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.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Home, Sweet Home

Home, sweet home. Yes, we're back home again and, believe me, there is nothing as sweet as returning to the comfortable surroundings of home. Walking through the doorway last night never felt better. That's not to say that our extended trip wasn't enjoyable. It was...mostly. And all the inconveniences of travel and living out of suitcases fade away into insignificance when placed alongside the joys of spending time with our grandchildren. But a month away from home is just about as long as we can handle.

We had hoped to spend a little more time seeing the sights on our return trip, but we both found ourselves victims of "get-home-itis." Despite this we took a little time to visit our dear friends, the Lees, in Fairfax, VA. One of the highlights of our day with them was a visit to the Pentagon Memorial commemorating the September 11, 2001 attack on the Pentagon and the 184 pentagon employees and airplane passengers who perished that day. It's a remarkable memorial site and visiting it was a very moving experience.
The Pentagon Memorial with the new US Air Force Memorial in the background.

Perhaps the next time we'll make a nighttime visit when I'm told the lighting adds to the memorial's beauty.

A visit to the memorial is also a good reminder that we are still a nation at war, despite what many would have us believe. There are others, just as murderous and hate-filled as those who planned and carried out the 9/11 attacks, who today are planning even worse things for our nation. These Islamo-Fascists are today's barbarians, but unlike the barbarian hordes that overwhelmed ancient Rome, today's savages have no desire to assimilate. They want only to destroy and bring to the world a perverted version of Islam. It would do us all well to remember this.

We also visited Old Town in Alexandria, enjoyed a pleasant lunch at a local eatery, and spent a few hours browsing in the shops. Almost every shop displayed some Obama kitsch, proof that the president has been able to maintain his rock-star status. Indeed some of the displays were almost shrine-like.

The next day Diane and I headed south and stopped at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home in Charlottesville, Virginia. It had been 30 years since our last visit, back when our children were still children, so we decided it was time for another. We were both impressed by the new visitors' center, which opened just a month ago, and includes many interesting display areas and galleries, a theater, and a rather large gift shop where one can purchase all things Jeffersonian. For $20 each, adults can participate in three tours -- of the home, gardens, and plantation -- take in a 20 minute film about Jefferson and his home, roam the grounds at will, and make a day of it. Unfortunately throughout our visit we had to cope with periodic showers and heavy overcast skies that didn't help the quality of the photos I took.


Monticello on a rainy, overcast day - 5/25/2009

When in the Monticello gift shop, I browsed through a few books on Jefferson and noted some quotes that seemed pretty timely given what's happening in our country these days. Here are a couple I jotted down:

"The crisis of the abuses of banking is arrived. The banks have pronounced their own sentence of death." (1814)

"It is incumbent on every generation to pay it’s own debts as it goes." (1820)

(Incidentally, I later found both of these quotes highlighted on the Monticello website. I wonder if they will remain there.)

I'm pretty sure that Jefferson would have been no fan of the Keynesian, big-government approach we have adopted and expanded over the past 75+ years. It's an approach that Democrats and Republicans alike (with the possible exception of Ronald Reagan) have pursued vigorously and which has brought us to our current sad situation.

The bad weather led us to abbreviate our stay, and so we pressed on and stopped at a Roanoke motel for the night. The next morning we drove on to Ocoee, Tennessee and revisited our friends, the Hathaways, whom we had seen on our way up north back in April. And despite all the promises and all the time sitting on their deck, once again I failed to spot a single interesting critter -- no bears, no wild boar, no deer, not even a lone squirrel. But who needs an encounter with wildlife when in the presence of good friends? We did, however, get to see a remarkable 180-degree rainbow that extended across the mountains behind the Hathaway's home. It was too large to capture in a single photo (I need a good wide-angle lens), so I attempted, with only marginal success, to stitch three photos together. (See the resulting panorama below.)


Late afternoon rainbow in Ocoee, TN

We then headed for the Atlanta area where we visited with a trio of Diane's cousins. We spent the night with one cousin in Dacula, GA, then made a brief visit with another in Monroe, GA, and finally stopped by a third in McDonough, GA. As an only child, Diane is especially close to her cousins, who are more like older sisters to her. We try to visit them when we can, particularly now that we're all getting older. From McDonough we sprinted down I-75 and made it home Friday at 10 p.m.

