The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

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

Monday, January 31, 2011

History and Revelation

I'm neither a historian nor a theologian so any comments I make on history and revelation are just that, my comments, my own unenlightened thoughts on a subject that was thrust on me the other day during a conversation with a parishioner. 

He and I were chatting casually about the state of the world when he said, "I'm sure glad that God is on our side." Assuming he was referring to the Church, I asked, "And what side is that?" His reply? "Why the United States of course." 

Now that's hardly what I would call a "catholic" comment, but I let it slide until he repeated it a moment later in slightly different terms. At that point I could no longer restrain myself, and asked him first, why he believed God was on our side, and second, in what conflict had God chosen us as His allies.

His answers were a bit confusing, at least to me, but I think I can boil them down to the following: God likes us best because we're a democracy, and the conflict involved is the ongoing battle of good versus evil. I won't bother relating the rest of our brief conversation because despite my best efforts I really don't think I had any appreciable effect on his beliefs. Indeed, he probably went away thinking I was, at best, some kind of anarchist.

But our brief conversation got me thinking about a few things, specifically history and revelation. And whenever I find myself thinking about those two subjects I usually turn to St. Augustine.

St. Augustine
It's pretty easy for us, especially for us naturally patriotic Americans, to see our time and our nation as something special, something set apart from the rest of the world. We've been, in effect, conditioned to do so by a culture that, at least until recently, set our nation apart and placed it above the rest of humanity, as John Winthrop envisioned it: a "city upon a hill." Ronald Reagan, perhaps our most optimistic president, and certainly a patriot, echoed Winthrop's vision when he gave his "Shining City on a Hill" speech and declared the United States "the last best hope of man on earth."

Now, I really like Ronald Reagan and wish we'd had more presidents like him, but I can't agree that the United States is man's "last best hope." I won't deny that the way of governing conceived and put into place by our founding fathers is doubtless the best ever experienced by least from a human perspective. It has brought about more freedom and more wealth for a greater number of people than any other system of government. It isn't perfect, far from it, but that's to be expected. It was, after all developed by men, not by God.

And that's the problem. Our nation is part and parcel of Augustine's City of Man, and therefore will always be in conflict with the City of God. Our nation is an earthly city, one ultimately ruled by self-love and contempt for God and His Law. One need look no further than the decisions of the highest arbiter of our law, the Supreme Court, to recognize the truth of this. Our courts, our legislators, and our executives choose, as they always have, man's law over God's Law, man's will over God's Will. The United States may well be the best that man has to offer the world, but it's still man doing the offering.

No, the last best hope of man is not the City of Man but the Church, the presence of the City of God on earth. It cannot live in total peace with the City of Man because it is ruled by something very different. In the words of Augustine, it is ruled by "love of God even to the contempt of self." Despite this, the two cities do, however, live together, interwoven as long as they share the world. As Catholic historian Christopher Dawson wrote, the two cities "have been running their course mingling one with the other through all the changes of times from the beginning of the human race, and shall so move on together until the end of the world, when they are destined to be separated at the last judgment." It will, of course, be a final and complete separation. As for me, at the time of the last judgment -- that is, at the very end of time itself -- I hope I will be judged to be a citizen of the City of God and not the City of Man.

Augustine believed that God is very much involved in our history. The very fact of the Incarnation itself should remove any doubts on the part of the Christian. Augustine saw God's hand in the order and beauty of the cosmos, of all of His creation. But, perhaps more importantly, Augustine saw the possibility of human freedom operating within God's plan of salvation. He sees God entering our world of time to transform it through His self-revelation. And from that revelation, God allows us to take part in the work of that transformation. 

History, then, is much more than just the passing of time measured by the actions of men and women, by the rise and fall of nations and civilizations. History is Revelation. History is God making Himself known in the lives of His people and in His created order right here on earth.

No, God is not on our side; rather, He calls us all to be on His side.

