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!


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Homily: Saturday, 3rd Week of Ordinary Time

Note: Today, at our daily Mass, we also celebrated the 50th wedding anniversary of our dear friends, Deacon Claude and his wife, Patricia. They spend part of the year here in Florida and in the warmer months return to their lovely home in Penn Yan, NY on beautiful Lake Seneca. When they're here they spend much of their time involved in many of our parish ministries. I was honored that Claude and Patricia asked me to preach at today's Mass. Happy Anniversary, and many more!

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Readings: Heb 11:1-2,8-19 • Lk 1:69-75 • Mk 4:35-41

I've always been intrigued by that verse in today's reading from Hebrews in which the author describes the patriarchs - Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - as men who "acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth"  [Heb 11:13].

It's seems like such an odd thing to say, doesn't it? After all they were born here on earth, lived on earth, and died on earth. How could they consider themselves aliens? 


That verse troubled me for years...until one day I realized I was getting old...or at least older. It was then, from my perspective as a more mature Christian, that I began to see the earth -- the world we live and die in -- as a fairly hostile place. I came to realize that this world, so hostile to all that I believed, so hostile to our faith, was not our home; that it was really a place of preparation, a place that would lead us to our true home, the home for which we were created. 

But if we let it, the open hostility of this world can drive us to respond not in faith, but in fear. The antidote to that fear is described in that far more famous verse from the same reading of Hebrews:
"Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen" [Heb 11:1].
You know, most people, if asked, "What's the opposite of faith?", would probably answer, "Doubt." And yet, that's not what Jesus tells us, is it? In our Gospel passage from Mark, and indeed, throughout all four Gospels, Jesus seems to be telling us that faith is opposed mainly by fear. What did He say to the apostles in today's passage?
"Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" [Mk 4:40]
Jesus Calms the Wind and the Sea
Yes, it's fear, isn't it? It's fear in the face of this hostile world that challenges our faith. And so many today are so very afraid.

Fear, of course, is a normal human emotion, one that if it's controlled can actually aid us in our survival. As a Navy pilot I occasionally found myself in rather scary situations. Fear certainly kicked in, but so did my training, and I managed to overcome the fear. My faith was there, too,  supporting me, but I was more focused on simply doing what had to be done.

If we allow fear to control us, it will turn against us, and paralyze us. We see this manifested by the apostles in our Gospel passage. Jesus sleeps, in complete trust in God, but the apostles panic, overcome by fear. That they still call Him "teacher" tells us they do not yet understand who He is. But even in their fear and ignorance there's a glimmer of faith; for they awaken Jesus, and scold Him, hoping He can do something to save them.

But Jesus simply speaks to the sea as if it were a living thing, another being in this hostile world, something that the devil can manipulate.

"Quiet! Be still!" [Mk 4:39]
It's as if He's scolding an unruly child. The apostles are awestruck. And they ask the question that answers itself:
"Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?" [Mk 4:41] 
Psalm 46:10
It's an answer found throughout Scripture, especially in the Psalms, where God's rule over creation is proclaimed again and again. And it's in the Psalms where we, too, are told to be quiet, to be still, to step away from the storms of our lives and be with God.

The boat, of course, foreshadows the Church, and over the centuries it too will be tossed about by an increasingly hostile world. But as Jesus reminds us again and again, it will be the faith of the Church that saves us, your faith and my faith that save us; for Jesus is never far away, but always there with us, calming our hearts.

And so today, let's pray that the trust and peace of Jesus will fill our hearts, that in our faith we'll know He is always with us, always ready to calm the storms of our lives.

Now...one more thing...

Today is the feast of the great 13-century theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, a man whose influence on the teachings of the Catholic Church can hardly be overstated. A Dominican, he was a brilliant philosopher and theologian, but also a man of deep faith, a man of prayer, goodness, and simplicity. In addition to being the patron saint of teachers, students, and schools, St. Thomas is also fittingly the patron against storms.
 
Church - St. Thomas Aquinas, Paris
Thomas studied under St. Albert the Great, and the two of them spent a number of years studying and teaching at the Sorbonne in Paris. Today we have another Parisian connection, one that goes back not to the Middle Ages, but to the spring of 1965.

