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!


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Homily: Arizona Shepherds

I thought I'd share my homily for the 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 19.

Readings: Jer 23:1-6; Ps 23; Eph 2:13-18; Mk 6:30-34

____________________

Almost 20 years ago when our eldest daughter chose to attend Thomas Aquinas College in California, Diane and I decided to load up the station wagon and drive her there ourselves. We lived in Massachusetts at the time, so it was a bit of a drive.

I’d like to say it was a fun trip, but to be honest I can’t recall very much about it. Those countless hours of driving on interstate highways really aren’t very conducive to an appreciation of America’s natural beauty. After a while the prairies, the plains, the mountains, the wheat fields all tend to blur into a single hazy impression of a seemingly endless highway. I'm sure some of you have shared the experience.

But there was one event on that trip I’ll never forget. One afternoon, somewhere in Arizona, our car decided it had taken enough abuse and simply stopped. Unfortunately, at the time we were on an empty stretch of Interstate in the middle of the desert. I immediately did what every red-blooded American male does in such a situation. I opened the hood, stared blankly at the engine, and swore at it.


For some reason this had absolutely no effect on the car. Knowing my mechanical ability, my wife and daughter began praying for assistance. And by the time I’d exhausted my repertoire of expletives, their prayers were answered. (There's a message there, but that's another homily.)

Anyway, three teenage Navajos in an old pickup stopped on the dirt service road that paralleled the highway and asked if we needed assistance. They volunteered to drive to a service station a few miles down the road to get some help. But before they left, another car pulled over. The driver, also a Native American, but from Oklahoma, took one look under the hood and in about three minutes had the car running again. Obviously in a hurry, he drove off before I even had a chance to thank him. And then, no longer needed, the three young Navajos gave us a smile and a wave and sped off down the dirt road trailing a cloud of dust.

Since that day I've often thought of those four young men and how they took the time to stop and help this obviously befuddled white guy from Massachusetts. If our roles had been reversed, would I have stopped for them? As much as I hate to admit it, probably not. How easy it’d be to rationalize a decision to pass them by. I just don’t have the time to stop. I need to get to Phoenix by nightfall. I’m sure a state trooper will be along soon. And, you can't be too careful, can you? You never know who you'll run into. How easy to magnify our own needs and fears to ensure they outweigh the more obvious and immediate needs of others.

I recalled those four Native Americans when I read today's Gospel reading. How did it go? "He pitied them, for they were like a sheep without a shepherd..." Well, if anyone was ever a lost sheep, it was I that hot afternoon in Arizona.

In the Gospel we encounter the Apostles as they return to Jesus from their first mission. It was a mission of healing and teaching and preaching, and they were no doubt exhilarated by the experience. They had witnessed firsthand the power of God's Word, the power of Jesus' Name. But they were also hungry and exhausted, in need of rest, as well as physical and spiritual refreshment.

Jesus, too, needed a break from the crowds who constantly pressed in on him, demanding his attention. Can you picture the scene? Listen again to the words of the Gospel: "People were coming and going in great numbers, making it impossible for them to so much as eat." It must have been chaotic. To make matters worse, Jesus knew that his cousin, John the Baptist, had just been executed by Herod. This surely affected him deeply.

Yes, Jesus and the Apostles needed some time alone, a brief retreat from the world. As Mark tells us, "So Jesus and the Apostles went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place." But that’s not the way it worked out, is it? The crowd figured out where they were going and arrived before them -- a huge crowd, over 5,000 people.

Most of us would have been annoyed to have our plans disrupted that way. But not Jesus. Instead of telling them to go home, that He’d done enough for one day, He sees their need, places it above His own and that of the Apostles, and takes pity on them. For the crowd, too, needed that same physical and spiritual nourishment. Jesus provides food for their souls with His teaching, and food for their bodies with His miraculous multiplication of loaves and fishes.

In doing this, Jesus sends us all a message. If there’s no rest for Him, there can be no rest for His followers either. For the Christian, the follower of Christ, the needs of others must always outweigh his or her own. By virtue of our baptism, we all received a calling. Like the Apostles we have all been sent into the world on a mission. Indeed, that’s the very meaning of the word "apostle": one who is sent out. And like Jesus, we all have a certain amount of shepherding to do.

This doesn't mean we are all called to work in the foreign missions. For most of us, our mission is much closer to home; actually, it begins right in our homes. Our children, for example, can be fed and clothed and cared for physically, but if they are not nourished spiritually, if they’re given no Christian direction, they will be lost and wander aimlessly through life without real purpose. How sad that so many people, the young and the not so young, people from nominally Christian homes, lead empty, self-centered lives devoted only to pleasure or the accumulation of material wealth. Is there no one to shepherd them?

Perhaps even worse, we see people throughout the world, many of them Christians, seemingly motivated only by national or ethnic hatred. Where are the shepherds in their lives?

In today's second reading, St. Paul tells us explicitly that through the sacrifice of Christ, all people are brought near to God in a covenant of brotherhood. Listen again to his words. "It is He who is our peace, and who made the two of us one by breaking down the barrier of hostility that kept us apart...reconciling both of us to God in one body through the cross which puts that enmity to death." Our mission extends beyond home and family. It extends to the workplace, to friendships, to those seemingly chance encounters with those in need.

In the first reading we heard Jeremiah tell of God's promise to send shepherds to His people, so they will no longer live in fear. It’s a promise fulfilled by the good news of the Gospel, with the arrival among us of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Son of the Living God. And Jesus calls on each of us to continue His work, to be shepherds of God's people. But being the Good Shepherd that Jesus wants each of us to be can be a hard line of business. But He has given us a roadmap with the path clearly marked. We’re asked only obey His commandments and to love -- to love Him with all our being and to love each other. If we do this, He’ll take care of the rest.

