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

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Reflection: Morning Prayer, Sunday, April 26, 2015

This past weekend Dear Diane and I joined other deacons and their wives on a couples retreat sponsored by the Office of the Permanent Diaconate of the Diocese of Orlando. It was a wonderful retreat, conducted by Fr. Daniel Renaud, OMI, and held at the San Pedro Center in Winter Park, Florida. The theme of the retreat centered discipleship and was based on the beautiful passage from Luke's Gospel describing the two disciples who are joined by the risen Jesus on their walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus [Lk 24:13-35].

I was honored to be asked to lead Sunday Morning Prayer in the chapel. The reading, which I have included below, is from Acts 10 and consists entirely of the words of St. Peter as he preaches to the Roman Centurion, Cornelius, and his household. After the reading I shared the following brief reflection with my brother deacons and their wives.
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"Yes, this man God raised (on) the third day and granted that he be visible, not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” – Acts 10:40-43
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What a wonderful passage. These are, of course, St. Peter’s words. In fact, Peter is preaching to the Gentiles for the first time, to the Centurion Cornelius and his household.
Peter at the home of Cornelius the Centurion

Peter begins by summing up the Good News of Jesus Christ, and at the same time lets us know what God desires of each of us.

Jesus, who died on the Cross, has been “raised up on the third day” [Acts 10:40]. He’s alive! He eats and drinks and walks and talks among the faithful, just as He did with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Yes, Jesus lives. He’s no disembodied spirit. Indeed, His glorified body bears the marks of His passion and death. How fitting that these marks remain eternally, a constant reminder of God’s enduring love.

But there’s more Good News. His Resurrection brings the fulfillment of a promise; for we, too, shall rise. The longed-for hope of humanity is finally realized. Death is overcome by eternal life.

Is it any wonder Jesus so often tells the disciples not to fear? Yes, the Good News just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?

Peter now echoes what the Lord told the disciples along the road to Emmaus: “…beginning with Moses and all the prophets…” [Lk 24:27] Yes, “beginning with Moses,” the law-giver. Peter goes on to tell us that Jesus “is the one appointed by God as judge…” [Acts 10:42] That’s right. Jesus is the judge of the living and the dead – the judge who fulfills the Law and brings it to its perfection.

But perfection means more than justice, certainly more than human justice. For in Jesus we come face to face with divine justice, a justice tempered by mercy. As we stand before Him we see the marks of His passion, the marks of God’s love, the wounds of His mercy…and pouring out of them comes hope and forgiveness.

How did Peter put it? “…everyone who believes in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name” [Acts 10:43]. Yes, through Jesus, and only through Jesus, comes our salvation.

The Road to Emmaus
But Jesus is more than a judge. He fulfills more than the Law. Just as Jesus told the disciples on the way to Emmaus, Peter reminds us…“To Him all the prophets bear witness...” [Acts 10:43] All the prophets point to Jesus: He is the Word of God made flesh and through Him the Word of God revealed is brought to fulfillment. Indeed, as Christians we don’t read the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament, for its own sake, but always with Christ and through Christ and in Christ. Jesus Christ, the Lord of History, fulfills all.

Then, in the very heart of this passage, Peter reveals exactly what’s expected of the disciple… and, brothers and sisters, that includes us. We are called to “preach to the people and testify” [Acts 10:42] – to bear witness to Jesus Christ. It’s a call back to the basics, to the very core of our faith, to the core of our diaconal ministry.

And, yes, it might be our ministry, but we must never forget it's God's work. As the psalmist prayed, "Non nobis, Domine..." -- "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory" [Ps 115:1].

It's a ministry that will get no easier, for the world may deny Jesus Christ, but we, His disciples, His servants, cannot.

The world can imprison us, but it can’t imprison the Truth.

It can silence us, but it can’t silence the Word of God.

It can even execute us, but it can never kill God’s enduring love.

The Word of God will always sound through the lives of God’s faithful ones.

