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!


Friday, February 26, 2010

Annual Retreat

Diane and I leave this afternoon for our annual deacons' retreat. It will be a welcome break from all the craziness and stress that seems to pour down on us this time of year. 

I trust it will allow us to take a long breath and enjoy some moments of silence in God's presence.

I hope to read some more of Father Jacques Philippe on prayer this weekend.

Please keep Diane and me in your prayers.

God's peace...

Monday, February 22, 2010

More from Haiti

After writing my previous post in which I provided information on Free the Kids, I took a longer look at Father Marc's blog and what I read only confirmed a long-held belief regarding charitable organizations: the larger the organization, the less effectively and efficiently it helps those who rely on its services.

Just read below what Father Marc wrote this past Friday (February 19) about the large charities operating in Haiti -- in this instance he used UNICEF as an example -- and keep in mind how long it's been since the catastrophic earthquake struck that impoverished nation.

A friend of Peter's sent him the link to an article in TIME Magazine entitled 
UNICEF seeks to keep kids out of Haiti orphanages
The journalists who penned this article did a poor job of doing research.  Maybe they had a deadline to meet?  They generalized from stories of some orphanages to make it sound like anyone who desires to help the children is a borderline child trafficker.  I am aware of many shelters for children who do fantastic work with very little means.  We do everything in our power to care for children and to give them a safe and loving home.  Yes, there are places that are nothing more than businesses for the owner or worse. But to lump us all together?

The writers were unfair to parents who are so desperately poor that they will consider giving up their child so that s/he can eat, maybe go to school, have a chance at a better life.  These people are not callous nor are they loveless.  They are POOR.  What a disservice to the people of Haiti!
The director of UNICEF Haiti is quoted as saying "No to the orphanages in Haiti!".  Wow, what a sound bite.  Remember the post I wrote a couple of days ago when I was ranting about the fancy offices, the cold air-conditioning, the shiny cars of the big NGOs and their strategy to "make systemic change" rather than waste their time actually helping children by feeding them, clothing them, providing medical care...?  Well, the one big NGO that had converted an old mansion into a gleaming office space with beautiful furniture and striking art work, that had lots of very busy people working on their computers, that had security guards protecting them from the riff-raff, that had paved over a large courtyard so that they could park their new SUVs...was UNICEF Haiti.  They made a conscious choice not to practice direct intervention to assist a child.  They have not helped any orphanage that I'm aware of in providing the basics like food, clothing, medicine, education.  How very noble to stand there now and say "No to the Haitian orphanages!".  I was told "No" years ago by them and have cringed every time I see the slick fundraising UNICEF puts out every holiday season.
Phew,  thanks for listening.  I feel better now.

And just a few days before, on February 16, Father Marc posted the following:

Unlike all the previous Mardi Gras celebrations I've seen (mostly heard), today was subdued. Understandable considering the great loss felt by everyone. Except for us grass-root small non-profits, there's been no international relief here. How much longer will we be ignored? Tensions are high in the city as people are hungry and have no means to purchase food. Families are hurting under the strain of hosting those from Port au Prince. Heard that a small vessel came to port this afternoon and that there was a riot as people fought to get food. No police or UN military for security. No real plan other than give out food and blankets. Not good.
We spent the day keeping the kids busy and happy, updating our archives with the new children's info, trying to reply to emails when HughesNet won't cooperate, making sure we are covering all our bases for the arrival of the SeaHunter to avoid another riot...
Funny thing, no children's rights people came today. Must have been a sanctioned day off (a mental health day?) or they read my earlier post. Looks like I struck a nerve as I've never had that many comments on a post before.
There's a new glitch with regards the M/V SeaHunter that could be the end this mercy mission so please say a prayer that it gets to set sail tomorrow.
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday so we will be celebrating Mass, one of the favorites of the year as all the children get to come forward and have us dirty their foreheads. We wish you a thoughtful and rejuvenating Lent.
After reading these and other posts by Father Marc, I am particularly pleased that the women of our parish decided to support Father Marc in his ministry. Pray for him as he does God's work


Blessings...

God's Work in Haiti

This morning Diane asked me to draft a letter to an organization called Free the Kids. Last week our parish's Council of Catholic Women affiliate conducted a bake sale in support of Haitian relief and Diane, the affiliate's treasurer, wanted to send this organization a check for $371. Obediently, I wrote the letter and gave it to dear Diane, who then sent it off along with the check.

Always curious, however, I went online to check out Free the Kids. It is another name for the organization, Theo's Work, Inc., founded by Father Marc Boisvert, a former U.S. Navy chaplain now completely involved in ministering to and saving the lives of the children of Haiti. Father Marc learned about the plight of the Haitian people when he was assigned to the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At that time the base was the processing facility for the Haitian refugees who were fleeing the island nation by the thousands. Because he spoke fluent French and could apparently handle Creole well enough, Father Marc was assigned to the base to help care for these desperate refugees. This was how he learned about Haiti and the sufferings of its people.

