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.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

The End of the Year at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen

Diane and I just got home after a long morning at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, a morning that left us with more than the usual amount of aches and pains. They're good hurts though and are a fitting way to bring an end to 2009.

Diane and her  team of assistants prepared a wonderful meal of barbecue chicken, scalloped potatoes, green beans and dinner rolls. And, of course, we offered a wide selection of tasty desserts. Apparently our guests enjoyed the meal because we had a good crowd of hungry folks and hardly any leftovers. We delivered or served a total of 239 meals today -- not a record but certainly above average.

A few days from now I'll have the final numbers for 2009 and we'll have a better sense of the growing need in our community. A rough estimate is somewhere n the neighborhood of 68,000 meals for the year -- a rather large number for a little soup kitchen in central Florida.

Thanks to all those who have kept us going through their financial support and their donations of food during 2009. We neither seek nor accept financial support from any governement agency -- federal, state or local -- and so I am amazed that so many people, businesses and organizations continue to help us year after year.

Have a happy and a blessed new year...

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Democracy? No way!

The above post title should get some folks all aflutter. How can I, a loyal, flag-waving American, be against democracy? Well...first a little background.

Recently I was accused of...well, I'm really not sure what I was accused of because the accuser was so upset he really couldn't articulate his accusation very well. But I know it wasn't something good. He was angry with me because I told him that trying to create a democratic Afghanistan was a "stupid idea." (I probably should have used kinder terms, but I wanted to ensure he didn't misunderstand me. He didn't.)

President Bush was always talking about spreading democracy -- for example, creating democratic regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan. And President Obama, too, throws the word around as if it's the political holy grail, the primary goal of humanity. And yet, if you check the writings of the founding fathers of our nation, I doubt you will find any favorable references to democracy. Indeed, the founders feared democracy because they appreciated the evils that could result from it.

Democracy is rule by the people, the demos, and our founders knew full well that the people could not be trusted to govern themselves, at least not directly. That's why, ultimately, they created a representative republic and insisted on a written Constitution, a document that spelled out the rights of the people and strictly limited the role of the federal government. The government, you see, is of, by and for the people -- the people are sovereign, not the "government" per se -- but if the people run collectively towards a cliff, the Constitution will presumably prevent them from jumping, or at least make it very difficult to do so. Fear of real democracy and its possible consequences was a major factor in the formation of our nation.

This fear was also why the separation of powers became an integral element of the Constitution's makeup. With a government made up of three separate and independent elements -- executive, legislative and judicial -- and with each element exercising only limited powers, the preservation of the peoples' rights and the continuation of this unique form of government would be more likely assured, if not guaranteed.

I mention all this because I have noticed that, like my angry accuser, an increasing number of Americans seem to believe incorrectly that we live in a democracy and are similarly unaware of the dangers inherent in any pure democratic form of government. Nothing guarantees that simple majority rule will lead to the best or even a good result. Indeed, more often than not, particularly when complex or critical issues are addressed, a majority of the people will probably choose one of the worst alternatives.

The problem with democracy, government by a simple majority of the people, is that the people can act without reference; that is, they can act without consideration of any moral and cultural and legal foundations. They can, in effect, do whatever they want. They can respond to the emotions of the moment, free of all precedent and unrestrained by any concept of rights and responsibilities. This, as you might image, can be very problematic when it comes to preserving the rights and liberties of the minority. But even worse, it can jeopardize the nation's continued existence. Once the majority realize they have unrestrained power, they learn how to use government to help them at the expense of others. They also lose sight of the essential elements of their culture, particularly the religious (the "cult" of culture) foundational element. Once that basic element is lost, the culture itself is doomed. Without the foundational cult, nothing can enforce the moral good. Self-interest becomes paramount and common sense goes out the window. Once greed and stupidity are married, the nation will eventually crumble. It will destroy itself through economic and moral collapse, or it will experience a revolution by a persecuted and energized minority, or in its weakened state it will be defeated by external enemies.

That's why I don't believe in democracy.

The trouble is, we seem to be heading in the direction of increased reliance on basic democracy, and I'm starting to see the symptoms of decay that come with it. Legislators become slaves to the latest polling data and, taking the safe approach, cast their votes accordingly. Even safer is to call for a referendum so the people can bypass their representative government entirely. And when the negative unintended consequences appear, the politician can safely blame the people themselves. Expanding popular democracy breeds weak politicians lacking in courage; it gives us representatives who don't represent and legislators who legislate poorly. And since a power vacuum can never remain a vacuum for long, weakness in the legislature leads to increased power in the other two branches -- something we are experiencing today.

I love this country and I trust it will keep or, more accurately, return to the exquisite model given to us by the founders. But I suspect it has progressed too far along the road to decay for that to happen. No nation can last forever, and in today's world, it's remarkable that the United States has managed to survive as long as it has. I'm not a pessimist; I'm simply a realist. We are at the end of an age, and neither I nor anyone else can predict when exactly the next age will begin and what form it will take. Perhaps the Lord of History, the One who will bring all to its planned end, will intervene and save us from ourselves. Now that's something to pray for!

God's peace...

Videos added to the Wildwood Soup Kitchen website

It's only taken me a month, but I finally got around to adding some videos to the website of the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. As you know if you've followed this blog, our local TV station here in The Villages has been very supportive of the soup kitchen and gives us plenty of good publicity. They covered us at Thanksgiving and again at Christmas. I have now placed both videos on the website which represents a major technological breakthrough for us...not really, but it sounds better than the truth which is just plain laziness on my part.

Both videos have been posted on this blog in recent weeks, but if you'd like to check them out in their new "official soup kitchen setting", click here: Wildwood Soup Kitchen News.

Pope Benedict's Christmas Message

As you all know, on Christmas eve Pope Benedict was assaulted as he processed to the altar of St. Peter's Basilica prior to Midnight Mass. But although the 82-year-old pontiff was pulled to the marble floor by his assailant, he was unhurt and went on to celebrate Mass for the faithful. His homily is a Christmas message from which we can all benefit, so I have posted it below in its entirety...


Dear Brothers and Sisters!

“A child is born for us, a son is given to us” (Is 9:5). What Isaiah prophesied as he gazed into the future from afar, consoling Israel amid its trials and its darkness, is now proclaimed to the shepherds as a present reality by the Angel, from whom a cloud of light streams forth: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk 2:11). The Lord is here. From this moment, God is truly “God with us”. No longer is he the distant God who can in some way be perceived from afar, in creation and in our own consciousness. He has entered the world. He is close to us. The words of the risen Christ to his followers are addressed also to us: “Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:20). For you the Savior is born: through the Gospel and those who proclaim it, God now reminds us of the message that the Angel announced to the shepherds. It is a message that cannot leave us indifferent. If it is true, it changes everything. If it is true, it also affects me. Like the shepherds, then, I too must say: Come on, I want to go to Bethlehem to see the Word that has occurred there. The story of the shepherds is included in the Gospel for a reason. They show us the right way to respond to the message that we too have received. What is it that these first witnesses of God’s incarnation have to tell us?

