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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fogging the Looking Glass

I grew up in the fifties and the early sixties. It was actually quite a wonderful time to come of age, and I've always felt a bit sorry for those only a few years younger who had to navigate their way as adolescents through the turmoil and the stupidity of the late sixties and the decade that followed.

From 1962 to 1967 I was a student at Georgetown University for one year and then at the Naval Academy for four more. After graduation I spent almost 18 months as a student Navy pilot in Pensacola. Dear Diane and I were married in late 1968 and I was then assigned to my first squadron in San Diego which I joined in 1969.

It was a busy time. Still in our twenties, we considered ourselves adults and lived adult lives. We were not the spoiled, rebellious children who despised their country while living off the largesse of working parents. Although my involvement in the war in Vietnam was minimal and certainly nothing heroic, I willingly flew into harm's way because it was my duty to do so and because I believed we had an obligation to defend an ally from the predations of totalitarian, atheistic communism. I considered our military involvement in Vietnam to be honorable -- and still do -- but I also believe it was a war foolishly waged by incompetent politicians of both parties who believed they were military strategists and by generals and admirals who acted like politicians. I blame them all for the deaths of so many friends. Throughout it all, or perhaps because of it all, I kept my faith.

It's that faith that keeps me going today by helping me place all the world's happenings in perspective. Even in the midst of rapid societal decline, I find myself laughing at the insanity that so many take so very seriously. For example, every so often I encounter odd stories in the news, particularly stories about religion, that amaze me. I realize I shouldn't be amazed since the world has become very odd indeed, but I can't help myself. I suppose my amazement stems from my upbringing in what can only be described as a fairly stable family environment at a time when it was normal to have faith, when virtue was prized, and when most people accepted that sin was real.

Here's a sampling of some recent stories that caught my eye:

Jesus Mentally Ill? The Church of England continues to surprise. It seems they prepared a suggested sermon for Anglican clerics who want to address mental illness and the stigma sometimes associated with it. The proposed sermon names John the Baptist, St.Francis of Assisi, St. Paul, and even Jesus as people who may well have suffered from mental illness. This just confirms what so many in our society now believe: Christians are obviously crazy. Read more here, if you can stomach it.

President as Crucified Lord and Savior? These two stories absolutely floored me. I realize that those who like the president are somewhat prone to hyperbole, but one can take such rhetorical emphasis to the extreme and beyond. Perhaps the more disturbing of the two stories relates to a painting, "The Truth", by Boston artist Michael D'Antuono and currently on display at Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery. The painting depicts President Obama standing in front of his presidential seal with his arms outstretched and wearing a crown of thorns. See below...

 You can read more about this remarkable piece of art here.

The second and similar story is almost as disturbing and relates to actor Jamie Foxx, who at the Soul Train Music Awards made a rather curious and blasphemous statement when he said, "First of all, give an honor to God and our lord and savior Barack Obama..." You can read more about it here. I've included a video below...



The Holy Family as an Alternative Lifestyle. MSNBC offers its audience a steady stream of surprising commentary. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving MSNBC weekend anchor Melissa Harris-Perry, in an attempt to provide examples of alternative family lifestyles that should be cherished by our society, used the Holy Family as an example when she stated that “even Jesus was born to an un-wed mom and raised by a doting stepfather.” Wow!

You can check out her comments by viewing the video here.

Islamists Just Love Killing Jews. Hamas...you know, that's the terrorist organization that the Gaza Palestinians voted into power a few years ago. (Way to go, Palestinians!!) Hamas is the same peace-loving group that began the recent conflict by launching hundreds of deadly rockets into Israel because...well, just because they wanted to kill as many Jews as possible.They're also the same terrorist organization that the new Muslim Brotherhood dominated government of Egypt supports 100%. Now, just in case you think I exaggerate, here's what their official TV station had to say on the subject of Israel and its Jewish citizens:

“Bless [Hamas'] Al-Qassam men, guardians of Palestine. Oh pride of Salah Shahada, oh wisdom of Immad [Aqel] (Hamas leaders killed by Israel), [Oh] the explosives of [Yahya] Ayyash, (Hamas bomb maker killed by Israel), Martyrdom, [oh] lovers of the trigger: Killing the occupiers is worship that Allah made into law. (Arabic text: “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah”). Arise, oh determined men. The color of [the Martyr's] blood protects the land. Oh masked one wearing a keffiyeh (Arab head scarf), terrifying the Jews…call out in Zionism’s face: ‘Muhammad’s army has begun to return.’”
Don't you just love it? Killing Jews becomes an act of worship. And you wonder why so many Muslim leaders were avid allies of Hitler's Nazi Germany during World War Two. See the video below:


I think that's enough for today. Any more and I might have to scream. My neighbors wouldn't understand.

