presbyterian, where Abraham Lincoln's original pew still sits. In Lincoln's day, the church was nonpolitical and traditionalist. Today, its liberal perspective might suit Mr. Obama well. And sitting where the Great Emancipator often sat might provide symbolism and inspiration that are impossible for the new president to resist.

__________________

Another Pro-Abortion Kennedy?

Just what we need, another pro-abortion Kennedy in Congress to further confuse and scandalize the faithful. What follows was wrtitten by Anne Hendershott, professor of urban studies at The King's College in New York. She is the author of "The Politics of Abortion" (Encounter Books, 2007). It appeared in the Wall Street Journal's Opinon Journal on January 2, 2009.

_______________

For faithful Roman Catholics, the thought of yet another pro-choice Kennedy positioned to campaign for the unlimited right to abortion is discouraging. Yet if Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of Catholics John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, is appointed to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Hillary Clinton, abortion-rights advocates will have just such a champion.

Ms. Kennedy was so concerned to assure pro-abortion leaders in New York, Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on Dec. 18, that on the same day Ms. Kennedy telephoned New York Gov. David Patterson to declare interest in the Senate seat, "one of her first calls was to an abortion rights group, indicating she will be strongly pro-choice."

Within the first week of her candidacy, Ms. Kennedy promised to work for several causes, including same-sex marriage and abortion rights. In responding to a series of 15 questions posed by the New York Times on Dec. 21, Ms. Kennedy said that, while she believes "young women facing unwanted pregnancies should have the advice of caring adults," she would oppose legislation that would require minors to notify a parent before obtaining an abortion. On the crucial question of whether she supports any state or federal restrictions on late-term abortions, Ms. Kennedy chose to say only that she "supports Roe v. Wade, which prohibits third trimester abortions except when the life or health of the mother is at risk." Presumably Ms. Kennedy knows that this effectively means an unlimited right to abortion -- including late-stage abortion -- because the "health of the mother" can be so broadly defined that it includes the psychological distress that can accompany an unintended pregnancy.

Ms. Kennedy's commitment to abortion rights is shared by other prominent family members, including Kerry Kennedy Cuomo and Maryland's former Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend. Some may recall the 2000 Democratic Convention when Caroline and her uncle, Sen. Ted Kennedy, addressed the convention to reassure all those gathered that the Democratic Party would continue to provide women with the right to choose abortion -- even into the ninth month. At that convention, the party's nominee, Al Gore, formerly a pro-life advocate, pledged his opposition to parental notification and embraced partial-birth abortion. Several of those in attendance, including former President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson, had been pro-life at one time. But by 2000 nearly every delegate in the convention hall was on the pro-choice side -- and those who weren't simply kept quiet about it.

Caroline Kennedy knows that any Kennedy desiring higher office in the Democratic Party must now carry the torch of abortion rights throughout any race. But this was not always the case. Despite Ms. Kennedy's description of Barack Obama, in a New York Times op-ed, as a "man like my father," there is no evidence that JFK was pro-choice like Mr. Obama. Abortion-rights issues were in the fledgling stage at the state level in New York and California in the early 1960s. They were not a national concern.

Even Ted Kennedy, who gets a 100% pro-choice rating from the abortion-rights group Naral, was at one time pro-life. In fact, in 1971, a full year after New York had legalized abortion, the Massachusetts senator was still championing the rights of the unborn. In a letter to a constituent dated Aug. 3, 1971, he wrote: "When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception."

But that all changed in the early '70s, when Democratic politicians first figured out that the powerful abortion lobby could fill their campaign coffers (and attract new liberal voters). Politicians also began to realize that, despite the Catholic Church's teachings to the contrary, its bishops and priests had ended their public role of responding negatively to those who promoted a pro-choice agenda.

In some cases, church leaders actually started providing "cover" for Catholic pro-choice politicians who wanted to vote in favor of abortion rights. At a meeting at the Kennedy compound in Hyannisport, Mass., on a hot summer day in 1964, the Kennedy family and its advisers and allies were coached by leading theologians and Catholic college professors on how to accept and promote abortion with a "clear conscience."

The former Jesuit priest Albert Jonsen, emeritus professor of ethics at the University of Washington, recalls the meeting in his book "The Birth of Bioethics" (Oxford, 2003). He writes about how he joined with the Rev. Joseph Fuchs, a Catholic moral theologian; the Rev. Robert Drinan, then dean of Boston College Law School; and three academic theologians, the Revs. Giles Milhaven, Richard McCormick and Charles Curran, to enable the Kennedy family to redefine support for abortion.