Loving God demands that we find a quiet spot in our lives where we can be alone with Him in prayer. Like Jesus and the Apostles, we sometimes need to refresh ourselves spiritually, to get away from the pressures that bear down on us, to listen to God's healing voice. If only we allow Jesus to make His home in our hearts, He will give us the strength we need to cope with the challenges of life and the courage we need to accept our calling.

Oh, and now the rest of the story…Our daughter, the one we drove to California on that trip…her first job after graduate school was as a teacher at a Mission School in Thoreau, New Mexico, teaching Navajo and Apache children. You see, God calls us to do His work in the lives of those we touch, even in the lives of the strangers we meet on Arizona highways.

God's peace...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Happy Birthdays and more...

Today is my father's 100th birthday. John McCarthy, born July 24, 1909, almost made it all the way but returned to the Father a few years short of the century mark, dying at the age of 95. (My mom, Martha Cavanaugh McCarthy, who would have turned 100 a month ago on June 28, died in 1977.)

Mom and Dad enjoying a beer in the 50s

For some reason, this quiet celebration of my parents' 100th birthdays is a bit of a shock to my system. When you realize your parents would be 100, you know you're getting old. But I'll shove that thought onto a back burner, and focus instead on my dad.
Dad giving a speech in the 1960s

John McCarthy was a remarkable man whose accomplishments could have filled multiple lifetimes. He was so many things: a self-made, self-educated expert in sales, marketing and management; an author of highly acclaime
d books on these same subjects; and a successful businessman and entrepreneur in a number of industries.

Dad with Governor John Volpe

He was a member of the "greatest generation" who served his country with distinction in World War II and beyond (he retied as a colonel in the Army Reserve); a teacher who trained and motivated tens of thousands of business people; a public speaker who delivered thousands of speeches to business, civic, governmental and political groups for over 40 years; a public servant who, during his tenure in state government, brought a rare honesty and accountability to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. But more importantly he was a man of deep faith, whose generosity knew no bounds, and a loving husband and father. And throughout that long, distinguished career he had the loving support of two remarkable women: my mom, Martha, and Dad's second wife, Barbara.

We all miss him. Dad and Barbara on their 25th Anniversary

Happy Birthday, Dad. Rest in peace.

Coincidentally, tomorrow, July 25, is the birthday of John McCarthy's eldest great grandchild, Pedro Santa Ana. Young Pedro, a genius among his eight-year-old contemporaries, already shows signs of being made of the same right stuff as his great grandfather. Happy Birthday, Pedro.

Dad (93) and Pedro (1) chillin' in 2002

Catholic Charities backs Obama Health Plan

The head of Catholic Charities USA, Fr. Larry Snyder, has in effect come out in favor of President Obama's health care reform plan. In a letter sent to legislators, Father Snyder, although he does not specifically mention the president's plan, clearly shows support for the reforms it advocates. Unfortunately, he does not mention the pro-abortion elements of the president's plan, despite the fact that Catholic pro life organizations are working hard to get those elements removed. Read more here.

It reminds me of a meeting I had with a diocesan Catholic Charities director a few years ago. She was waxing eloquently about our then US representative and his strong support for comprehensive immigration reform. "We're really fortunate to have him as our congressman," she told me. When I reminded her that he had a 100% pro-abortion voting record, she responded by saying, "Oh, yes, I guess we'll have to talk to him about that."

One step forward, two steps backward...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Going to Rome? Part 3

Today's post on visiting Rome will be a change of pace and will address some of things you'll want to take with you (and some things you'll want to leave behind). Tomorrow we'll get back to the city itself and recommend some additional places to include on your Roman tourist itinerary.

Packing. I can't speak for the women, so I won't even try...other than to tell you what I tell the men: pack light. Here are my packing recommendations for the guys:
  • A single, medium-sized suitcase per person
  • A single carry-on knapsack or similar bag per person
  • Rome isn't Disney World, so shorts are t-shirts are generally unacceptable attire
  • Several pair of microfiber slacks (they don't wrinkle and look dressy)
  • Two pair of jeans. Wear these when roaming the city.
  • Reversible belt - black/brown
  • One blazer or sports jacket that will go with everything
  • Polo shirts or similar shirts, either long- or short-sleeve depending on the time of year
  • Five pair of underwear and socks. You can wash these in your hotel room, so check out the quick dry underwear sold by Magellan's; also their hotel room wash kit.
  • One pair of comfortable walking shoes and one pair of comfortable loafers. Just be sure they're broken in and truly comfortable. Hurting feet can ruin a vacation.
  • A light-weight windbreaker or parka with a hood. I have one that can be rolled, zipped into its own pocket, and stored in my backpack.
  • Small containers of your toiletries -- tooth paste, hair gel, etc.
  • I use a Braun battery powered electric razor when I travel because it takes up so little space and one set of AA batteries last several weeks.
  • Battery chargers for all the electronic devices you take along: digital camera and video cam; netbook PC; GPS; cell phone. (Before you leave be sure to check with your cellular service provider about eliminating roaming charges in Europe. And check with them on the cost of calls back to the US. You don't want surprises when you return.)
  • One neat little device I bought before my last trip to Italy was a Power Monkey. You charge it up and stick it in your backpack. If any other device needs a charge when you're roaming the streets of Rome you can charge it with your Power Monkey. It comes with connectors for virtually every device.
  • Plug adaptors for Italian electrical sockets. Most battery chargers will work on US and European voltage, but you will need adaptors so you can plug your device into an Italian socket. Magellan also sells these. You can probably get away with buying one for each two devices.
  • A collapsible, folding suitcase to hold all the souvenirs and other goodies you buy and don't want to ship home. Magellan sells a neat one.
Backpack. When I'm actually out and about in Rome, I carry only the basics. This is because Diane and I tend to walk a lot in Rome, on average four to six miles daily. It's not that we're avid walkers; it's just a relatively painless way to burn off the calories that accompany all that good Roman food. Oh, yes, and I do enjoy the wine as well. Anyway, with all that walking it's best to carry as little as possible.

