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!

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Homily Video: Mass and Healing Service - November 11, 2017

I've already posted the text of this homily -- you can read it here -- which I preached at Mass last Saturday morning before our parish's most recent healing service. We had a wonderful turnout of several hundred people, all in need of healing for themselves or for others in their lives. It seems our parish's wonderful IT people recorded the homily on video and gave me a copy yesterday evening. I post it here for those who would rather listen than read.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Are You Nuts? It's either Bach or Bieber.

This morning I came across a news item that gave me a small slice of hope -- hope that I would not turn into a psychopath. The article, published in the Washington Post, describes a study that examined both the musical preferences of people and their tendency toward psychopathic behavior.

As someone who makes a real effort to listen daily to something composed by members of the Bach family (Handel and Vivaldi too), I was thrilled to discover that I was a most unlikely psychopath. It seems that those who prefer classical music enjoy a low correlation with such aberrant behavior.

Yes, despite all the classical music that seems to motivate  Hollywood serial killers, the truth is that psychopaths apparently prefer more popular tunes, specifically songs by Eminem, Backstreet, Justin Bieber, and Dire Straits, to name a few. Interestingly, I would be unable to identify anything performed by any of these contemporary musicians, something I trust separates me even further from insanity.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy rock n' roll, but I just believe it died about the same time Buddy Holly perished in that Iowa corn field. Will I ever come to like today's pop music? Perhaps Buddy offered the best answer: "That'll be the Day."

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Homily: Mass and Healing Service - Saturday, 31st Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 16:3-9, 16, 22-27; PS 145; Lk 16:9-15
Good morning, everyone...and praise God - praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It's wonderful to see so many here today; all open to God's healing presence. Praise God too for this.

We're gathered here in Jesus' name, so we know He's with us. And where Jesus is, so too is the Father, for they are One, One with the Holy Spirit. We want the Holy Spirit among us in all His power, in all His glory, so we can come to know our loving Father better, all through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Among the many things Jesus told us about the Spirit is that He does the work of the Trinity.  That's right...the Spirit does all the heavy lifting.

When we turn to Scripture we find the Holy Spirit inspiring, revealing, anointing, and counseling. He does it all. He's 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, intercedes for us, guides us, and, as promised, will be with us always. Yes, the Holy Spirit, God's gift to us, does God's work in the world. And thank God for that because we certainly need Him in our world today.

Do you know something else? He's also the Divine Healer, for 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 you need? What do I need? We're so sure we know, aren't we?

We always seem to turn to the obvious -- our bodies. They just don't hold up do they? Illness, injury, and age all take their toll. And so we turn to the Lord in our suffering and in  our fear, in our aches and pains, our illnesses, in the trials of our children, in the sometimes shattered lives of those we love...and we pray for healing. We don't understand why this suffering has fallen upon us, or why God doesn't just take it away. But 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].
Now that's amazing, isn't it? Because you and I don't know how to pray, the Holy Spirit prays for us, intercedes for us, within the Trinity itself. And He does so in ways we can never understand.

Today I'm going to focus on one verse, actually just four words:
"God knows your hearts..." [Lk 16:15]
About 20 years ago, I was teaching a class of ninth-graders who were preparing for Confirmation. During one of our sessions, while discussing God's divine nature, I went through the list of those attributes we normally assign to know...He is eternal, holy, immutable, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, immaterial...

Anyway, as I was reciting these attributes, one young man interrupted and asked, "What does omniscient mean?"

"It means God knows everything," I replied.

"Okay," he said, "you really don't mean everything, like what's going to happen tomorrow."

"Oh, yes, He 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. "Okay, 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."
God knows your heart...
Yes, brothers and sisters, God knows your hearts.

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, bore witness by granting 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 to the Pharisees:
"God knows your hearts"  [Lk 16:15]
Do you think maybe those Pharisees recalled the words of Psalm 139? 
Lord, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar...Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? [Ps 139:1-2,7]
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Yes, "Where can I go from your Spirit?" We can't hide from God.

