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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Praise God In All Things, Large and Small

Dear Diane is out of surgery, her wonderful surgeon stopped by to tell me she's doing fine, and so I hope to see her soon. And I'll also get to take her home with me later today, after a few hours of recovery here in the hospital.

It is times such a these that remind us how much we owe God, how thankful we should be for all things. It is all a gift, isn't it? Life itself, and all the blessings that accompany it, are wondrous, undeserved signs of God's overwhelming love for us.

We are also reminded that He brings the good from the bad for those who love Him. Illness and injury are not good in themselves, but they can lead us to a greater awareness of God's love for us. They also can lead others to a closer relationship with God as they turn to Him in prayer. I can't help but think of all those friends and family members who have been praying so fervently for Diane this week.

Join me today in a prayer of thanksgiving for Diane and her healing.

God's peace...


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Location:Ocala, Florida, USA

Dear Diane

It's 6:30 a.m. and Diane and I are in a pre-op waiting room of sorts...and we're certainly waiting. Dear Diane will undergo outpatient surgery this morning and, we hope, return home this afternoon. I will sit in the surgery waiting room, pray Morning Prayer, roam the halls, drink coffee in the hospital cafeteria, finish reading Macbeth on the iPad, and just try to stay busy because I really dislike waiting in hospitals.

I will say one thing: everyone we have met at this hospital is very pleasant and helpful, traits that are not always apparent in hospitals where bureaucracy can sometimes trump common sense and common decency. A squad of three nurses just spent a half-hour poking, prodding, and wiring Diane in readiness for her procedure. They were terrific and helped eased our concerns, especially Diane's. So all is well, and we have turned it over to God.

It's now almost 8:30 a.m. and we're still waiting. It seems Diane will be her surgeon's second procedure of the day, so we will continue to wait patiently. There is, after all, no alternative. But I am hungry, having skipped breakfast this morning. I think I'll do most of my waiting in the cafeteria.

9:00 a.m. -- They must be getting ready to take Diane since they just hooked her up to a monitor that beeps constantly in time with her heartbeat -- a little auditory torture while we wait. They also inserted some of the anesthesiologist's happy juice in her IV so I expect she'll soon be sound asleep.

Keep her in your prayers...more later.

Thank God for doctors, nurses and all those wonderful healers.


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Location:Ocala, Florida, USA

Monday, August 29, 2011

A Word from the Persecuted

If you're a Christian, and especially if you're a Catholic, you're being persecuted. Maybe you didn't know this, but it's true. Even here in the good ol' freedom-loving USA, we are undergoing all kinds of persecution, some subtle and some not so subtle. We're not being killed or imprisoned, at least not yet, but there are other forms of persecution, some already in place and others planned.

Ironically, those responsible for much of this persecution justify it based on a very strange interpretation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It's really remarkable how those plain words written by our nation's founding fathers have in the minds of many of today's supposedly educated intelligentsia come to mean exactly the opposite of their original intent.

If it's been a while since you last read those first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights, I suggest you take a few minutes to read them again. Here's a link: Bill of Rights, and here are those plain words of the First Amendment:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
I'm certain it's no accident that the first right, the first freedom, addressed by the founders was freedom of religion. Note that the words clearly are not intended to protect us from religion, but to protect us from the government, to ensure the free practice of religion without government interference.

Yes, religion was the number one freedom in the minds of the founders. Only after guaranteeing our religious freedom did they go on to enumerate freedom of speech and the press, of the right to assemble peaceably, and the right to petition the government.

James Madison clearly believed that freedom of conscience was a right that no government could viloate:

"More sparingly should this praise be allowed to a government, where a man's religious rights are violated by penalties, or fettered by tests, or taxed by a hierarchy. Conscience is the most sacred of all property; other property depending in part on positive law, the exercise of that, being a natural and unalienable right. To guard a man's house as his castle, to pay public and enforce private debts with the most exact faith, can give no title to invade a man's conscience which is more sacred than his castle, or to withhold from it that debt of protection, for which the public faith is pledged, by the very nature and original conditions of the social pact."
It was a belief upheld as well by Abraham Lincoln who stated:

"That the guarantee of the rights of conscience, as found in our Constitution, is most sacred and inviolable, and one that belongs no less to the Catholic than to the Protestant; and that all attempts to abridge or interfere with these rights, either of Catholic or Protestant, directly or indirectly...shall ever have our most effective opposition."
And yet today, Catholic charities have been forced by state governments to cease running adoption agencies that, in many instances, have have operated for over a century because they will not place children with homosexual "parents". This, of course, is a direct abridgement of the rights of conscience and religious belief of Catholics and violates the Constitution in both letter and spirit. This, folks, is religious persecution, plain and simple. Yes, "Conscience in the most sacred of all property..."

