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

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

Sunday, August 30, 2009

More on Episcopal Nuns Entering the Church

Here's an addendum to my previous post about the community of Episcopal nuns in Maryland who are entering the Catholic Church. Click here for a slideshow and brief commentary.

Catholic Funeral for Ted Kennedy?

I hadn't intended to write anything more about Senator Kennedy's death than the few words I had already written, but I've seen a lot of comments and heard a lot of talk in recent days about his "eligibility" for a Catholic funeral. I'm no canon lawyer, so I won't presume to offer any comments on the issue. I'll refer you instead to Dr. Edward Peters, a respected canon lawyer, whose blog, "In the Light of the Law", is always interesting and thought-provoking.

In a recent entry Dr. Peters offers his take on whether the senator should have received a Catholic funeral. Click here to read what he has to say.

As for the funeral itself, I didn't watch it since I was busy all day teaching a course on the Eucharist. But Dr. Peters also gives us his thoughts on the funeral Mass and homily, in his words, "some non-canonical reflections on Kennedy's funeral." Click here to read his comments.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Espiscopal Nuns & Chaplain Come Home

A community of 10 Episcopal nuns in Maryland, along with their chaplain, will be welcomed into the Catholic Church by Archbishop O'Brien. The nuns, who give retreats and work with the poor and dying, had apparently been praying about this and studying Church teaching for quite some time. They had been troubled by some of the changes that had recently taken place in the Episcopal Church, including the ordination of women priests and a gay bishop, and felt that they could not in good conscience remain a part of that religious community. Their chaplain, Episcopal priest Father Warren Tanghe, will also be accepted into the Church and is in the process of discerning whether he is called to become a Catholic priest.

Of course, the reception of this small community nuns by the Catholic Church could be overshadowed if the 400,000 member Traditional Anglican Community (TAC) is ultimately welcomed into the Church. In October of 2007 the TAC College of Bishops unanimously decided to seek communion with the Roman Catholic Church and sent a letter to the Vatican requesting the same. I don't know the details of their request or the current state of any discussion between the TAC and the Vatican. I know, however, that many traditional Anglicans consider the doctrine of papal infallibility as defined by the 1st Vatican Council in 1870 as a major stumbling block to full communion with the Catholic Church. It should be interesting to watch what happens in the months and years to come.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Academic Search Committee Encounters the Competent

Every once in a while, as I stumble around the web, I encounter something that truly amuses and is worth passing along. Go to this site and enjoy reading how today's typical academic search committee would evaluate such literary luminaries as Chekhov, Dante, Socrates, Orwell, and others. To whet your appetite for the rest, here's the evaluation of Jane Austen:

Name of applicant: Austen, Jane

At times a charming candidate, but too coy to fit into our department of women's studies. A bit too pleased with herself, say the senior members of the committee, and clever but already outdated, think the younger ones, who tried to engage her, but received pithy witticisms rather than engaged debate. She displayed a queer aversion to critical terminology, and sketched the layout of the hotel conference room and lobby as she fielded our questions. Occasionally amusing, with a tact that may not help her to be valued as a serious scholar, she seemed uninformed by contemporary models. Her research on the paradigms of marriage and status among the landed gentry proved disappointing in person. When asked how she would integrate an understanding of alterity into her work, she remarked that it concerned other than her immediate interests.

...gotta love it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Edward Kennedy, R.I.P.

I didn't know Senator Kennedy personally, and met him only once, very briefly and many years ago. And so I won't say too much about his death. I know his family is grieving, as any family grieves when it has lost one of its own; and so my prayers go out to them. And I will pray for the repose of Ted Kennedy's soul, and trust I will be joined in this by all Catholics of good will.

In the days to come we will hear the senator both praised and condemned. Some will lionize him as the last knight of Camelot, applaud him as the Senate's liberal icon, and canonize him as the saintly reformer who thought only of the "little guy." I will not join them. His political views and mine are far from coincident. Others, of course, will focus on what they believe to be the senator's personal sins. And I won't join them either. Whatever personal sins he committed are between him and the Lord, and have no doubt already been addressed in their recent meeting. Anyway, I have my own collection of sins and, like the senator, I will work on overcoming them without a lot of interference by others.