From our human perspective, His 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 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 might, as St. Paul says, fill us "with fear and trembling" [Phil 2:12].

Sometimes we respond like Jonah, and try to hide from God; or we turn up the world's volume and try to drown out 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'd 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 seriously ill for a long time, and 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, all-loving 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.

As I left that day, for the first time I saw her smile. She died a week later.

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. As my wife, Diane, will be happy to tell you, 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 Catholic: "You people seem to enjoy suffering so much. That can't be healthy."

Well, he wasn't talking about me. And, anyway, he was wrong. Catholics don't enjoy suffering. To enjoy suffering is to be mentally ill. No, we Christians accept suffering, and that's something quite different. We all experience suffering; it's truly democratic.

Victor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived his years in the Auschwitz death camp, wrote a wonderful book, Mans Search for Meaning. He wrote of our freedom to choose how we respond to suffering. We can choose to be embittered, broken, hateful, resentful, or we can accept our sufferings as a path to something greater.
Gate to Auschwitz Death Camp
As always, Jesus shows us the way. He took His sufferings and turned them into something far greater, into an act of redemption. All of Scripture points to that act, to the Cross, 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're 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]
You see, dear friends, what's lacking in Christ's suffering is our acceptance of our own suffering, willingly taken up with Jesus on His walk up Calvary.

As Christians suffering has meaning and worth because through it we share in Christ's sacrifice. 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 through that experience we learn how well God knows our heart. Through that experience 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.

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.

God knows your heart, but 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, you know...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.

And did you come here today only to pray for your own healing? What of those sitting to your left and right, or behind or in front of you? Will you join with all of us as we pray for each other?

Do we recognize the power of the collective faith and prayers of our community?

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 a laying on of hands. 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, and heal those around me." Let that be your prayer. "Heal me, Lord, of all that's keeping me from being one with you."

Trust God, brothers and sisters. He knows your heart.

Praised be Jesus and forever.

Homily: Monday, 31st Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 11:29-36; Ps 69; Lk 14:12-14

An old friend of our family, a Jew who converted to Catholicism, used to talk a lot about his father, an orthodox rabbi. I remember him once saying that his father would often criticize his fellow Jews because they tried to turn God into a mensch. Now "mensch" is a German word that in Yiddish evolved into a term for a true human being, a person of honor. "But God," the rabbi would say, "is no mensch. He's God."

St. Paul, a Pharisee, rabbi, and teacher, says much the same thing in today's reading from Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! [Rom 11:33]
No, God is no mensch. He's not like us. He's certainly no superhuman. 

Paul continues, though, with a prayer, a doxology, to ensure we understand that God is...well, beyond our understanding:
For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor? Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid? For from him and through him and for him are all things. To God be glory forever. Amen [Rom 11:34-36].
"Who has known the mind of the Lord?"
Yes, indeed, as God reminded His prophet, Isaiah:
"My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways" [Is 55:8].
I think sometimes, perhaps more than sometimes, we forget this and try to re-create God in our image, to turn Him into just another good guy, to turn Him into a mensch. But Jesus disabuses us of this error, and in today's Gospel passage from Luke, shows us how very different are God's ways from ours.

Jesus had been invited to dine at the home of a Pharisee, and yet He asked his host to look into himself and examine his motives.

Who do you bring into your home - the rich and famous? And why do you share your bounty with them? Is it only to ingratiate yourself with them, so they will invite you in turn? Indeed, Mr. Pharisee, why did you invite me here today? Is it just because I'm a local celebrity and you hope my fame will rub off on you?

It all hits home, doesn't it?

Thirteen years ago, when Diane and I first began helping out at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, I encountered a few strange attitudes. For example, one of our volunteers, who served our desserts, expected a certain kind of behavior from our guests. If someone said nothing when she handed them a dessert, she'd challenge with, "You didn't say, 'Thank you.'"

