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, July 31, 2015

The Church Under Attack

Sometimes the contrast is difficult to bear. Here I am, a deacon assigned to a large, growing parish in a beautiful, Florida retirement community where my biggest concerns are centered on effecting a reasonable balance between my "retirement time" and the time I devote to the various ministries in which I'm active. And if I'm not careful and lose my sense of spiritual direction, I can develop an almost self-righteous attitude toward it all -- "Yes, I do so much for the parish and for those in need." -- when, in reality, I do nothing, nothing at all. The Church does opus Dei, the work of God, and indeed it can do absolutely nothing, at any rate, nothing good, without the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. And although I realize God has commissioned us to preach His Word to all people, even to fairly affluent retirees in sunny Florida, I cannot ignore the contrast between my ministry and that of others throughout our bent world.

This was brought home to me the other day when I opened a fund-raising letter from Aid to the Church in Need. Every week I probably receive three or four such letters from various charities and ministries asking for financial support. I've come to accept that my name and address are on every Church-related mailing list, guaranteeing that my mailbox will never be empty. Although I cannot help them all and still pay the bills, I respond to some of these pleas with a small donation. But the contents of this particular plea caught my attention. For those of you who aren't familiar with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), it's a Catholic charity guided and blessed by Pope Francis and his predecessors. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI strongly supported ACN, calling it "a gift of Providence for our time." ACN's mission is simple: "to help suffering and persecuted faithful worldwide" by strengthening the Church and keeping the Faith alive wherever it is threatened. As you might imagine, in recent years the challenge of accomplishing this mission has increased dramatically.

Iraqi Christian Refugees
Coptic Church Set Afire in Egypt

I've written about the global persecution of Christians on many occasions, but I don't believe I've ever discussed ACN and its work. Formed in 1947, ACN was "born out of the ashes of World War II" to assist those who found themselves homeless and dispossessed. My family spent a year in Germany only a few years after the war and I recall seeing refugee camps in which "displaced persons" or "DPs", as they were then called, were forced to live. Many of these were Jewish survivors of the holocaust, others who had been interred by the Nazis in labor, POW or concentration camps, and refugees who had fled to the West in advance of the Soviet Army. Despite my young age -- at the time I was only a seven-year-old -- the sight of one of these sprawling camps remains a most vivid memory. See photos below...
DP Camp in Germany - late 40s, early 50s
Residents of a DP Camp near Hamburg pose for a photo

One of the more shameful episodes of our history involved the forced repatriation of too many of these refugees who were subsequently imprisoned or even executed by the Communist regimes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. At this same time, the 1950s, ACN was working behind the scenes in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary and Poland, assisting the persecuted Church. ACN later expanded its reach to assist the Church in Latin America, Africa and Asia. From its beginning ACN was committed to accomplishing its mission in a spirit of reconciliation as it helped the Church wherever the need was greatest.


After reading ACN's fundraising letter I visited the charity's website where one encounters current reports of remarkable faith in the face of the most horrendous persecution. As you might expect most of these reports originate in the Middle East and Africa where Islamist jihadists are attempting to destroy the Church through violence, intimidation and other forms of persecution. The secular media has seemingly made a conscious effort to avoid reporting on the worldwide persecution of Christians, so it's only through the work of ACN and similar organizations that we learn of this growing threat to eliminate Christianity from regions where it has been a real presence since the time of the Apostles. Visit ACN's website to see for yourself what is happening to the Church in some of these nations.

Living as we do in relative peace and security, it's hard not to ask oneself, "Would I be as courageous as these Christians who, though confronted by violent persecution and the threat of martyrdom, have kept the faith?" After all, how many of us actually defend our faith and the Church when confronted by someone who attacks either with mere words? Why risk a quarrel and the possibility of hurt feelings when we're just talking about a matter of opinion? Yes, when it's under attack the Truth becomes just a matter of opinion and we remain silent.

The reality, of course, is that as Christians we must defend the Truth. And we should do so openly, prayerfully, and with love. As Blessed John Henry Newman said, "It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing."

Pope Benedict with the Patriarch
I hope all who read this will consider supporting Aid to the Church in Need. You can do so via the secure donation page of their website: Donate. And if you can't afford a financial donation, please donate your time each day by praying for the Church persecuted. 