The first thing we are told about the shepherds is that they were on the watch – they could hear the message precisely because they were awake. We must be awake, so that we can hear the message. We must become truly vigilant people. What does this mean? The principal difference between someone dreaming and someone awake is that the dreamer is in a world of his own. His “self” is locked into this dreamworld that is his alone and does not connect him with others. To wake up means to leave that private world of one’s own and to enter the common reality, the truth that alone can unite all people. Conflict and lack of reconciliation in the world stem from the fact that we are locked into our own interests and opinions, into our own little private world. Selfishness, both individual and collective, makes us prisoners of our interests and our desires that stand against the truth and separate us from one another. Awake, the Gospel tells us. Step outside, so as to enter the great communal truth, the communion of the one God. To awake, then, means to develop a receptivity for God: for the silent promptings with which he chooses to guide us; for the many indications of his presence. There are people who describe themselves as “religiously tone deaf”. The gift of a capacity to perceive God seems as if it is withheld from some. And indeed – our way of thinking and acting, the mentality of today’s world, the whole range of our experience is inclined to deaden our receptivity for God, to make us “tone deaf” towards him. And yet in every soul, the desire for God, the capacity to encounter him, is present, whether in a hidden way or overtly. In order to arrive at this vigilance, this awakening to what is essential, we should pray for ourselves and for others, for those who appear “tone deaf” and yet in whom there is a keen desire for God to manifest himself. The great theologian Origen said this: if I had the grace to see as Paul saw, I could even now (during the Liturgy) contemplate a great host of angels (cf. in Lk 23:9). And indeed, in the sacred liturgy, we are surrounded by the angels of God and the saints. The Lord himself is present in our midst. Lord, open the eyes of our hearts, so that we may become vigilant and clear-sighted, in this way bringing you close to others as well!

Let us return to the Christmas Gospel. It tells us that after listening to the Angel’s message, the shepherds said one to another: “‘Let us go over to Bethlehem’ … they went at once” (Lk 2:15f.). “They made haste” is literally what the Greek text says. What had been announced to them was so important that they had to go immediately. In fact, what had been said to them was utterly out of the ordinary. It changed the world. The Savior is born. The long-awaited Son of David has come into the world in his own city. What could be more important? No doubt they were partly driven by curiosity, but first and foremost it was their excitement at the wonderful news that had been conveyed to them, of all people, to the little ones, to the seemingly unimportant. They made haste – they went at once. In our daily life, it is not like that. For most people, the things of God are not given priority, they do not impose themselves on us directly. And so the great majority of us tend to postpone them. First we do what seems urgent here and now. In the list of priorities God is often more or less at the end. We can always deal with that later, we tend to think. The Gospel tells us: God is the highest priority. If anything in our life deserves haste without delay, then, it is God’s work alone. The Rule of Saint Benedict contains this teaching: “Place nothing at all before the work of God (i.e. the divine office)”. For monks, the Liturgy is the first priority. Everything else comes later. In its essence, though, this saying applies to everyone. God is important, by far the most important thing in our lives. The shepherds teach us this priority. From them we should learn not to be crushed by all the pressing matters in our daily lives. From them we should learn the inner freedom to put other tasks in second place – however important they may be – so as to make our way towards God, to allow him into our lives and into our time. Time given to God and, in his name, to our neighbor is never time lost. It is the time when we are most truly alive, when we live our humanity to the full.

Some commentators point out that the shepherds, the simple souls, were the first to come to Jesus in the manger and to encounter the Redeemer of the world. The wise men from the East, representing those with social standing and fame, arrived much later. The commentators go on to say: this is quite natural. The shepherds lived nearby. They only needed to “come over” (cf. Lk 2:15), as we do when we go to visit our neighbors. The wise men, however, lived far away. They had to undertake a long and arduous journey in order to arrive in Bethlehem. And they needed guidance and direction. Today too there are simple and lowly souls who live very close to the Lord. They are, so to speak, his neighbors and they can easily go to see him. But most of us in the world today live far from Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who came to dwell amongst us. We live our lives by philosophies, amid worldly affairs and occupations that totally absorb us and are a great distance from the manger. In all kinds of ways, God has to prod us and reach out to us again and again, so that we can manage to escape from the muddle of our thoughts and activities and discover the way that leads to him. But a path exists for all of us. The Lord provides everyone with tailor-made signals. He calls each one of us, so that we too can say: “Come on, ‘let us go over’ to Bethlehem – to the God who has come to meet us. Yes indeed, God has set out towards us. Left to ourselves we could not reach him. The path is too much for our strength. But God has come down. He comes towards us. He has traveled the longer part of the journey. Now he invites us: come and see how much I love you. Come and see that I am here. Transeamus usque Bethlehem, the Latin Bible says. Let us go there! Let us surpass ourselves! Let us journey towards God in all sorts of ways: along our interior path towards him, but also along very concrete paths – the Liturgy of the Church, the service of our neighbor, in whom Christ awaits us.

Let us once again listen directly to the Gospel. The shepherds tell one another the reason why they are setting off: “Let us see this thing that has happened.” Literally the Greek text says: “Let us see this Word that has occurred there.” Yes indeed, such is the radical newness of this night: the Word can be seen. For it has become flesh. The God of whom no image may be made – because any image would only diminish, or rather distort him – this God has himself become visible in the One who is his true image, as Saint Paul puts it (cf. 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15). In the figure of Jesus Christ, in the whole of his life and ministry, in his dying and rising, we can see the Word of God and hence the mystery of the living God himself. This is what God is like. The Angel had said to the shepherds: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Lk 2:12; cf. 2:16). God’s sign, the sign given to the shepherds and to us, is not an astonishing miracle. God’s sign is his humility. God’s sign is that he makes himself small; he becomes a child; he lets us touch him and he asks for our love. How we would prefer a different sign, an imposing, irresistible sign of God’s power and greatness! But his sign summons us to faith and love, and thus it gives us hope: this is what God is like. He has power, he is Goodness itself. He invites us to become like him. Yes indeed, we become like God if we allow ourselves to be shaped by this sign; if we ourselves learn humility and hence true greatness; if we renounce violence and use only the weapons of truth and love. Origen, taking up one of John the Baptist’s sayings, saw the essence of paganism expressed in the symbol of stones: paganism is a lack of feeling, it means a heart of stone that is incapable of loving and perceiving God’s love. Origen says of the pagans: “Lacking feeling and reason, they are transformed into stones and wood” (in Lk 22:9). Christ, though, wishes to give us a heart of flesh. When we see him, the God who became a child, our hearts are opened. In the Liturgy of the holy night, God comes to us as man, so that we might become truly human. Let us listen once again to Origen: “Indeed, what use would it be to you that Christ once came in the flesh if he did not enter your soul? Let us pray that he may come to us each day, that we may be able to say: I live, yet it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me (Gal 2:20)” (in Lk 22:3).

Yes indeed, that is what we should pray for on this Holy Night. Lord Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, come to us! Enter within me, within my soul. Transform me. Renew me. Change me, change us all from stone and wood into living people, in whom your love is made present and the world is transformed. Amen.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Remarkable utterings

Just thought I'd share a few interesting comments made during the past few years by some of our great thinkers. Enjoy!

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) finds a way to apply her deep religious beliefs to the U.S. Supreme Court's eminent domain decision (Chicago Sun Times, July 24, 2005): “It is a decision of the Supreme Court. So this is almost as if God has spoken."