Well, I quickly realized that had to change, so we issued a policy statement that stated: 
Each Soup Kitchen guest honors us by accepting our hospitality, which we interpret as their deepest heart-felt gratitude.
In other words, their being there is thanks enough.
Oh, yes, brothers and sisters, we are so much like the Pharisees. Always looking for a payback, aren't we?

"We had those new neighbors for dinner six months ago, but they've never invited us back. Can you believe it?"

But have we opened our homes and our hearts to those who can't return the favor, to those who can thank us only by their presence?

When did you and I invite the rejected of the world into our homes?

When did "the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind" sit around our table?

There are a lot of lonely people in our community, in every neighborhood, people who feel abandoned by others, who think themselves abandoned by God. But you and I are called to do God's work, to go to the abandoned and show them God's love. You don't have to look for them. They're all around us; you know who they are.

It's really just a call to humility, isn't it? To realize we are no greater, indeed we are often much farther from God than the poor in spirit who cry out silently in their suffering. Yes, brothers and sisters, humility is a demanding virtue. It takes greatness to become little, strength to become weak, and wisdom to embrace all that Jesus demands of us, to embrace the folly of the Cross.

And it's in the Cross, it's in the crucified Jesus that we encounter the divine paradox: the humility and the greatness and the otherness of God.

Homily: Monday, 30th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Rom 8:12:17; Ps 68; Lk 13:10-17
While I was teaching a group of teens in a pre-Confirmation class, a young man asked me an interesting question: "How come Jesus doesn't just perform some miracle that everyone can see? That way everyone would believe."

A reasonable question, but I responded by saying that many would still reject Our Lord. And then I had him turn to today's passage in Luke's Gospel.

The leader of the synagogue had just witnessed a remarkable miracle, and yet all he could do was castigate Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. So caught up in law and ritual he lost sight of God's mercy and goodness, and couldn't recognize God working right before his eyes. He didn't deny the healing. Indeed, it was the legality, the timing of the healing that bothered him. But Jesus healed on the Sabbath because God never rests from mercy and forgiveness and love.  No, the official didn't reject the miracle; he rejected Jesus - something we encounter again and again in the Gospels. And we still encounter it today.

But what a healing it was...a healing of hope. The woman had said nothing, asked nothing of Jesus. It was simply her presence that moved Him. Despite her affliction - bent over, unable to stand erect, probably in constant pain - still she makes her way to the synagogue on the Sabbath. This faithful Jewish woman comes to offer her prayer of thanksgiving and to hear God's Word proclaimed. She doesn't blame God for the suffering she's endured for 18 years. She hasn't turned from God; she's turned to God.

Jesus sees her, and in seeing her, He knows her. He peers into the deep recesses of her heart. He knows her faithfulness and He knows her suffering. And it calls to mind those beautiful words from Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord you know it altogether.  You beset me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. [Ps 139:1-5]
And because Jesus knew her better than she knew herself, "He called to her," and uttered those healing words:
Woman, you are set free... [Lk 13:12]
Set free from the chains that bind those who suffer.. Set free from the doubt and despair through which Satan challenges our faith. Yes, she was free. But notice, Jesus didn't exercise His healing power through Word alone. No, He touched her - "He laid His hands on her" [Lk 13:13]

Just think about that. God's Word is certainly enough. It alone can heal. After all, that same divine Word brought the entire universe into being. Jesus reaches out to this woman and touches her with his hands, and immediately she stands straight.

Jesus touches because He is one of us. He took on human form and human flesh, and he knows we need the touch of another. But His touch is holy. Yes, His flesh, His holy flesh, bears within it the presence and the power of God.

And the woman senses this; for how does she respond? She glorifies God. She knows it is God working through the hands, working through the holy flesh of Jesus. And it is this same healing flesh, this Body and Blood of Jesus, we receive in the Eucharistic feast. Is it any wonder that she is healed? Like us, she has experienced a Holy Communion. The love of God, the healing grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit have entered her and set her free and returned her to the wholeness God intended for her.