In the same way, across the country politicians are floating legislation and/or executive orders to demand that all physicians and other medical personnel be forced to refer patients for abortions or contraceptive services even when such actions would violate the religious beliefs (i.e., the rights of conscience) of the physician involved. I can think of no more direct violation of one's conscience. Can you imagine the uproar if the state tried to force a physician to perform an execution? Well, for the believing Catholic who accepts the Church's magisterial teaching on the inherent evil of abortion, forcing a doctor to participate even peripherally in an abortion is really no different. And again, "the guarantee of the rights of conscience...is most sacred and inviolable."

As an ordained permanent deacon in the Catholic Church I have witnessed many marriages over the years, but always between a man and a woman. The Catholic Church does not accept same-sex marriages and never will, and yet homosexual activists are strongly lobbying state and local governments to demand that all those who are permitted by the state to"perform" marriages -- and that would include Catholic priests and deacons -- also perform same-sex marriages. As one deacon friend said to me recently, "I'll be damned if I'll ever do that." He expected his words to be taken literally.

Contrary to the clear intent of the Constitution, students have been prohibited from the free exercise of their religion in school for 50 years, despite the fact that prior to the Supreme Court's June 1963 decision prayer had been an active part of schooling throughout the country for almost 200 years. Suddenly it becomes illegal to pray in school because a group of robed ideologues decide the people have been wrong for two centuries.

I'm afraid that very few of today's politicians or judges still believe, if they ever believed, that in the United States the people are sovereign, that the government  "derives their just powers from the consent of the governed",  and that they are part of a "government of the people, by the people, for the people."  

Political correctness has already run amok in Western Europe and Canada, and led to far more severe persecution of Christians, including fines and prison sentences, than we have yet to encounter here. But I have little doubt we will soon see similar things in this country. Keep your eyes and eras open, folks. And when you see such acts of religious persecution, raise your voices, let those elected to represent you know that they won't represent you for very long unless they fight against these overt and subtle violations of our Constitution.

Jesus didn't tell us to sit on our hands. We are to "Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God." And we should certainly not allow Caesar to lay claim to what is God's. Over the past twenty centuries, millions of Christian martyrs have given their lives to prevent that from happening.


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Vatican Bank President on Higher Taxes

Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, the president of the Vatican Bank, has been saying interesting things lately. In his latest comments, he offers his thoughts on the tendency of governments to address their indebtedness problems by simply raising taxes:

"During a prolonged crisis, inheritance taxes, new forms of taxation or similar alternatives reduce or wipe out resources for investments, discouraging the trust of investors, penalizing the cost of the public debt and the possibilities of its renewal at its expiration. In this context, imposing taxes on property and on income is equivalent to a suicidal anti-subsidiarity of the state to the citizen...High taxes penalize saving, generate distrust in the ability to stimulate recovery, hit families and prevent the formation of new ones, as well as creating uncertainty and precariousness in employment...In short, they lay the foundations for another phase of unsustainable development."

I really like this guy...

Here's a link to his complete comments: L'Osservatore Romano


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Saturday, August 27, 2011

Homily: 22nd Sunday of Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 20:7-9; Ps 63; Rom 12:1-2; Mt 16:21-27

One of the more interesting aspects of Holy Scripture is that the Bible is filled with encounters between God and man. I suppose that’s to be expected since the Bible is really the story of God’s involvement – perhaps immersion would be a better word – in the history of humanity. He is, after all, the very Author of humanity, the Author of all being, so it’s only fitting that our history would be a part of His history as well….His Story if you will.

It starts with the story of creation in the very first chapters of Genesis
…and continues with the selection of Abraham as the father of God’s chosen people
…with Moses as their liberator and law-giver
…with David and Solomon from whose kingship, whose human family, Our Lord will descend
…and with the prophets who over the course of hundreds of years strive to prepare God’s people for the coming of their Redeemer.