In truth, it's the senator's public sins -- if I may call them that -- that concern me. Anyone who knows me also knows that I disagreed with Senator Kennedy on most issues, and certainly on the key issue of abortion. I've always thought it remarkably sad that the senator, a practicing Catholic, should have changed positions virtually overnight, switching from being pro-life to being pro-abortion, apparently strictly for political reasons. His subsequent votes on this and similar moral issues gave a lot of cover to other Catholic lawmakers who needed only the slightest excuse to jump ship and go against Church teaching by making that tired old claim, "Yes, I'm personally against abortion, but..." Of course the more than 40 million innocent lives that have been brutally killed during his tenure in the Senate are reason enough to withhold my praise.

I expect, however, that we will hear the senator praised to the rooftops in the coming days; and the eulogists will doubtless wax eloquently about his many legislative accomplishments. But I'm also pretty sure we will never hear the word "abortion" mentioned by one of these same eulogists. And it's that word that will always color my memory of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy.

Requiescat in pace.

New Roman Missal Website - US Bishops

The US Bishops have launched a new website (http://www.usccb.org/romanmissal/) designed to lead both clergy and laypeople through the upcoming changes to the English language translation of the 2000 edition of the Roman Missal. The changes are many, and include some very different wording to the responses and acclamations made by the people during Mass. Incorporating these changes when the time comes will necessarily be preceded by much catechesis to prepare the faithful. Here's hoping each diocese and parish does a better job instructing the people than most did with the liturgical reforms after the Second Vatican Council.

Recently I spoke with our diocese's director of liturgy and was impressed with the preparations he's making to ensure the changes are understood by both the clergy and the faithful. I only hope that all of our bishops realize that these changes are not trivial and that their implementation deserves attention, time and resources, certainly as much as their annual appeals for donations. The date for full implementation has not yet been set, and I expect we'll have a couple of years to prepare, primarily because of the need to to compose new music that will reflect the changes to the parts of the Mass.

Personally, I'm pleased with the changes since they better reflect the language of the Roman Missal itself and correct many of the poor translations that we have had to live with all these years since the English translation to the 1975 Roman Missal was published.

Anyway, if you want to check out the changes and help prepare yourself in advance of their eventual implementation, click here. Take some time to explore the website, and be sure to visit the "frequently asked questions" (FAQ) and "Examples" pages.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Spanish Doctors Choose Jail Over Abortions

Well, it's starting. It looks like the persecutions will begin soon, and in Western Europe of all places, the very cradle of Christendom. The Spanish Minister of Justice made the statement that there was no room for a conscience clause in the country's new abortion law. In a rare act of courage in these days of moral weakness, Spanish pro-life doctors have responded by stating that they would go to jail before performing abortions. God bless them and pray for them and their nation. And don't stop there, but pray for our nation as well...because the persecutions are coming. I have no doubt that they will migrate across the Atlantic soon enough.

Here's the story out of Spain from the Catholic News Agency...

______________________

Madrid, Spain, Aug 20, 2009 / 01:55 pm (CNA).- Dr. Esteban Rodriguez, spokesman for the organization Right to Life (Derecho a Vivir) in Spain, responded yesterday to comments by the country’s Minister of Justice, Francisco Caamano, who said there was no room for a conscience clause in the new law on abortion.

“We are willing to go to jail rather than following a criminal law, Rodriguez said, “and we are willing to commit the supposed crime of disobedience before the crime of abortion.”

“We will not kill our patients, nor will we commit a crime against the public health deliberately harming the heath of women, no matter how much the Minister of Justice threatens us and abuses his power,” the doctor said.

“We doctors are not soldiers, nor policemen, nor executioners. There is no civil disobedience in the refusal to kill a human being, but rather the fulfilling of our professional obligation,” he added.

If the government carries out the threat by the Minister of Justice to penalize conscientious objectors as disobedient, Rodriguez said that a “new category of victims of the laws on abortion and the regulation of conscience will be created in the gynecologists who wish to carry out their moral obligations in the face of an imposed ideology.”

After recalling that the statute in the Spanish constitution allowing conscientious objection must be respected, Rodriguez expressed his surprise that the law would shield from prison some doctors who have been convicted of performing illegal abortions, while punishing with prison those doctors who have fought to defend the lives of their patients and the health of women.

“We recommend they think about creating a new level of officials at the ministries of Justice and Equality: fetal executioners,” Dr. Rodriguez remarked.

“We find the totalitarian intentions of the Ministry of Justice, in conjunction with those of Equality, to be highly troubling. If the former Minister of Justice stirred things up with officials in the judiciary, this one is going to accomplish the same thing with medical professionals,” he warned.

________________________

He never said that being a disciple would be easy.