While on leave from his subsequent duty with the Marines in California, Father Marc visited Haiti to see first-hand the conditions he had heard about from the refugees. He was appalled. When he returned to the U.S., he started Theo's Work, Inc., a non-profit organization to help the poor of Haiti. He then resigned from the Navy, sold his belongings, and on January 1, 1998 arrived in Port-au-Prince. He's been there ever since.

In his words (from his blog Pwoje Espwa), this is what Theo's Work has accomplished:

Theo is a pen name for Father Marc Boisvert, the founder and director of Pwoje Espwa in southern Haiti. In 1998 we rented a small house and filled it with street boys. Now we have over 600 children living on a huge property outside the city of Les Cayes. There are six schools, a carpenters' workshop, an agricultural center, a small medical facility, an all-purpose space for chapel services, theater productions... In twelve years a miracle has been taking place in southern Haiti and you have helped make it happen! Spread the word so we can continue to save children's lives.
 Some of the beautiful children of Pwoje Espwa

This is a remarkable ministry, founded by a remarkable man. It is well worth our support.


God's peace...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Giraffe: A Mythical Beast

I've always been fond of giraffes -- not that I've known any personally, but I can never resist visiting them when I find myself in a zoo. They are just such odd creatures. Tall and gangly and awkward looking, with those long, skinny legs and that remarkably long neck, they are simply unique in the animal kingdom. And they have such interesting faces, topped off by two stubby horns that just seem so out of place. Their coloring, too, is different, as if it were designed by a military camouflage expert. It is this oddness, this otherness, that makes the giraffe another reason why I believe in God. Such an animal could not have been the result of an evolutionary accident. The giraffe simply had to be created.

G. K. Chesterton once made a wonderful comment about the giraffe: "When first the giraffe was described by travelers it was treated as a lie. Now it is in the Zoological Gardens; but it still looks like a lie." 

In honor of this beautiful creature of God, I have included several photos I have taken of giraffes in recent years. I hope you enjoy them.
Bless the creatures, great and small.

HD Videos of Rome

If you're planning a first trip to Rome, I suggest checking these out: a series of HD videos, available on YouTube. It seems there are 12 of them, each focusing on a different must-see site. They are not narrated and the only sounds you here are the normal background sounds. The videos themselves are quite good, though, and give you a good sense of the place being visited. On the YouTube site, you can adjust the definition of the video in four steps from 360p to 1080p. This is handy, especially if your internet connection is not very speedy.

I've embedded one of the videos below, a tour of the Basilica of St. Peter in the Vatican. Other HD videos in the series include: Castel Sant'Angelo; the Roman Forum; the Colosseum; the Pantheon; Piazza Navona; Piazza di Spagna; Piazza Venezia; Trevi Fountain; Campo de'Fiori; Villa Borghese and Piazza del Popolo; and a brief Rome Trailer.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Thomas Aquinas College - Chapel Virtual Tour

Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, California is among the very best of Catholic colleges. Founded in 1971 it has kept its Catholic identity and provided undergraduates with a remarkable education based on the "great books" of Western civilization. I have a personal connection with the college because our elder daughter graduated from T.A.C. in 1993. Click here to visit the college's website: Thomas Aquinas College.

T.A.C. has grown steadily over the past forty years and one of the most beautiful additions to the campus is Our Lady of the Most Holy Trinity Chapel, dedicated last year (see the photo below).

 

The video I've embedded below was made as a fund-raising vehicle prior to the construction of the chapel.  Obviously it was successful. But equally important, the video's interesting computer-generated tour gives us a glimpse into the very best of church architecture. It's well worth viewing.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ashes?

Here's a timely cartoon from the Catholic Cartoon Blog...

Interesting News

Here are some interesting items I stumbled across while checking a few news sites.

Quote of the Day: 
"It's impossible to consider oneself a Catholic if that person in one way or another recognizes same-sex marriage as a right." -- Cardinal Carlo Caffarra, Archbishop of Bologna (click here for more info)
Washington Archdiocese Ends Foster Care Program. The Archdiocese of Washington, D.C. has brought an end to its foster care program after 80 years. The reason? It refuses to license same-sex couples as foster parents. The decision is a direct result of the District's recent move to legalize "same-sex marriage," something that should become law as soon as Congress gives its approval. Three cheers for the Archdiocese. And, sadly, this is just a sign of things to come, as First Amendment rights as tossed aside in favor of politically correct social engineering. Let's pray that all our bishops have as much intestinal fortitude as Archbishop Donald Wuerl (photo above). They will need it.

Give Up Texting For Lent? Already Have. The Telegraph (UK) reports that the Catholic Church in Italy has launched a campaign encouraging Italians to give up texting for Lent. The idea, according to Monsignor Benito Cocchi, the bishop of Modena, is that young people, by renouncing SMS texting, could "detox from the virtual world and get back in touch with themselves." Probably not a bad idea. And so I have decided to join the campaign. Of course, the fact that I've never sent a text message in my life will probably make this a rather small sacrifice.

Reinvigorating Catholic Schools in Boston. Margery Eagen, a long-time columnist for the Boston Herald, writes an interesting column on an apparently successful plan to get the business community behind the support and restoration of Catholic education in the Boston Archdiocese. Cardinal Sean O'Malley's Campaign for Catholic Schools has already raised $50 million and transformed a number of schools, including Pope John Paul II Catholic Academy in Dorchester, the school Eagan highlights in her column. Three cheers for Cardinal Sean (photo above).