Now I have to catch up on all the things I avoided during our time away from home.

Blessings...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Counterculture Has Become the Culture

Our trip to the moral wilderness that is Massachusetts continues. Whenever I return to New England, if only for a short visit, I express my deepest thanks that Diane and I no longer live here. Now don't get me wrong; there are probably worse places. California comes to mind, but we don't go there too often. Because all four of our children (and our six grandchildren) live in the formerly great commonwealth of Massachusetts, we find ourselves up here every six months or so.

After reading the local newspapers and watching the local TV news, I've come to the conclusion that most of the folks up here are no longer practicing Christians, but have been converted to a form of neo-Paganism that centers on the worship of mother earth. Everyone seems so concerned about saving the earth from the inevitable destruction that humanity's very presence will bring about. It's the major topic covered by the media and apparently the primary concern of the state's politicians. And I suspect that the average New Englander spends more time performing green, earth-friendly tasks in a given week than he does going to church. Saving the earth, it would seem, is of more importance than saving one's soul.

I am confronted by evidence of this everywhere I go, even when involved in the most mundane of tasks. For example, the other day, while standing in the check-out line at a supermarket in North Andover, I overheard a remarkable conversation between the checker (a young lady in her early twenties) and the customer in front of me (a man probably in his late fifties). I'll try to duplicate it below. It took place as she bagged his groceries.

Man: "I'm surprised you're still using those plastic bags. They're illegal in a lot of states now."

Checker: "Yeah, I know. We shoulda got rid of them ten years ago. But it won't make no difference now. Too late. We've already destroyed the earth."

Man: "I hear ya. We've had a lot of stupid people running things for a long time. But they just wouldn't listen."

Checker: "Don't I know it. My father's an astronomer but I'm always arguing about this with him. He just doesn't get it...Or maybe he's an astrologer...I can't remember. Wait, astrologers study horoscopes. Yeah, he's an astronomer, kinda like a scientist. Actually astrology's pretty cool. I'm sure the stars and stuff affect our lives a lot."

Man: "You're right there. Hard to believe otherwise."

Checker:
"OK. See ya."

One view of Mother Earth

The above is no exaggeration; if anything the reality was even more odd. And at the risk of sounding judgmental, let me add that the man wore his greying hair in a ponytail and sported a rather large diamond earring. This "look" has become a uniform of sorts among the aging countercultural set. In an apparent attempt to appear unconventional, they have actually accomplished the exact opposite. I'm never quite sure whether they want to project an image of the societal rebel or hope to land a job as an extra in the next sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean. The young woman? She had more piercings than a shish kabob. But I am perhaps over-reacting and falling prey to stereotypical thinking. After all, I spent over 30 years in a Navy uniform. Forgive me.

The conversation, though, was telling. For many environmentalism has become the new religion, and for some it's all wrapped up in a kind of new age weirdness. Now, I certainly understand that all environmentalists are not wackos, but too many of the ones I meet seem to be. As opposed to the wackos, however, the most serious ones, the ones who set the agendas, are just leftists who latched onto a new cause after the collapse of international Marxism. Environmentalism offers a new and attractive means to attack representative government and the free market system. As with Marxism, the people and corporations are the enemy; only an enlightened government with the power to dictate to the people and control all business entities can save the earth.

People, you see, are the problem. Driving to my daughter's home this morning we tuned into a local radio talk show. The hosts were complaining about the large numbers of Canada Geese whose droppings have made school athletic fields and golf courses almost unusable. In response a caller said, "The problem isn't the geese. It's the people. There are too many of us." This, of course, is one of the same rationales used by the pro-abortion crowd: "It's OK. Your abortion will help save the earth from the plague of humanity."