Moses and the Burning Bush
In all of these events, and through these people and countless more, God interacts with those He has created. And it is through these interactions that He not only gradually reveals His plan for humanity, a plan conceived in unimaginable love, but also reveals Himself. It’s a revelation that culminates with the Incarnation of the Son of God, with the arrival among us of the very creative Word of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

As the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims in its opening words: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe…”

In the same way, John opens his Gospel saying: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

The Incarnation, then, the person of Jesus Christ, is the ultimate manifestation of God’s interaction with us.

But Jesus didn’t simply appear. He didn’t just show up and say, “Okay, people, I’m God, get down on your knees and worship me.”  Now, that might have suited the pagans fine. They feared their gods, the gods they had created in their own minds, gods that reflected the capriciousness of the natural word, gods that demanded appeasement.

But this wasn’t the kind of interaction the one true God had planned, for which He had prepared the world. He wanted and still wants a different sort of interaction with us. He provides the opportunity for very personal encounters with each one of us, with every one of the billions of men and women He has brought into being over the centuries.

Did you know, in the Bible, God tells us not to fear well over 100 times? Yes, the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Peter and Paul, the God of you and me, offers us a personal encounter with Him based not on fear, but on something else. It’s an encounter based on love – a love that will lead the Creator of all being to humble Himself in a way incomprehensible to the human spirit.

It is, you see, a divine humility, or as St. Paul instructed the Philippians: “…he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

It’s this unique and wondrous interaction with humanity – His living among us as one of us – that manifests His love for us. But it’s what He did in that life – His teaching, His healing, His forgiving, His loving, His suffering, His redemptive death, and His Resurrection, that sign and gift of hope to humanity – it’s all this that shows us the remarkable depth and breadth of that love.

And to tell the story of that interaction, we have been given the Gospels…and what a gift they are. They present us with one encounter after another, encounters between the Son of God and the men and women who cross His path: encounters with those who loved Him and those who despised Him, with those who accepted Him and those who rejected Him, with those who sought Him out and those who fled from Him.

In today’s Gospel passage from Matthew we observe one such encounter, one of a string of encounters between Jesus and Peter, encounters that form Peter into the saint he ultimately becomes. Peter has just proclaimed Jesus’ true identity: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”

You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do
Yes, although Peter recognizes Jesus as the Redeemer, he has yet to grasp how that redemption will be fulfilled. And in this passage, when Peter hears Jesus announce, for the first time, His passion, death and resurrection, he cannot accept the divine plan.

“God forbid!” Peter exclaims, rebuking his Lord whom he has just proclaimed as Son of God. He rejects God’s plan – “This shall not happen to you” – because he doesn’t understand it. It’s as if Peter is saying, “I’m not going to let this happen!”  What arrogance!

Peter had just been told: "...you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Imagine being told that by the Son of God! Perhaps it all went to his head; perhaps he didn’t hear the future tense of this prophecy by Jesus. “You aren’t in charge yet, pal.”

Yes, Peter will lead Christ’s Church, but not yet, not until he is ready, not until he has been formed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. And he’s certainly not ready now. His disbelief leads to arrogance, causing Peter to place his will above that of the Redeemer, his plan before the plan of the Father. Peter hears only the suffering and death in Christ’s words, something totally contrary to the plan of redemption he has in mind. And the resurrection? At this point it means nothing to him.

How often do you and I reject what God wants for us? Instead of listening prayerfully to discern God’s will, we demand that God fulfill our will. We’re all a bit like this still unformed Peter, aren’t we? Sure that we can run our little corner of God’s universe better than He.

And yet this encounter between Jesus and Peter only proves how much greater is God’s eternal wisdom than any human wisdom we can muster. God takes this man, Peter, this fisherman full of bluster and pride – a most unqualified leader – and forms him into one who will take on the world’s most challenging task, the leadership of Jesus’ nascent Church.

Yes, Jesus is always teaching, and so much of His teaching is aimed at Peter whose responsibilities will be great indeed. In this encounter he teaches Peter that love brings suffering – that God’s love for humanity is so great that Jesus must go to Jerusalem, allow sinners to lay their violent hands on Him, and put Him to death. It is only then that these same sinners may come to recognize and accept the gift of life, eternal life.

If you want to be a disciple, Jesus tells Peter and us, you must follow me to the Cross. You must set aside your willfulness and obey a will far greater than your own.

And then Jesus offers the great paradox: “…whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

To “save” one’s life is to live only for oneself, to believe that one’s physical survival and comfort are the only ends worth pursuing. This, Jesus tells His disciples, leads only to death, an eternal death…and so saving ultimately means losing.

