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, July 27, 2010

Europeans and Americans

Recently I've been thinking a lot about Europe, and have concluded that it's really a very strange place. Now don't get me wrong. I have visited Europe, especially Italy, fairly often lately and try to immerse myself, as well as any foreigner can, into the dally life of the people. Of course I do a lot of the usual tourist stuff. I admire the remnants of ancient empires. I stand in awe before the art of the masters. And I visit and pray in all the great churches that make our contemporary "worship spaces" look like cardboard cutouts. But as I roam the streets with Diane at my side, I also strike up conversations with anyone who will humor me and respond to my questions. I find most Europeans, like most Americans, to be helpful, pleasant and actually interested in providing honest answers to those questions. And it's these answers that often perplex me, and highlight the significant differences between Europeans and Americans.

Despite our nation's European cultural origins, we Americans have blazed our own cultural trail since our colonial days. It's a trail that has led us to a very different place than that occupied by today's Europeans, the descendants of our distant cultural ancestors. I also believe we're in a better place, a place where human freedom is still cherished, a place with unsurpassed kindness and generosity, a place where most people still believe in a God who loves and cares for His people. And although I am as patriotic as any American, I am not a believer in "America First." Yes, the United States is a great nation, probably the greatest that the world has ever seen, but I don't believe our Constitution was divinely inspired or that we are destined to lead the world to some Utopian future. Like every other nation, the United States was founded and is populated, not by angels, but by fallible men and women. We were, however, fortunate that our founding fathers recognized this fact and tried heroically to devise a system of self-governance that would protect our God-given rights from the tyranny of both oppressive rulers and ourselves. The founders feared democracy just as much as they feared authoritarian rule; hence their labors resulted in a constitutional republic far removed from
traditional European monarchy and Athenian democracy. But it is still a system of government devised by men, and will therefore eventually succumb to the fruits of man's sinfulness.
As much as I admire the late President Ronald Reagan, I do not believe this American "shining city upon a hill" is "the last best hope of man on earth." (Read a 1974 version of Reagan's famous "City upon a Hill" speech.) It is the Kingdom of God, not the city of man, that is our only hope. We are in danger of forgetting this. The Europeans already have, just as they have forgotten that Europe's cultural roots, and all the good that sprang from them, were planted in the soil of Christianity. This mass amnesia has brought about a moral and spiritual decline that will likely lead to the final disintegration of European culture within the lifetime of my grandchildren. Sadly, there are signs that we Americans, too, are falling prey to this same cultural malaise.

More on this tomorrow...have to run.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Georgetown Strikes Again

I attended Georgetown University (the School of Foreign Service) for one wonderful year before accepting an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. In those days (1962-63) Georgetown was still a Catholic university. Even on the East Campus, which included the Foreign Service School, Business School, and Language Institute, and had many non-Catholic students, I was required to take courses in theology and philosophy. Things have certainly changed.

Now it seems that the only time Georgetown makes the news is when it takes another step away from its Catholic and Jesuit roots. The latest incident relates to a decision by Georgetown University Hospital to make some interesting changes to its chapel. This "Catholic" chapel now has Muslim prayer rugs hanging on the walls and the Stations of the Cross facing Mecca were removed, all apparently in an attempt to accommodate Muslims.

Is Georgetown embarrassed by its Catholicism? Aren't the Jesuits still Catholic? Don't patients and visitors in a Catholic hospital expect the chapel to be a Catholic chapel? Is Mass still celebrated in the chapel? What about the Holy Eucharist? Is there a tabernacle in the chapel? Or has it simply become a prayer or meditation room?

Makes one wonder what Georgetown will do next.


Muslims Planning Protests of Pope UK VIsit?

This morning I came across an interesting post on the blog, Vivificat, that refers to comments made by Muslims in England concerning Pope Benedict's upcoming visit. The comments were made on a website called, The Islamic Standard, and show the depth of the hatred some Muslims have for the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict XVI. Here are some excerpts:

A change of venue gives Birmingham Muslims a chance to tell the Pope just what they think of him after his insults against the Prophet Muhammad (saws) in 2006 in Regensburg when he said…
“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
As well as this chance to challenge these evil words of this evil Pope, over 80,000 Catholics from all over the UK are also expected to attend the open air ceremony in Cofton Park, Birmingham, after the venue was changed to here from the original plan of doing the pontifs final day at Coventry airport.
The Birmingham site has been selected over Coventry due to its connection to a dead Catholic priest, Cardinal John Henry Newman who is being made into a Catholic ‘saint’ for his supposed miracles witnessed by delusional and misguided catholics after his death.
...We hope Muslims can be there to meet him as well and to also call people away from the shirk of worshipping the dead like the Catholics do...
The Birmingham event however brings the pope and who worship him into direct contact with the the large Muslim population of Birmingham and offers them the perfect chance to learn about Islam and for the Muslims to forbid the Munkar of worshipping dead men and following the dictates of the sodomite child molesting Church of Rome.
We at the Islamic Standard hope the Muslims of Birmingham take this duel opportunity to give Da’wah to these 80,000 travelling disbelievers, whilst at the same time telling the Pope in no uncertain terms what Muslims think of his evil slanders against the last Prophet of God and his message.
I'd write off this hateful screed as just another example typifying the widespread ignorance of Catholic belief and teaching out there today, except that the author in "quoting" the Holy Father had to know that these were not Benedict's words. The pope, in the course of an academic lecture at the University of Regensburg, was not speaking his own beliefs but quoting fourteenth-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II. Anyone who had read the text of the lecture would know this. I can, therefore, only assume the pope's attacker hadn't read it, it which case he shouldn't have quoted it. Of course, if he had read it, he is being disingenuous at best.

Everyone agrees that the words were not particularly flattering to Mohammed, but they formed a part of a question, a legitimate intellectual inquiry in which the emperor asked a Persian Muslim some of the same questions many of us are asking today of Al-Quida and those who support them and the terrorism they inflict on the innocent; for example, "Is violence justified in the pursuit of religious goals?" and "Is it moral to force people to accept religious beliefs?"

Father James V. Schall, S.J., of Georgetown University has written a wonderful book on the subject of the Holy Father's lecture at Regensburg, a book well worth reading.

Let's pray that most Muslims view this upcoming apostolic visit by Pope Benedict for what it is, an opportunity for the Holy Father to share his faith and God's peace with a nation that has left its Christian roots far behind.

We pray that it will not be used as just another means to attack Christianity and Christ's vicar. And pray, too, for Pope Benedict's safety.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Association of Hebrew Catholics

After yesterday's post on Jews who have made the journey to the Catholic Church. I received an email form a friend about what I had written. In the course of his remarks he wrote, "Okay, it's all very interesting, but there really can't be that many Jews who become Catholics." Naturally I considered the gauntlet tossed and sent him a response, the gist of which follows...

