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.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Homily Video: 15th Sunday in Ordinary Tim,e (Year A)

Yesterday our IT folks gave me the video file of the homily I preached last Saturday evening at our parish's 6 p.m. Vigil Mass. I posted the text of the homily a few days ago here. Now you get to watch the video, assuming this is something you just can't wait to do.

Anyway, I've embedded the video below. My homily addresses the Parable of the Sower as it is related in Matthew's Gospel (Mt 13:1-23)...



Monday, July 17, 2017

Homily: Monday, 15th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Ex 1:8-14, 22 • Ps 124 • Mt 10:34-11-1

---------------------------

I suppose the most obvious question about today's Gospel passage is: Why does Jesus describe His mission and the coming of God's kingdom in terms of conflict and division? Why does He come not to bring peace but a sword, a weapon of war? After all, didn't Jesus come in peace to reconcile a broken and sinful humanity with a merciful and loving God?

Well, Yes, He did, but He also came to wage war, to overthrow the powers and principalities arrayed against God and His kingdom.  And the sword that Jesus brings is a therapeutic weapon. This sword is none other than God's terrible and fiery Word, Jesus Himself.

There's a wonderful passage in the Letter to the Hebrews that spells it out for us:
"The Word of God is alive and active. It cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword, piercing as far as the place where soul and spirit, joints and marrow, divide. It sifts the purposes and thoughts of the heart" [Heb 4:12-13]
We see this, too, in Revelation where John envisions the Son of Man "out of whose mouth came a sharp two-edged sword" [Rev 1:16].

No, Jesus didn't come to bring comfort. He came to bring life. And He does so through His Word, which causes a thorough and frightening interior transformation of everything it touches. It was for this redemptive, transforming act and nothing else that the eternal Word of the Father took on flesh and came into our midst as one of us.

But He comes to wage war - to wage spiritual warfare. That's right -- Christ, the Prince of Peace, comes brandishing the sword of God's Word - a sword that slices through our delusions, cuts away our self-deception, and opens in us a wound - a window to God's truth, the truth that shatters the empty promises of this world. Christ brings peace from the Father, but it's not at all like the peace of this world. No, Christ's peace is often a companion with tribulation.

Scripture tells us there are only two kingdoms: God's kingdom of light and a kingdom of darkness, and they are engaged in a battle. In his first letter John contrasts these two kingdoms: "We know that we are of God, and the whole world is in the power of the evil one" [1 Jn 5:19].

No neutral ground there. We're either for or against the kingdom of God; and our choices and actions reveal whose kingdom we choose to follow. That's why Jesus challenges us, for a true disciple loves God above all else and is willing to forsake all for Jesus Christ.

Some years ago I was approached after Mass by 16-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, who wanted to become Catholics, but whose parents were atheists and refused to let them join any Church.  This was a hard and courageous thing these young people were doing - placing God's will over that of their parents. Yes, family members can sometimes draw people away from God; just as excessive love for another can keep us from doing God's will in our lives.

Now amidst all this talk of spiritual warfare, we must understand that Jesus never calls for "holy war." He preaches no Christian political ideology. He doesn't call for Christian nations to wage war against unbelievers. No, the sword of Jesus, His Word, pierces the heart and soul of each individual, in a sense causing an internal war.

Nor does Jesus say that we should not love father, mother, daughter, son - just the opposite. We're called to love them, even when they act as enemies of God. But we're not to love them more than we love Jesus.

Finally Jesus calls us to follow Him, for that's what a disciple does. But to follow Jesus isn't merely to imitate Him. Nor does it mean bringing Him into my life. No, to follow Jesus I must enter into His life, so I can be what He is. That is the Christian life. It's not I who make room for Jesus in what I do. It's Jesus inviting me to renounce all, so that I can enter into His humanity and divinity, into His mission, into His life.

Jesus also tells us that we don't follow Him empty-handed, for the Gospel calls us to embrace that which is a condition of discipleship: the Cross. Brothers and sisters, the way of the Christian is nothing less than the Way of the Cross. Like Simon of Cyrene we take up Jesus' Cross and follow Him, as if both His Cross and His road were our own.

This is what made St. Paul so joyful when he wrote:
"God forbid that I should boast of anything but the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I to the world!" [Gal 6:14]
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Homily: 15 Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Readings: Is 55:10-11  Ps 65 Rom 8:18-23 Mt 13:1-23

----------------------------
Immersed in the Gospel, and supported by our faith, we hear the parables of Jesus and we understand...or, at least, we try to understand.

But that's not always the case, is it? Our receptivity, how open we are to receive God's Word, can vary like the seasons.

Sometimes it pierces the soul to the very marrow, and we experience deep conversion of heart.

But then, perhaps too often, it barely seems to scratch the surface, because we're just not ready for it...at least not yet.

And sometimes, we actively resist it. We reject God's Word because it says things we simply don't want to hear. Yes, it's then that we're much more open to the word of the world...which is strange since the world just offers us one empty promise after another: 
A diamond is forever.
It's the real thing. 
Have it your way.
Just do it.
You're in good hands.
Yes, following the world's advice, we're promised that everything will go well...until we come face to face with eternity. Unlike the word of the world, the Word of God both commands and demands.