Oh, yes, Dear Diane and I leave soon for a brief vacation -- visiting friends and a Caribbean cruise. I've already packed the books I intend to read while sitting in my deck chair.

Pax et bonum.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Homily: Mass for Healing - God Knows Your Heart

Late yesterday morning, at our parish in Wildwood, Florida, we celebrated a special Mass focused on the healing of body, mind and spirit. Our pastor, Fr. Peter, celebrated the Mass and I was privileged to be asked to preach. I have posted my homily below:
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Readings: Phil 4:10-19; PS 112; Lk 16:9-15

Good morning, everyone. And praise God – praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I’m honored to have been asked to preach to you here today at this healing Mass. It’s wonderful to see so many people here today; all filled with the Spirit, all open to God’s healing presence. Praise God too for this.

There are definitely two or more of us gathered here in Jesus’ name, so we know He is with us. And where Jesus is, so too is the Father, for they are One, One with the Holy Spirit. We certainly want the Holy Spirit among us today in all His power, in all His glory, so we can come to know our loving Father better, all through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

You know, among the many wonderful things Jesus told us about the Spirit is that He is the Trinity’s workhorse. Now Jesus never uses that particular word, but it's true nonetheless. That’s right…the Spirit does all the heavy lifting.

When we turn to Scripture we find the Holy Spirit doing the inspiring, the revealing, the anointing, the counseling. He is the giver of life, the fount of Truth and Wisdom, the Sanctifier, the source of sacramental grace, the manifestation of God’s power in the world. When Jesus rejoiced, He rejoiced in the Spirit. When He prayed, He prayed filled with the Spirit. The Spirit teaches us, He intercedes for us, He guides us. And He will be with us always. That’s right, the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us, does God’s work in the world. And thank God for that because these days we certainly need Him working among us and with us.

And do you know something else? He’s also the Divine Healer. In fact healing is the Spirit’s greatest work. God knows how much we all need healing – healing of body, mind and spirit – and He sends His Spirit into the world to heal all who come to Him. What kind of healing do we need? What do you need? Or you? What do I need?

All too often we’re just so sure we know, aren’t we? We think our aches and pains and illnesses point to our needs. These bodies of ours just don’t seem to hold up. Apparently our parents didn’t buy the extended warranty. And so we turn to the Lord in our suffering and in our fear, in all those aches and pains, those illnesses, in the trials of our children, in the sometimes shattered lives of those we love…and through it all we pray for healing.

But so often as we pray, in the midst of all that suffering, our faith wavers. We can’t understand why this suffering has fallen upon us, or why God doesn’t just take it away. And so our prayer falters. But take heart. St. Paul tells us, “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” [Rom 8:26]

You see, sisters and brothers, God knows your heart…and so God Himself, the Holy Spirit, prays for us in ways we can never understand.

About 20 years ago, I was given the challenging but thankless task of teaching a class of ninth-graders who were preparing for Confirmation. I know, it should have been fun, but it wasn’t. Even back then, I was already a curmudgeon.

Anyway, during one of our sessions, while discussing God’s divine nature, I went through the list of those attributes we normally assign to God…you know…He is eternal, holy, immutable, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, immaterial…

As I was reciting these attributes, one young man interrupted and asked, “What does omniscient mean?”

I said, “It means God knows everything.

He thought for a second or two and then said, “Okay,  but you really don’t mean everything, like what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

“Oh, yes, God knows everything that happens, throughout all time – past, present and future – and everywhere, in the universe and in eternity, every single thing, no matter how large or small.”

But that didn’t satisfy this budding theologian. “But you mean He just knows things. He can’t know thoughts too, can He?”

“Oh, yes, thoughts are God’s specialty,” I said. “He knows your every thought, your every desire, all your hopes and dreams…and He knows them all even before you have them, the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly.”

