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


Friday, June 29, 2012

Homily: Wednesday, 12th Week of Ordianry Time

Readings: 2 Kgs 22:8-13; 23:1-3; Ps 119; Mt 7:15-20

False prophets, wolves in sheep's clothing – yes they’ve been around a long time. If you read the Old Testament – which I hope you do regularly – you’ll encounter many false prophets, along with a few true ones. Generally, it wasn’t easy for the people of the time to differentiate between false and true prophets. But it wasn’t impossible, because there’s a key difference between the two, one that still holds true today.

The false prophet inevitably tells people what they want to hear, while the true prophet tells people what God wants them to hear, and the two messages are never the same. That’s why a false prophet seldom, if ever, asks for sacrifice. Why not? Because telling people they must sacrifice doesn’t win hearts and minds. People don’t want to hear the truth when it hurts; and yet the hurtful truth is often the sign of the true prophet.

Jesus, of course, gives us another way to separate the false from the true prophet: “By their fruits you will know them.” And, trust me, our world today is filled with prophets; and just like Biblical times, far more false than true – yielding a lot of bad fruit.

Who’s today’s true prophet? Believe it or not, you and I. Each of us is called to be a prophet in today’s world. We’re all called to perform the prophet’s primary mission: to bring God’s Word to His people.

Being a prophet doesn’t mean telling the future. Oh, that can be a small part of the prophet’s message, but it’s not the critical part. For example, I can predict to someone who has rejected Jesus Christ and His commandments that his life will be marked increasingly by sadness and despair, that it will never experience the joy, the real happiness, that God wants for him.

You see, brothers and sisters, being a true prophet means leading people to the truth. Being a false prophet means denying the truth…or denying that there is any such thing as truth. This denial of truth is a topic that Pope Benedict addresses frequently. He calls this movement in our society the “dictatorship of relativism.”

We see it in evidence through moral relativism when sociologists or anthropologists make statements such as this:
Some cultures once approved of human sacrifice while others didn’t. And so human sacrifice isn’t universally bad. It’s fine in those cultures that approved it, wrong in those that didn't.
This same kind of relativism also appears at the individual level:
Mary thinks abortion is acceptable, but Ellen doesn’t. Each is equally entitled to her view. And who am I, or anyone else, to judge?
We see this sort of relativism at work in our legislatures and courts on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage…and even when specifically religious issues are addressed.

Before he was Pope, Cardinal Ratzinger and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith caused a firestorm of relativist criticism with a document reaffirming the unique role of Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church in God's redemptive plan. This was news? Well…in an age of relativism, apparently so.

As a frontal assault by false prophets on the very possibility of objective truth, relativism is by far the most destructive force of our time. It turns both private and public life into moral swamps. It’s apparent too in the attack on religious freedom we are defending against today in this country.

The question for us: what can you and I do?

First, always speak and support the truth…the unchanging, eternal truths of our faith. And live the truth. That’s right, live the commandments. Don’t listen to those who try to convince you that the Church’s teachings are out of date and don’t reflect the needs of today’s world. And finally, carry the truth.

Remember, God places people in our lives, sometimes for a lifetime, sometimes for just a moment. Sometimes they are placed there as an opportunity for us to act, to do something positive for God. And sometimes they are there to teach us something. But they are always there to remind us that we are to carry Jesus Christ to others; and we are to do so by seeing Jesus Christ in others.

And by your fruits they will know you are a Christ-bearer, a true prophet of Jesus Christ.






Jean Cardinal Danielou

Jean Cardinal Danielou
I believe I can say, without fear of being contradicted, that one of the most under-appreciated and least read theologians of the 20th century is Jean Cardinal Danielou. After a brief check of my personal library I found 19 books by Danielou, but very few of these are still in print. Indeed, I purchased most from used book stores and online book services. This is a shame, because Jean Danielou still has much to teach us.

He was a French Jesuit who had a major impact on the Second Vatican Council, a man whose writings should certainly be published anew so today's Catholics can come to a better appreciation of the theological awakening that took place during the first half of the past century.

Why has Danielou been so ignored? The reasons stem from two events: the circumstances surrounding his death in 1974 and his public criticism of those who misinterpreted Vatican II. Danielou, who was made a cardinal by Pope Paul VI in 1969, was a man who lived his faith by secretly carrying out works of mercy. Following Our Lord's example, he didn't shy away from society's outcasts and public sinners, but did whatever he could to help those in need. Although a cardinal, he rejected all the trappings, and in his final years lived a life of utter simplicity, working as a chaplain to a community of nuns. Sadly, he died in a way that was fodder for the more sensational media and led many to question his holiness.

Cardinal Danielou had gone to the home of a Paris prostitute, Mimi Santoni, to take her the money she would need to hire a lawyer to free her husband from prison. This was typical of the cardinal's frequent acts of charity to those in need of help and forgiveness. After climbing the stairs to her flat, he suffered a heart attack and collapsed to the floor. You can imagine the furor this caused. The left-wing media had a field day accusing Danielou of using prostitutes and describing the incident as typical of the hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. Although a subsequent investigation confirmed the cardinal's complete innocence, and brought into the open his many works of charity, even many of his Jesuit colleagues failed to defend him against the false charges that were circulating. Why? Because they had already attacked Danielou for his public comments a few years earlier, comments that criticized those, including many Jesuits, who were falsely interpreting Vatican II. Danielou's comments were made during a 1972 interview on Vatican Radio, and from that moment on, this humble, brilliant theologian was shunned by many in his order.


Recently, however, a conference at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross examined Cardinal Danielou's life and teachings, praising him and his work. Here is a brief video tribute to this great theologian:


I have also provided a transcript of the Vatican Radio interview that ruffled so many feathers among those who erroneously thought Vatican II had overturned 2,000 years of Church teaching.
_______________


"THE ESSENTIAL SOURCE OF THIS CRISIS..."

Interview of Cardinal Jean Daniélou on Vatican Radio, October 23, 1972


Q: Your Eminence, is there really a crisis of religious life, and can you give us its dimensions?