Several years ago I picked up a Rick Steves' Veloce shoulder bag/backpack after seeing it in use on his PBS European travel show. It's perfect for me because it holds everything I need for a day's outing. It can be carried over one shoulder or as a backpack. I've carried it all over and it's held up beautifully. The above link will take you to the Amazon.com page describing the bag. It costs about $50 but is worth every cent. On any given day in Rome, here's what I carry in the bag:
  • Canon Digital Rebel SLR with wide-angle to telephoto zoom lens (18 to 270 mm)
  • Camera accessories, including lens cleaner, extra SD memory cards, lens filters, and folding mini-tripod
  • A small Everio JVC video camera -- records onto internal solid state memory or SD card. No tapes or DVDs needed.
  • My HP Travel Companion with TomTom GPS built-in. A neat little device that lets me surf the web on WiFi hotspots and also use the built-in TomTom GPS with Italian maps. (One of my sons has almost convinced me that in the future I might be better served to move up to an iPhone.)
  • Detailed map of Rome for finding those out of the way places
  • A laminated tourist map (handy when it rains) that also includes basic info on key sights and attractions
  • A small pocket guidebook to the city
  • Individual guidebooks to any particular places we intend to visit that day
  • A bottle of water (the bag has pocket designed to hold a water bottle)
  • A Moleskin notebook, along with extra pens and pencils
  • A leather folder containing a documents we need to have with us that day
  • A small umbrella and hooded windbreaker
It sounds like a lot of stuff to carry around, but it really isn't all that much.

Maps and Guidebooks. My library probably contains more guidebooks to Rome than the average Barnes & Noble store. Yes, it's a weakness, but whenever I come across a new guidebook and flip through its pages, I inevitably encounter something or some place new to me...the rest is history and a hit to my debit card.

All kinds of guidebooks are available:
  • You can pick up one of those laminated tourist maps that also include brief descriptions of the "highlights" of Rome.
  • You can also select one of the many pocket-sized guidebooks that provide basic information on the places most pilgrims and tourists visit, along with itineraries for "seeing it all" in one, two or three days. (Just the thought of it tires me.)
  • Or you can go to the other extreme and opt for the Michelin Green Guide to Rome and Vatican City, a book that provides rather extensive details on the history, architecture and people related to virtually every district, church, museum and piazza in Rome.
  • And finally, you can obtain guidebooks specific to particular places. For example, I have individual guidebooks to the Pantheon, the Basilicas of Rome, the Vatican, St. Peter's Basilica, the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, and many others. Most of these I picked up in Rome because they offer the kind of detailed information I find useful as I take my self-guided tour of the place described. They're also nice souvenirs and have helped me identify the subject of many a photograph.
I suggest, however, that you use your available funds more wisely than I and buy only those publications that best suit your specific needs. As I explain how I use them, let me also recommend a few that you might want to pick up before your trip.
  • Large, detailed guidebooks -- for example the Michelin Green Book mentioned above -- are wonderful reference tools for reading up on the places you intend to visit. For example, if we plan to take a day and roam about the Trastevere district, we'll take some time the evening before to read about the district and note those places we'd like to visit. By jotting down the key information in my little Moleskin pocket notebook, I have all I need for out next day's outing. The guidebook can remain in the hotel room.
  • In this same general category is the Eyewitness Travel Guide to Rome. A beautifully illustrated guidebook, one of its more valuable features is a section that describes nine different self-guided walking tours of Rome. Each walk is described in two facing pages so you can copy each walk on a single 8 1/2 x 11 sheet and just leave the book in the hotel room.
  • A good map is invaluable in Rome. I have a dozen or more, but many of them are so busy with such small print that I find them almost unusable. If you have younger eyes than I, you might disagree. I suggest that you stop by your local chain bookstore (Borders, Barnes & Noble, or Books-a-Million) and look at their maps of Rome. I especially like the laminated maps since paper maps do not do well in the rain. The two that I have found easiest to use are the Let's Go Map Guide to Rome and the Streetwise Rome Map. Take your pick, or be like me and buy both.
  • A note on using GPS. I have a TomTom GPS with the maps of Western Europe pre-loaded, and yet I still carry my handy laminated map. The GPS is great for planning walking routes and for showing you where you are, but there's nothing like a good map on which you can view your entire route and take note of where you are relative to other places you want to visit.
  • A good pocket guidebook to the city is also a useful thing to carry with you on each daily outing. There are dozens to choose from and so I suggest visiting your local bookstore so you can page through several before buying the one that most appeals to you. Here are a few I've used, listed in no particular order: Rick Steves' Rome; Fodor's Citypack Rome; Frommer's Rome Day by Day; Eyewitness Top 10 Rome; and AAA Essential Rome. The Rick Steves' book is a little larger than the others, but it's really quite good as a carry along guidebook so I've included it here rather than among the larger reference books.
  • Finally, I'm listing a guidebook that I just ordered a few days ago based on the recommendation of a friend. It sounds wonderful, especially for those who consider their visit to Rome as a pilgrimage: A Catholic's Guide to Rome. If the Amazon reviews reflect the quality of the book, it should be wonderful.
I hope these map and guidebook suggestions help. Regardless of which book(s) you decide on, just be sure to buy the latest edition. You want an up-to-date guide with current information on the places you visit. There's nothing worse than walking halfway across the city to find that the museum you hoped to see is closed because their hours changed a year ago. This is another good reason to check the websites of places you intend to visit.

Next time I'll return to a discussion of some of the more interesting places to see and enjoy when in Rome.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Obama Dumping Israel?

It looks like our President may be burning a very important bridge behind him, the bridge that for years has connected a majority of the nation's Jewish community with the Democrat party. Jonathan Tobin, executive editor of Commentary magazine, has written an insightful article that appeared in the Jerusalem Post. Click here to read it.

