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!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Photos of Rome

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I actually took about 1,200 photos when we were in Rome. This, of course, wouldn't have happened ten years ago, before the advent of the digital camera. But now, armed with my trusty Canon Digital Rebel SLR and a few extra lenses, I can take hundreds of photos without worrying about the cost of film. I can take multiple exposures of the same subject and simply select the best later; and I can even improve on the original photo thanks to the powerful software on my PC. All in all a wonderful innovation. Unfortunately, because I took so many photos, it's taking me a while to go through them all and select some of the more interesting ones for inclusion on the blog. I hope to post some later this week. I might even add a few photos retroactively to some of the postings from Rome. We'll see...

No time to write much today. One of our sons is visiting and requires entertaining and I have a Bible Study and liturgy course to prepare. Busy week...

Just remember to take a moment to thank God for creating you.

Praise God.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Elections and Disintegration

The above is a strange title but it's just the outcome of a some equally strange thoughts that bubbled up in my brain earlier today as I thought about our upcoming presidential election. It really started a few evenings ago when I was thinking about what took place in Greece -- specifically in Athens -- about 2,500 years ago.

Athens, for a good three or four hundred years, was a pretty marvelous place. Ordinary citizens were given a major role in the political life of Athenian society. The creative genius of the people flourished in this open atmosphere, a creativity from which we still benefit today. But something went wrong, as something always goes wrong with every society. Athens, faced with overcrowding and subsistence farming, expanded overseas through colonization. And then there was the remarkable victory over the Persians. With these events came a marked change in societal attitudes, a change driven by pride and greed. Moral leadership cannot exist once pride and greed take hold. And so the still seemingly great Athens found itself facing the revolt of its neighbors led by Sparta. During the Peloponnesian Wars hatred and injustice and barbarity led to a steady loss of freedom and creativity. Ultimately, the old Athens disappeared, becoming just one more nation that crumbled into nothingness as a result of war and violence.

Not a pleasant story but it got me thinking about our own nation. Internally we have lost any sense of morality and with it the moral leadership our nation once exerted. The best example, of course, is how we murder our unborn babies at a horrific rate, discarding their tiny torn bodies in the garbage. And there is virtually no outrage over this. Oh, some politicians call themselves pro-life and wring their hands publicly -- particularly at election time -- over the "issue" but do absolutely nothing.

Sadly, the Catholic Church in America is in pretty much the same state. Yes, some bishops write pastoral letters and occasional editorials in their diocesan newspapers on the evils of abortion, but that's about it. Most still schmooze with the pro-abortion politicians (especially the Catholic ones) and talk a lot about "conscience" and "seamless garments" and "a multitude of critical issues." But in their moral cowardice they seem far more concerned about capital campaigns and maintaining their tax-exempt status than they are about the modern slaughter of the innocents going on right under their noses.

I wonder what a bishop thinks when he realizes that his Catholic flock votes for pro-abortion politicians at virtually the same rate as the rest of the population. Does this bother him? Does he think that perhaps he's not doing what Christ commanded him to do? Or does he just write it off as another symptom of societal change over which he really has little control? And how about Massachusetts, a state that I believe is at least 50% Catholic, voting for homosexual marriage? The bishops of Massachusetts should be embarrassed and ashamed. Of course, when bishops turn a blind eye to blatant homosexuality among some of their priests, I suspect the average layperson won't care much about a radical redefinition of the sacred bond of marriage.

And greed? Oh, my, do we have greed. Indeed, it seems that our economy now runs and thrives on greed. No return is high enough. No profit big enough. No lottery payoff great enough. No government program or handout expansive enough. Yes, as greed eventually pervades every level of society it destroys a nation just as effectively as a devastating war. Indeed, national collective greed usually leads to war because of the hatred it engenders in others. And to think that some people don't believe in original sin.

No society can long survive this massive loss of moral direction. When the good is redefined as that which is most useful and when justice becomes that which serves the current special interest -- when these things happen, the society is in serious decline.