Well, in the silence that followed, I wish you could have seen that young man’s face.

“You’re really serious, aren’t you?” he finally asked.

“Yes, I am. You can’t hide from God. He knows you perfectly, far better than you’ll ever know yourself. “

“You see, God knows your heart.

And, brothers and sisters, God knows your heart too.

The psalms praise “God who knows the secrets of the heart” [Ps 44:22]. And Peter, at the Council of Jerusalem, speaking of the Gentiles tells his brother apostles, “God, who knows the heart…granted them the Holy Spirit just as He did us” [Acts 15:8].

But it’s in today’s Gospel passage from Luke that we hear these words spoken by Jesus Himself. “God knows your hearts,” Jesus said to the Pharisees [Lk 16:15]. When they heard those words, do you think maybe those Pharisees recalled the words of the psalm?
LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach. Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast. [Ps 139:1-10]
From our human perspective, God’s omniscience seems to be a double-edged sword, doesn’t it?

We rejoice that God, in humbling Himself to become one of us, also honors us in our humanity through this same act of love. We rejoice that we are worth so very much to our loving God that even the hairs on our head are numbered. He knows every microbe, every atom of our bodies. He knows our every fear, our worries, our joys, our pains, our sorrows.

But He also knows every sin, every dark secret, every hatred, every weakness. Yes, our awareness of God’s omniscience should, as St. Paul would say, fill us “with fear and trembling” [Phil 2:12].

Did you happen to catch that question the psalmist asked? “Where can I go from your Spirit?” Sometimes we try, like Jonah, to hide from God, to turn up the world’s volume so we can’t hear God’s voice. But it doesn’t work…because God knows my heart. He knows my entire being.

Too often we simply forget this remarkable truth about God. We think we have to teach Him things.

I remember visiting a woman in a nursing home, giving her the Eucharist, and afterwards chatting with her for a while. I had visited her several times before, but had never really had the opportunity to talk with her. Anyway, that day she was very upset with God. She’d been sick for a long time, and really wasn’t getting any better.

“I pray every day,” she said, “hoping that God will help me get better. If God only knew how much I suffer…”

It took every ounce of control not to burst out laughing. That, of course, would not have been very pastoral. Instead I assured her that our all-knowing God certainly knew how she suffered, and that He too had suffered.

I always carried a few cards with me. They had a picture of Christ crucified on one side and the words to that wonderful old “Prayer Before a Crucifix” on the other. I gave her one and we prayed together. We prayed for healing, that the Holy Spirit would take her heart, the heart that God knows so well, and fill it with His healing peace. And as I left that day, for the first time I saw her smile.

But, you see, brothers and sisters, we’re all a little bit like her, aren’t we? We all like to complain about our sufferings. I suffer from occasional migraines; and, believe me, you don’t want to be around me then. Too often I’m not a very good sufferer.

I remember back in my Navy days, a fellow officer, knowing that I was a Catholic, mentioned that he could never be a Christian, much less a Catholic: “You people seem to enjoy suffering so much. That can’t be healthy.”

Well, he sure wasn’t talking about me. And, anyway, he was wrong. Christians don’t enjoy suffering. To enjoy suffering is to be mentally ill. No, Christians accept suffering, and that’s something quite different. We know that suffering is something we all experience. As someone once said, “Suffering is the true democratic experience.”

Nazi death camp survivors
Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived years in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, wrote a wonderful book, Mans Search for Meaning. In it he writes of our freedom to choose how we will respond to suffering. We can choose to be embittered, broken, hateful, resentful…or we can accept our sufferings as a path to something greater.

As always, Jesus shows us the way. He took His sufferings and turned them into something far greater, into an act of redemption. That act is what all of Scripture points to, for it’s nothing less than the story of God’s love, of His willingness to suffer for you, for me, for all of humanity.

And we are called to join our sufferings to His. We’re called to be like Paul who could say: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” [Col 1:24]

Dear friends, what is lacking in Christ's suffering is our acceptance of our own, willingly taken up with Jesus on His walk up Calvary. As Christians our sufferings have meaning and worth because through them we share in the sacrifice of Christ. When you and I come to understand, if only in the smallest way, His sorrow and His undeserved suffering, ours begins to pale and lighten as we place ourselves at His Side. And it’s through that experience that we learn how well God knows our heart.