St. Louis University Liturgy Website

I'm teaching a liturgy course to a group of catechists and Catholic school teachers this weekend, and in searching the web for a particular document, I came across this video ad for St. Louis University's liturgy website. It's really a pretty neat video. I can't speak for the website since I haven't checked it out yet...but the video's cool.

Robert Novak, R.I.P.

Last week, after a year-long battle with brain cancer, Robert Novak died at the age of 78. He was an honest man and one of the nation's more colorful news commentators and columnists.

For years I have enjoyed reading and listening to Novak, who could always be counted on to tell it like it is. He was the straight-shooter par excellence, a man committed to ensuring his readers knew the truth about what was happening in Washington. This was no mean feat in a city dedicated to hiding the truth beneath a mountain of lies.

Novak understood that the real purpose of the press in a free society was not to propagate a political agenda, but to tell the people the truth, to expose the lies and misinformation, to reveal just whom we have elected to represent us. Like James Madison, he knew that "If men were angels, no government would be necessary." Of course, as we all know from personal experience, men are not angels and government is necessary, as is a free press. And so, when it comes to government, the obvious choice is to limit its size and its sphere of action so that all those non-angelic politicians can do the minimum amount of damage.

This is exactly what our Constitution was intended to accomplish. Contrary to what our courts seem to believe, the Bill of Rights was intended to limit the actions of government, not to limit the actions of the people.

If, for example, we turn to the freedom of religion clause in the First Amendment, we find a simple statement: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Note that the onus is on Congress. The clause does not restrict the individual citizen. But for a variety of ideological reasons, men have turned the meaning of this straightforward clause upside down and decided that it actually places limitations on the individual's right to practice his religion. If a normal person of reasonable intelligence spent a lifetime reading and rereading, parsing and analyzing that simple clause, he could not find a logical way to claim that it prohibits an individual from, for instance, praying in a classroom. Sadly, our courts are populated neither by angels nor by normal people of reasonable intelligence, and so the freedom of religion clause has been turned into a freedom from religion clause. Our poor founding fathers, those men who thought they had created a government that might actually work, would no doubt wonder whether it was all worth it...well, they would if they were in a place where its citizens had such worries. But I digress...back to Robert Novak.

What many people don't know is that Robert Novak, born and raised a secular Jew, converted to Catholicism late in life. For the last decade of his life he lived his faith to the fullest and in his illness experienced the consolation that comes from the sure knowledge of eternal life through Jesus Christ. I will miss him and his words, but trust that he now rests in the Father's loving embrace. Requiescat in pace.

If we're fortunate another honest man will step into Novak's shoes and continue his honorable mission of exposing lies and revealing truth.

The following is an audio interview of EWTN's Raymond Arroyo made by Al Kresta shortly after Novak's death last week. Arroyo was a friend of Novak's and provides some wonderful insights into the personality and work of this remarkable man.


Monday, August 24, 2009

Evangelical Lutherans and Us

As you have no doubt heard, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at their national convention in Minneapolis, voted to ordain homosexual pastors who are involved in same-sex relationships. It must be a comfort to all those ELCA Lutherans to know that their church can decide what is or is not sinful simply by putting it to a vote. This, of course, is pretty much the same attitude taken by the Voice of the Faithful and other similar organizations who believe the Catholic Church should be run more "democratically." It's also the kind of attitude that has led to the continuing decrease in membership among mainstream Protestant churches.

What will be the effect on the Lutherans in this country? I expect we'll see many, many congregations leaving the ELCA over the next few years. And what about us Catholics? Although the Catholic Church teaches, and will continue to teach, that homosexual relationships are inherently sinful, it's a scandal that more than a few of our bishops turn a blind eye to the presence of such relationships among some of their clergy. The people in the pews aren't blind, and such unofficial tolerance has an impact on their attitudes and their faith.

Class of 2013 - Where are they comin' from?

Every year, for the past dozen years or so, Beloit College (Beloit, Wisconsin) has published its "Mindset List" in an attempt to identify the worldview of the year's incoming students by examining the events and attitudes that have shaped their lives.

I always find it interesting, more for what is not included among the experiences listed. It's those missing items that seem to separate one generation from those that preceded it. Some experiences -- like the Great Depression that my parents lived through -- were shared by virtually everyone in their generation, while others -- for example, the Vietnam War of my generation -- were experienced very differently depending on an person's level of involvement. Unlike World War II, which personally affected almost every American, Vietnam was observed more than experienced by most Americans. This is true to an even greater extent with respect to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

To me the most interesting aspect of the list is the simple fact that these young people were born in 1991. And so everything that occurred prior to the 1990s is the stuff of history books.