That's why this election will be so critical and so interesting. I don't know whether our nation will or can restore itself to what it once was, or remake itself into something else, something different but good. I suspect not. I'm neither smart enough nor prescient enough to call that one. But it would appear we're at a crossroads of sorts, because the choice facing us as Americans is a real choice. It's not a perfect choice, because no choice between two human beings is ever perfect, but it is nevertheless a real choice between a culture of life and a culture of death. I believe that the Lord of History is giving us an opportunity to redeem ourselves as a nation, to do as Moses commanded God's chosen people: to choose life.

I hope we make that choice. Pray for our nation, for those we have elected to office, for our judges. And pray for our bishops that they have the courage to be true shepherds.

Now that I've criticized those bishops who have avoided criticizing our anti-life politicians, I should thank the bishops of Florida for their election year statement reminding us that we may not in good conscience vote for candidates who consistently support intrinsic evils like abortion. I'm also pleased to note that the bishops of Kansas City published a similar joint pastoral letter on the upcoming election. Click here for the EWTN news story. Let's hope that the pastors of Florida's parishes, along with those of the archdiocese of Kansas City and the diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, listen to and preach the bishops' words from the pulpit. Click here for the complete pastoral letter. And we should also thank our US bishops for their public corrections of the grossly inaccurate comments of two pro-abortion politicians, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden. Sadly, correction seems to have no impact on those who place politics above all else, even the lives of innocents and their own salvation. One more piece of good news is the talk Bishop Jaime Soto gave to the National Association of Catholic Diocesan Lesbian and Gay Ministries. Read the story here.

I don't mean to sound pessimistic, because I'm not. Despite all these worldly concerns -- and the rise and fall of governments and nations are truly worldly concerns -- we can look to the future with hope, because we have a loving God who is always in charge, a God who is true to His promises. Yes, being here in the world today is a good thing. Give God thanks for the fact of your being.

Oh, more thing: Check out the website It's worth a visit.

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back Home Again...

Although we've been home for several days, it's taken us that long to fully recover from the jet lag and the fact that we really took no downtime after our trip. Trying to hit the ground running the day after one's return from a trip abroad is not something I would recommend...especially at my age.

In any event, before I delve into deeper subjects, I thought it would be well to describe our last day in Rome. So here goes...

One church I badly wanted to visit was St. Cecilia in Trastevere. On our last visit to Rome in 2005 we tried to see the church, but it was closed for renovations and all we could do was view its exterior. So this time we did our homework and made sure the church was open for visitors.

First we took our trusty tourist bus to its first stop, Santa Maria in Trastevere, one of Rome's oldest churches. We stopped by for a brief look, and once inside wished we had more time. Like many Roman churches it's been rebuilt several times, and if I remember correctly, the existing Romanesque church was built in the 12th century. Of particular interest are the beautiful 13th century mosaics by Cavallini. One could spend hours enjoying them and the other marvels hidden in this wonderful church...but time (and the fact that rain threatened) didn't permit more than a brief visit. As you can see in the photo, Diane did have time to light a candle and offer prayers for special intentions.

And so we walked on through the winding, narrow streets of Trastevere (aided by my TomTom handheld GPS) and made our way to St. Cecilia. What a treat this was!

One of the most moving works of art in the church is the sculpture of St. Cecilia displayed under the main altar just over her tomb. The sculpture, by Stefano Maderno, shows Cecilia's incorrupt body positioned just as it was when it was exhumed from her grave in the 16th century. Cecilia, of course, is the patron saint of music. Given the state of music in the Church today, perhaps we should send some intercessory prayers her way.

We also visited the crypt where the saint is buried as well as the adjacent excavations beneath the church. The church was built over a 2nd century Roman home (thought to be the home of Cecilia and her husband, Valerian) and the home has been remarkably well restored by the archaeologists responsible for the excavations. It is truly worth a visit.