Australian Forward in Faith Anglicans to Join Catholic Church. As a direct result of Pope Benedict XVI's invitation to Anglican's to enter full communion with the Catholic Church, this Australian group of Anglicans have decided to do just that. Indeed, their vote to do so was unanimous. The group includes 15-20 Australian Anglican parishes that hold traditional views. 

They will enter the Catholic Church under the process set forth in the Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus. By doing so they will be able to maintain much of their Anglican liturgy and traditions. In the words of Bishop Peter Elliott (see photo at left), a former Anglican who is now a Catholic Auxiliary Bishop in Melbourne, "As Catholics in full communion with the Successor of St Peter, you will be gathered in distinctive communities that preserve elements of Anglican worship, spirituality and culture that are compatible with Catholic faith and morals...In some ways, the Ordinariate will even be similar to a Rite (the Eastern Catholic Churches). You will enjoy your own liturgical “use” as Catholics of the Roman Rite. At the same time your Ordinaries, bishops or priests, will work alongside diocesan bishops of the Roman Rite and find their place within the Episcopal Conference in each nation or region."
 
I expect Forward in Faith will be followed by many more similar Anglican groups throughout the world. A small, first step toward the Christian unity desired by Jesus Christ.

R. R. Reno Interviews. A theologian whose writings have done much to educate me on a variety of topics is Dr. R. R. Reno, an associate professor of theology at Creighton University. I just discovered that some of his lectures on theology and apologetics are available online at the website of Catholic radio station  KVSS in Omaha. Included are a number of excellent interviews in which Dr. Reno discusses faith and reason in the lives and writings of such luminaries as St. Thomas Aquinas, Cardinal Newman, G. K. Chesterton, and St. Bonaventure. Take the time to listen to them. You can even download them and pop them on your iPod or similar device.

That's enough....I have to prepare a talk for a Lenten mission beginning tomorrow at our parish.


God's peace...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Erin

Today is also the birthday of our eldest child, Erin. I know I'm not supposed to reveal a woman's age, so I'll just say that today she has finally reached Jack Benny's oft-professed age. (You 'll have to be, at the very least, pushing 60 to figure that one out.) Watching my children age has been a bit traumatic since it only highlights how much older I have become. This aging thing has sort of crept up on me unannounced. Of course, one wonderful side effect is the gift of grandchildren, and Erin and her husband, Airton, have produced four beautiful little people for us to spoil. Thank you, daughter, and happy birthday!

Our four children in 1978: Siobhan, Brendan, Erin & Ethan
(They haven't changed a bit in 32 years)

Ash Wednesday Once Again

Another season of Lent has officially begun and I find myself looking forward to the next 40 days. I need Lent, in the same way a thirsty man needs a glass of water. I need this time of introspection, this time of renewal, this time to set things right, to ask for God's help in recreating my damaged relationship with Him. For me Lent is a time to strip away the layers of accumulated grime that I allow to build up on my soul -- you know what I mean, all that worldly and personal stuff that keeps me from focusing on the one important thing: God's enduring love. 

And so, as I sit here in the quiet of this Ash Wednesday morning, I begin Lent filled with hope. Our loving, merciful God has given us these 40 days of renewal and His Church provides us with the sacramental means to bring about the change Jesus Christ demands of us. And Jesus does demand change. He doesn't merely suggest it. We are His disciples, and He expects us to follow Him. And His expectations are clearly related in the Gospels.


Perhaps the best way to begin Lent, then, is to reread the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5-7) and recapture the essence of our Christianity, to realize once again what Christ asks of us. In rapid-fire succession, Jesus shares with us one eternal truth after another. He tells us how to live, explaining the Father's will for us. Being "perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Mt 5:48] is no easy command to fulfill, but this is what we called to be. We cannot even approach the Father's perfection on our own, and God knows this. That's why He gives us His Holy Spirit, our guide, our advocate, our strength. We are called to pray in the Spirit for the perfection of the Father, even though our prayer itself is less than perfect. As St. Paul reminded the Romans, "....the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings" [Rom 8:26].

And so, as we listen again to the words of Jesus, and are reminded of our many failings, we can take comfort in the knowledge that "for God all things are possible" [Mt 19:26]. He wants salvation for all of us. He wants all of His children with Him for eternity. We need only turn to Him, open our hearts to Him, and allow His Spirit to work in our lives. Once we abandon ourselves to God's love, determined to do His will, He will provide the means to lead us to the perfection He wants for us.

As for me during this Lenten season, in addition to "giving up" the usual things -- desserts, a glass of wine in the evening, etc. -- I intend to renew my prayer life, calling on the Spirit for His help and guidance. I also intend to forgive. That's right, I need to forgive a lot of folks for a lot of things, some small, some not so small. I also need to ask forgiveness from those I have hurt and from God Himself. Forgiveness, you see, is at the very heart of our Christianity. If one doesn't forgive, one cannot be a Christian. Jesus included forgiveness as a key element of our prayer when He said to His disciples, "...forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us" [Mt 6:12]. Not content simply to tell us to forgive, Jesus provided us with the perfect example of forgiveness from the Cross when He prayed, "Father, forgive them; they know not what they do" [Lk 23:34].