But when we lose our lives, when we abandon our lives into God’s hands, allowing His love, His transforming grace, to carry us into His divine life, then, and only then, will we find the eternal life God has planned for us.

Jesus & Simon of Cyrene carry the Cross
Quite a paradox, isn’t it? It's a paradox fulfilled first by Jesus Himself on the Cross. It is there He loses His life only to find it through His glorious Resurrection and through the birth of His Church.

In the same way, Peter, too, will throw away his life like a seed, a seed that will flower into the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Lose yourselves in Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters. Accept the crosses that come your way.

Only then will you experience true liberation, true freedom – freedom from all the constraints and pains and darkness of this life.

Only then will you experience life, the eternal life that God has planned for you.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Just Ignoring the Just War Doctrine

The U.S. Air Force has apparently decided that Christian just war theory is simply far too controversial to be included in a course on Nuclear Ethics and Nuclear Warfare taught at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California. Their decision to suspend the course resulted from complaints by several students and from the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Although the MRFF seems to be an organization dedicated more to the cause of freedom from religion than freedom of religion, it would seem the complaints have some merit.

I don't know who developed the course's segment on Christian Just War Theory, but from what I've been able to learn, it was poorly done. It seems the course portrayed Jesus as "the mighty warrior" and made comparisons between warfare today and the wars described in the Old Testament. In doing so it ignored much of the long tradition of just war doctrine developed by theologians over the centuries. Although I'm guessing, I suspect the course was put together by someone of a rather "fundamentalist" persuasion.

Rutgers professor James Johnson, who specializes in just war theory, stated, “The Vandenberg course misrepresents the nature of the idea of just war. It not only presents just war as a specifically Christian idea, but its way of describing its Christian nature is at odds with the teaching on just war of major strands of Christianity...Medieval just war thinking was 'Christian' in a broad, undifferentiated sense as a product of a Christian culture and as having been contributed to by Christian canonists and theologians, but that is not the same thing as calling it 'Christian' in the narrow sense used in the Vandenberg course.”

Professor Johnson indicated that the course should have made better use of the medieval theologians who believed that natural law and reason could lead one to an understanding of just war and it's basis. He also believes that Christian just war theory is certainly an appropriate subject in any course on military ethics as long as it isn't used as a vehicle for religious indoctrination. The MRFF, of course, stupidly believes that the inclusion of any kind of Christian thought violates the Constitution; hence their hostility toward the course.

Monsignor Stuart Swetland, professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Maryland, is also concerned about the apparently politically correct decision to suspend the course. He too believes there's a place for Judeo-Christian concepts of just war in a course on military ethics:

“To show intellectual patronage, to show the lineage of an idea, to present objective facts about how these ideas developed – that's not evangelizing or proselytizing; that's just showing the development of intellectual history...Anyone who's intellectually honest, if they present the just war tradition and its intellectual heritage, will have to admit that it's rooted in a Judeo-Christian tradition.”

This all brought to mind a program I instituted about 20 years ago, when I was commanding officer of a naval reserve unit that supported the USS John F. Kennedy. It was about six months before the Gulf War, and I thought it would be beneficial to devote part of one of our reserve weekends to the subject of recall to active duty. At the time there was no thought of going to war since Iraq had not yet invaded Kuwait, but I was concerned that the people in my command were more than a bit complacent and believed there was little chance they would ever be recalled to active duty. As it turned out, when war actually came a few months later, a majority of these people found themselves back in uniform and deployed overseas.

The one-day program, attended by the reservists and their spouses, included segments on finances, civilian employer responsibilities, family issues, preparation and other subjects. But I also included a segment on the Judeo-Christian just war doctrine and asked the base chaplain to assist me with the presentation. Surprisingly it was extremely well-received and resulted in nothing but positive feedback.

Twenty years ago I believed it was important for folks in the military to understand that there was such a thing as a just war and I still believe it. Let's hope the Air Force takes the time to revise their course and present the subject as it should be presented.

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Location:On the Road in Ocoee, Tennessee

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vatican "Banker" on World's Financial Crisis

It's 2 a.m and thanks to an aching shoulder resulting from a hard fall I took the other day, I'm unable to sleep...at least for the time being. Dear Diane is snoozing soundly while I sit In this unlit corner of our hotel room tapping away on the iPad. I've already spent some time in prayer, and so what better use to make of these odd, dark hours than posting to this blog.