First, I have no idea how many Jews have entered the Catholic Church, but the numbers really aren't all that important.The important point is that the Catholic Church first came into being through the Jewish people. On that first Pentecost in Jerusalem the universal Church was born. Describing that day, Luke tells us that those pilgrim Jews who first encountered the Spirit-filled Apostles were from every corner of the Roman Empire: 
"...Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome..."[Acts 2:9-10]
And as Pope Benedict has written:
“…at the moment of her birth, the Church was already catholic, already a world Church…what first exists is the one Church, the Church that speaks in all tongues; she then generates Church in the more diverse locales, which nonetheless are all always embodiments of the one and only Church.” [Called to Communion, p. 44, 1991]
And who was the first vicar of Christ, the first Pope? Peter, the Jew who became a Catholic, along with all of the Apostles. 

Since we believe that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old, it is only fitting that Jews should complete their own journey of fulfillment, and follow the footsteps of the Apostles to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

It's remarkable how many Jewish Catholics I have met over the years. I am always amazed, and yet, should I be? After all, the Catholic Church is really their natural destination.

I suppose I should get to the point of this post, to introduce you to an organization called the Association of Hebrew Catholics. It's quite an organization and I've been reading their periodic newsletter for several years now. In their words...
"The AHC seeks to help preserve the corporate identity and heritage of the People Israel within the Church. By gathering the Jews who have entered the Church, we hope to help them rekindle and live out their collective vocation, giving corporate witness to Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and His Church. We hope, as well, to help the Church prepare for the day when the Lord will gather and unite all peoples to Himself, hastening the day when all Israel will proclaim 'Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.'"
The association is a lay apostolate, faithful to the Magisterium of the Church, and claims as its patrons: "Miriam, under her title 'Our Lady of the Miracle,' and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein)."

You don't have to be a Hebrew Catholic to join. The AHC bills itself as "a voluntary association of Catholics of both Jewish and non-Jewish origins."

How great is the Church! God built for us a mansion with many different rooms. Visit the AHC website and learn about this wonderful aspect of our Catholic faith.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Salvation Is From the Jews

As a child, growing up in a New York suburb, Jews were a part of my life. Not only did we have many Jewish neighbors and family friends, but my father was for many years the only Christian on the operating board of Gimbel Brothers in New York City. Sometimes I half-jokingly claim that our home was a strange haven where Jews could be Jews in the presence of Catholics. In 1951 mom and dad even took my older brother and me to Dachau where we spent several hours walking through that ghostly camp so we would better understand the nature of that Holocaust. It all stemmed from my dad's tremendous respect for the Jewish people, especially those of faith. And I suspect he would have agreed wholeheartedly with Pope John Paul II when the Holy Father called Jews our "elder brothers" in faith.

This is why it saddens me when, every so often, I detect subtle, and sometimes, not so subtle, traces of Antisemitism among Christians. Fortunately I encounter it only occasionally, but even that is too much for me. To hate Judaism is to hate the very roots of Christianity. To despise the Jew is to despise Jesus who came to us as a Jew. The Father lovingly chose and prepared the Jewish people to receive His gift of the Incarnation, and His Son chose 12 Jews to take that gift, to unwrap it, and to hand it to an undeserving world. "Salvation is from the Jews," Jesus told the Samaritan woman, a message as true today as it was 2,000 years ago.

If you would like to understand better the very real relationship between Judaism and Christianity, then let me suggest a wonderful book written by Roy Schoeman, a man who made a remarkable journey from Judaism, to atheism, to Catholicism. I can guarantee that the book, Salvation Is from the Jews, will enlighten you.

Schoeman has also written a second book, Honey from the Rock, in which he describes the faith journeys of 16 Jews who have come to the Catholic Church. Both books are published by Ignatius Press. The author can also be seen on video interviews (available online) in which he discusses each chapter of the first book. You can access the interviews here: 14-Part TV Series. I recommend reading both of the books and watching the videos. You'll be a better and wiser Christian because of it.

God's peace...

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Anglican Movement toward Catholicism Continues

Last November when Pope Benedict XVI issued the Apostolic Constitution providing a pathway for Anglicans to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church, I was told by a lot of folks that it would amount to nothing. They believed that the theological and psychological barriers to a reunion with Rome were simply too great and too long standing. They couldn't imagine any Anglicans crossing the Tiber to join the Catholic Church, except perhaps those few who, for whatever reasons, were already planning to convert.

Well, it seems they were wrong. I suspect they simply underestimated the ability of the Anglican Church to tear itself apart. I believe they also underestimated the dissatisfaction felt by many Anglicans who have watched as the cracks in their Church's moral and theological foundation have widened. For these the only place they can turn to for unchanging magisterial teaching is the Catholic Church. And perhaps, too, many underestimated the wisdom of Pope Benedict who just might have been far more tuned in to the issue than the rest of us.

The first indication came when the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) in Canada requested unification with the Catholic Church back in March. TAC Bishop Peter Wilkinson (photo at left) believes his group is just the tip of the iceberg. He stated that when Pope Benedict issued the motu proprio “I had Lutherans calling me saying, 'how do we get in on this?' And Orthodox (Christians) saying, 'how do we get in on this?'” Bishop Williamson believes “It is a worldwide movement largely brought about by the vision of John Paul II” and “the wonderful, gentle firm, intellectual vision of Pope Benedict, who is such an inspiration to us.” Read about this here.

And there are a number of more recent indications that many more Anglicans may well turn toward Rome:

In May several Anglican bishops went to Rome to meet with officials of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and apparently discuss the process of converting to the Catholic Church. Read about this here.

At the recent Church of England synod,the decision was made to approve women bishops.  As a result of this decision 70 Anglican members of the clergy met with a Catholic bishop to discuss plans to enter the Catholic Church. Some Anglicans believe the decision will lead to a "mass exodus" to Rome. Read more about this here.

Pray for the unity Christ desires for His Church.

It Ain't Over...Yet

A week ago I wrote about Professor Ken Howell who had been fired by the University of Illinois at Champaign for explaining Catholic teaching on homosexuality and homosexual activity while teaching a course on -- you guessed it -- Catholic teaching. (Click here for my earlier post.) One student apparently made an anonymous complaint, and that was all the university needed to dismiss Professor Howell. It seems, then, that the Church's magisterial teaching on moral issues has, for this publicly funded university, become hate speech.

Well, it seems the story's not over. The Diocese of Peoria has stated that it will meet with university officials on Tuesday to discuss Professor Howell's termination as an adjunct professor. As I recall from earlier coverage of this story, Howell was receiving some legal assistance on this matter since it is clearly a violation of both his constitutional rights and of academic freedom. The threat of legal action just might have encouraged the university to revisit its unjust action and discuss it with the diocese. According to a diocesan spokesperson, “The Diocese has had direct contact with the President of the University of Illinois, who has reiterated that academic freedom is at the core of their teaching and he is willing to have a review of this action so that all the details related to this situation can be investigated..” That's certainly encouraging, and we hope Professor Howell will again be teaching at the university. I'll keep you informed.