Actor Sean Penn, eschewing all thoughts of personal responsibility, blames President Bush for his smoking habit (Wall Street Journal, January 9, 2006: “It makes it very difficult to quit smoking under this administration.” Hmmm...I wonder I he's still smoking. Anyone know?

Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), special friend of the men and women serving our nation in a time of war, offers a glimpse of his deep strategic insight in the midst of a speech to a North Miami audience (South Florida Sun Sentinel, June 25, 2006): "American presence in Iraq is more dangerous to world peace than nuclear threats from North Korea or Iran." 

Former Governor Howard Dean (D-VT), while describing his personal political manifesto, includes one of Marxism's basic tenets (Patriot Post, July 5, 2006): "We know that no one person can succeed unless everybody else succeeds.”

In an August 24, 2008 interview, Tom Brokaw told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the Catholic Church “feels very strongly” that life begins at conception. The speaker dug deeply into her vast theological and historical knowledge and replied, “I understand. And this is like maybe 50 years or something like that. So again, over the history of the Church, this is an issue of controversy.”

Actress Rosie O'Donnell reacting to all those aircraft flown into buildings by radical Christians (, September 13, 2006): "Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America.”

Former Vice President Al Gore, who apparently has a hobby of generating and joining together random words, graciously shared the fruits of this hobby with those attending the opening of the Tribeca Film Festival, April 27, 2007: “Art, music, film, dance, poetry — all the arts — have long been our greatest tools to explore the regions of imagination that defy our efforts to think rationally about subjects that our emotions tell us are too painful to contemplate.” 

And, of course, no list would be complete without the inclusion of Vice President Teflon Joe Biden, Washington's greatest thinker, a man who lives and breathes a heartbeat from the presidency...

In an interview with CBS News in September 2008, Senator Biden rewrote history by making FDR the president in 1929, almost four years before he first took office. He also gave the television industry an early stimulus package by creating it long before it existed: "When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed. He said, 'look, here's what happened.'"

In January 2007 presidential candidate Joe Biden gave the nation a straight-from-the-heart description of his opponent, Senator Barack Obama (for which Joe later apologized): "I mean, you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy. I mean, that’s a storybook, man." Articulate, bright and clean...I'm just trying to imagine what would have happened to any Republican who made such a statement.

Vice presidential candidate Joe Biden criticizingJohn McCain's economic policies at a rally in October 2008: "Look, John's last-minute economic plan does nothing to tackle the number one job facing the middle class, and it happens to be, as Barack says, a three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S."

And a conversation with an American-Indian political activist in 2006, Senator Biden made the following comment (for which he apologized later): "In Delaware, the largest growth of population is Indian Americans, moving from India. You cannot go to a 7/11 or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking."

I restricted my selections above to Democrats and those on the left as a small (very small) counterweight to the list prepared by ABC News which included only Republicans and folks on the right.


Video: Christmas at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen

As I mentioned in a previous post (December 26), the local media came to visit us at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen on Christmas Day. This included a camera crew from VNN, our cable TV station run by The Villages. If you would like to view the brief story they put together -- including a clip of yours truly pontificating -- you can check it out below. It was a good day.


Deacon Dana

Monday, December 28, 2009

More End-of-the-Year Thoughts

Here I am, resting comfortably in my cushy, overstuffed, down-filled chair, channel surfing among news shows and odd documentaries, eating a leftover piece of pecan pie, and all the while typing these words on my little netbook -- some serious multitasking. Of all these activities, the only one I'm truly enjoying is the consumption of the pecan pie. And it seems the pie has stimulated my few remaining brain cells to generate some personal observations.

Watching a local TV show -- one of those shows that covers local "happenings" -- I happened to catch the last few seconds of an interview of a minister who claimed that we are now "entering a new age of faith." Now this intrigued me and I wish I had caught the entire interview so I could place this comment in some context. Lacking this, I'll simply take his comment literally and agree with him.

As the minister said, we are entering a new age of faith, although it might be more accurate to label it an "age of belief." In this new age of belief we have come to the point where we will believe almost anything. And in each instance, that which is believed has been transformed into a set of foundational precepts, the basis of a faith, a kind of religion with its own pantheon of gods and served by a hierarchy of priests and priestesses. One of the more obvious is environmentalism, but there are others. Materialism, scientism, liberalism -- they all have their adherents who faithfully put into practice their faith's constantly evolving beliefs. Indeed, many among the new elite are fervent believers in all of these faiths, leading me to think that perhaps we should call this new age the "age of insanity" when everyone can believe everything and not experience any sense of contradiction. Makes me wish I could stick around for the next hundred years just so I could watch it all unfold. I hate to put down a good story when I'm smack dab in the middle of it.

I also caught the end of a homily on the Holy Family preached by a bishop who shall go unnamed. It was delivered with all the enthusiasm of a mashed potato sandwich (one of my late father's favorite expressions that he regularly applied to boring speakers). This made me wonder whether those who preach this way actually believe the Good News. If the Good News of Jesus Christ is really true, and if one really believes this, then wouldn't one be a wee bit more enthusiastic? Most people I know, when they have the opportunity to pass along a piece of very good news to those whom they love, do so with some degree of passion. Instead, we are so often subjected to preachers who seem to go to extremes to hide the truth of the Good News behind a think veneer of nonsensical and obfuscatory verbiage.

Loosen up, guys! Tell people about the Good News. Tell them about God and what He's done for us. Let them see and experience your faith so they will want it for themselves. Cause them to realize that their relationship with God is the most important aspect of their lives. Tell them what they need to hear. Do you recall the one thing the people asked John the Baptist when he preached the Good News? People from all walks of life simply asked him, "What should we do?" [Lk 3:10-14] People today are seeking the answer to the same question, and that's what should be telling them.

God's peace...

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Good-bye to 2009

The end of the year always comes as a surprise to me, and I'm not sure why. It really shouldn't. After all, I can interpret a calendar as well as the next person, and I'm well aware that January follows December. And yet here we are, on the 27th of December, and I find it hard to believe that 2010 is about to begin. Maybe it's simply a symptom of advancing age and the seeming compression of time that accompanies it. As a child, anticipated events never came as a surprise; rather they crept out of the future at an agonizingly slow pace. Just as those school-less summer days would pass in warm, glorious slow motion, so too did the long winter months with their cold days marked by early darkness and nightly hours of repetitive and usually meaningless homework. Ugh -- a memory worth forgetting.

Anyway, here we are about to wrap up one year and begin another and, for whatever reason, I'm simply not ready for the transition. So rather than review the past year or make predictions about the next, I think I'll just share a few thoughts that have been percolating in my aging brain these past few days.

My first observation relates to civil government and religion. I am truly amazed at how many Christians place almost total trust in government to accomplish virtually any task, provide any service, ensure justice for all, and achieve and maintain peace on earth. It's as if the modern Christian, in the face of thousands of years of consistently contrary evidence, has decided the city of man must assume a place of precedence over the City of God.

Of course St. Augustine would not agree with this modern tendency to place so much trust in government. He considered those who ruled over men to be no better than a gang of thieves and robbers. (Just a cursory glance at our own Congress should be sufficient to confirm the timelessness of Augustine's observation.) Augustine was pretty clear about this when he wrote, "...what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves but little kingdoms? The band itself is made up of men; it is ruled by the authority of a prince, it is knit together by the pact of the confederacy; the booty is divided by the law agreed upon" [City of God, Book 4, Chapter 4].