As Catholics we have the gift of God's forgiveness through he sacrament of reconciliation. What a blessing this is! Take advantage of it during this Lenten season, and taste God's merciful, forgiving love.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Narcissism, an Epidemic

This morning, as I was reading through Matthew 6 in preparation for our weekly Wednesday Bible Study, I found myself dwelling on one brief passage: "When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you" [Mt 6:3-4]. After mulling over these two verses for a while, I began to get a bit uncomfortable, recalling all those instances when I had pretty much ignored this command of Jesus and allowed my ego to get in the way. Yes, humility is tough. As my father used to say, "Humility's a strange commodity; once you know you have it, you just lost it."

At about that point in my morning meditation, I remembered that I had canceled Bible Study this week because of a conflict with our Mass schedule for Ash Wednesday. This revelation (which quite likely came from below and not above) gave me the excuse I needed to stop thinking about my personal sins and do something more enjoyable. And so I clicked on the website of my favorite journal, First Things, to check out any new articles. And there it was, an article by Aaron Kheriaty, M.D. entitled "The Era of the Narcissist." The title should have tipped me off, but I didn't make the connection with my earlier meditation until after I had begun reading. By then it was too late and I accepted the fact that I had been purposely guided to this particular web page.

Dr. Kheriaty begins by remarking how the architects and builders of the great medieval cathedrals didn't seem to want any credit for the remarkable work they had done. Their names are not carved into cornerstones. They aren't immortalized with bronze plaques. No portraits of architects hang on the vestibule walls of cathedrals. These men preferred to be anonymous. Now, I had already known this interesting fact, but unlike Dr. Kheriaty had never given it much thought. The author goes on to describe how such personal humility is completely at odds with today's attitudes, and traces the change to the kind of self-adulation typical of Rousseau and his Enlightenment contemporaries. The article -- actually a review of the book, The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge and Keith Campbell -- is well worth reading and can be found here: The Era of the Narcissist.

It's refreshing, however, to note that not everyone in modern America has fallen prey to narcissism. A few years ago, when I was still living in Massachusetts, a couple approached my pastor and offered to build a separate adoration chapel on our parish grounds so we could have perpetual adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. At the time we used a side chapel in our church building for adoration, but could not use it 7x24. This couple also offered to provide a substantial amount of funds to complete needed renovations and additions to the diocesan school located at our parish. They explained that they had achieved some measure of business success and believed strongly that they should give a substantial amount of their earnings to the Church. I can't recall the total amount of their gift, but it was in the millions.

The interesting thing about this couple was their insistence on remaining anonymous. To my knowledge only our pastor and bishop knew their identity. I suppose, as a deacon assigned to the parish, I could have figured out who they were if I'd set my mind to the task, but I decided not to. I can recall being so impressed by this rare display of true humility that I thought it only right to honor their wishes. I'm sure there are many others like them, people who live their lives in quiet imitation of Jesus, bringing the Sermon on the Mount to life.

I've included photos below of the beautiful adoration chapel that this couple built. What a wonderful gift to God and His people!

Adoration Chapel Exterior

Adoration Chapel Interior

Non nobis Domine, non nobis, sed nomine tuo da gloriam. [Ps 115]

One of the great movie scenes, from Shakespeare's Henry V, is the scene after the Battle of Agincourt, when the exhausted survivors sing that glorious hymn from Ps 115, "Non nobis, Domine." It depicts a time, before the "Enlightenment," when men actually placed God first. I've included the clip below.




Dick Francis, R.I.P.

Today I mourn the loss of one of the all-time great British mystery writers, Dick Francis. Francis, a former jockey turned novelist, wrote dozens of absolutely wonderful mysteries over the years. All of his stories were, in some way, related to the horse racing world with which he was intimately familiar. He died this past Saturday at his home in the Cayman Islands. He was 89 years old.

Interestingly, I never "read" a single one of his novels, but I listened to ten or more. For several years back in the mid-90s, my trusty Dodge Neon and I made a daily 186-mile round-trip commute between my home on Cape Cod and Providence College where I worked. During those long drives I maintained my sanity by listening to books on tape. My dear wife, Diane, who worked in a local public library at the time, would bring me recordings of books she thought I would enjoy. Since she always liked Dick Francis' stories she assumed I would as well. She was correct. Perhaps now I will take the time actually to read those of his novels I never got around to listening to.

Click here to read more about this remarkable man: RIP, Dick Francis.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mary Daly, R.I.P.

Here's a death notice you might have missed since it didn't get very much press. Mary Daly, former Catholic theologian, former professor at Boston College, radical feminist, professional hater of the Catholic Church, and many other things not publishable here, is dead.

