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.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Anglicans...and other Anglicans

Apparently some few folks in the UK, presumably some Anglicans, are very upset over the possibility that a number of their fellow believers may depart the Church of England and enter into full communion with the Catholic Church.

Fr. David Waller, the Anglo-Catholic Vicar of St. Saviour’s Parish in Walthamstow, UK, received a voice mail threatening him with physical violence should he and his parishioners make the move to Catholicism. On the same evening vandals also defaced the church building with a painted message declaring: "C of E -- No Pope".  Although Fr. Waller has not yet publicly declared that he will enter the Catholic Church, based on his comments, I'd say that such a move is likely. And neither does he seem to have been intimidated by threats or vandalism. Commenting on the threatening voice mail, Fr. Waller said, “The message was distorted – it sounded drunken and I don’t want to make too much of it." And neither do I. I mention it only to show that Anglicans can expect resistance to any positive response to this historic invitation by the Catholic Church. You can read about Fr. Waller here: Anglo-Catholic Vicar Threatened.

And then there's Rowan Williams, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, who recently urged the Catholic church to overlook such issues as papal primacy and women clergy and focus instead on furthering the effort to achieve communion with the Anglican Church. The archbishop seems to think that, in the spirit of ecumenism, the Catholic Church can and should simply set aside any differences, even those it believes are grounded in divine law and part of the deposit of faith. I guess he thinks the Catholic Church can help God's law "evolve" so that it will better reflect the spirit of the times. I suspect the archbishop is starting to panic as he watches the Anglican Church self destruct. How very sad. Click here to read more.

...and the drama continues.

Pray for life and pray for unity.

"Comatose" Man Aware for 23 Years

I'm sure you've already heard of the Belgian man, Rom Hauben, who was injured in an auto accident 23 years ago and subsequently diagnosed as comatose. It seems, however, that the diagnosis was incorrect and that Hauben was actually fully conscious the whole time. Now Hauben is able to communicate via a nifty computerized device and subtle finger movements.

When I heard the news about this man who had been written off by his doctors, my first thought was of Terri Schiavo. I'm sure you remember her. She was the Florida woman who was killed by her doctors in March 2005 at the urging of her husband and under orders from the courts. And how did they kill her? They starved her to death, prohibiting anyone from giving her even a drop of water. It took two weeks for her to die -- the culture of death in action.

I thought of Terri because many of her family members were convinced that she was aware and conscious despite what her doctors claimed. If that were the case, can you imagine what she must have gone through during that two weeks of forced starvation? (The photo at left is of the supposedly "vegetative" Terri and her mother.)

Since regaining his ability to communicate, Rom Hauben said, "I screamed but there was nothing to hear...All that time I just literally dreamed of a better life. Frustration is too small a word to describe what I felt."

To read more about Rom Hauben and his "recovery" click here: Mail Online.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Advent Mission

As I may have mentioned on another occasion, our parish -- St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wildwood, Florida -- is blessed to have eight permanent deacons assigned to assist our pastor, Fr. Peter Sagorski. Of these eight deacons four are "seasonal residents" (that's our local euphemism for "snowbirds") who spend about half the year with of us. Of course, we have this large number of deacons because of The Villages, the large retirement community in which most of us live. And because all future growth in The Villages will take place within our parish boundaries, I suspect we might collect a few more deacons over the next few years.

One nice benefit of having so many deacons is their willingness to take on the ministerial and pastoral needs of our parish community. Earlier this year, for example, five of us conducted a very successful Lenten mission here at the parish. It went over so well that our pastor suggested we conduct another.

And so next week five deacons of our parish will conduct an Advent Mission. The theme of the five-day mission is "Open Wide the Doors to Christ" and will focus on Advent as a time of conversion. Each day of the mission, conducted by a different deacon, has its own sub-theme:
  • Monday - Stay Awake...Watch for the Lord
  • Tuesday - Christ Comes to Forgive
  • Wednesday - Receiving the Good News
  • Thursday - Carrying Christ to Others
  • Friday - Walk in the Peace of Christ

On each day of the mission the assigned deacon will preach at the 8:30 a.m. daily Mass. After Mass the Blessed Sacrament will be exposed for adoration throughout the day. At 6 p.m. the "deacon of the day" will lead a Liturgy of the Word, then give a mission talk on the particular sub-theme listed above. This will be followed by Benediction and reposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

We hope and pray for a large turnout and ask you to pray that the Holy Spirit will guide and inspire the five of us who will conduct the mission.

God's peace...

Publicity for the Wildwood Soup Kitchen

This morning, as a consequence of one of those Google searches that leads to wildly unexpected results, I discovered a blog of the National Association of Realtors. The particular post I encountered, dated November 13, was entitled, How to Volunteer at a Soup Kitchen. On the page there's a state-by-state listing of just a few of the nation's many food banks and soup kitchens, and right there, among the five sites listed for Florida, is our own Wildwood Soup Kitchen, including a link to our website. Our thanks to the realtors for including us on their list.

When I first put the soup kitchen's website together a few years ago, I thought of it more as an internal tool, as a means to keep our 100+ volunteers informed. But then I thought it might also be a nice way for others to learn about what we do and perhaps even contribute. While we don't get a lot of hits (soup kitchen websites aren't particularly glamorous), the site has generated quite a few donations as well as many requests to volunteer. So I suppose it's been worth the small extra effort.

Anyway, it's always nice to get a little publicity.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Soup Kitchen Thanksgiving

Originally uploaded by deacondana
A long, tiring, but enjoyable day. Diane and I, along with my brother, Jeff, who is visiting with us, were up bright and early this morning and at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen by 7 a.m. to begin preparations for our Thanksgiving Day dinner. We had a record number of volunteers who joined us as we cooked, delivered and served over 230 meals. As I mentioned in yesterday's post, it was a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, complete with all the fixin's. Our guests, young and old and in-between, all seemed to enjoy the day and were happy to take a lot of the leftovers home with them.

Yesterday I also mentioned that our local media folks stopped by the house to give the soup kitchen a little publicity. As a result there was a wonderful writeup in the local paper, The Villages Daily Sun. They also gave Diane and me some face time on our local TV station, VNN, letting me ramble on about the nature of this wonderful ministry to those in need. My only complaint is that the TV folks didn't include my appeal for donations. I've included a video clip (above) of the local news show.

My other complaint is that I was so busy I didn't have time to sample the wonderful meal that Diane and her team of kitchen volunteers put together. This, I suppose, is a good thing since my waistline has been somewhat unstable in recent weeks and needs to settle down...way down.

Here are a few photos of some of our wonderful guests, along with the volunteers who made the day such a success...

Our team getting ready to fill those empty plates

Fixin' the sweet potatoes

A young guest samples the pie

Happiness is a full tummy...

A smile of satisfaction

Brother Jeff chatting with our Spanish.

...and the coffee.