Anyway, if and when you encounter a member of this year's freshman class and are overcome by an urge to speak with him or her, the following list should help you engage in semi-intelligent conversation. More information on the Mindset List is available here,

I'm of a mind to add a few items to the list and might do so over the next day or two. If you have any additions of your own, pass them along.

The Beloit College Mindset List for the Class of 2013

Most students entering college for the first time this fall were born in 1991.

  1. For these students, Martha Graham, Pan American Airways, Michael Landon, Dr. Seuss, Miles Davis, The Dallas Times Herald, Gene Roddenberry, and Freddie Mercury have always been dead.
  2. Dan Rostenkowski, Jack Kevorkian, and Mike Tyson have always been felons.
  3. The Green Giant has always been Shrek, not the big guy picking vegetables.
  4. They have never used a card catalog to find a book.
  5. Margaret Thatcher has always been a former prime minister.
  6. Salsa has always outsold ketchup.
  7. Earvin "Magic" Johnson has always been HIV-positive.
  8. Tattoos have always been very chic and highly visible.
  9. They have been preparing for the arrival of HDTV all their lives.
  10. Rap music has always been main stream.
  11. Chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream has always been a flavor choice.
  12. Someone has always been building something taller than the Willis (née Sears) Tower in Chicago.
  13. The KGB has never officially existed.
  14. Text has always been hyper.
  15. They never saw the “Scud Stud” (but there have always been electromagnetic stud finders.)
  16. Babies have always had a Social Security Number.
  17. They have never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer.
  18. Bungee jumping has always been socially acceptable.
  19. They have never understood the meaning of R.S.V.P.
  20. American students have always lived anxiously with high-stakes educational testing.
  21. Except for the present incumbent, the President has never inhaled.
  22. State abbreviations in addresses have never had periods.
  23. The European Union has always existed.
  24. McDonald's has always been serving Happy Meals in China.
  25. Condoms have always been advertised on television.
  26. Cable television systems have always offered telephone service and vice versa.
  27. Christopher Columbus has always been getting a bad rap.
  28. The American health care system has always been in critical condition.
  29. Bobby Cox has always managed the Atlanta Braves.
  30. Desperate smokers have always been able to turn to Nicoderm skin patches.
  31. There has always been a Cartoon Network.
  32. The nation’s key economic indicator has always been the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  33. Their folks could always reach for a Zoloft.
  34. They have always been able to read books on an electronic screen.
  35. Women have always outnumbered men in college.
  36. We have always watched wars, coups, and police arrests unfold on television in real time.
  37. Amateur radio operators have never needed to know Morse code.
  38. Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Latvia, Georgia, Lithuania, and Estonia have always been independent nations.
  39. It's always been official: President Zachary Taylor did not die of arsenic poisoning.
  40. Madonna’s perspective on Sex has always been well documented.
  41. Phil Jackson has always been coaching championship basketball.
  42. Ozzy Osbourne has always been coming back.
  43. Kevin Costner has always been Dancing with Wolves, especially on cable.
  44. There have always been flat screen televisions.
  45. They have always eaten Berry Berry Kix.
  46. Disney’s Fantasia has always been available on video, and It’s a Wonderful Life has always been on Moscow television.
  47. Smokers have never been promoted as an economic force that deserves respect.
  48. Elite American colleges have never been able to fix the price of tuition.
  49. Nobody has been able to make a deposit in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI).
  50. Everyone has always known what the evening news was before the Evening News came on.
  51. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
  52. They have never been Saved by the Bell
  53. Someone has always been asking: “Was Iraq worth a war?”
  54. Most communities have always had a mega-church.
  55. Natalie Cole has always been singing with her father.
  56. The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.
  57. Elizabeth Taylor has always reeked of White Diamonds.
  58. There has always been a Planet Hollywood.
  59. For one reason or another, California’s future has always been in doubt.
  60. Agent Starling has always feared the Silence of the Lambs.
  61. “Womyn” and “waitperson” have always been in the dictionary.
  62. Members of Congress have always had to keep their checkbooks balanced since the closing of the House Bank.
  63. There has always been a computer in the Oval Office.
  64. CDs have never been sold in cardboard packaging.
  65. Avon has always been “calling” in a catalog.
  66. NATO has always been looking for a role.
  67. Two Koreas have always been members of the UN.
  68. Official racial classifications in South Africa have always been outlawed.
  69. The NBC Today Show has always been seen on weekends.
  70. Vice presidents of the United States have always had real power.
  71. Conflict in Northern Ireland has always been slowly winding down.
  72. Migration of once independent media like radio, TV, videos and compact discs to the computer has never amazed them.
  73. Nobody has ever responded to “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.”
  74. Congress could never give itself a mid-term raise.
  75. There has always been blue Jell-O.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Taking a Break in St. Augustine