A: I think that there is now a very grave crisis of religious life, and that one should not speak of renewal, but rather of decadence. I think that this crisis is hitting the Atlantic area above all. Eastern Europe and the countries of Africa and Asia present in this regard a better state of spiritual health. This crisis is manifesting itself in all areas. The evangelical counsels are no longer considered as consecrations to God, but are seen in a sociological and psychological perspective. We are concerned about not presenting a bourgeois facade, but on the individual level poverty is not practiced. The group dynamic replaces religious obedience; with the pretext of reacting against formalism, all regularity of the life of prayer is abandoned and the first consequence of this state of confusion is the disappearance of vocations, because young people require a serious formation. And moreover there are the numerous and scandalous desertions of religious who renege on the pact that bound them to the Christian people.

Q: Can you tell us what, in your view, are the causes of this crisis?

A: The essential source of this crisis is a false interpretation of Vatican II. The directives of the Council were very clear: a greater fidelity of religious men and women to the demands of the Gospel expressed in the constitutions of each institute, and at the same time an adaptation of the modalities of these constitutions to the conditions of modern life. The institutes that are faithful to these directives are seeing true renewal, and have vocations. But in many cases the directives of Vatican II have been replaced with erroneous ideologies put into circulation by magazines, by conferences, by theologians. And among these errors can be mentioned:

- Secularization. Vatican II declared that human values must be taken seriously. It never said that we should enter into a secularized world in the sense that the religious dimension would no longer be present in society, and it is in the name of a false secularization that men and women are renouncing their habits, abandoning their works in order to take their places in secular institutions, substituting social and political activities for the worship of God. And this goes against the grain, among other things, with respect to the need for spirituality that is being manifested in today's world.

- A false conception of freedom that brings with it the devaluing of the constitutions and rules and exalts spontaneity and improvisation. This is all the more absurd in that Western society is currently suffering from the absence of a discipline of freedom. The restoration of firm rules is one of the necessities of religious life.

- An erroneous conception of the changing of man and of the Church. Even if these change, the constitutive elements of man and of the Church are permanent, and bringing into question the constitutive elements of the constitutions of the religious orders is a fundamental error.

Q: But do you see any remedies for overcoming this crisis?

A: I think that the only and urgent solution is that of stopping the false stances taken in a certain number of institutes. For this it is necessary to stop all of the experimentation and all of the decisions contrary to the directives of the Council; to warn against the books, magazines, conferences in which these erroneous conceptions are being put into circulation; to restore in their integrity the practice of the constitutions with the adaptations requested by the Council. Wherever this appears impossible, it seems to me that those religious cannot be denied who want to be faithful to the constitutions of their order and to the directives of Vatican II, and to establish distinct communities. Religious superiors are bound to respect this desire.

These communities must be authorized to have houses of formation. Experience will demonstrate if the vocations are more numerous in the houses of strict observance or in the houses of mitigated observance. In case the superiors oppose these legitimate requests, recourse to the supreme pontiff is certainly authorized.

Religious life is called to a grandiose future in technological society; the more this is developed, the more it will make felt the need for the manifestation of God. This is precisely the aim of religious life, but in order to carry out its mission it must rediscover its authentic meaning and break radically with a secularization that is destroying it in its essence and preventing it from attracting vocations.

_____________________

If you are interested in reading several defenses of the cardinal, see the links below: 

The Quarantine Has Ended, by Sandro Magister

The Rehabilitation of  Cardinal Danielou

Search out his books. You will find them eminently readable, for unlike many of his colleagues, he wrote for the average Catholic not strictly for the theologian.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Update

I haven't posted much recently, but I have an excuse. Two of my grandsons are visiting Diane and me here in Florida and my time is now their time. We've been enjoying ourselves though, despite the soggy presence of tropical storm Debby who, like our grandchildren, wants to hang out here in Florida as long as possible. Oh, yes, our daughter, Siobhan, and son-in-law, Jeffrey, have also been visiting, but they must take a distant second place to the grandchildren.

Ezekiel (left) & Phineas (right) and parents
Despite the rain we've been determined to have a good time. We spent two days at Legoland, a rather odd (to me) theme park located at the site of the old Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida. We dodged the thunderstorms enough to enjoy every ride several times and even spent a morning at Legoland's water park where the boys, aged four and six, proved to me that merely watching children have fun can be exhausting. The boys loved every moment of their time there.

Since Phineas, the younger of the two, has a real fondness for trains we also took a ride on the Orange Blossom Cannonball, an ancient train that runs out of nearby Tavares, Florida. The ride also included a train robbery complete with nasty outlaws, the local sheriff, dance hall girls, lots of shooting, and a strong box filled with cash. It was all very exciting.

Then Debby got serious and started dumping huge amounts of water on us. This will continue through the remainder of their visit, so we've been doing inside stuff to keep busy. Fortunately, we have a Wii game system here, which we use only when grandchildren visit. Yesterday we flew airplanes, bowled, engaged in exciting sword fights, and played a few rounds of golf -- all in our living room.
Train Robbery in Progress

Ezekiel, who has a fondness for tractors and all kinds of other heavy equipment that dig and move earth, will get a treat today since there is an International Harvester tractor museum only a few miles away in Leesburg, Florida. Since everything is indoors the rain will present no obstacle.

And so...that's why I haven't been very active. Sadly, however, the world has continued to spin out of control. A few interesting events have caught my attention:

Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. Back when the so-called "Arab Spring" hit Egypt, most observers were proclaiming the events as nothing less than a victory for democracy over tyranny. Although the revolution in Egypt may have been led originally by young secularists, I always anticipated that the Islamists would end up in charge. Read my posts from January, February and May 2011 on the emerging events in Egypt:


Egypt on the Brink (Jan 28, 2011)


The Plight of Christians in Egypt (Feb 4, 2011)


The New Egypt: Islamist or Secular (May 17, 2011)

And now Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has just won the country's presidency. I find it particularly interesting that a nation which has never had a free election in its long and varied history should elect those who will quite likely ensure any future elections will not be free.

Pray for the Christians of Egypt. They make up 10% of the population, but are under constant threat of persecution. With the Muslim Brotherhood assuming control, persecution will likely increase.


Fortnight for Freedom. Our U.S. bishops have finally come together to challenge the obvious attack on religious freedom represented by the Obama administration's Health and Human Services mandate. You can read more about it here on the bishops' website. We are now in the midst of their "Fortnight for Freedom" which extends to Independence Day, July 4, and urges all parishes to take part through prayer and efforts to increase awareness of the threat among parishioners.

The following video, made by Bishop John Noonan, the Bishop of Orlando, was shown at all Masses this past Sunday throughout the diocese.