Click here to read the latest on the upcoming meeting between the Diocese of  Peoria and the university. And keep Professor Howell in your prayers.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Freedom from Persecution

As long as I'm addressing the persecution of Christians throughout the world, I thought I'd share a short video with you. I came across it last summer at about this time, downloaded it, and then forgot about it. I had intended to post it on this blog, but it ended up tucked away in a remote corner of my hard drive. So, better late than never.

Prepared by the Apostleship of Prayer, the video explains Pope Benedict's monthly mission prayer intention for last August: for persecuted Christians. It's quite good and gives a nice, brief overview of freedom of religion as a human right.

Pray for those who suffer persecution for the Christian faith.

Ordination of Priests and Deacons in Iraq

Despite all the violence and persecution directed toward Christians in this still unstable country, God is blessing Iraq with vocations. For example, the Chaldean Archbishop of Kirkuk ordained two priests and four permanent deacons on July 16. Just a week earlier another Chaldean priest was ordained in a northern province and a fourth will be ordained on July 23 in Mosul. This might not sound like large numbers, but when one considers the number of Chaldean Catholics in the population, these ordinations are quite significant. Indeed, when compared with some American dioceses who will have no ordinations this year, the numbers are even more impressive. And the Chaldean Catholics aren't the only ones ordaining priests in Iraq. The Syro-Catholics have also ordained several new priests in recent weeks. What a blessing for these courageous Christians who continue to suffer for God's glory. Click here to read more.

Missionary Forced to Leave Kashmir

Father Jim Borst, a Dutch Catholic missionary who has been in Kashmir since 1963, is being forced to leave the Indian province because the two schools he runs are simply too good. This fact is apparently embarrassing to the local Islamic supremacists who cannot stand the fact that these two Christian schools outperform the local madrasas or Islamic religious schools that focus largely on indoctrination rather than education. It also bothers them that some small element of Kashmir society is not controlled by Islam. Kashmir is almost entirely Muslim (97% of the population) and many prominent Muslims have sent their children to the two schools because of the quality of education received. The schools have never had the goal of proselytizing among the Muslim population. This, however, is the charge leveled against Fr. Borst, that he was trying to convert children to Christianity. Read more in the story published on Additional details are also available on this website devoted to the persecution of Christians in India.

Pelosi to Receive Award from Planned Parenthood

How proud she must be. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), self-proclaimed devout Catholic, will receive an award from Planned Parenthood for her efforts to ensure the recently passed health care bill contained no language prohibiting funding for abortions. She did their bidding and they will reward her accordingly.

Of course, what most folks don't realize is that Planned Parenthood is an organization founded on racism. That's right, Planned Parenthood was founded by Margaret Sanger, a racist of the first order. And the nationwide abortion mill has carried her legacy forward to the present day by being the biggest killer of African American babies in the US. Yes, I'm sure the speaker is very proud to have been chosen for this prestigious award. (Read more about Pelosi's award here.)

Poor Nancy. She just can't help herself. Everything, absolutely everything, takes a back seat to reelection. And in her San Francisco district there are certain issues, like abortion and sodomy, that must be supported.

Pray for her, that someday soon she will convert to Catholicism.

The Latest ACLU Attack on the First Amendment

The American Civil Liberties Union, the far-left litigation factory, has decided once again to take the wrong side on an issue of constitutional civil liberties. It seems the ACLU is very upset that "religiously affiliated hospitals across the country inappropriately and unlawfully deny pregnant women emergency medical care." Stated more plainly, the ACLU wants Catholic hospitals to provide abortions. Accordingly they have written a letter to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a federal agency, complaining that by failing to provide abortions these hospitals have broken the law. The apparent catalyst for the letter was the recent incident in Phoenix in which the local bishop took on a Catholic hospital in his diocese for performing an abortion. (See my earlier post on the subject.)

What I find particularly galling is the ACLU's concern that Catholic hospitals deny women this so-called "right" to abort their children -- a right, by the way, not mentioned or even alluded to in the Constitution -- while at the same time it completely ignores the very explicit right stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." (To read more about this latest attack on freedom of religion by the ACLU, click here.)

Pray for life...and pray for courage on the part of our bishops.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

George Steinbrenner, R.I.P.

"The Boss" is dead. Now, if you don't know who George Steinbrenner was, you're obviously not a baseball fan and should probably stop reading now and click on something else, like the latest video from the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico.

"The Boss" schmoozing with the media

George Steinbrenner died Tuesday of a heart attack at his home in Tampa. He was 80 years old, a reasonable age at which to die. I know I'm going to catch a lot of grief from all those citizens of the so-called "Red Sox Nation" who number themselves among my friends and family, but I must always speak (or write) the truth. To do otherwise would make me either a liar or a relativist. And the truth is, I always liked George Steinbrenner.

He was not an easy man to like, at least from a distance. He was sometimes a bully and sometimes a bit of a blowhard and sometimes, to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. An unpredictable man who nevertheless was remarkably successful in both business and baseball (which to him was far more than a business), he knew how to capture the attention of those who mattered, the players and the fans. And no one ever accused him of being boring.

I suppose I really should have despised the man. After all, he fired two of my favorite childhood players, Yogi Berra and Billy Martin, and did so multiple times. But getting fired by Steinbrenner was really a badge of honor of sorts, and getting fired and then rehired...well, that had to be a sign of the highest respect.

G.S. & Billy Martin (1983)
Despite his abrasive public personality, something he had in common with many driven people, there was a lot to like about George Steinbrenner. He gave more of his money to worthy charities than probably 99% of the folks in his income bracket. He was not the sort who would try to "take it with him." Believe me when I say that, although he might have been disliked by most New Yorkers, he was loved in Tampa. And he was loved not because of who he was, but for what he did. His quiet acts of personal charity are almost legendary. 

Yogi Berra and G.S. (1983)
I didn't know George Steinbrenner personally. I never even met him. Had I known him, I'm pretty sure I still would have liked him. He was just one of those unique, one-of-a-kind persons that I enjoy spending time with. Yes, like all of us he was a sinner, but he was also a devout Catholic who took the Gospel seriously. He might have strayed on occasion, but he knew he had strayed. (Click here for an interesting article in the Boston Archdiocesan newspaper.)

A sign left Tuesday morning at the entrance to the Steinbrenner home

Baseball has lost one of its great personalities. The sport, the players, the fans...we will all miss him.

Requiescat in pace...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Islam and Terrorism

This morning I read a brief essay written by Professor Howard Kainz (Marquette U.) and published online on The Catholic Thing. In his essay, Dr. Kainz discusses a fascinating book, Cruel and Usual Punishment, by Nonie Darwish. Ms. Darwish, who was raised in Egypt as a Muslim, is the daughter of a senior Egyptian intelligence officer who was specifically targeted and killed by the Israelis. As a result her father is considered a martyr in her home country. She later moved to the United States and subsequently converted to Christianity. A founder of the organization, Former Muslims United, she speaks and writes about what she believes to be the true nature of Islam, Islamic terrorism, and Sharia Law. I suggest taking a moment to read Dr. Kainz' essay.