We seem to have forgotten that justice does not come from the world; it is not a gift of man, but is a gift from God Himself. As I mentioned above, the world provides its own convicting evidence. Whenever justice is placed solely in the hands of men, it becomes distorted by man's pride, his sinfulness, and eventually dissolves into something far removed from God's perfect justice. This doesn't mean we abandon our efforts to bring His justice to the world. On the contrary, doing so is part and parcel of the Christian life. But we must also realize that any attempt to achieve justice without reference to God is doomed to failure.

The current political brouhaha over health care reform is a rather nice example. The deals that had to be made with individual senators to ensure their votes call to mind Augustine's prescient comment that "the booty is divided by the law agreed upon." And, of course, no health care reform can be truly just unless it protects the most innocent and vulnerable among us. For almost 40 years God's justice has been abandoned and the world's idea of justice has reigned supreme in our nation and led to the premeditated killing of ten of millions of unborn human beings. Ironically, those politicians who are guilty of this horrendous crime against humanity are inevitably the same politicians who hypocritically apply the mantra "It's for the children" to justify so much of their intrusive legislation.

Observing my countrymen during these difficult times, I'm reminded of Walker Percy's comment in his novel, The Second Coming: "Most Romans worked and played as usual while Rome fell about  their ears."

I took this photo during a general audience in Nov 2005
The year 2009 provided another scary moment during this its final week when dear Pope Benedict XVI was assaulted as he processed to the altar for midnight Mass at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Fortunately the pope was not injured and the young woman who assaulted him was apparently unarmed. She reportedly suffers from mental illness and had actually attempted to assault the pope once before. This, of course, leads one to wonder about how well the pope is protected from attacks not only by the mentally unbalanced, but also by those with the training and skill to carry out their evil intent. At the same time, however, I would hate to see the Holy Father placed inside the kind of isolating protective bubble that surrounds the American president. I am reminded of the time Diane and I sat only about 30 feet from Pope Benedict during an outdoor audience in 2005. What a privilege that was, and what a joy! I would hope that people could continue to share that experience. I have a feeling that this pope will trust in God and not allow the Vatican's protective services to isolate him from the faithful.

2009 also offers some good advice for parents. The Tiger Woods scandal should convince parents that celebrities do not make good role models for their children. Indeed, I am always amazed when parents hold up professional athletes as heroic figures worthy of emulation. After all, most professional athletes are simply people with extraordinary eye-hand coordination, unique physical skills, and a singleness of purpose in which their profession assumes an exaggerated importance. Much better for Christian parents to encourage their children to emulate the saints.

Although I stated above that I would avoid predictions, permit me to offer one or two. First of all, I predict that the world will not end during 2010. I make this prediction every year and so far I'm batting 1.000. Should the world actually come to an end this year, my average will still be remarkably high, and anyway, none of us will care.

And lastly, I predict that the Middle East, from Lebanon to Pakistan, will only experience more violence, more terrorism, and more insanity throughout 2010. In other words, if you think things are bad now in that part of the world, a year from now you'll think of 2009 as the good old days. Peace there will be a long time coming, if indeed it ever comes. And we must realize that peace isn't always better than war. For example, the peace offered by the world easily evolves into the peace of totalitarianism and slavery. General Sherman's comment that "War is hell," was incomplete because the world's peace can be just as hellish.

Pray for the only true peace, the peace beyond all understanding, the peace of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

'Twas the day after Christmas...St. Stephen's Day

Today is a day of thankfulness, a day of praise and joy...and a day of rest and recuperation.

Having remained here in Florida this Christmas (with the intent of never again traveling north during the winter months) and with all of our children and grandchildren enjoying the snowy, frigid weather of Massachusetts, Diane and I spent the holy day with our other family at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen.

As the Thursday cook, Diane prepared the Christmas Eve dinner, assisted by our wonderful team of Thursday volunteers. And so by Thursday evening we were ready for a nice, long night's rest. But since I was scheduled to assist at Midnight Mass, the rest had to be postponed. It was also shortened considerably since we had been asked to help out with the Christmas day meal at the soup kitchen, and this meant setting the alarm clock for 6 a.m.

I confess I was a bit grumpy when that irritating alarm rudely roused me after only four hours of sleep. (I would have made a very bad monk.) But once I got to the soup kitchen and joined all the other volunteers, I was energized. We had a wonderful time and serving our guests was a delight.

I should be used to it by now, but the outpouring of true charity during this season of hope always takes me by surprise. This year, once again, the soup kitchen has been the beneficiary of the generosity of so many people that I am overwhelmed. In addition to the many financial donations that continue to come in from individuals, churches, businesses, and civic organizations, we have received huge donations of food. On Christmas Eve, for example, a local Cracker Barrel restaurant donated 50 of their wonderful pies. The local Winn-Dixie and Publix supermarkets also provided us with much larger than usual donations of bakery goods and other food products. God bless them all!

Even more remarkable though, are the number of folks who volunteered to help us to prepare and serve the special Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. Indeed, we received so many offers to volunteer that we had to turn away most of those who inquired. We can accommodate only so many volunteers before we run out of both jobs and space. Even the media showed up and our local newspaper ran a front-page story today on our Christmas dinner, which you can read here: The Villages Daily Sun.

Then, to top off this festive day, yesterday evening my brother and some good friends joined us at our home for a wonderful Christmas dinner prepared by Diane.

Martyrdom of St. Stephen (photo taken in 2005 at Basilica of St Paul Outside the Walls, Rome

And so today, St. Stephen's Day, we will rest, and pay homage to this saint, deacon and martyr.

God's peace...

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Homily for December 23

Readings: Mal 3:1-4,23-24; Ps 25; Lk 1:57-66

Are you all prepared for Christmas? It's a busy time, isn't it? Lots of stuff to do and so little time to do it. But most of it really has little to do with what Christmas is really all about. So maybe the question we should be asking is, "Are you prepared spiritually for Christmas?"

That's what our readings today speak about -- preparation and the consequences of preparation -- fitting themes for the day before Christmas Eve. Each reading displays God’s graciousness as He provides opportunities and grace for getting prepared spiritually. Even the first reading, which speaks of the ominous consequences of not being prepared, ends with a statement of God’s desire to lead His people and change their hearts so they can avoid those consequences.

And the Psalm? Well, it reminds us of God’s grace and His willingness to teach and lead those who turn to Him, those who listen and follow.

Finally, the gospel passage form Luke describes the wonderful results of Elizabeth’s and Zechariah’s preparation. We see them standing firm and doing God’s will in their lives, and doing so in a way that leads others to recognize the presence of God in their lives as well.

And so, in today’s encounter with God in Scripture, on this day before Christmas Eve, we come to see that the time for preparation is drawing to a close. We've been preparing throughout Advent. Now is the time to set our priorities and to act. Now is the time to decide how we will spend these last hours before they are gone. What matters most to us?  Can we ask for the guidance and grace we will need to spend these brief days in a way that recognizes the core realities of redemption and justice? Can the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah help us spend our time during these holy days with family and with others in perhaps a different, more meaningful, wa?