The Patriarch of the Catholic Chaldean Church in Iraq, Louis Raphael I Sako, has written a prayer which he asks all Christians to pray daily -- imagine the effect it would have:

O Lord, the plight of Iraq and Syria is deep and the suffering of the Christians is heavy and frightening. We ask you, Lord, to give us peace and stability to live with each other without fear, anxiety, with dignity and joy. Glory to You, forever. Amen.
Pope Francis with the Chaldean Patriarch
Such a simple prayer, but truly a Christian prayer. The attitude of the Patriarch is mirrored by Bishop Ambroise Ouédraogo in the African nation of Niger. After Muslims rioted and destroyed Christian churches, the Muslim community was amazed that Niger’s Catholic bishops immediately proclaimed forgiveness of the perpetrators. In the bishop's words, "They set fire to our churches, but our hearts are still ablaze with love for them. Christian or Muslim—God wishes good fortune for all people.” How many of us could be so forgiving?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

World War One Redux

In a recent post, Tree Hugging, I mentioned World War One during a discussion of the poet, Joyce Kilmer, who died in combat during that war. And then yesterday evening I happened to catch a report on the historical ignorance of many young Americans. The reporter had asked a sampling of high school and college students a few seemingly simple questions, among them: When did World War One take place? and Whom did the United States fight in World War One? According to the reporter, a significant majority could not answer either question accurately. He said if they came within five or ten years on the first question he gave them credit, and he did the same on the second question if they could name just one of the enemy combatants. By the way, he asked similar questions about World War Two, sadly with similar results. How did Edmund Burke put it? “Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.”(Burke, by the way, was the first to say this, long before similar words were uttered by the philosopher, George Santayana, who often gets the credit.) All of this got me thinking once again about this surprising war. I call it "surprising" because at the time it seemed to take so much of the world by surprise.
Over the top: Into the Valley of Death
Have you thought much about World War One lately? After all, last year we celebrated, if I may use that word, the centennial of the start of that war in August 1914. And for the next three years many books and articles addressing the war and its causes and consequences will doubtless appear. Some will be written by authors bent on viewing the past through the filters of their present-day ideologies. But I expect a good number will be written by historians and others who will make a sincere effort to uncover and present the truth about the conflict and those who took part.
Irish Troops in the Trenches: Somme
Over the years I've actually collected quite a few books on World War One, and during the past few months I've been reading (and rereading) a few of them. Of course, Barbara Tuchman's award-winning history, The Guns of August (1962), tells the dramatic story of the months immediately prior to World War One. As I recall I first read the book during my last week of freedom before entering the U. S. Naval Academy in June 1963. 
In the Trenches: the Living among the Dead
David Fromkin's 2004 book, Europe's Last Summer, also addresses the period leading up to the war, although the author offers a different and perhaps more controversial explanation of its causes. And while I don't necessarily agree with all of Fromkin's conclusions, he does present an interesting case. 

I also found Joseph Persico's book on the war's climatic ending, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour (2004), a fascinating read. This book fills a historical void by describing the final day of the war in remarkable detail. 

Historian Margaret MacMillan wrote about the Paris peace talks of 1919 and the resulting Treaty of Versailles which, instead of ensuring World War One was "the war to end all wars" actually set the stage for the even greater destruction of World War Two. Her book, Paris 1919, gives the reader a front-row seat at the six months of talks that set that stage for another century of conflict that remains with us today. 
J.R.R. Tolkien and the Trenches of World War One
And for fans of J.R.R. Tolkien, I recommend John Garth's Tolkien and the Great War (2003). Garth looks to Tolkien's combat service during World War One to uncover the roots of his famous trilogy, The Lord of the Rings. A young Army lieutenant, Tolkien managed to survive the Somme, a horrendous battle that took the lives of two of his closest friends, along with 300,000 others on both sides. Garth makes a strong case that Tolkien's subsequent writings were greatly influenced by his wartime experiences in which he witnessed first-hand the war's devastation. Another book on a related subject is Joseph Loconte's A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War in which the author examines the influence of World War One on the writings of both Tolkien and C. S. Lewis. I have not yet read this book, so I really can't comment on it, but from the reviews I've read, it sounds interesting. I expect it will eventually find its way into my library.