Daly, the influential "mother" of radical feminist theology, not only hated the Catholic Church, but also hated the God it worshiped. She in effect accused the Holy Spirit of raping the Virgin Mary. She could not refer to St. Paul without the use of foul expletives. And her view of the Eucharist is probably best described in her own words:
The "gentle Jesus" who offers the faithful his body to eat and his blood to drink is playing Mother Goddess. And of course this fetal-identified male behind this Mother Mask is really saying: "Let me eat and drink you alive." This is no mere crude cannibalism but veiled vampirism. (Gyn/Ecology, 81)
A self-described pagan and eco-feminist, she once declared in an interview, ''I hate the Bible. I always did. I didn't study theology out of piety. I studied it because I wanted to know.''

Seemingly trapped in a madness of her own making, Daly was not a particularly pleasant person. She died early last month at the age of 81. May she taste the mercy of the Father she despised. Rest in peace.

Pope Benedict's Lenten Message

Pope Benedict XVI's message for Lent is provided in its entirety below. The theme is "The Justice of God Has Been Manifested Through Faith in Jesus Christ."
____________________

Dear Brothers and Sisters!

Each year, on the occasion of Lent, the Church invites us to a sincere review of our life in light of the teachings of the Gospel. This year, I would like to offer you some reflections on the great theme of justice, beginning from the Pauline affirmation: "The justice of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ" (cf. Rm 3, 21-22).

Justice: "dare cuique suum"

First of all, I want to consider the meaning of the term "justice," which in common usage implies "to render to every man his due," according to the famous expression of Ulpian, a Roman jurist of the third century. In reality, however, this classical definition does not specify what "due" is to be rendered to each person. What man needs most cannot be guaranteed to him by law. In order to live life to the full, something more intimate is necessary that can be granted only as a gift: we could say that man lives by that love which only God can communicate since He created the human person in His image and likeness. Material goods are certainly useful and required – indeed Jesus Himself was concerned to heal the sick, feed the crowds that followed Him and surely condemns the indifference that even today forces hundreds of millions into death through lack of food, water and medicine – yet "distributive" justice does not render to the human being the totality of his "due." Just as man needs bread, so does man have even more need of God. Saint Augustine notes: if "justice is that virtue which gives every one his due ... where, then, is the justice of man, when he deserts the true God?" (De civitate Dei, XIX, 21).

What is the Cause of Injustice?

The Evangelist Mark reports the following words of Jesus, which are inserted within the debate at that time regarding what is pure and impure: "There is nothing outside a man which by going into him can defile him; but the things which come out of a man are what defile him … What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts" (Mk 7, 14-15, 20-21). Beyond the immediate question concerning food, we can detect in the reaction of the Pharisees a permanent temptation within man: to situate the origin of evil in an exterior cause. Many modern ideologies deep down have this presupposition: since injustice comes "from outside," in order for justice to reign, it is sufficient to remove the exterior causes that prevent it being achieved. This way of thinking – Jesus warns – is ingenuous and shortsighted. Injustice, the fruit of evil, does not have exclusively external roots; its origin lies in the human heart, where the seeds are found of a mysterious cooperation with evil. With bitterness the Psalmist recognises this: "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps 51,7). Indeed, man is weakened by an intense influence, which wounds his capacity to enter into communion with the other.

By nature, he is open to sharing freely, but he finds in his being a strange force of gravity that makes him turn in and affirm himself above and against others: this is egoism, the result of original sin. Adam and Eve, seduced by Satan’s lie, snatching the mysterious fruit against the divine command, replaced the logic of trusting in Love with that of suspicion and competition; the logic of receiving and trustfully expecting from the Other with anxiously seizing and doing on one’s own (cf. Gn 3, 1-6), experiencing, as a consequence, a sense of disquiet and uncertainty. How can man free himself from this selfish influence and open himself to love?

Justice and Sedaqah

At the heart of the wisdom of Israel, we find a profound link between faith in God who "lifts the needy from the ash heap" (Ps 113,7) and justice towards one’s neighbor. The Hebrew word itself that indicates the virtue of justice, sedaqah, expresses this well. Sedaqah, in fact, signifies on the one hand full acceptance of the will of the God of Israel; on the other hand, equity in relation to one’s neighbour (cf. Ex 20, 12-17), especially the poor, the stranger, the orphan and the widow (cf. Dt 10, 18-19). But the two meanings are linked because giving to the poor for the Israelite is none other than restoring what is owed to God, who had pity on the misery of His people. It was not by chance that the gift to Moses of the tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai took place after the crossing of the Red Sea. Listening to the Law presupposes faith in God who first "heard the cry" of His people and "came down to deliver them out of hand of the Egyptians" (cf. Ex 3,8). God is attentive to the cry of the poor and in return asks to be listened to: He asks for justice towards the poor (cf. Sir 4,4-5, 8-9), the stranger (cf. Ex 22,20), the slave (cf. Dt 15, 12-18). In order to enter into justice, it is thus necessary to leave that illusion of self-sufficiency, the profound state of closure, which is the very origin of injustice. In other words, what is needed is an even deeper "exodus" than that accomplished by God with Moses, a liberation of the heart, which the Law on its own is powerless to realize. Does man have any hope of justice then?