Pray for our country.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Homily: 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Ez 17:22-24; Ps 92; 2 Cor 5:6-10; Mk 4:26-34

What is this “Kingdom of God” about which Jesus always speaks? He tells us it’s near. And He tells us what it’s like. It’s like a pearl, a net, hidden treasure, leaven, a mustard seed. He even compares it to a landowner and a king. And He tells us to pray for its coming.

But He doesn’t really tell us what it is, does He? -- at least not explicitly. And so we’re left with lots of questions. What exactly is the Kingdom of Heaven?

Back then, of course, some people thought they knew. To the Pharisees it was strict adherence to Mosaic Law. The Zealots, the first-century Jewish revolutionaries, thought of it as an earthly kingdom to come, one that would be ruled by God. And the Essenes, the ascetic Jews of the time, withdrew into the desert to await the Kingdom, the end of the world. Yes, everyone saw the Kingdom differently.

Perhaps a better translation of “Kingdom of God” might be “The Reign of God.” This will help us understand that it's not a place, like Wildwood…or The Villages. No, despite what some people may think, The Villages is not paradise.

If it's not as place, what then is the Kingdom? Actually, we’re not completely in the dark. If we listen to Jesus, we can learn a lot about the Kingdom, about God’s reign.

Jesus’ very first words in Mark’s Gospel are, “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” These must be pretty important words if they’re the first words He preaches in His public ministry. So what do they tell us?

Well, one word jumps out at us: the world “Repent!” It’s the same word John the Baptist used as he roamed about Judea preparing the people for Jesus’ coming. It’s the same world Peter used on the day of Pentecost when, filled with the Holy Spirit, he told the Jews gathered in Jerusalem from all over the world, “Repent and be baptized…”

In the original Greek New Testament the word is metanoia, which means a change of mind. “Repent” is a pretty good translation of that: to re-pent, to re-think, to think again, to think differently. And so John and Peter and Jesus are all telling us to change the way we think, to undergo change in our lives. Often we use the word, conversion, which has its roots in the Latin word meaning, “to turn around.” And so repentance is really a complete change of thinking, a turning around of mind and heart.

St. Paul expresses this same idea when he tells the Ephesians to: “put away the old self of your former way of life…and be renewed in the spirit of your minds.” To be renewed in the spirit sounds like a pretty major interior change. 

Understanding this, what, then, is the Kingdom?

First, it’s a turning away from ourselves and a turning to God. And in that turning we will find answers to all that we search for in life: peace, freedom, justice, true happiness, the meaning of life itself. These answers cannot come from the world, a world in which everything passes away. They can come only from God, from the Father, the source of all that is good.

This, brothers and sisters, is the Good News: we have a loving God and His Kingdom is near; God’s reign is near, because the Father is near, because Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in Jesus. Jesus and the Father are one.

The invitation to the Kingdom is extended to everyone. Jesus opens the gates of His Kingdom to all, no matter our sins. We need only repent. We need only turn around; turn away from our sinfulness and to our loving Father. The Father’s kindness, His forgiveness, His love for each of His children knows no limits. As Jesus Himself told us, “…seek his kingdom, and these other things will be given you besides.”

Again, this is the Good News: the coming of the Kingdom is Jesus’ revelation that God is love.

But we’re not called simply to sit back, bask in God’s love, and enjoy the view. No, we’re all called to take that love to others, to be “God-bearers”, to be heralds of the Kingdom.

Of course you might be thinking, “Wait a minute. This is God’s Kingdom we’re talking about. And I’m just one person here in this out of the way corner of Florida.”

Well, consider that mustard seed in today’s Gospel passage, a tiny, seemingly insignificant thing. What can possibly come of something so small? And yet, despite its size, it is a seed, and so it’s filled with potential. Watered and nurtured by God’s gifts of rain and sunlight, the tiny seed becomes a tree. It need only be planted in the earth.

You and I don’t know God’s plan for us. But we do know we’re not called to sit on our hands. In the same way that He created us, God plants that tiny seed within each of us.

In a sense, our Gospel today takes us back to the moment of creation when God took clay, a piece of earth, and breathed His Spirit into it, creating Adam. One meaning of the Latin word humus is earth, and so we are from the earth, from humus. We are human. That tiny mustard seed is placed in the earth, in you and me, where it is a living sign of the Kingdom to come. God will do all the work to make it grow. We need only repent, turn to Him, walk by faith as Paul instructs us, place our trust in Him, and the Spirit will work within us. He will turn that seed into something wondrous, something beyond our comprehension.

Pope Benedict writes about the Kingdom present in three different ways. First, it is present in Jesus Himself. Jesus is the Kingdom; He is God’s presence among us. It is also a reflection of God’s reign in us. Not found on any map, it is located in our inner being, growing and reaching out to others. And, finally, the Kingdom is expressed in the Church, its actual presence within history. It’s remarkable how often we see the Kingdom manifested in all three dimensions.

When I was a boy, there was a blind man in our town who had a shack-like stand that sold newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, and candy. One winter day his stand caught fire from his space heater and was completely destroyed. He was okay but he lost everything. Within a few days one of our parishioners, with the help of matching funds from the local Lions Club, replaced the news stand and his entire inventory. It must have cost him a thousand dollars or more, a lot of money back in the fifties. The donor wanted to remain anonymous; only our pastor and a few others knew who he was.

When a local reporter interviewed the blind man, he asked him, “What do you think of the man who did this for you?” Jim just said, “That was no man. That was Jesus.”

Yes, the Kingdom is Jesus; it is His presence in the world. And as a living sign of the Kingdom of God, that one man did the work of the King, the work of Jesus Christ. The reign of the living God was present within him.

You see, brothers and sisters, the Kingdom is you and I; and Christ is our King. The Kingdom is what we are, the Church, taking Jesus Christ into a world that needs Him so very badly today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Homily: Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Ex 24:3-8; Ps 116; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22, 26

Some years ago, back when I worked for a living, I was in a conference room at work chatting with another Catholic before a meeting. Our conversation somehow got around to the upcoming celebration of Corpus Christi. A colleague, who had obviously overheard part of our conversation, interrupted and asked, “Why did the Catholic Church name this feast of yours after a city in Texas?” She really did. As you might imagine, the answer took a little explaining.

Yes, we used to call it Corpus Christi -- the Body of Christ -- and many of us will probably continue to call it that, if only out of habit. But the Church rightly changed its name to reflect the reality of what happened at Calvary and at the Last Supper: the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. It also celebrates what will soon happen here on this altar at St. Vincent de Paul Church.