Blessings...and Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Homily for Wednesday, 25 November

Saint: Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin, Martyr
Scripture: Lk 21:12-19


If the gospel message is good news, then why do so many oppose it with hostility and even violence?
Jesus warns us that we’ll be confronted with persecution, evil, false teaching, and temptation. Of course, the Gospel’s real enemy is Satan – the one Jesus calls a "murderer" and "father of lies." And, believe me, brothers and sisters, Satan’s not some psychological construct; no, Satan is very real, and he uses fear and hatred to generate hatred toward those who follow Jesus Christ.
And how does Jesus respond to all this? With love, with truth, with forgiveness. Only God’s love can defeat bigotry, hatred and envy. Only God's love purifies hearts and minds of all that would divide and tear us apart.
God’s truth is essential too. Only God’s truth can overcome the evil and tribulation in the world. Satan deceives and sin blinds the heart and mind. Only God's truth frees us from error and spiritual blindness. The truth. That’s what the Gospel is, brothers and sisters, God's word of truth and salvation.
And that’s why Jesus tells his disciples to proclaim the gospel throughout the whole world, even in the midst of opposition and persecution. Jesus promises his disciples that if they endure to the end they will gain their lives – they will see God's salvation and inherit an eternal life of happiness with God. But such endurance – the ability to remain faithful in the midst of trails, temptations and persecution – doesn‘t come from human effort. Such endurance is a gift, a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift strengthened by hope – the assurance that we’ll see God face to face and inherit His promises. In this as in all things, Jesus is our model: Jesus who endured the cross for our sake and salvation; Jesus who calls us to love, to die to ourselves.
Did you know the word martyr in Greek means witness? That’s right, true martyrs live and die as witnesses of the Gospel. The Book of Revelation calls Jesus “the faithful witness ...who freed us from our sins by his blood." Tertullian, a second century lawyer converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die at the hands of their persecutors. He compared the blood of the martyrs to seed, the seed of new Christians, the seed of the church. St. Augustine spoke of this too: "The martyrs were bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered – and they multiplied!" They multiplied because the martyrs witnessed to the truth; they witnessed to the joy and freedom of the Gospel; and they did so through the testimony of their lives and their deaths.
Our world today is plagued by terrorism, by those who would sacrifice their own lives simply to take the lives of others. They do so out of hatred, out of revenge for perceived wrongs, and out of a misguided belief that God actually wills such obscenities. Despite their beliefs, they are, of course, not martyrs. Their sacrifice is motivated by everything but God's merciful love and forgiveness, His truth and righteousness. True martyrs pray for their persecutors and love their enemies. In their suffering and deaths they witness the truth: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
And so we must remember that Jesus died on the cross for Jews and Greeks, Christians and Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, agnostics and atheists. “God so loved the world…” He doesn’t love just part of it. No, He loves it all. He loves each of us. It can’t be otherwise because He created each human being in an individual act of love.
It’s through our witness as Christians that others recognize Christ’s victory on the cross, his power to overcome sin, fear and hatred, even death itself. When the world looks at Christians it has the right to find in them a reflection of the glory of the Trinity. The world has a right to discover in our faith, our hope, and our love a testimony to the presence of the Holy Spirit. The problems that have arisen in Christ’s Church over the centuries, and exist even now, are not caused by the Holy Spirit; they’re caused by the mediocrity of Christians. That mediocrity can turn people away from Christ. What brings others to Jesus Christ and His Church is seeing Christians loving their enemies; seeing Christians joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, forgiving of injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless.
This, brothers and sisters, is our calling.

Thanksgiving at the Soup Kitchen

Time certainly has a way of passing quickly when you're busy, and this past week has certainly flown by. Diane and I and several other good, helpful folks have been working hard making preparations for our Thanksgiving dinner at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. It's always a particularly challenging day for us since almost everything about the meal is a break from our usual routine at the kitchen.

First of all, we give most of our regular Thursday volunteers the day off, so they can spend the holiday with their families. We can do this because we get so many other requests to volunteer on this special day. The problem, though, is that most of these Thanksgiving volunteers have no experience working in the soup kitchen so we need to provide a lot of direct supervision. And there are a lot of them! We usually operate with about six to ten volunteers, but tomorrow we'll have 20 or more. We'll need them though.

On Thanksgiving we don't serve the meal in the usual cafeteria style. We serve each person individually at his or her table. They are met at the door, escorted to a seat, and shown the menu. (I've included a copy.) If there's something they don't want or like, the server notes it and takes the information to the kitchen where the person's plate is then made up. The server then takes the meal and drink to the guest. Other servers will move among the tables carrying trays filled with desserts. We try to make it a special day for all who come.

As you can see by the menu, the meal has a bit of a Southern flavor, which is to be expected given our location and dear Diane's Southern heritage. Cornbread dressing and sweet potatoes never graced my family's table during my formative years in New York and New England. But our four children all grew up enjoying Diane's true Southern cooking and have kept those recipes alive in their own households.

We have some local media folks coming by our home later this afternoon. They want to interview Diane and film her carving one of the turkeys that we'll serve tomorrow at the soup kitchen. Should be interesting, but first I have to finish my chores and vacuum the rugs. A retired husband's work is never done.

Our warmest wishes for a truly Happy Thanksgiving. Take some time tomorrow to thank our loving God not only for your family and the blessings He has bestowed on you, but also for the gift of life, for your very being.

And please keep us in your prayers as we do our best tomorrow to serve God and His people. God's peace...

Monday, November 23, 2009

Musicians: Among My Favorites

A little break from the usual today, a little taste of what makes being so good. God blesses certain people with extraordinary talents and together they are able to produce some wonderful things.

I've been a fan of the Modern Jazz Quartet since I bought my first album of theirs in 1962. Subsequently I had the opportunity to see and hear them in person several times in DC and New York clubs where one is up close and personal, certainly more so than in the larger concert venues. Their music is remarkable and nobody ever came close to the virtuosity of Milt Jackson on the vibes.

The quartet had its origins with the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra back in the late 1940s, and began playing together as a quartet in the early 1950s. They continued together for over 40 years, releasing their last record in 1993. Connie Kay died in 1994, Milt Jackson in 1999, John Lewis in 2001, and Percy Heath in 2005, and so all of the MJQ -- John Lewis (piano and musical director), Milt Jackson (vibraphone), Percy Heath (bass), and Connie Kay (drums) -- are gone now. But their music lives on.

So here's a sample of the MJQ's music, two of their classic pieces, Bag's Groove and Django. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Homily for Today: the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King

What does the word “king” mean to you?

Are you a romantic? Do you picture noble Arthur, holding court in Camelot, surrounded by his Knights of the Round Table, Excalibur at his side?

Or maybe Henry V, the young king, burdened with the responsibilities of the throne, and musing as he roams the camp the night before battle: “What infinite heart’s ease must Kings neglect, that private men enjoy?” Yeah, it’s lonely at the top.

Or do you think of David, the shepherd-king of Israel, a man after God’s own heart…and yet, like all of us, a sinful man, a man who committed adultery and murder. Or David’s son, the wise Solomon, builder of the first temple, a man with 700 wives and 300 concubines…a fact that has always led me to question his wisdom.

Or Herod the Great, Roman lackey and butcher of innocents.

Or Louis XVI, whose lack of vision and failure to recognize the signs, led him to the guillotine.

Maybe you think only of modern kings in their largely ceremonial roles, dressed in Armani suits and cutting ribbons to open new museums and industrial parks.