As we left the church we stopped by the neighboring convent where (for a small fee) we went upstairs and were able to view Cavallini's "Last Judgment" -- a remarkable medieval painting on a wall of the convent. This is another "must-see" in Trastevere. The photo is of the Church of St. Cecilia.

By this time our feet were getting tired and it had started to rain. Our thoughts were also beginning to turn to food and so we decided to search for a restaurant. The one we settled on was a nice, little restaurant that obviously caters to the locals but still warmly welcomes tourists like us. The meal was good, as was the wine. It's name is Hostaria Dar Buttero and it's located at Via della Lungaretta, 156. I recommend it.

Earlier we had thought about spending the afternoon at the Forum, but the increasingly heavy rain convinced us to shelve that idea and save it for a later trip. We took the bus back to St. Peter's and from there walked in the rain to our hotel where we enjoyed a nice afternoon nap. The evening was spent packing, enjoying a last dinner at our favorite local restaurant, and then to bed in preparation for our 4:30 a.m. wake-up.

The trip home, like every long, non-first class flight was semi-miserable, although British Air did their best to make it as endurable as possible.

I am still going through the 1,200 photos I took and will post a few on the blog in the coming days.

All in all, dear Diane and I had a wonderful trip, but it is, as always, good to be back home in the USA.

God love you...

Friday, September 19, 2008

More catching up; final post from Rome

As you can all attest, I haven't been a very reliable a blogger on this trip. We have, though, been busy and this touristy stuff is a full-time job. I will try to fill you in on the events of the past few days...

It's 5:30 pm on Friday and I'm sitting up in bed with Diane napping beside me. The sound of the rain (it's been raining all day) outside the window is almost enough to put me to sleep, but I'm fighting it.

Wednesday morning began with the papal audience. It was held indoors in the huge audience hall, so that was a new experience for us. The two previous audiences we attended were both held in St. Peter's Square. We were advised to arrive early at 8:30, although the audience doesn't begin until 10:30. We had to wait about 30 minutes outside, then pass through security before entering the audience hall. Thanks to Sister Maria at the North American College we had "special" tickets which allowed us to sit in the front section. Our 90-minute wait wasn't at all unpleasant. The seats were comfortable and we enjoyed wonderful conversation with our neighbors from West Virginia and the UK.

The folks from the UK included another permanent deacon and his wife who were celebrating their 50th anniversary. We had a nice long chat, comparing notes on the state of the diaconate in our respective countries.

Pope Benedict was received joyously by the large international crowd. Once again, Diane and I were thrilled by the numbers of enthusiastic young people in attendance. A large group of teens -- probably 50 or more -- from Argentina sat directly in front of us and the hall was filled with similar groups from all over the world. What a blessing for the future of Christ's Church. Pray for these young people. It's hard to strive for holiness in today's world.

Pope Benedict spoke of his recent visit to Lourdes to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of Our Lady. He also addressed the young people in particular, telling them that he consigned to them "two treasures of Christian faith: the Holy Spirit and the Cross. The Spirit opens human intelligence to horizons larger than itself, and brings it to understand the beauty and the truth of God's love revealed on the Cross." It was a wonderful reflection. The Pope then imparted his blessing on all of us and on our families and blessed the religious articles we had brought with us -- two large bags full!

Wednesday afternoon we had another perfect Roman lunch and then took our tourist bus out to the Basilica of St. Mary Major where we spent a good two hours checking out all the nooks and crannies and marveling at the beauty of this lovely, old church. After spending more money at the basilica's gift shop, we once again climbed aboard our tourist bus and headed for St. Peter's. From there we wandered back to our hotel window shopping along the way.

Thursday was a bit of an adventure, one that included a lot of walking. We left our hotel, crossed over the Tiber via Ponte Margherita and entered Piazza del Popolo. Once there we stopped by the church of Santa Maria del Popolo and enjoyed being amazed by the artwork of the grand masters that decorated the church's side altars. We stayed for Mass, celebrated by the pastor, and then continued our exploration of the Piazza. We briefly considered making the walk up to the Pincio to take in what is described as a remarkable view of Rome, but decided that the walk was more vertical than horizontal and completely unsuited for our tired, old legs. We can look at the pictures in the guide book instead.