In a way, of course, every Mass is a true celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ. This was made clear to me some years ago at a parish on Cape Cod where I was assigned. At a Sunday coffee hour after Mass I was admiring a new mural of the Last Supper in the parish hall when a parishioner standing beside me made the comment, "Wouldn't it have been wonderful to have been there?"

Of course I agreed with her. What Christian wouldn't? Just imagine being able to share that remarkable evening with Jesus and the Apostles. But the truth of the matter is we don't have to imagine. When we participate at Mass, we are, in essence, truly present with Jesus, and with Peter and the other Apostles in that upper room in Jerusalem. But we’re also truly present at the foot of the cross.

Now how can this be? How can we be in that upper room and on Calvary when we are obviously gathered together here in this little corner of the United States almost 2,000 years after the events we commemorate? Quite simply, because Jesus promised us that this is true. And Jesus sealed his promise -- God's new covenant -- with his own body and blood and confirmed it with his resurrection.

As we heard in our second reading from Hebrews, “…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” [Heb 9:14]. Yes, it was on the cross that Jesus gave all of humanity its greatest gift. Through his death, and the shedding of that precious blood, he redeemed us from our sins and opened the gates of eternal life.

At the Last Supper, that first Mass described in our Gospel reading, Jesus anticipated his sacrificial death on the cross the following day. And by doing so, He gave us another gift, the Eucharist. In a moment Father will utter the same words that Jesus spoke that night:

"This is my body which will be given up for you." [Lk 2219]

"This is the chalice of my blood, the blood of the new and eternal covenant which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins." [Mt 26:27-28]

Notice Jesus doesn't say, "This bread and wine are mere symbols of my body and blood." No, he's quite explicit. "This is my body...This is the chalice of my blood." And with these words, Jesus fulfills the promise he made to the disciples almost a year before when he told them:

"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food and my blood true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" [Jn 6:54-56].
Many disciples left him then. Weak in faith, they could not to accept such a teaching. Only the Apostles and a few faithful ones remained. Why? Peter gave the answer: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

The Apostles accepted Jesus' words on faith, but didn’t understand them until much later, until after the upper room, after Calvary, after the tomb, until after the Holy Spirit’s arrival at Pentecost. Only then did his promise, and his command "Do this in memory of me" [Lk 22:19] reveal his intention, his gift of the Eucharist, the sacrifice of the Mass.

The Mass is not just a memorial, like a tombstone, or a mere repetition of the sacrifice on the Cross. Yes, Jesus died "once for all" [Heb 7:27] His sacrifice on the cross is sufficient for our salvation. No, the Mass is something much greater. It’s a special and unique kind of memorial in which Jesus is again present just as he was on the Cross, just as present as you and I are in this church. It’s the sacrifice of Christ offered "once for all" on the cross and remaining ever present.

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Mass are, in fact, a single sacrifice. The work of our salvation is still being carried out at each Mass, through the power of the crucifixion, the power of the Resurrection. But how many of us truly believe this?

A poll taken not long ago claimed that only 30% of Catholics believe what the Church has always taught: Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. And yet this teaching is a cornerstone of our faith – as the Fathers of Vatican II said, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life.”

Before we moved to Florida earlier this year, my wife, Diane, taught fourth grade at our local parish school in Massachusetts. One day, during a lesson on the New Testament, she asked her class to name some of Jesus' miracles. Hands shot up and one by one the children spoke of Jesus curing lepers, the blind, the lame. One mentioned the multiplication of the loaves and fishes; another the miracle of the water and wine at Cana. And one child brought up the miracle of the Resurrection. Then one boy said, "Every day, all over the world, Jesus performs a miracle when through his priests he changes bread and wine into his body and blood."

How did Jesus put it? "Father, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike" [Mt 11:25]. Indeed, we can be more certain of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist than we can of anything in our lives. Not because of the faith of the Church, or the faith of the priest, or even our faith as individuals; but because of Our Lord's promise 2,000 years ago.

As one of us, He promised, and as the Son of God he keeps his promise. The Eucharist remains his gift, a gift you celebrate when you say “Amen” – “Yes, I believe” -- when receiving His Body and Blood at Communion. How sad for those who don’t believe, who can’t say, “Amen.” By denying the Eucharist they reject his gift, his promise, his love. For it is his love that prompted Our Lord to provide for his continuing presence among us.

On this holy feast Catholics process through the streets carrying the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood to a disbelieving world. In the same way, you and I are called to carry Him to others, taking Him – the Way, the Truth, and the Life – to a world in search of meaning, a world in need of real hope, a world begging for God’s love.

We must again be like the joyful children we once were, ever amazed at God’s gift of life, fully aware that we are fearfully, wonderfully made, and thankful that God has given us the miracle of His Real Presence to nourish our hearts and our spirits. When we gather for Mass, we become one with Christ, transformed by history’s deepest act of love. We become one with Christ in the starving child who aches for a piece of bread, in the victim of violence lying in the emergency room, in the young Marine dying of wounds in Afghanistan, in the African mother whose blood is poisoned with HIV.

Did you know that this is what happens here at Mass? We join our souls to Christ and with one another, with the universal Church throughout the world, offering our bodies with his on the Cross. We do it for the salvation of the world, for the salvation of souls so that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

This is what happens at Mass. The sacrifice of Christ saves us anew. No words can explain it. But a child understands it.




Monday, June 11, 2012

20th-Century Man: Ray Bradbury

Born in 1944 I am definitely a child of the 20th century. My childhood, my education, my marriage, the birth of my children, my many years in the military, most of my subsequent working life, my years of formation for the diaconate, my ordination...all of this was packed into the 20th century. About the only thing I've done in the 21st century is retire. Anyway, the current century isn't really worth talking about, at least not yet. After all, at the age of 12 it's barely an adolescent and by the time it's mature enough to be evaluated objectively I probably won't be around to pass judgment. So I'll remain happily trapped in my century of choice.

This deep personal connection I have with the past century manifests itself in strange and unpredictable ways. For example, a few months ago while writing a check to pay the nice man who weeds our flower beds and trims our shrubbery, I entered "March 15, 1992" as the date. I was off by exactly 20 years. Although a therapist might try to relate this simple mistake to some long-forgotten, deep-seated conflict in my past, the weed guy just handed the check back to me and said, "Uh...I think you wrote the wrong date." He neither laughed nor smiled. He's a very kind young man.