It’s through that experience that we realize how faltering, how inadequate our prayer is; and how much we need the Spirit to intercede for us with those "inexpressible groanings" of His. For the Spirit prays for what we need, not what we want.

There will be healings here today, sisters and brothers. Some of you have come for physical and emotional healing. And there will be some of those. But every one of us here today needs spiritual healing, healing of the soul, the healing that comes from total surrender to God.

Yes, God knows your heart. But the question I put before you is: What’s in your heart today?

Are you willing to make an act of surrender, an act of abandonment, and take all that you have, all that you are, and lay it at Jesus’ feet. He wants it all, out of a love so great it’s beyond our understanding. He wants us to mirror His redemptive act of love by sharing in the crosses that we each must bear. Do we recognize the power of this collective faith and the prayers of our community come together as we have here today?

Do we trust that Jesus can do the same for us as faithful, prayerful people who lift others up who need to be healed?

After Mass we’ll have four priests available for the sacrament of reconciliation in the back of the Church. Take advantage of this healing sacrament and the graces it brings.

We’ll also have the laying on of hands right here in front of the sanctuary. Come forward. Turn your heart and mind to Jesus Christ. Give Him permission to come into your life, to work His will within you.

“Heal me, Lord.” Let that be your prayer. “Heal me, Lord, of all that is keeping me from being one with you.”

Trust God, brothers and sisters. He is not alternatively yes and no. He is always yes, because He knows your heart.

Praised be Jesus Christ…now and forever.




Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Evangelization - An App for You

The Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend in Indiana has developed an iPhone and Android app called "My Year of Faith" to help Catholics get involved in the New Evangelization. I checked it out today and it's definitely worth the 99 cents one must pay to download it.

Here's a brief video describing the app:


If you don't happen to have one of those fancy little smart phones, you can access everything on the app via a website. Click here to check it out at My Year of Faith. The site also includes links to the two smartphone apps.

Given what is happening in our country, I believe the best way to change things is not through the usual political paths, but through active evangelization, from one person to another. Perhaps this app will in some small way help a confused people regain its faith.

The Future of the Church in America

A few days ago I offered my personal reflection on the meaning of the recent elections. In doing so I made no specific predictions, other than suggesting that these elections portend the imminent collapse of Western Civilization. I suppose some might think that's a pretty dire prediction, although such suggestions are nothing new. People have been predicting this for decades. With Christendom gone, the civilization it founded will necessarily decline, to be replaced by something else. I won't even try to predict what that "something else" might be, except to say it will attempt to exert power over all things. In this, of course, it will fail because the power of God's love ultimately overcomes everything.

I'm reminded of something Malcolm Muggeridge wrote over 30 years ago [The End of Christendom, 1980] about an interview he conducted with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He paraphrases Solzhenitsyn as saying:

"...if in this world you are confronted with absolute power, power unmitigated, unrestrained, extending to every area of human life -- if you are confronted with power in those terms, you are driven to realize that the only possible response to it is not some alternative power arrangement, more humane, more enlightened. The only possible response to absolute power is the absolute love which our Lord brought into the world."
Most Americans have yet to experience the kind of absolute, worldly power of which Solzhenitsyn speaks, the sort of power that confronted those who lived in Hitler's Third Reich, in Stalin's Soviet Union, or in Mao's China. And we naively assume we will never be the objects of those who wield such power. This, after all, is America. To a certain extent those who believe this are probably correct. I also do not expect our nation to turn into the typical 20th-Century fascist or communist state. No, those who wield power here are far too sophisticated, too progressive to follow the failed paths of the past. Instead, as Solzhenitsyn suggests, they will enforce power through a "more humane, more enlightened" sort of society, one in which all of life is controlled for our own good, as those goods are defined by those who hold the reins of power.