After an espresso in a nice, overpriced sidewalk cafe we began the trek to Via Veneto where we hoped to visit the Cappuchin church, Santa Maria della Concezione. We had hoped to visit the church on our last visit in 2005, but simply never had the time, so yesterday we were hopeful..until we arrived and discovered that the church is closed only one day a week, on Thursday! And so the famous crypt will have to wait until our next visit to Rome. To ease our disappointment we walked across the street and had a nice lunch at one of the local restaurants.

After lunch we continued our trek, making our way to the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. The Pantheon is always surprising, always wonderful, always awesome...and always crowded, just as it was yesterday. I took lots of photos and we walked the few blocks to Piazza Navona where we examined all the bad art for sale and decided that another coffee would be a fine thing. We then searched out a small print shop where we had purchased a print eight years before. We found it easily and were impressed when the proprietor remarked that he remembered us from our earlier visit, so impressed that we purchased another print, this one from the 18th century.

From there we just wandered back across the Tiber over Ponte Sant'Angelo, took lots more photos, and collapsed in our hotel room. It was a tiring, but very enjoyable day.

More soon, but it's time for dinner...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Three-day catch-up: Basilicas, Gardens, Audience, Food...

Monday was such a busy day that I simply had no time to post anything. We also returned to the hotel so tired that even the rock-hard bed was inviting.

Our main event on Monday was a visit to the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. It's quite a distance -- too far for us senior citizens to walk -- so we took cab and spent a small fortune. It was worth it, though. We were surprised that so few people were there, especially since it is the key spot for pilgrimages during this Pauline Holy Year. But the lack of crowds was fine with us since it meant that we had plenty of room to roam around at our leisure. It's truly a beautiful basilica, a majestic church in the classical revival style. We visited St. Paul's tomb, located under the main altar and spent a few moments there in prayer thanking God for this wonderful opportunity to again visit these holy places. After taking in all of the Basilica and the adjacent cloisters, we stopped by the gift shop and ended up buying some lovely gifts for family members. The shop is staffed by two Franciscan nuns from Chile who speak no English but nevertheless kept us entertained with their comedy routine. All in all a lovely visit.

As we left we found ourselves faced with the same problem we encountered the last time we visited this particular basilica: there's no taxi stand anywhere nearby and we have no idea how to navigate the Roman bus system. So I prayed briefly to St. Paul (after all, he's the one that drew us there) and a tour bus pulled up. When I asked if they went anywhere near St. John Lateran, the driver explained that they followed a set route that included all the basilicas plus a dozen or more popular tourist stops. The catch? One had to purchase a one- or three-day ticket. As it turned out a three-day ticket costs less than the cab ride we had just paid for. The ticket is also good on Rome's public buses and subway, plus you can get off and on at any of the stops and the tour buses run every 15 minutes. Such a deal!! We grabbed it and have been riding around in their open-air buses ever since.

Our next stop was St. John Lateran where we did more roaming and took in all the side chapels, the beautiful main (papal) altar and the cloisters. I especially enjoyed the cloisters where they have nicely displayed many, many fragments from the earlier basilica as well as fragments of early Christian cemetery inscriptions and statuary. Very neat stuff.

That evening we went to a local restaurant and had a wonderful steak dinner. We were very much in need of beef after all the pasta and pizza we'd been consuming, Too tired to party and too old to remember how, we wandered back to the hotel and turned in for the night.

I'll add more later, but now it's time for Wednesday's dinner. Off to the local pizza joint with the cute waitress...

...OK we've returned from dinner at our local pizzeria. The cute waitress was apparently off this evening and was replaced by a nice young man that reminded Diane of our younger son. Anyway, it's a great little pizza place named Pizzeria L'Archetto and located at Via Germanico 105 in Rome's Prati district. They have about 10 sidewalk tables which are perfect this time of year. The food and the wine are excellent and reasonably priced. We recommend it.