Islamic terrorism today seems to be one of those arms-length subjects that most folks try to avoid. Oh, they may talk about it privately among family and friends, but you don't hear many people discussing it frankly and openly. It seems that, despite much rather convincing evidence, making any connection between Islam and terrorism is just about the most politically incorrect thing one could do. What I find particularly interesting is watching the PC crowd as it forces itself to dance around the subject through the use of some very odd euphemistic language.

For example, a few years ago the European Union declared it would no longer use the words "Islamic Terrorism" to describe attacks carried out by Muslims. Instead, it decided to use the phrase "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam." At the same time the EU also banned the words "Islamist," "Fundamentalist," and "Jihad" because the use of such words might be offensive to Muslims. (I assume, however, that the EU did not shy away from using the word "fundamentalist" when referring to Christians.) The EU's counter-terrorism chief stated that the revised policy "makes clear that we are talking about a murderous fringe that is abusing a religion and does not accept it." I'm not sure the majority of Muslims living in Muslim-majority nations would agree that the terrorists living among them do not accept Islam. But that's another subject.

Of course we expect these kind of decisions of Europeans since most of them long ago gave up on their culture and show a remarkable ability to look the other way as it enters the final stages of decay. But if you thought such ostrich-like behavior was limited to Europeans, think again. Our own government has only recently decided that it too will avoid terms like "Islamic Terrorism" or "Jihad" when referring to terrorism conducted by our nation's violent enemies. It has made this change in terminology despite the fact that the vast majority of these terrorists claim strong adherence to Islam in one form or another. 

John Brennan, President Obama's adviser for homeland security and counter-terrorism, recently defended the new policy by saying that "describing our enemy in religious terms would lend credence to the lie propagated by al Qaeda and its affiliates to justify terrorism, that the United States somehow is at war against Islam. The reality, of course, is that we have never been and will never be at war with Islam. After all, Islam, like so many faiths, is part of America." I'm not so sure most Americans would agree with Mr. Brennan's statement.

Our government is not alone in this effort to separate Islam from terrorism, at least linguistically. If I recall correctly, the Religion Newswriters Association preempted the current administration by several years when, in the days following the 2001 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, it stated it was troubled by the frequent use of the term "Islamic Terrorist". I remember the organization's spokesperson being rather uncomfortable with the fact that the terrorists themselves even used the term. One got the sense that she considered it unfortunate that, in this instance, the language of political correctness necessarily trumped the terrorists' own terminology. Hope it didn't hurt their feelings.

It seems to me we should want to address these issues head-on and not hide behind euphemisms and other feel-good rhetoric, especially since they affect our future as a free society. It might not be very PC to say so, but more than a few Muslims, including some who are widely regarded as key religious leaders within Islam, believe that what you and I would call terrorism is quite legitimate. Do you remember the reception the Ayatollah Khomeini received when he returned to Iran in 1978? (That's him in the photo at left.) For Shiite Muslims it was a transforming event, an event that had been awaited since the disappearance of the 12th Imam in 931 A.D. With the ascendancy of Khomeini, they believed they were once again living under legitimate religious authority. This was enough to put the Shah out of business. The theocracy Khomeini created is still in power, still motivated by his and his successors' religious values. And in case we've forgotten, Khomeini stated those values very clearly in his famous statement about Jihad and the duty of Muslims:
Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of [other] countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world. . . . But those who study Islamic Holy War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. . . . Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those [who say this] are witless. Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]? Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Qur'anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight. Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim. [See Amir Taheri's book, Holy Terror: Inside the World of Islamic Terrorism, Adler & Adler, 1987, pp. 241-3.]
It should be clear from this why Iran continues to be a major supporter of terrorist activity in Iraq, Afghanistan and pretty much everywhere else: it seems it considers such acts to be a religious duty. But just imagine people motivated by these beliefs also possessing nuclear weapons. Pretty scary stuff.

I understand that Iran's leadership is Shiite and doesn't speak for all Muslims. It doesn't even speak for all Shiites, as can be seen by the continuing protests and active dissent by many -- probably a majority -- of the Iranian people. Many Shiite Muslims reject these Jihadist teachings, want only to live their lives in peace, and have no desire to spread their religion at the point of a gun or strapped to a suicide bomb.

The same is no doubt true of most Sunni Muslims who make up close to 90% of Muslims worldwide. But they, too, are not immune to the Jihadist ideology. Indeed, Osama bin Laden is a Sunni, and I suspect he wouldn't disagree with very much of the Ayatollah's above statement. (Indeed, the photo at left shows him enjoying the company of a Kalashnikov.) And neither would members of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni fundamentalist movement founded in Egypt in the 1920s in reaction to the growing post-World War I influence of Western culture in Egypt. It was the Muslim Brotherhood that assassinated President Anwar Sadat in 1981, accusing him of apostasy and condemning him for the peace treaty he’d signed with Israel. Interestingly, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second in command, was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and was imprisoned for a time because of his involvement in a 1997 terrorist attack in Luxor, Egypt aimed at Western tourists. 62 men, women and children died in that incident.

Islam is certainly no monolithic religion. Muslims hold a variety of religious and political beliefs. But it must be understood that the Western concept of separation of church and state is completely foreign to Islamic teaching, whether Shiite or Sunni. One need only look at Iran and Saudi Arabia to understand how Sharia Law is designed to cross all societal boundaries and address every aspect of life in an Islamic state.

I'm no expert on Islam. Although I've read the entire Quran (in translation, of course), I find it a confusing book, full of contradictions that can lead to the justification of all kinds of behavior. One thing, however, is certain: Allah is not at all like the Trinitarian God of Christianity. And so I disagree strongly with those who claim Muslims and Christians worship the same God. We don't, at least not today, although perhaps some day we will all worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Christians that should be our prayer. In fact, if all Christians prayed daily for the conversion of Islam, God would hear our unified voice.

Pray for peace and unity...

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Another Archaeological Discovery

Lately I've referred to a number of interesting archaeological finds in the Holy Land and their impact on our understanding of both Scripture and how the early Hebrews lived. The latest find, however is truly remarkable, and it took place in Jerusalem itself.

Excavations conducted by Hebrew University have uncovered a fragment of a clay tablet covered with Akkadian script that dates back to the 14th century B.C. It is the oldest item with writing on it ever found in Jerusalem. This shows that Jerusalem was an important city even before it was conquered by David a good 300 years later. It is also approximately 600 years older than any other written document found in Jerusalem.

The high quality of the fragment and the writing on it have convinced the archaeologists involved that it likely had a royal connection. Prof. Wayne Horowitz, a scholar of Assyriology at Hebrew University, assisted by Dr. Takayoshi Oshima, were able to decipher the script. Horowitz stated, "What we can see is that the piece was written in very good script and the tablet was constructed very well. This indicates that the person responsible for creating the tablet was a first-class scribe. In those days, you would expect to find a first-class scribe only in a large, important place.” He indicated that this in itself shows that Jerusalem at the time was no primitive village, but a major city.

