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.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Baltimore Episcopal Parish Becoming Catholic

The rector of Mount Calvary Episcopal Church in Baltimore, Maryland has informed his parishioners that the church's vestry voted unanimously to leave the Episcopal Church and join the Catholic Church as an Anglican Use parish. Later next month the entire church will meet to vote on the vestry's resolutions. According to the rector, Reverend Jason Cantania, this is a logical move for Mount Calvary because the church has been well-known since the 19th century "for its adherence to Catholic faith and practice." In a letter to his parishioners he attributes the decision to a recent retreat at which the vestry decided to explore this possibility of joining the Catholic Church, as well as the Vatican's recent announcement of the Apostolic Constitution providing a path of Anglican groups to enter the Catholic Church.


Mount Calvary is not the first Episcopal parish to make such a move, but I find it particularly interesting that they are located in Maryland, once the center of Catholicism in colonial America. I suspect it's also no coincidence that this decision was announced to the parish only two days after Pope Benedict beatified Cardinal Newman during his visit to the UK. Blessed Newman was, after all, the 19th century's most famous convert from Anglicanism. In fact, on its website -- Mount Calvary Church -- the church traces its origins (it was founded in 1842) to the Oxford Movement in which Blessed Newman played a very active role. To quote the website:
Founded in Baltimore in 1842, Mount Calvary Church has borne faithful witness to the essential truth of Catholic Christianity and the tradition of the Oxford Movement for over 150 years, and remains to this day a bulwark of orthodox Anglo-Catholic practice. From its foundation, Mt. Calvary has “contended for the faith once delivered to all the saints,” the Catholic and Apostolic faith grounded in Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Fathers and Councils of the undivided Church.
It will be interesting to see what transpires at the meeting of church membership on October 24.

Keep this parish in your prayers.

How 'bout them ignorant irreligious Americans...

Yesterday evening I stumbled across an article on the Washington Post's website about a new survey taken by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. I haven't yet had time to examine the survey itself in any depth, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the Post's coverage, but based on the article it's apparent that a lot of Americans don't have a clue when it comes to things religious. The Pew Forum surveyed 3,412 people which is really a pretty large sample, so the results are fairly accurate, certainly within a few percentage points.

What were the results? Well, here are a few of the nuggets the Post writer mined from the survey:
  • Half of the Protestants surveyed didn't know that Martin Luther inspired the Reformation
  • Nearly half (45%) of the Catholics surveyed were unaware the Church taught that the Eucharist was really the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and not merely symbolic
  • 40% of Jews apparently didn't realize that Maimonides, the great medieval rabbi and teacher, was Jewish
More telling, at least for us Catholics, are the scores achieved by various religious groups. The survey consisted  of 32 questions and overall the respondents got about half of them correct. But who did best...or worst? Here are the results:

  • Atheists and agnostics: 21
  • Jews and Mormons (strange bedfellows indeed) : 20
  • Protestants: 16
  • Catholics: 15
Based on a quick -- very quick -- look at the survey results published on the Pew website (click here to view the results), there are plenty of surprises, most of them unpleasant. And the fault lies with the clergy; that is, with the bishops, the priests, and, yes, with us deacons. I'm not too terribly concerned that most Catholics don't realize that the Dalai Lama is a Buddhist, but when such a large percentage are completely ignorant of the very nature of the Eucharist -- "the source and summit of the Christian life" -- I think we have a serious problem. It would seem we've got a lot of work to do.

Pray for your clergy.

Father Thomas Dubay, S.M. - Requiescat in pace

A few moments ago I learned that Father Thomas Dubay has died. This remarkable and holy priest had been in ill health for some time and had been cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington, D.C. He returned to the Father last Sunday, September 26. He was 88 years old.

I never met Father Dubay, but feel as if I have known him for years. And it's all because of his wonderful writings, books that are guaranteed to change those who read them. For example, I have read and reread his book, Happy Are You Poor, so many times that not long ago I had to order a new copy to replace the tattered paperback I'd literally worn out. It's one of those books that challenges you to accept the Gospel in its fullness and will lead you to question virtually every aspect of modern life. Like another challenging book, The Gospel Without Compromise by the late Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Father's Dubay's book will cause you to reevaluate your understanding of poverty and what it means to be poor in spirit.

I don't know how many  books Father Dubay wrote, but I have a few in my modest library, including:

Each is well worth reading. Of course, even if you have never read his books, you may have "met" Father Dubay through his TV shows on EWTN, which is actually how I first encountered him many years ago.

We will miss this wonderful priest, but pray that he is now resting in the Father's loving embrace.

You can read his obituary on his publisher's (Ignatius Press) website here and on ETWN's website here.

God's peace.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Persecution of Christians in...the UK??

We've all read or heard about the persecution of Christians in Muslim countries. I've written about it here on numerous occasions. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, even Indonesia have either directly participated in such persecution or have turned a blind eye to attacks on Christians living in these nations. Indeed, in some of these countries, apostasy -- i.e., converting to any other faith from Islam -- merits the death penalty in accordance with their interpretations of Shari'a Law.

It seems, though, that such persecution is not restricted to Muslim-majority countries. An acquaintance recently directed me to a documentary produced by the UK's Channel 4 that focuses on persecution in the UK of former Muslims who have converted to Christianity. Admittedly it is non-governmental persecution, but the very fact that some Muslims feel free to openly participate in it is more than a little troubling.