Or like many today, do you consider the idea of kingship an inconsequential reminder of less enlightened times, an incongruity in the modern world where the only good king is Burger King?

Why do I ask this question? Because your answer will strongly influence your reaction to today’s feast, the feast of Christ the King.

Why does the Church celebrate Christ as King? Why at this time, the last Sunday of the liturgical year? What should Christ’s Kingship mean to us?

For twelve months the liturgy has led us from Advent and the world’s expectation of a Savior, to His arrival among us as a helpless infant, through His ministry, His passion and His death, to His resurrection and His return to the Father. Then, beginning with Pentecost, we experienced the Church’s pilgrimage as it awaits Christ’s final coming in glorified splendor.

Today we celebrate the very pinnacle of this salvation history, when all that is, ever was, and ever will be is subjected to Christ’s rule. And as usual, St. Paul says it best: “…when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power.”

And Daniel prophesied this in today’s first reading: “He received dominion, glory and kingship; nations and peoples of every language serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not be taken away; His kingship shall not be destroyed.”

This is why the Church celebrates the feast of Christ the King when it does. Like the coda of a symphony, it not only brings the movement of salvation history to a decisive end, but also presents us with something wonderfully new.

Of course, we Americans haven’t thought very highly of kings since we snatched our nation from George III. And for some of us the very idea of Christ as King can be difficult to accept. It certainly was for Pilate in today’s Gospel.

It’s not as if Pilate didn’t accept the concept of kingship. He certainly did. After all, he worked for a king, Tiberius, the Roman Emperor.

But this Jesus? This meek itinerant teacher in a backwater of the Empire? Despite the gravity of the situation, Pilate must have been privately amused that anyone could consider such a man a king, much less a serious political threat.

But it was serious. Pilate would normally avoid Jewish religious squabbles. And in this instance his handling of these accusations could affect public order. One never knew what these stubborn and rebellious Jews might do. And the Empire couldn’t have people going around calling themselves kings. So his first question, although facetious, is still to the point. “Are you the King of the Jews?”

Jesus answers with a question of His own, not to evade but to ensure Pilate knows that the Kingdom He claims is a spiritual one and presents no threat to Rome’s earthly empire – an empire that will collapse soon enough under its own weight. In other words, Jesus tells Pilate the accusations against Him are false. He goes on to confirm this: “My kingdom does not belong to this world.”

The misinterpretation of these words has led many Christians to a false concept of God’s Kingdom, as a sort of Disneyland castle in the sky, as something totally separate from our lives on earth. Nothing could be further from the truth. And it’s truth that Jesus then proclaims to Pilate: “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.”

So Jesus affirms His Kingship openly and unequivocally. Indeed, that He came to establish a kingdom was clear from the moment He began His public ministry.

Read the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel. “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand.” Then reread the Gospel parables in which Jesus reveals its mysteries. The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…like leaven…a treasure hidden in a field…a merchant in search of fine pearls…a net thrown into the sea.

It’s a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom founded on eternal truth. But Pilate can’t accept the truth, or even the idea that truth exists. In the very next verse, Pilate cynically, almost flippantly, turns to Jesus and asks his famous question, “What is truth?”

Yes, Pilate was no captive of his times; he was a man for all seasons. He’d be right at home in our cynical, relativistic, self-absorbed 21st century culture. If the truth gets in your way…no problem. Just bend it, or redefine it, or create a new truth out of a lie. Or even better, simply deny that truth exists.

What, then, is the truth about this spiritual Kingdom? Well, as Jesus told us, it’s not of this world…but it’s certainly in this world. It’s in the Church He founded. It’s in each one of us who bears witness to the truth of God’s Revelation. The Kingdom isn’t a place. It’s a people, God’s people of faith responding in obedience and love to the will of their King…a King who owns us body and soul, who purchased us on the cross with his blood.

Although we’re His only to the extent that we acknowledge Him as Lord, empty words mean nothing. How did He put it? “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father.” We are saved, then, when, in faith, we do God’s will, and not by merely appealing to His good will.

You see, the pleading noises of those who would be saved despite their indifference to God’s will is in stark contrast to the silence of those who implore God, not with words, but by reforming their lives. This reformation can occur only if I freely allow God’s grace to shape my will to His, only if I allow Christ the King to rule over me.

And yet how many of us today are ruled instead by an independent will, a will in rebellion against God? The same kind of will that led Satan, the original rebel, to make his fateful choice: “I will not serve.”

Fortunately, unlike Satan, we can still choose. Jesus isn’t like earthly kings. He doesn’t compel obedience. He never forces Himself on us. In St. Augustine’s beautiful metaphor, He draws us to Him and His Kingdom with the cords of love.

Each of us, then, you and I, are called to serve Christ our King. And how are we to serve?

This is the wondrous part. Listen again to the words of St. John in today’s second reading from the Book of Revelation: He “has made us a royal nation of priests in the service of His God and Father.” All of us have a share in Christ’s priesthood, to do His work in the service of the Father. As St. Peter tells us, “You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wondrous deeds of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”

In a few moments the father of our parish, Father Peter, will pray the beautiful Preface of Christ the King which affirms a “kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace.” This is the kingdom we are called to serve.

The question is, are we willing to serve, to carry the Word of God to an unbelieving world? Are we men and women of truth, conformed to God’s Will and faithful to His Law and to the teachings of His Church?

Does Christ our King live in us? Will the grace we receive today in the Eucharist transform our minds and hearts, making us into new creations?

Can we put aside the pragmatism of human justice and accept God’s perfect justice into our hearts? Do we give freely of our time, talent and treasure to Christ's Church?

Do we shelter the homeless, feed the hungry, visit the lonely, the sick, the imprisoned? Are we fathers to the fatherless? Mothers to the motherless?

Is our love for one another as outstretched as the arms of Christ on the cross?

God knows, I am not accusing you. For my own answers to these questions only show me how far I am from the kingdom.

And so, brothers and sisters, until the kingdom comes in glory, we all have a fair amount of priestly work to do. But you know something? We have the power to do it, for we do it with Jesus Christ, the King of kings, who grants us all a share in His own kingship.

God love you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Truth, Facts and Education

Late this morning I received a phone call from a long-time friend, an academic who teaches business-related subjects at a California university. He was mildly upset with me and took issue with what I wrote in yesterday's post. His point was that, contrary to what I believe, the educational establishment is still largely devoted to seeking the truth and not simply focused on the accumulation of useful facts. Here's the gist of what he said to me, pretty close to his actual words:

Of course, we want our students to learn the facts and apply the skills they need to be successful in their chosen professions. That's a major part of what we as educators do. But we also encourage them to seek the truth. One thing about the truth is that it works, and so knowing the truth will help them achieve that same success.

We argued our respective positions very pleasantly for ten minutes or so, but without much movement on either side. I'm committed to my view that our system of education -- particularly higher education -- has largely devolved into a high-cost system of professional or job training. He, on the other hand, is equally sure that his and other universities remain committed to the age-old principles of a liberal education.