Where there is one fragment, there are likely many more. I wouldn't be surprised if the excavations turn up additional fragments covered in script. To read more about this remarkable find, click here.

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Happy Coincidence

For several months now, Diane and I have planned a trip to Barcelona for this coming November. We're actually going to visit the city for two days, then depart on a seven-day cruise in the Western Mediterranean. After our return from the cruise we will spend another four days in Barcelona before returning home. We'll be traveling with friends, another deacon and his wife, and so look forward to a pleasant vacation. I am especially interested in visiting this city I have heard so much about but never visited. I've been pouring through the guidebooks and websites so we can make the best use of our limited time.

And then this morning I came across an article on Catholic Online, dated March 3, 2010, that discusses an upcoming papal visit to Spain. Pope Benedict XVI will visit Santiago de Compostela on November 6 and then visit Barcelona on November 7. Coincidentally we will also be in Barcelona on the 7th, although our cruise ship leaves port that evening. We should have enough time to join the crowds near the Gaudi-designed cathedral, Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), which the pope will consecrate that day. (See photo above.) I'm assuming the trip is still on, and am glad we made our hotel reservations early.

Ironically, I was a bit torn about going on this cruise instead of once again spending a few weeks in Italy. Even though our ship will make three Italian port calls, including Rome, it's just not the same. But now it looks as if Rome will also join us in Barcelona -- the best of both worlds. I probably won't be as fortunate as I was in February 2000 when Diane and I stumbled (literally) into then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger who was making his way back to his office after a lunch in one of the nice little restaurants on Borgo Pio. Naturally, I played the role of ugly American perfectly and accosted the poor man. But he graciously allowed our Polish friend, Father Adam Domanski, to snap a photo which I cherish to this day. He even replied to my subsequent letter of thanks with a lovely letter of his own. I suspect our shared time in Barcelona won't be quite so intimate, but it is always a joy to see and listen to him.

I wonder if the Spaniards will still be celebrating their World Cup victory in November.


Pope Benedict XVI and Ecumenism

I don't believe it's an overstatement to say that Pope Benedict XVI has surpassed most of his predecessors, perhaps even his immediate predecessor, in his commitment to true ecumenism or, as he phrased it, his commitment "to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers." Indeed, the Holy Father began his papacy with those very words when he delivered the first message of his pontificate to the College of Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel on April 20, 2005. Here's more of what he said on that day:
"With full awareness, therefore, at the beginning of his ministry in the Church of Rome which Peter bathed in his blood, Peter's current Successor takes on as his primary task the duty to work tirelessly to rebuild the full and visible unity of all Christ's followers. This is his ambition, his impelling duty. He is aware that good intentions do not suffice for this. Concrete gestures that enter hearts and stir consciences are essential, inspiring in everyone that inner conversion that is the prerequisite for all ecumenical progress.
"Theological dialogue is necessary; the investigation of the historical reasons for the decisions made in the past is also indispensable. But what is most urgently needed is that "purification of memory", so often recalled by John Paul II, which alone can dispose souls to accept the full truth of Christ. Each one of us must come before him, the supreme Judge of every living person, and render an account to him of all we have done or have failed to do to further the great good of the full and visible unity of all his disciples.
"The current Successor of Peter is allowing himself to be called in the first person by this requirement and is prepared to do everything in his power to promote the fundamental cause of ecumenism. Following the example of his Predecessors, he is fully determined to encourage every initiative that seems appropriate for promoting contacts and understanding with the representatives of the different Churches and Ecclesial Communities. Indeed, on this occasion he sends them his most cordial greeting in Christ, the one Lord of us all."
Since then Pope Benedict has certainly followed through on his commitment to ecumenism as his "primary task." The Catholic Church's relationship with the Orthodox Church hasn't been this cordial since the two separated a thousand years ago. His outreach to the Anglican Church, especially to those within that communion who believe their Church has abandoned its traditional teachings in both faith and morals, promises to bear remarkable fruit in the years to come. The pope's issuance of the Apostolic Constitution providing for Anglicans entering into full communion with the Church is a document well worth reading and a likely blueprint for the future embrace of other Christian communities.

And now, in a fascinating article by Deacon Keith Fournier, we read about a group of Lutherans -- the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church -- who are apparently in the process of petitioning the Vatican for acceptance into full communion with the Catholic Church. They may be only one small group within the entire Lutheran community, but it is the decisions of such small communities that often lead to similar decisions by other, larger groups.

I was only vaguely familiar with the Anglo-Lutheran Catholic Church (I can recall once joking that their name pretty much covered all the bases), but after visiting their website this morning I promise not to joke about them any more. They describe themselves as "an ecumenical, traditional, liturgical, episcopal denomination that bases its beliefs in Holy Scripture and the teaching of Christ and the apostles." And when I visited the page with the heading "Official Statements," I found links to a series of documents issued by the Catholic Church. Indeed, in its self-description, the Church states that it "accepts as confessional...the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and the documents and decrees of all Ecumenical Councils recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church." Sounds to me like a denomination ready to come home.

This movement toward unity may be just one more small step forward, but it is also one more sign of the work of the Holy Spirit in bringing to reality the prayer of Jesus:
"I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me." [Jn 17:20-23]
What a marvelous sign to the world Christian unity would be! Let's make it not only a major part of our daily prayer, but also a part of our lives as we work and minister together in the world with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

God's peace...

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dictatorship of Relativism: an Addendum

Just a brief follow-up to my previous post on Professor Ken Howell and his unjust experience with the University of Illinois. If you would like to read what Pope Benedict has to say about the latest form of totalitarianism, the dictatorship of relativism, then read his homily delivered on 18 April 2005, at the beginning of the conclave of the College of Cardinals that ultimately elected him. It's an absolutely wonderful homily: Cardinal Ratzinger's Homily.

Here it comes...

Well, folks, brace yourselves for the imminent arrival of the dictatorship of relativism. It's already made an appearance in academia, leaving intellectual and moral wreckage in its wake, and it won't be too long before it plows through the workplace and even the family home.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, today's relativists are not susceptible to logical arguments. Truth and justice mean absolutely nothing to them because they see these concepts as tools to be manipulated and changed as necessary to further their immediate agenda, whatever it happens to be. Here's the latest example of relativists at work in our nation, in this instance at the University of Illinois in Champaign.

Professor Ken Howell, a convert to Catholicism and a former Presbyterian minister, has taught courses on the Catholic faith and the Catholic intellectual tradition at the university for years. Recently, however, he was fired because he actually had the nerve to explain Catholic teaching on homosexuality and homosexual acts during one of his courses. His comments, which were stated in terms of natural law and utilitarianism, were apparently too much for the university's Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Concerns. (Doesn't it just warm your heart that Illinois tax dollars are spent to maintain this office?) In other words, Professor Howell was fired for explaining Catholic teaching in a course whose subject matter is Catholic teaching. What a country! Academic freedom and first amendment rights to free speech apparently mean little when the subject of your speech conflicts with the current political correctness.