Over the years I've had people tell me that the Vatican shouldn't have a bank, that it is somehow a profanation of the Church's mission to be so actively involved in the financial world. But the Church must do it's work in the world and much of that work involves the distribution of funds to address both the spiritual and material needs of God's people. It's really no different than what we do at the ecumenical Wildwood Soup Kitchen. We raise funds, maintain various bank accounts, and use the money in those accounts to accomplish our mission of feeding the hungry. The Vatican does the same, but on a larger scale.

And in addition to being the physical home of the Church's leadership, the Vatican is also an independent state, and must be able to function effectively in it's relationships with other states. Indeed, It is this independence that allows the Church to act and speak so often and so effectively as the world's conscience.

Anyway, a few days ago I read a brief news item about the Vatican state bank, or as it is officially and more appropriately called, the Institute for Works of Religion. The head of the bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, aptly criticized the governments of both Europe and the USA for their handling of the current economic crisis. He called the European bailouts "ultimately harmful" and inflationary because they were used to relieve debt instead of promoting growth. He went on to challenge the US government's policy of "keeping gross domestic product growth high by supporting it with debt." His prescription? "...only a period of austerity, managed with integrity, can be the real key towards restoring growth."

Instead we just keep piling on the debt through profligate spending and no-growth "stimulus" plans designed more to appease special interests than promote real growth. And our elected leaders? They're petrified of upsetting voters who never tire of grasping for their pieces of the dwindling pie. It's all very unsettling.

To read more: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/vatican-bank-chief-issues-warning-about-us-european-economic-policies/


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Location:Lafayette, Indiana

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

On the Road

I haven't posted anything recently because we've been on the road, slowly making our way up the Mississippi en route to Charles City, Iowa where we will attend the wedding of the son of dear friends. It's been a wonderful trip so far and has included stops at Niceville and Pensacola in Florida, as well as Natchez in Mississippi, and then Memphis.

Today we arrived at Hannibal, Missouri, Samuel Clemens' home town, and took a boat ride on the Mississippi aboard the Mark Twain, a replica of an old riverboat. The day was beautiful, clear and sunny but, for a welcome change, not hot -- a perfect day for a spin on Ol' Man River...and what a river it is! The weather has actually been fine for most of the trip, marred only by a few brief thunderstorms that washed the road dust off the car.

We've been avoiding the Interstates, driving instead on those far more interesting rural "blue highways". It might add an hour to a 300-mile drive, but it's worth every minute of it. One gets to enjoy the country up close and personal and see people and things not visible from the Interstate at 70 mph. We especially enjoyed our drive through Mississippi, a state of amazing contrasts, from Biloxi's glitzy casinos to the antebellum mansions of Natchez to the rural poverty of the small farms. You just can't experience all that from I-whatever.

I've been taking lots of photos but I forgot to take the little iPad camera connection kit with me so I'm unable to download photos to my trusty iPad. I'll post a few after we return. If I have the time I may actually post more in a day or two.

Blessings from the heartland...






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Location:Hannibal, Missouri

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Budget Tourism in Rome: The Omnia Card and more

It's become increasingly more expensive to travel these days, especially if you're heading to Europe. The dollar has been hovering around 0.7 € making already high prices for hotels, food, and rental cars even higher. Airfares have increased too, driven upward by soaring fuel costs and all those additional fees for everything from checked luggage to pillows and soft drinks.

And then there's the added psychological barriers to travel erected by our favorite bureaucracy, TSA. For an organization that has never caught a single terrorist, they have certainly made what was once a rather pleasant experience unimaginably unpleasant. But, of course, they are bureaucrats, and bureaucrats are instinctively lacking in vision and common sense.

I remember reading some time ago about a young lieutenant in the Royal Marines during World War One. When the bureaucrats in London sent his troops the wrong caliber ammunition and the wrong clothing (summer uniforms for the winter months) he complained loudly. The response? "You must be in error. We don't make mistakes." The lieutenant's comment, which I will never forgot, was priceless: "Alas, no insecticide has ever been discovered for the parasites of bureaucracy." It would seem that some things haven't changed much in 100 years.

OK...I got that out of my system...