The YouTube version of the documentary includes just the first of four parts. I was unable to locate the remaining three parts, so if you can find them on YouTube or obtain them from another source, please let me know. Part One is about 10 minutes long, but worth viewing.

It certainly causes one to ponder the possible results of allowing Shari'a Law to be implemented in any form in a Western democracy such as the United States. Putting aside its handling of apostasy and conversions, Shari'a Law's treatment of women should in itself be enough to bar it completely from our legal system. I say this because there is a concerted effort on the part of many influential Muslims to allow the application of Shari'a Law in the nations of Western Europe and the United States.

The video is included below...


Today in our parish's Wednesday morning Bible Study, we focused on Matthew 10. After coming home and then hearing about this documentary, I found myself repeating these words of Jesus directed to His disciples:
But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. [Mt 10:17-18]
I suppose that, as disciples of Jesus Christ today, we should not be surprised to encounter persecution from both religious and secular authorities. It sounds as if Our Lord is telling us that it comes with the territory.

Praised be Jesus Christ...now and forever!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Pope Speaks to British Politicians

Pope Benedict XVI said many things during his recent visit to the United Kingdom, but one of the more interesting addresses he gave was that to British politicians in Westminster Hall. The below video provides a nice, brief overview.


You can read the Holy Father's complete address here: Address of Pope Benedict XVI - Westminster Hall.

 Blessings...

Roman Virtual Tours

Anyone who has traveled to Rome knows that churches abound in the Eternal City. Indeed, there are over 600 Catholic churches in Rome, but the typical pilgrim or tourist might find the time to explore perhaps a half-dozen during the usual brief three- or four-day visit. On our last trip, during which we spent ten full days in Rome, Diane and I made a real effort and yet visited just 16 churches. (I counted them.) I suppose we could have visited more, but we were determined to enjoy a relaxing stay and kept a rather loose schedule. And, too, there are so many other wonderful places to visit, besides churches, in Rome.

We also walked almost everywhere, which is the best way to avoid putting on weight when sampling the city along with its wonderful food, espresso, cappuccino, gelato and wines. Walking might have slowed us down a bit, but in addition to being wonderful exercise for us old folks, it also let us experience the city and its people up close and personal. And by walking almost everywhere we avoided the expensive taxis that can put quite a dent in your daily budget. (Anything that drains euros from the funds available for food and wine is a bad thing.) On occasion we took advantage of public transportation and tourist buses, but only to see far-flung places like the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Rome is a wonderful city for walking so long as you keep a sharp eye out in high-traffic areas, wear comfortable walking shoes, and have a good city map or, even better, a hand-held GPS.

Of course, most Catholics will never have the opportunity to go to Rome. But now, through the miracle of the Internet, you can do the next best thing: you can bring Rome into your living room. Just by downloading and using Google Earth, for example, you can experience much of Rome and its beauty almost as if you were there personally. Using the street view function you can move through a good portion of the city and enjoy it from a pedestrian's perspective. Google Earth is also an excellent tool for planning your own personal, self-guided walking tours, especially useful when visiting an unfamiliar city. And you can't beat it for checking out that "budget" hotel and its neighborhood before booking your room. If you're one of the few who have never used Google Earth, download it now. You're in for a treat.

But even better than Google Earth, at least for touring Roman churches, are the virtual tours that have been developed for the Vatican's website. The latest church to have its own online virtual tour is one of Rome's oldest churches, the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Below is a brief video describing the tour:


...and you can access the tour itself by clicking on the link below:



 

Basilica of St John Lateran


Virtual tours of the other major basilicas of Rome have been available online for some time now, and can be accessed by clicking on the links I've provided below.




Basilica of St. Peter



Basilica of St. Mary Major




Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls

In a previous post I mentioned the online virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel. Because of the crowds one usually encounters when visiting the Sistine Chapel, this virtual tour is, in some respects, actually better than a personal visit. Not only can you take your time, but you can zoom-in on Michelangelo's artwork.

There's a lot of garbage on the Internet, but there's also so much of real value. One need only look for it.

God's peace...

(Note: above photos all taken in September 2008)

Monday, September 27, 2010

On the Path to Catholic-Orthdox Unity

On several occasions I've addressed the growing commitment among Catholic and Orthodox theologians to achieve unity after more than 1,000 years of separation. This ongoing effort seems to be picking up steam and I really believe we'll see some form of unity between our two churches in our lifetime.

The most recent step toward this unity was the latest session of the Joint Theological Commission for Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches. Held in Vienna last week the session reported substantial progress. In the words of one Orthodox metropolitan, "There are no clouds of mistrust between our two churches...If we continue like that, God will find a way to overcome all the difficulties that remain." The participants also emphasized that the two churches could well be on the way to becoming "sister churches" with each accepting the pope as its titular head. This is a remarkable step forward and it's especially heartening to hear such words coming from the representatives of both churches.
Catholic & Orthodox Participants at this Year's (the 12th) Session

This movement toward unity has also been strongly supported by Russian Orthodox Patriarch Krill and Pope Benedict XVI. The two are both focused on returning Europe to its Christian roots, something that would certainly be aided by Orthodox-Catholic unity. They are not alone in their support for this effort for many other Orthodox and Catholic bishops are equally supportive. For example, Orthodox Metropolitan John Zizioulis of Pergamon and Archbishop Kurt Koch held a joint news conference after the session at which they addressed the positive aspects of the recent session in Vienna. Click here to read some of their key comments. You might also want to read the commentary on the session by Deacon Keith Fournier.