Even our own sinfulness can’t silence it, because Jesus Christ heals all who come to him. The personal tragedies of our lives can’t silence it. We might be tested, but if the Word of God is deeply rooted in our hearts, we’ll survive the test. Even when we’re unfaithful, Christ remains faithful to us.

We’ve been given a mission, brothers and sisters, one that Pope Francis, Peter’s successor, reminds us of today. We are called to bear witness to Christ crucified and risen from the dead, to testify, through our lives, to the Good News of God's mercy and forgiveness, to remind the world that God is love.

And we’re called to return that love to Jesus; for Jesus is the poor, He is the homeless, the hungry, the dispossessed, the rejected; Jesus is the ill and the dying. Yes, we are called to remind the world of God’s love and to do so without fear.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Diplomacy of St. John Paul

I just received the latest issue of First Things, one of the few journals I could not do without. If you don't subscribe to First Things I urge you to do so. You won't regret it unless you dislike being challenged...end of commercial.

Opening this latest issue I turned first to the lead article, Lessons in Statecraft, by George Weigel. Weigel, probably best known as the historian-biographer of the papacy of St. John Paul II, offers the reader a glimpse of the pope-saint as diplomat and statesman. Although this great pope was first and foremost a man of faith, he was also, out of necessity, a world leader who, as Weigel suggests, used a "different toolkit" from that of the typical politician and diplomat. The times, typified by the ongoing cold war waged between East and West, demanded the active presence of a witness who could stand on the global stage and call for the defense of religious freedom. And more than anything else, St. John Paul II was a true witness who, as if responding to Joe Stalin's famous question -- "The Pope? How many divisions has he got?" -- simply says, "The Church doesn't need armies. She has Jesus Christ."

In his article Weigel offers seven "lessons" distilled from the statecraft of this remarkable pope. I'll list them here, along with just a brief comment or two, but I hope you will take the time to read Weigel's entire article. One can only hope that our current generation of politicians and diplomats, who have made such a mess of the world, will also read it and perhaps take a few of these lessons to heart.

Lesson 1: Culture drives history. John Paul rejected the prevailing ideologies that fallaciously assume history is driven by politics, or power, or materialism, or economics, or any other "ism". History, he believed, is driven by culture. As Weigel says, "...at the center of culture is cult, or religion: what people believe, cherish, and worship; what people are willing to stake their lives, and their children's lives, on." I first encountered this lesson many years ago in the writings of Christopher Dawson, one of the last century's greatest historians. If you haven't read Dawson, do so. Perhaps the best overview of his thought can be found in Dynamics of World History.

Lesson 2: Ideas count, for good and for ill. Few of today's politicians seem to understand this truth. Too many see movements like Jihadism and dismiss its stated beliefs, the ideas that brought it to life, as irrelevant and attribute its existence to more convenient and politically correct causes. Pope John Paul took ideas seriously because he realized how powerful they were.

Lesson 3: Don't psychologize the adversary. Trying to change the behavior of ideologues through psychological means -- "If we're nice to them they'll forget about making that bomb" -- will always be perceived as weakness by the adversary who will inevitably take advantage of what is offered. An ideologue is, in effect, a slave to his ideology and will use all available means to advance it.

Lesson 4: Speak loudly and be supple in deploying whatever sticks, large or small, you have at hand. Pope John Paul, probably as a result of his years spent under both Nazi and Communist rule, understood the power of the bully pulpit and used it to perfection. He also knew when to approach a situation as a "quiet persuader" to achieve the ends he sought.

Lesson 5: Listen to the martyrs. For almost two decades the persecuted Christians behind the Iron Curtain were largely ignored in the hope that such appeasement would lessen future persecution. It didn't. Pope John Paul, who had witnessed martyrdom firsthand, realized this and didn't hesitate to publicly acknowledge "the witness of [the Church's] sons and daughters who had taken the risk of freedom and paid the price for it."