I won't claim to be smarter than my friend because I'm not. He is a very intelligent man. But he is also a committed pragmatist, which is evident from his comment that seems to define the truth as that which "works." Indeed, most business people -- and for years I worked closely with all levels of business people from well over a hundred companies -- are pragmatists who seek that which works and tend to confuse this with seeking the truth. This way of thinking also leads many of them to become relativists. As one CEO once told me, "If you start moralizing about business decisions, you can become paralyzed."

But back to this morning's long-distance argument...My business professor friend might be the smarter one but, thanks to Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas and others, I think I had the better arguments, even if I didn't always apply them very well.

Finally, probably a bit frustrated by his immovability, I asked him, "When did you last teach about the search for truth in class?" That seemed to take him by surprise. He said he couldn't recall and that's when I knew I had won the argument. (Okay, maybe I'd won only in my own mind, but that was good enough for me.) The way I saw it, if he couldn't recall when he'd last taught about "truth" I suspect he never had, at least formally. (This will doubtless result in another phone call.)

My main point here is that ever since the enlightenment education has consciously moved away from the search for truth. From the start most of the great universities were formed around the study of theology, the pursuit of the truth about God and His relationship with man. This pursuit was foundational, since it was considered to be the basis of all other truth about man and his world. This is no longer the case. Today the study of theology, particularly Christian theology, is an academic backwater at most universities. Indeed, in many institutions the study of theology has been replaced by religious studies or comparative religion programs --  nice, soft titles that mesh well with the average university's sociology and anthropology departments. And if theology has been retained as a course of study, it's usually relegated to a school of divinity, well segregated from the "normal" student body.

It's no coincidence that this growing neglect of the study of theology was accompanied by a parallel devaluation of the very idea of truth. Once the existence of objective truth is placed in doubt, once the skeptics are in charge, the whole concept of a liberal education dedicated to a search for truth is called into question. Before long education becomes fragmented, focusing instead on learning the facts needed for specialized and practical studies. And from my perspective, this is where education is today, turning out well-trained but uneducated graduates.

Too bad.

Friday, November 20, 2009

And the Winner Is...the Moral Idiot

We certainly live in interesting times. The changes experienced by humanity, just during my own lifetime, are nothing short of radical. Most folks, however, when they consider the scope and pace of change that the world has undergone during the past century or so, focus almost exclusively on technological change. I suppose that's natural since these changes are certainly among the most evident. My father, for example, who was born in 1909 and died in 2005, came into a world when horse-drawn vehicles far outnumbered automobiles, when the airplane was a flimsy contraption that could barely stay airborne, and when such "necessities" as the telephone or indoor plumbing were still rarities in most homes. How vastly different from the world he left 95 years later: a world of space exploration and international air travel and interstate highways; a world of high-definition television and cell phones and the Internet; a world of heart transplants and antibiotics and laser surgery; a world of dishwashers and microwave ovens and air conditioning -- all of this in the course of a single lifetime.

Yes, technological change is evident, and because it's so evident, it can distract us to the extent that we ignore or overlook more profound psychological and philosophical changes to the very order of human life. Technology and an evolving notion of the "good life" have caused us to believe that we are progressing not only in science and its application, but also in all aspects of human activity. The result is that rapid progress in some very evident but relatively superficial areas has masked a more gradual but continual decline in the things that really matter to the future of humanity.

Now, I'm no Luddite. I neither oppose technological change nor believe it to be inherently detrimental to the human condition. Indeed, the very fact that I'm using this medium to communicate with others should be evidence of that. My concerns are less with technology itself than with those who are blinded by the material progress resulting from technological change. Enamored of the tools they have introduced into the world, they have lost sight of the proper end to which the use of those tools should be directed. This disconnect between means and ends has led them to believe that all innovation and technological advancement must equate with progress, regardless of how they are applied. If it can be done, it should be done -- this has become their mantra.

Of course this thinking is nothing new. It's been around for centuries, certainly among the intellectual class. But only in relatively recent times has it begun to affect (infect?) the population as a whole. We see it in the kind of fact-based education we inflict on our children -- an education that no longer addresses what T. S. Eliot called the "permanent things," but focuses instead on the development of so-called "life skills" that will supposedly enable the individual to become a productive and compliant citizen...i.e., a "success." In other words, the pursuit of truth has been supplanted by the accumulation of fact as the goal of education. Indeed, the very concept of truth has become passe, a victim of the relativism that denies the existence of universals, of anything that transcends man and his works.

Without universal truths there is no morality, no understanding of right or wrong, no conception of good or evil. All becomes relative. All becomes acceptable. Any behavior can be justified and excused. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, doctors and politicians justify the murder of the most innocent among us, those about to be born and those who are ill or infirm or disabled, simply because it is convenient to do so. Some justify the commission of horrendous acts of terrorism based on their interpretation of the writings of a seventh-century prophet, while others justify similar acts citing the need to right what they believe to be historic injustices. Obscenity is no longer recognized for what it is, and so we are confronted daily by the actions of those determined to excise the forbidden in the name of "freedom."

Too many religious leaders, because they too have been infected by the prevailing relativism, openly lead their followers to acceptance of these same errors. And others, because they fear public criticism or political repercussions, refrain from challenging and correcting those who stray from the timeless truth of Revelation. The result is an America that can in no longer be considered a Judeo-Christian society. As a people we have come to accept all of these and many other errors as the effects of progress. This is a "done deal" and will not likely be reversed without divine intervention. The winner of the battle for the American soul is the moral idiot. And as his reward we listen to him and praise him, and give him awards, and buy his products, and elect him to political office.

I think I now know what Jesus meant when he asked, "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" [Lk 18:8]

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Thoughts on the Constitution

I suppose today's thoughts are a bit off the usual path I try to plod along, but although their subject matter relates more to the ways of the world rather than the Way to the Kingdom, it still has a substantial impact on how we live our lives. Even though Christ's Kingdom is not of this world, as Christians we must still live our lives in the world. We are not called to seclusion, for that would bar us from carrying out Christ's commission to evangelize all nations (Mt 28:19-20). And so it makes perfect sense to think about the human constructs we have put in place to govern how we live together as citizens. After all, you can't "render unto Caesar" unless you know what rightfully falls under Caesar's governance.

As Americans, of course, we don't accept the authority of kings or emperors or Caesars; for us, the people are sovereign, the people are Caesar. To support this claim and to assist us as we act on it, we have a Constitution. And it's this document that I'd like to focus on today. Actually, I won't focus too much on the document itself; rather, I intend to address how it is received and understood (or misunderstood) by those who live under its guidance.

Perhaps the most apparent truth about our Constitution is that it does not, in any way, describe our nation as a democracy. And yet I would wager that most Americans, if asked if the United States were a democracy, would answer, "Yes." And they would, of course, be very wrong. We are rather a constitutional republic, in which the people elect representatives who, in theory at least, carry out our wishes under the constraints we have placed on them and ourselves through our Constitution.

The founding fathers were a remarkable group of men, for despite their willingness to engage in revolutionary activity, they were also capable and wise political philosophers. Their application of this wisdom led them to be extremely leery of pure democracy. Indeed, they found the idea of simple majority rule abhorrent. For pure democracy, without any governing reference, leads to governance by the feeling of the moment. Whatever the majority wants at any given moment becomes law. It is restrained by neither precedence nor morality. Minority rights are ignored, leading to persecution. The majority comes to realize that it can vote itself special privileges and benefits, leading to corruption. And, ultimately, pure democracy leads to anarchy, violence, and the nation's destruction.