Of course, a century is nothing more than the passage of time measured by 100 consecutive revolutions of the earth around the sun. It takes humanity to give a century some meaning. Without us humans there would be no 20th or 21st or any other century. Dinosaurs and cockroaches and maple trees don't keep track of such things as the passage of time. They simply strive to survive. On the other hand, we humans, once we've taken care of the survival thing, come up with all kinds of activities to keep us busy. And some 20th-century humans were very busy indeed.

Most of the people who defined the 20th century are now gone or soon will be. Some -- the Stalins, Hitlers, Maos and their wannabe imitators -- will not be missed. But so many others left far more positive marks on their time, in art, literature and music, in statecraft and industry, in science and technology, in philosophy and theology. Maybe some day I'll take the time to write about those who had the most influence on me...but not today.

Ray Bradbury
Today I'm going to mention just one man, Ray Bradbury, who died last week at 91. Probably more than any other writer Bradbury brought respectability to science fiction. I read his Fahrenheit 451 the summer after I graduated from high school and became an instant fan. Throughout that summer I haunted our public library and read everything of Bradbury's I could find. I think what attracted me to his work was its inherent morality, and the fact that he wrote so very well.

I could write much more in praise of Bradbury, but another of my heroes, the late Russell Kirk, wrote about him far more eloquently than I ever could. The following is an excerpt from an assessment Kirk wrote of the work of his close friend, Ray Bradbury. It was written in 1968.

Bradbury (who thinks of himself, so far as he has any politics, as something of a revolutionary) was assailed by the New York critics as a "romantic reactionary." Charitably, Bradbury later remarked to me that perhaps the Manhattan critics merely had been waiting to gun him down once he should ride out of his western fastness. But there was more than that to their vituperative detestation. They perceived that Bradbury is a moralist, which they could not abide; that he has no truck with the obscene, which omission they found unpardonable; that he is no complacent liberal, because he knows the Spirit of the Age to be monstrous—for which let him be anathema; that he is one of the last surviving masters of eloquence and glowing description, which ought to be prohibited; that, with Pascal, he understands how the Heart has reasons which the Reason cannot know—so to the Logicalist lamp-post with him.

Thus the champions of decadence and deliquescence, the enemies of the permanent things, accurately discerned in Ray Bradbury a man of moral imagination, who must be put down promptly. For like Lewis, like Tolkien, like other talented fabulists, Ray Bradbury has drawn the sword against the dreary and corrupting materialism of this century; against society as producer-and-consumer equation, against the hideousness in modern life, against mindless power, against sexual obsession, against sham intellectuality, against the perversion of right reason into the mentality of the television-viewer. His Martians, spectres, and witches are not diverting entertainment only: they become, in their eerie manner, the defenders of truth and beauty.

You can read Kirk's entire article here: The World of Ray Bradbury.

If you haven't read Bradbury, read the wonderful stories in The Martian Chronicles; read Something Wicked This Way Comes.


Ray Bradbury, rest in peace.

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Faith vs. Atheism

Father Claude Dusty Burns, whose "stage name" is Fr. Pontifex, has let go with another of his hip-hop teachings, this time in response to the claims of the "New Atheism", which really isn't that much different from the old atheism, except that the old atheists, while equally wrong, were more intelligent. Enjoy...



...and while your at it, why don't you take a couple of minutes to view another of this young priest's videos, this one on the Obama administration's unconstitutional health care mandate:



Homily: Wednesday, 9th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Tim 1:6-12; Ps 123; Mk 12:18-27

For someone who was offering His hearers redemption and eternal life, Jesus certainly had to put up with a lot during His public ministry. Of course, that’s the thing about the Good News that Jesus preached: For many folks it was too good…too good to be true. At least that’s what the local religious leaders seemed to think – both the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

Because they couldn’t believe, despite all the miracles they’d witnessed, they had to discredit the One who delivered the message. Herod had already taken care of John the Baptist; now it was time to take care of Jesus Himself. Now it was time to take the so-called Good News that Jesus preached, and turn it into bad news.

In yesterday’s Gospel passage we saw the Pharisees and Herodians trying to trap Jesus; today it’s the Sadducees. These Sadducees, though, are a different breed. The Sadducees were a definite minority, but a significant and influential minority. Their ranks included wealthy landowners and merchants as well as those who collaborated with Rome. And the Sanhedrin, that governing body of the Jews, included many Sadducees.

In one respect they were the pragmatists of their day, the ones who didn’t want to rock the boat and risk upsetting their nicely settled lives. Actually, they were pretty similar to many of today’s politicians.

Religious minimalists, they accepted only the Torah, the first five books of Scripture as God’s word. Because there’s no specific mention of an afterlife in the Torah, the Sadducees didn’t believe in it, and were determined to discredit anyone whose teaching centered on it. And so they confronted Jesus with this ridiculous scenario in an attempt to ridicule the idea of a next life.

But Jesus does what no rabbi had ever done. Jesus shows them how the Torah supports the idea of an afterlife. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are among the most prominent figures in the Torah. In Exodus, the second book of the Torah, God proclaimed himself “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” If these men are just dead, Jesus explains, then God is reigning over a kingdom of death, not a kingdom of life!  God doesn’t reign over those who no longer exist. God reigns over the living. God reigns over Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all who went before, and all who will come after.
Jesus and the Sadducees

And so what can we learn from these pragmatists, from these Sadducees who believed that this life is all there is? I suppose the first thing that becomes clear is that if someone believes only in death, then they will see only death, and they will see it everywhere.

We have a loving God, a God of the living, not a God who creates us and then disposes of us as if we were simply rubbish. No, we have a God who promises us eternal life through the power of Christ’s Resurrection. It’s through Jesus, the creative Word of God that you and I are brought into being, that we are given the gift of life.

Jesus, “the way, the truth and the life”, calls us to believe in life. Reject the way of the world, He tells us, the way of today’s Sadducees and pragmatists. Reject the way of death.

Jesus, when responding to those trying to entrap Him, just tells them they’re wrong and settles the question. He doesn’t offer some clever compromise, because truth can’t compromise with a lie, and life can’t compromise with death.

In the same way, the Church that Jesus founded, the Church guided today by His Holy Spirit, will not compromise with the lie of death. That’s why the Church consistently teaches the truth of life, and condemns all those symptoms of the culture of death that plague our world.