By praying the psalm can we develop a sense of gratitude for the ways that we have already seen redemption in our lives and in our families and give us hope for more to come? Can we open our minds to God’s Holy Word, allowing Him to teach us? Do you recall the words of the psalm? Can we make them our prayer today?

"Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior."

Can our reading from the prophet Malachi remind us of the need to let God have His way with us? Can we abandon ourselves to Him and His Divine Mercy, and allow Him to refine and purify us?

"For he is like the refiner’s fire..."

And in these final days before the coming of the Lord, do we need to turn our hearts towards our family, our children and grandchildren, in some new way, offering love and forgiveness and peace?

Does the proclamation of the gospel fill us with joy and hope? When you hear the gospel tell of the Lord’s redemptive act, do you almost burst with thankfulness?

Can we turn to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to fill our hearts and minds as He did for Zechariah and Elizabeth? Can we come to recognize Him as the only source of true joy and hope in the promises of our God, and invite Him into our hearts?

May this same Spirit of wisdom guide your readings and reflections this day – and may you have a blessed Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Homily for the 4th Sunday of Advent

Reading: Lk 1:39-45

If I had to choose a favorite scene from the Gospels, it might very well be the one depicted in today’s reading from Luke, the brief story of Mary’s arrival at the home of Elizabeth and Zechariah, what we call the Visitation. At first glance these seven short verses seem to tell us very little, other than providing us with a nice heartwarming and pious story. For most of us, that’s probably the end of it; and we go on without giving these events a second thought. But the Holy Spirit didn’t inspire Luke and his fellow evangelists simply to relate pleasant stories. No, He had a definite purpose – and it’s a purpose you and I can begin to discern when we plumb the depths of meaning present in this brief passage.

Perhaps the best way to begin is to picture the scene in our mind’s eye. It’s a scene that artists, including virtually all the great masters, have tried to depict. But, you know, they all seem to miss something. Mary and Elizabeth are usually depicted very formally as if they were ladies in waiting at some Renaissance court. Interestingly, such formality is totally absent from the scene described by Luke.

To begin with, Mary and Elizabeth were Jews, women steeped in the exuberance of their Semitic culture. When they laughed, they laughed joyfully. When they cried, the tears flowed in torrents. And when they mourned, they wailed. They didn’t hide their emotions behind a facade of respectable restraint. In fact, I have seen only one painting that depicts the scene as Luke describes it. I don’t know the artist’s name because it’s an unsigned illustration in, of all places, an old St. Joseph’s Sunday Missal. (I've included it above.) It shows the older Elizabeth, standing at her doorstep, her arms spread wide in greeting with a huge smile spread across her face. How does Luke describe it? “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb…’”

These words weren’t whispered. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, shouted them out to heaven itself. Maybe the world didn’t hear her, but I’ll bet her neighbors in that tiny village did…and so did the angels worshiping at the Father’s throne. Thanks to that same Holy Spirit, Elizabeth knows who it is that visits her…and she is overwhelmed by the revelation. Her joy tempered by humility, she asks her young cousin a question. Although it goes unanswered, the answer is there, right before us in the person of Mary.

When she embraces Mary, Elizabeth knows instantly that everything has changed — that everything her people have longed for -- freedom, forgiveness, salvation – is now alive among them. In a world where women could not legally testify, Elizabeth became God’s witness, testifying to the truth. “But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Who indeed? Quite simply, Elizabeth is the mother of the prophet; but she is also someone in need. For one day, in that land of high plateaus and rugged valleys, the one who was barren became fruitful dispelling the emptiness of her life.

When the archangel reveals this to Mary, she doesn’t hesitate. For Elizabeth was old and would need support and assistance during the final months of her pregnancy. Driven by love, with no regard for her own needs or even the slightest tinge of pride in her new status as Mother of God’s only Son, Mary leaves at once to care for Elizabeth. And this was no stroll down the block. The journey from Nazareth in Galilee to the little village in the hill country was a long and perilous one, a trek of several days.

So what are we to make of Mary, this young girl, probably no more than 15 years old, who would undertake such a selfless act of charity? Why does Luke include this incident in his Gospel? Because Mary is presented to us as a model, as the one who hears God’s Word, embraces it, and carries it out in her life. Conceived without sin and filled with God’s grace, her every act is in total accordance with God’s Will.

We see this first in her response to the good news of the archangel Gabriel, a response that God seeks from each of us. The Father didn’t command Mary to bear His Son. Rather, Mary is given a choice. And God awaits her answer. Not only God, but the whole world, the entire span of human history, awaits Mary’s answer.

For in that decisive moment, God places the salvation of the human race, past, present and future, in the tiny hands of this simple, teenage Jewish girl. She need utter only one word to embrace the living Word of God in her womb. Her response, a response straight from the heart, brings a sigh of joy from all creation: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” It is a choice of total abandonment to God’s Will. As Elizabeth proclaims, “Blessed is she who trusted that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled.”

Yes, Mary is the woman who has trusted, who has believed, who said “Yes” to God’s Word and acted on it. On her visit to Elizabeth she carries Christ not for herself, but for a world in need. And fittingly, given the plague of abortion that has spread across our planet, the first person to greet her as Mother of God is an unborn baby, John the Baptist, who leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary first arrived.

Here in the hill country of Judea, in the boondocks of this insignificant corner of the Roman Empire, two surprising babies met and danced to the beat of their mothers’ joy. In an extraordinary moment, two pregnant women — one at the beginning of her life and the other moving towards its end – greeted each other in joy and wonder. And so, what do Mary and Elizabeth offer us in these final days of advent?

In our world, where women and children are too often abused and discarded, these two holy women remind us that our bodies are temples. Through their witness we are reminded that we, too, are blessed — that God is with us, no matter how barren or forsaken we might feel. Elizabeth shows us how to stand unafraid in the barrenness of the world and wait joyfully for the coming of the Lord.

Yes, they show us how to wait for Christ. Not only for His second coming, but for His constant coming every day – His coming as He first came to us, in poverty and powerlessness. This is not pious rhetoric, but the Word of God. Jesus comes to us in the hungry, the thirsty; in the homeless stranger; in the sick and the shackled. Mary saw that even before Her Son proclaimed it. In her Magnificat, her song of joy, Mary rejoices that God has “looked with favor on His lowly servant.” He “has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things.”

The problem is, God fills the hungry not with miraculous manna from heaven, but through us. And the hungers of the human family cry out to us: hunger for bread; hunger for freedom from persecution; hunger for peace; hunger for God. Their cry is more than a human cry; it is a cry from the Gospel itself, from the Word of God.

His mother said to the servers, "Do whatever he tells you." Jn2:5

As Jesus’ disciples, to model ourselves on Mary we must listen to that Word and act on it in the circumstances in which God places us. One thing is certain: God is not telling us to do nothing. Discipleship isn’t easy. It doesn’t come cheap. It demands that we, like Mary, become bearers of Jesus, carrying Him to those in need. And like Mary, God gives us a choice. The same choice made by the Apostles when they heard Jesus say, “Come, follow me.”

For us, it is a choice founded on the certainty of God’s promise of eternal life. It is a choice founded on faith and on hope, a hope of expectation, the hope of Jesus’ return, His second coming when He comes in power and glory. This is the other Advent that we celebrate today.