How often do I struggle bound and bent double, my soul unable to stand upright? And yet the weight of my sin inclines me toward the Merciful One, and in my repentance He heals me.

For You, Lord, alone are our Protector.
You turn your eyes to us, and call us to You,
You speak Your Word, and touch us with Your holy hands.
You touch us with Your Body and Blood.
You set us free.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Europe's Eradication of Christianity

It's really remarkable that the continent that owes its place in history to its Christian roots is now trying to eradicate all signs of Christianity. The process is sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle, but it continues nevertheless. 

Two major European businesses recently joined the effort when they apparently realized that some of their products were wrapped in packaging that displayed tiny Christian crosses. Lidl, the huge  German retailer, has its own brand of Greek-style food. Its packaging depicts a scene from the island of Santorini that includes the famous Anastasis Church. As you might expect the domes of the church are topped with crosses. It seems that Lidl, after suffering with the crosses for more than ten years, decided to alter the packaging and remove these Christian symbols. The company, after receiving many, many complaints, responded with an interesting statement:

Santorini Church with Crosses (former packaging)
"We are extremely sorry for any offence caused by the most recent artwork and would like to reassure our customers that this is not an intentional statement...In light of this we will ensure that all feedback is taken into consideration when redesigning future packaging.”

Lidl packaging without those pesky crosses
One can only wonder how the airbrushing of the crosses could be anything but intentional. As an amateur photographer who often "doctors" my photographs, I can state without question that the crosses did not disappear accidentally. And notice that Lidl does not intend to replace the crosses. No, in the future "feedback will be taken into consideration" -- whatever that means. The company then added:
“We avoid the use of religious symbols on our packaging to maintain neutrality in all religions. If it has been perceived differently, we apologize to those who may have been shocked.”
Of course such neutrality is a new policy in line with the general trend in Europe, a policy that is hardly shocking 

Nestle, the Swiss conglomerate, also depicted the Santorini church on packaging for its Greek yogurt. Not to be outdone by Lidl, the company followed suit and removed the church's crosses from the packaging. It claimed that the crosses might offend the "sensibilities" of those who are not Christian.
New Nestle packaging (without crosses)
The Greek Orthodox Church is unhappy with the actions taken by Lidl and Nestle and has called for a boycott of their products. We'll see if that results in further changes.

The trend, however, has reached down even to the local government level. In the UK a local council tossed a rare bookseller from a marketplace because she sold coffee mugs that might offend the sensibilities of Muslims. The bookseller, Tina Gayle, is upset and says she's never had a Muslim complain to her about any of the products she sells. (Read the story here.)

The mugs contained an image that reflected the Knights Templar and also included the famous verse from the beginning of Psalm 115, in Latin:

“Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam"  [Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory]
The Knights Templar were an interesting order of monkish knights, formed to protect Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. They were actually quite heroic, but were treated abominably by the royals of France and others. I tend to look on them favorably, something which, happily, is extremely irritating to politically correct progressives. (I also want one of those mugs.) But I can't see how a coffee mug and a psalm would offend Muslims or anyone else, unless they are history deniers. Anyway I'm really tired of all those folks who get so offended by speech  or writings or pictures or attitudes they don't like. Grow up people. If you disagree with something, learn how to defend that with which you agree.

By the way, if you'd like to read more about the Knights Templar, pick up a copy of Regine Pernoud's book, The Templars: Knights of Christ.

Finally, also in the UK -- once the bastion of freedom of speech -- police departments around the country arrested 3,395 people last year for breaking a law that declares it illegal to intentionally "cause annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety to another." (Read the story here.)

Now, I don't know about you, but I probably do all of those things several times a day. Dear Diane tells me regularly that I'm being annoying. I sometimes go out of my way to make the lives of others mildly inconvenient...but only when they're really annoying. And how can one differentiate between needless and necessary anxiety? Heavens! I'd probably get a life sentence from the Queen's courts. 