Maurice Baring
But the books I have enjoyed the most are those written by contemporaries, especially those who played an active role in the war. One of my literary heroes, a man too often overlooked, is Maurice Baring. Novelist, poet, playwright, diplomat, world traveler and travel writer, and a close friend of G. K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc, Baring led a most remarkable and adventurous life. During the war he was a ground officer assigned to the staff of the legendary Boom Trenchard (aka, 1st Viscount Hugh Trenchard) who was busy in France creating the Royal Flying Corps. Closely associated with those early combat aviators, Baring wrote a wonderful book based on his diaries and describing his experiences: R.F.C.  H.Q.  1914-1918. For anyone interested in the early days of military aviation, it's a must read. If you'd like to know more about Baring the man, I suggest reading his fascinating autobiography, The Puppet Show of Memory. He's one of those people you wish you had known.


H. H. Munro ("Saki")
Another of the tragic casualties of World War One was H. H. Munro, the author of so many marvelously funny short stories who wrote under the pen name of Saki. Like Joyce Kilmer, Munro would not accept an officer's commission but decided to enter the Army as a common soldier, even though his age would normally exempt him from service. And like Kilmer he too was killed by a German sniper. Munro was 43 when he entered the Army and 45 when he died. Although I recommend anything written by Munro, I especially enjoyed his short novel, When William Came. Published in 1913, a year before the start of the war, it's a bit of a fantasy describing an authoritarian occupation of Great Britain after it loses a war to Germany. In writing the novel Munro makes the case that in a world where evil exists the best way to ensure peace is to be prepared for war. 

And lastly, about 30 years ago, while nosing about in a now-defunct local bookstore in Harwich on Cape Cod (Staten Hook Books), I came across several copies of the monthly publication, Current History. First published in 1914 by the New York Times, it is still published today but by a private publisher. Anyway, I found a dozen copies dating from 1915 through 1920 and purchased them all at a dollar apiece. Each issue consists of about 200 pages of articles, commentary, photographs, and political cartoons on the war, its causes, and its aftermath. The issues covering the peace talks and the formation of the League of Nations are particularly fascinating and include complete speeches and commentary by many of the actual participants. I was also intrigued by the articles covering the revolution in Russia as it was happening. Just to give you an idea of the content of these monthlies, I've included a few covers (below) from 1917 and 1919. (Click each to enlarge.)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tree Hugging

Sgt Joyce Kilmer (1918)
A month or so ago, while browsing at a used book store, I came across a two-volume edition of Joyce Kilmer's writings, including his poetry, prose and letters. In excellent condition and offered at a very low price, the set was irresistible ...and so I bought it. As you may know, Kilmer was killed in June 1918 by a sniper's bullet during World War I. In fact, I mentioned Kilmer briefly last September in a post memorializing some of the writers who lost their lives in that horrendous war. Kilmer was a Catholic convert and lived in my home town of Larchmont, NY for a time, so, although dead, he was a local celebrity of sorts. 

Anyway, this morning I finally got around to checking out the two-volume set. When I opened Volume One I turned first to what is certainly Kilmer's most famous poem, "Trees", and was surprised to discover that I still remembered every line. I believe it was Sister Mary Andrew, my seventh-grade teacher at St. Augustine School, who insisted we memorize certain poems, including this one by Kilmer. In a way I suppose this sparked my lifelong appreciation of trees.

"Trees" is one of those poems that was (and likely still is) despised by many of Kilmer's fellow poets but is nevertheless loved by the people. Its brevity, its simplicity in rhyme and meter, and its focus on God's creative touch appeal to all but the most sophisticated and cynical. These same attributes, as Sister Mary Andrew evidently knew, also made it easy to memorize.
I think that I shall never see
A Poem as lovely as a tree.

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the earth's sweet flowing breast;

A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;

A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;

Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.

Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
To me Kilmer's poem always calls to mind the beautiful hymn of praise sung by the three young men in King Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace (see Daniel 3:52-90) in which all of God's Creation is called on to "praise and exalt Him above all forever." 