Late last week Diane and I made a snap decision to take a few days off and head for St. Augustine, Florida. We both needed a break from all the "stuff" that has been ruling our lives lately and St. Augustine seemed like a good choice -- only a two-hour drive but a big psychic change.

And so on Sunday we drove to the oldest continuously occupied city in the USA and spent a relaxing two days at the St. Francis Inn, a very nice little B&B in the middle of the city's historic district. St. Augustine is so close we should really visit it more often. It's a beautiful old city with a history that goes back to its founding by the Spanish in the mid-16th century. And as you might expect in a city with a long history there is plenty to see and do. In addition to the usual touristy kitsch from which there is no escape, the city offers plenty of interesting attractions to occupy your time during a visit. Two of my favorites are the Lightner Museum and the St. Augustine Lighthouse.

A Tiffany stained glass window of St. Augustine at the Lightner Museum

The Lightner Museum is one of those oddly interesting places that should not be omitted from your itinerary. It occupies what was once the Hotel Alcazar, a resort hotel built by railroad man Henry Flagler in the late 19th century to attract wealthy tourists to northeast Florida. The museum contains the vast collections of one Otto C. Lightner, a successful publisher who in 1945 bought the then-defunct hotel and turned it into a museum. His eclectic collections, mostly of Victoriana, are nicely displayed and include everything from a small Egyptian mummy to collections of Tiffany glass and 19th century paintings and sculptures. An especially interesting feature of the museum is a music room filled with wonderfully elaborate music boxes. (The museum schedules a "concert" of these automated music makers several times daily.) You can also enjoy a nice lunch in the "ballroom" which at one time was a swimming pool, indeed the world's largest indoor swimming pool. (See the photo below.)

The ballroom (former hotel swimming pool) at the Lightner Museum in St. Augustine

The St. Augustine Lighthouse, about a mile or so from town at St. Augustine Beach, is also worth a visit. The lighthouse, which rises to a height of 165 feet, is now operated and maintained by a private foundation which also runs the attached museum. You can, if you have the heart and "sole" for it, climb the 200+ steps to the top and enjoy what I am sure is a marvelous view. Since the temperature was over 90 when we visited the lighthouse. Diane and I decided to forego the climb and simply picture the view in our collective mind's eye.

The Lighthouse at St. Augustine, Florida

The rest of our time was spent roaming the streets, visiting art galleries, bookshops, and the ubiquitous tourist traps, and sampling the fare in some of the local restaurants. We did, however, stop by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine for a visit. The cathedral also has a very nice gift shop and book store.

Interior of the Cathedral of St. Augustine

And so, we had a nice visit and returned this afternoon more or less refreshed. Life returns and barges through the door.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Coming Persecution

Whenever I allude to my belief that within a few short years the Catholic Church in the US will suffer severe persecution, folks tend to dismiss me as a wacko. Now on many issues I might very well hold some curious beliefs, but on this subject I'm as sane as they come. And although the Catholic Church will be the primary target of this persecution, Christians in general -- particularly those who actually put their Christian beliefs into practice -- will not escape the oppressive power of the federal government. As evidence let me pass along a few news items to demonstrate the direction in which things are moving.

The first item addresses a federal government legal attack on a Catholic college in North Carolina. Belmont Abbey College, a school founded by the Benedictines, decided that as a Catholic college it could not in good conscience include abortion, contraception and sterilization in its employee health care plan. After removing coverage for these procedures the college found itself on the receiving end of complaint by the federal government's Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC took the complaint (originally made by eight faculty members) to the next level by issuing a letter of determination accusing the college of discriminating based on gender. Belmont Abbey's dispute with the federal government isn't over, but the government's actions are just a preview of what we can expect under any national health care plan run by the feds. To read more about Belmont Abbey College's ongoing problems, click here.