Moon Landing Conspiracy Theorists

Well, folks, the moronic wing-nuts, who have for years questioned the fact of the Apollo Program moon landings, have added another screwy one to their ranks: Whoopi Goldberg. That's right, Whoopi Goldberg, the intellectual pride of that collection of unremarkable women who co-host The View, has decided that NASA and the tens of thousands of people directly involved in the Apollo program have, for 40 years, cleverly conspired to fool the world into thinking we actually landed on the moon. Apparently Whoopi and her fellow whack-jobs believe that NASA must have filmed the whole thing in some clandestine studio, probably at Area 51 where the government has secretly kept all those UFOs and extra-terrestrials.

As someone who was intimately involved in the Apollo program, and who, from my Navy helicopter, personally observed several Apollo command modules as they reentered the atmosphere and descended to the Pacific under those three parachutes, I can assure you the Apollo landings were quite real. Yeah, I know, don't confuse you with the facts; you've got your mind made up. (If you would enjoy viewing my PowerPoint presentation on the Apollo 13 Recovery Operation, click here.)

Apollo 14 landing site taken by a NASA lunar orbiter this month

I recently read that as many as 20% of Americans doubt the reality of the Apollo moon landings. If that's true, we're doomed as a nation. I think I'm probably safe when I suggest that every one of these geniuses voted for Barack Obama.

Of course, Whoopi Goldberg has said many outrageous things, including her comment on The View (2007) that women who have had abortions should be revered. She also once admitted to having had six abortions herself.

Pray for us.

Going to Rome? Part 2

A few days ago, I passed along some gratuitous tips on traveling to Rome, and today I intend to subject you to a second round of informative tidbits. This time I'll address some of the things you might want to do at the Vatican. In addition to St. Peter's Basilica there are a number of Vatican "must-sees". The below information assumes that you're not traveling as a member of a tour or pilgrimage group; that is, you are traveling as an individual, a couple, or perhaps two couples.

Roman busts in the Vatican Museums

Vatican Museums. First, you'll want to visit the Vatican Museums, among the most remarkable in the world. There are several options. You can stand in line -- often a very long line -- waiting to purchase individual tickets at the door. You can join a commercial tour group and let them arrange for the tickets and guided tour. Or you can do what we do, and purchase your individual tour tickets online in advance. Then, when you arrive prior to the time of your tour, you can skip the line and join the other individuals and couples who will make up your small tour group. A guided tour (about two hours long) is a good idea, especially for your first visit. The tour guide will introduce you to all the "highlights" of the multiple museums, including a visit to the Sistine Chapel. After the tour you can remain in the Museums and visit specific collections that are of particular interest to you. If you plan to spend more than one day at the museums, you can also purchase individual (no tour) entrance tickets online, thus enabling you to skip that long waiting line once again. For example, some folks purchase tour tickets for one day and regular entrance tickets for the next day. All of this can be done online. Go to the Vatican Museums' web page and take your pick of ticket options:

Individual Tour Tickets
or
Individual Entrance Tickets (No tour)

Tickets for the tour of the Museums and Sistine Chapel currently cost 30 Euros. The basic entrance ticket (no tour) runs 18 Euros if purchased online. All tickets can be purchased online as much as 60 days in advance.

Gallery in the Vatican Museums

Some tips on visiting the Vatican Museums:
  • Be sure to be on time for your tour. I always try to arrive at least 30 minutes ahead of time.
  • You're also permitted to take photographs inside the museums, but not in the Sistine Chapel.
  • The museums are vast. You would need a week to see everything. To help you select the collections you'd especially like to visit, go to the museums' web site and take their online virtual tours. They're really quite well done. Here's the link: Vatican Museums Virtual Tours.
  • Don't miss the museums' large gift shop, It's a great place to purchase some unique gifts for those hard to please folks back home.
Vatican Gardens. This is another "must-see." Unless you have a well-placed friend who works in the Vatican, the only way to visit the Vatican Gardens is on a tour. The tours consist of small groups and are led by well-qualified and interesting guides. You'll certainly want to take your camera along. You can purchase your Vatican Garden tour tickets when you purchase your tour tickets for the Vatican Museums. Tickets are 30 Euros and can be purchased online on the following page: Vatican Gardens Tour Tickets.

The dome of St. Peter's Basilica from the Vatican Gardens

St. Peter's Basilica. If you've already checked out the ticket web pages I listed above, you probably noticed that you're given two Vatican Museum tour options. One combines the tour of the museums with the Sistine Chapel and the other combines the museums and St. Peter's. I recommend selecting the Sistine Chapel option. You can enter St. Peter's for free pretty much whenever you like and if you have a good guide book you can conduct a self-guided tour.

St. Peter's Necropolis Excavations. There is, however, one additional must-see tour, the tour of the Necropolis beneath St. Peter's Basilica. Taking this tour is the only way you can actually visit the spot where St. Peter was buried by the early Christians. You must purchase tickets in advance because of the limits on the number of people who can go on this tour each day. Here's the link to the Vatican Excavations Office web page that lists all the information you'll need to arrange for a tour. I'd suggest that you make this tour reservation before all others since the tickets are harder to come by and you might not be able to select the specific day of your tour. Be sure to read the entire page before contacting the Excavations Office. You can request the tickets via the email address listed on the page. As I recall the tickets are only 10 Euros.

If you'd like to get a preview of what your will experience on this tour, you can visit the Vatican's online virtual tour of the excavations. Here's the link: Virtual Excavations Tour. It's pretty neat and I recommend viewing it prior to your trip.

Papal Audience. The Holy Father conducts a Wednesday audience at 10:30 a.m. whenever he's in town, so be sure to set aside a Wednesday morning during your stay. Sometimes the audience is held outside in St. Peter's Square, and sometimes inside in the large audience hall. I'm not really sure what criteria are used to make the inside-outside decision. Once, on a fairly cool day in November, we attended an outside audience. And on our next visit, on a very pleasant September day, the audience was held inside.