As you might expect, the law is not evenly applied. Several Muslim media types in the UK regularly accuse others of all kinds of nasty crimes simply because of their race or religious beliefs. For this they are not prosecuted. But if a Christian criticizes Islam..."OK, be a good chap and put your hands behind your back."

Well, Jesus told us to expect persecution, and our experience with Nazism and Communism should have been warning enough. But I wonder how many American Christians still believe they are immune to the persecution to come?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Another Archaeology Update

If you're among the select few who actually read this blog, you'll know I've long had an interest in things archaeological. I'm certainly no expert, not even a knowledgeable amateur, but I do try to stay abreast of what's happening in this fascinating field of study. Science and technology have provided today's archaeologist with tools undreamed of just a few years ago. The result has been a remarkable expansion of our knowledge of ancient civilizations and the societies that formed them.

I'm especially interested in what is often labeled "Biblical Archaeology", that branch of the science that relates to the events described in Sacred Scripture. Of course, any good archaeologist doesn't set out to "prove" the accuracy of Sacred Scripture; rather, he tries to uncover the truth in the form of objective facts, and then based on these hard facts share with us how our ancient ancestors lived, worked, prayed, and died. Interestingly, recent findings uncovered by archaeology, palaeography, and textual philology seem increasingly to support the truth of Sacred Scripture.

I'm also intrigued by those discoveries that bring the ancient world to light and often demonstrate that the ancients were far less primitive than previously thought. I'm always pleased when the temporal bigotry that colors the thinking of today's progressives is exposed for what it is, a blind prejudice that assumes we are smarter and wiser than those who preceded us. Indeed, looking at the chaos, brutality and global destruction that typifies much of our recent history, one can make a pretty good case that we have devolved and are far less wise than many of our ancient ancestors. In itself, this is a good reason to study the ancients, how they lived and what they believed. Maybe we'll actually learn from them.

Although we moderns certainly view the world very differently from the ancients, when it comes to our interpersonal relationships we are remarkably unchanged. As a student of Sacred Scripture I find the manifestations of human nature to be one of the constants that spans the centuries between the ancients and us. One need only read Genesis, Exodus, and the Gospels to realize that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Apostles are very much like us as we struggle to live our faith in a world hostile to God's Word. In the loosely translated words of the French writer, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

All that being said, what's been happening lately in archaeology?

Sarah Parcak, Space Archaeologist. Dr. Sarah Parcak, a Yale- and Cambridge-educated archaeologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has led what can only be described as a revolution in her field of study. For the past decade or so she has pioneered the use of satellite imagery to identify likely archaeological sites. Her work has led to the identification of hundreds of sites in Egypt, Sinai, Rome and elsewhere throughout the world. Many, perhaps most of these sites would never have been located by means of surface-based techniques. Dr. Parcak's work will keep her and many of her colleagues busy for decades to come.

There are, of course, some archaeologists who dispute her conclusions, but I expect most would resist any new techniques, especially those that might force them to reevaluate their own work.

Here's a brief video of Dr. Parcak discussing her work.

Babylonian Trigonometry? This story really interested me since trigonometry was among my favorite subjects back in high school. Back then (I think it was in my junior year), I'm pretty sure we were told that modern trigonometry and all its sines and cosines and tangents was something developed by the Greeks. The Egyptians might have used a primitive form to help them as they built pyramids and other edifices, but the Greeks were the ones who perfected this branch of mathematics. 
Mathematician David Mansfield holding ancient tablet
Now, it seems a couple of Australian mathematicians -- David Mansfield and Norman Wildberger -- have concluded that an ancient (3,700 year-old) Babylonian tablet found over 100 years ago contains a trigonometric table with "exact values for the sides of a range right triangles." In other words, instead of using angles, the Babylonians, with their base 60 math, expressed trigonometry in terms of these exact ratios of the sides of triangles. If the Aussies are correct -- and there's no shortage of folks who dispute their claims -- it's an amazing discovery. I expect we'll hear more about this in the future. You can read more about it here.