Pray daily for the unity that Christ desires for His Church.

A 20th Century Martyr's Beatification

When it comes to beatifications, most of the recent news has focused on John Henry Cardinal Newman, the 19th Century English convert from Anglicanism whose writings have had such a positive impact on the Church during the past 150 years. At a Mass in Birmingham on September 19, Pope Benedict declared the cardinal "blessed" and established his feast day as October 9, the anniversary of his entry into the Catholic Church in 1845. Blessed Newman's beatification received much deserved attention in both the religious and the secular press, not only because he was beatified by the Holy Father during his highly publicized visit to the UK, but also because the cardinal was so well known during his lifetime and afterwards.

But Blessed Newman wasn't the only person beatified on September 19. Acting for Pope Benedict on that same day, Joachim Cardinal Meisner, archbishop of Cologne, celebrated a beatification Mass in the cathedral at Munster for Father Gerhard Hirschfelder, a martyred German priest who died of starvation and illness in 1942 while imprisoned by the Nazis in the concentration camp at Dachau. Born in 1907 he was only 35 years old when he died.

Blessed Hirschfelder was one of those many brave priests who publicly resisted the Nazis, especially by urging the young people of Germany to ignore the government's incessant propaganda. Even after he was strongly denounced by the authorities -- a clear warning of things to come -- he continued to preach on the evils of Nazism in his homilies. In one of his last homilies he stated that "He who tears from the heart of young people their faith in Christ is a criminal." This was apparently too much for the Nazi authorities and he was arrested by the Gestapo while he was leading a youth meeting. He was sent first to Glatz prison, where he wrote a beautiful "Way of the Cross" along with a number of reflections on the priesthood, marriage and the family. On December 15, 1941, after four months at Glatz, Blessed Hirschfelder was sent to Dachau where he died on August 1, 1942.

In 1951, just nine years after Blessed Hirschfelder's death, my family was living in Heidelberg, Germany where, as a seven-year-old, I attended a one-room schoolhouse run by the lovely Frau Scharmer. We would often take road trips to different parts of Germany and during a visit to Munich, my parents took my older brother and me to the camp at Dachau so we could see first-hand the evil of which men were capable. I still recall that visit as if it were yesterday. Over the years some people have suggested that it was cruel of my parents to take such young children to a place like Dachau, but I disagree. Indeed, I have always been grateful for that day, a day that indelibly colored my worldview and taught me to trust not in men but in God alone.
Dachau right after its liberation by US Troops
Dachau inmates - slow death by starvation and illness
Ovens in  the Dachau crematorium - photo taken right after camp was liberated
Interestingly, Dachau contained a separate area where over 3,000 Christian clergy were imprisoned, including Father Hirschfelder. The vast majority of these clergy were Catholic priests. By isolating them the Nazis hoped to keep them from "infecting" the general camp population with their religious views. Father Jean Bernard wrote a wonderful book, Priestblock 25487: A Memoir of Dachau, about his years spent imprisoned at Dachau. It is well worth reading.

On September 13, Pope Benedict, in an address to the new German ambassador to the Holy See, spoke of the beatification of Father Hirschfelder. In his address the Holy Father placed the martyrdom of this young German priest into its proper perspective and showed its relevance in today's world where so many have abandoned the Faith to the detriment of our culture and society. I have included below the Vatican's press release of this address by Pope Benedict (Zenit News Agency).
______

Pope's Address to German Envoy

"Marriage Is ... Between a Man and a Woman"

CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, SEPT. 13, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the address Benedict XVI delivered today upon receiving the letters of credence of Walter Jürgen Schmid, the new German ambassador to the Holy See.

* * *

Mr. Ambassador,

I am pleased to take advantage of the occasion of the solemn handing of the Letters of Credence that accredit you as ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to the Holy See, to welcome you and to express my best wishes for your high mission. My heartfelt thanks for the kind words you addressed to me, also in the name of the federal president, Mr. Christian Wulff, and of the federal government. I am pleased to extend the greeting of blessing to the head of state, to the members of the government and to all the citizens of Germany, with the hope that the good relations between the Holy See and the Federal Republic of Germany will continue in the future and develop further.

Many Christians in Germany are looking forward with great attention to the imminent celebrations of the beatifications of several martyr priests of the time of the Nazi regime. This Sunday, Sept. 19, Gerhard Hirschfelder will be beatified in Munster. During the coming year ceremonies will follow for Georg Hafner in Wurzburg, in addition to those for Johannes Prassek, Hermann Lange and Eduard Muller in Lubeck. Commemorated also with the chaplains of Lubeck will be Evangelical pastor Karl Friedrich Stellbrink. The attested friendship of the four ecclesiastics is an impressive testimony of the ecumenism of prayer and suffering, flowering in several places during the dark period of the Nazi terror. We can see these testimonies as luminous indications for a common ecumenical path.

Contemplating the figures of these martyrs, it seems ever clearer and exemplary how certain men are willing, given their Christian conviction, to give their own life for the faith, for the right to exercise freely their own creed and liberty of speech, for peace and human dignity. Today, fortunately, we live in a free and democratic society.

At the same time, however, we observe how among our contemporaries, there is no strong attachment to religion, as in the case of these witnesses of the faith. One might ask if there are today Christians that, without compromises, make themselves guarantors of their own faith. On the contrary, many show a general inclination toward permissive religious conceptions also for themselves. Instead of the Christian's personal God, who reveals himself in the Bible, they posit a supreme, mysterious and indeterminate being, who has only a vague relationship with the human being's personal life.