How long this transition will take is anyone's guess, but I expect it will not take long. And when it finally occurs, perhaps then, in the midst of this kinder, softer totalitarian oppression, those who have seemingly welcomed this change will begin to question. Perhaps then, as they experience the subtle but relentless attack on their very humanity, they will come to an understanding of what is happening to them. Perhaps then, as they search for answers, they will open their hearts to the only alternative: the power of God's love. And when they do this the Church will still be there to lead them to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Although this little blog of mine doesn't generate many comments, (I'm pretty sure one has to have readers to get comments), I do receive occasional emails from friends and acquaintances who either agree or take issue with what I've posted. And I always appreciate both. But as a result of my last post, I received quite a few emails complaining about what they perceived to be a sense of despair in what I wrote. The only thing I can say in response is that I am never without hope when it comes to the "permanent things." If claiming that our civilization will ultimately collapse is to despair, I plead guilty. I am not at all optimistic when it comes to worldly hope and change. But then I don't consider our human, worldly civilizations to be all that important when measured alongside the salvation of souls, something of eternal importance. And although I love my country, I realize that it too is of human origin and necessarily doomed to turn to dust.

I do not, however, despair when it comes to the Church -- One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic -- since our Lord, Jesus Christ, promised to remain with us until the end of time. Will the Church in tomorrow's America have a different role than it has today? Not really; but how it must carry out that role will be very different.

This morning I read a most interesting essay ["What the Election Means"] by Fr. Philip de Vous, a Catholic priest and pastor in Kentucky. Fr. de Vous offers his thoughts on the election and what it will mean for the Church and for religious liberty in the near term. It is well worth reading.

God's peace...


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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Decadence and Decline

The American people have spoken and, as my late brother once cynically remarked, "You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American voter." It would seem his cynicism has been borne out by yesterday's election.

As you have probably guessed, I am not happy with the results. My displeasure, however, has less to do with who won or lost in particular elections than the direction these results are taking our society and the unexpected speed of that movement.

To be blunt, I honestly believe Western civilization is nearing its total collapse. It's been coming for some time but I never expected to be alive when it finally happened. Europe, of course, has led the way and only the morally blind cannot see the depth of its decline. I am aware, too, that our nation must eventually go the way of every other nation. Original sin pretty much guarantees that. But I had optimistically held out the hope that the United States of America would last longer than most, that it would rediscover its uniqueness, that its people would somehow reclaim its birthright, that we would defy history and the forces of evil and bring about a rebirth of freedom. Alas, this is not to be. We have, I believe, passed a societal point of no return.

As a nation we seem to have fallen prey to democracy's fatal weakness: the awareness by the majority that they can bleed the minority with impunity. Once politicians grasp this, they use their considerable powers, especially the power of taxation, to aid their friends and harm their foes. Our founding fathers hoped to prevent this by means of a Constitution that would protect the rights of all, include checks and balances, and guarantee separation of powers. What they didn't foresee was: (1) a judiciary that would, in effect, rewrite the Constitution, adapting it to the prevailing zeitgeist; (2) an executive that would increasingly usurp the powers of the legislature; and (3) a weakened legislature that would allow this to happen. When the collapse will occur, I cannot predict, but it will occur, and soon enough.

This modern Western civilization of ours came to be through Christianity, but once its religious foundation crumbles it will cease to exist as a civilization. No civilization can survive when the core values that gave it purpose have disappeared. And Western man cannot survive in the shell of a civilization deprived of these values, its Christian underpinnings. These values are rapidly disappearing in the face of internal decay and corruption. Civilization grows closer to barbarism as it drifts father away from Christianity. Evidence of this can be seen in Western Europe where Christianity is now the faith of only a small minority and consequently is discounted as irrelevant by the politically powerful. These same worldly forces are not content to ignore the remnants of our civilization but have turned on Christianity and its values in an inexplicable suicidal attack. We are now witnessing much the same here in our own country. And, believe me, the signs cannot be dismissed.

Only the most brutal society will slaughter its children by the millions simply because they are inconvenient.

Only the most self-centered society will neither honor its elderly nor aid its infirm, preferring instead to find ways to eliminate them through "managed health care".

Only the most decadent society will equate sodomy with marriage.

Only the most corrupt society will pile up astronomical amounts of debt onto future generations merely to satisfy its own immediate wants.

Only the most faithless society will allow its government to undermine our nation's most cherished freedom, the people's free exercise of their religious beliefs.

The citizens of our nation have reelected a man who sees no evil in either abortion or infanticide, no problem with the continuing destruction of our free-market economy, and no contradiction in same-sex marriage. He bows to those who despise us and shows disdain for our allies. He is a man of his time, a man of our times, a man so certain he is right that he will never admit to being wrong. And he is, once again, our president.