Perhaps I'm wrong (although I doubt it), but I really believe the earth and its ecosystem are a lot tougher and more resilient than many believe. We should be good stewards and take care of our earthly home, but we should also trust that this planet on which God placed us has the capacity to support us now and for many years to come.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New Website: CatholicExpert.com

I was recently introduced to a new (to me) Catholic website that some folks might find interesting. It's very comprehensive with lots of unique content. I like it. Here's the link:

http://www.catholicexpert.com

Friday, May 15, 2009

A Little Levity

No time for anything deep or controversial today. In a little while I have to drive wife, daughter and two grandsons to the mall in Salem, NH...whoopee!

...but I heard a good joke this morning at breakfast. Our hotel has one of those breakfast rooms in which the tables are all pretty close together, so as I read the poor excuse for a newspaper (USA Today) the hotel provides to each guest, I couldn't help but overhear the two guys sitting at the next table.

One said to the other, "I called my broker last night and asked him what he's buying now."

"What did he say?"

"Ammunition and canned goods."

He probably heard it on Leno or one of those other shows that air long after my bedtime, but I thought you'd enjoy it. I did.

Blessings...

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why I Know God Exists

Throughout my almost 65 years I've entertained doubts about many different things, but one truth I have never doubted is the existence of God. Many years ago I wrote an article on the subject for a now-defunct newsletter. Unfortunately I no longer have a copy and cannot even remember the name of the newsletter. It's really no great loss since the article was little more than a litany of reasons (not proofs) for my unwavering belief. Each reason -- and there were dozens of them -- included a sentence or two of explanation. They were certainly not very deep or theological; rather they were just a collection of loosely related -- and often unrelated -- thoughts and feelings, the whys and wherefores of my belief.

I thought it might be interesting, though, to share some of these reasons with the select few who actually read this blog. And so I will attempt to recall and duplicate as many as possible. Some of these reasons are personal, in the sense that they probably would have little meaning for others. Even these, however, might be the spark that ignites similar reasons in the mind of the reader.

Because of their number I won't be able to include them all in one post, but will spread them out over several days, perhaps weeks.

Here goes...

1. The Jewish People. This little tribe of Abraham, God's Chosen People, is still a people after 4,000 years -- and this despite numerous attempts over the centuries by many nations, empires and ideologies to eradicate them. Seen any Hittites lately? Spoken with an Amorite or an Elamite? Had lunch with a Babylonian? No, they're all gone...except the Jews, the descendants of that tiny tribe from Ur of the Chaldees. Only God -- a loving God who keeps His promises -- could ensure their survival. They certainly couldn't do it themselves.

2. The Catholic Church. No other institution on earth can claim a 2,000 year lifespan. Human institutions come and go, but only one established by God could survive intact through two millennia of tumultuous history, especially when so many have tried so hard to destroy it. The Church's continued existence today is also one reason I will always remain a Catholic.

3. The Earth. That this little planet is so perfectly suited, not just for life but for human life, is a true miracle (and miracles come only from God). It exists in the midst of an unbelievably vast universe, an environment so inhospitable that, to our knowledge, life exists nowhere else. To think that this perfect place came about accidentally via some cosmic roll of the dice demands a leap of faith far exceeding my belief in the God that created it and the material universe in which it has its being.

4. My consciousness and rationality. That's right, the very fact that I'm conscious, that I'm aware of myself and of others and of the world around me, is remarkable. Even more remarkable, though, is my ability to reason, to make decisions about myself and that world, to learn, to understand, to grow in knowledge. In all this you and I are so very different from all other living creatures. Only humans have this ability. Only humans are created in God's image and likeness. After all, if we merely evolved from apes, why do apes still exist?

5. That atheists decide to live. Admittedly this is an odd reason to believe in God, but it relates to the fact that a true atheist would be filled with despair. After all, if there is no God, if we are just material accidents, then there can be no life after death, no heaven, no hell. Without a creator to give life purpose, there would be no reason to live. Why bother? Why go through life and all its suffering, all its disappointments, all its hurts and pains? And for what? For nothing lasting. And yet despite their beliefs (or lack thereof) why do atheists keep on living? I've always believed it's because no one is really a complete atheist. God plants a seed of belief, a form of divine grace, in every person's heart that causes each one of us to yearn for Him, to hope for Him, to want Him to exist. Sadly, those who reject this grace usually end up taking their own lives.