Another item, this one applicable to Christians in general, is the federal prosecution of two school administrators in Florida's Santa Rosa county who led a prayer at a dedication of a new high school field house. The two men, Pace High School Principal Frank Lay and school athletic director Robert Freeman, will go on trial in federal district court in Pensacola on September 17. That's right, the federal government will prosecute these two men for the criminal act of praying. Let's see, as I recall, the First Amendment of the United states Constitution guarantees that the government may not prohibit the free exercise of religion. Seems to me that perhaps it should be the federal government on trial here. As you might expect the American Civil Liberties Union -- an organization that is particularly dismissive of the civil liberties guaranteed by our Constitution -- is behind the ridiculous prosecution of these two men. For more info, click here.

Here's another. Apparently the State Bar of Arizona is considering requiring all lawyers to swear that their personal views on homosexuality will not affect their provision of legal services. On the surface it sounds fairly innocuous. After all, everyone deserves legal representation when necessary. The problem is that under this rule an attorney could not refuse to represent a homosexual who was, for example, filing suit against the Catholic Church. In other words, a Catholic attorney who accepts Church teaching on homosexual acts would be forced to choose between his faith or his job. Read more here.

I found these three stories in a few minutes of browsing this morning. They are just symptoms of an effort to move our nation and its people away from God. And so, as the decline continues, we can only raise our voices in the public square and continue to pray for our nation. And especially today, on the solemnity of the Assumption, let us ask Our Blessed Mother, our nation's patron saint, to intercede for us and lead to conversion those who would lead us in another direction.

Titian's Assumption (Church of Santa Maria dei Frari in Venice)

God's peace...

Guess it depends on who's disrupting

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has accused those animated folks at the congressional town hall meetings of being "disrupters" and "un-American", apparently doesn't feel the same about protesters of the left. Check out this video of Ms. Pelosi addressing a crowd of anti-war protestors in 2006. In this instance she actually praises them for being "disrupters." Don't you just love it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Newsworthy Items

Here are a few interesting (at least to me) items I came across during a brief check this morning of the news on a few of my favorite websites.

Cardinal Justin Rigali calls for "abortion-neutral" health care reform. According to a Xenit News article the Philadelphia archbishop, in a letter to all US legislators, stressed that health care reform (which he supports) should respect human life and dignity, provide access for all -- especially immigrants and the poor -- preserve pluralism with respect for conscience rights and restrain costs -- all, I suppose, good things. The cardinal went on to say that "much-needed reform must not become a vehicle for promoting an 'abortion rights' agenda or reversing longstanding current policies against federal abortion mandates and funding." That's also good. But then he told the legislators that any health care legislation should be "abortion neutral." Now I can speak only for myself, but doesn't that phrase sound a bit odd to you? Doesn't it sound more like a capitulation than an expression of moral condemnation? I've always believed that the major problem with the ongoing abortion debate in this country has been a kind of indifferent neutrality, a lukewarmness if you will, on the part of most citizens. And so I really don't think an archbishop should plead for "abortion neutral" legislation. Such phrases lead only to misunderstanding. Instead, he should be shouting from the rooftops, proclaiming the immorality of abortion and calling it what it truly is: the taking an innocent human life.

Another Xenit article...

RU-486 has killed 29 women. I doubt if you'll see that headline anywhere in the US mainstream media. This news about the abortifacient RU-486 -- the so-called "morning after pill" -- comes from the Italian Health Ministry. And did you know that on July 10 of this year the US Food and Drug Administration approved Plan B One-Step (a similar abortifacient) as an over-the-counter drug that can be sold without prescription to adolescents? The decline continues.

Miracle Deacon leads to Cardinal Newman's beatification. It's nice to know that God smiles even on deacons...well, at least on one of us. Jack Sullivan, an American permanent deacon from Marshfield, Massachusetts was cured from a severe spinal condition after praying to Cardinal John Henry Newman. Pope Benedict XVI has since recognized the miracle, thus paving the way for the beatification of the eminent 19th century theologian and convert from Anglicanism.

Deacon Sullivan (left), who hopes to assist at the beatification Mass, stated that, "I have dedicated my vocation in praise of Cardinal Newman, who even now directs all my efforts." His is an interesting story of healing and you can read it here.

Cardinal Newman said and wrote many wise things during his long and productive life. Thanks to my dear wife, Diane, who somehow managed to locate a complete set of his works (about 30 volumes) in a used bookstore many years ago, and then give it to me as a Christmas present, I've been able to read much of what he wrote. Here's a comment of his I've always liked, and one that is remarkably applicable today:

"In this world no one rules by love; if you are but amiable, you are no hero; to be powerful, you must be strong, and to have dominion you must have a genius for organizing."