Now back to our tourist stuff...

Tuesday we began the day -- after the normal hotel breakfast -- with a guided tour of the Vatican Gardens. This is a tour everyone should take at least once in their lives. For two hours you roam through these beautiful gardens and get to experience Vatican City up close and personal. It is truly amazing. Our guide (sorry, I forgot her name) was wonderful and provided all sorts of interesting insights.

In the afternoon we went to the North American College (NAC) to pick up our tickets for the Wednesday general audience with Pope Benedict XVI. Sister Maria kindly gave us "special" tickets which allowed us to sit up front, close to the Pontiff. We spent a little time in the NAC's beautiful chapel, then walked over to the nearby Trevi Fountain, fought the crowds, sampled some of Rome's famous Gelato (ice cream), then wandered aimlessly looking for my favorite vestment shop, D'Ritis. We finally found it and I purchased a new alb to replace the one I bought there 3 years ago. From there it was a short cab ride back to the hotel, dinner at the pizza joint, and bed.

...more to follow.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Roma: Sunday

Today began with a quick breakfast at the hotel followed by a brisk walk to St. Peters for 9 a.m. Mass. Among the sad commentaries on modern life is the fact that one must pass through security before attending Mass at St. Peter's. The security folks, however, found us to be inoffensive and permitted us to pass without having to undergo a full-body strip search.

The Mass, of course, was celebrated in Italian and so we understood perhaps 10% of what was said. The celebrant gave an animated and, I am sure, interesting homily on the Exaltation of the Cross. He was joined at the altar by four con-celebrants but no deacons. I was hoping to see a deacon or two if only to ask what is was like to serve as a deacon assigned to the Basilica of St. Peter in Rome. It's just one of the many unanswered questions constantly roaming around my overtaxed and under-utilized brain. (Or is it under-taxed and over-utilized?)

After Mass we made our way back to the hotel and changed rooms. Our new room is somewhat larger although the shower looks to be about the same size. We'll manage. Then we changed into our tourist clothes, and went to lunch at one of the many little restaurants on Borgo Pio, a touristy, pedestrian only street near the Vatican. The meal was OK, but not worth a return trip. We then walked a few blocks to Castel Sant'Angelo, paid the entrance fee, and climbed (to the point of near exhaustion) to the terrace at the top of the Castel to take in one of Rome's more breathtaking views. I took lots of photos which I will include on a slide show on the blog once we return home. The Castel was originally built as the Emperor Hadrian's tomb back in the 2nd century. Later it became a fortress for popes under siege...but you can read all about its history from far more authoritative sources elsewhere. Just be sure to include a visit to the Castel when you're in Rome. It's worth the climb.

We enjoyed yesterday evening's meal so much we decided to return to the same restaurant for dinner this evening. Except tonight we splurged and ordered two of their finest steaks. What a treat, and what a marvelous meal! The restaurant is new, only a month old, and the head waiter is the owner. I'll include the restaurant's name and address in tomorrow's posting -- too tired to look for it tonight.

Tomorrow is another day. We plan to visit the other major basilicas of Rome: St. Paul Outside the Walls, St. John Lateran, and St. Mary Major. I'd also like to squeeze in a visit to St. Cecilia in Trastevere if we have time. On our last visit to Rome we went there only to find the church closed for renovations. Anyway, all of this should occupy most of the day.

Blessings from Rome...

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rome: Day 2 and a half

Diane and I were apparently more tired than we thought. We went to bed at 11 last night and awoke 11 hours later at 10 this morning. The only negative was missing the nice breakfast provided by the hotel. But at least we're now rested and functioning at or near 100%.