Such conceptions increasingly animate discussion within the society, especially in regard to the realm of justice and legislation. However, if one abandons faith in a personal God, the alternative arises of a "god" who does not know, does not listen and does not speak. And, more than ever before, does not have a will. If God does not have his own will, in the end good and evil are not distinguished, good and evil are no longer in contradiction to one another, but are in an opposition in which one is complementary of the other. Thus man loses his moral and spiritual strength, necessary for the complete development of the person. Social action is dominated increasingly by private interest or by the calculation of power, at the expense of society.

Instead, if God is a Person -- and the order of creation as well as the presence of Christians of conviction in society is a sign of this -- it follows that an order of values is legitimized. There are signs, which can also be found in recent times, that give proof of the development of new relations between the state and religion, also beyond the great Christian Churches which up to now were determinant. Hence, in this situation Christians have the task of following this development positively and critically, in addition to refining the senses for the fundamental and permanent importance of Christianity, in laying the bases and forming the structures of our culture.

However, the Church sees with concern the growing attempt to eliminate the Christian concept of marriage and the family from the conscience of society. Marriage is manifested as a lasting union of love between a man and a woman, which is also directed to the transmission of human life. One of its conditions is the willingness of the spouses to relate one to the other forever. Necessary, because of this, is a certain maturity of the person and a fundamental existential and social attitude: a "culture of the person" as my predecessor John Paul II once said. The existence of this culture of the person depends also on social developments.

It can be seen that in a society the culture of the person is lowered; often it is derived, paradoxically, from the growth of the standard of life. In the preparation and support of the spouses, it is necessary to create the basic conditions to build-up and develop this culture. At the same time we must be aware that the success of marriages depends on all of us, on the personal culture of each citizen. In this connection, the Church cannot approve legislative initiatives that imply a reappraisal of alternative models of the life of a couple and of the family. These contribute to the weakening of the principles of the Natural Law and thus to relativizing the whole of legislation and also to confusion on the values in society.

It is a principle of the Christian faith, anchored in Natural Law, that the human person be protected precisely in a situation of weakness. The human being always has priority in regard to other objectives. The new possibilities of biotechnology and medicine often put us in difficult situations that seem to walk on the razor's edge. We have the duty to study diligently to what point these methods can be of help to man and where, instead, it is a question of the manipulation of man, of violation of his integrity and dignity. We cannot reject this progress, but we must be very diligent. Once one begins to distinguish -- and this now happens often in the maternal womb -- between a worthy life and a life unworthy of living, no other phase of life will be safe, and even less so old age and infirmity.

The construction of a human society requires fidelity to truth. In this context, lately, certain phenomena that are operating in the realm of the public media make one reflect: being in an ever greater competition, the media feel driven to arouse the greatest possible attention. In addition, there is the contrast made by the news in general, even if it goes against the veracity of the report. The subject becomes particularly problematic when authoritative persons take a public position in this respect, without being able to confirm the aspects adequately. The attempt of the federal government to be involved in these cases, in so far as possible, in a pondered and pacifying way, is received favorably.

Mr. Ambassador, you have my best wishes for your work and for the contacts you will have with representatives of the Roman Curia, with the diplomatic corps and also with priests, religious and lay faithful involved in ecclesial activities who live here in Rome. I implore from my heart for you, for your distinguished consort, for your men and women collaborators in the embassy an abundant divine blessing.
 __________

Blessed Hirschfelder, pray for us.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Art and Less Art

And you thought the United States had a monopoly on hateful, amoral, misanthropic artists. Robert Mapplethorpe comes to mind, but he's just one of many whom the critics love. It seems, however, that the once-Catholic nation of Brazil has produced an artist by the name of Gil Vicente who is at the  center of a minor artistic firestorm in Sao Paulo. The College of Lawyers of Brazil are demanding that Vicente's artwork be banned from a 2010 Sao Paulo biennial celebration, a demand strongly resisted by the celebration's organizers.

Vicente, you see, has created a series of nine large charcoal drawings entitled "Enemies." These works of art are apparently self-portraits that depict the artist in the act of assassinating various world leaders including Pope Benedict XVI, George Bush, Brazil's president Lula da Silva, former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and others. According to Vicente, these world leaders "kill so many people, killing them would be doing a favor, you see? Why don’t the elite and people in power die?” A pleasant fellow, Mr. Vicente. He is shown below posing in front of several of his assassination drawings.
Vicente posing in front of several of his "Enemies" drawings
As you can see by the above photo, Vicente's artwork, which he certainly intended to be disturbing, is also of only mediocre quality. But in today's art world talent and quality are always trumped by political correctness and leftist politics. I'm pretty sure that Michelangelo, da Vinci, Monet,or any truly talented artist would be ignored by today's politicized art world. And so, instead of the work of the descendants of yesterday's great masters, we get poorly drawn charcoals of an artist killing famous people he dislikes.

Oh, by the way, Vicente is selling the entire set of nine drawings for a mere $250,000. You'll need a lot of wall space though. You can read more about his work here.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Odd Complaint

I received a complaint via email the other day, suggesting that I was devoting far too much of my "blogspace" (his word, not mine) to family and friends and not enough to theological and ecclesiastical subjects. He stated quite bluntly that "as a deacon you should be using this vehicle to explain our beliefs as Catholics. Our Lord told us to go to 'all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.'" The remainder of his highly instructive email made it clear that by focusing so much on family, friends, travels, etc., I was ignoring the Lord's mandate and not using this blog effectively for its "intended apologetic purpose."