Brothers and sisters, we must not be like the Sadducees. We must not receive God’s Word and His Church’s teaching by tortuously reworking Scripture to fit our own viewpoint. We should make our prayer a desire to embrace fully, with our entire being, the fullness of the Revelation as it is given in the teaching Tradition of the Church. 

Then we can enter into the fire of God’s love and life, and like the angels, be immersed in the presence and life of God along with all creation. Let our prayer place us there.

Thy Kingdom come! Thy Kingdom is!

Something Is Rotten in Denmark

The Danish parliament passed a law, and did so overwhelmingly (85 to 24), requiring churches in the nation's established Evangelical Lutheran Church to perform homosexual marriages. Although a Lutheran priest may choose not to perform the marriage, the bishop must assign a replacement who will. How progressive and open of these Danish legislators to enact such a law, a law that displays their tolerance for everyone except Christians. Read more here.


And so another Western European democracy has decided to redefine religious freedom by forcing its own interpretation of religious belief on a religion. Given the number of European nations that have passed similar laws, I suspect it won't be too long before one of these nations demands that the Catholic Church knuckle under and follow suit. Only one thing is stopping them: how to exclude Muslims from such laws.

Can't happen here in the USA? We hope not but things seem to be moving in that direction.

This news from Denmark helps one understand why our founders expressed an inherent distrust of democracy which they believed would inevitably move towards a dictatorship of the majority. Only a constitutional republic with its checks and balances, well-defined governmental limits, and personal freedoms can protect all of the people from both the government and the mob. Of course the appreciation of our form of government will surely wane as our courts interpret these freedoms out of existence. Once that occurs we'll be no different from Western Europe, just another decaying, doomed society.

The politicians cleverly define these issues in terms of freedom  -- freedom to choose, freedom to marry whomever one wants, freedom to use contraceptives, and on and on -- while the real issue is exactly the opposite: the absence of freedom. It's not about freedom; it's about compulsion. It's about using the power of government to force believers to give up their religious freedom. The real question for our society is, "Will we be strong and determined and courageous enough to resist?"

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Saturday, June 9, 2012

Summer Reading

Even though I'm officially retired, life still slows down for me during the summer months. Many of our parishioners are "snowbirds" who head north to their summer homes under the mistaken belief that it will be better somewhere else than it is in Florida...Not! It's always better in Florida, even in the summer months. Anyway, this seasonal migration typically means fewer demands on my time. For example, the two Bible Study sessions I facilitate at the parish go on summer hiatus. The upshot? I have more time for leisure activities, especially reading.

During the past few months I've purchased a number of books and set them aside for my summer reading. Most of you who check out this blog regularly -- at least as regularly as I write in it -- probably don't give a hoot about my reading habits. But I make this list more for myself than for anyone else. By posting the titles here I turn this reading list into a public promise, one I will more likely fulfill. You see, with the addition in my life of more leisure time I can get a wee bit lazy. When I plop my slightly overweight body into my comfortable easy chair each evening, I might opt to watch a rerun of American Pickers instead of reading Augustine. And so, the list.

First, some general non-fiction titles...

Permanent Things, Ed. by Andrew A. Tadie & Michael H. McDonald; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1995. A collection of essays about some of the 20th century's greatest minds, true conservatives such as T. S. Eliot, G. K. Chesterton, Russell Kirk, C. S. Lewis, etc.

Small Is Beautiful, by E. F. Schumacher; Harper Perennial, 1973. Subtitled, "Economics as if People Mattered", this is one of more influential books of the 20th century. I simply never got around to reading it, although a few years back I read the author's A Guide for the Perplexed and thoroughly enjoyed it. I'm particularly interested to see how this economist's thoughts mesh with the distributist ideas championed by Chesterton and Belloc.

Beginning at Jerusalem, by Glenn W. Olsen; Ignatius, 2004. Subtitled, "Five Reflections on the History of the Church", the book looks at the Church during five different historical periods and examines how she has maintained her essentials and how she has developed over the centuries.

The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia, by Roger Kimball; St. Augustine Press, 2012. This book won't be released until the end of June, so I have it on order and hope to receive in in early July. I read a couple of reviews and it sounds interesting.,

Then, some biographies...

Bishop John Carroll
A few months ago, while roaming through a used bookstore, I came across two biographies of members of the Catholic Carroll family of Maryland. Charles Carroll of Carrollton (1737-1832) was a Founding Father and signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his cousin, John Carroll of Baltimore (1735-1815), was the first Catholic bishop and archbishop in the United States. I found the two books leaning against each other on one of the shop's bookshelves.

Charles Carroll of Carrollton, by Ellen Hart Smith; Harvard University Press, 1942.

John Carroll of Baltimore, by Annabelle M. Melville; Charles Scribner's, 1955.

After reading these two books, I intend to see if more recent biographies have been written on these two men, since modern scholarship might well shed additional light on their lives and work.

And some fiction...

Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle; Ballantine Books, 1977. For many folks, science fiction is one of those genres they ridicule in public but read in secret. Here, however, I declare openly that I actually enjoy science fiction, certainly not all of it, but the writing of certain authors; for example, Gene Wolfe and Walter M. Miller, Jr. For more than 30 years now several friends, knowing what I enjoy in the genre, have been urging me to read Lucifer's Hammer. So, finally, I bought it and intend to start it this evening.

Charles Williams
All Hallows' Eve, by Charles Williams; Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1948. Charles Williams who, along with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, was a member of the famous Inklings, wrote this book not long before he died in 1945. I actually read it, along with Williams' six other supernatural thrillers about 30 years ago. In those days, before the arrival of internet booksellers it was hard to find Williams' novels. And then, one day, while browsing in a Cape Cod bookstore I found all seven, newly reprinted by Eerdmans. I bought them all, read them one after another, and enjoyed each one immensely. I've decided it's time to reread them and will start with All Hallow's Eve because I've always considered it the best of the seven.


Finally some poetry...

Dante's Paradise, trans. by Anthony Esolen; Modern Library Classics, 2007. Dr. Esolen, a professor at Providence College, is one of those remarkable people whose work never fails to educate and delight. I've already read his translation of Dante's Inferno and Purgatory, and now look forward to being lifted up heavenward by his translation of Paradise. And don't neglect Dr. Esolen's other books; they're all wonderful.

Farming, A Hand Book, by Wendell Berry; Counterpoint Press, 1971 (2011). A book of poetry (and a play) by this contemporary, rural American poet whose work, much like the Psalms, always calms me. And that's saying a lot considering I'm so citified and suburbanized.