Today is my birthday (64), so we spent it doing some very birthday-like things. We made the obligatory visits to a few of the shops that sell religious articles and books. I, of course, bought some books for myself, enough that we'll probably need to buy another suitcase. We then enjoyed a wonderful lunch at a restaurant we had visited some years ago. Our Polish priest friend, Fr. Adam Domanski, took us there for lunch during our Holy Year pilgrimage to Rome in November 2000. At the time, Fr. Adam was studying in Rome. He eventually earned his doctorate in Sacred Scripture and now teaches at a seminary in Poland. Anyway, the food was wonderful and I enjoyed some of their local white wine. (By the way, that day with Fr. Adam was the day I met and accosted Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger on the street. The future Pope Benedict XVI was very understanding and actually spent a few minutes chatting with us and posing for a photo with me,)

After lunch Diane and I made our leisurely way back to St. Peter's and spent an hour roaming around the Basilica, once again awed by size and the almost overwhelming beauty of the place. We had to leave because we had reservations for a guided tour of the excavations and ancient necropolis beneath the Basilica. Only a week ago I finished re-reading "The Bones of St. Peter," a wonderful book -- now sadly out of print -- about these excavations that began in 1939 and ended with the uncovering of St. Peter's simple tomb. Our tour guide was a lovely and very knowledgeable young woman -- a historian and wife of a Swiss Guard. She brought us back to the time of Peter, the time of Constantine, and the time of the secret excavations during the years of World War II. It was a remarkable experience, one that we will never forget.

Then, after a brief rest back at the hotel, we enjoyed a marvelous dinner at one of the local restaurants. And because it was my birthday, we thought it OK to sample a few of the house desserts. What a wonderful, if mildly sinful, decision!

Tomorrow we plan to attend 9 a.m Mass at St. Peter's and then pay a visit to Castel Sant'Angelo which is just a few blocks from our hotel. The weather may cause a change in plans, however, since they're predicting rain showers. We'll just play it by ear, as usual.

A fun day for an old guy and his much younger wife.

Blessings and God's Peace...

Friday, September 12, 2008


We made it to Rome. It seemed to take forever since we flew first from Orlando to London (Gatwick) and then spent six not so interesting hours waiting there for our flight to Rome. We finally arrived at our lovely little hotel yesterday evening (Thursday), almost 18 hours after leaving Orlando.

I think I managed about two hours of sleep during the two flights (poor Diane couldn't sleep at all), so after passing through Italian customs, we were extremely happy to see our driver waiting for us. Now, I have no idea how many airport transfer drivers there are in Rome, but it seems to be a thriving business so I would guess there are several thousand. And I would also assume most carry out their responsibilities at some reasonable level of competence. These responsibilities should include such basic things as NOT RUNNING OUT OF GAS on a major highway.

That's right. Our driver ran out of gas about five miles from the airport. After a few minutes of rapid fire Italian curses, he got on his cellphone and called for help. In the meantime we're parked on the shoulder (barely) in a construction zone of a major highway at rush hour. Before our help arrived a good Samaritan stopped and apparently offered to take our driver to a service station. It would seem this transaction demanded a certain amount of negotiation on the part of both men because it took another ten minutes for them to leave. And so Diane and I spent probably another 20 to 30 minutes sitting alone in this Mercedes minivan as cars and trucks roared by us at 7o+ mph. This was scarier than it sounds because our driver had rolled to a stop on the extreme left edge of the shoulder, and these speeding vehicles were mere inches from us as they passed.

Oh, yes, to make matters a wee bit worse, there was some sort of controlled fire in a nearby field and so smoke was blowing across the highway right in front of the cars who were bearing down on us at high speed.And to top it all off, it was getting dark.

Eventually Signore No-Benzina returned with an odd little plastic bag containing a few liters of gas and we were on our way. Of course we had to stop and fill up at the service area a mile or so down the road, but that didn't take too long. All in all we spent about two hours in that van.

I will say one positive thing about our driver. I had decided to pay him up front, when we first got in the car at the airport, and had included a substantial tip under the (now obviously mistaken) belief that this would encourage our driver to get us to our hotel quickly and safely. But after he filled the tank, he tried to return the tip I had given him. I refused to accept it because he had provided us with a wonderful story that I'll be able to tell and embellish for years to come. It was well worth all those extra Euros. Anyway, the poor man probably has a family to feed and if he does this very often they'll starve.