Yes, it was April in Paris of that year when Claude and Patricia first met. Like Thomas Aquinas both were studying in Paris. And less than two years later, they married. I'm sure over the years they've encountered a few storms, but in their deep faith, together they have weathered them all.

And so today we join Patricia and Claude as they celebrate their fifty years of marriage, and call them forward to renew their vows and receive Father's blessing.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Inauguration

I'm beginning to like Donald Trump...a lot! I especially enjoyed his inaugural address even though I wasn't able to watch or listen to it live. Dear Diane and I spent a good part of inauguration day taking an elderly acquaintance to the doctor. She had fallen and broken her wrist a week or so ago and needed to see an orthopedic specialist. Sadly, the closest who would honor her Medicare and Wellcare insurance was almost an hour away so that's where we had to take her. The entire adventure, from home to home, took over six hours; therefore, we missed the new president's inauguration. But that's OK. The day was a typical, beautiful Florida day, so we had a delightful drive to Clermont, Florida. I got some reading done in the doctor's waiting room and we also met several very nice folks there. The traffic was light, and we stopped for a milkshake on the way home. What more could we possibly desire? It's these little things in life that I've come to enjoy as I shuffle through my senior years.
Oops! As I write this on Sunday evening, we've just been issued a tornado warning by the Weather Service. It's all very exciting, so exciting I've changed the channel from the Patriots-Steelers game to my favorite bunch of weather guessers on Orlando's channel 9. Dear Diane and I are ready to jump into the interior guest bathroom in the event of a tornado. Lots of thunder and lightning, very high winds, and torrents of rain -- it's all raging right now outside our doors. Interestingly, this storm system is moving through the area at 60 mph, much faster than most of the storms that visit us here in central Florida. I remember outrunning a storm like that years ago in my Navy helicopter. It was roaring across the South China Sea at over 70 mph and I had to race it back to the ship. Fortunately I won that race. (I will take a break until the weather improves.)
The storm is now over and we were, thankfully, untouched by tornadoes. And the Patriots won!

As I said above, I'm beginning to like Donald (now President) Trump. I've learned to measure people by their enemies. And when one looks at who hates President #45, it's hard not to like the man. Just consider all those who have convinced themselves his presidency is illegitimate: the same people who ranted when, during the campaign, he gave one of his famous off-the-cuff comments that he might not accept a Hillary victory. Well, these folks have taken non-acceptance to a new level. 

One particularly interesting Trump-hater is the Reverend Al Sharpton who along with his good friend, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, has perfected the profitable art of race-based extortion. Rev Al is very upset, certain our new president's election wasn't legitimate. In this he agrees with US Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta, a man who has done little of note since he was beaten up by thugs decades ago on a bridge in Selma. But because of that beating, we are not permitted to question his current absurdities. Both men, along with their admirers, are apparently convinced that the Russians perpetrated a Slavic version of the Vulcan mind-meld on the American people, causing them to shift allegiance from Hillary to Donald during the final days of the campaign. Rev Al, of course, is no more than a race-pimp, a walking, talking irrelevance who need not be taken seriously...and so I don't.

When considering haters, one can't ignore Madonna and her apparently unfulfilled desire to blow up the White House. Speaking to a sympathetic mob at the Women's March, she stated that she had instead chosen "love" and then proceeded to spew forth a stream of hate-filled rhetoric. The mainstream media, of course, were thrilled by her inarticulate diatribe even though she dropped a load of f-bombs and other obscenities on live TV. Such a lovely woman. 

I couldn't help but note that abortion seemed to be the overriding issue for those on the Women's March. For a gathering that speaks so much about love they sure do enjoy killing innocent unborn children. It boggles the mind.

Oh, yes...almost forgot. Michael Moore also addressed the Women's March. He was particularly upset with those women who voted for Donald Trump, calling them “victims”  of “misogyny and the sexism that is still so prevalent and ingrained.” Like most on the left, Moore believes that anyone who disagrees with him is either evil or crazy. 