I don't know this critic personally and so at first I was nonplussed that anyone would take the time to lecture me on the "intended...purpose" of my own little, insignificant blog. What do you say to someone who would be so presumptuous? My initial reaction was to send off a quickie response saying, "If you want to read a blog that focuses on Catholic apologetics, there are plenty out there. Or start your own. But don't tell me what I have to write about." But then, after a moment's reflection, I thought that perhaps I was partly to blame for this reader's confusion over the blog's intended purpose. This thought lived a very short life, for when I began Being Is Good a few years ago I stated clearly it would contain no more than my "occasional, random thoughts" in support of my joy over God's gift of life. This purpose hasn't changed and has been in the blog's header from the start.

I'll admit that I sometimes drift away from this guiding vision and ramble on about a topic that simply piques my interest, but isn't that really in the very nature of blogging? Anyway, since my intended focus is an appreciation of being itself, I can think of no better subject matter than the lives of those who mean the most to me: family and friends.

I also believe that a life well-lived is a life of balance. An unbalanced life, of the sort that focuses all of one's time and energy on a single aspect of this wondrous existence, seems an insult to the Creator.  I believe it only fitting, then, that this blog should reflect the many aspects of creation that I find particularly interesting. Theology, ecclesiology, apologetics -- these are all wonderful subjects for study and contemplation and evangelization, but I prefer that they don't monopolize my every waking moment.

Now...family and friends.

After leaving our younger daughter and her family, Diane and I made a brief  stop in Schenectady, New York at the home of one of my old high school buddies. Although we had kept in infrequent touch via email, etc., we hadn't seen each other in years, so it was nice to get together once again. Old friendships are among the best of friendships and we just picked up where we had left off at our last meeting over 20 years ago. We stayed at a less than pleasant motel that one night. My friend warned me. I should have listened.

We then drove to the little Finger Lakes community of Penn Yan, New York where we spent three days with another deacon and his wife. They have an absolutely lovely home right on Lake Seneca smack dab in the middle of New York's famed wine country. With our hosts as tour guides, we spent several days visiting wineries and local shops, admiring the well-kept Mennonite farms, and just taking in the beautiful countryside.

Sunrise over Lake Seneca - Finger Lakes, NY
Spooky Scarecrow in Vineyard - NY Finger Lakes
St. Augustine once compared a Bishop who lacked courage
to preach the Gospel and defend the faith to "a scarecrow standing in a vineyard."

Vineyard Windmill - NY Finger Lakes

By now it was time to head south. We'd been living out of our suitcases for nearly a month, and needed to return to the comfortable surroundings of our own home. We left New York and drove to Fairfax, Virginia  where we spent a lovely evening with old Navy friends. We hated to leave, but home beckoned. Indeed, its call was so strong and so loud that yesterday we drove over 800 miles from Fairfax to Florida. The traffic was light, I wasn't particularly tired, and another night in a motel did not appeal to us.

Home at last!

Friday, September 17, 2010

De-Baptism, All the Rage in Pagan Europe

Have you heard about the latest not-so-subtle attack on religion that is apparently gaining adherents throughout Europe and especially in the UK? It seems that a growing number of people are very upset over the fact that they were baptized as infants without their consent. And so, to counter this unwanted and forced entry into the Church, the National Secular Society (in the UK) has initiated a process of "de-baptism" by which a person can renounce his real baptism and all that goes with it. Not only does the person go through a de-baptism ceremony, but he also receives a "De-baptism Certificate" that contains the following verbiage:
"I ________ having been subjected to the Rite of Christian Baptism in infancy (before reaching an age of consent), hereby publicly revoke any implications of that Rite and renounce the Church that carried it out. In the name of human reason, I reject all its Creeds and all other such superstition in particular, the perfidious belief that any baby needs to be cleansed by Baptism of alleged ORIGINAL SIN, and the evil power of supposed demons. I wish to be excluded henceforth from enhanced claims of church membership numbers based on past baptismal statistics used, for example, for the purpose of securing legislative privilege."

As you might expect, this has received a lot of press in the mainstream media. If you'd like to see what the secular media has had to say about de-baptism, check out these articles in Time Magazine and USA Today. I've also included a Sky News video story below:


As I stated above, the process is sponsored and encouraged by the UK's National Secular Society, an organization dedicated to promoting the idea that "supernaturalism is based upon ignorance and [the society] assails it as the historic enemy of progress." According to the society, "The Rite of Debaptism is a secret and powerful ceremony that removes and counters the rites of baptism. This ritual can only be performed by trained and ordained Debaptizors, and is an eternal and irrevocable Rite." I find it interesting that what the Church has for 2,000 years taught is an indelible mark on the soul of the baptized, the society believes it can remove eternally and irrevocably through its odd little rite. You can read all that the Society has to say about de-baptism here and check out their certificate here.

Of course, it's all very sad and just another indication of what Walter Cardinal Kaspar called the "aggressive new atheism" so popular in the UK these days. Unfortunately it's not restricted to the UK and is increasingly common in most Western European nations. These lost and searching souls need and deserve our prayers and our evangelization. Let's pray that the words of the Holy Father will touch some of them during his visit to the UK this week.