Driven by this awareness, the founders worked long and hard to create a system of governance to protect the nation (i.e., the sovereign people) from lawmakers and law enforcers...and from the people themselves. And so we have the Constitution. It is not a permanent document, fixed and unable to be changed; but the framers made it very difficult to change. This was intentional. By making the process difficult and time-consuming, problems related to any intended changes would more likely be identified and solved, ensuring the original intent was not subverted and that the people's rights were not undermined.

This process, indeed the Constitution itself, has upset a lot of people over the past two centuries. And these naysayers are still with us. They have pretty much ceased their efforts to change the Constitution itself, opting instead to take the easier path and infiltrate the courts with like-minded people. There is no need to change the actual words of the Constitution if five of nine Supreme Court Justices can simply agree to re-interpret those words to mean something else. The results of their reinterpretations have led to radical changes in how we live and will no doubt lead to serious consequences for our nation.

Religion, for example, has been almost totally excised from the public square, despite the fact that the courts, for the first 150 years of our nation's history, expressed near unanimous acceptance of its presence and its benefits. Even worse, abortion, the willful killing of an unborn American has become a constitutional "right" without any constitutional support whatsoever. And so it goes...

The point, I suppose, is that regardless of the knowledge and wisdom that formed the Constitution, and its built-in constraints and limits designed to protect our God-given rights, it is still a human document and is, therefore, subject to all the human frailties that afflict any human institution. We should not place our faith in any human activity, but instead look to the Kingdom. By this I don't mean that we should abandon efforts to live together in society in a way that is fitting and proper for disciples of Jesus Christ. No, indeed, for we are called by our Lord to transform the world. And that means we must continue to sow the seeds of hope in our confused and confusing world. But the hope, the real hope that we yearn for, will not be found in the things of this world. Our only hope is in the Kingdom. Come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Islamic "Evangelization" ala Gaddafi

Now here's an interesting story I spotted on the BBC's website. Apparently Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan dictator, decided that Islam needed some particularly attractive women among its adherents. During a visit to Rome where he was attending the United Nations Food Summit, Gaddafi anonymously invited 200 young woman to attend a "posh do" this past Sunday evening. It seems the invitations were issued only to women who met the following criteria: beautiful, between 18 and 35, and at least 1.70m (about 5'7") tall.

According to the BBC, "Instead of canapés and cocktails, the 200 young women found themselves being encouraged to become Muslims. It turned out the host was Libya's leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, in town for the UN food summit. He spoke of the wonders of Islam and assured his guests it was not anti-women, as some critics argue."

The 200 women who met the criteria were taken by bus to a fancy Roman residence, and after passing through security, were left to wait for an hour in a large reception room. Finally the host was identified and Gaddafi then spoke to the women about the wonders of Islam and urged them to convert. After two hours of Gaddafi the women were given 50 euros and a copy of the Koran.

The article didn't mention how many of the 200 converted.

The world gets stranger and stranger...

Genesis Revisited

Every so often, sitting here in my sinfully overstuffed, down-filled easy chair, I turn my thoughts to things philosophic. The catalyst is usually the recognition of some odd paradox that leads me to wonder how we arrived at our current situation.

This morning, for example, is beautifully quiet. Rising before dawn, I witnessed this day's beginnings -- one more daily renewal and reminder of that first Creation. How perfectly good God is to gift us with His story of that First Act, so we can experience again and again the Genesis of our existence in His love. This gift makes us -- Jews and Christians -- so utterly different from the rest of humanity. These others have their religions, their man-made reactions to the traces of God's presence in the world. Struggling in the half-light of their faith, and buoyed by hope, they search for God.

But we have so much more. We have God's own Word. We have His Revelation, His own story told to us just as He wants it told. We have God's search for us. And for us Christians, who accept the entirety of that Revelation, at the center of that story is His greatest gift, the gift of His Son who in an act of mind-boggling humility became like one of His creatures and allowed those same creatures to put Him to death for their sinfulness. Our loving God certainly has a remarkable sense of the ironic.

From the comfort of my easy chair, I observe today's version of this daily renewal, played out within God's creation. I am awed by its beauty, the subtle yet unstoppable movement from darkness to light, from obscurity to clarity. I saw it in the clouds, barely recognizable in the pre-dawn darkness as they underwent the colorful transformation forced on them by the sun, a sun still hidden from me as I gazed upwards from the earth. From my lowly vantage point I could see only its reflections in sky and clouds. Yes, indeed, sky and clouds are blessed to be first to experience each day's arrival, the Genesis renewal that God offers to us as a daily reminder of His infinite goodness. And now, just minutes later, the sun has risen and the clouds have lost all traces of color. Gone too are those patches of darkness that stained their surfaces and distorted their true essence. Now they are as they should be, bleached pure white, cleansed by the risen sun's penetrating rays. Do they send us a message? Can we too be as pure and sinless if only we will turn to the Son?

Yes, the beauty of this and every morning is cause to wonder how we, as humanity, as His beloved creatures, can turn away from God so easily, as if the world is ours and not His. He offers us so many reminders of His goodness and love, and yet the world rejects them all. This is perhaps the greatest paradox. God's presence is so vividly there, right in front of us, observable by the senses He built into the bodies with which He blessed us, and knowable by the minds that separate us from all other creatures of this world. And yet, instead of falling to our knees overwhelmed by His love, we turn our backs on the Creator, echoing the words of him who first said, "I will not serve."

So many people today are inexplicably enamored of the petty, insignificant power wielded by the creature, but fail to comprehend or even recognize the true omnipotence of the Creator. And so we have wars, and political corruption, and abortion, and terrorism, and health care that has nothing to do with health, and the strange, almost surreal, hypocrisy of political correctness.

Odd thoughts this morning...thank God we have a loving God.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Those Pesky Kennedys

Three cheers for Bishop Tobin of Providence. He recently took Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) to task about the congressman's frequent whining and his uninformed comments on the teachings of the Catholic Church to which Representative Kennedy ostensibly belongs. The bishop, obviously tired of Kennedy's public potshots at the US Bishops and the Church, wrote the congressman a letter which he also published in the diocesan newspaper. I could paraphrase the bishop's comments, but why bother when I can include the entire letter here:

Dear Congressman Kennedy
11/12/09 12:00 am
Since our recent correspondence has been rather public, I hope you don’t mind if I share a few reflections about your practice of the faith in this public forum. I usually wouldn’t do that – that is speak about someone’s faith in a public setting – but in our well-documented exchange of letters about health care and abortion, it has emerged as an issue. I also share these words publicly with the thought that they might be instructive to other Catholics, including those in prominent positions of leadership.

For the moment I’d like to set aside the discussion of health care reform, as important and relevant as it is, and focus on one statement contained in your letter of October 29, 2009, in which you write, “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” Well, in fact, Congressman, in a way it does. Although I wouldn’t choose those particular words, when someone rejects the teachings of the Church, especially on a grave matter, a life-and-death issue like abortion, it certainly does diminish their ecclesial communion, their unity with the Church. This principle is based on the Sacred Scripture and Tradition of the Church and is made more explicit in recent documents.