Hmmm...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Health Care Debate

I hesitate to add to the furor surrounding the current health care debate, so I'll keep my comments brief. When measuring government programs I have a several basic rules of thumb that I resort to when deciding on their efficacy:
  1. As for program costs, one must remember that official estimates are always underestimates. In other words, the costs always exceed the estimates, and not just by a fraction but by a factor of at least two. You can, therefore, expect the costs, at the very least, to double. In some instances costs have been more than ten times the initial estimates.
  2. A corollary of this is that, regardless of party affiliation, politicians will always lie when the facts don't support their agenda. You see, they simply can't help themselves. Because they are in the public eye, and their every word is recorded on some medium or another, they will carry their agenda to the very gates of hell rather than openly admit they were wrong. Observing this activity can be very amusing. I particularly enjoy trying to predict what verbal means politicians will use to deflect the truth when it's aimed right at them in a public forum. Listen carefully to their responses to challenging questions. Do they answer them with facts, or do they resort to such tactics as changing the subject, attacking the questioner, or answering a totally different question?
  3. If there are particular and possibly controversial elements of the issue under discussion that especially concern you, and these elements are not directly addressed by the program, be warned! They have been intentionally omitted. For example, the fact that the house health care bill does not mention abortion is intentional. Since the bill not does specifically prohibit its support by federal health care funds, when the bill passes the government will go ahead and fund them. This is not a maybe. This is a definite.
  4. If a politician must resort to absurd or misleading examples either to support or to denigrate a program, his position is seriously flawed. A good argument can always be supported by solid examples. For example, watch the below video of the president as he accuses a hypothetical doctor of deciding to remove a child's tonsils instead of treating the sore throat because the surgery would pay more. Doesn't the president realize that the doctor the parent visits for the child's sore throat and the surgeon who will remove the tonsils are two entirely different physicians? Truly an absurd argument...but apparently the only one he had.



Of course, there is one other rule I tend to fall back on when a program sounds too good to be true: It is. The larger the organization, the more bureaucratic is it. The more bureaucratic it is, the more incompetent it is. The federal government is the nation's largest, most bureaucratic, and most incompetent organization. Do you really want to place a collection of incompetent bureaucrats in charge of your health care and the health care of those you love?

Monday, August 10, 2009

More on Rome

Earlier today I received a call from a friend who reminded me that I had left my ongoing vacation guide to Rome unfinished. I'm amazed that anyone with any sense would seek my advice, and had hoped that those few who actually read this blog might forget that I hadn't returned to the subject as promised. And so, bowing to the pressure from this one friend, I will wrap up my comments on visiting Rome. FYI, I've already posted three items:
  1. Off to Rome: July 17
  2. Going to Rome? Part 2: July 20
  3. Going to Rome? Part 3: July 21
I've already addressed Vatican City, so today I will complete this little travel guide by suggesting some of the other places you definitely want to visit while in Rome. Here's my list, in no particular order:

The Major Basilicas. In addition to St. Peter's, you definitely want to visit the three other major basilicas: St. John Lateran, St. Mary Major, and St. Paul Outside the Walls. Because these three churches are located in different parts of the city, you probably won't want to walk unless you have an especially hearty constitution and truly enjoy long walks. And as its name indicates, St. Paul Outside the Walls is quite a distance from the city center. Cabs in Rome are rather expensive and the bus system can be an adventure in pick-pocket avoidance. In the past Diane and I have purchased multi-day passes from one of the tourist bus companies. Their double-decker buses make a regular circuit of the city and stop at all the tourist spots, including the major basilicas. You can get on and off where you please and the cost is reasonable. I also recommend checking your guidebook and reading up on each basilica prior to your visit.

Exterior of Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

Exterior of the Basilica of St. Mary Major

Interior of the Basilica of St. John Lateran

Piazza Navona, the Pantheon, etc. This district of Rome, across the Tiber from the Vatican, is another must-see. The Pantheon is one of the true architectural marvels of ancient Rome and the fact that it's still standing is a tribute to those who designed and built it almost 2,000 years ago. Begun during the reign of Marcus Agrippa and completed under Hadrian, the Pantheon is one of those rare places you just don't want to leave.

The Pantheon at night

Not far from the Pantheon is the Basilica di Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Built on the site of Temple of the goddess Minerva, it is Rome's only Gothic church. The interior is breathtaking and should not be missed. St. Catherine of Siena is buried beneath the main altar...well, her body is there; her head is in Siena.