The crowd at an outdoor Papal Audience (Nov. 2005)

As a deacon I can usually get the "special" seats for my wife and me. I prefer the outside audience, because these special seats are actually closer to the Holy Father than the inside seats. Also the photographic conditions are better outside. If you have a clergy friend or if you're in tight with your bishop, you might want to pull all those strings so you can get those special tickets. You're not only closer to the Pope, but the line is much shorter.

Pope Benedict XVI: Papal Audience Nov 2005

I have always obtained my tickets via the North American College (NAC), the theological seminary in Rome for Americans studying for the priesthood. Here is a link to their page describing how to obtain tickets to a papal audience: North American College. You can request your tickets via email (visitorsoffice@pnac.org) or call the NAC at the number listed on the web page. One important point: The NAC does not deliver or mail tickets. You must pick them up at the NAC the day before the audience between 3 and 7 p.m. The address (including a map) is listed on their website.

Masses. With so many basilicas and churches, you have lots of choices of where to attend Mass. I recommend you choose a different church each day and time your visits accordingly. Here's a link to a site providing the Mass times for many of Rome's leading churches: Mass Times.

That's enough for now. Next time I'll branch out and address some of the other places you might want to visit while in Rome.

New Video - Catholic Vote

CatholicVote.org has released a new TV ad. Very timely...


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hide those disabilities

This morning I came across a comment by Allahpundit, the anonymous blogger who now blogs on Michelle Malkin's hotair.com. He addresses one of the reasons that Sarah Palin is so despised by so many: she doesn't hide her disabled baby, the kind of child that should have been aborted. By showing us her child, by loving her child, Governor Palin forces us to recognize the humanity of those we murder every day. Here's the entire comment:
_______________

“Palin is controversial, in part, because America is divided over disability. We’ve established laws and institutions that protect people with disabilities. But we also do everything we can to make sure they don’t see the light of day.

Trig is a reminder of our fierce ambivalence over disability. Every mention of his name is a pinprick to our conscience. Every photo of mother and son is a reminder of concepts — vulnerability, dependency and suffering — our culture no longer tolerates, as well as virtues, such as humility, dignity and self-sacrifice, it no longer extols.

Trig is also a reminder of an inescapable truth: Disability is an inherent part of the human condition. At a time of deep cultural divisions, 1-year-old Trig Palin represents the deepest division of all, between a culture that increasingly sees genetic perfection as an entitlement and a culture still rooted in the belief that human beings are defined not by their capabilities but, instead, by the very fact of their humanity.”

_______________

God help us.

For more on this, click here.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Off to Rome??

Uh-oh. It's been only 10 months since our last visit to Rome, but Diane and I are once again itching to return. We've made a number of visits during the past decade and, God willing, will make many more in the years to come.

I'm unable to articulate fully why Rome holds such an attraction for us. Because we seem to like everything about the city, it's hard to know where to begin. There's so much to like: the Vatican; the basilicas and churches; the opportunity to stroll through the remains of ancient Rome; the food, the wine, the noise, the people...We like it all.

Dome of St. Peter's from the Vatican Gardens.

If you've never been to Rome, you should definitely put it at the top of your "bucket list." And don't be put off by what you may have heard about the high prices and crowds. A little planning and online research can go a long way toward making your trip both affordable and enjoyable. I hope the following tips will help you plan a truly unforgettable trip.

1. How long? Unless you expect to make more than one trip, plan to spend at least a week in Rome -- ten days is even better. There's so much to see and too often visitors try to pack too much into each day. "Overbooking" your time will only make for a stressful vacation and deprive you of one of the joys of a visit to Rome: learning to ease into the pace of the city and its people. Take some time and make it a true vacation during which you will come to know and love the city and its people. One of my desires is to find the wherewithal to rent an apartment and spend a full month in Rome. Maybe...we'll see.

2. When to visit?
For me, the best time of year to visit Rome is in the spring or fall. Late September and October or April and early May usually offer fairly nice weather. Just be sure to plan far enough ahead so you can book reservations at the hotel of your choice. These can be popular times. The winter months -- from November through March -- tend to be colder and rainy, although we once visited in November and were blessed with fairly comfortable weather. Summers can be hot and during August much of Rome shuts down as the Romans go on vacation elsewhere. Summer is also the season for lots of open-air shows and festivals of all sorts. For what it's worth, my next trip will probably be in mid-September or April.

3. Booking Flights. I usually book our flight first, before making hotel or other reservations. Deals on airfares are definitely out there these days. You can purchase a round-trip ticket to Rome for $700 or less...often a lot less. And this is from Orlando! If you're flying out of New York or some other major international airports on the east coast, you'll find much cheaper flights. If, like us, you're retired and have the ability to travel at off-peak times or on relatively short notice, you can travel even less expensively. Here are some suggestions:

The Colosseum
  • Check lots of different travel websites before booking your flights. Memberships to these sites -- Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia, Cheap Flights, etc. -- is free and can sometimes save you big bucks.
  • Be sure to check out the individual airline sites as well. They sometimes have limited time offers you won't find elsewhere. For example, on our last trip we flew via British Air, thanks to an email they sent me advertising a limited time offer (48 hours!) for 1/2 price tickets to Rome. The flight, from Orlando to Rome, included a plane change at Gatwick (London). Most airlines also offer package deals that include your hotel stay. If you're considering one of these deals, just be sure that the hotel meets your needs. (See below.)
  • If you have the time and don't mind changing planes a couple of times, you can often get remarkably low-cost seats. On one trip, we flew to Rome from Orlando via New York and Paris, changing planes at each stop. It was a bit tiring but it sure saved us a bundle. We probably won't do that again though. Our aging bodies have asked us to limit future trips to one plane change.
A wall in the Trastevere district of Rome

4. Check out the Package Deals. This leads me to another suggestion. In addition to the packages offered by airlines (addressed above), there are travel firms that specialize in putting together low-cost packages that include airfare, hotels, airport transfers, side trips -- pretty much whatever you want. Back in 2005 Diane and I used one of these firms -- go-today.com -- for a trip that included Rome and Venice. The package advertised three days in each city, but we extended each stay by several days. They offered a range of five hotel selections from basic tourist class up to a deluxe luxury hotel. Since the hotels were named, I was able to visit each hotel's website and get a better sense of the accommodations and services offered. We ended up choosing a mid-range hotel in each city and were extremely happy with the result. The folks at go-today also reserved airport transfers for us, upgraded to first class our train trip from Rome to Venice, and arranged a one-day side trip to Orvieto during our stay in Rome. Everything went smoothly and we had no complaints whatsoever.