For example, the “Code of Canon Law” says, “Lay persons are bound by an obligation and possess the right to acquire a knowledge of Christian doctrine adapted to their capacity and condition so that they can live in accord with that doctrine.” (Canon 229, #1)

The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” says this: “Mindful of Christ’s words to his apostles, ‘He who hears you, hears me,’ the faithful receive with docility the teaching and directives that their pastors give them in different forms.” (#87)

Or consider this statement of the Church: “It would be a mistake to confuse the proper autonomy exercised by Catholics in political life with the claim of a principle that prescinds from the moral and social teaching of the Church.” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 2002)

There’s lots of canonical and theological verbiage there, Congressman, but what it means is that if you don’t accept the teachings of the Church your communion with the Church is flawed, or in your own words, makes you “less of a Catholic.”

But let’s get down to a more practical question; let’s approach it this way: What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?

Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially.

Congressman, I’m not sure whether or not you fulfill the basic requirements of being a Catholic, so let me ask: Do you accept the teachings of the Church on essential matters of faith and morals, including our stance on abortion? Do you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish? Do you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly? Do you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially?

In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?

Your letter also says that your faith “acknowledges the existence of an imperfect humanity.” Absolutely true. But in confronting your rejection of the Church’s teaching, we’re not dealing just with “an imperfect humanity” – as we do when we wrestle with sins such as anger, pride, greed, impurity or dishonesty. We all struggle with those things, and often fail.

Your rejection of the Church’s teaching on abortion falls into a different category – it’s a deliberate and obstinate act of the will; a conscious decision that you’ve re-affirmed on many occasions. Sorry, you can’t chalk it up to an “imperfect humanity.” Your position is unacceptable to the Church and scandalous to many of our members. It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church.

Congressman Kennedy, I write these words not to embarrass you or to judge the state of your conscience or soul. That’s ultimately between you and God. But your description of your relationship with the Church is now a matter of public record, and it needs to be challenged. I invite you, as your bishop and brother in Christ, to enter into a sincere process of discernment, conversion and repentance. It’s not too late for you to repair your relationship with the Church, redeem your public image, and emerge as an authentic “profile in courage,” especially by defending the sanctity of human life for all people, including unborn children. And if I can ever be of assistance as you travel the road of faith, I would be honored and happy to do so.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas J. Tobin

Bishop of Providence

Now that's quite a letter. I can't wait to read the congressman's response, assuming he provides one.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Blog Break

It's been a very busy week or two and, accordingly, I've had no time to post anything. Last week was filled with all the necessary preparation for a course on Sacramental Catechesis that I taught on Friday and Saturday. And now this week I'm doing the same for a course on World Religions that I'm scheduled to teach this coming weekend. Adding to these demands Diane and I have had to cope with a bit of a family crisis that came upon us rather suddenly a few days ago, one of those unexpected events that turns life upside down. We will, however, deal with it and I ask for your prayers. I realize I'm whining, but opportunities to complain are so rare I had to seize the moment. I hope to be able to return to this space next week. In the meantime, I'll just mention a couple of items I came across early this morning.

Church of Scientology gets a closer look...finally. Scientology, a rather bizarre cult, that has captured the minds, hearts and bank accounts of many of Hollywood's glitterati, is finally getting a little scrutiny from the media, if not from the justice system. It seems the church has forced many of its members to work in conditions approaching servitude. Even more disturbing are the reports that the church forced many of its members to have abortions. Read more here: Scientology Religious ‘Order’ called ‘Sea Orgs’ Forced Abortions on Members

Apostolic Constitution: Anglicans. If you would like to read the Apostolic Constitution describing the entry of Anglicans into communion with the Catholic Church, here's the full text: Apostolic Constitution: 'Anglicanorum Coetibus'

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Soup Kitchen Miracle

You're probably tired of me writing about the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, but I just can't help myself. I am so wrapped up in this wonderful ministry that it tends to monopolize my thoughts, or at least capture the attention of a majority of my few remaining brain cells.

We are currently in the middle of an internal study on improving the efficiency of our overall operation, to include ways to cut operating costs and yet continue to offer our guests quality, healthful and appetizing meals. (Today, for example, we served 243 meals.) One area that has always troubled me relates to the number of ancient and grossly inefficient freezers we own, freezers that run 7x24 and just suck up electricity. We have a bunch of them -- each donated by an individual or business, usually because the donor had replaced it with a more efficient version. As you might imagine, our electric bills are up in the stratosphere. To address this problem we're considering the purchase and installation of a large, efficient walk-in freezer to replace all those old clunkers that take up space throughout the soup kitchen. This would be a major project for us. Purchasing and installing such a freezer, plus all the other changes we need to make, will likely cost us in the neighborhood of $20,000. This is a very large sum of money for an organization like ours.

And so I've been working on a plan that would appeal to the business community to help us fund this project.We intend to approach local businesses, large and small, plus service organizations like Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions, and ask them to buy "shares" in the project. They would not only help us provide a necessary service to the community, but we would ensure their generosity was well publicized. My plan is to kick off this project within a few weeks, once I have all the details worked out. But then yesterday I received a call from a local business asking me to stop by. This afternoon I did just that and was handed a check for $5,000! They want no publicity for their gift so I won't mention the name of the company, but thanks to their generosity we are now 25% of the way to our goal...and we haven't even started the effort. God is good.

Planned Parenthood Calls Catholics to Rebellion

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, wants Catholics to rebel against their bishops and their Church's teaching on the sacredness of human life. This is part of what she wrote to her constituents:

“A few days ago, it felt as if we were holding strong in achieving health care reform that would finally ensure comprehensive coverage for everyone. As the legislation began moving closer to a vote, I knew that our job holding on to our reproductive health victories would be hard ... and then I received a copy of a memo that the Catholic bishops sent to their congregations. As I write this, the bishops have asked all the Catholics in the country to contact their legislators, asking them to alter current health care legislation to include anti-choice amendments. The bishops have inserted letters into church bulletins and asked priests to include their call to action in their sermons — and even in their prayers — during Sunday services…. If you're Catholic and you disagree with the bishops, please let your legislators know when you send your message. Your voice as a pro-choice Catholic needs to be heard NOW."

By the way, before taking her job at Planned Parenthood, Ms. Richards was the chief of staff of none other than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Catholic legislator who has consistently ignored the Church's teaching on a wide range of moral issues. The photo above shows Ms. Richards with then presidential candidate Barack Obama. The president, of course, is of one mind with Planned Parenthood as they labor together to pursue their ongoing slaughter of the most innocent Americans.

Deacon Keith Fournier has written an insightful column on Ms. Richards' latest attack on human life and sanity. Click here to read it: Planned Parenthood Calls Catholics to Rebellion: Bishops Speak for Catholics & Children

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Archbishop Dolan and the New York Times

Anyone who regualrly reads the New York Times knows full well how little the paper understands the Catholic Church. Sadly, if it were only a matter of a lack of understanding, they could simply be educated. But it appears that their usually negative approach to the Church is driven by something more than mere ignorance. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York has also come to this conclusion, and so he wrote an op-ed piece on the subject. But when the Times refused to print the archbishop's column (surprise, suprise!), Fox News agreed to do so.  Archbishop Dolan went ahead and published the piece on the archdiocesan blog, but I have included it below in its entirety:


By Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan
Archbishop of New York

October is the month we relish the highpoint of our national pastime, especially when one of our own New York teams is in the World Series!