Father Samir on Egypt

Father Samir Kahlil Samir, S.J., an Egyptian-born Catholic priest and Islamic scholar, always provides interesting insights on the Middle East. And so in light of the recent events in Egypt, I did a little search this morning to see if he'd written anything about them. I immediately came across a pertinent article he wrote just a few days ago. In the article -- published on the website -- Fr. Samir addressed a current movement among some Muslim intellectuals and theologians aimed at discrediting many of the external practices common among Muslims, and encouraging secularism and the separation of Islam from politics. His comments focus on a document published in Egypt the day before the start of the protests. The document was written by a group of Egyptian Imams and intellectuals and strives to bring about a renewal of Islam that can co-exist with the modern world. If the events in Egypt concern you, you will want to read Fr. Samir's article published Thursday, as well as his earlier article published on Tuesday. Here are the links:

Jan 28: Egyptian revolt not only political but also spiritual and Islamic

Jan 26: Egyptian Imams and intellectuals: Renewing Islam towards modernity

Friday, January 28, 2011

Egypt on the Brink

My oh my oh my...I just spent some time listening to a BBC shortwave broadcast on the events taking place in Egypt, and then browsed for a while on the Al Jazeera website to get the Arab view, and quite honestly, I think the entire Middle East is in the midst of an upheaval of mammoth proportions, one that just might spread throughout the Muslim world. Seeing what happened in Tunisia, and how quickly it was exported to Egypt (and now also to Jordan and soon probably elsewhere in the area) one gets the sense that these long-corrupt, near totalitarian governments are doomed.

I don't think anyone expects President Mubarak, Egypt's longtime dictator, to be president much longer. Assuming he has any sense of self-preservation, and doesn't actually believe that 30 years of power have made him invincible, he'll quite likely join his family in exile sometime very soon. Once the Army comes to believe that the regime has no future, it will join the protesters and bring it all to an end. The problem, of course, is, who or what will replace Mubarak? That's the trouble with dictatorships, especially long-term corrupt ones that impoverish and tyrannize the people. They don't allow the development of the institutions necessary for representative democracy, really for anything other than another dictatorship. And since most of the Islamic world is rife with corruption and has no real experience with democratic institutions, we can probably rule out any flowering of democracy in Egypt. The most likely successor to the present regime are the Islamists, folks like the Muslim Brotherhood who already have in place a kind of shadow infrastructure and are no doubt ready and willing to assume control. And, like Hezbollah and Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood should probably be included among the world's terrorist organizations. I expect Egypt will be a very different place if they are in charge. If you check out their website it's pretty obvious that they are positioning themselves for a major leadership role in whatever evolves out of this situation.

Protesters in Jordan
And don't you think the Saudi royals are getting a bit antsy about now, wondering whether this revolutionary fervor might infect the kingdom's population? If Mubarak, one of the true strongmen of the Middle East, falls, this just might spread throughout the entire Muslim world. And why do I see the hand of Iran in all of this? After all they've been active and overt supporters of Hezbollah and Hamas, terrorist organizations that are now key players in the Lebanese and Palestinian governments. The fact that Iran is predominantly Shia and Egypt Sunni is really immaterial. Indeed many of Iran's religious leaders have praised Egypt's Sunni Muslim Brotherhood, an approach in line with their focus on Islamic unity that downplays Shia-Sunni differences.

Because the United States has allied itself with, or at best tolerated and supported, most of these dictators for decades, I think we can safely assume that any new governments will not be very friendly toward us. The Islamists, of course, see us as the enemy of Islam, the prime example of decadent Christianity, so we shouldn't expect anything but hostility from them. Sadly, I believe we can also expect increased persecution of Christians throughout the Middle East. And little Israel must also be very concerned since they had developed a tolerable understanding with Egypt, a situation that will likely change.

Pray for peace in that troubled part of the world and take solace in your knowledge that our loving God is in charge.

Religious Belief in China

A 2007 study investigating the religious beliefs of Chinese, conducted under the auspices of the Association of Religious Data Archives and funded by the Templeton Foundation, led to some remarkable findings.