Back to the president and the media...Did you hear Chris Matthews and the other MSNBC jokesters compare President Trump to Hitler and Mussolini? Or how about Democrat Representative Yvette Clarke of NY who was distraught because of the new president's fascism? In her words:
“You know, we may have fallen short on election day, but we did carry the popular vote. And, so, there are many more Americans who are in tune with the fact that we’re in the 21st century. And we’re not turning back the clock. We’re not going to stand for the type of, if you will, fascism — and I’m going to use that word — that many use to their advantage while suppressing and oppressing marginalized communities in this nation.”
One suspects that the representative doesn't have a clue about the real meaning of fascism. But who cares? Fascism is one of those scary words -- like racist, sexist, Islamophobic, etc. -- the left loves to toss around when speaking of conservatives. 

I also found it odd that the less-than-dynamic duo -- Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- seem a bit confused about the new leader of their party. Senator McCain claimed today that he was unsure whether he had confidence in President Trump. This seems a rather odd thing to admit before the man has completed two days in office, but I suspect the senator's evaluation of the president might be colored by a few personal concerns; i.e.,  he hates Donald Trump. Senator Graham also expressed confusion today when he stated: “I don’t know what America first means.” If that's true one can only assume he paid no attention to Donald Trump during the campaign. Of course, it's pretty apparent that he too hates Donald Trump.

The next four years should be interesting indeed.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

News from Israel: Old and New

I thought it might be interesting to share a few recent news items out of Israel -- some relate to current events while others touch on the nation's ancient roots. The first item says much about the attitude of the United Nations with regard to the state of Israel.


UNRWA School in Gaza
UN Schools Teach Palestinian Children to Hate Israel and Jews. In the West Bank and Gaza the United Nations operates a number of schools attended mainly by Palestinian children. These schools, which receive funding from the United Nations' Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), use textbooks provided by the Palestinian Ministry of Education. As you might imagine, these textbooks are strongly anti-Israel. They purposely do not recognize the existence of Israel, even excluding the country from maps of the region. Equally disturbing, the books claim that the holy sites in Israel are exclusively Muslim sites, fail to mention their Jewish origins, and even accuse the Jews of trying to control them illegally. The books also contain no historical reference to the Jews or the Hebrew language. In effect these UN schools simply continue the racism and antisemitism that typify the official Palestinian position. Is it any wonder that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is so illusive since one side refuses to accept the existence of the other? It also explains the recent anti-Israel resolution passed by the UN, a resolution which the Obama administration supported by its refusal to exercise its veto.

Gaza-based Jihadist: Ban Christmas. If you're a Jihadist (aka, a terrorist) a good place to hang out is in Gaza where you will be well protected by the Palestinian authorities. You'll also have access to some cool textbooks. Anyway, one of these jokers, who's been given the label of "Senior Islamic State Jihadist," goes by the name of Abu Omar Almaqdesi. (Let's just call him Abe.) It seems Abe has been very vocal of late. Discussing recent terrorism in Turkey, Germany, and Jordan, he announced that such attacks are "the price these states must pay for positioning themselves as part of the Crusader Coalition of infidel countries fighting against Islam." Just a thought, but I suspect the German. Turkish, and Jordanian governments (or, for that matter, the US government) do not consider themselves as part of a Crusader Coalition. Too bad. If they did we might actually get somewhere in our misnamed war on terror. 

Abe also added a few seasonal comments relating to Christmas: "If somewhere there are Christians who insist on celebrating Christmas with the support of the heretic authorities, one must unleash upon them all one's might and deploy all the available means." He went on to explain that "all methods are admissible when it comes to preventing blasphemy against Allah and his commandments. Yes, including killing and blowing up." Then, apparently getting into the Christmas spirit, Abe added, "But...we believe that first you should act politely and explain that living in Islamic countries is conditioned on accepting Sharia and refrain from openly practicing rituals other than Islam." I guess after you've been polite, you can go ahead and blow them up. Don't you just love these guys? Abe sounds like a prime candidate for an extended vacation at Gitmo.

Having been promised by God to Abraham about 4,000 years ago, the Holy Land is a remarkable treasure trove for archaeologists. Like much of the Middle East, modern day Israel has lots of interesting stuff beneath its surface just waiting to be uncovered. Here are a couple of cool stories I found particularly interesting.