Although I appreciate trees, I really know very little about them. Indeed, their biology represents one of the many voids in my education. I know only a few basic facts: that maple trees provide us with wonderful syrup for my pancakes and waffles; that deciduous trees caused me to spend many hours raking their leaves when I lived up North; that many cute little creatures (squirrels, birds, etc.) make their homes in trees; that the age of some trees can be calculated by the rings of their trunks. I suppose I know some other stuff about trees, but not much more. I'm somewhat ashamed of my vast tree ignorance particularly since I so enjoy their presence.

I especially like old trees. As my children and grandchildren will tell you, my favorite tree is an old European Weeping Beech tree located on the grounds of the Captain Bangs Hallet House in Yarmouth Port on Cape Cod. (Here's a link to a description: Old Cape Cod Weeping Beech.) For 25 years we lived only a few miles from this wonderful tree and would occasionally stop by to visit when on our way to the nearby frog pond and nature trails. While this tree is still a youngster, probably less than 200 years old, it has a uniqueness and beauty that sets it apart from most other trees. 


I've included some photos (below) taken just two months ago during a recent trip to visit family on Cape Cod. In the first, one can see that the tree's branches stretch down to the ground forming a magnificent full canopy. In the others one gets a sense of how the branches seem to grow haphazardly in all directions. It's really quite a tree.
Bang Hallet European Weeping Beech

The Beech's Trunk from Below

Under the Canopy

Tree and Sun

Back in my high school years when I first read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I was especially taken by the Ents, that race of giant, mobile, slow-talking, tree-like humanoids who inhabited Middle earth and helped rid the neighborhood of the evil Saruman. It seems the Ents, like the trees they cared for, lived extraordinarily long lives. I can't recall whether Tolkien actually mentions the typical lifespan of an Ent, but I think one of these fictional creatures would be hard-pressed to exceed the lifespans of some of the trees living in our world today. Of course Tolkien was the consummate tree-hugger. Here he is (below) next to one of his favorite trees in Oxford, an old black pine which sadly had to be cut down for safety reasons last year.
J.R.R. Tolkien Greeting One of His Favorites
All this talk of trees called to mind an article I stumbled across recently while searching for something completely unrelated to trees. The article focused on several trees, specifically yews, growing in Wales. The age of some of these remarkable trees is estimated at 5,000 years. In other words, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, these ancient trees were already very old, 3,000 years old. When Abraham had folded his tent in Ur and begun his long trek to the Promised Land, they were 1,000 years old. I've included a photo of one ancient yew growing in a churchyard in the village of Defynnog. It's really quite spectacular, don't you think? If I ever get to Wales, I'll have to pay a visit to one of these trees.
Ancient Yew in Defynnog, Wales
The article on the old, Welsh yews is worth your time -- assuming you want to know more about old trees -- so I've included a link here: The Ancient, Sacred, Regenerative, Death-defying Yew.

There are, of course, many old trees scattered throughout the world: baobab trees in Africa, cypress trees right here in Florida, ancient oaks on almost all continents. But it seems there might be some controversy as to which living tree is actually the world's oldest. As I read about the Welsh yews I recalled something I had read years ago about ancient pine trees growing in America's West. It seems many of the oldest of these bristlecone pines live in California's high country. Experts estimate that some of them, like the Welsh yews, are upwards of 5,000 years old. Unfortunately, they are not particularly attractive trees and, to me at least, resemble glorified stumps, but I suppose like many of us they don't all age gracefully. I've included a photo below so you can make up your own mind.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine - California's Inyo National Forest
Trying to sort out the controversy, I discovered that the yews and pines are actually youngsters when compared to some other trees that are thought to be far older. For example, there's a spruce tree in Sweden that researchers claim is 9,550 years old. When discovered a few years ago, it was thought to be the world's oldest living tree. It actually looks rather ordinary for a creature that predates history itself (see photo below). It reminds me of Charlie Brown's pathetic but sincere little Christmas Tree. You can read about its discovery here: World's Oldest Tree.
Very Old Swedish Spruce

I was sure this Swedish tree had set the record, but then I came across a truly ancient tree. It seems there are eucalyptus trees in New South Wales, Australia -- only five are known to have survived -- that the experts believe to be 13,000 years old. I've included a photo (below) of one of these unusual trees. It's even less attractive than the bristlecone pine.
Australian 13,000-year-old Eucalyptus
Finally, I heard about Palmer's Oak in Riverside, California which is also believed to be nearly 13,000 years old. Like Australia's ancient eucalyptus, it looks more like a shrub than a tree, but perhaps its low profile has helped it survive over the millennia. It is described here and can be seen in the below photo:
13,000-year-old Palmer's Oak in Riverside, California