If you want to read more about Professor Howell, including a clear and concise statement by Howell himself, click on this link: Catholic Professor Fired for Being Catholic. And if you want to see Professor Howell's academic qualifications for yourself, just visit his page (not yet removed) on the University of Illinois website and then click on his curriculum vitae (in MS Word format).

Pray for our nation.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ancient Christian Book Found and Dated

Here's an interesting one for those of you who, like me, are interested in both archaeology and ancient texts.

What might be the oldest illustrated Christian book has been discovered in an Ethiopian monastery. The book dates from sometime between 330 and 650 A.D. It's really a remarkable find since books just don't normally hold up very well over time. The oldest complete book I own is about 275 years old and it's certainly not in the best shape. But this Ethiopian book of the Gospels had the advantage of being kept at relatively high altitude (7,000 feet) in an arid climate. If you're interested, here's a fascinating and thorough article discussing the discovery: Discovery of Earliest Illustrated Manuscript. The illustration below is a page from the book:

I think it remarkable that today, after so many centuries, we seem to be uncovering and discovering treasures like this so often. Perhaps it's just another way for God to remind us of our roots and call us back to faith.

Healing Mass Homily

Today at noon our parish celebrated a Healing Mass. We had a wonderful turnout, probably 250-300 people. The Mass was sponsored by our parish's charismatic prayer group, and so we had a lively, Spirit-filled time of it. It was an honor to have been asked to preach at the Mass, and so I thought I'd share my homily with you. It's a little longer than usual, but I had a captive audience and they didn't seem to mind.

One thing about my homilies. I have a little notebook I carry around  with me. If I hear another preacher say something that interests me, or if I read something I think might be useful later, I jot it down and don't hesitate to use it in one of my own homilies, often years later. I may or may not write the name of the preacher or the source, but even when I do, later on the name often means nothing to me. And so, when I prepared this homily, I referred to several of my little notebooks for ideas, and thank those anonymous preachers and writers who inspired my jottings.

Healing Mass – July 10, 2010
Year 2: Saturday, 14th Week of Ordinary Time
Readings: Is 6:1-8 • Psalm 93 • Gospel: Mt 10:24-33

Good afternoon, and welcome to this Mass of Healing here at St. Vincent de Paul Parish. We are blessed to have such a nice crowd here today. Praise God.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Deacon Dana McCarthy, one of the permanent deacons assigned here to St. Vincent de Paul, and I am truly honored to have been asked to preach to you here today at this healing Mass.

Now I was told that there would be a lot of charismatic Catholics and other Spirit-filled Christians here today. Is that true? Well, praise God. That’s wonderful, because we want the Holy Spirit here today in all His power, in all His glory, so we can come to know our loving Father better, all through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let me begin by simply saying…

Peace and blessings to you!

That’s the very greeting of peace and well being with which St. Francis of Assisi embraced his 13th century world…and it’s really a Gospel message of healing.

Francis had experienced such deep inner conversion that the peace of the Risen Christ permeated every fiber of his being. He was particularly sensitive to all that divided the human heart -- violence, hatred, envy, anger, lack of forgiveness, lust, greed, materialism, and, yes, illness – and pained by this division, he became an “Instrument of Peace” to so many who were deeply in need of healing. Those who responded to his evangelical invitation discovered that life really was worth living, and they discovered, too, a love far deeper than they ever dreamed possible.

True liberation from all that divides our hearts comes from allowing ourselves to be lifted by a God who loves beyond words. It comes from allowing yourself to be loved, allowing yourself to be healed. Francis, the peace-giver, was one of those rare people who put others in touch with Jesus Christ, the source of all peace, the source of this healing from which flows such gentle power.

Now, I have a question for you…Does God will illness? Does He want us to get sick or injured?

No! Of course not. God doesn’t look at us and say, “You know, Betty’s been pretty healthy lately. I think I’ll get her attention and afflict her with, oh let’s go with rheumatoid arthritis.”

No, that’s just not what God is like, for God is a loving God.

One evening some years ago I was asked to conduct a wake service for a young man who had been killed when a drunk driver hit his car head-on.  As I was about to begin the service I heard a man say to the widow and her children, “It was God’s will. All we can do is accept it.”

Well, let me tell you, I almost came unglued. I approached them and said, “No! God did not will this to happen. What happened was an evil thing, and God does not will evil. The death of this good man, this husband and father, was the result of sin, not of his sin, but of the sinfulness of the world. Only God can overcome that sin, but if we turn to Him in faith, if we ask Him to help us cope with this tragedy in our lives, He will give us the grace we need. You can be certain that God didn’t will this to happen, for Jesus told us clearly, ‘I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly’ [Jn 10:10].”

Yes, Jesus went about that Holy Land of the Patriarchs and Prophets bringing this message and the remarkable gift of newness to people. Through a word, a touch, a smile, and often a challenge, He brought every kind of healing -- physical, mental, and most importantly spiritual. Through these healings He brought to birth the Kingdom of God that has finally broken into a fallen world.

In bringing God’s healing power into the world, Jesus offered a glimpse of heaven to those who were ready to declare their total dependence on God and their need for His healing, saving presence. For those healed by Jesus it was an experience that carried them to the very limits of our human horizons. To these belong the peace the world cannot give…, as St. Paul said, “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” [Phil 4:7]. That peace, that healing, was a real manifestation of the very core of the Gospel message, a message of forgiveness.

Jesus called on those who dared to be healed to let go of their anger and hurts, to offer and accept forgiveness…and, like Francis, to embrace the lepers of the lives. It’s in this very letting go and this embracing that we find the healing love of Jesus Christ. And this inner healing is the greatest healing of all.

Turn first to the Spirit, sisters and brothers, allow yourselves to experience new freedom in your life, taste God’s forgiveness and extend it to others – a forgiveness that’s so often needs to be self-forgiveness – so that you and they will be able to accept and experience God’s healing power.

Do you know what keeps us from tasting God’s healing power?

I really believe that, more than anything else, it is sin and fear. Do you remember our first reading a few moments ago from Isaiah 6? There was Isaiah, an apparently righteous man…but he was overwhelmed with fear. Why? Because of his own sinfulness in the presence of God.

Now, we Catholics believe that God is present here with us…right now. He’s present because we’re gathered here in His name, and He promised to be present whenever we come together. But that’s not all. He’s also present in His Word, the Word we just heard proclaimed; for Jesus Christ is the Word, the living, eternal, creative, incarnate Word of God. Finally, we believe He is present in a very special way – body and blood, soul and divinity – in the miraculous gift of the Holy Eucharist.