Not long ago I came across the website of a consulting group that focuses on helping Christian churches fill the pews. The site includes a teasing little blurb with all kinds of interesting suggestions:
Does your church have sufficient parking?
What's the quality of the music?
Is it a friendly, hospitable church?
...and on and on...although make no mistake, these are all good things.

But after reading the consultants' list of suggestions, I noticed something was missing.

There was little or nothing about proclaiming and living God's Word. The only thing that came close was an admonition to "avoid polarization in your preaching." I'm not sure what that means. Maybe it's just another way of saying, "Don't worry, be happy."

But there was nothing about the grace-giving sacramental life...

Nothing about serving God's people beyond the boundaries of the property...

Nothing about being the "salt of the earth" or "the light of the world."

Imagine how these consultants would have responded to Jesus and the parable of the sower.
Jesus, you've just got to be more focused. See this huge crowd? That Word of yours will turn off most of them.
We've heard you.
"Eat my Body...drink my Blood" [Jn 6:53]
"Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." [Mt 5:44]
"When you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing."  [Mt 6:3]
Those words will just drive most of them away. And that's no way to fill the parking lot or the collection basket.
You'll be lucky to end up with a handful of followers.
You just don't understand the dynamics of church growth.
Of course, Jesus didn't have that kind of expert help, the kind available to us today. And so what did He do? 

He gathered the huge crowd, got into the boat, and sat down like teacher and judge, and told His disciples how to spread the Word...  
He told them a parable about a farmer who isn't very careful at all about the sowing of seed: he just throws it all over the place. Although some actually falls on fertile soil, most of it seems to be wasted.

But that's exactly what Jesus has done since He began His public ministry. Unsparing in His generosity, He teaches, He forgives, He heals, He reaches out to all who come to Him, even to those who don't. He has a special love for public sinners, for the poor, for society's misfits and rejects - not the sort who give large contributions.

Jesus, you see, is the Word, the Incarnate Word of God, and so He teaches, and heals, and forgives through His Word and His Work.

He calls for more than simple obedience to the law. He calls for conversion, a change of heart and mind in his hearers. But too many resist His appeal because their hearts are as hard as the rocky ground on which some of that seed fell...or as tangled and suffocating as the briars that choked God's Word before it could grow.

Why? Jesus says they lack understanding. What is this understanding? Brothers and sisters, it's an act of faith, a response to Jesus' call. For their hearts to be opened, they must respond. Without it, they'll just be like so many Christians today who seem to welcome the Gospel but then crumble once they're tested, once they're actually called to live it. Only this understanding, this act of faith, frees us from the allure of the word of the world.

Jesus isn't surprised by their lack of faith. They're the same hardened hearts with which Isaiah had to contend when He spread the seed of God's word.

And Jesus promises us that God is not defeated because, like the farmer, He's a bit of a gambler.



When the farmer bets everything he has...and the outcome isn't guaranteed...well, he’s gambling big time. The higher the stakes, the harder he works. Not just to control the weeds, but to control the every single variable he can. He does so to control the risks.

Consider the extreme and improbable risks that God takes by planting his Word in our hostile world. What are the chances the Word of God will take root and yield a good harvest?
Just try talking love or compassion to a terrorist...or forgiveness to the family of a murder victim.

What about the notion of truth in the midst of a heated political campaign?

How about the command, "Sell what you have and give  to the poor"? [Mt 19:21]  Have you ever seen it in a brochure pushing real estate or financial planning?

How often do the words "praise" and "gratitude" play on the minds of those busily adjusting the parameters of their spreadsheets?

And does the scientist ever realize she's bowing in reverence to the Creator of the universe whenever she leans over the microscope to study the wonders of cellular regeneration?

What are the chances?

You and I might think the chances of the Word of God germinating in a fallen world are mighty slim. But, as it turns out, God is a gambler of the most reckless sort. As the poetry of Isaiah reveals, the Word of God swiftly runs upon the earth and doesn't return to the heavens void!

Day after day, in the face of incredible odds, Jesus hurls out the seed of the Word like a gambler throwing dice. It appears reckless...but faith takes root. Isaiah was confident. Jesus claimed it was a sure thing. God's Word yields its harvest.

In arid hearts that thirst for God, the understanding, the seeds of faith...will take root, "and yield a hundred or sixty or thirty fold" [Mt 13:8]

How's that for a reckless, over-the-top response?

No, God doesn't hesitate. But what about us? What about you and me? What's our response to His Word?

You see, God expects us, His disciples, to join Him in this work of sowing. But too often we're so wrapped up in ourselves, in our needs and wants, we don't realize the impact we can have. Too often we fall into the trap of thinking we must do big things to get God's attention, when exactly the opposite is true.

Indeed, each time you open your Bible, or take time to pray together, or carry God's love to another, or gather together at Mass, or feed the hungry, or visit the sick or imprisoned, more seeds are scattered, more risks are taken!

You see, it's these seemingly little things that plant the seed of God's Word in the world.