Family Once More

Tomorrow we take our leave of Massachusetts and begin our wanderings back home to Florida. We've planned a circuitous route via upstate New York and Northern Virginia to visit old friends and then...well, who knows? We're not in a hurry, so we'll likely get sidetracked by all sorts of attractions en route -- the kind of places we always bypassed on previous trips because we simply didn't have the time or could not imagine visiting with four kids in tow. We'll see.

All eight of our grandchildren are, of course, exceptional children, and we ask God's blessing on them all. But our special treat on this trip was being there for the birth and subsequent Baptism of newly born Benedito. As any grandparent knows, visiting with children and grandchildren is always a joy. Naturally, Diane and I have been encouraging them all to come stay with us in sunny Florida. We probably won't see any of them real soon, but once the weather up here changes, Florida becomes a much more attractive place to visit.

For the past few days we've been staying at a local hotel while visiting our younger daughter and her husband, along with their two wonderful boys, Ezekiel and Phineas -- two great Old Testament names. It's been fun just playing with our grandsons and catching up on family stuff. As usual, I've taken far too many photos, and have included a few below...

Daughter, Siobhan, and Diane

Diane with Grandson, Phineas
Grandson, Ezekiel, Just Enjoying Life

Our journey may not be as momentous as Pope Benedict's current visit to the UK, but we're doing our bit as we travel and visit.

More to come...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Islam and Us

Here's an interesting and perceptive article by Matthew Hanley, posted on The Catholic Thing: Islam and Self-Knowledge. It's a gutsy piece that should leave the hand-wringers all aflutter. We certainly live in interesting times.

Family & More Family

It's certainly been a busy week here in Massachusetts as we make the rounds visiting our children and grandchildren.

New grandchild, Benedito,and family at his Baptism
Last Friday I baptized our newest family member, one-week-old Benedito, who was a perfect gentleman throughout the ceremony. Born on the feast of St. Gregory the Great, Benedito obviously has within him the seeds of greatness. As if to confirm this, just as the ceremony was about to begin almost a hundred people unexpectedly entered the little church and filed into the pews. For a moment I couldn't understand who all these people were, but then I remembered that St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis on Cape Cod was not only the home parish of my daughter's family, but also that of the Kennedy family. Apparently buses of tourists regularly stop by to visit the church where the late president worshiped whenever he was at the family's compound in Hyannisport. As it turned out, these two busloads of visitors were very respectful and sat quietly in the pews until the baptism was over. They then broke into spontaneous applause for young Benedito, an especially warm welcome for this newest member of the Body of Christ. (You can see some of these visitors in the background of the above photo.)

On Saturday our younger son, Brendan, and his girl friend, Amari, came over to the mainland from the beautiful island of Nantucket to join us at the home of our daughter and son-in-law for an afternoon cookout. We don't get to see Brendan too often so this was a nice treat for Diane and me. And we simply love Amari, so her presence made the day especially wonderful. Our entire two-week stay on Cape Cod was a joy for us. We stayed with our dear friends, the Greens, welcomed little Benedito into the world and the Church, and had the pleasure of spending each day with five of our wonderful grandchildren, our elder daughter, and our son-in-law. Life is good.

And it continues... We spent the past three days in New Bedford visiting our elder son, his wife and their beautiful six-month-old daughter, Veronica (photo left). It was a relaxing visit and included a night out on Monday at a local seafood restaurant in honor of my 66th birthday. I especially enjoyed my dinner of New England clam chowder and broiled scallops. Can any meal surpass that? It was followed by the surprise appearance of a delicious birthday cake topped by a single, discreet candle, an especially kind embellishment thanks to Jessica, our daughter-in-law.  All in all, another pleasant visit.

While in New Bedford I even managed to take some time to go down to the waterfront and photograph a few of the vessels that make up New Bedford's fishing fleet. As you can plainly see (below) by the names of many of the vessels, these Portuguese fishermen are men of faith.

Yesterday afternoon we arrived at our younger daughter's home in North Andover, Massachusetts. And so she and her husband and their two little boys will be the focus of our attention until Saturday. More to follow...

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Road to Sainthood: John Henry Cardinal Newman

About thirty years ago my dear wife, Diane, gave me an absolutely wonderful Christmas gift: a multi-volume set of Cardinal Newman's complete works. She found it in one of my favorite bookstores, Parnassus Books in Yarmouthport on Cape Cod, and fortunately was able to buy it for a very reasonable price. Beautifully bound and published around the turn of the century (that's 1900, the other century) the set contained perhaps 30 volumes. Over the years I read most of the volumes and then about 10 years ago gave the entire set to my elder son who was studying theology. I trust he has enjoyed them as much as I did.

And now, all these years later, I hope to witness (via television) Pope Benedict's beatification of the English cardinal who had such an impact on the Catholic Church during the past century and a half. The beatification will take place in Birmingham on the last day of the Holy Father's visit to the United Kingdom (September 16-19).

A convert from the Anglican Church, Cardinal Newman (1801-1890) was despised by most in the church he left and distrusted by many in the church he joined. And yet, despite the difficulties he constantly encountered, he responded always with grace, patience and humility. During the forty-five years after his conversion, he almost singlehandedly changed the face and the image of the Catholic Church in England. He was also among the Church's great intellects, and despite the fact that he died almost 75 years before the Second Vatican Council, Newman's impact on the council fathers was probably more significant than most living theologians. How fitting that he should be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI, one of those Vatican II theologians and one of the few popes in recent times who is Newman's intellectual equal.