And so, I ask you, here in God’s presence, are you afraid? Does your sinfulness make you want to flee from God? Was it hard to talk yourself into coming here today? Were you worried that you’d be the one sinner among all these holy rollers, all these folks who go around singin’ and shoutin’ and speakin’ in tongues? Well, don’t worry. Just like Isaiah, they’re sinners too.

Did you think it would be a waste of time, that God wouldn’t touch you with His healing power because...well, you’re a sinner and God can’t like sinners very much. Yes, that’s right, God doesn’t like sinners…No, God loves sinners. And He especially loves sinners when they repent.

After all, Jesus began His public ministry with a pretty simple message: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15]. To repent – metanoia -- means to change, to turn away from one thing, sin, and turn toward another, God. And, it’s through this repentance, this desire to change, that we can receive the antidote to fear, something that only God can give.

The antidote is the same thing that Francis preached…forgiveness of our sins. Isn’t that exactly what God did for Isaiah? “Your wickedness is removed, your sin purged." You see, God had a mission for Isaiah, just as He has a mission for you and for me. Then, with his sins forgiven, Isaiah could turn to the Lord, not in fear, but in love, and say, “Hear I am, Lord…Send me.”

Yes, fear and sinfulness are evil buddies. They hang out together.

Indeed, in our brief Gospel passage from Matthew 10, three times Jesus tells His disciples not to fear. It’s fear that keeps the disciples from carrying out the mission Jesus has for them. It’s fear that makes us unwilling to acknowledge Jesus Christ before others…unwilling to change. After all, that’s what He said: “Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father."

Now I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume that all of you want to get to heaven, that all of you want Jesus to acknowledge you before His heavenly Father. And so, if our number one goal is to be with God, we’d better make God the number one thing in our lives.

Well, then, do what He tells you. Evangelize, carry Jesus Christ to others, be Christ-bearers in a world that’s turned away from God and doesn’t know how to climb out of its sinfulness.

If you think about it, God gave you everything. He’s the source, the giver of all…Oh, except one thing. He didn’t give us our sin. That comes from within each of us. We all sin. That’s what keeps us from being healed – our sins, and our faith or, I should say, our lack of it, along with our unwillingness to forgive and be forgiven.

When we choose Jesus, when we decide we want a personal relationship with Jesus, our Lord and Savior, when we do that…we must change. We must change our lives, reject sin, and choose. What in your life, what habitual sin, is keeping you from changing? Have you asked God to free you from it? Have you taken your sin to God in the sacrament of reconciliation?

Jesus tells us to ask and we shall receive. But how many of us actually ask for God’s help in overcoming the sin in our lives? Unless we ask, we can’t receive. But when we ask, God will shower us with grace, all the undeserved grace we need. We need only cooperate with that grace.

What sin is keeping you from the change God wills for you? Sins of anger and unforgiveness and bitterness? Sexual sins? Sins of pride? Laziness? Gluttony? Addictions? Realize, too, that your sin doesn’t just affect you. Sin is like tossing a stone into the water. The splash is biggest where it lands, but those waves, those ripples go out across the entire pond. That’s what our sin does. It affects us first and foremost, separating us from God, but it also affects those around us, our family, our community – and some sins can even affect all of humanity.

But, you know, your sin also affects God. It pains Him. How did the prodigal son phrase it? “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you…” [Lk 15:21]

What keeps people from God’s healing power in their lives is their sinfulness.

Jesus came to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. Well, which are you? Are you one of those comfortable, lukewarm Christians who believes he can just sit back and live in the midst of his own sinfulness? If so, perhaps I should remind you of what Jesus said about you: “So, because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” [Rev 3:16]

You see, the lukewarm really don’t believe. They think there are things God can’t do. That’s why they keep on sinning but still call themselves Christians. They figure that sin of theirs is beyond God’s power or that God can’t bring about change in their lives. But we know God has power over everything. And when we believe in it, when we rest on it, when we let it permeate our being…well, it makes all the difference and makes us ready to change, ready to repent.

We can’t change, though, we can’t turn to God, unless we talk with Him. So build up your prayer life. Come to God in prayer every day. Spend time with Him, telling Him your worries, your joys, your sorrows, your hurts…tell Him everything He already knows. That’s okay, because He wants to hear you say it.

If you came here today to get healed, but aren’t willing to change your life, then shame on you. Because that’s just a slap in God’s face. Yes, you want God’s love, but aren’t willing to love in return.

I know there’s some heaviness here today, and it comes from us…all those sins we need to get rid of. And the Lord wants you to do just that, to give them to Him, to let go…because He can take them away no matter what. Confess your sins in the sacrament of reconciliation and let God shower you with His grace, overwhelm you with His love.

You do know that He loves you, don’t you? Well, then, let’s take a moment to remind each other of that. Turn to the person next to you, and just tell him or her, “God loves you.” Go ahead, do it right now.

Yes, sometimes we have to be reminded of that wonderful fact. Knowing that, we can learn to love as Jesus loved. We can learn to forgive as Jesus forgave. Father, forgive them…His loving words from the Cross. True love, real love is not a feeling or emotion, but a decision. This is what brings healing, brothers and sisters.

Be certain of this: God always heals. He might not heal exactly what you wanted, but He will heal something, something that He knows is more important.

Let's do something special today. Let’s all of us make an act of surrender, an act of abandonment. Let’s take all that we have, all that we are, and turn it over to God. He wants to take it all, and He does so out of a love so great it’s beyond our understanding.

After Mass we’ll have a laying on of hands. I urge you to come forward. Turn your heart and mind to Jesus Christ. Give Him permission to come into your life, to work His will within you.

“Heal me, Lord.” Let that be your prayer. “Heal me, Lord, of all that is keeping me from being one with you.”

Praised be Jesus Christ…now and forever.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Scripture Commentaries, Some Recommendations

In recent years several excellent new series of scriptural commentaries have appeared on the scene thanks to publishers like Baker Academic, Brazos Press, and Ignatius Press. I use the commentaries from all three of these publishers because each has its own unique focus and I find the different perspectives valuable in helping me better understand God's Word and apply it in my own life. They've also been very helping in facilitating our parish's Bible Study program.

To date the series from Ignatius Press includes only the New Testament. The commentary on the Book of Genesis will be released shortly (you can pre-order it from Amazon) and I expect the series will eventually include the entire Old Testament. Each paperback volume includes an RSV (2nd Edition) translation plus an excellent, succinct commentary, all packaged in a nice, compact size. Dr. Scott Hahn is editor so you can expect some good, solid, orthodox commentary. The volumes are also reasonably priced and are available directly from Ignatius Press or from Amazon and other online booksellers. Ignatius has also just published a single-volume Catholic Study Bible of the New Testament which I assume (I haven't purchased it yet) contains all the commentary included in the individual volumes mentioned above. It too is quite reasonably priced -- available in softcover, hardcover, or leather editions -- and for those who prefer a one-volume edition rather than the individual paperbacks, this would be the obvious choice.