Yesterday morning I read a journal article by a psychiatrist who's been studying the growing plague of suicide in our nation, particularly among the young. He concluded the article with these words:

"A few years ago, a man in his thirties took his own life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge (as more than 1,500 other people have done since the bridge was built). After his death, his psychiatrist went with the medical examiner to the man's apartment where they found his diary. The last entry, written just hours before he died, said, "I'm going to walk to the bridge. If one person smiles at me on the way, I will not jump." [First Things]

I wonder how many Christians, people like you and me, he encountered on that short walk.

Brothers and sisters, sometimes one tiny spot of fertile soil awaits the arrival of a single life-giving seed.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Homily: Mass and Healing Service - July 8, 2017

Readings: Gn 27:1-5,15-29 • Ps 135 • Mt 9:14-17

--------------------------------------------

Jacob tricks his father, Isaac
What wonderful readings the Church has given us today. Hearing the story of Jacob and Esau only cements my belief in the historical truth of much of the Old Testament. The story of this ancient family is so very human it must be true.

Indeed, passages like today's from Genesis are what separate the Old Testament from the historical and spiritual writings of other ancient peoples. In the writings of those other cultures the failures and sinfulness of their human leaders rarely arise. Yes, according to their chronicles, the ancient kings and pharaohs, the priests and sages were all near-perfect beings. They won every battle, they were always wise and just, and their children were perfect mirror images of themselves.

Among the ancients the only place we'll ever encounter two sons like Jacob and Esau is exactly where we find them, in the Bible - one, along with their mother, conniving and deceitful, the other arrogant and foolish. And yet Jacob, with all his blemishes and sins, is one of the great patriarchs of our Judeo-Christian tradition.

Of course we see it again and again...if only among the kings of God's people. David, the great king who also happened to be an adulterer and murderer. His son, Solomon, who neglects God's gift of wisdom, becomes enamored of foreign women (quite a few of them, actually), and turns to idolatry. And these two kings, perhaps along with Hezekiah, Josiah, and a few others, were probably the best of the bunch.

So...what are we to think?

Well, in truth, we should thank God for the gift of the flawed men and women who fill the pages of God's Word...for what a gift they are to us! In these broken, oh-so-human lives we come face to face with God's enduring forgiveness. We come face to face with God's mercy.

If you worry about your family being mildly dysfunctional, just take a closer look at Abraham's, or Isaac's, or Jacob's. Despite all their problems, all their sinfulness, God's mercy just overflows into their lives. And God wants to shower you and those you love with that same outpouring of mercy.

Brothers and sisters, without God's mercy, we would be - what's the best word? - doomed!

Without God's mercy our sins would overwhelm us.

Without God's mercy, there would be no Incarnation, no redemptive sacrifice on the Cross, no Resurrection to offer us the hope of eternal life.

Without God's mercy there is no salvation; for the Incarnation is the supreme act of mercy, the supreme act of our merciful, loving God.

He becomes one of us, He lives with us, He teaches us, He forgives us, He heals us, He loves us, and He suffers and dies for us. He does all of this for our salvation. He does all of this so we can be healed.

That's right. Without God's mercy there can be no healing. And we are all, every single one of us, in need of healing, aren't we?

Why are you here today? What kind of healing do you seek?

Are you in pain...physical pain, the kind that can scream at you, causing you to question God's love?

Or maybe an illness, one of those devastating, fear-laden illnesses that make prayer so very hard?

Or is it depression, or another spirit-draining affliction that seems to attack our very humanity?

Is this the healing you seek?

What about the healing you need?

When we place ourselves at the foot of the Cross, when we look up at our crucified Lord, do we tear open our very being, do we rend our hearts exposing all to His merciful gaze? Do we come to Him, ready to die to self and sin? Looking at Him, do we find ourselves completely overwhelmed by this incomprehensible act of divine merciful love?

You see, brothers and sisters, I don't know God's plan for you...and neither do you. But I do know what He wants of you.

He wants you, He wants me, He wants every single one of us to come to Him, to abandon ourselves to Him, to allow His will to move within our lives. But it's never easy to set aside our own willfulness and abandon ourselves to God's will.

When our wills dominate, we end up broken, and yet it's through that brokenness that God call to us.  He knows when our need for His mercy, for His healing touch, is greatest.

At some point, though, we will all be broken physically, broken beyond repair. As Paul reminds us this mortal body is just a tent, a temporary dwelling, until you and I move into that eternal dwelling which God has prepared for us [2 Cor 5:1].

But in the meantime, it's so easy to slide into despair, to think that we're not deserving of God's mercy. We become like Peter who, when he suddenly comprehended the gulf between his sinfulness and God's greatness, could only say: "Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man" [Lk 5:8].

But Jesus didn't depart did He? In fact, it was then, at that very moment, that Jesus called Peter and the others to be Apostles, to be sent into the world, to be fishers of men.

Did you listen closely to today's Gospel passage from Matthew? It isn't really so much about fasting as it is about the new covenant that Jesus makes with us. And it is new indeed. It's not the patchwork of the old covenant; it's not old wine poured into old wineskins.

No Jesus is offering us something wonderfully new, and He demands something new from us. This newness is nothing less than the Gospel, the command to love God and to love each other as we love ourselves.