The question for us, then, is will we, like Mary, make that choice? Can we set aside our willful natures and abandon ourselves to living according to God’s loving will? The good news is in the promise of Jesus, given to the Apostles at the Last Supper: “Whoever loves me will keep my Word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

So, you see, Christ wants to dwell within each of us, to make us God-bearers, so, just like Mary, we can carry Him to others. With Christ deep within us, and seeing Christ all around us in others, our lives can become a ceaseless Advent, a visible sign to the world of His love and His final coming. We need only join with Mary’s voice and say, “Whatever you want, Lord,” and then do what he tells us. And it’s never too late, for He continues to call us to Him all the days of our lives. As Gabriel told Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pro-Abortion Catholic Senators

15 Catholic senators recently voted among the majority to table the Nelson-Hatch-Casey Amendment to the Senate's health care bill. The amendment would have continued the prohibition of federal funds being used for abortion by extending this prohibition to the health care bill. I list these fifteen unfaithful "Catholic" senators here:

Mark Begich (D-AK)
Maria Cantwell (D-WA)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME)
Christopher Dodd (D-CT)
Richard Durbin (D-IL)
Tom Harkin (D-IA)
John Kerry (D-MA)
Paul Kirk (D-MA)
Mary Landrieu (D-LA)
Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
Claire McCaskill (D-MO)
Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)
Patty Murray (D-WA)
Jack Reed (D-RI)

Pray for their conversion; and if they refuse to accept the teachings of the Church, vote them out of office. It's the least we can do.

The "Fruits" of Abortion

Surprise, surprise! Today Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb) caved in under the pressure exerted by the Senate Democrat leadership and will now support the Senate's "health care bill" even though it does not explicitly prohibit government funding of abortions. Of course I and all my pro-life friends hoped that he would remain committed to the principles and values he supposedly holds so dear. How naive of us. We should have known that Senator Nelson is, first and foremost, a politician. Accordingly, he, like all career politicians, will do whatever is necessary to protect his political career. In this instance the senator sold his vote (and his soul) for $45 million of federal funds. Of course, there are undoubtedly other goodies, as yet not public, heading the senator's way for hopping aboard Harry Reid's train to political oblivion. I will step out on a limb here and predict that the people of Nebraska will toss Nelson out of office in 2012.

That being said, we can now forget about Senator Nelson. For a while he was a shining star, a man of principle who apparently refused to compromise on the right to life. But, by joining the other 59 Senators who will support this ridiculous, monstrous, deficit busting bill, he has made himself irrelevant. He is just another unprincipled, opportunistic politician among many others.

The evil fruits of abortion, however, can also be found well beyond the halls of the Capitol. The following opinion piece by Deacon Keith Fournier (written on December 16 before Senator Nelson's capitulation) tells another story. It's worth a read. (Deacon Fournier's columns are published by Catholic Online.)


Abortion is America’s Shame: Dead Baby under the Christmas Tree
By Deacon Keith Fournier
Catholic Online

'Apparently they cleaned up the fetus and they placed it inside a gift box under the Christmas tree’. (San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Catholic Online) – All US News reports are fixated on efforts to push a “Heath Care Reform” package through the Senate before Christmas. The threat by Senator Joe Lieberman to hold the legislation hostage unless the so called ‘public option” is removed has now given way. He has backed down. The President held one more “persuasion” session with Democratic Senators Tuesday to keep the pressure on. From most insiders playbooks it looks like some form of legislation will clear the Senate before the Nation pauses to remember a baby born in a manger.

Senator Ben Nelson, who fought hard to amend the legislation to ensure that no tax dollars would be used to pay for abortions, is under extreme pressure to fold his cards. Rumors are circulating that he will vote with those who want such a barbaric practice to be funded with tax dollars. I do not believe it. I pray that he has the courage to withstand the increasing pressure.

Some “inside” sources claimed on Tuesday that he is being threatened with closure of an air force base and others that he is being offered a “blank check” in the way of funds to bring home to his constituents. Are these claims true? No one knows for sure. However, that is how the game is played in Washington, DC. After all, children in the womb are not recognized as having a Right to Life in this Nation. That is so even though the American founders insisted that such a right was endowed by a Creator and inalienable.

While the myriad of talking heads on television news shows crow on saying nothing in so many words, a shocking story out of San Juan Texas puts the entire deadly affair in perspective. The Associated Press reported on Tuesday, December 15, 2009:

Fetus found in gift box, Texas couple charged

“Authorities allege a south Texas couple put an aborted 7-month-old fetus in a gift box under a Christmas tree after trying to flush the remains down a toilet. Thirty-one-year-old Ruby Lee Medina and 37-year-old Javier Gonzalez are jailed on abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence charges. Bond is set at $20,000 each. A woman at the San Juan city jail says she can't say whether either has retained an attorney. San Juan Police Chief Juan Gonzalez says police found the fetus inside the woman's trailer home Thursday after an anonymous tip. Gonzalez says police believe the woman used pills to induce an abortion, then called an ambulance and said she didn't know where the fetus was. Gonzalez says the couple first tried to flush the fetus, then cleaned it up and put in the gift box….”

The horror of this act brought me back to May 8, 2006 when a mother named Tammy Skinner of Suffolk, Virginia killed her own child with a gun and was set free by a Judge. On Feb. 23, 2006 she called police from a car dealership and told them that she had been shot in the stomach and pushed out of her car. Police found blood in Skinner’s red compact car, and a gun. Tammy was carrying her baby within her; a little girl who was to be delivered that very day. Later, Tammy changed her story, claiming that the father of Baby Girl Skinner had killed her. Finally, she told the authorities the truth - she had shot herself in the abdomen with the intention of killing her baby.

Tammy had two other daughters. However, she simply did not want this one. So, she killed her with a gun. She was charged with inducing an abortion. However, since she actually fired the gun herself, Judge James A. Moore decided that she could not be so charged because abortion is legal in America throughout all nine months under the holding of Roe v. Wade. Her lawyer, known for his “civil rights” work- and for his representation of the People for the Ethical treatment of Animals (PETA)- argued at a preliminary hearing that the charge of inducing an abortion or miscarriage is intended for use against a third party and did not apply to a mother who shoots herself to commit an abortion.

In the United States Baby Girl Skinner had no rights; mother Tammy had them all. She also had a “right” to kill. Given the state of the law, the other human person involved, the one who died as a direct result of the gunshot, Baby Girl Skinner, had no voice and no legal standing. She, along with all children in the first home of the human race, their mothers’ womb, had been reduced to the status of property. The charge of inducing an abortion was dismissed. Tammy Skinner had also been charged with using a firearm in a felony. However, that charge was not prosecuted because it must occur during the commission of a specific felony in Virginia. Tammy’s intentional killing of Baby Girl Skinner was not a felony. It was viewed as an extension of her “right” to take the life of her own child as long as the baby was still in the womb. She was convicted of filing a false police report and ordered to pay the cost of the police investigation, $750.