And so, when it comes to trees, age and beauty don't always coincide. I will always love my weeping beech, along with the huge (now sadly departed) oak tree that stood tall in the back yard of my childhood home. In our front yard grew two wonderful climbing trees -- Japanese Maples -- in which I spent many a summer afternoon seated comfortably among their branches while reading a book. I suppose, like Tolkien, I too am a bit of a tree-hugger, and I thank God for the gift of these wonderful creations.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Trump, McCain and Keyes

Alan Keyes
A few years ago a friend, who happens to be solidly fused to the far left, jokingly (I think) accused me of being a racist because I had criticized the president and hadn't voted for him. Imagine his reaction when I informed him that I had voted for a black man for president long before he had even heard of Barack Obama. "Who?" he challenged. "Why Alan Keyes, of course. I voted for him in the 2,000 Republican primary." 

This week a different friend, a conservative, issued another challenge when he complained that I had supported John McCain in a recent post (Dump Trump) in which I had severely criticized Donald Trump for his now-famous comments about McCain's years as a POW. Actually, I don't believe I expressed any political support for McCain in that post. Indeed, I never once mentioned McCain's politics but confined my comments to his time as a POW in Hanoi. Did I vote for McCain in 2008? Yes, although I considered him a weak candidate who would likely ensure the election of a far more dangerous and politically savvy Barack Obama. I remain no fan of Senator McCain but I honor his naval service and especially his years of brutal imprisonment by the communists of North Vietnam. My criticism of Donald Trump, who admittedly knows how to say what people want to hear, relates to his character. He appears to me to be the ultimate populist, an opportunist whose record shows clearly that he's willing to change allegiances on a dime. I simply don't trust him.

Given the above, it's only fitting that Alan Keyes, Donald Trump and John McCain should be brought together, at least in print. Alan Keyes, a much smarter man than I, has done just that as he addresses the Trump-McCain brouhaha here: Trump Ignores the Senator, Insults the POW.

I'll make an effort to refrain from political posts in the future.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Aliens? Not!

Jeff Sweitzer, a science policy advisor in Bill Clinton's administration, has come happily unglued since NASA reported the discovery of an Earth-like planet in another star system. This planet, cleverly named Kepler 452b (which I'll just call "Kep" from now on), seems to bear some resemblance to our own dear Earth. It's about 50% larger than Earth, has a 385-day year, and according to NASA might even have a rocky surface and might have water...but that's about it. That's also a lot of "mights". In other words, NASA scientists really know very little about Kep. 

One thing we know for certain is that Kep is a mere 1,400 light years distant from us. For the astronomically challenged, this means that what we can see of Kep is light that left the planet sometime around 600 A.D. A lot has happened since then. Indeed, what we see of this newly discovered planet actually took place when Muhammad was just kicking off his military conquests of the Middle East and North Africa. It was also the time of St. Isadore of Seville, sometimes called the last scholar of the ancient world because he compiled a sort of encyclopedia containing excerpts of many ancient books that would otherwise have been lost. Farther north, the other St. Augustine, the first archbishop of Canterbury, was In the midst of converting the Anglo-Saxons of Britain to Christianity. I suspect that all sorts of exciting things were also taking place in China, India, Africa and Tierra del Fuego, but I have neither the time nor the energy to find out. Anyway, I'm kind of a Western Civilization guy.

Back to Dr. Schweitzer (presumably no relation to Albert), who is convinced the discovery of Kep will kill off God. The good scientist has decided this discovery means that extraterrestrial life, including other civilizations, must exist on planets like Kep. Since God did not reveal the existence of alien life on other planets in the Bible, Christian Scriptures must be phony and God is simply a figment of our fertile imaginations. Don't you just love it? One wonders whether Dr. Schweitzer might have confirmed his theory by visiting Kep via a nearby wormhole. Hey, could happen.

Here are two links that address the discovery. 