For sixty years the Peoples Republic of China has used all the power available to a totalitarian government in an attempt to eradicate religion and all forms of religious belief among its people. Based of the results of this study, it would seem these attempts have been futile. Among the population of the PRC, a nation which advertises itself as an atheist state, no more than 15% are true atheists. The rest of the population (85%) actually practices some form of religion or, at a minimum, holds religious beliefs. More embarrassing to the communist regime is the fact that even among those who hold positions that require one to be an atheist, most of these have engaged in religious practices during the past year.
Chinese police arresting "underground" Catholics

It would seem that the Chinese communists have yet to learn that religious belief is something innately human, that human beings are in a sense hard-wired to search for God. Seeming to confirm this are indications that Christianity and Buddhism are both undergoing substantial growth among Chinese. Estimates of the number of Chinese Christians vary from 60 million to well over 100 million, and the true number may be even higher because an open admission of religious practice or belief can have grave consequences. Close to 200 million Chinese identify themselves as Buddhists, while the vast majority of the population, practice some form of ancestor worship.

According to Purdue Professor Fenggang Yang, one of the lead researchers on the project, many Chinese officials have come to accept the fact that religion cannot be eradicated. Despite the constant atheistic drumbeat that sounds in all Chinese schools and organizations, and in virtually every other Communist Party-run element of society, the Chinese people are becoming more religious and will continue to do so.

To read more click here: China's Religious Revolution and, somewhat surprisingly, an article in the Huffington Post.

Pray for the Chinese people who have suffered so much for so long...

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ratzinger on Vatican II

For some time now I've been searching for a copy of the then Father Joseph Ratzinger's book, Theological Highlights of Vatican II. Published in 1966 by Paulist Press it offers the young theologian's impressions of the Second Vatican Council and his theological insights on the documents it produced. Because he attended all four sessions of the Council as a peritus, or advisor, to Cardinal Frings of Cologne, Germany, the future pope was certainly able to view the work of the Council from a privileged position. Unfortunately, the book has been out of print for years and used copies were difficult to obtain at a reasonable price. And so a few years ago I simply gave up looking for it. But then yesterday a friend sent me an email letting me know that Paulist Press had republished the book in 2009 and that it was once again available. I ordered it from Amazon this morning.

I look forward to reading it, since the Holy Father has really been very consistent in his support for the Council and its aims. In recent years one of his major concerns has been the misinterpretation of the Council's work by so many who oddly claim that the "spirit of Vatican II" can completely contradict what the Council Fathers actually wrote. It should be an interesting read.

Pray for our Holy Father.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Solitary Life

A little personal note today.

This morning my dear Diane departed on a five-day cruise along with about 30 of her "girl friends." They euphemistically call themselves "Girls on a Cruise", a phrase emblazoned on the attractive custom-designed t-shirts they all wore on departure. It's also a phrase about which I will say no more.

I certainly don't begrudge her going on this cruise. The poor woman has had to battle a number of health issues in recent months (thankfully now all behind her) and deserved and needed to get away for a few days. But neither do I like being alone here in the house, especially with no Monday or Thursday night football.

I also dislike all that's involved in the care and feeding of yours truly -- washing and drying clothes, cooking meals, keeping the house reasonably clean and uncluttered. I suppose two things will come out of this week as a bachelor pro tempore: I will appreciate Diane and the quiet, selfless way that she takes care of me; and I will likely lose a few pounds. Here it is, almost 5 p.m., and  I just realized all I have had to eat today is a small carton of yogurt and three cups of coffee.

I also expect to get a lot of work done. Already today I spent five or six hours preparing a new study guide for use in our parish Bible Study sessions. And, of course, there are other, less attractive jobs awaiting cleaning out the garage and the attic which over the past year have become cluttered with all sorts of junk and near junk. That will have to be tackled tomorrow, assuming I have the discipline to avoid answering the phone and checking email.

That's the interesting thing about retirement, at least for a deacon. I probably devote 25 hours each week to my ministries in the parish, another 10 hours to the Soup Kitchen, and then perhaps an additional 10 or more hours to other ad hoc things that demand my time either at home or elsewhere. Basically, it's become a full-time job. Unlike 90% of the folks who live here in The Villages, I'm not a golfer, so I can't use tee-times as an excuse. Perhaps one of these days I'll learn to say, "No," or even, "Maybe."