Who's to blame for all this? We all are, along with those who came before us. Too often we stood by silently and watched as our citizenry slid into the decadence that surrounds us. Although I dislike doing so, I assign much of the blame to our American Catholic bishops whose reaction to all this was too little, too late. For years they said little and did less when Catholic politicians screamed their rejection of Church teaching from their bully pulpits in Congress and governors' mansions. Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo,  John Kerry, Chris Dodd, Martin O'Malley...these and too many other Catholic politicians have set an example that millions of uncatechized Catholics have followed. If it's okay for them, it must be okay for me. As one educated layman said to me a few years ago, "My pastor told me it would be sinful to vote against a candidate just because he's pro-choice or favors gay marriage." Comments like that make one wonder about the involvement of that pastor's bishop.

But perhaps this will wake up our bishops, our clergy, and our laity, and turn them into a holy remnant seeking God's will in their lives. Maybe it's exactly what we need. As my pastor said this morning, "It seems we all have a lot of work to do." He's right. The world is littered with so much dirt and squalor and hatred. Millions devote their lives only to the aimless and irresponsible pursuit of pleasure. These are the obvious symptoms of internal decay and corruption, and God will probably allow a purging. As Evelyn Waugh once wrote [Vile Bodies, 1930], there is "a radical instability in our whole world-order, and soon we shall be walking into the jaws of destruction." But we must always remember: even if our entire civilization crumbles around us, the Church will remain.This was promised us.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

VOTE!

"As Catholics we are called to be engaged in the public discourse, to be involved in the political process, and to exercise our obligation to vote in this very important election." - Bishop John Noonan, Diocese of Orlando

Bishop Noonan also appeared in the following 30-second commercial urging voters to consider the critical issues of life and religious freedom as they cast their ballots. I've included it below.



 The bishops of Florida also released the following statement regarding tomorrow's election. I urge you to read it.

The Church affirms that every Catholic is called to prayerful, active, and responsible participation in the political process. We urge all Catholics who are eligible, to register and vote. For those who are ineligible to vote, especially our youth, we suggest that they pray, study, and offer insights during the election process.

In preparation for the November 6 election, certain actions are necessary to properly form our consciences: (1) Study - consult and become familiar with the teachings of the Church and seek accurate information on issues that impact human life and shape our culture; (2) Discuss - actively participate in thoughtful and respectful conversations with family, fellow parishioners and others; (3) Pray - seek wisdom and guidance through prayer and reflection; then (4) Vote - prayerfully and thoughtfully choose by casting our ballots; and (5) Continue to pray during the elections.

From a moral perspective, all issues are not of equal importance or urgency. Some are more fundamental and deal with matters of intrinsic evil, such as abortion and euthanasia, which must always be rejected or opposed and must never be supported or condoned. Let us share our values with a strong voice and use our votes to shape a society that will defend human life, promote human dignity, preserve traditional marriage and the family, and protect religious freedom. As followers of Christ, we are called to build a more just and peaceful world and care for the weak and defenseless. The Gospel command for us to not forget the least of our brethren is central to our rich and God-given faith.

To assist with choices in the voting booth, we invite you to view the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops Candidate Questionnaire Project, which asks candidates “where they stand” on important issues that may come before them as elected officials. In addition to candidates, several proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution will appear on the November 6 ballot. We have issued statements in support of Amendment 6 (Abortion Funding) and Amendment 8 (Religious Liberty) and urge you to vote yes for the passage of both. Candidates’ responses to the questionnaire and statements on the amendments may be viewed at www.flaccb.org. Copies are also available through local parishes.

Each of us has an important role, and our collective efforts can strengthen our nation and renew our Church. Study, discuss, pray, and then vote with an informed conscience on November 6!

In humility, we seek God’s love and blessings on our cherished state and country.
This is a crucial election, perhaps the most important in our lifetime. Please exercise your right to vote.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Ps 126:1-6; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:46-52

A few weeks ago, as we studied John’s Gospel in one of our parish Bible Study sessions, someone asked me why the gospels were so short, why they didn’t tell us more about Jesus and His life. Actually, St. John, at the very end of his Gospel, almost apologizes for this, telling us that the world couldn't hold all the books that would have to be written to tell the full story of Jesus.