The hotel (the Vatican Garden Inn) is a lovely little place in the Prati district of Rome, just a few blocks northeast of the Vatican. Our room is a bit small for two, but the manager offered to move us to a larger room on Sunday. We accepted the offer, mainly because the bathroom is so tiny. Indeed, the shower is the only argument one needs for going on a diet. (A dropped bar of soap is gone forever because it's impossible to bend over to pick it up.)

This morning, after our nice continental breakfast in the hotel's garden, we walked over to St. Peter's Square, took a few photos, and then made our way to the Vatican Museum in time for our guided tour of the museum and Sistine Chapel. The tour was wonderful, two hours of interesting commentary by our tour guide, Gabriella.

The weather today was hot, humid and overcast, followed by a real boomer of a thunderstorm this evening. Oops! The power just went out. I'll finish this tomorrow morning.

Blessings from beautiful Roma. Ciao!

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Priesthood and Women: the Last Word?

This morning, while browsing an online news site from Massachusetts, I came across an article about a woman who claims to have been ordained a Catholic priest. She and her husband now preside at a small chapel located behind the Harwich Port B&B they operate. (Even though I moved to Florida after 25 years in Harwich Port, I do not know the woman personally.) The article dates from 2005, shortly before her invalid ordination by a woman "bishop" in Canada. Her words, as reported on the news website of the Boston Globe):

[Marie] David, who opposes mandatory celibacy for priests and is married to a former priest, shrugs off the possibility of being excommunicated by the church, saying ''there would be a sadness, but I refuse to recognize their authority to tell me that."

Then, later in the same article, she's quoted as saying, ''It's not accepted by Rome today, but that doesn't mean it will not always be accepted. The only way Rome will allow women to be ordained is we do it. It has to start someplace."

It just doesn't go away, this idea that the Catholic Church will eventually permit the ordination of women to the priesthood. This idea persists despite the Church's constant reiteration of its unchanging teaching on the subject. I suppose this persistence stems from today's concept of "progress," the idea that society must move relentlessly toward enlightenment, part of which includes a sort of ambiguous, non-judgmental, universal acceptance. To this way of thinking, then, the Catholic Church is simply another element of society and is, therefore, not exempt from this movement.

That's the big picture view; but there's also a little picture involved: the belief on the part of some women that they have a God-sent vocation to the priesthood. For them it's personal and this desire colors and distorts virtually every aspect of their lives, even their Christian faith itself. Here's another example from a story in the secular press (Lexington Kentucky Herald Leader):

As a young girl growing up in Milwaukee, Janice Sevre-Duszynska often fantasized about becoming a priest while helping clean the sanctuary of the church her family attended.

“I’d sit in the priest’s chair, go to the pulpit, make believe I was preaching and giving communion,” she said. “I thought, ‘Why couldn't I be up here?’”

Now, 50 years later, she will get her wish, but it could come with a price — excommunication from the Roman Catholic church. On Aug. 9, in defiance of the church’s 2,000-year ban on women in the priesthood, she will be ordained by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an activist group that has protested the ban since 2002.

And so, sadly, her attempt to realize a childhood fantasy will lead only to her excommunication. Was this self-proclaimed childhood fantasy one in which she sought to serve God's Church and His people, or was it one in which she hoped to satisfy her own personal wants, to serve herself? I'll let you re-read her words and decide.

Of course, the article, like most coverage of the Catholic Church in the secular press, is in error. It states that the realization of her wish "could" result in her excommunication. The fact is, as a result of her "ordination" she incurs automatic excommunication. Neither the pope nor her bishop need do anything. She, in effect, excommunicates herself.