International travel has certainly changed since those halcyon days back in the 1950s when my parents would fly to Europe accompanied by their travel bible, Europe on 5 Dollars a Day, published in 1957 by Arthur Frommer. And, believe me, as my father proved on many such trips, the title was no joke. As you can see above, a reprinted version of the book is available today, presumably marketed either to complete masochists or to time-travelers who have stumbled on a convenient wormhole to the 1950s. Today, even if you stay at a reasonable, rather basic hotel and eat out only infrequently, you would still probably spend $150- $200 a day in Rome, and even that would be real challenge.

Diane and I were hoping to return to Rome once again this year, but after emptying our pockets we decided we had insufficient funds for the trip. Maybe next year, unless we go instead to the UK with some old and dear friends -- something else that seems to be under discussion.

What got me started on this was an article about something called an "Omnia Card", apparently developed to make visiting the key sites in Rome less expensive and slightly more convenient. Briefly, the card is a cooperative effort by the Vatican and the city of Rome that allows the tourist and pilgrim to pay one fee for a card that provides entry to a wide range of the most popular Vatican and Roman attractions. Good for three days the card also gives the holder free public transportation, no-wait access, and will include audio-guides at many of the sites. Although the €85 ($120) cost for an adult might seem a bit steep, it provides a substantial savings in both money and time. It sounds like a great idea, and I can see no real downside as long as you plan your days well to make maximum use of the card. For details, click here: Rome's Omnia Card.

If the faltering (collapsing?) economy is giving you second thoughts about making a pilgrimage to Rome, you might consider a little cost-saving advice from someone who has made several trips in recent years:

Once you decide how long you plan to stay, book your flight first. Unless you plan to stay in a 4-star hotel, flying will probably be your biggest expense. Take your time and search online for deals. If, like us, you're retired, you have the advantage of being able to travel on off-peak times and can save hundreds of dollars. Use an alert service like that provided by kayak.com to inform you of good deals to your chosen destination. Most travel sites offer such alerts, so go ahead and select several. Once you find a flight that fits your schedule and your budget, go ahead and book it; otherwise you'll end up conducting a never-ending search that will probably end up costing you more. Just be aware that low-cost flights usually (but not always) involve one or more stops or change of planes, adding hours to the overall trip.

Decide what's important to you in a hotel. For me, it's location, a comfortable bed, a breakfast included in the room rate, and free Wi-Fi; and so in my search for a hotel I look for these amenities. I suggest beginning your search by checking multiple third-party sites such as hotels.com, booking.com, or getaroom.com.

In Rome, a hotel's location often means the difference between a pleasant and a tiring visit. If you are too far from the places you intend to visit (e.g., the Vatican or the ancient city's center), you will end up spending far too much time traveling on subways or buses. Rome is a great city for walking, full of wonderful surprises you would otherwise miss, so I recommend looking for a hotel within walking distance of most of the places you hope to see. Once you've narrowed your hotel selection to a few candidates, use Google Earth (especially its street view feature) to get a sense of distance and the sort of neighborhood in which each hotel is located.

Read the hotel reviews left on the booking websites by other travelers. They can prevent you from making a mistake. Just don't be overly influenced by the one bad review in the midst of fifty good ones. Some people simply cannot be pleased. I also recommend visiting the websites of the hotels you are considering, since a hotel's own website usually offers far more information than you'll find on a third-party booking site.

A day or two after booking your hotel -- even if you book it through a third-party site -- send the hotel an email or call them. Let them know when you'll arrive, mention any special needs you might have, and ask about the room they plan to assign you. On our last trip I was able to convince the hotel to move us to a much larger, nicer room with no increase in rate. Politeness, friendliness and a few phrases in Italian often work wonders.

Avoid Roman taxis. They're expensive. Use the city's buses or subways, or even better, walk. Walking is also great exercise. On our last trip we walked everywhere for 12 days. We ate too much and drank too much wonderful Italian wine; and yet neither of us gained a pound. We also slept soundly every night.

If your hotel offers a complimentary breakfast, take advantage of it. You can then have a late lunch as your main meal at a much lower cost than an evening meal. Before returning to your hotel, stop by a local grocery store, pick up some bread, cheese, prosciutto, wine, and anything else that looks tasty and enjoy a nice, light, romantic meal in your room. You might also try a self-catered picnic lunch in one of Rome's many parks. The Romans do it, why not you? It's also nice to splurge once or twice during your visit and enjoy a special dinner at one of Rome's many excellent restaurants.