Egyptian Slab -- Ancient Hebrew? Inscriptions
Hebrew is #1. A Canadian archaeologist, Douglas Petrovich, has generated a whole lot of controversy among his colleagues by claiming that the Hebrew alphabet might just be the world's oldest. One can only assume his claims will not be well-received in Gaza. Petrovich believes that the Hebrews, when they were in Egypt, converted the local hieroglyphics into their own alphabet so they could express their Hebrew language in written form. He dates this alphabet to almost 4,000 years ago. He also claims to have found specific Biblical references from Genesis and Exodus -- to Moses, Ahisamach and Asenath -- as he translated various inscriptions. He's taking a lot of heat from the skeptics, but who knows? He might be right. After all, we know God was partial to Hebrew.


One of the many Temple Floor Tiles recovered
Second Temple Floor Tiles Discovered. Jerusalem's
second Temple, the one started by Herod and destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D., is now covered by a Muslim shrine. This makes excavations a bit tense since the Muslims do not want Jewish access to this holy site. The second Temple is also the Temple of the Gospels at which Jesus and his disciples worshiped. As a result of excavations that began in 2005, over 600 of the Temple's floor tiles have been found and many have been restored. These are the only known physical elements of the Temple so they are considered extremely important. They are also of interest to Christians since Jesus quite possibly walked on many of these floor tiles.

I find it amazing that today, thousands of years after these events, we continue to discover such wondrous things. And so often these finds support the Biblical narrative that so many have considered unreliable at best. It would seem that God delights in leading us to that which magnifies His Word.

Homily: Christmas Weekday - Saturday

Readings: 1 John 5:14-21; Ps 149; John 2:1-11

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The wedding feast at Cana provides a prophetic moment, a time for beginnings, a unique moment between our Savior and His Mother.

Now in those days among the Jews a wedding celebration was usually held at the home of the groom and often lasted a week or more. As you might imagine this involved a lot of food and a lot of wine. For as the rabbis happily tell us, "Where there is no wine, there is no joy."

Mary was probably a friend of the family, and she might well have helped with the preparations for the feast. And so she notices the potential embarrassment of the family running out of wine. Nobody asks her to help. After all, what could she possibly do? But her heart is stirred; she pities the unfortunate couple and she acts as an intercessor, a mediator with her Son.


But Mary doesn't ask Jesus for a miracle, does she? At least not directly. She merely tells Him: "They have no wine" [Jn 2:3].

With this simple statement Mary teaches us the basics of intercessory prayer. We need only state the problem and then let God decide how best to solve it. Too often we find ourselves telling God how to do things, as if we're the boss and he's the employee.

Jesus, of course, knows full well what Mary is asking and replies with words that seem strange to us:


"Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come" [Jn 2:4].
Some people are disturbed by His calling her "Woman." But it's important to realize Jesus is not being disrespectful to His Mother. Quite the opposite. Unlike its impersonal connotation in English, among the Jews "Woman" was a title, a title of respect. Indeed, in his Gospel John never calls Mary by her name. And later, much later, John has Jesus using that same title again, when he speaks to Mary from the Cross:
"Woman, behold, your son" [Jn 19:26]; and to John himself: "Behold your mother" [Jn 19:27].
Also a better translation of Jesus' comment might be as St. Jerome translates it into Latin: "Quid mihi et tibi?" or "What to me and thee?" or perhaps, "What are you asking of me?" We can almost hear Jesus saying, "Oh, is it that time already? Is the Father asking you to introduce me to men?"

Indeed, just consider Mary's indispensable role in God's plan for humanity. She is present at both of His human beginnings: the Incarnation and His public ministry. But she is not merely present. It is Mary's word, her fiat to Gabriel that permits the Incarnation. And it is her word at Cana that launches Jesus into His ministry. This very human request at a wedding feast begins His public journey to His "hour" - the hour of His salvific Passion, Death and Resurrection.


The Annunciation
Yes, it is through Mary's human word that the Divine Word enters into the world. She is present and active at every key moment. But in John's Gospel she appears only twice, for it is Mary who frames her Son's ministry: present at the very beginning and at the end.

Her last words in Scripture are spoken here at Cana, and offer us a perfect summation of her role: "Do whatever He tells you" [Jn 2:5]. Here and in every encounter with Mary in Scripture, she points always to her Son, offering us a permanent invitation to obey Christ in all things.

We can safely assume that God's plan included Jesus working this miracle at His Mother's request, since the Holy Spirit saw fit to include it in John's Gospel. And as the sinless one, she strives always to do the Father's will.