If someone else had shot Tammy Skinner and her daughter on the day she was to have delivered, they could have been prosecuted. However, Virginia’s fetal homicide law did not apply to the mother. It referred to killing “the fetus of another.” One of the Commonwealth’s Attorneys, Phil Ferguson, said: “We are dealing with a woman who, by her own hands, killed her child on the day of its birth…This was a nine-month fetus, clearly in the realm of viability. Whether it meets legal tests to constitute criminal conduct – we’re reviewing and exploring our options.” Tammy Skinner’s attorney, who recognizes the civil rights of animals and fish, did not concern himself with the preeminent natural and human right to life of Baby Girl Skinner. He said he was happy with the decision stating: “It was clear to me, and clear to the judge, that you cannot convict when an expectant mother does this,”

Now, 31 year-old Ruby Lee Medina and her 37-year-old accomplice Javier Gonzalez are being held on “abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence” charges in Texas. Let’s see what happens. The case is no different than the Skinner case. The “super right” to decide whether to kill a child in the womb seems to trump every other true right such as the Right to Life. Cases such as these two reveal the fangs on the evil face of legal abortion on demand in our Nation. The Senate will soon pass legislation which, in the name of “health care”, will allow our tax dollars to fund the killing of children in the womb through surgical dismemberment and chemical destruction. Every procured abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, the killing of our neighbor in the first home of the whole human race.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of a child who was born in a manger because there was no room for Him in the Inn, another child was killed before he or she could join us for Christmas. This killing was willful and intentional. It was done by his/her mother through a self ingested deadly chemical weapon which she swallowed. This little baby was delivered dead, wrapped in a box and placed under a Christmas tree. When we hear or read of such horrors we still react. That is because there is still some shred of conscience left in us. If we begin to fund this practice with tax dollars, perhaps even that last remaining shred will disappear.

Abortion has become America’s Shame. We have allowed the growth of a culture which views human persons as products - commodities to be disposed of if inconvenient. We have put in place a legal and political system which promotes and protects the evil. The Dead Baby under the Christmas tree cries out for justice and mercy. Abortion is not health care because killing is not healing.

What will become of our country?

Pray, brothers and sisters...pray!

God's peace....

Fighting back against political correctness

Here's an interesting item (Dec 10) from David Pryce-Jones' blog, David Calling, on National Review Online:


No Room for Free Thought at the Inn?

Could it be that things are beginning to turn, and people in the West will at last stand up for their beliefs? First came the referendum in Switzerland that mosques could be built, but no more minarets. Muslims of course protested that this was bigotry, racism, and the rest of it. It was not. The Swiss fully granted freedom of religion, and were merely making the point that they wanted the landscape to look the way it always had. And now comes a follow-up in Britain, in the case of Mr. Ben Vogelenzang and his wife Sharon.

The Vogelenzangs are committed Christians, two among thousands of members of a semi-missionary organisation called The Christian Institute. They own and manage a small hotel in Liverpool, catering specially to patients in a nearby hospital. Mrs. Ericka Tazi, a 60-year-old, stayed for a month in this hotel while undergoing treatment in the hospital. On the final day she came to breakfast in a hijab. Born Catholic and British, Mrs. Tazi has a Muslim husband and converted to Islam about twelve months ago.

In the dining room that morning words were obviously exchanged. Mrs. Tazi said that “the Bible is untrue anyway and Jesus is a minor prophet.” She adds that the Vogelenzangs compared Muhammad to warlords in history, including Hitler and Saddam Hussein. The Vogelenzangs admit to saying that Islam is a form of bondage for women, but also say that Mrs. Tazi exaggerates everything else.

Mrs. Tazi went to the police. Six inspectors from the “hate crime unit” of the local police force — yes, such units act as thought-police all over the country — duly investigated, and the Vogelenzangs were prosecuted. The couple faced costs, the folding of their hotel and bankruptcy. In court, however, the judge took very little time to throw the case out. Freedom of speech was the issue here. The Vogelenzangs, the judge ruled, had every right to speak their mind in a discussion about religion. Incidentally, he also observed that Mrs. Tazi's resort to dirty language could not be squared with her religious views, and he as good as called her a liar and hypocrite. Mrs. Vogelenzang had the last word: “As Christmas approaches, we wish everybody peace and goodwill.” 


Three cheers for the judge, a man possessed of that rarest of commodities: common sense. I have a certain empathy for the Vogelenzangs. A few years ago , in the course of a Sunday homily, I remarked that the active homosexual lifestyle was sinful. After Mass a parishioner verbally assaulted me with accusations that I had committed a hate crime. Fortunately, at the time there was no law prohibiting my comments and, anyway, the police in our small town did not have a "hate crime unit." And so my transgression went unpunished. I suspect, though, that as I write these words some member of Congress is drafting legislation to criminalize public comments such as those in my homily. The future promises to get interesting.

God's peace...

Friday, December 18, 2009

War and Peace

A few days ago, during a conversation with a parishioner, I was told that war has never accomplished anything, and that war is always immoral. As those who know me might expect, I disagreed with both statements, and even commented that I was especially proud of my limited participation in the Vietnam conflict. (I have always believed that the United States' involvement in Vietnam was particularly altruistic since we certainly had little to gain strategically and almost nothing to gain financially. But that's a topic for another time.) My disagreement seemed to take the parishioner by surprise. He said he found it hard to believe that a deacon could be a "warmonger." He then stated that a true Christian must be a pacifist, and that any participation in war is always immoral.

Hoo-boy! How does one respond to someone who holds such beliefs? Of course his basic premise -- that war accomplishes nothing -- is simply wrong by every historical yardstick. I shudder to think what the world would be like today if England, the United States and their allies had not stood up to Hitler and his regime. Yes, war often accomplishes a great deal, and sometimes for the good of the world.

I suppose I should also issue a disclaimer: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a pacifist. Neither am I a warmonger. Indeed, I can say with assurance that anyone who has been to war is unlikely to be a warmonger, for they understand first-hand the reality and costs of war. Career military people prepare for war because that's their job. This does not mean they like war or look forward to it.

With regard to pacifists, let me explain my thinking. I have absolutely nothing against those who claim to be personal pacifists; that is, those who believe that, as individuals, they should always "turn the other cheek." The living out of such beliefs is a good thing; it is not unlike the decision to live the monastic or eremetic life, but it doesn't define the Christian. Monks and hermits don't try to turn everyone else into monks and hermits. They realize some are called to such a life, but most are not.

My objection is not, therefore, with personal pacifism, but rather with what I shall call "institutional pacifism" -- that form of pacifism that insists we embrace pacifist attitudes not only as individuals but also as a nation. This I believe is not just ill advised, but flat-out immoral. The Church has always taught that a nation has the right and the obligation to defend itself, and has never called for any form of universal pacifism.

Not surprisingly we find this same teaching in the gospels. John the Baptist, for example, when asked by a group of soldiers what they should do, didn't tell them to lay down their swords and embrace pacifism. No, instead he gave them practical moral instruction: "Rob no one by violence or by false accusation, and be content with your wages" [Lk 3:14]. Luke doesn't tell us whether they were Roman soldiers or Herod's soldiers, but I don't think it makes much difference. One thing we do know: John didn't call them "warmongers" simply because they wore uniforms.