Christ, the Justice of God

The Christian Good News responds positively to man’s thirst for justice, as Saint Paul affirms in the Letter to the Romans: "But now the justice of God has been manifested apart from law … the justice of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith" (3, 21-25).

What then is the justice of Christ? Above all, it is the justice that comes from grace, where it is not man who makes amends, heals himself and others. The fact that "expiation" flows from the "blood" of Christ signifies that it is not man’s sacrifices that free him from the weight of his faults, but the loving act of God who opens Himself in the extreme, even to the point of bearing in Himself the "curse" due to man so as to give in return the "blessing" due to God (cf. Gal 3, 13-14). But this raises an immediate objection: what kind of justice is this where the just man dies for the guilty and the guilty receives in return the blessing due to the just one? Would this not mean that each one receives the contrary of his "due"? In reality, here we discover divine justice, which is so profoundly different from its human counterpart. God has paid for us the price of the exchange in His Son, a price that is truly exorbitant. Before the justice of the Cross, man may rebel for this reveals how man is not a self-sufficient being, but in need of Another in order to realize himself fully. Conversion to Christ, believing in the Gospel, ultimately means this: to exit the illusion of self-sufficiency in order to discover and accept one’s own need – the need of others and God, the need of His forgiveness and His friendship. So we understand how faith is altogether different from a natural, good-feeling, obvious fact: humility is required to accept that I need Another to free me from "what is mine," to give me gratuitously "what is His." This happens especially in the sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist. Thanks to Christ’s action, we may enter into the "greatest" justice, which is that of love (cf. Rm 13, 8-10), the justice that recognises itself in every case more a debtor than a creditor, because it has received more than could ever have been expected.

Strengthened by this very experience, the Christian is moved to contribute to creating just societies, where all receive what is necessary to live according to the dignity proper to the human person and where justice is enlivened by love.

Dear brothers and sisters, Lent culminates in the Paschal Triduum, in which this year, too, we shall celebrate divine justice – the fullness of charity, gift, salvation. May this penitential season be for every Christian a time of authentic conversion and intense knowledge of the mystery of Christ, who came to fulfill every justice. With these sentiments, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 30 October 2009

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Afternoon Thoughts

Enjoying Valentine's Day -- Oops! Excuse me...Saint Valentine's Day; he was, after all, a saint -- by just goofing off as I await the start of the Dayton 500, I found myself recalling some of the more interesting things I've read lately. One in particular is an online column by Victor Davis Hanson in which he revisits the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Unlike Gibbon, however, Dr. Hanson addresses the subject in a few hundred well chosen words.

For those of you who might not be familiar with Victor Davis Hanson, he is a classicist and a student (and teacher) of the history of ancient warfare. His depth of historical knowledge has also made him one of the more astute commentators on the human condition as it is played out in today's current events. He is always worth reading.

In this particular column Dr. Hanson makes a believable comparison between the Roman Empire and our own society, claiming that Rome collapsed largely because of its population's never satisfied sense of entitlement "and the resulting debits, inflation, debased currency, and gradual state impoverishment gave the far more vulnerable Western Empire far less margin of error when barbarians arrived, or rival generals marched on Rome." Sound familiar? Maybe it's time to stock the pantry.


You can read Dr. Hanson's column in its entirety here: Why Did Rome Fall?
__________________

My favorite periodical, and one I have read since it was first published in 1990, is First Things, a journal focused on religion in the public square and founded by the late Father Richard John Neuhaus. The most recent issue -- the 20th Anniversary Issue -- offers some interesting glimpses into the journal's history. In addition to reprinting a handful of articles that appeared in First Things over the years, the editors also included brief "snapshots" -- comments that appeared in the journal's pages during its first two decades. I've included a few of these snapshots below, those that caught my attention as I flipped through the pages this morning. I don't necessarily agree, at least not completely, with every comment, but each did get me to examine my own thinking.
"Here is the crux of the problem. Evangelical and fundamentalist Christians find too little difficulty validating the Jewish right to the land of Israel on the basis of biblical promises. But the Vatican and the recent bishops' statement err in the other direction...It is not enough for the Catholic Church to take note of Jewish ties to the land 'that have deep biblical roots.' If they have deep biblical roots, then the Church must also take these ties seriously, not only something that Jews have but as something the Church must struggle with. That decision was made when the Church decided to make the Hebrew Bible its own." -- The Bishops and the Middle East by Michael Wyschogrod, April 1990.