The first is a New York Times story of the discovery: Earth-like Kepler 452b Discovered

The second discusses Dr. Schweitzer and his beliefs: New Planet Bad News for God

Personally, I believe -- and have always believed -- that, despite the extraordinary size of the universe, we Earthlings are unique and completely alone. In other words, I've always considered science fiction to be fiction. So far no one has proved me wrong.

Laudato Si -- The Pope Speaks

A few days ago, early, before the Florida sun burned too hot, Maddie and I took our usual morning walk. Maddie is our little Bichon Frise (that's a dog for all you cat lovers), and she and I walk together twice daily. The length of these walks varies -- sometimes a mile, sometimes two miles, sometimes more -- and so too does the direction. I usually let Maddie decide which way to turn as we depart the driveway. It's the least I can do for this loving creature who spends so much of her life obeying others.


An egret
On this particular morning Maddie turned left and led me to a pond about a quarter-mile from our home. It is, of course, an artificial pond, one placed purposely alongside our street which bisects an executive golf course. Our retirement community, The Villages, has kindly placed several benches there so one can sit quietly and watch the waterbirds or listen to the song birds. And so I sat while Maddie engaged in her life's work of sniffing every blade of grass she encounters.

Because it was so early, barely past sunrise, few humans or canines were up and about. Maddie and I could, therefore, more fully appreciate the remarkable beauty and quiet sounds of God's creation. No golf carts, no garbage trucks, no landscapers with their pick-ups and trailers, no handymen hammering, no unnatural noises, just the sound of Maddie quietly sniffing and the plaintive cooing of a mourning dove perched above me in a small magnolia tree. At the edge of the pond, just a few yards from my bench, two great egrets stood motionless, solemnly watching the antics of an anhinga or "snake-bird" that tirelessly dove again and again into the calm waters. Across the pond a family of five black-bellied whistling ducks waddled through the grass toward the opposite shore.
Whistling Ducks

Sitting on that bench in that quiet time of the day, I couldn't help but consider how well man and nature seem to have come together here. Indeed, The Villages has become a virtual bird sanctuary. I have seen herons, egrets and ibises of all sizes and colors, eagles, osprey, and hawks of every kind, flocks of white pelicans, many varieties of songbirds, and, of course, the ubiquitous mockingbird. They all seem to thrive here. We also have alligators, but they tend to avoid all but the stupidest of humans.

Anyway, as I sat, not so much watching and listening as absorbing my surroundings, I couldn't help but think of Pope Francis and his first encyclical, Laudato Si. My immediate setting, while not as wildly pristine as a rain forest in New Guinea or the deep woods of Canada, was certainly not repellant. What were once farmers' fields filled with watermelons, and pastures in which horses and cattle grazed, are now well cared-for neighborhoods. Ponds and green space abound, as do the large live oak trees so common in this part of Florida. I found myself thinking that this transformation of the land from agrarian use to human habitat was not necessarily a step backward. As Christians we understand that man is also a part of creation; indeed, as revealed in Genesis, we are the very pinnacle of God's creative work. This places an awesome responsibility on us: to accept that creation is God's doing, that He "owns" it, and that we are called to be good stewards of all that He has given us.

For those of you who haven't read Laudato Si, and I assume that includes many of you, let me say that it's not a quick and easy read. The encyclical is long -- more than 40,000 words -- and I expect many copies will sit unread on a lot of bookshelves or computer hard drives. I managed to make my way through it, but spent an entire evening doing so. To digest its contents fully I will need to read it again much more slowly. My comments here, then, simply reflect my own first impressions.

When a pope speaks, people listen. But far too many listen less to the pope and more to their own biases and ideological preconceptions. We see this in the range of reactions (including mine) arising in response to what Pope Francis had to say.

Those who pitch their tents among the extreme environmentalists of the far left concentrate their praise on the pope's concern for what he calls the “present ecological crisis” abetted by a "throwaway culture" that contributes greatly to the earth's environmental deterioration. But many of these same folks -- at least those who years ago made the ideological transition from a failed Marxism to green environmentalism -- ignore the Gospel of Creation that forms the foundation of the pope's thinking on humanity's relationship with the earth. In other words, his environmentalism is fine, but why on earth did he have to inject it with God and Jesus Christ and the Gospel and Creation and all that other religious stuff? And so they simply ignore the latter and focus on the former.