Lesson 6: Think long-term and do not sacrifice core principles to what seems immediate advantage. Pope John Paul understood well the Church's core values and would do nothing to jeopardize them. The Church, for example, cannot be true to its primary mission of evangelization if it enters into agreements with political powers that place severe limitations on its ability to carry out this mission. Or, as Weigel states when describing the pope's refusal to agree to a political accommodation proposed by Poland's communist government, "In John Paul II's ecclesiology, the Church could not be a partisan political actor because that role contradicted the Eucharistic character of the Church."

Lesson 7: Media "reality" isn't necessarily reality. Pope John Paul II knew that the secular media, even those so-called "experts" on Church affairs, really don't have a clue when it comes to the Catholic Church. Almost universally they tend to view and report on the Church through lenses colored by their political and cultural biases. In other words, they are almost always wrong. Because they are largely irreligious, most media types consider religion to be irrelevant and fail to recognize the importance of religious issues to the majority of humanity. 

I hope my brief description of these lessons will lead you to read George Weigel's article and also encourage you to subscribe to First Things

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Homily: Saturday, Octave of Easter

Readings: Acts 4:13-21; Ps 118; Mk 16:9-15
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Today, as we approach the end of the Easter Octave, our eight-day celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, we find in it the perfect sign of hope. The Resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love. Really, could God provide us with any better guarantee of what He has in store for us?

What I have done for My Son, I will do also for you. As My Son is now with me in glory, so too will you come and dwell with us in eternal happiness. You need only do what the Son asks of you: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15].

These words – “Repent and believe in the Gospel” – are among the first words of Jesus we encounter in Mark’s Gospel. As a writer, Mark didn’t elaborate a lot, but just gave us the bare-bones facts. Indeed, he begins his Gospel with another matter-of-fact statement: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” [Mk 1:1]

No theological subtleties there. No, Mark gets right to the point of it all: Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and the Son of God. It’s as if Mark is telling his reader: Just keep that in mind as you read this Gospel and all will become clear.

The passage from today’s Gospel reading is no different and includes some of the final verses of Mark’s Gospel. The last verse of this passage is equally straightforward, with the risen Jesus telling His small band of eleven apostles: “Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature” [Mk 16:15]. No exclusions, no dispensations, no excuses. You and all those who follow you – and, that, brothers and sisters, includes you and me – must proclaim the Gospel always and to everyone.
"Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel..."
And, remember, these 11 apostles weren’t the most faithful of disciples; and the death of Jesus had pretty much dissolved what little faith they had. They certainly didn’t expect a resurrected Jesus. After all, they believe neither Mary Magdalene nor the two disciples who had encountered our Lord on the road to Emmaus. No, it took Jesus Himself to convince them; and even then they were filled with doubts. It was so bad that Jesus, when He appeared to them, actually chewed them out “for their unbelief and hardness of heart” [Mk 16:14].

But, wasting no time, Jesus continued and gave them that final command, His great commission to proclaim the Gospel to all the world. Matthew, in his Gospel, adds a bit more: “Go therefore,” Jesus commands, “and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…” [Mt 28:19-20]

But regardless of the version, it’s kind of a scary command, isn’t it? After all, how much Gospel proclaiming have you and I done this week…this month…this year? I suspect it was scary too for the disciples who actually heard Jesus say it. If His Resurrection were unexpected, then this command was even more so.

“It is impossible for us not to speak..."
But then everything changes! We encounter the power of the Holy Spirit, and we see how, in an instant, He can change minds and hearts. His power is manifested in the remarkable witness of the Apostles in today’s reading from Acts. Peter and John, these fishermen, these “uneducated, ordinary men” [Acts 4:13], were doing miraculous things in Jesus’ name while proclaiming the Gospel throughout Jerusalem. They did so because, in their words, “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard” [Acts 4:20].

And so, if you’re a little behind in your Gospel proclaiming, recall again those first words of Jesus: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” -- for they are the key. Immerse yourself in the sacrament of Reconciliation; in repentance let the Holy Spirit shower you with His grace. Open yourself up to Him in prayer. Ask Him to guide you, to help you proclaim the Gospel by living the Gospel, so you, too, will be a witness to the Good News of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.