"The News can't be fixed. There is something about daily publication, all by itself, that distorts reality. That is why the addiction to News that so many of us share has brought on a kind of stupidity. Our whole society shares this stupidity, and so we have a hard time recognizing it." -- Why the News Makes Us Dumb by C. John Sommerville, October 1991.
"The painful truth is that both liberals and conservatives have forgotten how to account for character and creed. They have ignored the fact that the fate of the moral order depends on the state of the soul." --Crime and the Cure of the Soul by Charles Colson, October 1993.
"Human rights are not a privilege conferred by government. They are every human being's entitlement by virtue of his humanity. The right to life does not depend, and must not be declared to be contingent, on the pleasure of anyone else, not even a parent or a sovereign." -- Recalling America by Mother Teresa, May 1994.
"One weekend in that tumultuous year 1968 I was on call at a parish church outside of Baltimore. At the end of my Sunday Mass I came into the body of the church to make my thanksgiving, and as I knelt in the pew I noticed that the pulpit from which I had preached had on its front a banner with the inscription 'God is other people.' If I had had a magic marker within reach, I would not have been able to resist the temptation to insert a comma after the word other." -- The Ways We Worship by Avery Cardinal Dulles, March 1998.
"At a recent conference on the ethics of withdrawing nourishment and fluids from mentally incompetent patients, I was approached by an acquaintance who is close to retirement age. 'Richard,' he said in a grave tone, 'when I become seriously ill, I want you to promised me one thing.' I told him I'd do my best. 'Whatever you do,' he said, 'keep those damn bioethicists out of my hospital room.' -- Matters of Life and Death by Richard M. Doerflinger, August/September 2001.
"It is once again time for Catholic universities to serve as monasteries, preserving the deepest things, in the midst of the current barbarian ravages. They are uniquely qualified to preserve the most precious of legacies: the Western intellectual tradition, which is linked to an openness to the human condition wherever it is found...In an academic culture that no longer affirms individual freedom, responsibility, accountability, and dignity, Catholic universities must preserve the belief that freedom and dignity have an ontological status that is a precondition of our full humanity. They must bear witness to the belief that freedom is a gift that distinguishes us from the beasts." -- Pluralism and the Catholic University by Alan Charles Kors, April 2002,
"All told, it is good that God has left us without exact information. If we knew that virtuually everybody would be damned, we would be tempted to despair. If we knew that all, or nearly all, are saved, we might become presumptuous. If we knew that some fixed percent, say fifty, would be saved, we would be caught in an unholy rivalry. We would rejoice in every sign that others were among the lost, since our own chances of election would thereby be increased. Such a cempetitive spirit would hardly be compatible with the gospel." -- The Population of Hell by Avery Cardinal Dulles, April 2003.
"A theologian friend recently made the plaintive observation that our generation seem to lack thinkers of the stature of previous generations. Is that so surprising? We lack the coherent church culture that gave their theologies precision, depth, and scope. Theologians can innovate to their hearts' content, but without a standard theology the total effect of our efforts is far less than the sum of its parts." -- Theology After the Revolution by R. R. Reno, May 2007.
"No event during the first millennium was more unexpected, more calamitous, and more consequential for Christianity than the rise of Islam. Few irruptions in history have transformed societies so completely and irrevocably as did the conquest and expansion of the Arabs in the seventh century." -- Christianity Face to Face with Islam by Roobert Louis Wilken, January 2009.
God's peace...

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Commander-in-Chief?

I prefer not to get too political on this blog, except when I believe politics touches on moral issues in ways that need to be addressed. But today I'm making an exception. I simply could not overlook something the president said at the recent National Prayer Breakfast.

While praising an American serviceman of Haitian descent who was working aboard a hospital ship off the coast of Haiti, President Obama twice called him a "corpse-man". The man, of course, was a Navy corpsman, or medical technician. I find it hard to believe that an educated man who has risen to the position of president of the United States would not know how to pronounce corpsman. But what can one expect from someone who until he became president  quite likely never gave a second thought, and certainly never a positive thought, to those who wear the uniform of our nation. He was probably far too busy organizing communities to pay attention to those whose sacrifices guaranteed those communities' continued existence.

Navy corpsmen are the true unsung heroes of the naval service. Every U.S. Marine Corps unit has corpsmen attached, and these young heroes have far too often given their lives on the battlefield while tending to the wounds of marines. (I wonder if the president also pronounces the Marine Corps, Marine Corpse.)

I've included a clip of the video below:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Pope Benedict on Christian Unity

On January 25 Pope Benedict XVI, at a Vespers service closing a week of prayer for Christian unity, preached  about the need to be a "witness of the Risen Christ in accordance with the mandate he entrusted to his disciples..." Included in this mandate is Christ's constant call for unity among Christians. And yet today we are, in the Holy Father's words, plagued by "the contradiction posed by division among Christians. Indeed," Pope Benedict continued, "how can non-believers accept the Gospel proclamation if Christians, even if they all call on the same Christ, are divided among themselves?" A good question, and one that seems to be the centerpiece of Benedict's approach to Christian unity. 

The pope, of course, is correct. Lacking the unity that Christ called for, the Christian message is as fractured as the Christian community. How did Jesus put it? 
"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." [Jn 17:20-21]
"...that the world may believe." And so Jesus tells the Apostles and us that it is only through Christian unity that worldwide conversion will ever take place. Is it any wonder that the urgency of responding to Christ's call for unity has been so strongly stressed during the pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI? 