Destruction of Ancient and Religious Sites by Islamists. This is becoming a standard headline as followers of ISIS, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas and other Islamist terrorist entities seem determined to destroy anything that doesn't support their warped sense of history and religion.

In the Philippines, particularly in the south, where ISIS influence has increased greatly in recent years, ISIS followers regularly destroy Christian churches. A recent example is destruction of the Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippine city of Marawi by Islamists who made a video of their rampage:

Read the story here.

In Iraq, ISIS, during the two years they controlled the city of Nimrud, carried out a plan of total destruction of this ancient city. When ISIS forces were finally driven out, the Iraqi soldiers found near total devastation. ISIS used bulldozers, explosives, sledgehammers, anything that could destroy, as they went through the ancient city smashing everything in their path.

At one time Nimrud was the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire. It was an archaeological marvel, the site of temples, ziggurats and other ruins thousands of years old. The Iraqi troops also found mass graves filled with the bodies of the local people murdered by ISIS. Seemingly proud of what they had done, ISIS also made several videos showing how they destroyed much of this ancient city. Here's a video  made after ISIS had been driven from the city, showing the level of destruction:

The Islamists' war of devastation continued in Syria with the destruction of much of the ancient city of Palmyra. They also bulldozed the Christian monastery of Mar Elian. They removed ancient mosaics, presumably to sell on the black market, from the Roman trading city of Apamea. In the city of Dura-Europos, located on the Euphrates and perhaps the easternmost of Roman outposts, they destroyed one of Christianity's oldest churches, a beautiful synagogue, and many Roman temples. And they looted the bronze-age city of Mari. And all of this destruction was just in Syria. The Islamists were guilty of even more looting and damage in the Iraqi cities of Hatra, Nineveh, Mosul, and Khorsabad, to name only a few.

The Sea People. Here's a fascinating story that shows it's important to take notes and keep them.

A few years ago I read a book entitled 1177 B.C., The Year Civilization Collapsed. Written by Eric Cline, an American archaeologist who focused on the causes of the sudden and near simultaneous collapse of many of the societies that ringed the Mediterranean Sea and even beyond. Many historians and archaeologists have placed the blame on the so-called "Sea People" who embarked on a series of invasions and raids that destroyed the key cities of these societies. Even Egypt was attacked, and although the Egyptians repelled the attackers, their society never fully recovered.
Egyptian wall frieze depicting Egypt repelling the Sea People

But Egypt wasn't the only victim. Hittites, Minoans, Trojans, and others all seemed simply to disappear. Cline isn't so sure this was all the result of the Sea People and adds natural calamities and economic factors to the mix of causes. But no one was ever absolutely sure where these Sea People came from. We might now have an answer, and it comes from an unexpected source.

Back in 1878 a French archaeologist, George Perrot, came across a limestone slab in the Turkish village of Beykoy. The slab, about a foot high and almost 100 feet long, was covered with ancient inscriptions. Because the locals intended to use the stone as part of the foundation of their mosque, Perrot decided to make an accurate copy of the inscriptions before the slab was destroyed.
Copy of Luwian Inscriptions
The copy, long forgotten, surfaced in 2012 in the estate of an English historian. Its inscriptions were then identified as Luwian, an ancient language that only a handful of experts can decipher. The translation of the inscriptions describes how kingdoms in Western Asia formed a confederation -- the Sea People -- and with a united fleet conducted raids of the eastern Mediterranean. Here's the story.

That's enough. More archaeology later...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Descent

I've been reading some poetry lately, more than usual. It seems to fulfill a need. While there are certainly exceptions, poets seem to be saner than most of us, certainly saner than most modern philosophers, and the best of them have been given a gift of prophecy. Today, given all that's happening in our world, I need a regular dose of sanity, and have therefore turned to a few of my favorite poets.

Poets, of course, are often pessimistic when it comes to the human condition. (This is a gross generality, but it's my blog so I can write such things if I like.) Anyway, two of the poets who have lately grabbed my attention are W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot.