6. The Old Testament Prophets. And not just the Prophets, but the entire Old Testament. As I read, and re-read, and study the Old Testament I am filled with awe by the number of prophecies that point only to one reality, to Jesus Christ. This must be similar to the awe we encounter among the early Church Fathers who relied so heavily on Scriptural prophecy as a tool of evangelization among both Jews and Gentiles. Reading the Fathers one quickly begins to understand why they believed that the entire Old Testament had one overriding purpose: to lead us to Jesus Christ.

7. The Martyrdom of the Apostles. A person who goes willingly to his death when he could prevent it merely by making a statement, is either a true believer or insane. In the case of the Apostles, we encounter twelve such people (if we include Judas' replacement, Matthias). I consider it highly unlikely that Jesus selected twelve identically insane men from Galilee. These men, who witnessed all that Jesus said and did, including His death and resurrection, were quite obviously true believers. Their faith in what they had witnessed and in what they had received from the Holy Spirit was so strong that they would rather die than deny it. And it is their faith that has reinforced and lifted up my own along with the faith of countless others over the centuries.

8. Human agreement on good and evil. One of the more interesting things about us humans is not how different we are, but how much alike we are, regardless of when or where we live. As we scan both history and societies we find that there is remarkable agreement on what we as human beings consider good -- what we hold up as behavior to emulate -- and what we consider bad or evil. Where did this shared sense of right and wrong come from? Certainly not from a collection of evolved cells that could not possibly hold any preference for one type of behavior over another. No, it had to come from another source, from something, from Some-One, outside us, from a God who implanted within us His Law, His Natural Law, to ensure that we would recognize what is good and what is evil.

An aside: Even when we violate God's Law we try to rationalize our actions. For example, one reason I know that abortion is inherently evil is that those who support it are always telling us that they either: (1) are personally against it; or (2) want it to be rare. You see, at the deepest level of their being they know that abortion is evil because God's Natural Law within them tells them so. This is why they cannot bear to call themselves "pro-abortion," but opt instead to use the pro-choice label.

9. Bach, Mozart, Handel, the Modern Jazz Quartet, doo-wop, Charlie Byrd, Andrea Bocelli... I suppose I just could have written, "Music." Of course we all have our own favorites (some of mine are included in the title line) that range from baroque chamber music to hip-hop, and as a parent and grandparent I've learned not to play the music critic. I won't, therefore, try to argue my musical tastes over those of others. My point is that music is so uniquely human, so wonderfully different from anything else we do, so soothing, so invigorating, so complex, so simple, so beautiful that, in itself, it seems to point to God Himself. I can't imagine life without music, and apparently neither could Jesus. We know that on His last night with His Apostles, he joined with them singing psalms. And that those same psalms -- which I am sure were meant to be sung -- were on His very lips as He hung on the Cross. Music could come only from God, and what a gift it is!

10. Michelangelo. If you have ever looked at Michelangelo's work up close, you cannot help but see the presence of God in it. His David in Florence, or the Pieta in St. Peter's, or his remarkable Moses in the church of St. Peter in Chains (San Pietro in Vincoli) in Rome -- these remarkable marble sculptures come alive as you stand in awe before them. That someone could turn pieces of marble into these exquisite sculptures is almost beyond understanding...unless you accept that Michelangelo's talent was a very special gift from God, one that the artist acknowledged, accepted, and applied.

...that's enough for now. I'll add to the list soon, but I'm still visiting children and grandchildren so I have only limited time to do such foolish things as write in this blog.

A Few Favorites

The following are a few of my favorite quotes, words of wisdom that seem to be particularly relevant today. I've repeated a few by memory and so they may not be word-for-word accurate, but they're close enough to the original to make the point.