Here at Cana is the Father speaking through her to her Son, to His Son? "Now is the time, my Son. Your saving mission begins today."

Did God place the "hour" of Jesus into Mary's hands, just as He placed the Incarnation itself into her hands?  I've always thought so.

Let us never forget that Mary is the new Eve, the symbol of the Church, the one who will protect the Church, interceding for it with her Son. And just as she does at Cana, she will intercede for us even when she isn't asked.


Friday, January 6, 2017

There Oughta Be A Law...Not!

Chuck Schumer Ranting
For the past few days, since the start of the new congressional session, our federal legislators of both parties have been racking up the live-shots on TV news. I suppose they just can't help themselves. It probably has something to do with the politically oriented personality, a psyche that seeks and often demands constant attention. (This character trait is why nation-wide term-limits will always be an unattainable goal.) In their defense, though, I'll agree that the media, especially the 24-hour news-focused television media, have provided one of the more effective means of getting a politician's message and face in front of the people. And as agents of the status quo, they can't be expected to try something new.


Donald Trump Cheering
Our president-elect, however, is anything but a friend of the existing order. Thanks to years of media exposure, his face and his voice are almost universally recognized. He need not  introduce himself to the nation; it knows him already. Through his business experience and his unorthodox campaign it would seem he has come to realize several important things: (1) the people don't want another talking head for a president; (2) the media tend to filter what he says through their own political and ideological biases; and (3) keep the message simple, concise and clear. And so, instead of seeking out the TV cameras to communicate, he's chosen to go directly to the people with tweets of 140 characters. Not only do the people like it, but it's also proven to be extremely effective in producing the results he seeks. 

As one might expect, the mainstream media is apoplectic about Mr. Trump's use of Twitter because he's been able to bypass them as he communicates to the nation, thereby threatening their continued relevance. The opposition politicians -- most Democrats and a few Republicans -- join the media in their disdain of his tactics. They rant and rave from the House and Senate floors in hour-long diatribes that nobody listens to. It's all quite remarkable.

One thing I've noticed is the number of these legislators who, in praise of themselves, focus almost entirely on the number of laws they've enacted and of all the new legislation they're just aching to pass. Fortunately, a few of them take an opposing view and are more concerned with the laws they'd like to overturn. The repeal of so-called Obamacare (the Affordable Care Act) is at the top of most Republicans' lists, and I certainly have no problem with that. Any law that places the healthcare of the individual in the hands of incompetent government bureaucrats must be repealed. And for most citizens it's proven to be anything but affordable. It is also far too complex and like our tax structure is incomprehensible, not only to the average citizen, but even to the supposed experts. It has to go.

I have come to appreciate Mr. Trump's simple approach to things political. Our founding fathers were of a similar mind when it came to the enactment of laws. Laws, they believed, should be clear and simple so they can be easily understood by the citizen. One cannot obey a law that cannot be understood. And there shouldn't be too many of them. Laws are necessary to prevent societal anarchy, but a constant increase in laws means a constant decrease in freedom. Too many laws also lead to the growth of government and the creation of agencies needed to interpret and enforce the laws. This too impinges on our freedom. And our laws should not contradict one another, but should reflect a continuity of purpose and result, one that supports the moral foundation of the republic. 

We have strayed far from this understanding of the law. At all levels of government our laws are too many, too complex, and too arbitrary.  Even more disturbing, the executive branch has circumvented the legislature by issuing a constant stream of executive orders which it enforces as if they were laws. And the judicial branch has evolved to function as a kind of super-legislature that can enact its own laws without any effective oversight.

Can we overcome these near-fatal faults and regain our freedom as citizens of this great republic? I'm not particularly optimistic, largely because of the sharp divisions that exist among the citizenry. Racial and ethnic divides, once thought to be lessening, have in recent years intensified. The people we elect to represent us show a remarkable disdain for the good of the people and focus instead on that which will aid their reelection. And as religion is increasingly forced from the public square, the nation seems to have lost its moral compass.  We murder the innocent and inconvenient and label the good as evil and the evil as good. 

Can all this be changed? Yes, it certainly can, but not by man's doing. It will take the movement of God, the Lord of History, to save us from ourselves. All we can do is stay faithful, never be fearful, and trust in God's mercy.

Pray for our nation and for those we have elected.