Mr. Jonsen writes that the Hyannisport colloquium was influenced by the position of another Jesuit, the Rev. John Courtney Murray, a position that "distinguished between the moral aspects of an issue and the feasibility of enacting legislation about that issue." It was the consensus at the Hyannisport conclave that Catholic politicians "might tolerate legislation that would permit abortion under certain circumstances if political efforts to repress this moral error led to greater perils to social peace and order."

Father Milhaven later recalled the Hyannisport meeting during a 1984 breakfast briefing of Catholics for a Free Choice: "The theologians worked for a day and a half among ourselves at a nearby hotel. In the evening we answered questions from the Kennedys and the Shrivers. Though the theologians disagreed on many a point, they all concurred on certain basics . . . and that was that a Catholic politician could in good conscience vote in favor of abortion."

But can they now? There are signs today that some of the bishops are beginning to confront the Catholic politicians who consistently vote in favor of legislation to support abortion. Charles J. Chaput, the archbishop of Denver, has been on the front lines in encouraging Catholics to live their faith without compromise in the public square. Most recently in his book "Render Unto Caesar," Archbishop Chaput has reminded Catholic politicians of their obligation to protect life.

The archbishop is not alone. The agenda at November's assembly of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops included a public discussion of abortion and politics. The bishops' final statement focused on concern about the possible passage of the "Freedom of Choice Act," and referred to it as "an evil law that would further divide our country." The bishops referenced their 2007 document, "Faithful Citizenship," which maintains that the right to life is the foundation of every other human right. In it, they promised to "persist in the duty to counsel, in the hope that the scandal of their [Catholic congregants'] cooperating in evil can be resolved by the proper formation of their consciences."

Whether the bishops truly will persist remains to be seen. New York's Cardinal Edward Egan, for instance, has not publicly challenged Ms. Kennedy's pro-choice promises. This is unfortunate. Until the clerics begin to counter the pro-choice claims made by high-profile Catholics such as Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and, now, Caroline Kennedy, faithful Catholics will continue to be bewildered by their pastoral silence.

___________________

Pray that our bishops will have the courage to confront this scandal head-on.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Sad News: Richard John Neuhaus

We lost a remarkable man yesterday. Father Richard John Neuhaus went home to the Father at the age of 72. We will miss him.

Fr. Neuhaus was so many things, all of which he did so very well. Social activist, intellectual, brilliant writer and editor, uncompromising advocate for life, ecumenist, EWTN commentator -- he was all these things, but he was above all a priest and a man of faith.

I met Father Neuhaus only once, perhaps ten years ago, when he addressed a Diocese of Fall River pro-life conference held at North Dartmouth., Massachusetts. I spoke with him only briefly, for maybe five minutes, but consider myself greatly honored to have had that opportunity to meet him and thank him for his prophetic words and moral guidance. As you might expect, he was very kind and actually seemed interested in what I had to say.

But my first encounter with Father Neuhaus was through his writings, primarily through First Things, the journal he founded along with its predecessor. (That was so long ago I can't recall the name of the earlier journal.) Since then he has been my companion and, more often than not, my guide in things political, cultural, moral and ecumenical. Indeed, just the other day, in a conversation with a friend, I remarked that if I were suddenly impoverished and had to cancel all my many subscriptions, I could do so easily...except for one: First Things. I need my monthly Richard Neuhaus fix, not to mention all the other knowledgeable and stimulating writers whose work populates the pages of First Things. Through those pages I was introduced to R. R. Reno, Robert Wilken, David Bentley Hart and many others who have had such a positive influence on the development of my own thinking. And through his journal Father Neuhaus also provided the perfect venue for the theological commentary of Avery Cardinal Dulles, America's greatest theologian. And now, in the space of less than one month, we have lost both of these remarkable men. (Cardinal Dulles died on December 12.)

Father Neuhaus, who had earlier experienced the nearness of death, was comfortable with the inevitability of the end of this life. The following quote is from his article, "Born Toward Dying," originally published in the February 2000 issue of First Things.

"We are born to die. Not that death is the purpose of our being born, but we are born toward death, and in each of our lives the work of dying is already underway. The work of dying well is, in largest part, the work of living well. Most of us are at ease in discussing what makes for a good life, but we typically become tongue-tied and nervous when the discussion turns to a good death. As children of a culture radically, even religiously, devoted to youth and health, many find it incomprehensible, indeed offensive, that the word “good” should in any way be associated with death. Death, it is thought, is an unmitigated evil, the very antithesis of all that is good.

"Death is to be warded off by exercise, by healthy habits, by medical advances. What cannot be halted can be delayed, and what cannot forever be delayed can be denied. But all our progress and all our protest notwithstanding, the mortality rate holds steady at 100 percent."