"Giving money and power to politicians is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys." - P. J. O'Rourke

"Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production." - Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations

"I'd rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University." -- William F. Buckley

"The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right." - G. K. Chesterton

"Once abolish the God, and the government becomes the God." - G. K. Chesterton

"The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." - G. K. Chesterton

“Socialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion.” - Richard John Neuhaus

“The job of the university is giving students a clear, solid, organic knowledge of Catholic doctrine based on Holy Scripture. They are places where churches must mobilize resources...” - Avery Cardinal Dulles

"I did not expect it at all because for me it is evident that we come from the roots of Israel and that their Bible is our Bible and that Judaism is not just one of many religions, but is the foundation, the root of our faith. We share the faith of Abraham." - Pope Benedict XVI

“God is not solitude, but perfect communion. For this reason the human person, the image of God, realizes himself or herself in love, which is a sincere gift of self." - Pope Benedict XVI

"Every major question in history is a religious question. It has more effect in molding life than nationalism or a common language." - Hilaire Belloc

Public Liars: They Just Can't Help Themselves

The pro-abortion crowd are probably the most obvious of the public liars we encounter daily in the media. The latest contributor is Secretary of State Hilary Clinton who, while testifying before Congress, stated that half of the women she had seen in Brazilian hospitals "were fighting for their lives against botched abortions."

Her claim sounded a bit over the top to some and so Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) asked her to produce some evidence as to when she had visited the hospitals or provide statistics to back her claim. To date neither she nor her staffers have been able to produce any evidence whatsoever.

According to the Catholic News Agency (CNA):

The National Catholic Register contacted Department of State spokeswoman Laura Tischler to see if there was any record of Clinton’s trip to Brazilian hospitals. Tischler said, "I am unable to confirm where or when the trip she referred to in her testimony was — where specifically in Brazil she was visiting or when the trip occurred."

Representative Chris Smith, who asked the question that prompted Clinton’s response, remarked, "Pro-abortion activists have a long history of making these type of unsubstantiated claims. That’s how they drive policy — with gross exaggeration of numbers, hyperbole and junk science," according to the NCR.


I'm pretty sure we'll get no answer from Secretary Clinton, whose penchant for uttering the "big lie" is almost as great as her husband's. Say it often enough and people will come to believe it.

The saddest thing about this little Capitol Hill drama is that as I write this several innocent unborn children have been murdered in a nation founded on a respect for life and liberty. Pray for us.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pope Benedict in Jerusalem

Some people just don't get it, do they? Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, a judge in the Palestinian Authority and a perennial rabble-rouser whose past public diatribes always seem to urge his people to acts of violence, simply couldn't resist.

Yesterday in Jerusalem, at an interfaith meeting designed to promote constructive dialogue among Muslims, Jews and Christians, the Sheikh launched into another of his verbal attacks on Israel. The presence of Pope Benedict at the meeting didn't slow Tamimi down as he commandeered the microphone for his rant despite efforts to shut him up. The following is an excerpt from the Jerusalem Post story describing the event:

A leading Palestinian cleric commandeered an evening devoted to interfaith dialogue with Pope Benedict XVI on Monday to rant against Israel for “killing Gaza’s children,” “bulldozing Palestinian homes” and “destroying mosques.”

In an impromptu speech, delivered in Arabic at the Notre Dame Pontifical Institute in Jerusalem, Sheikh Tayseer Tamimi, chief Islamic judge in the Palestinian Authority, launched a 10-minute tirade against the State of Israel for confiscating Palestinians’ land and carrying out war crimes against the residents of Gaza.

He also called for the immediate return of all Palestinian refugees, and called on Christians and Muslims to unite against Israel.

Tamimi invoked the name of Saladin, the Muslim sultan who recaptured Jerusalem from the Crusaders in 1187. Tamimi said that unlike Israel, Saladin upheld the religious freedoms of all faiths.

Following the diatribe and before the meeting was officially over, the pope exited the premises. However, he shook Tamimi’s hand before walking out.

The pope, speaking before Tamimi, discussed the importance of religion and truth for the advancement of humanity’s mutual understanding.

He was visibly uncomfortable with the tone of Tamimi’s discourse. Even those who did not understand his Arabic quickly understood that the Muslim cleric was giving a militant speech.

Several attempts were made by Latin Patriarch in the Holy Land Fouad Twal, a Palestinian, to politely stop Tamimi. But Tamimi would not be deterred from reading his written speech, apparently prepared in advance without the knowledge of the organizers.