Sadly, America has another national pastime, this one not pleasant at all: anti-catholicism.
It is not hyperbole to call prejudice against the Catholic Church a national pastime. Scholars such as Arthur Schlesinger Sr. referred to it as “the deepest bias in the history of the American people,” while John Higham described it as “the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history.” “The anti-semitism of the left,” is how Paul Viereck reads it, and Professor Philip Jenkins sub-titles his book on the topic “the last acceptable prejudice.”
If you want recent evidence of this unfairness against the Catholic Church, look no further than a few of these following examples of occurrences over the last couple weeks:

  • On October 14, in the pages of the New York Times, reporter Paul Vitello exposed the sad extent of child sexual abuse in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. According to the article, there were forty cases of such abuse in this tiny community last year alone. Yet the Times did not demand what it has called for incessantly when addressing the same kind of abuse by a tiny minority of priests: release of names of abusers, rollback of statute of limitations, external investigations, release of all records, and total transparency. Instead, an attorney is quoted urging law enforcement officials to recognize “religious sensitivities,” and no criticism was offered of the DA’s office for allowing Orthodox rabbis to settle these cases “internally.” Given the Catholic Church’s own recent horrible experience, I am hardly in any position to criticize our Orthodox Jewish neighbors, and have no wish to do so . . . but I can criticize this kind of “selective outrage.”
Of course, this selective outrage probably should not surprise us at all, as we have seen many other examples of the phenomenon in recent years when it comes to the issue of sexual abuse. To cite but two: In 2004, Professor Carol Shakeshaft documented the wide-spread problem of sexual abuse of minors in our nation’s public schools (the study can be found here). In 2007, the Associated Press issued a series of investigative reports that also showed the numerous examples of sexual abuse by educators against public school students. Both the Shakeshaft study and the AP reports were essentially ignored, as papers such as the New York Times only seem to have priests in their crosshairs.
  • On October 16, Laurie Goodstein of the Times offered a front page, above-the-fold story on the sad episode of a Franciscan priest who had fathered a child. Even taking into account that the relationship with the mother was consensual and between two adults, and that the Franciscans have attempted to deal justly with the errant priest’s responsibilities to his son, this action is still sinful, scandalous, and indefensible. However, one still has to wonder why a quarter-century old story of a sin by a priest is now suddenly more pressing and newsworthy than the war in Afghanistan, health care, and starvation–genocide in Sudan. No other cleric from religions other than Catholic ever seems to merit such attention.
  • Five days later, October 21, the Times gave its major headline to the decision by the Vatican to welcome Anglicans who had requested union with Rome. Fair enough. Unfair, though, was the article’s observation that the Holy See lured and bid for the Anglicans. Of course, the reality is simply that for years thousands of Anglicans have been asking Rome to be accepted into the Catholic Church with a special sensitivity for their own tradition. As Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Vatican’s chief ecumenist, observed, “We are not fishing in the Anglican pond.” Not enough for the Times; for them, this was another case of the conniving Vatican luring and bidding unsuspecting, good people, greedily capitalizing on the current internal tensions in Anglicanism.
  • Finally, the most combustible example of all came Sunday with an intemperate and scurrilous piece by Maureen Dowd on the opinion pages of the Times. In a diatribe that rightly never would have passed muster with the editors had it so criticized an Islamic, Jewish, or African-American religious issue, she digs deep into the nativist handbook to use every anti-Catholic caricature possible, from the Inquisition to the Holocaust, condoms, obsession with sex, pedophile priests, and oppression of women, all the while slashing Pope Benedict XVI for his shoes, his forced conscription -- along with every other German teenage boy -- into the German army, his outreach to former Catholics, and his recent welcome to Anglicans.
True enough, the matter that triggered her spasm -- the current visitation of women religious by Vatican representatives -- is well-worth discussing, and hardly exempt from legitimate questioning. But her prejudice, while maybe appropriate for the Know-Nothing newspaper of the 1850’s, the Menace, has no place in a major publication today.

I do not mean to suggest that anti-catholicism is confined to the pages New York Times. Unfortunately, abundant examples can be found in many different venues. I will not even begin to try and list the many cases of anti-catholicism in the so-called entertainment media, as they are so prevalent they sometimes seem almost routine and obligatory. Elsewhere, last week, Representative Patrick Kennedy made some incredibly inaccurate and uncalled-for remarks concerning the Catholic bishops, as mentioned in this blog on Monday.   Also, the New York State Legislature has levied a special payroll tax to help the Metropolitan Transportation Authority fund its deficit. This legislation calls for the public schools to be reimbursed the cost of the tax; Catholic schools, and other private schools, will not receive the reimbursement, costing each of the schools thousands – in some cases tens of thousands – of dollars, money that the parents and schools can hardly afford. (Nor can the archdiocese, which already underwrites the schools by $30 million annually.) Is it not an issue of basic fairness for ALL school-children and their parents to be treated equally?

The Catholic Church is not above criticism. We Catholics do a fair amount of it ourselves. We welcome and expect it. All we ask is that such critique be fair, rational, and accurate, what we would expect for anybody. The suspicion and bias against the Church is a national pastime that should be “rained out” for good.

I guess my own background in American history should caution me not to hold my breath.

Then again, yesterday was the Feast of Saint Jude, the patron saint of impossible causes.

Click here to visit the archbishop's blog and read some of the comments others have left behind...

Athiest Venom

Christopher Hitchens, one of today's always angry super-atheists, in a display of remarkable bravery, once again took on Mother Teresa. Speaking on Dennis Miller's internet radio show, he attacked the saintly founder of the Missionaries of Charity using language that says far more about Mr. Hitchens than it does about Mother Teresa. Here's a sampling of his venom:

“The woman was a fanatic and a fundamentalist and a fraud, and millions of people are much worse off because of her life, and it’s a shame there is no hell for your bitch to go to.” 

Isn't that nice? Such a pleasant man.

Today Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, responded with this statement:

"I once told Hitchens that one of the real reasons he hates Mother Teresa has to do with his socialist ideology: he believes the state should care for the poor, not voluntary organizations, and he especially loathes the idea of religious ones servicing the dispossessed. Indeed, he sees in Mother Teresa the very embodiment of altruism, a virtue he cannot—with good reason—fully comprehend. The fact of the matter is that socialism is the greatest generator of poverty known to mankind, and Mother Teresa did more to heal and rescue its victims than anyone in the modern era. This explains why she is adored by the people who knew her best—the men and women of India (she is second only to Gandhi as the nation’s most revered person).  Hitchens is positively obsessed by Mother Teresa, and that is a very telling commentary on his psyche. She is a constant reminder that reason without faith is a dark hole."

