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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

At Sea in the Caribbean

Diane and I are aboard the Jewel of the Seas, a Royal Caribbean cruise ship of about 90,000 tons. We left Miami late on the afternoon of February 20, and so today is our fourth day aboard. At the moment we're somewhere south of Jamaica headed for Cartagena, Colombia, the Panama Canal, and other ports of call in the western Caribbean.

This is our first real pleasure cruise, although I've certainly spent a lot of time at sea. When I was just a lad, back around 1950, I sailed to Europe aboard the New Amsterdam, a Holland-American Line ship. Although it wasn't a pleasure cruise, I have some fond memories of that trip. My mother, brother and I were on our way to join my father, an Army officer stationed in Heidelberg, Germany. When we returned the next year we sailed on a former troop ship which wasn't nearly so pleasant. With those two exceptions, all of my time at sea has been aboard Navy ships, which were far from luxurious.

So far we've made one port stop, in Labadee, a peninsula on the north coast of Haiti. It's a rather strange place. The cruise line apparently leases it from the Haitian government and has turned it into a playground for their passengers. It has all the amenities: lovely beaches; all kinds of water sports and other forms of recreation; shops where one can buy local Haitian goods; and, of course, bars and dining facilities. All of this in an area isolated from the rest of Haiti, the poorest and most densely populated country in the Americas. The cruise passengers can't leave Labadee and very few Haitians can enter.

(The above photo shows Diane and me on the beach in Labadee, Haiti. I'm already looking a bit chubby thanks to the omnipresent shipboard food.)

This visit, then, has generated some mixed feelings. I suspect the money given to the Haitian regime goes nowhere but in the pockets of its corrupt officials. But some Haitians probably benefit from the arrangement, either through jobs or the sale of their cottage industry crafts and other products. On balance, however, I suspect it has little positive impact on the average Haitian and only enriches the regime and provides the cruise line with a cheap place to let their passengers relax ashore for a day. I've included a few photos so you can get a idea of what Labadee looks like,

The winds and the seas have picked up today and I'm guessing that we're experiencing 15-20 foot swells as a result of some pretty hefty trade winds out of the East. I'm actually sitting on the balcony of our stateroom, probably 75 feet above the water, enjoying the warm salt air and sound of the sea. And yet, despite the seas, the ship is remarkably stable and I had no trouble finding my sea-legs once again.

The ship has cellular service at sea along with a number of WiFi “hot spots” for Internet access. Of course, they charge for Internet access (they charge for everything) but it's not too unreasonable provided one doesn't spend a lot of time surfing the web. I've used it only for paying bills, checking email and posting on this blog. We also have satellite TV service so one can keep up with the world if brief isolation proves too painful.

I had forgotten how beautiful the sea is...and how awe-inspiring. At sea one can better appreciate the greatness of God's gifts to us. Watching the seemingly endless sea as our relatively tiny ship passes over it is not unlike the sensation one experiences when staring heavenward on a dark, star-lit night. Yes, God is great and, insignificant as we are in the face of His creation, we are blessed to be loved so much.

(The above photo of NE Haiti was taken early in the morning as we arrived at Labadee.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Schmap Guides

You might have noticed that this blog now includes two city guides from Schmap, a travel guide website that provides all kinds of neat downloadable travel information on cities and countries throughout the world. For you techno-geeks out there, you can even download them to your iPhone.

I've included links to their Rome and Venice guides for two reasons: (1) Rome and Venice are two of my favorite cities; and (2) Schmap selected several of my photos for inclusion in these particular guides. So, I suppose the real reason is vanity.

I really do like their guides though. One of the reasons is their inclusion of so many photos taken by folks like you and me. Through these, mostly amateur, photos you get a real flavor of the city and its attractions. The guides are located at the bottom of the right sidebar of my blog. Enjoy!