I wonder what the Sheikh's (and the world's) reaction would have been had the Pope invoked the names of such Crusaders as Godfrey of Bouillon or St. Louis (King Louis IX). After all, from the Christian perspective the Crusades can certainly be viewed as legitimate defensive wars waged to protect Europe from further aggression by Islamic armies of conquest and to reclaim Christian lands that had been conquered through force of arms. That so many people today believe otherwise is just further evidence of the effectiveness of the anti-Christian propaganda that permeates our media and educational establishment. Yes, we are all expected to nod approvingly when a Muslim cleric invokes Saladin, but let no Christian, whether Pope or lowly deacon, say anything positive about those who opposed the 12th Century sultan. (Pope Benedict, of course, would never be so rude.)

How did the old Chinese curse go? May you live in interesting times.

God's peace.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Little More Time Travel

It's been a busy weekend. As I mentioned in my previous post, on Saturday Diane and I drove to Larchmont, NY (a 499-mile round trip from Cape Cod) to share a meal with several other members of the St. Augustine School class of '58. A small but select group of six classmates (including me) attended, along with several of our wives, plus a few non-classmates from the same neighborhood.

Surprisingly, I actually recognized a few whom I hadn't seen in over 50 years. One gentleman commented that he recognized me as soon as he entered the restaurant, even though my back was to the door. I purposely didn't ask which of my physical attributes led to this moment of recognition.

We enjoyed some wonderful Italian cuisine served family style at Augie's Restaurant, an establishment that didn't exist when I lived in the area. (My family moved from Larchmont in the early 60s.) And as we ate we relived many memorable moments, the kind that made those days very special. In some ways, those years between 5th and 8th grades were among the happiest.

While we were in town, I took Diane to my old parish church, St. Augustine's, a beautiful church of the kind they no longer build. The only changes I noticed were the absence of the marble communion rail and the addition of a free-standing altar. The high altar is thankfully still there, but obviously no longer in use. Also the tabernacle containing the Blessed Sacrament was moved from the high altar to a side altar. Other than that, the church looks much as it did when I was an altar boy there so many years ago. I even peeked into the altar servers sacristy and found that it too really hadn't changed all that much.
St. Augustine Church on Larchmont Avenue in Larchmont, NY

We also swung by my old neighborhood. I marveled at the changes to the home in which I grew up, and then chatted with the younger brother of a childhood friend. (He was mowing the front lawn of his family's home.) The Flowers family lived across the street from us and the two eldest of their five children were about the same ages as my brother and I. Apparently they have decided to keep the home in the family, although most of the "kids" now live in New York City where they run the family business.
Walter's on Palmer Avenue in Mamaroneck, NY

Then, on the way out of town, we stopped at Walter's hot dog stand once more (I mentioned Walter's in a previous post last week) so I could take a picture. I never understood the significance of the rather unusual Asian architectural motif of the structure, but Walter's serves great hot dogs, and is certainly worth a visit should you ever be within 20 miles.

Sunday was Mother's Day, and so after Mass the grandmothers prepared a wonderful brunch. Joann Green, our hostess during our stay here in Harwich, really did 90% of the work. She ended up feeding seven little ones, aged eight and under, and seven adults. And as you can see by the picture, Joann and Diane apparently didn't mind slaving away in the kitchen on Mother's Day.
Diane and Joann preparing the Mother's Day brunch.

As I said above, it was a busy but very pleasant weekend. I relived some fond old memories and we created some new ones. What could be better than that? Yes, just being is certainly very good indeed! Deo gratias.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Nostalgia Time

Today Diane and I will drive 240 miles from Cape Cod to Larchmont, NY where we will enjoy a midday meal with a bunch of men who attended grade school with me. We all went to St. Augustine School in Larchmont, graduating from the 8th grade in 1958. Sadly, St. Augustine's is no more. The school closed in 1976, a few years after the Dominican Sisters of Newburgh left.

I haven't seen many of these old classmates since we graduated. Some went on to one of the many Catholic high schools in Westchester County at that time, while others attended one of the local public high schools. I'm not sure how many will be there today, but I expect to enjoy myself.
St. Augustine School as it looked in the 40s and 50s

It's not so much a reunion as an impromptu gathering suggested by a couple of classmates and put together via email. Some are actually flying in from elsewhere in the country. I only wish some of the "girls" in our class had been invited. We had some real cuties in the class of '58.