Opposed to the environmentalists we hear the complaints of those critics who believe the pope has been co-opted either by far left socialists who blame capitalism for all the world's ills or by "wacko greens" who believe the earth would be a far better place without humanity. For these critics there is no environmental crisis, and even if there were, technology and the free market would solve any ecological problems that might arise. Because some, but certainly not all, of these people are believing Christians they find themselves conflicted by the pope's encyclical and its deep religious roots. They manage to resolve the conflict, appeasing themselves by saying that Pope Francis is, after all, not speaking ex cathedra. Indeed, for them Laudato Si is just the word of a man, not the Word of God, so they really don't have to accept this particular papal teaching. Most, therefore, will simply ignore everything the pope has to say.

Of course there have been other reactions to the encyclical, some favorable and some not. I suspect many of the initial batch of pundits simply reacted to the out of context snippets that appeared in the secular media. Honestly, because my initial exposure to the encyclical was in the form of leaked excerpts, my preconceived notions led me to some erroneous first impressions. There's no need to include them here.

I'm certainly not qualified to discuss every aspect of the encyclical. Like all of us I have my opinions, but I'm not a climatologist and cannot address the science on which Pope Francis relies heavily. The question many Catholics have already asked me is, "Do I have to accept everything the pope says in his encyclical?" I suppose the only correct answer is, "It depends."

When it comes to the science behind climate change and the pope's proposed public policy responses, an informed Catholic might disagree so long as that disagreement is based on a firm foundation. Given the continued debate within the scientific community on the causes and direction of climate change, I believe one might reasonably disagree with the pope on these issues. As for how society should respond, the pope himself recognizes that others might differ with him. After all, if history has shown us one thing it's that science is not static, and future advances in technology might well enable new and better approaches to the use of natural resources and the protection of the environment.

Unfortunately, too many people will focus on the more controversial aspects of the encyclical, elements that might well be overcome by future events, and ignore the crucial theological and moral underpinnings.

It's important to realize that papal concern for the environment did not begin with Pope Francis. Indeed, many of his concerns have been expressed by his predecessors and other Catholic thinkers. He begins by quoting his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, whose Canticle of the Creatures calls the earth "our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us,”. Indeed, that same canticle gives the encyclical its name. 

Continuing his introductory comments Pope Francis refers to Pope Saint John XXIII's 1963 encyclical, Pacem in Terris, to Pope Paul VI's frequent references to humanity's poor environmental stewardship, to the ecological concerns expressed by Pope Saint John Paul II in several of his encyclicals, and to Pope Benedict XVI's demand that as Christians we openly recognize how our irresponsible behavior has damaged the environment. Pope Francis also quotes the Ecumenical Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, Bartholomew I of Constantinople, who has often addressed humanity's "sins against creation." In Bartholomew's words, “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God.”

In other words, the current pontiff's concerns are nothing new. As I read the encyclical I couldn't help but think of the late Jesuit theologian, Romano Guardini (1985-1968), who has had such a significant influence on my own thinking. Guardini was a prolific writer, but the theme of  two of his books in particular seem to resonate with Pope Francis: Letters from Lake Como (1926) and The End of the Modern World (1956). It wasn't until today that I discovered Pope Francis had spent years studying Guardini and his work. To summarize Guardini's thought, he believed the modern world had been transformed in a way that encouraged enmity between humanity and nature. Instead of living within God's creation and nurturing it as a good steward, modern man has decided he must control or master it.

Such themes are also evident in the writings of Feodor Dostoevsky,  J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis and others who recognized that both unchecked capitalism and radical Marxism suffer from a common materialism that attempts to excise religion from the human spirit. For example, reading the encyclical, I'm reminded of the words of Dostoevsky's monk in the Brothers Karamazov:
"Love all God's creation, the whole and every grain of sand init. Love every leaf, every ray of God's light. Love the animals,love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you willperceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, youwill begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come atlast to love the whole world with an all-embracing love. Love theanimals: God has given them the rudiments of thought and joyuntroubled. Do not trouble it, don't harass them, don't deprive themof their happiness, don't work against God's intent. Man, do not prideyourself on superiority to the animals; they are without sin, and you,with your greatness, defile the earth by your appearance on it, andleave the traces of your foulness after you -- alas, it is true ofalmost every one of us! Love children especially, for they too aresinless like the angels; they live to soften and purify our heartsand, as it were, to guide us."
One gets the sense that Pope Francis has been greatly influenced by the thinking of such men as these, although he certainly has his own ideas on how it relates to the world today.