Jesus, too, had interactions with soldiers. The most famous is his healing of the Roman centurion's servant, described in Lk 7:1-10 and Mt 8:5-13. Our Lord actuallly praises this professional soldier when he states, "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith" [Lk 7:9]. Jesus says not a word about the man's profession, but having granted his request, sends him on his way.

We encounter another centurion during the crucifixion. It is he, a Gentile and a professional soldier, who, according to Mark, first proclaims Jesus' divinity: "And when the centurion, who stood facing him [Jesus], saw that he thus breathed his last, he said, 'Truly this man was the Son of God'" [Mk 15:39]. And yet, although inspired by the Holy Spirit, to our knowledge he does not leave his profession and become a pacifist.

And let us not overlook Cornelius, the centurion of the Italian cohort, who was sent to Peter by an angel of God. Cornelius, described by Luke as "...a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation" [Acts 10:22], is used by God to confirm that His message is for all of humanity, not just for the Jews. And, again, like the others he seemingly remains a centurion, a profession in which one can apparently be "upright and God-fearing."

I think it's important, particularly today when out nation is at war with something as intrinsically evil as Islamist terrorism, for Christians to support our men and women in uniform. Trust me, they do not enjoy doing what they do, but they do it because they know it must  be done. To call them "warmongers" because they are willing to sacrifice their lives in the defense of our nation is inexcusable.

Pray for our military men and women, especially those in harms way.

The peace of Christ -- not the peace of the world -- be with you.

Homily for Wednesday, December 16

Readings: Is 45:6c-8,18,21c-25; Ps 85; Luke 7:18-23

 Years ago, back in my Navy days, I was once assigned the job of overhaul manager for the major overhaul of a large ship. It was a demanding job, and I remember not getting much sleep during those 12 months. At one point, early in the overhaul, faced with a rather tricky technical problem, we contacted the Navy’s engineering support staff and requested they send one of their experts to help us find a solution.

Well, he showed up a few days later and started meeting with everybody involved. But all he did was ask questions. For two days he asked questions, and never once offered a single suggestion on how to solve our problem. I was beginning to question whether this so-called expert actually knew all that much. So at my next meeting with him I asked him point blank whether he’d come up with a solution yet.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, “I knew how to fix the problem an hour after I got here.”

“You what? And you’ve wasted two days of our time?”

He smiled and said, “Relax. You’re people just figured it out, and they’ll have it fixed by tonight. I spent the past two days leading them to the solution by getting them to ask and answer the right questions. Now the next time they run into a tough problem they’ll be able to solve it themselves, and you’ll save a lot more time in the long run.”

I just stared at him, so he said, “You’re welcome. I’m leaving this afternoon.”

Now, that incident reminds me a little of today’s Gospel reading, one of those slightly perplexing passages we encounter every so often. At first reading we find ourselves asking whether John the Baptist had doubts about Jesus’ and His claim to be the Messiah. I suppose John could have had some doubts. After all, he was in prison and wouldn’t be immune to the trials of the dark night of the soul.

But John’s entire life was focused on one thing, one task: to point the way to Jesus. “He must increase. I must decrease.” And everything else we know about John tells us that he clearly knew who Jesus was. It was John who revealed Jesus’ mission at the River Jordan when he exclaimed, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” John the prophet had seen from a distance what Jesus would accomplish through his death on the cross -- our redemption from bondage to sin and death and our adoption as sons and daughters of God and citizens of the kingdom of heaven.

I’m pretty sure that John personally needed no assurance about Jesus. And so he could have simply told his disciples that Jesus was the Messiah and urged them to follow him. But he didn’t.

No, like my Navy expert, John knew it would be better if they saw for themselves, if they figured it out on their own. So he sent them to Jesus with their questions. And Jesus tells them, “Go tell John what you have seen and heard…” In other words, look at the evidence. Who else but the Messiah could do these things?

As faithful Jews, John’s disciples would recognize that the miracles Jesus performed and his message about the reign of God directly fulfilled what the prophets had foretold. Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would come in the power of the Holy Spirit to bring freedom to those oppressed by sin and evil – and, brothers and sisters, that includes all of us.

Jesus came to set us free from the worst tyranny possible -- the tyranny of slavery to sin and the fear of death, and the destruction of both body and soul. God alone can save us from emptiness and poverty of spirit, from confusion and error, and from the fear of death and hopelessness.

The gospel of salvation is "good news" for us today. And so let’s use our time wisely this advent and come to know the joy and freedom of the gospel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

It's In the Air

Every once in a while I write about the current and coming persecution of the Church. I'm always amazed at the responses I receive from some folks who simply can't believe that such a thing could happen in today's enlightened world. A few months ago one reader (a Catholic priest) sent me a long and really rather unfriendly email. He was livid that I had labeled 21st century liberalism a form of unconscious suicide. Others have been equally critical because I have expressed even mild support for Israel in its struggle for existence against a host of enemies who want nothing less than its total annihilation. Indeed, I hesitate to mention Israel in the presence of some of my acquaintances because their response is so visceral and so negative that any sort of reasoned argument becomes impossible.

I often receive similar responses from those who fall in the pro-choice camp whenever I write or speak out against the plague of abortion. And when I describe abortion as a symptom of something far greater and far more evil they can become almost apoplectic, unable even to respond to my apparent absurdities.

Another issue I have been addressing lately among some of my friends is what I see as a link between the supporters of abortion and those who believe "climate change" is largely the result of human activity. This has led some to slap a permanent "conspiracy theorist" label on me. But then, this morning, I read that the Chinese delegation to the UN Conference on Climate in Copenhagen has stated that the cause of all this global warming is overpopulation. The world should, therefore, adopt China's "one-child" policy. According to the AsiaNews article:

China defended its family planning policy as a way to reduce global warming. According to Beijing, its one-child and birth control policies, which include forced abortions and sterilizations on unwilling women, are part of its global strategy to fight climate problems and should be adopted by the international community.

In spite of the gross violation of human rights, the strategy has been a “great success” according to Chinese authorities. “I'm not saying that what we have done is 100 per cent right, but I'm sure we are going in the right direction," said Zhao Baige, vice-minister of National Population and Family Planning Commission of China.

This suggestion by China to the world community was preceded last week by an editorial in Canada's leading newspaper encouraging pretty much the same thing. Diane Francis, columnist for the National Post and the Financial Post wrote that, "The 'inconvenient truth' overhanging the UN's Copenhagen conference is not that the climate is warming or cooling, but that humans are overpopulating the world. A planetary law, such as China's one-child policy, is the only way to reverse the disastrous global birthrate currently, which is one million births every four days." Click here to read Francis' column.

And so, in my conspiratorial mind, the connections among abortion "rights" activists, population control supporters, and the Al-Gore-worshiping climate control fanatics is real and will only strengthen as each group grasps the potential of this developing symbiotic relationship. The pressure on governments to conform to these new realities will increase: only abortion can save the world from the catastrophic consequences of a global warming driven by overpopulation. And then we can expect continued and escalating attacks on the Catholic Church for its intransigent attitude toward abortion, contraception and euthanasia. I expect it will get very nasty. One of the more interesting dramas that will soon play out will be the conflict faced by those Catholics, both laypeople and clerics, who have been drinking the global warming cool-aid. On which side will they ultimately fall?

An interesting world we live in. Strange things are in the air...pray for us. God's peace.