That's right, brothers and sisters, we're to look beyond ourselves, to die to self and sin and live for the other. And we're to do all this even in the midst of hurt and grief and illness and pain.

Just as He called Peter and the Apostles, Jesus calls us in the midst of our brokenness. He calls us when illness and fear try to overwhelm us. And He calls us in our sinfulness, when our flaws are most apparent. It's then when our need for His mercy is the greatest.

Flannery O'Connor
One of my favorite writers is Flannery O'Connor, who wrote so many wonderful stories of repentance, mercy, and redemption. A Georgia girl, she died in her late thirties after a long battle with lupus. It was a battle that lasted her entire adult life. While in the midst of all her suffering, she wrote some remarkable words in a letter to a friend. Listen to them:
"I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, a very instructive place, and it's always a place where there's no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God's mercies." [The Habit of Being]
Have you ever thought of your affliction, your need for healing, as a mercy? I know I never had. My only serious illness was in my infancy, so I suppose I cannot fully comprehend what Flannery O'Connor meant by these words.

But our Lord certainly understood, always reminding us that fear has no place in the Christian's heart. And so, again, when we suffer, when we turn to God in prayer, what are we to do?

I really believe the first thing to do is to thank Him.

Joyce Kilmer, the Catholic poet, is another of my favorites. He was struck down by a sniper's bullet during World War One. But in the midst of his wartime experience, in the midst of destruction and devastation and death he wrote a little poem called "Thanksgiving." 

     The roar of the world in my ears.
     Thank God for the roar of the world!
     Thank God for the mighty tide of fears
     Against me always hurled!

     Thank God for the bitter and ceaseless strife,
     And the sting of His chastening rod!
     Thank God for the stress and the pain of life,
     And Oh, thank God for God!


Brothers and sisters, that's exactly what we must do: just thank God for everything.

Thank God for the joys and the pains of our lives. They are all gifts, even when they are beyond our understanding. Yes, thank God for life itself.

And then, today and every day, we can let Him worry about the healing.

After all, He's pretty good at it.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Cardinal in Red Vestments

I'm sure it's apparent from a number of my earlier posts that I truly enjoy our local bird population here in Central Florida. A remarkable number of large birds inhabit our neighborhood. On any given morning or evening, while out walking with our dog, Maddie, I might encounter egrets, bald eagles, osprey, herons, ibises, anhingas, hawks, owls, and more.

I have to admit, though, I probably enjoy our songbirds the most. It's hard not to be cheered by their pre-dawn singing as I walk along with Maddie, wondering what I'm doing strolling through the streets in the semi-darkness. As it turns out, I'm enjoying the songs of our local birds. (Maddie demands two long walks daily, one early and another late.)

Perhaps the most common of our local songbirds are the northern mocking birds. They're also our most active singers, and living up to their name, will often sing ten or twenty different songs in rapid succession, mimicking the other birds and sounds that they hear. Brown thrushes are another common songbird in the area, and they too mimic other birds.

But my favorite is the cardinal. How can you not like this most obvious of songbirds? The male's bright red coloring and rapid-fire song is a true attention-grabber. We have many cardinals in our neighborhood and, in fact, this spring a cardinal couple made a nest in one of the shrubs right outside our front door. By the time I realized they were there, the little ones had hatched and were about ready to leave the nest.

Yesterday afternoon, as I relaxed on the lanai reading and rubbing Maddie's tummy, I heard a cardinal's telltale call and there he was, sitting on a cable box in our backyard. He was about 30 feet away but the telephoto lens did its job fairly well. Here's the photo...cool bird.
Local Cardinal

Strange Doings

Just a few of the random thoughts that have arisen in my often confused and certainly aging mind as I try to understand the more confused minds of those who make the headlines.

Oh, Canada! A few days ago an acquaintance asked me, "Did you read what Canada has done? What's with those Canadians? Have they gone insane?" He was referring to a law passed overwhelmingly (67 to 11) by the Canadian Senate that makes it a crime to refer to a person's sex by other than the term the person desires. In other words, should a Canadian decide that he/she/it is none of these but prefers to be called by another manufactured pronoun, such as "zir" or "zie" or "zit" or whatever, you must acquiesce to the loon's desires or face criminal prosecution. As my friend suggested, this is, of course, insane. But rest assured, the Canadians have not "gone" insane, they have simply remained insane. Indeed, a mild form of insanity has been their occasional mental state for the past few hundred years. After all, rather than join us in our quest to free ourselves from tyranny, they remained loyal to King George III, a man whose madness is rather well documented. So...the Canadians rejected George Washington -- a good guy and a very smart and sane man -- and instead placed their future well-being in the hands of another George, who happened to be a madman. I rest my case. I have only one question: Will those 11 senators who voted against the measure be prosecuted for discrimination? This would seem to be the most likely outcome for a nation comfortable with insanity.