In the meantime, I can keep track of Diane's cruise ship through a remarkable iPhone app called, Ship Finder which uses the Automatic Identification System feeds provided by large ships as they move about the world's oceans. It's really quite neat. In fact I just checked it out and discovered that her vessel has left the pier in Tampa right on time and is steaming toward the entrance of Tampa Bay. Ain't technology something? Of course, it does make one wonder if the bad guys of the world could use this ship-finding technology for nefarious purposes.

Ah, well, time to eat. Campbell's soup sounds like a winner.

God's peace...

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Exorcism on TV?

Now here's one I have trouble believing, even though I keep encountering reports that seem to confirm it.

According to reports, the Discovery Channel, that TV network that regularly brings us such classics as American Chopper, River Monsters, and Swamp Loggers, has worked a deal with the Vatican to bring us a new show, The Exorcist Files. Apparently the Vatican has granted some level of access to its case files and has also allowed Discovery to interview several exorcists. According to Clark Bunting, Discovery's president, “The Vatican is an extraordinarily hard place to get access to, but we explained we’re not going to try to tell people what to think,” The show is expected to debut sometime this spring.

This Discovery Channel-Vatican collaboration is simply not the sort of thing one would expect the Vatican to countenance unless they had total editorial control over the final product. And I can't believe that Discovery would cede such control. It's all very strange, but perhaps the Vatican has decided that the world should come to understand that Satan does indeed exist.

I remain skeptical, however, especially since I have seen and heard nothing from the Vatican about the show. If any reader knows of an official Vatican statement (or even an unofficial comment) addressing the show, please pass it along.

God's peace...

Homily 3rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Is 8:23-9:3; Ps 27; 1 Cor 1:10-13,17; Mt 4:12-23
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And with these words Jesus begins His public ministry.

Interestingly, though, I’ve never had anyone – other than Jesus, that is – direct these words at me. I’ve never had a priest look at me during reconciliation and say, “Repent, deacon, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And I’ve made a lot of retreats over the years and yet I can’t recall a retreat master ever beginning a reflection by standing tall at the podium, pointing at us and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

I suppose these words, this command…I suppose it all seems just a bit…well, harsh – you know, not in keeping with the kind of pastoral approach people are looking for these days.

Mark, in his Gospel, has Jesus saying, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” And another translation presents this command of Jesus in slightly different terms: “Be converted, and accept the Gospel.”

But notice, regardless of the translation, Jesus tells us that we must first repent and be converted. That’s right, before we learn about the kingdom, before we accept the good news of the Gospel, Jesus tells us to be converted, to repent, to change. You see, without conversion, without repentance, the Gospel simply doesn’t make much sense. After all, the Gospel tells us to do all kinds of things that the world rejects.

“Love your neighbor as yourself…”  Well, now, wait minute, shouldn’t I love myself a wee bit more? I mean, think of the effect on my self-esteem if I have to think so highly of others. And if I go around loving everyone else, doesn’t that make me better than them anyway?

Oh, yes, what’s that other one? “Love the Lord your God with all your mind, heart, soul and strength.” That’s certainly doesn’t leave much room for anything else, does it?  Does God really expect us to take that literally? Just think of the ramifications. I’d have to back-burner everything, placing God first all the time. Not really very practical when every to-do list begins with: “Love God.”

And then there are all those other Sermon-on-the-Mount things…you know, being meek and poor in spirit, being merciful and pure of heart and thirsting for righteousness, no anger, no lust, forgive your enemies – all those counter-intuitive things. That’s certainly no way to enjoy life and get ahead in the world.

Yes, the Gospel just doesn’t make much sense at all…unless we are converted. For only then, only after we have changed, only after we have invited God into our lives and into our hearts, only after we have accepted our sinfulness and repented, turned to God, only then can we accept the Good News as Good News. Once we respond to God’s call to conversion, and come to realize God’s greatness and God’s overwhelming love for us…then we can accept the Gospel with the unbounded joy that its message deserves.