I think perhaps too many of us view the gospels simply as a collection of stories about the life of Jesus -- sort of like Boswell's Life of Johnson, only a lot shorter. And so, as we read the gospels, we're often left wondering about what wasn't written. But to do this is to miss the entire point.

You see, the Holy Spirit, in inspiring the gospel writers, knew exactly what He was about. Yes, the gospels are about Jesus, about His life, His teachings, His redemptive passion, death and resurrection -- the centerpiece of human history. And reading them prayerfully certainly brings us closer to Him. But the gospels are also about us, about you and about me. Indeed, we can make a good case for claiming that true conversion to Jesus Christ really begins only when you recognize yourself in the gospel.

The gospels are really a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s their power. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospels illuminate the blind spots in our lives -- the attachments that keep us from full conversion.

Remember the encounter we had two weeks ago? The rich young man who sought out Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. "You are lacking in one thing." Jesus told him. "Sell what you have, give to the poor…come follow me." We can almost feel the man recoil from Jesus, and he went away sad, burdened by his possessions. He came to Jesus sure of his innocence before he Law, but unaware of his weakness before God. He came with a sense that something was missing; but didn’t suspect what it was. For it was everything! His wealth – neither wrongly acquired nor wrongly used – still enslaved him. And for the first time, a great sacrifice was asked of him…but he lacked the heart for it.

Is this materialism our blind spot as well?

And then last Sunday, that other encounter with Jesus? James and John, apostles, brothers, "sons of thunder," the Zebedee boys, so full of zeal…They too asked Jesus a question: “When you come into your glory, may we sit beside you, one on your right and one on your left?”

Jesus' response? "You do not know what you are asking." They too were unprepared for the truth about themselves, about the true nature of their calling. Their status as apostles, their unique relationship with Jesus, filled them with self-importance, the kind that leads to petty rivalries. In essence they said, "Come on, Jesus, tell us that we're better than the others, that we're your favorites."

Oh, yes, they had a blind spot as well -- pride and a lack of Christian humility. We're so much better, they thought, so much holier than the rest. How sad that they can't be like us. And so Jesus illuminates their blind spot: you are called not to be princes, but servants, and you must follow My example in all things, even to the Cross. Of course they don’t understand. It's only later, when confronted by that Cross, that they scatter like scared rabbits, their pride shattered by the reality of Christ's passion and death.

How many of us, blinded by pride, forget that everything comes from God, that we were created in a wondrous act of love, but created to serve, to serve God and to serve each other?

60 years ago I, along with a large group of children, received my First Holy Communion in St. Peter’s Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Among those children was a developmentally disabled boy. He was maybe two or three years older than the rest of us and attended a special school so none of us knew him very well. I can’t even recall his name. But I remember he was seated on the aisle at the end of our pew and when it was time to rise and go forward for Communion, he literally leaped to his feet and said, “Jesus!” -- really scared the rest of us. But that’s how excited he was about receiving Jesus for the first time. And whenever I read today’s Gospel passage I think of him.

Because today we encounter Bartimaeus -- Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, leaping Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho. How different from the other encounters with Jesus.

Jesus was leaving Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross, when He passed by the blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Jesus was accompanied by a “sizable crowd,” Mark tells us, no doubt a noisy, pushy crowd, curious about this Jesus.

When Bartimaeus heard Jesus’ name, he cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." What an interesting thing for this man to say. Like all who encountered Jesus, Bartimaeus knew there was something special, something prophetic, something divine, about Him. And so Bartimaeus didn't hold back. In faith he uses the Messianic title, "Son of David" and by doing so proclaims Christ's mission to the world.

His request? So simple: "Have mercy on me." Yes, like all of us, he’s a sinner, filled with weakness, in need of mercy. His blind spot? Strictly a physical one.

The disciples try to shut him up, this beggar, this blind man who's what? An embarrassment? But Bartimaeus won’t comply. He won’t be silenced: "Son of David, have mercy on me."

And Jesus stops. "Call him," He says.

Notice how solicitous the others suddenly become, but how patronizingly solicitous. "Take Heart," they say, "Rise, He is calling you." As if to say, "Remember, Jesus is very important, and unlike us, you're just a worthless beggar. But for some reason Jesus wants to talk to you." But Bartimaeus, in his blindness, is focused not on these others, but on Jesus alone.