LGBTQetc and Islam. Isn't it a bit odd that the Alphabet Corps of self-declared victims of sexual discrimination has become another voice decrying what they perceive to be Western (i.e., once Christian) Civilization's rampant Islamophobia? I do find this odd since virtually every Muslim-majority nation has sharia-based laws prohibiting homosexual and "related" behavior. And in many of these nations -- including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Yemen, Sudan, and others -- the punishment under these laws includes the death penalty. Strange bedfellows...so to speak. It only confirms the late James Burnham's belief that liberalism is just another form of suicide. (See his remarkable and prophetic 1964 book, Suicide of the West.) 

Violence on the Left. What do Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Tse Tung, Fidel Castro, and Bernie Sanders have in common? Well, OK, four of them are dead, but all five are (or were) Marxists. And once we establish that basic fact, the violence we encounter on the political left today becomes understandable. Socialism is just a seemingly "soft" form of Marxism. But it is Marxism nonetheless and accepts the basic tenets of Marxist faith. One of these tenets is the need for revolution to accomplish its ends. In the words of Elton John: "We go up the revolution, freedom strike another blow. Yeah, strike another blow." In this context, of course, freedom includes only the freedom to believe what the Marxist believes.

That's why all of those young collegiate Marxists, who have been indoctrinated by all those aging professorial Marxists, get violent whenever someone who holds an opposing view dares to show up on campus. Yeah, strike another blow.

That's why a mediocre comedian can hold up an effigy of the decapitated head of the president and get rave reviews from her fellow travelers. Yeah, strike another blow.

That's why a Bernie Sanders toady can decide it's fine to shoot up a Republican congressional baseball practice. Yeah, strike another blow.

That's why a Nebraskan Democratic official can say he wished the baseball-field shooter had actually killed that  Republican representative instead of just wounding him. Yeah, strike another blow.

Interestingly, according to a recent poll, registered Democrats now prefer socialism to free-market capitalism by a double-digit advantage: 49% to 37%. I can only assume this will lead to increased violence on the left and quite likely an increase in violent responses from the far right.

Yes, indeed, we live in a strange, confused world. Thank God for God.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Happy Birthday, Mom

Martha Catherine (Cavanaugh) McCarthy was born at home in Fairfield, Connecticut on June 28, 1909. And so today would have been her 108th birthday. I guess when your mother was born 108 years ago, you know you're getting old. 

Mom at the time of my childhood
Mom was the youngest child in a large family of eight children. Actually, four of her siblings were half-siblings since her mother, Julia, was a remarried widow who had four more children in her second marriage. Mom was only nine years old when her mother died, and her father, Thomas Cavanaugh, subsequently remarried. Unfortunately his second wife wasn't the most agreeable person -- I suppose that's a nice, pastoral way of describing her -- and so I always got the impression that Mom's teenage years were not very pleasant. It was also during this period that she lost her closest sister, Edna, to what I believe was scarlet fever; a personal tragedy that affected Mom deeply.

After high school she entered nursing school at St. Vincent's Hospital in Bridgeport, CT and ultimately graduated as an RN. It was around this time that she met my father, and they married on July 4, 1935.
Mom, the new RN  
Mom was one of those quiet, thoughtful, and very intelligent people who prefer to stay in the background, far out of the limelight, but manage to have a significant positive impact on others. She died 40 years ago and I miss her deeply, but I still go to her for advice. That's the nice thing about memories: through them we can relive and relearn what others tried to teach us when we were too foolish to pay very much attention...but the words remain.

Happy Birthday, Mom. God's peace...


Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Temple and the Presence of God

Jean Danielou, S.J.
Many years ago -- I'm guessing it was about 35 years ago -- I read a little book by Jean Danielou, a French Jesuit and one of the early advocates of the nouvelle théologie, or new theology, that was so influential in the mid-twentieth century and made its mark on the Second Vatican Council. An English translation of the book appeared in 1959 and was published under the title, The Presence of God. It's a wonderful read and introduced me to a whole string of ideas I had never before considered. In some ways it was the catalyst that really sparked my interest in Sacred Scripture.  Sadly the book is now out of print, but I suspect a copy or two can be found on one of the used book websites. 

After first reading Danielou's little book -- the English version is only about 60 pages -- I thought it could form the basis of a brief, but powerful, adult faith formation course. Because the subject matter ran through the entirety of Scripture, both Old and New Testaments, it could be the sort of course that would lead people into a deeper relationship with the Word of God. I put this thought on my unlit back burner and basically forgot about it.

These days I facilitate our parish Bible Study program, which consists of two sessions each Wednesday, one morning and one evening. Parishioners can choose which they would like to join. But every summer we take a break, mainly because here in Florida we have so many snowbirds, and they don't want to miss anything while they're cooling off up north. In recent years, however, I have offered some kind of relatively brief Scripture-based course for those parishioners who like me remain here during the summer months. This spring, as I considered the possibilities, I happened to spot Cardinal Danielou's little book in one of my bookcases and decided to prepare and offer a course addressing all those wonderful concepts to which he introduced me so many years ago.


Yves Congar, O.P.
By the way, another book that has helped me during my course development is The Mystery of the Temple (1962) by one of Jean Danielou's contemporaries, the French Dominican Yves Congar. Unfortunately it too is out of print, so if you want the book you'll have to search for used copies.