Visit the websites of all the places you want to visit. You can schedule your visit and arrange tickets, etc. well in advance of your trip. Of course if you purchase the Omnia Card mentioned above, you just might be able to do much of this from its website. I suggest making your first full day a light day since you might need some extra time to adjust to the time-change and to reset your sleeping habits after a long flight.

Orvieto Duomo
Depending on the length of your stay, consider arranging your own one-day excursions to some nearby sites. For example, you can take a train to Ostia, the ancient port of Rome, and spend the day seeing how the ancients lived. It's a lot closer than Pompei and just as interesting. To arrange transportation to Ostia, check out the website of European travel expert Rick Steves.

Another short (one-hour) train ride will take you to Orvieto, a beautiful medieval walled city perched atop an Umbrian hill. You can visit Orvieto's breathtaking 14th-century cathedral built to celebrate a Eucharistic miracle and then roam through the nearby archaeological museum filled with artifacts from the city's ancient Etruscan past. Arrive early and just enjoy strolling through the streets and alleyways of this remarkable little city famous for its painted ceramic pottery. And be sure to buy a few bottles of Orvieto's excellent white wine to enjoy after your return to Rome. Here's a link to the Eurorail website where you can check schedules and fares from Rome to Oriveto: Eurorail.

It's still possible to visit Rome and not have to take out a second mortgage. And if you decide to make the trip, Buona fortuna!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Reading Holy Scripture Daily

In our parish I have the privilege of facilitating two weekly sessions of Scripture study. One group gathers after our Wednesday morning Mass, and another on Wednesday evening to coincide with the parish's faith formation program. I'm not sure how long I've been doing this; I think by now it's been five or six years. But one thing I do know: these meetings, along with my Thursdays at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, are the highlights of my week. And believe me when I say the thought of not taking part in these activities even makes vacations bitter-sweet.

This came to mind this morning because Diane and I are leaving later this week on a road trip to Iowa where we will attend the wedding of the son of dear friends. It will also provide a needed opportunity to escape from the daily routine (Yes, retirement can become routine-like!) and simply enjoy a more relaxed pace in a series of different settings. And so we've decided to see a few other old friends along the way and also turn our trip into a leisurely tour of the Mississippi Valley. Natchez, Vicksburg, Memphis, Hannibal ...all await us as we avoid the interstates and stick to blue highways running through the very heart of America, driving no more than 300 miles each day. It should be an enjoyable trip and, of course, I'll be taking hundreds of photos. I only hope the plains cool off a bit before our arrival.

And yet, despite the joy of anticipating our trip, I will sincerely miss my two Scripture study groups. The only saving grace is the fact that our Scripture study is on hiatus during the month of August to resume again in mid-September, so I'm really not missing anything. The soup kitchen, of course, will go one without us because we have such a wonderful and dedicated team of volunteers always ready to fill the gaps.

As I pack for the trip, I have gathered a small stack of books that I hope will make those hotel-room evenings a bit more pleasant. Right on top of the stack is my Bible, the one book (other than my Breviary) I cannot go anywhere without. Right now we're reading and absorbing John's Gospel in our Scripture study sessions, so this trip will give me an opportunity to read this remarkable Gospel for the umpteenth time. Once again I will learn new things as I ask the Spirit to lead me deeper into His revelation.

I also noticed this morning that Pope Benedict, speaking to pilgrims at his summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, suggested they not forget their Bibles while on vacation. Vatican spokesman, Father Frederico  Lombardi, stated that the pope has spoken about this on several occasions in recent weeks. According to Fr. Lombardi:
“First of all, [the Pope] invited those of us who can, to use our vacation time in a way that helps renew our relationships with others and with God. Interrupting the hectic and frantic pace of daily life, we can take time to dedicate ourselves to others and to God.

“The Pope even suggested we include a copy of the Sacred Scriptures in our suitcase. He also invited us to contemplate the greatness, and admire the beauty, of creation around us, recognizing in it the wonderful presence of the Creator.

“He knew how to interpret the language and signs of Creation, which is a gift we must respect, protect and care for, in the name of God, humanity and future generations.”
Fr. Lombardi then remarked that Pope Benedict stressed the importance of vacations:
“The enjoyment of friendship, reading, nature and culture helps to nourish and restore our spirit. It gives us the strength to continue our journey refreshed and renewed.”
As I read this I thought of our upcoming trip and how all these elements stressed by the pope are included. I trust Diane and I will return "refreshed and renewed."


To read more about Pope Benedict's comments, click here: Take Scripture on Holiday