Both the big and little picture motivations behind this call for the ordination of women ignore one important fact: the Catholic Church will never permit the ordination of women. This is not my personal opinion, but reflects the consistent teaching of the Church for 2,000 years. It is a teaching stated perhaps most clearly by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (May 22, 1994). In his letter the Pope, after outlining the Church's teaching on ordination, states unequivocally, "I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." In other words, this teaching is not something the Church can ever change because it is based on God's law not man's law.

This certainly won't deter those who are uncomfortable with the very idea of absolute truth and divine law, particularly when the truth conflicts with either their ideology or their personal desires. I am reminded of Pontius Pilate's sneering question of Jesus: "What is truth?" And so, even though Pope John Paul II has, from the Church's perspective, put the matter to rest, I expect we will continue to hear these strident cries for a change the Church can never and will never make. Another, more detailed document on the subject is the Declaration on the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (Inter Insigniores), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on October 15, 1976.

When I visited the websites of some of the organizations to which these women belong, I was struck by the gnostic, new-age themes that seem to run through most of them. It's also apparent that in rejecting the Church's teaching authority on ordination they also reject its authority on many moral issues, including abortion and homosexuality. This isn't surprising. Once a person rejects the authority of the Church on one issue, it's no great leap to reject its authority on any issue. This, of course, leads one to question why, if they reject the Church, are they so intent on calling themselves Catholic? Pray for them.

As Catholics we are bound to accept the definitive teachings of the Church; and so if you find yourself at odds with the Church on this subject, I suggest that you not only read the relevant documents, but also pray that the Holy Spirit will guide you to accept this teaching that comes to us from Jesus Himself.

Rome Update. Watching hurricane Ike move slowly toward Florida has not been particularly pleasant. Not only is it a major hurricane (now category 3) and likely to cause much damage as it makes its way to the Northwest, but the latest reports predict its arrival sometime next Wednesday. Unfortunately, we are scheduled to fly out of Orlando on our way to Rome Wednesday evening. Our prayer is that Ike veers out to sea, far away from Florida, and causes no damage or loss of life.

God's peace...

Monday, September 1, 2008

Persecution? Pauline Year

When I awoke early this morning and turned on the news to check the latest hurricane update, I caught the tail end of a news story about how the Catholic Church in Canada is under attack by the Canadian Human Rights Commission for its stance on moral issues, particularly homosexuality. This isn't anything new and has been going on in Canada for some time now. But it's still disturbing to learn that the Catholic Church, merely by stating its unchanging moral teachings, can be considered a criminal entity by the government of a Western "democracy."

After thinking about it, I suspect that we're really not all that far behind in the good ol' USA. Certainly the city leadership of San Francisco, if they could somehow circumvent that pesky old U.S. Constitution, would try to force the Church to follow their radically immoral agenda. Failing that, they would probably just try to evict the Catholic Church from the city. And while San Francisco is thankfully not typical, it is the home of the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, a woman whose public remarks and voting record place her right there in the same hive along with the local S.F. pols. And if our bishops should ever develop some collective intestinal fortitude and actually take on the scandal of all those self-proclaimed Catholic politicians publicly supporting abortion and other anti-life abominations, I suspect things will get very hot indeed for us Catholics. In a world where quoting Scripture can be considered "hate speech," the excommunication of politicians might just be turned into a capital offence. But maybe a little persecution is just what the Church needs.

One of the things that's drawing us to Rome at this particular time is the special jubilee year of St. Paul declared by Pope Benedict to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of the birth of the Apostle. We look forward to spending some time at the Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls while we're in Rome. Diane and I have visited the basilica several times in the past, but only briefly. This time we hope to explore it more thoroughly. I realize that many people -- especially church architects -- don't particularly like the basilica's rather heavy, nineteenth century style, but for reasons that I cannot articulate, I'm always very comfortable there. Something about it just feels right and very Pauline. If you're interested, you might want to visit the basilica's nicely updated website. It's quite thorough and full of interesting information on St. Paul, the Basilica, and the Pauline Year. Click here to visit the English language version of the site. (I took the photo above on a chilly November day in 2005.)

Pray for our nation and those who would lead it...

God's peace.