I divided the course into five sessions, each approximately one hour in length. I conduct it every other Wednesday evening, and we just finished the second session. (I need two weeks between each session since I'm developing the course as we go.) So far it's been pretty well received, with over 50 people participating. What a joy that so many parishioners are interested in deepening their faith through their study of Sacred Scripture.

The course includes PowerPoint presentations for each session, along with a number of other pertinent handouts. If you're interested in checking out the course material, just go to the documents page of my Bible Study website: Click Here and scroll down to the section describing our summer course. Right now I have posted only the material for the first two sessions. As we progress I will add additional presentations and their accompanying handout material.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Deja Vu All Over Again

This morning an old Navy friend (and all my Navy friends are old) directed me to a video on YouTube that brought back a lot of memories of my first carrier landings on June 28, 1968. It's hard to believe this took place almost 50 years ago, but that's one thing about time: it doesn't stand still.

Anyway, back then I was in the midst of my U.S. Navy flight training in Pensacola, Florida. I don't think I exaggerate when I say that all naval aviators consider the day of their first carrier landings among the most memorable of their lives. What a thrill! It was the primary skill that separated all of us naval aviators from the rest of the aviation community.

In those days even flight students who were slated to become helicopter pilots -- and that included me -- first learned to fly fixed-wing aircraft and had to qualify by completing a series of arrested landings on an aircraft carrier. For most flight students that carrier was the USS Lexington (CVT-16), a Pensacola-based ship that functioned as the training command's carrier. But in late June 1968, when I was scheduled for carrier qualification, Lexington was having some work done and she was temporarily replaced by the USS Randolph (CV-15). And so, my landings were on Randolph.

My aircraft for carrier qualification was the T-28C, an absolutely wonderful airplane. Among trainers flown in our armed forces at the time it was about as close to a World War II fighter as you could get. No other trainer could compare. In fact, during the Vietnam conflict the South Vietnamese Air Force (and the CIA) flew the T-28 in combat. I wouldn't be surprised if some countries still fly it in their air forces.


North American T-28C Trojan
The T-28 (the  B and C models we flew in training) was powered by a Wright Cyclone R-1820, a huge radial, 9-cylinder engine, that generated (if I remember correctly) 1,425 horsepower. It was quite a machine. When you strapped into the T-28 and cranked up that engine, you knew you were flying something special. It's cruising speed was about 220 knots and, as I recall, it's maximum speed was almost 300 knots. Despite the noise and the oil leaks and all of its odd little idiosyncrasies, it was a joy to fly.
R-1820 Engine in a T-28 (engine cowl removed)

The first video included below is a Navy training film designed to demonstrate the procedures used for landing a T-28C on the deck of an aircraft carrier. The voice of the narrator is one of the most familiar to anyone who served in the Navy. He must have narrated 1,000 films. 

I have a vague recollection of watching this particular film (or another version) way back when. But no video could replace the hours in the airplane practicing carrier landings at Barin Field in Foley, Alabama. By this time in our training we were already fairly competent T-28 pilots, so the carrier qualification training took only a couple of weeks. But it was a demanding two weeks and included almost 100 field carrier landings or FCLs designed to simulate landing on the carrier. For those of you interested in how naval aviators landed on carriers in the good ol' T-28, here's the training film:



On that very hot June day in 1968 when our flight took off, we joined up in formation and headed South to rendezvous with USS Randolph in the Gulf of Mexico. Then, one after another, we each completed touch-and-go landings, followed by six arrested landings. I've embedded another video (below) that depicts the first carrier landings of a flight of budding naval aviators around that time. It's an amateur video, taken with an 8mm movie camera, and has no audio. The quality is poor, but it depicts touch-and-goes, wave-offs, bolters (that's when you miss the arresting wire), and arrested landings. 



I'll never forget the date (June 28) because that was also my mom's birthday, and that evening I called her to wish her a happy birthday and tell her my exciting news.

That day was eclipsed by only a few others, the foremost being our wedding day four months later on November 2. Then, just two weeks later, on November 15, 1968, I received my Navy wings of gold which were pinned on by my new bride, Dear Diane. This was followed by the days each of our four children were born in 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1977. Twenty years later, on May 24, 1997, I was ordained a permanent deacon and with Diane at my side began this new life journey. Since then God has blessed us with nine wonderful grandchildren; and so the important days continue to add up.

This tremendous wealth of wonderful memories is what makes getting old so downright enjoyable. It's the one thing we have that the young don't.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Audio Homily - Solemnity of Body and Blood of Christ

Our IT people at the parish recorded my homily last Sunday and gave me a copy. Apparently it was supposed to be a video recording but some glitch left the video screen pitch black. And so my voice comes from out of the darkness. 

Anyway, if you liked the printed version that I posted a few days ago -- click here: Homily -- you can listen to the audio version below. Just don't expect to see anything.



...and don't forget, God loves you in spite of yourself.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Homily: Monday, 11th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Cor 6:1-10; Psalm 98; Mt 5:38-42
-----------------------

A few years ago, while Diane and I were on a cruise, we met a couple at dinner that happened to be from a nearby town here in central Florida. The man was from a ranching family, and since we shared the same dinner table every day, we heard many wonderful stories about Florida life years ago.