This is perhaps the best thing we can say in tribute to Father Neuhaus: He lived well and he died well. May he rest in the peace of the Father's embrace.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mass Psychosis

What a world humanity has created for itself. That, of course, is the problem: we have tried to create our own world instead of living in the world God created for us. Unfortunately, unless we manage to recover our collective sanity, the result will be nothing less than the collapse of our civilization. I believe this collapse could well occur soon and quickly. Although civilizations can take centuries to develop, their ultimate collapse can occur virtually overnight.

Now, whenever I ventilate these thoughts in polite company I usually get that "here he goes again" look. It's okay, I expect it, because nobody likes to be told that everything they hold dear might soon disappear. Nobody likes to consider the possibility that the society they live in, that the good ol' USA, is moving into the final stage of decadence. Complacency and comfort go hand in hand and ensure such unsettling thoughts are quickly suppressed. An even greater obstacle, though, is a kind of postmodern egoism that won't allow the possibility that progress might not be the inevitable movement of humanity. This egoism is so strongly ingrained that even a confrontation with the facts of history has no impact.

Yes, we moderns have progressed so very well these past 100 years, haven't we? Let's see; how many hundreds of millions have we murdered and maimed since 1914? And what were some of our motives for committing these crimes?

"Oh, you say you don't agree with our theory of history and progress? So sorry...Bang! You're dead."

Or "You believe that the glorious leader of our people is actually a vicious, murderous dictator? How unenlightened of you...Here's a one-way ticket to our 'reeducation facility'."

Or "You're a Jew? In that case, you have a problem, and we have the solution."

Or "Yes, ours is a 'religion of peace' which is why we devote ourselves exclusively to terrorizing anyone who believes otherwise."

Or "Pardon me, little unborn person, while I cut you to pieces or suck your brains out of your skull...but, really, your birth would be extremely inconvenient right now."

Have we become so jaded, so inured to this kind of institutional violence and the thinking that spawns it, that we are unable to recognize the world's death spiral? And has this blindness caused us to confuse evil with good? Apparently so. This very week, for example, an indignant world is raising its collective voice against Israel for finally deciding to defend itself against neighboring Gaza, a strange little piece of land ruled by Hamas, a self-proclaimed and widely recognized terrorist organization. These terrorists, by the way, have been attacking Israel almost daily for years. And so, naturally, the world has turned the terrorists into victims and the defenders into aggressors. Go figure.

Actually, we can figure...because it all started centuries ago. I'm not enough of a historian or philosopher to pinpoint a specific incident or person, but my guess is that one culprit was the nominalism that arose toward the end of the Middle Ages, a philosophy that denied the existence of universals and ultimately led to a denial of anything that cannot be perceived by the senses. This, in turn, led to the denial of any kind of transcendence, any kind of absolute truth. And so, modern man, like the sneering Pilate, can stand in the presence of his God and ask insolently, "What is truth?" He can do this because he no longer believes in anything beyond himself. And he certainly doesn't believe in something as absurd as original sin.

Yes, despite his destructive habits, our evolved modern man considers himself naturally good. Any defects he might occasionally exhibit can be cured by education or social programs; he certainly has no need of religion. Like the rationalists who preceded him, he sees no point in asking such questions as, "Why are we here?" After all, if we are merely the evolved products of an unthinking nature, such a question is meaningless. And the idea that man is created in God's image can now safely be rejected, for modern man sees himself as a materialistic, consuming, wealth seeking animal.

All of this has led to a sort of mass psychosis in which most people seem to possess an unassailable optimism in the midst of all this decadence, alienation and violence. Unlike the long-term optimism of the Christian, an optimism that stems from a fervent faith in the promises of a loving God, this is the blind optimism of those who are totally convinced of man's continuing progress. It is blind because it refuses to acknowledge the extraordinary brutality, perversions and dishonesty of our times. It also ignores the fact that these evils are increasing, not decreasing, over time. Few of us are immune, for this mass psychosis has even infected many who claim to be Christians and yet live as if they are modern materialists. They apparently repress the fact that we can't be Christians and live in a way that rejects the fundamental tenets of our faith.

And yet, despite my belief that our civilization is crumbling around us, I also believe that out of this will come a true Christian moment. Evil and discord cannot be sustained because they carry within themselves the seeds of their own destruction. Yes, we Christians will continue to suffer persecution; after all, persecution is one of Jesus' promises. But He also promised to be with us always, even to the end of time; and so persecution will always lead to a renewal of the Faith. This is the optimism of the Christian, an optimism based on the historical record of God's continuous care for His people from the time of Abraham until the present day. How different from the hysterical optimism, the mass psychosis of today's materialists who, to maintain their faith in themselves, are forced to deny the truth.

"Be not afraid," Jesus commanded us. Listen to Him.