San Angelo Bridge

5. Choosing a Hotel. I hate to recommend specific hotels because everyone's tastes and budgets vary...so I won't. I will, however, offer some suggestions that might help you choose the best hotel for you.
  • For me the most important consideration is location. I want a hotel where I can walk to many of the places I intend to visit. If I plan to spend a lot of time at the Vatican, then I want a hotel nearby. If I intend to spend most of my time in the historic center of the city, then that's where I'll want to stay. On our last visit, we split the difference and chose a small hotel in the Prati district located about a third of the way between the Vatican and Piazza Navona. It turned out to be a good choice.
  • Once you've narrowed down the general location, you can go to websites such as hotels.com or bookings.com and search for hotels during the time of your trip. These and similar sites allow you to narrow down the search based on such factors as location in the city, price, services offered, customer ratings, etc.
  • Keep in mind that you probably won't spend much time in your hotel room. You can spend a lot of money on luxuries you will never or rarely use. When in Rome the main thing I'm looking for in a hotel is a good night's sleep.
  • After location, my selection criteria include: no noise at night; a comfortable bed; an adequate breakfast; and free Internet access for the little netbook I take with me. You will probably have other criteria, but the important thing is to consider them before booking your room. Check out the customer reviews and see what others have experienced. And be sure to visit the websites of all the hotels you are considering. If you have questions don't hesitate to email the hotel directly. Prior to our last trip, I developed quite an email relationship with the manager of the hotel where we ultimately stayed. I was always pleasant and respectful and never neglected to thank him for taking the time to answer my questions. As a result he upgraded us to a larger room the day after our arrival. I also gave them a wonderful review on the website we used to book the hotel. I expect they'll remember us should we choose to stay there again. Being nice always pays off.
  • Unless you're wealthy (I'm not), price is always a factor. Don't necessarily accept the price listed on the hotel search website. Visit the hotel's site as well and see if they have any special deals during the time of your visit. It also doesn't hurt to email or call the hotel directly and see if you can negotiate a better price.
  • My only negative suggestion regarding hotels is to avoid the area near the Rome train station (Stazione Termini). The negatives? It isn't the best neighborhood, although recent reports indicate that the police have cut the crime rate substantially and many people now consider it a fairly safe area. It's also a noisy area because of the traffic and the nighttime activity. The positives? There are some nice hotels with very reasonable rates. You also have ready access to public transportation that can take you anywhere in Rome and beyond.
(By the way, I took the above photo of Pope Benedict XVI during a Wednesday general audience in November 2005. It is possible to get a seat close to His Holiness.)

That's all for now. In my next post I'll pass along suggestions on what to see and do while in Rome and how to obtain tickets to some of the real neat stuff like papal audiences and tours of the excavations under St. Peter's Basilica.

Blessings...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Economics 101 - Soup Kitchen Version

I'm no economist, although I did shuffle my way through a few graduate courses in economics way back when. Indeed, my only vivid memory of any of those economics classes was the day my macroeconomics professor stated that the government should encourage high trade deficits. In his words, "Those other countries give us all those cool Toyotas, and Sony TVs, and BMWs, and Italian suits, and we give them worthless paper (i.e., dollars) in return. Sounds like a good deal to me." I'm still trying to figure out whether he was right or not; although, right or worng, I suppose he's very pleased these days.

Anyway, as you might guess, when I want to get a sense for how the economy's doing, you won't see me pulling out the demand curves or Laffer curves or statistics on personal income and outlays or any other kind of curves or traditional economic indicators. No, I have far more personal and, I believe, reliable data upon which to draw my conclusions. I use two metrics. First, I just count the number of meals we're currently serving at the soup kitchen and compare the total to the totals of previous months and years. And then I compare how tired I am and how many muscles ache at the end of a six-hour soup kitchen shift compared to the previous week.

Now I realize that my indicators don't sound very scientific, compared to those used by economists, but we all know that the intelligence of most economists is highly overrated. Since they never agree with each other, I don't see how all of them can be smart. And so I figure any conclusions I come up with are likely just as valid as theirs.

Now to the nitty-gritty. What's been happening at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen? Exactly the opposite of what I'd like to see. The demand for meals has been increasing, and at a steep rate. It wasn't long ago when 200 meals was a very busy day. Now we're regularly preparing 250 or more meals daily. Last Thursday we served and delivered 254 meals (a record for our Thursday team), and today the total was 250. On some other days this week the totals exceeded 260. These are very large numbers for us. But that's not all. Reinforcing what these numbers seem to represent, is the pain I am currently experiencing. My back and legs muscles, the associated tendons and bones, even my skin, are all aching at unprecedented levels. My day at the soup kitchen, you see, interrupts the calm of my sedentary life and forces me to use body parts that are normally protected from such abuse. Usually the two aspirins I take each Thursday at 1 p.m. do the trick. But not today, and not last week.

And so, after bending my extraordinarily non-scientific mind to focus on these numbers and my aching, aged muscles, I have concluded that the economy is going down the toilet. I really don't think any of those hundreds of billions in stimulus dollars have made their way to Wildwood, Florida; and I suspect they never will. The poor in our area, particularly the working poor, seem to be losing ground and I fear the numbers and my pains will only increase.