Is that how you respond to the Gospel? With unbounded joy? With a thirst to hear more? With a hunger you know can never be fully satisfied until you come face to face with God? Is that how you respond?

If not…well, you haven’t yet responded to God’s call. Repentance and conversion still await you. Can you sense that? Do you feel something missing in your life? Is there an emptiness in your inner being that nothing has been able to fill? Brothers and sisters, that’s God calling you, begging to heal you, to fill that emptiness.

Perhaps St. Augustine, that reluctant convert, put it best, “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in Thee.” That restlessness is a gift, a sign pointing to God.

Is that why we’re all here at this Mass, to satisfy the longing? Do we come together in faith as a community of believers to offer prayers of thanksgiving and praise? Do we come, yearning for God’s Word and celebrating His goodness? And do we come to feast on the miraculous gift of the Eucharist from which we receive the spiritual sustenance we need to grow in the Christian life. Is this the choice we’ve made?

Or are we here out of habit, or to fulfill some sense of social or cultural obligation? “Of course I go to Mass. Isn’t that what Catholics do?” We can’t respond to God call, and grow in faith if our motivation is grounded in something worldly. That would be a non-response, a static, unchanging, act of non-faith. For faith calls for continual conversion, conversion calls for growth, and growth demands change. And this is what Jesus calls us to do in today’s Gospel.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” His call to conversion is unambiguous: Repent! And why must we repent? To accept God’s invitation to enter His Kingdom. You see, brothers and sisters, we are all sinners. And sinners need forgiveness. But there can be no forgiveness without repentance.

God extends this invitation to repentance to all of humanity. No one is overlooked. God desires to forgive each of His children, just as He desires to rule over each one of us. But unlike human rulers, God forces Himself on no one, and only those who freely choose to accept the invitation gain admission to the Kingdom.

Gradually, as His ministry unfolded, Jesus revealed more and more about the nature of His Kingdom. Unlike that which the Jewish people hoped for – a return to the glory days of David and Solomon – Jesus’ Kingdom extends beyond all time and space to eternity. It’s a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom of love and holiness…hence the call for repentance. A Kingdom of holiness cannot admit the profane, just as a Kingdom of love must reject hatred.

Oh, we all want to heed the call. If only it didn’t involve change. If only it didn’t place so many demands on me. If only my life weren’t going so well right now. And so we complicate God’s simple, straightforward call by cluttering it with our own issues. Oh yes, we want to respond…but on our terms.

But that’s not how it works. How can we enter the Kingdom but reject the authority of the King? We can’t have it both ways. To accept the Kingdom demands conversion. Just look how the Apostles handled it.

Jesus calls Peter and Andrew
Jesus called Peter and Andrew and “at once they left their nets and followed Him.” Moments later, He called James and John and, “immediately they left their boat and their father and followed Him.” Do you detect a sense of urgency here? Called by Jesus, the Apostles don’t think it over. They don’t weigh the pros and cons. They don’t hire a consultant to advise them on their career change. No, they just act. Their faith, though far from strong, is strong enough that they know they’ve heard God’s call.

Although they haven’t yet accepted the Gospel because they haven’t yet heard the Gospel, they have accepted Jesus Christ, the very Word of God Himself. Called to conversion, called by Jesus to walk with Him in the light, these most ordinary of men immediately leave everything behind and follow; and that’s all God asked of them…for now.

They didn’t have a clue about what lay ahead – mercifully it was hidden from them – but I’m sure they sensed that their lives were about to change radically, and that their old lives were gone for good. And what a change it turned out to be!

This is what conversion is: an act that lasts a lifetime, a continual process of leaving things behind. What does God want you to leave behind? Have you asked Him? You see, God calls each of us in very unique and individual ways.

Some, like the rich young man in the Gospel, who was too attached to his possessions, are called to radical action: “Sell everything you have, give the money to the poor, and come, follow me.” Jesus knew that only this would bring the happiness the young man sought. But having rejected Jesus’ call, he went away sad.

Others, like the woman caught in adultery, are simply told, “Go and sin no more.” There’s nothing to fear from God’s call. He never calls us to that which we cannot do. But we must first hear and accept His call. Once we do, once we turn our lives over to His rule, He provides the grace we need to persevere.