Anyway, we will all meet at Augie's Italian Restaurant on the Boston Post Road in Larchmont, where I trust the food will live up to its fine reputation. I'll let you know in a day or two.

God's peace.

Three Cheers for Bishop Wenski

Bishop Thomas Wenski, Bishop of the diocese of Orlando (and my bishop), has responded to the University of Notre Dame's decision to honor President Obama in about the best way possible. He celebrated a Mass of Reparation last week for the sins committed against the sacredness of human life. In his homily he specificaly mentioned the decision by Notre Dame. One can only hope that all our bishops would do likewise and storm heaven with the prayers of the Catholic Church in America.

If you would like to read Bishop Wenski's homily, click here. And to read the bishop's latest column on the same issue, click here.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Notre Dame Revisited

Some weeks ago I briefly addressed the ongoing debate about the University of Notre Dame's decision to invite President Obama as a commencement speaker and to award him an honorary law degree.

An interesting development relates to the decision of another honoree, Mary Ann Glendon. Ambassador Glendon, an eminent law professor at Harvard Law School, served as ambassador to the Vatican from 2007 to 2009. (See the photo of her and Pope Benedict.) She, too, had been invited to receive an award and speak at this year's commencement; however, in the face of the invitation extended to the President, she subsequently decided not to participate. Her letter to Fr. Jenkins, President of Notre Dame, is well worth reading. Here it is in its entirety:

Dear Father Jenkins,

When you informed me in December 2008 that I had been selected to receive Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal, I was profoundly moved. I treasure the memory of receiving an honorary degree from Notre Dame in 1996, and I have always felt honored that the commencement speech I gave that year was included in the anthology of Notre Dame’s most memorable commencement speeches. So I immediately began working on an acceptance speech that I hoped would be worthy of the occasion, of the honor of the medal, and of your students and faculty.

Last month, when you called to tell me that the commencement speech was to be given by President Obama, I mentioned to you that I would have to rewrite my speech. Over the ensuing weeks, the task that once seemed so delightful has been complicated by a number of factors.

First, as a longtime consultant to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, I could not help but be dismayed by the news that Notre Dame also planned to award the president an honorary degree. This, as you must know, was in disregard of the U.S. bishops’ express request of 2004 that Catholic institutions “should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles” and that such persons “should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” That request, which in no way seeks to control or interfere with an institution’s freedom to invite and engage in serious debate with whomever it wishes, seems to me so reasonable that I am at a loss to understand why a Catholic university should disrespect it.

Then I learned that “talking points” issued by Notre Dame in response to widespread criticism of its decision included two statements implying that my acceptance speech would somehow balance the event:

• “President Obama won’t be doing all the talking. Mary Ann Glendon, the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, will be speaking as the recipient of the Laetare Medal.”

• “We think having the president come to Notre Dame, see our graduates, meet our leaders, and hear a talk from Mary Ann Glendon is a good thing for the president and for the causes we care about.”

A commencement, however, is supposed to be a joyous day for the graduates and their families. It is not the right place, nor is a brief acceptance speech the right vehicle, for engagement with the very serious problems raised by Notre Dame’s decision—in disregard of the settled position of the U.S. bishops—to honor a prominent and uncompromising opponent of the Church’s position on issues involving fundamental principles of justice.

Finally, with recent news reports that other Catholic schools are similarly choosing to disregard the bishops’ guidelines, I am concerned that Notre Dame’s example could have an unfortunate ripple effect.

It is with great sadness, therefore, that I have concluded that I cannot accept the Laetare Medal or participate in the May 17 graduation ceremony.

In order to avoid the inevitable speculation about the reasons for my decision, I will release this letter to the press, but I do not plan to make any further comment on the matter at this time.

Yours Very Truly,

Mary Ann Glendon

One can only hope that Fr. Jenkins will come to his senses, pay attenton to Ambassador Glendon's words, and remember that he leads an ostensibly Catholic University.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Birkat Hachama: Blessing of the Sun

Well, once again I missed it.