Of course, the Wildwood Soup Kitchen doesn't rely on government at any level for anything. We can continue to feed the hungry only because of the generosity of individuals, churches, local businesses, community groups, and service organizations who provide us with the money and the food to do God's work in our community. How fortunate we are to have such generous donors, along with a corps of approximately 150 self-sacrificing volunteers, an ecumenical group from nearly 30 local churches. Last year we served over 62,000 meals and this year we will surely exceed that figure.

As President of our Board of Directors my primary task is to raise money; and so if you happen to experience a sudden urge to donate, you can go directly to our website and donate via PayPal, or you can send a check to our P.O. Box address listed on the website. Every penny counts. And because we have NO paid staff, you can be sure that every one of those pennies will go directly to the work of our ministry.

http://www.wildwoodsoupkitchen.com

Blessings...

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Caritas in veritate (Charity in truth)

The Vatican published Pope Benedict's latest encyclical, Caritas in veritate, on July 7. I read it through once, but will have to read it again more slowly so I can digest and better understand some of the Holy Father's thoughts on the Church's social teaching. The encyclical is available online at the Vatican's website. The Pope also spoke about it at his most recent audience, so if you want a very brief synopsis, you can read those comments. Finally, a number of people have already published (online) brief overviews or summaries of the encyclical. The one I found most helpful is by Dr. Jeff Mirus and available on catholicculture.org. Here are links to all three:

Entire Encyclical Caritas in veritate: Vatican website

Pope's comments at July 8 audience: General Audience

Dr. Jeff Mirus - Summary: Catholic Culture

Enjoy...

Healing Mass Homily

Yesterday at noon our parish, St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wildwood, Florida, celebrated a healing Mass that brought in over 500 people. Here's a link to an article that appeared in our local newspaper, The Villages Daily Sun, on Friday, the day prior to the Mass.

Several weeks ago, when I was asked to preach at the Mass, I was told that the participants would expect a long homily, up to 30 minutes. My initial response was, "Aren't they Catholic?" But then it was explained to me that the Mass was sponsored by our local charismatic prayer group, and that they had invited folks from neighboring parishes and even some nearby Protestant churches. So I compromised and prepared a 20-minute homily, hoping the non-charismatic Catholics wouldn't get too antsy and the charismatics wouldn't feel cheated. My homily follows...

____________________

I’m going to begin by sharing a couple of truths with you.

First of all, everyone needs healing. That’s right…everyone. Some of us might have a need for physical healing, but all of us, every single one of us, has a need for spiritual healing. We’re not all physically ill, but we are all sinners.

And I suppose, if you think about it, this very fact means that this church should be overflowing with people today. It should be standing room only at St. Vincent de Paul. And surprise, surprise…it is. Praise God!

And this brings up the second truth I’d like to share with you. Each of us, at one time or another, experiences fear.

Now fear can come in many different guises. Fear will even keep some folks from a healing Mass. Like the apostle Thomas, they will allow doubts and a lack of faith to separate themselves from the Church at a time when they most need the prayers of the Church. They want reassurances and proof that they aren’t being foolish by believing something that by its very nature can’t be proven.

Of course it’s normal to struggle with doubt and with the subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, fears that accompany it. That’s right, doubt and fear are normal. And Thomas wasn’t the only Apostle to experience them.

While Thomas doubted, the rest of the Apostles feared. Their fear was so great after Jesus’ death, their faith so weak, that they locked themselves in the upper room. Fear like that can sometimes be paralyzing. It can drive us away from others, from those who presence we often need the most.

Back in 2001 I was asked by a parishioner to bless their home. The date was September 11 and I planned to stop by that evening. When I arrived, Ed and his extended family, his children and grandchildren, were all sitting in the family room watching TV, trying to understand what had happened in NY and Washington on that horrible day.

I asked Ed if he’d rather I return some other day, but he said, “No. I think a blessing might be just what we need.” He turned off the TV and asked me to join him and his family in prayer for our nation. And so we did.

Everyone joined in prayer except Peg, his wife. Later, as I was blessing their home, I entered the kitchen and saw her sitting alone at the table. She was shaking, shaking so much she was unable to pick up the cup of tea in front of her.

The events of that day had so terrified her that she refused even to speak to me. Ed later told me it was nearly two weeks before she would even step outside her home...so great was her fear. And once again I thought of Thomas.

Following Jesus’ death, Thomas, for some reason separated himself from the Apostles. The others had managed to stay together, loyal but fearful. And it was to them that Jesus appeared.

We, too, can make that mistake. When sorrow comes to us, when sadness overwhelms us, when illness allows fear to envelop us, we can shut ourselves away from others. This only deprives us of a basic resource of our faith: the support and love and prayers of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

We all experiences times of discouragement, times when God seems so very far away, times when it’s hard, so very hard, to hold onto God with our own strength. It’s precisely at these times when we need each other’s presence and strength. This is what Thomas discovered. Disillusioned by the death of His Lord, he had lost his grip on his faith. Like Peg sitting alone in the kitchen, with fear as her only companion, when Thomas was by himself his faith only weakened. When he separated himself from the prayer of the Church, Thomas couldn’t believe.

He might not have believed what the others had told him, but out of loneliness if nothing else, he rejoined the tiny community. And it was in that community that Christ once again became real to him. Peg, too, rejoined her family and her faith community. Indeed, a few weeks later at a special Mass for the parish prayer group, she received the graces that dispelled her fears.

And this is an important point. Some things can happen to us within the fellowship of the church that won’t happen when we’re alone. It’s by coming together that we can dispel our fears, the fears that come with illness, the fears that accompany anxiety, depression and emotional upheaval.