This post is already too long, so let me wrap it up with my agreements and disagreements. I agree with the pope's concerns about the world's deepening addiction to consumerism, about humanity's elites and their general disregard for the poor and the common good, and about the rise of technocrats and the misuse of science and the technology that flows from it. I also greatly appreciate the pope's focus on the environmental damage that one encounters, especially in the second and third world where the accession of power too often trumps everything else. Finally, we need to be reminded of our own place in God's creation, and of the responsibilities this places on us.

My concerns relate to the pope's belief that there is a scientific consensus about both global warming and its causes. His thinking seems to echo the kind of naive view of science often heard from Al Gore and others like him. Perhaps more importantly, though, the pope also, in seeming contradiction to his own warnings about the rise of technocrats, recommends that we come together globally, applying our technology to the environmental problems facing us. The problem with giving governments or global agencies the power to carry out such a worldwide mandate is that those who wield this power will almost surely misuse it. Even when applied with the best of intentions, such power usually leads to negative unintended consequences that often create a whole new set of problems. Lastly, I had hoped that Pope Francis, following the lead of his predecessors, would use this encyclical to teach his flock about how our faith and morality are affected by these issues plaguing the modern world. Instead, he has given us an encyclical that, at least in part, reminds one of the sort of quasi-political documents produced by committees at the United Nations.

Laudato Si will surely be studied, talked about, and written about for years to come. I trust this study will lead to a clearer understanding of man's place in the world and how best to address the problems we have created for ourselves. In the meantime, once it cools down this afternoon, I intend to take Maddie for another walk, thanking God for her and for all of His creation.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Brit Hume: The Abortion Industry

On Monday of this week Brit Hume, Senior Political Analyst for Fox News, accurately described the abortion industry and our nation's pathetic response to this decades-long genocide.




Pray for our country.

Corporate Panic on Planned Parenthood

Yesterday's Daily Signal story on corporate supporters of Planned Parenthood apparently struck a nerve. A number of these corporations are backing away from their previous support and have demanded that Planned Parenthood remove their names from its list of corporate sponsors. Here's a link to the Daily Signal's follow-up story: Planned Parenthood Pulls Names of Corporations.

The Daily Signal went on to ask each of the corporations involved to address their support for Planned Parenthood. Their responses, at least those who dared to respond, are wonderful examples of public relations spin: We don't contribute to PP. It's our silly employees who do that. We simply match those gifts because we're an enlightened company. 


Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Companies Supporting Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood murders more unborn babies in the U.S. than any other "abortion provider". They receive hundreds of millions from the federal government, but they are also recipients of financial support from dozens of U.S. corporations and major non-profits. Indeed, these donations represent 25% of the organization's $1.3 billion annual budget. 

The following is a list of 39 companies that directly fund Planned Parenthood. For details, follow this link: Companies that donate to Planned Parenthood. 

I was surprised to discover that I use far too many of the products and services provided by these corporations. I will have to do something about this.

  1. Adobe
  2. American Cancer Society
  3. American Express
  4. AT&T
  5. Avon
  6. Bank of America
  7. Bath & Body Works
  8. Ben & Jerry’s
  9. Clorox
  10. Coca-Cola
  11. Converse
  12. Deutsche Bank
  13. Dockers
  14. Energizer
  15. Expedia
  16. ExxonMobil
  17. Fannie Mae
  18. Groupon
  19. Intuit
  20. Johnson & Johnson
  21. La Senza
  22. Levi Strauss
  23. Liberty Mutual
  24. Macy’s
  25. March of Dimes
  26. Microsoft
  27. Morgan Stanley
  28. Nike
  29. Oracle
  30. PepsiCo
  31. Pfizer
  32. Progressive
  33. Starbucks
  34. Susan G. Komen
  35. Tostitos
  36. Unilever
  37. United Way
  38. Verizon
  39. Wells Fargo