Here are some links:

Ignatius Press: Entire Series including NT Study Bible

Amazon: Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament (one volume)

The series from Baker Academic is also strictly Catholic; indeed, the series' title is Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture. It will, however, cover only the New Testament. Each volume offers an in-depth commentary, although only four volumes have been published to date: The Gospel of Mark; 1st and 2nd Timothy and Titus; 2nd Corinthians; and Ephesians. The commentary on the Gospel of  Matthew will be available soon and can be pre-ordered via Amazon. If you visit the Baker Academic website, you can read an overview of each volume, check out the authors, and see the publishing schedule of future volumes. It is truly an excellent series written by some of today's best Catholic Scriptural scholars, folks like Mary Healy, Scott Hahn, Curtis Mitch, Peter Williamson, and others. I eagerly await each volume and have been buying them as soon as they're published.

Finally, there is the commentary series published by Brazos Press, the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. Compared to the series mentioned above it is certainly the deepest theologically, and so requires more attention and study on the part of the reader. But it is entirely worth the effort. The series is being published under the general editorship of R. R. Reno, a theologian teaching at Creighton University. So far the series includes a dozen or more volumes, but will eventually cover the entire Bible.

I'm currently reading the volume on Genesis, written by Reno himself, and have found it overflowing with new (to me) and interesting insights. The series is not "Catholic," although a number of Catholic theologians, including Reno, are among the authors of the individual volumes. It's sufficient to say that all of the commentators and editors of the series are highly regarded theologians and scriptural scholars. In addition to Reno, they include such stalwarts as Robert Jenson, David Hart, Timothy George, Jaroslav Pelikan, and others. My personal library includes five of the volumes and I refer to them frequently. I especially like the emphasis placed on the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and the fact that the authors are not slaves to the historical-critical method. 

God's peace...

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Pope Announces Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization

As I mentioned in my previous post today, Pope Benedict XVI recently announced the creation of the Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. It was announced on June 28, the the eve of the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, while the pope celebrated Mass at one of my favorite churches, the Roman Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls. Pray for the success of this effort.

Here's a video describing the announcement:

Reclaiming Our Christian Culture?

When Alexander Solzhenitsyn won the Templeton Prize in 1983 he gave a stirring address that began with the words:
"More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." (Click here to read his entire address.)
Reading these words one cannot help but apply them to our floundering Western Civilization and wonder what kind of future to expect. A few weeks ago I posted some thoughts on this subject -- Bye-bye Western Civilization -- thoughts precipitated by Whittaker Chambers' comment: “The enemy — he is ourselves. That is why it is idle to talk about preventing the wreck of Western Civilization. It is already a wreck from within.” Anyway, I've continued to toss these thoughts around in my aging brain and decided to share a few of them here before the gray cells in which the reside float off into some inaccessible void.

Solzhenitsyn and Chambers would agree -- along with others such as Christopher Dawson, Eric Voegelin, and Russell Kirk -- that a culture grows from and rests on the foundation of the cult, its sense of the holy, the sacred. The cult, then, is the binding force from which all elements of the culture derive. It's no accident that the word "religion" has its roots in the Latin, religare, meaning to bind fast.

Once the culture's binding force begins to decay and lose its meaning, the culture itself can do nothing but decay as well. Some cultures have tried to substitute something else for religion, but nothing else generates the kind of bonds found only in religion. Anything else -- the state, the race, a personality cult -- does not bind the culture as religion does, and such attempts are invariably short-lived.

 In our Western Civilization the bonds of religion began unraveling some time ago, even before the Reformation and the so-called Enlightenment. Richard Weaver, in his wonderful book, Ideas Have Consequences, traces it back to the 14th century English friar, William of Ockham, "who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence." And so it's not as if our religious foundation just began to crumble yesterday. It's been a long time coming, but advances in technology have only made the process speedier so that we can more easily recognize the decay from generation to generation.

The only solution, of course, is to restore the religious bonds that have kept our culture and civilization intact over the centuries...a tall order. When I talk about this with others, some invariably say, "What you're suggesting is impossible. You can't reclaim the past. We have to put our trust in progress." They're wrong, of course, for any number of reasons. But the primary reason is their unwillingness to accept the very concept of truth. If, unlike old William of Ockham, one believes in such as thing as objective truth, then he will also believe that truth does not change over time. Today's relativist, though, ignores truth and believes instead that time and matter rule, that "truth" is different for different times and for different people. We Christians, however, believe that truth is timeless. And because truth is unaffected by time, the ideals and values that stem from it, can certainly be reclaimed.

This doesn't mean that we are trying to "turn back the clock" and revert to some pre-technological society. True Christians are not Luddites. We view the products of technological advancement as tools that can be used for good or for evil. One can use a box-cutter to open boxes in a supermarket, as I did when I worked at the Grand Union as a teenager; or one can use it to murder crew members of an airplane, as the 9-11 hijackers chose to do. The same applies to nuclear energy or the Internet. The application of technology is a moral choice no different from any other.

There's really no reason that Christian values and ideals cannot be reclaimed by our culture. I admit, I haven't always been very optimisitc in this regard, but that could change. And after listening to Pope Benedict in recent weeks, I find myself more hopeful. His "new evangelization" -- a favorite term of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II -- is focused on renewing the Faith in (formerly) Christian countries and seems to be a key priority of his pontificate. This is reinforced by the Vatican's recent official announcement of the establishment of a Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization. According to Vatcian Radio:
"Pope Benedict said he received this legacy upon his own election to the Chair of Peter, and noted the challenges of the present time are mostly spiritual. He said he wanted to give the new Pontifical Council the task of promoting a renewed evangelization in countries with deep Christian roots which are now experiencing a sense of the 'eclipse of God', and becoming increasingly secularized.

"He said this situation presents a challenge in finding the appropriate means in which to revive the perennial truth of the Gospel of Christ."

Too many of us, however, consider this a task for the pope and his bishops, forgetting that we are all called to evangelize. And since the vast majority of us are not missionaries doing God's work in other cultures, but people living right in the midst of our own decaying culture, this new evangelization is made to order for us. And in the event you don't believe evangelization is for you, just read what the fathers of Vatican II proclaimed about the true vocation of the laity. They were pretty explicit:

"They exercise the apostolate in fact by their activity directed to the evangelization and sanctification of men and to the penetrating and perfecting of the temporal order through  the spirit of the Gospel...Since the laity, in accordance with their state of life, live in the midst of the word and its concerns, they are called by God to exercise their apostolate in the world like leaven, with the ardor of the spirit of Christ." [Apostolicam Actuositatem, 2]
If you believe that religion should be kept private, then, quite simply, you are not a Christian. The People of God are called to be an evangelistic people; there's no escaping the fact. Just read Matthew 28:19-20 and meditate on this great commission Jesus gave to those who would be his disciples.

We don't know what God has in store for us as individuals, or for our society as a whole. But the one thing we do know with certainty is that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church will remain under the guidance of the Holy Spirit until the end of time. We know this because Christ promised it.

Praise God!