Use the comment function to share some of your summer reading...

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Friday, June 8, 2012

The Legacy of Tiananmen Square

23 years ago, on June 4, 1989, China's communist government conducted a deadly crackdown on the freedom demonstrators in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. One of the more interesting results of the horrendous events of that day is the number of those dissidents that have since converted to Christianity. According to Professor Fenggang Yang of Purdue University, a scholar who followed those events closely, the dissidents recognized the moral bankruptcy of communism and saw in Christianity the only real alternative that offered the kind of life and social institutions they sought. Such conversions have been particularly common among the intellectual dissidents. To read more click here: Tiananmen and Christian Conversion.

Another interesting tidbit. Do you remember the iconic photograph of the unidentified young dissident standing courageously in front of the Chinese Army tank? He looked so innocently brave standing there holding what appears to be a couple of shopping bags. Some say he died later in the crackdown that took so many lives, but nobody knows for certain. From the below video it's apparent he didn't die at the scene since he seems to have been hustled off to safety by others.


Just the other day, on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protest, I came across a wide angle photo of the famous scene. I've included the more familiar photo first, followed by the less known wide angle photo. The latter is truly amazing, showing this one, small, seemingly insignificant but determined young man facing down not just a few tanks (in itself a very scary thing), but what appears to be a whole division of Chinese Army tanks. He stands there, before those tanks and the entire world, while the communist authorities blink, displaying their barbarism and their true weakness for all to see -- a remarkable photo.





In totalitarian China one may still not discuss openly the events at Tiananmen Square on that June day. Perhaps some day we'll know the real and complete story of what happened.

Pray for the conversion of China.

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The Venom of Foes



As a Navy pilot during the war in Vietnam I'd sometimes be greeted with obscenities and hate-filled looks in airports or on American streets. It never really bothered me very much. When I considered the source of all that hatred, these attacks became to me a badge of honor. And I'd also recall Winston Churchill's famous words, "The venom of a man's enemies is a measure of his strength."

I find myself recalling these same words whenever I hear one of our politicians or media elitists or leftist ideologues attack the Church, something that occurs with increasing frequency and intensity these days. Do they really see the Catholic Church as a serious threat to their agenda? I think I can safely say they wouldn't waste all that venom if they didn't recognize the Church's inherent strength. They might not understand or accept the source of that strength, but they cannot ignore its real and abiding presence over 2,000 years of history...and it bothers the heck out of them.

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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

What a world!

Do you realize that in New York City 41% of all babies are killed before they are born? In New York, therefore, people can choose to kill their unborn babies, but they are not allowed to choose a super-sized Coca Cola. This is the logic of the emerging "nanny state" in which the nanny cares nothing for her children.

Pray for our country.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2012

St. Anthony Church, New Bedford, Massachusetts

Exterior of St. Anthony Church

Less than two weeks ago, on May 24, I and 20 of my brother deacons celebrated the 15th anniversary of our ordination as permanent deacons by then-Bishop of Fall River, Sean O'Malley. We were ordained in one of the largest and most beautiful churches in New England, St. Anthony of Padua Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Our ordination, May 24, 1997

Yesterday, while reading the latest issue of the National Catholic Register, I came across a wonderful article celebrating St. Anthony's 100th anniversary. I truly enjoyed reading about this remarkable church and its history, and expect you will as well. Here's the link: St. Anthony's Church Has Cathedral Proportions.

I've included just a few photos of the church. Visit the parish's website and view the "Virtual Tour" to get a true impression of the beauty of this church.

The nave of St. Anthony Church
How blessed we were to have been ordained at St. Anthony's.

Please keep me and my brother deacons in your prayers.

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Quick Trip Around the World

Pakistani Women Celebrating Their Freedom
Pakistan: Death to Dancers. The next time you attend a wedding reception and join the other guests as they "Ooh" and "Aah" when the bride and groom take to the dance floor, just be thankful you don't live in Pakistan. In that country, our on-again-off-again ally in the war on terror, an Islamic court recently sentenced six people (four men and two women) to death for the crime of dancing at a wedding. I trust this will be an eye-opener for those of you who think the imposition of sharia law is really no big thing. It seems the four men managed to escape and are now in hiding, while the fate of the two women is unknown. According to the court, "Dancing is against Islam." I suppose they've never heard of their mystic Sufi co-religionists, the Whirling Dervishes.

Holy Family Church
India: Fear Among Catholics in Kashmir. Holy Family Church in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir was set afire a few weeks ago by unknown perpetrators. Jammu and Kashmir is the only Indian state with a Muslim majority population and the local authorities seem uninterested in finding and arresting those responsible. Indeed, one local man, a Hindu convert to Catholicism, stated that this attitude on the part of the authorities shows how Christians have been abandoned by the state. "Catholics feel less secure," he added, and "in Kashmir, they have been reduced to zero." 

Vivian Salameh
Jordan: Creeping Islamization. Jordan, a majority Muslim nation which in the past has been very tolerant and respectful of its Christian population, is changing...and it's not for the better. For example, a Christian woman was just fired by her employer, the Jordan Dubai Islamic Bank, for not complying with its new rules requiring women to cover their heads while at work. Vivian Salameh has worked for the bank for 25 years, and has, therefore, filed a complaint against the bank. The director of the Catholic Media Center in Jordan, Fr. Rif'at Bader, is particularly concerned about Ms. Salameh's case. In his words, "Gulf States are using Islamic banking to introduce Sharia precepts in the population. No one was ever been discriminated for being Christian. The government should not allow such practices in our country. Our constitution protects freedom of worship."

United Kingdom: Pro-life Literature Is Offensive. Margaret Forrester received a pink slip from the UK's National Health Service because she engaged in "gross professional misconduct." It seems the mental health worker committed the horrible "sin" of giving a colleague (not a client) a booklet that discussed the problems, both physical and psychological, that some women experience after undergoing an abortion. Her supervisors at the NHS were particularly upset because, horror of horrors, the booklet was "religious in tone." She is challenging her dismissal in court.


USA: President Obama Losing the Religious Vote. The president, who did fairly well among Catholics and evangelicals in the 2008 elections, is apparently losing much ground among these constituencies. It seems the president's campaign staff and the DNC have taken the moderate religious vote for granted and are focusing their efforts elsewhere. Click here to read an excellent article on the subject: Obama Losing Religious Vote.