One evening, when he learned that I was a deacon, he told us that his family was one of the few Catholic families in the area. He said he used to get beat up a lot in school because of his faith, but then laughed and said, "I got used to it."

Years later, he told us, he ran into an old classmate who had become a Baptist minister. As they talked, the man said he had recently converted to Catholicism, a journey that began when he used to see our new friend get beat up in school.

"You were a big guy, but you never retaliated. You just took it and went on. I realized I was witnessing the Sermon on the Mount in action. That got me interested in the Catholic faith."

Whenever I think of him and then read the Sermon on the Mount, especially the words of today's Gospel passage, I find myself wondering whether I am savable.

How often do we find ourselves treated badly by others? How often do people take advantage of us? And how often do we want to respond in kind? It's so very human, isn't it? We get angry, or hostile, or indignant, all because we were treated badly. And, Oh, we do find ways to get even, don't we?

As we just heard, Jesus rejects this, the Mosaic Law spelled out in Leviticus [Lv 24:19-20] and Exodus [Ex 21:24], the idea of "an eye for an eye..." It's often what is called lex talionis, or the law of retaliation. In truth this law really wasn't an encouragement to take revenge, since revenge was often excessive. No, the law stressed that punishment for an assault should be restricted, and never exceed the suffering experienced; i.e., an eye for an eye. From a human perspective it seems reasonable, and is certainly present in many aspects of our criminal law today.

But Jesus calls us to something greater, something so un-human it can only be divine. And it's another of those hard sayings that fill the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus just seems to overturn everything the world believes to be right.

What does He tell us? Don't repay evil with more of the same. Instead, offer no resistance to the one who does evil. Then He utters that famous command: "turn the other cheek" [Mt 5:39]. But He doesn't stop there. If someone takes your coat, give him the rest of your clothing. If someone asks for your help, double it. And don't turn away beggars and borrowers.

As you might imagine, not many Christians spend a lot of time mulling over these verses. Best to ignore them. After all, Jesus is probably exaggerating - a little Jewish hyperbole. A bit of a maybe if we ignore it it'll go away sort of thing. But Jesus doesn't say things He doesn't mean...so what exactly does He mean? Should we take Him literally? 

And who should we imitate, some movie action-hero, one of those Arnold Schwarzenegger characters who makes sure the bad guys pay, or Jesus Christ, who let the bad guys nail Him to a Cross, and then forgave them? Jesus certainly turned the other cheek, didn't He? He didn't resist as they spat at Him, beat Him, and then killed Him.

After all, Jesus wasn't defenseless. What did He say to the Apostles in the garden?
"Do you think that I cannot call upon my Father and he will not provide me at this moment with more than twelve legions of angels?" [Mt 26:53]
Jesus, you see, is no victim here. He remains in total control. Those who torment Him are barbaric, but Jesus maintains His dignity and His strength.

Is He telling us, then, that we cannot act in self-defense? Not at all, taking revenge is very different from protecting oneself, or one's family, or one's country. No, in urging us to follow His example, Jesus calls on us to use self-restraint, and in turn to call others to him through love and forgiveness. Being vengeful is the easy path, the human way, but not the better or divine way. And we are called to perfection, aren't we?

You and I don't have to look farther than the headlines or the TV news to see the results of revenge and retaliation. Too often it leads only to a never-ending cycle of violence.

And keep in mind, when we follow Jesus' example, we are, in effect, turning it all over to the Father, and allowing Him to act in our lives, just as He has since the beginning of time. By following Jesus we show that we understand the nature of our relationship with the Father: He is sovereign and we are His children.

In our first reading Paul reminds us "not to receive the grace of God in vain" [2 Cor 6:1]. Indeed, without the constant flow of God's grace, you and I can do nothing good. We need His Holy Spirit acting within us. Only then, when we are open to the Spirit, will God act through us to overcome the evil of the world with good...for we certainly can't do it alone.

Homily: Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Readings: Dt 8:2-3,14-16; Ps 147; 1 Cor 10:16-17; Jn 6:51-58

---------------------------

First of all...Happy Father's Day to all the fathers here today. I know, being a good father is a tough job, but somebody has to do it. And don't sneak out early or you'll miss the special blessing for fathers at the end of Mass.

Speaking of fathers and sons, some years ago, my elder son, who's into genealogy, asked me to look through my boxes of family documents for anything of interest. One of the first things I came across was the 65-year-old certificate from my First Holy Communion. Talk about a forgotten relic!


It provides only basic information: name, date, the parish, the pastor, all handwritten. Most of the certificate is a picture of a young boy and girl, dressed in their First Communion finery, kneeling at the altar rail. Remember altar rails? Standing behind the rail in the sanctuary, holding a host in one hand and a chalice in the other is Jesus, with two angels posed prayerfully behind Him.

It's a pious scene, a sweet scene, the sort of scene that today might bring about a few condescending smiles, even some cynicism. Yes, such naiveté is fine for children, but we adults...well, ours is a more sophisticated faith.