And so he leaps to his feet, throws off his cloak, that symbol of his status as a beggar, and makes his way, through his own personal darkness, directly to Jesus. Jesus asks him the same exact question He asked James and John in last Sunday's Gospel: "What do you want me to do for you?"
But the answer is something quite different. Having already admitted his sinfulness, and tasted Jesus' mercy in his heart, Bartimaeus asks for one thing: "Master, I want to see."

How does Jesus respond to this? Not, as we might expect, with, "Receive your sight." No, Jesus simply says, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."

Instantly Bartimaeus can see. And he went, but not his way. No, as Mark tells us, he follows Jesus on the way. For it is Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

You see, unlike the young rich man, unlike the apostles, in his faith, Bartimaeus really had no blind spots whatsoever. His physical blindness was a mere technicality. Bartimaeus knew exactly what he was -- not a blind beggar, but a sinner in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. “Master, I want to see” – not to see with his eyes. No, he wanted to be cured of spiritual blindness so he could see the way, the truth, and the life.

And so we’re each left with a question: Where do I see myself in the Gospel? Am I like the rich young man, blinded and enslaved by my possessions, so wrapped up in the world that to follow Jesus is unthinkable? Or am I like James and John, so caught up in myself that I lose sight of God's call to love and serve Him and His people?

Let us pray today that, like Bartimaeus, we can all turn to the Father in humility, begging for His mercy, and that we too may see the way He has planned for each of us.

Catholic Vote: Prayer for America

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Heroines Today

After posting the story earlier today about the French Trappist monks who sacrificed their lives in Algeria in 1996, I thought it might be uplifting to hear about another group of Trappists, in this instance a small group of Italian nuns, who live in a monastery in the western Syrian village of Azeir.
Cistercian Nuns in front of their monastery in Azeir, Syria

Like Algeria in the 1990s, Syria today is suffering from the effects of a gruesome civil war, a war in which both sides have been guilty of horrible atrocities. Although the majority of these atrocities have been committed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the rebel forces have become increasingly brutal as more and more Islamist extremists join their ranks. In the midst of all this violence and chaos, five Cistercian nuns carry on at their small Monastery of Valserena, determined to remain as a sign of Christ's presence. As their superior, Sister Monica, stated, "...we are part of this community and cannot leave at a time of trial. Its fate is our fate...Christians are called to bear witness to it [Christian hope] in the world. Since we have been called to Syria, why leave?"

The nuns ask us all to pray for the people of Syria who have experienced so much tragedy in their lives since the civil war began early last year.  Pray too for these courageous women.

Read more here and here.

Heroes on Film

Yesterday Dear Diane and I went to the movies, something we don't do very often. But it was out 44th anniversary, so movies and dinner seemed like a good choice. We saw the Ben Affleck film, "Argo," very loosely based on the escape of a group of American diplomats from revolutionary Iran in the midst of the 1979 hostage crisis. The movie tells an interesting story with a good Hollywood, edge-of-your-seat ending, but unfortunately it's also highly inaccurate in too many critical areas. I can understand the filmmakers adding some excitement to turn the story into more of a thriller. One expects that in a movie. But I am mystified as to why they felt the need to rewrite Iranian history, downplay the role of the Canadians, and misrepresent the role of both the UK and New Zealand. It was an okay movie, though, and told a story of regular, if not particularly likable, folks who were thrust into a situation demanding courage if not heroism. I actually enjoyed our later dinner at a local Mexican restaurant much more than the movie.
The Seven Martyred Trappists

If you want to watch a film depicting true heroism, let me recommend "Of Gods and Men," the story of a group of French Cistercian monks caught up in the 1990s civil war in another Muslim country, Algeria. These Trappists from Our Lady of Atlas monastery, about 40 miles south of Algiers, decided to remain despite death threats from Islamist militants. They even refused military protection, not because they wanted to die, but because the local villages couldn't also be protected. The monks enjoyed an excellent relationship with their Muslim neighbors, helping the poor and providing free medical care. These men, then, placed their trust in God, knowing that they would all likely be killed. As it happened, in March 1996, seven of the monks were abducted by nearly 20 members of the Armed Islamic Group, and were beheaded two months later after France refused to negotiate the release of detainees. Read more here. I've included the film's trailer below.


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