I suggest you let Mr. Hitchens know that you are praying for him and his eventual conversion. Here's his email address:
The battles wages on...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Catholic - Jewish Relations

My visit to the synagogue earlier today brought to mind how dedicated Pope Benedict is to continuing the improvement in Catholic-Jewish relations that we saw under his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. I recalled seeing a video of a Vatican visit by several Israeli rabbis that took place earlier this year, before the pope made his visit to the Holy Land. And so I did a little Google search and was amazed that I actually found it on YouTube. I have included it below:

A Visit to a Synagogue

Today I spoke at our local synagogue (Temple Shalom in Oxford, Florida) to a group of about 50 Jewish women. I came not so much as a Catholic deacon but rather as board president of the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. I was there to tell them about this truly ecumenical ministry made up of nearly 150 volunteers from about 30 local churches, and to ask for their support.

They were absolutely wonderful! Interested and enthusiastic, they peppered me with great questions and provided me with a van-full of canned goods for the Soup Kitchen. Many of the women indicated an interest in volunteering at the kitchen and of sending us financial contributions. One woman suggested that they could join together during the Christmas season and fill in at the soup Kitchen so our Christian volunteers could spend more time at home with their families. What a gracious suggestion! I think we'll take them up on it.

Yes, it was a very satisfying day.

Planned Parenthood Leader Resigns After Watching Ultrasound of Abortion Procedure

Here's one for you...a leader of Planned Parenthood in Atlanta resigns after watching an ultrasound of an abortion. Click here to watch a video of the news story: Planned Parenthood Leader Resigns

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Catholic Campaign for Human Development

Once again the Catholic Campaign for Human Development is under fire for its relationships with and support for organizations that work against the teachings of the Catholic Church on such issues as abortion and same sex marriage. This seems to come up every few years, indicating to me that the CCHD just can't help itself. As the domestic anti-poverty, social justice program of the U.S. Catholic bishops, CCHD tends to align itself with community organizing and other activist groups (e.g., ACORN), and many of these same groups also fall on the wrong side of most life issues. A coalition of pro-life organizations has asked the US Bishops to reform the CCHD requiring that it align itself only with those groups that support Catholic teaching. To read the full story, click here: A New Campaign to Reform the CCHD

Scripture, Interpretation and Pope Benedict

Hanging in our living room is a large signed print of a painting by Chaim Gross (1904-1991), a Jewish artist who emigrated from Austria to the United States when he was just a teenager. I have included a photo of the central portion of the painting -- Before the Torah -- below.

I've always liked this particular painting because it provides a reminder that God's Word has been studied and honored and loved for a very long time. It also provides a warning: that any interpretation of God's Word should be attempted only in the deepest humility. As Pope Benedict has reminded us, "...the Word of God is the foundation of everything." To dare to interpret this eternal and all-encompassing creative Word, then, carries with it a responsibility of awesome proportions.

Now, in the opinion of some, the fact that I am not a scriptural scholar should keep me from commenting on the legitimate interpretation of Sacred Scripture. And yet I would hope we can all agree that Scripture was not written solely for scholars. It was written for all of humanity, for every single one of God's children: for the literate, the not so literate, and the illiterate.  And because God's Word is the living Word, every person who reads or hears God's Word also interprets it as it speaks to him and leads him to the truth. As Catholics this interpretation must always, however, be made in light of the Church's teaching authority. To do otherwise only invites error, and error always leads us away from the truth. That being said, I'm just going to make a few brief comments on Scriptural interpretation and its fruits.

First, when it comes to the Old Testament and its interpretation, far too many scholars seem to believe that most of the events described never really occurred and that many of the people we encounter are nothing more than fictional or, at best, mythic characters. All of this has come about largely because of the misapplication of the historical-critical method. Among these scholars the usual approach seems to be, first develop an interesting theory and then create the "facts" necessary to validate the theory. Finally, anything in Scripture that contradicts the theory is simply tossed aside, labeled as mythical, or restructured to fit the newly manufactured facts. At the same time the theorists seem to ignore the many real facts that have resulted from the remarkable work of Middle Eastern scholars and archaeologists, facts that increasingly support the veracity of the Old Testament.

For example, many scholars consider Abraham a mythic figure, someone who really didn't exist. Why? Because there is no evidence for his existence except for the Genesis story. But since when does negative evidence disprove the existence of something? (In reality we do have evidence, the Bible itself.)

The distinguished Egyptologist, K. A. Kitchen, has written extensively on the subject of the truth of the Old Testament which he first addressed in his 1966 book, Ancient Orient and the Old Testament, and then expanded on with his massive 2003 study, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, both well worth reading. Instead of developing their theories based on the kind of real evidence that Kitchen references, so many modern scriptural scholars create theories without any evidence. For example, those who claim the existence of the Jahwist (J), Elohist (E), Priestly (P), and Deuteronomist (D) source documents do so without a single shred of documentary evidence. Indeed, most of these theories not only lack solid evidence, but their authors ignore (or are simply ignorant of) the contrary evidence that does exist.

This, of course, is not unlike the Q (Quelle) source document that supposedly provided the authors of Matthew and Luke with all that information about Jesus that wasn't already in Mark. The primary problem with the Q theory is the simple fact that the Q document apparently doesn't exist -- nice theory, but no documentary evidence. There are other problems, among them the way all these theories tend to denigrate the Gospels themselves, turning them into nice stories about a nice man but probably not written by those whose names (i.e., Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) the Church has attached to them from the very beginning.

As Pope Benedict has written in his wonderful book, On the Way to Jesus Christ, "...the figure of Jesus itself is becoming diminished...transformed from the 'Lord' (a word that is avoided) into a man who is nothing more than an advocate of all men. The Jesus of the Gospels is quite different, demanding, bold. The Jesus who makes everything okay for everyone is a phantom, a dream, not a real figure." [P. 8]

Later in this same book, Pope Benedict gets more specific when he addresses the many bizarre versions of Jesus (e.g., the Marxist Jesus, the New Age Jesus) that have arisen in recent years:

"But how do these images of Jesus come about? component is the analysis of the Gospel texts using the methods of historical criticism...It is assumed...nothing can take place in history but what is possible as a result of causes known to us in nature and in human activity...Divine interventions that go beyond the constant interaction of natural and human causes...cannot be historical; the historian must 'explain' how such notions could come about. He must explain, from literary forums and from the mind-set of a period, how such views could develop and must trace them back to their reasonable causes...According to this assumption, it is not possible for a man really to be God and to perform deeds that require divine power -- actions that would disrupt the general complex of causes. Accordingly, words attributed to Jesus in which he makes divine claims and the correspondng deeds must be 'explained'...Meanwhile, the conviction that 'scholars' today are telling us that everything in the figure of Jesus that transcends mere humanity is historically 'explicable', and thus not really historical, has emphatically impressed itself on the public consciousness and has made major inroads into the congregations of Christian believers in all the churches." [P. 61-62]

The Holy Father then goes on to address a second component of this disturbing approach to Scriptural interpretation: textual analysis. This leads the so-called "scholars" to decide in advance the kind of Jesus they want to emphasize and then highlight or discard those elements of the text that either support or contradict their Jesus. The Jesus of the liberation theologians is a beautiful example of misapplied textual analysis in action.

Thank God for our Holy Father as he battles for the truth of God's Holy Word.