Piazza Navona, located on the site of an ancient circus or stadium that dates to the reign of Domitian, is a marvelous oblong city "square" where people watching is a major activity. Sit down at one of the many sidewalk cafes, enjoy a morning cappuccino or espresso, or a glass of afternoon wine, and enjoy the sights as they stroll by. During the warmer months, dozens of artists display their (usually pretty bad) work. After you tire of watching the people, take some time to appreciate the marvelous baroque architecture surrounding the piazza as well as Bernini's breathtaking Fountain of the Four Rivers. And then take some time to visit the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone and the church of Nostra Signora del Sacro Cuore (Our Lady of the Sacred Heart), whose facades front the Piazza Navona.

Checking out the bad art in Piazza Navona

If you walk to Piazza Navona from the Vatican (about a mile), I recommend stopping at Castel Sant'Angelo and climbing to the very top where you will be treated to a marvelous 360-degree view of Rome. Originally built by Hadrian as his mausoleum, it is now a museum and certainly worth a visit. Afterwards you can cross the Tiber on the (pedestrian only) Ponte Sant'Angelo, and let your camera record the view.

Ponte Sant'Angelo spans the Tiber

Of course, no trip to Rome is complete without a visit to the Colosseum and the Forum. I recommend spending a few dollars on one of the many walking tours available. You will never appreciate ancient Rome by viewing it from a bus. The only way to experience these marvels is to do it on foot.

The Colosseum

There's so much more to see and experience in Rome, but since I have no intention of writing a complete tourist guide, I will just list some other favorites of mine. You can follow the links and read about each in more detail.
Interior of the Church of Santa Cecilia in Trastevere
  • Il Gesu (Roman church of the Jesuits-- a baroque masterpiece)
  • Spanish Steps -- a very touristy attraction, but certainly worth a visit. I especially enjoyed visiting the rooms of John Keats in the building immediately to the right of the steps. The poet spent his last days there, dying at the young age of 25 in 1821. Now a museum you can visit it for a minimal fee.
Spanish Steps from Keats' window
Piazza del Popolo - twin churches of Santa Maria

There's so much more to see in Rome, and I've only scratched the surface. My advice? Don't hesitate to wander around the city, prepared to be surprised and delighted. I have always found the people to be friendly and helpful, especially if you try to use what little Italian you might have.

As for dining, stay away from the touristy places, which usually offer mediocre fare at high prices. Eat where the locals eat. Ask around. We have especially enjoyed many of the smaller restaurants in the Prati and Trastevere districts. These are primarily residential areas that cater largely to Romans. But half the fun is in the adventure of trying places that simply look good and are filled with happy folks enjoying their lunch or dinner. We have our favorites, but I'm sure you'll find your own.

(I took the above photos during our last trip to Rome in September 2008)

Back Home Again

It's been a while since I posted anything on the blog, but I needed a break...not so much from the blog as from everything else. Every so often I must recall that I'm retired by removing myself from all the activities that clutter my increasingly disorganized life. And so last week Diane and I made the 500-mile drive to the hills of southeast Tennessee to visit our friends, the Hathaways. For those of you unfamiliar with the area, Ocoee, Tennessee is serious boondocks -- so serious that the view from their back deck includes miles of hills but not a single house. (See the below photo.)

Early Tennessee Morning

During our visit we made a few excursions with our friends and took in some of the local color, including visits to Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga, the Civil War battlefield at Chickamauga in northwest Georgia, and Bald River Falls near Tellico Plains, Tennessee. In the past Tennessee had been one of those states we drove through, stopping only for gas and food, but in recent years we've spent some time there and found it to be a beautiful state with many interesting places to visit. The photos I've included below should confirm this...

Man and his son view Bald River Falls
near Tellico Plains, TN

Young girl sits outside a Civil War era cabin
at the Chickamauga Battlefield in Georgia


Window of antique shop, Tellico Plains, TN

Alley stairway in Tellico Plains, TN

Covered bridge near Tellico Plains, TN

The McCarthys and the Hathways atop a tower at the Chickamauga Battlefield (135 steps, too many for us senior citizens)

Tellico Plains is a neat little town, with lots of interesting shops. We bought a lovely piece of pottery at the Tellico Arts Center and enjoyed a reasonably good (and reasonably priced) lunch at a local eatery.

I suppose that's enough of the truly important stuff, you know, family, friends, and enjoying God's good earth. Now that we're back home, I will have to turn my attention once again to the unserious, the activities of those who somehow believe that what they do is important.

In the meantime, God's peace...