Every 28 years, according to Talmudic tradition, the sun returns to the exact position it occupied when the earth was created. I can recall some of my Jewish friends commenting on this over the years and describing how their families would celebrate the event with the Blessing of the Sun.
The Blessing of the Sun celebrated at the Western Wall, Jerusalem, on April 8.

This year was the 28th year and Wednesday, April 8, was the day. (In the Jewish calendar, this was the 14th day of Nisan in the year 5769.) According to tradition, observant Jews rise early and join together to bless the sun. The words of the blessing -- the Birkat Hachama -- are: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe who makes the works of Creation."

I have always wanted to observe this occasion to see exactly how this blessing is celebrated, but never seem to remember until after the event. This year was no exception. Once again I forgot. The trouble is, I'm pretty sure this was my last chance, unless I manage to live to be 93. I suppose it's possible, so I'll set my alarm for an hour before sunrise on April 8, 2037.

Sun and moon, bless the Lord; praise and exalt him above all forever. - Dan 3:62

Saturday, May 2, 2009

On the road again...

I've been away...and still am, so the blog has suffered.

Diane and I left Florida last Monday and drove first to a tiny wide-spot-in-the-road called Ocoee, Tennessee where we visited our good friends, Nancy and Joe Hathaway. Taking full advantage of their hospitality (i.e., we sponged), we spent a pleasant day and two restful nights in their lovely new home that overlooks a line of green, Tennessee mountains. During our visit I waited patiently on the Hathaway's deck, camera in hand, for the appearance of bears and coyotes and other local fauna that I was told regularly trespass on the property. I saw absolutely nothing...with the exception of two neighbors who drove golf balls through the Hathaway's expansive backyard.

Ah, well, I was once chased by a bear in Yosemite so I probably shouldn't tempt fate again. As you can see by the photo below, the view from the deck really doesn't need to be enhanced by large predators.
The Hathaway's backyard in Ocoee, TN (BTW, their home is for sale!)

Indeed, the only wild animal I saw was a stuffed, but really quite lifelike, fox displayed in a gift shop near a whitewater rafting site. I managed to get a photo of Joe cuddling up to this once fierce carnivore.
Although none of us decided to cheat death on a raft plunging down a raging river, I did purchase a tee-shirt in the gift shop. And so, now, whenever I wear it, others will think I'm one of those manly wilderness types.

Leaving Tennessee en route to Massachusetts, we actually did cheat death for two days as we made our way through the insanity that the locals euphemistically call "traffic". Born and raised in the Northeast, I've obviously lost my edge since moving to central Florida. Either that or the drivers are much worse than they once were. I suspect a bit of both.

We made one stop along the way, at the town where I grew up, Larchmont, NY. Diane and I spent maybe a half-hour driving through town as I boringly pointed out all the changes since our last equally brief visit. We then stopped at one of my favorite places, Walter's hot dog stand on Palmer Avenue in Mamaroneck. I last savored one of Walter's famous dogs in June 1962, a few days after graduating from Archbishop Stepinac High School. They're still pretty good, but somehow not quite the same. Nothing ever is. I neglected to take a photo of Walter's. I must remedy that on our return trip

On Thursday we arrived at our daughter's home in Hyannis on Cape Cod, hugged all the grandkids, dropped off the carload of stuff we brought for them, then drove to Harwich where we once again sponged off of old friends, this time Joann and Bob Green whom we've known for well over 30 years.

And then, yesterday, we had the pleasure of attending the event that was the primary reason for the trip. Our grandson, Pedro, celebrated his First Holy Communion at the 9 a.m. Sunday Mass at St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis. The below photo shows Pedro surrounded by his immediate family, his grandparents (Diane and me), two uncles, an aunt, and two cousins -- a nice bunch of folks who came to celebrate with Pedro his reception of this wondrous gift from God. It was a wonderful day.So far a nice trip, even though the weather has been typical Cape Cod spring weather: cold and rainy.

And here's an FYI, a relatively new (to me, at least) Catholic website: http://www. thecatholicthing.org

Blessings...