This is why we celebrate healing Masses such as this, to celebrate the fact that we are all together in this quest for wholeness and healing. And to take advantage of Christ’s healing presence in the Eucharist. In one respect, then, every Mass is a healing Mass. And when you receive the Blessed Sacrament, you should expect miracles, miracles of grace. Jesus always answers your prayer — not always the way you want, but when you come to Him in faith, and not in fear, you won’t be disappointed.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells the disciples not to be afraid. Indeed, three times in this passage, Jesus tells them not to be afraid. “Be not afraid.” It’s a constant theme running throughout the Gospels. Yes, fear of the Lord is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; but this fear is rather a feeling of awe and reverence before the ultimate mystery that is God. Over and over again Jesus said, “Don't be afraid!” And St John wrote, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

God wants our love, not our fear. You see, Jesus knows what fear can do to us. And He offers the only antidote to fear as a gift, the gift of faith. It’s a gift freely given. We need only ask for it. We need only turn to God in prayer, with the humility and trust of a child, and this wonderful, life-altering gift is ours.

And this brings up another point. If you have come to this Mass strictly to receive a healing, then in all likelihood nothing will happen. To my knowledge there’s no one here blessed with an extraordinary gift of healing.

But if you have come to pray, if you have come to open yourself up to God’s Word and God’s love, then you can expect great things to happen. Brothers and sisters, when we pray the prayer of the Church, Christ’s holy and redeeming sacrifice of the Mass, when we come together in thanksgiving to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ is present.

Oh, how He is present!

Just as He was on the Cross, as He too uttered those all too human words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Just as He was when the Risen Christ entered that upper room and was greeted by Thomas with those faith-filled words, “My Lord and my God.” And when Christ is present, His love is present. And when His love is present, healing takes place.

If we didn’t believe that, there’d be little reason for us to come together today. You see, it’s Our Lord’s deep compassionate and unconditional love that heals us.

But before I wander too far afield, let me return to those two truths: healing and fear.

These are Gospel truths, you know. They’re Gospel truths because they are such an integral part of the Gospel.

Jesus did a lot of things during His public ministry. He preached, He taught, He listened, He warned, He prophesied…but the one thing He did everywhere He went was heal…and He told us not to fear.

He calls us to do the same. That’s right; we are to take part in Jesus’ healing ministry by bringing others to Him.

Remember the healing of the paralytic, an event described by Matthew, Mark and Luke? The paralytic – lowered through the roof – by his friends who, despite all obstacles, find a way to carry him to Jesus. Note the great faith, the hope in Christ expressed by those who carry this man to Jesus: the Gospel text is explicit about Jesus noticing their faith and responding to it.

And note, too, the triple miracle that occurred that day in Capernaum. First, Jesus read the minds of those who were murmuring against him, who were accusing Him of blasphemy. And, of course, there was the physical healing of the paralytic, the one miracle, the obvious one that all present could see. And it was through this physical healing that Jesus proved and demonstrated His divine power, that he had the power to perform the greatest miracle of that day, to heal the soul, to offer spiritual healing through the forgiveness of sins.

You see, physical healing by God is never an end in itself. It always aims at something else, something much greater: the soul’s spiritual healing – to remove our fears, to continue the lifelong conversion that our faith demands of us.

And so, why are you here today? Are you here only for physical healing? Or are you here to experience Christ’s redemptive work of healing and salvation?

I can recall the first healing Mass I ever attended. Father Gabriel looked at us told us gently that Jesus wants to heal the whole man, the whole woman. “Any healing today,” he said, “won’t come because of me, or because of any of us present here today. Only One Presence can heal us. For only God is love; and only God’s love can heal.”

He then lifted a cross and held it up for all to see and asked the congregation: Did your mother die for you? Did your father die for you? Your husband? Your wife? Your best friend? No, only Jesus died for you. And only God loves you with the love that can heal. Any healing you receive today, any healing whether of body or soul, is through Jesus Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit.”

Jesus on the Cross is God with skin on, a personal, relational God. And He tells us that God not only knows everything about us, but actually cares about us. He’s God up close and personal and touching. He lives in our world…speaking...guiding...healing… walking with us...eating, drinking, crying. A God who is compassionate, caring and loving. A God who is willing to go to the cross for us.

Father Gabriel then added, “For those who do not receive a physical healing, it’s not that you don’t have faith – no, not at all. You see,” he explained, “within God’s providence suffering is allowed.”

Yes, brothers and sisters, we need only look at our risen Lord and the wounds Thomas asked to touch. We don’t think about this too often, the fact that the Lord took his wounds with him to eternity. He is a wounded God, sharing in our infirmities, carrying our brokenness with Him. He let himself be injured through his love for us. His wounds are a sign for us that he understands and allows himself to be wounded out of love for us. These wounds of his: how real they are to us today.

Indeed, time and again, the Lord allows Himself to be wounded for our sake. Yes, Jesus continues to share in the sufferings of the world. What a gift those wounds are! What a consolation! It is through those eternal wounds that we can come to experience the certainty of His mercy. It is those wounds that remove the doubts and fears, just as they did for Thomas as he fell to his knees and uttered, "My Lord and my God!

What a duty they are for us, the duty to allow ourselves in turn to be wounded for him! For this is the first purpose of Sacrament of Healing: to allow us to join our sufferings to those of Christ on the Cross. This very act on our part makes our sufferings redemptive.

And, yes, we are all in need of healing. And so this sacrament, through the power of the Holy Spirit, sometimes leads to physical healing…but it always leads to spiritual healing.

You are here today to pray together, to be anointed, to receive the healing power of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of the Father and the Son. So you can leave this church today knowing that you have work to do, the work of the Holy Spirit. For that, too, is a duty that comes with our faith.

Yes, it’s easy to say, “Jesus I love you.” But Jesus says in reply, “Show me.”

Like the men who carried the paralytic to Jesus, do I want to help others experience Jesus’ healing touch? Do I appreciate enough those who try to carry me to Jesus, those who love me? Do I realize that I’m capable of doing the work of Jesus Christ – that through the power of prayer I can bring God’s healing power to the world? Is there enough wonder in me to accept that God, by healing my spirit, by creating in me a new heart – that by doing this He is doing something greater than creating the material world?

Yes, we have a lot of work to do today. For we are all here not just to be healed, but also to carry God’s healing power to others.

God love you, and bless you, and heal you...