And yet, despite all the strangeness in our world, God remains in charge. Thank Him for that.



Gendercide: Killing Girls Worldwide

I realize I've addressed this subject before (See my post of July 5, 2011.), but recent events demand additional coverage.

Unborn baby at 20 weeks
Perhaps the most under-reported major news story today is the global war on women. The Obama administration would like us to believe this war is being waged by its political opponents -- i.e., by conservative Republicans and others, supported by all those anti-abortion Catholics, Evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, and other fanatics -- whose goal is to deny women access to "reproductive health care." This is a nice euphemistic way of disguising the real controversy which centers on the simple fact that we who are pro-life don't believe anyone has the "right" to kill an innocent human being, an unborn child.

To the uninformed -- and sadly this includes a large number of Americans -- the administration's talking points sound reasonable. After all, who wants to deny women health care? The reality, however, is something very different and is based on telling the big lie often and loudly. Eventually it will be accepted as the truth, especially when you have the mainstream media on your side.

Despite what the relativists tell us, there can be only one truth; and in this instance the real truth is the complete opposite of what we're being told by the "enlightened" ones at the White House and in the media. The real war on women is being waged in this country by the administration itself and by and its supporters. Targeting the most innocent and helpless of the female sex, this war is designed to "nip them in the bud", so to speak, by killing them before they are even born.

This truth became apparent recently when an undercover reporter produced several videos proving that Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, has no problem whatsoever performing sex-selective abortions. (And just in case you have any doubts, realize that worldwide the vast majority of sex-selective abortions kill baby girls, not boys.) I've embedded both video below. Please take the time to view them both. Here's the first:


The second video is just as chilling in the matter-of-fact way sex-selection abortion is discussed and accepted.




Despite what Planned Parenthood says as it tries to spin the results, these videos are not aberrations, but standard practice at their so-called clinics. Advances in ultrasound technology have allowed expectant mothers to identify accurately the sex of their unborn infants. Combine this with evidence that in most societies there seems to be a distinct preference for boy babies, and what we find is a significant increase in girl babies being aborted. In some nations the demographic effects are ominous. Recognizing this, India, China, Taiwan, South Korea, the United Kingdom, and a number of other nations have made sex-selective abortions illegal, driving many people to come to the United States to obtain their late-term abortions.That's right! Here in the USA we permit parents to abort a child because they want a child of the opposite sex; i.e., a boy. We've become the "abortion for any reason" mecca.

To understand better the potential demographic effects of this, read this report: The Global War on Baby Girls, as well as Sex Selection Abortion: Worldwide Son-Bias

Based on the Planned Parenthood incident and other similar evidence of an increase in sex-selection abortions in the United States, the House of Representatives recently proposed the Prenatal Non-discrimination Act (or PRENDA) to prohibit abortions based on the sex of the child. House rules required a two-thirds majority to pass and the vote, unfortunately, fell short of this. 226 Republicans and 20 Democrats supported PRENDA while 161 Democrats and 7 Republicans opposed it. President Obama was also vocal in his opposition.

Isn't it interesting, and remarkably sad, that the leadership of virtually all feminist organizations were strongly opposed to PRENDA? In other words, they support the continued killing of baby girls simply because they are baby girls. Isn't it about time for people to accept that the National Organization for Women (NOW) and other similar organizations care far more about their ideology than about women? More importantly, though, isn't it about time that we all come to accept that the slaughter of unborns in the tens of millions worldwide must stop?

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you... [Jeremiah 1:5]

You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.  
I praise you, because I am wonderfully made; wonderful are your works! 
My very self you know. [Psalm 139:13-14]

I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: 
I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. 
Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live... [Deuteronomy 30:19]

Pray for the unborn throughout the world, and for their mothers.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Iraqis and US Marines

This morning I did something I rarely do. I watched two consecutive hours of television. I was captivated by a documentary describing the men and mission of a Marine recon company in Iraq back in the summer of 2005. This was before the 2007 surge, and before the new administration gave the enemy hope and opportunity by publicly issuing withdrawal deadlines.

Aired on the Military Channel, the documentary was fascinating; and having worked closely with Marines over 30 years ago, I realized quickly that these remarkable men were very much like their courageous and well-disciplined predecessors. They may occasionally be a little rough around the edges, but their commitment to their more than challenging mission is evident.

That being said, what really interested me were the rural Iraqis with whom our young Marines came into daily contact. They are a people ruled largely by centuries-old tribal loyalties and religious affiliations and so the cultural divide between them and the Marines is enormous. Most of the people with whom the Marines interact just want to live their lives in the confines of their small village micro-societies, and will do what is necessary to minimize any disruptions to their families and their way of life. If they believe it benefits them, they will side with either the insurgents or the Marines. Understandably, their real and immediate concern is not for the future of their nation, but rather for the safety of their families. They know the Marines will eventually leave Iraq, but their hostile neighbors will remain. Taking sides publicly can be a dangerous thing.

Watching our young Marine NCOs and officers interact so effectively with these rural Iraqis was amazing. So too was their ability to accomplish their mission under extremely difficult conditions and burdened by very restrictive rules of engagement. These Marines were trained extensively in the art of warfare; they were trained to kill the enemy. But in Iraq (and in Afghanistan as well) they face an insurgency, a hidden enemy who blends in quickly with the population. And the population is all too often apathetic. Watching the show, I found these young selfless Marines to be mature far beyond their years. They are a far cry from the "Occupy" young people I encountered in Asheville, NC last weekend, who seemed intent only on complaining that they haven't been given enough.

One of the documentary's more iconic scenes showed an Iraqi woman baking unleavened bread in a large stone oven in the back yard of her home. The oven, a circular well-like structure, was buried three or four feet in the ground. We can see the hot coals in the bottom of the oven and as we watch the woman places the unbaked bread against the interior stone wall. The oven is hot and bakes the thin bread quickly.

As I watched this brief domestic scene I couldn't help but think that 4,000 years ago, not far from this very place, Abraham's wife, Sarah, probably baked her bread in exactly the same fashion using a similar stone oven. I suspect the technology of primitive bread-baking has changed very little over the centuries. This one scene told me much about what we face in the Middle East.

I've embedded a brief excerpt, the final few minutes of this documentary. It's well worth your time...


This documentary was made seven years ago. I trust all these young men have returned home safely to their families, although several have undoubtedly redeployed one or more times. Pray for them.