Benedict, who like his predecessor is a true ecumenist, does not minimize the obstacles to unity: "Unfortunately, the issues that separate us from each other are many, and we hope that they can be resolved through prayer and dialogue." He does not stop there, however, and encourages a united witness to the world based on those common elements of our shared faith: 
"There is, however, a core of the Christian message that we can all proclaim together: the fatherhood of God, the victory of Christ over sin and death with his Cross and Resurrection, and faith in the transforming action of the Spirit."
The pope also addressed the additional obstacle to evangelization posed by the growing hostility of many to Christianity, and the need to develop new means to spread Christ's message of hope in a world where despair is so prevalent: 
"In a world marked by religious indifference," he said, "and even by a growing aversion to the Christian faith, it is necessary to discover a new, intense method of evangelization, not only among the peoples who have never known the Gospel but also among those where Christianity has spread and is part of their history."

And lastly Pope Benedict called on all of us to work toward unity among Christians, always remembering that it is God who will ultimately bring our hopes to fruition.  
"Each one of us is called to make his or her contribution towards the completion of those steps that lead to full communion among the disciples of Christ, without ever forgetting that this unity is above all a gift from God to be constantly invoked."
How fitting the the Holy Father should preach this homily in the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls, the Roman church dedicated to the Apostle to the Gentiles, the disciple who did so much to bring Christian unity to the early Church.

For the complete text (in English) of Pope Benedict's homily, click here.

God's peace... 

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Some WWW Favorites

I've been playing around with the Internet since before it was the Internet. I had my first exposure back in 1973 when I was teaching computer science at the Naval Academy and was introduced to the Internet's predecessor, the ARPANet, a Department of Defense project designed to interconnect computer installations around the globe using the telecommunications infrastructure. The network used packet switching, as opposed to circuit switching, which enabled a communications link among multiple computers and did not require a dedicated circuit. In those days, we used teletype-like terminals with paper printouts and I still have copies of some of those early adventures on the ARPANet. (ARPANet, by the way, was an acronym for the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network.) 

I even got involved with email fairly early when I signed up for an MCI Mail account back in 1984 using my trusty IBM PC-XT. Of course in those days everything was done with dial-up modems and slow baud rates, but that didn't bother me. The very fact that I could communicate with clients and colleagues was wonderful. All of this, of course, was long before Al Gore's 1991 "information superhighway" bill. 

This early involvement with global computer-based telecommunications was fascinating. And I believe it gave those of us who took part an early glimpse into the future, which probably prevented us from being too surprised by the remarkable advances that followed one on top of the other during the succeeding years. Today the World Wide Web has redefined virtually every aspect of our lives. I do almost as much shopping on the web as I do in stores, perhaps more. I do our banking via the Internet, and plan and book all our travel and vacations on the web. I rarely write letters, but communicate with friends and family largely via email. I get most of my news from the web, which has also become a major source of research material for the courses I teach. This blog, and countless others like it, is a perfect example of how the Internet spawned the development of something totally new, something for which there was no real pre-Internet equivalent.

Given the breadth of the Internet it's easy today to get lost, and to waste an awful lot of time, browsing among the millions of websites in cyberspace. And so I tend to focus on a few favorite sites. Some I check daily because they are updated frequently and always seem to have something interesting to pass along. Others I look in on less frequently but turn to them as the need arises. Anyway, I thought I'd share a few of my favorites with you...

The Catholic Thing (http://www.thecatholicthing.org). A relatively new website, produced by Brad Miner, that offers an always interesting daily commentary on a timely subject by many of today's best Catholic writers. The "In the News" page is also worth a daily glance.

Catholic Online (http://www.catholic.org). A wonderful, comprehensive site about all things Catholic. I especially enjoy the commentaries of Deacon Keith A. Fournier.

Intercollegiate Studies Institute (http://www.isi.org). If you're not a conservative, you will probably dislike this site -- although if you spend much time on it, you just might change your political and philosophical stripes. ISI was founded back in the 1950s "to further in successive generations of American college students a better understanding of the economic, political, and moral principles that sustain a free and humane society." They have published some very important books on a wide range of subjects, and I recommend joining their "readers' club" so you can receive a substantial discount on all book purchases. I have also downloaded many of their audio and video lectures which I play back while driving the car or at other opportune times. As a good introduction to ISI and its worldview, you might try some of Russell Kirk's lectures and books.

First Things (http://www.firstthings.com). This is the website of First Things, an interreligious journal published by the Institute on Religious and Public Life. The journal and the institute were both founded by the late Father Richard Neuhaus, who was a major influence on much of the true ecumenical progress that has been achieved in recent years. Be sure to check out their blogs, always a source of good information. If I had to give up all my magazines but one, First Things is the one I'd keep. If you are a First Things subscriber, you get enhanced access on the website -- another good reason to subscribe.

Vatican Radio (http://www.radiovaticana.org/en1/index.asp). This link will take you to the English language site for Vatican Radio where you will be able to listen to all recent programming, including news shows and any English language talks by the Holy Father. Another related site is the Vatican's YouTube Channel (http://www.youtube.com/vatican) which includes lots of current videos from the Vatican.

The above include the sites I visit most frequently, but I'd be happy to hear suggestions about some of your favorite websites. I have intentionally omitted blogs because I stop by so many during any given week just to see if something interesting has been posted. The list would be far too long.
And let's not forget the patron saint of the Internet, St. Isadore of Seville
(d. 636; feast day: April 4). 

God's peace...