Of course, as a deacon I think it's really neat that the intercessory miracle attributed to Cardinal Newman was the miraculous cure of Deacon John Sullivan, of Marshfield, Massachusetts, a permanent deacon of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Click here to read a wonderful tribute to Cardinal Newman written by Conrad Black.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

More on Science, Man and God

Yesterday I criticized Stephen Hawking for trying to eliminate both philosophy and God, but it was really more of an off-the-cuff response and didn't offer much in the way of serious objections. My criticism actually centers on science as a vehicle in the pursuit of knowledge and its limitations as it engages in that pursuit.

It's important, first of all, to realize that science has been the source of humanity's expanding knowledge of our material world. But in accomplishing this science is essentially deterministic. Science accepts that all activity within the material world is determined by material causes and that these causes and their resultant activities can be expressed as "laws". Isaac Newton's legendary apple, for example, fell down and not up because of the law of gravity.

The problem arises when science attempts to apply its determinism to human thought and activity. Indeed, when a scientist like Hawking states that philosophy is dead he's also saying that human life in all its variety is subject to the same kind of deterministic "laws" that affect galaxies or falling apples. If we believe this then we must believe that free will is illusory, and such concepts as good and evil or justice and truth are meaningless. The focus of human intellectual life must then shift from the contemplation of these and similar concepts to an examination of the merely pragmatic, of what works. Human life loses its unique value (and without God, its sacredness) and has no more inherent worth than anything else in the universe.

The effect on society of such thinking is predictably horrifying. It results in the kind of society depicted by Orwell or Huxley, a society in which government becomes the master and the individual becomes a slave.  We've already tried several versions of this society in fascist Germany and in Marxist experiments over the past hundred years. All have failed or are on the road to failure.

What the totally deterministic scientist doesn't seem to realize is that much of his knowledge really doesn't apply to human beings. Problems that center on human behavior are not scientific problems but moral problems, problems that cannot be resolved by his deterministic laws.

Scientists do wonderful things as long as they stick with science. When they try to put God and man in a "black box", or worse, when they try to eliminate our uniqueness and His omnipotence, they always fail.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Stephen Hawking: God Isn't

Physicist Stephen Hawking has assured the world (and the universe) that it can forget about God, at least as Creator. In his latest book, The Grand Design, Hawking apparently believes that the multitude of theories that form his view of the universe confirm his notion that there are countless universes. But since you and I exist in only one of these universes, we're deceived into thinking it is unique. According to Hawking, though, it's nothing special. It's just one of trillions of universes and therefore requires none of the fine-tuning that our limited human perspective here on little old earth thinks it needs. It requires no God to create it. It can just pop into being on its own, purely as a result of chance.

Hawking also claims he has killed off philosophy. Since his theories explain everything, there's no need for speculative thinking of any kind. Hawking, of course, is wrong, and not just on his belief that philosophy is no longer needed. He's also wrong about creation, since all his theories, all his multitude of universes, all his speculation (those theories are, after all, still just theories), all his attempts to kill philosophy by philosophizing, still cannot explain how something like the universe (the only one for which we have any evidence) can come into being from nothing. That, you see, is something that only God can do. It is also something we mere humans will never fully understand because we cannot know the mind of God.

Science can tell us a lot about our material word, but it has its limits. And Stephen Hawking has come up against those limits. We will always need philosophy to ensure that people like Hawking don't jump to conclusions for which there is no real evidence. Indeed, I believe there is far more evidence supporting the existence of God than there is for Hawking's M Theory of a countless multitude of universes.

As my grandchildren prayed before lunch this afternoon, "God is great, God is good, let us thank Him..."

Amen.

Monday, September 6, 2010

More Photos of Our New Grandson

When little Benedito was born last Friday his sister and brothers were all very excited. And so, when we took them to the hospital to visit the little guy and his mom, they all wanted a turn holding the baby. The photos below tell the story...

Benedito and Pedro (9)
Benedito and Camilla (7)

Benedito and Carlos (6)

Benedito and Eddie (3)
Five beautiful gifts from God...

Islamic Europe?

Libyan "leader" Qadhafi caused a bit of a ruckus during a European visit by suggesting that Europe convert to Islam. He also suggested that the European nations contribute a few billion dollars to stop African immigration. Sounds outlandish doesn't it? But according to Father Piero Gheddo of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions, the idea of a Muslim Europe is a very real possibility so long as Europeans continue to deny their Christian roots and the practice of their Christian faith.

In an interview with Rome-based Xenit News Agency, Father Gheddo, who also founded the missionary news agency AsiaNews, stated, "The challenge must be taken seriously. Certainly from a demographic point of view, as it is clear to everyone that Italians are decreasing by 120,000 or 130,000 persons a year because of abortion and broken families; while among the more than 200,000 legal immigrants a year in Italy, more than half are Muslims and Muslim families, which have a much higher level of growth."

Of course, Father Gheddo's comments apply not just to Italy but to all of western Europe where the birthrate among non-Muslims is far below the replacement rate. Put bluntly, Europeans are aborting and contracepting themselves out of existence.

This is another critical story that you'll never encounter in the mainstream media. Read the rest of Father Gheddo's comments here: Islam May Fill Europe's Religious Vacuum,

Embryonic Stem Cell Research


A federal judge has issued an injunction against President Obama's executive order that provided for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. The judge correctly stated that the executive order violated federal law, specifically an appropriations “rider” called the Dickey-Wicker Amendment. Now we can only hope and pray that his ruling will be upheld throughout the federal appeals process. Click here for more on this story.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Few Must-Reads

Every so often I come across an exceptional speech or article that simply demands to be read by more than just those few who might have been the intended audience. Here are a few of these must-reads I encountered as I browsed the web while waiting for hurricane Earl to breeze through town here on Cape Cod. By the time it reached us Earl was, thanks be to God, a bust and did nothing but water the lawns and shake a few leaves off the trees. But, believe me, the following will have far more lasting impact on those who read them...

Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput recently (August 24) spoke to the Canon Law Society of Slovakia. His address represents a call to resist the overtly anti-Christian secularism that has permeated Western society in both Europe and North America. Archbishop Chaput has apparently fulfilled his role not only as priest and shepherd, but also as prophet. Here's a link to his address: Living within the truth: Religious liberty and Catholic mission in the new order of the world.

Howard Kainz, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at Marquette University, has written a brief but necessary article for TheCatholicThing.org. Professor Kainz gives us his Cautious Reflections on Hell -- a subject too often neglected in these days of universal self-esteem that cannot possibly assent to a hell.

David Bentley Hart, the distinguished Eastern Orthodox theologian and patristics scholar, writes well and often on all sorts of fascinating subjects. His books are thoughtful and thought-provoking, and this, his latest article, offers a fascinating view of the popular interest in the apocalyptic fantasies -- e.g., the end-of-the-world 2012 Mayan "prophecy" -- that seem to have become a source of much popular entertainment. Read the article here: The Appeal of a World Scattered and Scorched.

The grandchildren have had their way with me and left me ready for bed, so I will cut off my list at three. God's peace...

Friday, September 3, 2010

Grandson and Hurricane

Our new grandson has arrived and has been given the name, Benedito. He was born early this afternoon (12:27 p,m.) at Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis, Massachusetts. Little Benedito weighed a healthy 8 lbs. 7 oz. and was 21 inches long. He and his mom are both healthy and happy. God has once again blessed our family with a beautiful gift.

We took his sister and three brothers to the hospital this afternoon so they could see their new brother and spend some time with him and their mom and dad. We all had a wonderful time and, of course, I took pictures (below).

Our big concern now, though, is the arrival hurricane Earl, although it looks as if the storm has both weakened and turned a bit seaward. This is good and we trust that by the time it arrives here on Cape Cod it will turn out no worse than the average nor'easter. I can hear the wind building up already and so must make a final tour of yard to ensure nothing loose is lying about.

Mom and son

Our daughter's entire family with newborn Benedito
Benedito, age 2 hours
Grandma (Diane) holding Benedito while Eddie looks on
Praised be God for all His goodness.


Blessings...

The Convergence of New Grandson and Hurricane Earl

Since our arrival on Cape Cod Sunday evening, we've been staying with some dear old friends who live about 20 miles from our daughter's home in Hyannis. Early this morning -- at exactly 4:38 -- dear Erin called us and asked that we jump in the car and drive to her house. After yesterday's early morning (5:05 a.m.) dry run -- which turned out to be a false alarm -- it took us only 31 minutes to get dressed and make the short trip. And then, as is usual in these situations, everything slowed down. Erin and her husband finally left for the hospital at about 9 a.m., leaving Diane and me to care for the other four little ones (aged nine to three), and to cope with the imminent arrival of hurricane Earl.

According to the latest forecasts, the weather-guessers believe the storm will give us only a glancing blow as it accelerates off to the northeast. It's expected to arrive sometime this evening. We can only hope it remains well at sea. I've been through too many hurricanes in my life to trust meteorologists too much, and so I'm taking what precautions I can to keep us all safe. My biggest concern is an extended power loss so I've been charging up all those battery-powered electronic devices I lug along on every trip.

The little ones and their grandfather
Diane and granddaughter, Camilla, are out shopping for necessities while the three boys and I sit here watching Barney, the extremely irritating dinosaur. Did you know that "You're special, I'm special, everyone is special"? At least I thought I was until Eduardo, aged three, told me bluntly, "I'm special, Papa, but you're not." And to add to this insult, at breakfast this morning Camilla informed me, "Papa, you're too old to be a grandpa." Lovely little children,

We still have not been told what name our new grandson will be given, but that's okay. I like surprises and I'm sure it will be a fitting name. Pray for the little guy and his mom as they do what must be done over the next few hours. And pray that Earl heads out to sea. It's already beginning to cloud up as the leading edge of the storm reaches out to us.

Have to run. I've just been informed that it's time for a snack.

God's peace...

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Coming of Earl

Here I am, sitting at the kitchen table in the home of my daughter and son-in-law, waiting for a more accurate weather forecast. According to a forecast I heard early this morning, hurricane Earl just might hammer a couple of capes: Cape Hatteras and Cape Cod. Unfortunately, we are currently located in Hyannis, right in the middle of Cape Cod. And to add a touch of excitement to our situation, our daughter is expecting her fifth child with a due date, quite fittingly, of next Monday, Labor Day. Because we must all remain here, near both doctor and hospital, we will not be able to evacuate even if we wanted to.

What to do? I suppose we can do what all New Englanders do when a storm threatens: go to the store and buy bread and milk. Other than these traditional emergency preparations, we'll probably just sit here and wait for the new baby (as yet unnamed) and Earl, hoping that the former arrives before the latter. When I mentioned the possibility that my daughter and her husband consider the name "Earl", my suggestion was not well received. Go figure!

And so we wait and pray for a healthy baby and a hurricane that goes out to sea, far out to sea.

Pray for us and for fair winds...