Turning the pages of my copy of The Poems of W. B. Yeats, I'd occasionally stop and read a poem that caught my eye. Among these was The Second Coming. Written in 1920, after the wholesale death and destruction of World War One, it foresaw, with prophetic accuracy, what the world would face in the years that followed. Crushed by four years of nightmarish violence, the enlightened pre-war optimism disappeared along with the promising lives of a continent's youth. Expedience trumped morality as human lives became expendable, the means to political ends. The war promised only a bleak future, one that Yeats described in his poem:

The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
 gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


W. B. Yeats
Writing almost a century ago, Yeats seemed to recognize that the 20th century would be one of chaos and upheaval such as the world had never seen. Rapid and remarkable scientific and technological progress would hide from many the continuing moral decline and the gradual replacement of religion by scientism in the minds of the elites. God is replaced by man, who finds himself caught between a failed rationality of the Enlightenment and the despair of the postmodernists. 

Closing my book of Yeats' collected poems, I turned to Eliot and amazingly opened right to page 96, the beginning of his long poem, Choruses from "The Rock" (See T. S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays), written not long after Yeats' poem. I've included those opening verses below:


Choruses from "The Rock"
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
О perpetual revolution of configured stars,
О perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
О world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.


T. S. Eliot
Eliot, like Yeats and Chesterton and many others, was a modern prophet who saw clearly what would result from the moral distortions of his time. Read his thoughts on Christian society and culture in Christianity and Culture to get a better understanding of what we face today.  

Yes, as the poets remind us, we are surrounded by the signs of decline. Distracted by the wonders of technology that tell us how very smart we are, we forget that wisdom does not emerge from an integrated circuit. No, wisdom is passed down from one generation to the next through the traditions that today are forgotten, ignored, ridiculed, and suppressed.

We develop cures and preventatives, extending lives by years, even decades, but then slaughter the inconvenient infants in the womb by the tens of millions. Not content with denying life's beginnings, with god-like audacity we kill those approaching its end, the sick and the elderly, and label it "compassion."

We praise humanity's "progress" despite the evidence of a century of totalitarian despotism that destroyed more lives than in all previous human history. And yet, driven by extraordinary hubris, politicians scramble to acquire more power, actually believing they can control the uncontrollable and plan the unplannable.

It's all very disconcerting for those who lack faith. Most just move along in life hoping, at least, to find some ephemeral happiness. But some, far too many today, are driven to the brink of despair and self-destruction. Others find meaning in the extremes of human behavior and cling to ideologies that promise a distorted form of salvation. Satan is very busy in our world today.

Pope Benedict XVI
As I pondered the prophetic words of these poets, I couldn't help but think of the tragic events in Las Vegas. So many in the media and politics scream about controlling guns, the tools used by the man responsible for the carnage. But no one says a word about moral culpability because this would lead to an uncomfortable discussion of morality and truth, two words that have been excised from the popular language. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, today our culture is plagued by "a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

No one dares examine the root cause of the Las Vegas tragedy and others like it: the fact that in our society human life has little value. If an unborn child, a human being with a beating heart who can experience pain, is considered disposable because he or she doesn't suit the parents' lifestyle or plans, then why not use violence to promote one's ideology or to satisfy  personal psychological desires? Without God, His commandments, and His gift of faith, there is no morality, there are no limits.

I thank God for my faith, and I do so every day, many times each day. For we were created by a loving God who has given us the freedom and the grace to accept His revealed Truth. But acceptance or rejection is up to us.

We must remember, too, that our loving God -- Father, Son and Spirit -- is the Lord of History and acts in our world through us or in spite of us. His will be done because His will cannot be denied. I encounter too many Christians who fear the future because of what they see in today's world. Such fears must never enter the Christian's heart, for our loving, merciful God has promised salvation to those who love Him. "Be not afraid" is God's constant command to His People, His reminder that He walks with us always. 

God's peace...