But as I continued to gaze at that picture I found myself transported from our adult world of pragmatism to a very different world...to a world where miracles abound and God's hand touches all of creation...to a world of real faith in which the truth of a theological mystery like the Eucharist is readily accepted. I knew then that a world in which a child can be filled with wonder over God's presence in the Eucharist - that this is the real world. I also realized how misleading, how utterly false our grown-up world can be.

Instead of marveling at God's wondrous gifts, we spend our lives worrying about and fretting over every conceivable worldly thing. We worry about money and jobs and retirement and health. We worry about our children and our grandchildren, about their education, their jobs, and their worldly success. We worry about impressing others, about our friendships, about the clothes we wear, the house we live in, the vacations we take.

Yes, our place in this world so monopolizes our lives, we even define ourselves by how we earn a living. When someone asks "What do you do?" - or for most of us, "What did you do?" - we provide the standard answers: an attorney...a mechanic...an engineer...a sales rep...a teacher...a beautician...a mechanic...a policeman.

How many of us have ever answered, "I'm a Christian, a child of God seeking salvation"?

And why not? After all, that's your true vocation; that's why God created you in the first place. He didn't create you for a job that pays the bills, or promises a nice pension in retirement.

Yes, we live lives littered with all these important and urgent things, concerns so crucial that when placed alongside salvation they become...well, absolutely trivial. 

We ignore the mystery of God's creation and come to believe we can control our little piece of the world...until we're confronted with the stark reality of an illness, or an accident, or the death of one we love.

In our growing-up we've lost that childlike sense of wonder, the capacity to see and marvel at the mystery that fills our world. Lacking this we fail to recognize the face of God even when He's standing right before us.

This is why Jesus instructs us to be like the child, to be childlike, not childish. He wants us to reclaim that wonderful gift of faith He bestowed on us when we were children. How did Jesus put it?
"Father, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike" [Mt 11:25].
He wants us to believe as we once did, and to love as we once did. Brothers and sisters, God created us to love Him, and to serve Him by loving and serving others, and to spend our lives doing just that.

This is how we live our faith, the same faith I saw in the eyes of the children in that picture. Kneeling to receive Jesus in the Eucharist - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity - they don't see a mere piece of bread. No, they see Jesus Christ standing before them, loving them, offering them the greatest gift he can offer: Himself.

Contrast them with those in today's Gospel passage, people who had lost their sense of childlike wonder and, when confronted with Jesus' words about the Eucharist, denied the mystery of God's power. Quarrelling among themselves, they ask, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" [Jn 6:52]

"This man..." They had witnessed miracle after miracle, acts only God could perform, but Jesus was still simply, "this man."

But Jesus won't let them take refuge in their cynical, adult ways. He forces the issue, repeating and expanding His claims.
"...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him" [Jn 6:53-56].
These were hard words for that incredulous crowd, just as they are for so many today. On that day in Galilee, John tells us, after hearing these words, "many of his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him" [Jn 6:66]. Just as many leave the Church today and the very Bread of Life because they cannot accept Jesus' Real Presence in the Eucharist. If they accepted it, they would never leave.

It's just a symbol, they say. Well, if it's just a symbol it's meaningless. Read the words of John's Gospel [Jn 6] once again...

No symbol can fill you with divine life.

No symbol can give you eternal life.

No symbol can raise you on the last day.

No symbol can bring you into communion with Jesus where He is in you and you in Him.

How did St. Paul put it in our second reading? 
"The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?" [1 Cor 10:16]
And later in that same First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul warns not to receive Jesus in the Eucharist unworthily: 
"Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord"  [1 Cor 11:27].
We don't have to answer to God for a mere symbol. We must answer for the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

This is what we celebrate today, Jesus' redemptive sacrifice, the beautiful Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. We used to call it simply Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ - and many of us will probably continue to call it that, if only out of habit.

But in her wisdom the Church changed its name to reflect more accurately the reality of what happened at Calvary and at the Last Supper, and what will soon happen on this altar at St. Vincent de Paul Church. For it is the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant that was shed from the Body of Christ on the Cross.

In many places when this feast is celebrated, Catholics will process through the streets carrying the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ to a disbelieving world. In the same way, you and I are called to take Him - "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" [Jn 14:6] - to a world searching for meaning and hope, a world begging for God's love and Presence.

We are called to be like joyful children once again, ever amazed at God's gift of life, fully aware that we are "fearfully, wonderfully made" [Ps 139:14], and thankful for the miraculous gift of Christ's Real Presence to nourish our hearts and our spirits.

When we gather for Mass, we become one with Christ, transformed by history's deepest act of love. We become one with Christ in the starving child who aches for a piece of bread, in the victim of violence lying in the emergency room, in the young Marine dying of wounds in Afghanistan, in the African mother whose daughter was kidnapped by terrorists.

Did you know that all this happens here at Mass? We join our souls to Christ and offer our bodies with his on the Cross for the healing of the entire world. We do it for the salvation of the world, for the salvation of souls so that God's "will be done on earth as it is in heaven" [Mt 6:10]

This is what happens at Mass. The sacrifice of Christ - Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity - saves us anew. No words can explain it. But a child can understand it.