My son is visiting and so it's off to swim with the Manatees over on the west coast of Florida in Homosassa. Should be interesting. I'll take photos.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Recordings of Flannery O'Connor

Some time ago a friend passed along a link to several audio recordings of Flannery O'Connor that were apparently made not long before her untimely death in August of 1964 from complications of Lupus. I have been trying to find some recordings of her voice for years, but could locate only brief soundbites apparently taken from longer recordings. For me, a long-time fan, these two recordings are a God-send.

O'Connor was, as you will discover when you hear her voice, a Southern girl; indeed, a very Southern girl, who spent much of her adult life on the family farm, Andalusia, in Milledgeville, Georgia.

Her work is unique in American literature, and one recording is of her reading one of her better known stories, "A Good Man is Hard to Find." The other is of a lecture she gave at the University of Notre Dame. Here are the links to the site where they can be downloaded:

O'Connor's Notre Dame Lecture on the "Grotesque in Southern Literature"

O'Connor reading "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

I hope you enjoy listening to this remarkable woman.

A few years ago, on one of our trips between New England and Florida, Diane and I spent some time in Milledgeville. Among the places we visited was Andalusia, where we met Mary Barbara Tate, a lovely woman who knew O'Connor well and graciously shared some of her experiences with us. She even gave me a lovely print of O'Connor's self-portrait painted in 1953 when she was in her late twenties. Below is a copy...
As always, I took dozens (hundreds?) of photographs during our visit and have included one of the farmhouse at Andalusia (below), which I recommend visiting if you're ever driving through Georgia and looking for something worthwhile to do. I also took a photo of her grave site in Milledgeville.

The equipment near the front steps would be used later that day for a lecture and reception we attended along with a surprisngly large number of other Flannery lovers.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Strength in Weakness

A busy schedule has prevented me from posting anything recently; and although my busyness hasn't really abated, I've decided to try to set aside at least a little time every few days for the blog. We'll see how faithful I turn out to be.

What caught my attention this morning was news out of Vietnam. I'd been loosely following the plight of the Church in Vietnam as it strives to do God's work of evangelization in this Communist-led nation. I've been particularly struck by the efforts of Redemptorist Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung and Archbishop of Hanoi Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet, as they wage what can only be described as a spiritual battle with the government. The current confrontation is related to an ongoing dispute over Church property
, including a Redemptorist monastery and former papal nunciature, confiscated by the government years ago. The dispute has been marked by violence perpetrated by so-called street gangs (obviously encouraged by the government). These mobs have attacked the monastery, along with several churches, destroying statues, books, and whatever else they came across. Government complicity has been evident since all of these attacks were carried under the watchful eyes of the police who did nothing to stop them.

The Church's response to this ongoing government intimidation has consisted of peaceful protests and marches by thousands of Catholics, courageous statements and letters by the archbishop, and public prayer.

And then, on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the government staged a show trial of Father Matthew Vu Khoi Phung and seven other activists in which they were "convicted" of destroying public property in connection with one of their protests at the monastery. (Notice how those who destroyed Church property were not prosecuted. Totalitarian governments always value the state's property more than they value the property of their citizens.)

The wonderful thing about this trial was that the convictions resulted only in suspended sentences, an outcome the eight defendants attribute to the intercession of the Blessed Mother. Father Pierre Nguyen Van Khai, the only priest allowed to attend the 7-hour trial, reported that "judges, lawyers, defendants and all those attending the trial could hear very clearly thousands of Catholics protesting outside the courthouse, who kept yelling ‘Innocent, Innocent!'" The above photo shows Father Matthew rejoicing in what can only be called a victory despite the verdict.

The Church continues to be persecuted throughout the world, particularly in totalitarian states that cannot abide their citizens expressing loyalty to any power other than the state itself. Pray that the subtle persecution we have of late sometimes encountered in this country does not evolve into anything more sinister and pervasive.

For an interesting look at what's in store for the Church in Vietnam, click here.

God bless the courageous Catholics of Vietnam who, through their witness, have shown us the strength that comes from weakness.