“Be still and know that I am God,” the psalmist wrote. It still applies. Step away from the noise of the world and prayerfully listen for God’s call. Step outside of your busy lives to be still in God’s presence. Spend some quiet time in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Listen to His voice. God calls each of us. It matters not how old or young we are.

And so, minutes from now, as the gifts are carried forward, and you sit in your pew, staring down at your hands, realize that the Spirit is calling those very hands to let go of the entanglements, those heavy, torn nets, that keep you from answering God’s call. God is carrying a gift to you, a call that will lead to eternal life.

For make no mistake about it: God is calling you to a new way of life, to something far greater than the world can ever give. And because He’s a loving God, He never stops calling.

Pope Benedict's Challenge

I find it very difficult to keep up with Pope Benedict XVI. In my modest home library I have literally run out of shelf space to hold his published writings, and I have only a fraction of these. But I find it even more difficult to keep up with his homilies, reflections and speeches, and so I'm usually several weeks behind. Just yesterday, for example, I came across his annual Christmas address to the Roman Curia delivered on December 20. It is a remarkable address in which the Holy Father covered a number of key issues facing the Church today. 

Pope addresses the Curia (photo by Pool/Getty Images Europe)
His overall theme was encapsulated in the ancient Advent prayer, Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni (Awaken your power, Lord, and come!), a fitting prayer given the moral and societal decline that plagues our entire world today. In the pope's words, 
For all its new hopes and possibilities, our world is at the same time troubled by the sense that moral consensus is collapsing, consensus without which juridical and political structures cannot function. Consequently the forces mobilized for the defense of such structures seem doomed to failure.
He goes on to challenge us as Jesus challenged the disciples who, lacking faith, feared that their boat would sink while the Lord slept: They came and woke him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" He said to them, "Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?" Then he got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm [Mt 8:25-26]. Alluding to this passage, the Pope said,
He will say the same thing to us. Our faith too is often asleep. Let us ask him, then, to wake us from the sleep of a faith grown tired, and to restore to that faith the power to move mountains – that is, to order justly the affairs of the world.
The Holy Father continued by addressing the joys and tragedies experienced by the priesthood during the recent Year for Priests. After a truly beautiful statement on the wondrous gift that is the priesthood, he addresses the abuse of that gift and the damage it has inflicted on the innocent and on the Church:
We were all the more dismayed, then, when in this year of all years and to a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis, and under the mantle of the sacred profoundly wound human persons in their childhood, damaging them for a whole lifetime.
He goes on by relating a vision experienced by St. Hildegard in the 12th century, a vision that applies to today's Church as well:

In the vision of Saint Hildegard, the face of the Church is stained with dust, and this is how we have seen it. Her garment is torn – by the sins of priests. The way she saw and expressed it is the way we have experienced it this year. We must accept this humiliation as an exhortation to truth and a call to renewal. Only the truth saves. We must ask ourselves what we can do to repair as much as possible the injustice that has occurred. We must ask ourselves what was wrong in our proclamation, in our whole way of living the Christian life, to allow such a thing to happen. We must discover a new resoluteness in faith and in doing good. We must be capable of doing penance. We must be determined to make every possible effort in priestly formation to prevent anything of the kind from happening again. This is also the moment to offer heartfelt thanks to all those who work to help victims and to restore their trust in the Church, their capacity to believe her message. In my meetings with victims of this sin, I have also always found people who, with great dedication, stand alongside those who suffer and have been damaged. This is also the occasion to thank the many good priests who act as channels of the Lord’s goodness in humility and fidelity and, amid the devastations, bear witness to the unforfeited beauty of the priesthood.
He condemns the moral relativism that is at the root of so many of society's ills and how this thinking penetrated not only secular institutions, but the Church as well. (One is reminded of Pope Paul VI's famous comment on June 29, 1972 that “from some fissure the smoke of Satan has entered the temple of God.”)
It was maintained – even within the realm of Catholic theology – that there is no such thing as evil in itself or good in itself. There is only a “better than” and a “worse than”. Nothing is good or bad in itself. Everything depends on the circumstances and on the end in view. Anything can be good or also bad, depending upon purposes and circumstances. Morality is replaced by a calculus of consequences, and in the process it ceases to exist.
Beginning the second half of his address, Pope Benedict discusses the recent Synod of the Churches of the Middle East and his concern for the continued and growing violence and persecution in that part of the world, particularly as it affects Christians. Summarizing the Synod he refers back to his earlier comments on the need for strong faith during such troubled times as ours.
On the basis of the spirit of faith and its rationality, the Synod developed a grand concept of dialogue, forgiveness and mutual acceptance, a concept that we now want to proclaim to the world. The human being is one, and humanity is one. Whatever damage is done to another in any one place, ends up by damaging everyone. Thus the words and ideas of the Synod must be a clarion call, addressed to all people with political or religious responsibility, to put a stop to Christianophobia; to rise up in defense of refugees and all who are suffering, and to revitalize the spirit of reconciliation. In the final analysis, healing can only come from deep faith in God’s reconciling love. Strengthening this faith, nourishing it and causing it to shine forth is the Church’s principal task at this hour.
Pope Benedict continued with a reference to Alexis de Tocqueville's observations that
...democracy in America had become possible and had worked because there existed a fundamental moral consensus which, transcending individual denominations, united everyone. Only if there is such a consensus on the essentials can constitutions and law function. This fundamental consensus derived from the Christian heritage is at risk wherever its place, the place of moral reasoning, is taken by the purely instrumental rationality of which I spoke earlier. In reality, this makes reason blind to what is essential. To resist this eclipse of reason and to preserve its capacity for seeing the essential, for seeing God and man, for seeing what is good and what is true, is the common interest that must unite all people of good will. The very future of the world is at stake.
That last sentence shows how serious the Holy Father considers the challenge facing us today as believing Christians. 

In the final segment of his address the pope discusses the three conversions experienced by Blessed John Henry Newman whom he beatified during his recent visit to the United Kingdom. He focused primarily on the first of these conversions, a conversion from a materialist to a true realist who came to understand "that God and the soul, man’s spiritual identity, constitute what is genuinely real, what counts." 

He concludes in a spirit of thankfulness and hope:
Excita, Domine, potentiam tuam, et veni. We set out from this plea for the presence of God’s power in our time and from the experience of his apparent absence. If we keep our eyes open as we look back over the year that is coming to an end, we can see clearly that God’s power and goodness are also present today in many different ways. So we all have reason to thank him. Along with thanks to the Lord I renew my thanks to all my co-workers. May God grant to all of us a holy Christmas and may he accompany us with his blessings in the coming year.
It is a powerful and beautiful address, and I suggest you read it in its entirety, available in English on the Vatican's website: Holy Father's Address to the Roman Curia.

Come Lord Jesus!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Ongoing War Against the "Infidels"

One of my interests, which I highlight regularly on this blog, is the growing persecution of Christians throughout the world. And it is truly a worldwide phenomenon. Christians seem to be the target of choice irrespective of who's doing the persecuting. Christians, for example, are persecuted by the communist rulers of China, Viet Nam and Cuba -- pretty much wherever atheism is the official policy of totalitarian governments.

But atheistic communism isn't the only source of such persecution. Far more subtle and less obvious forms of persecution are now increasingly common in Western Europe and Canada, and are even making inroads here in the United States. This persecution seems to originate among secular humanists who tend to view religion as an obsolete vestige of an unenlightened past and religious people as ignorant masses in need of reeducation. Its most obvious symptom is in the denial of freedom of speech to those who oppose the reigning political correctness.

But we also encounter persecution in some of its most violent forms from other religions, specifically Islam and Hinduism. So-called fundamentalist Hindus in India have been responsible for killing Christians of all denominations, destroying their churches, and turning large numbers of them into homeless refugees. Sadly the persecutors have for the most part gone unpunished by the Indian justice system. Persecution of Christians in Muslim countries is, of course, nothing new, but the increased application of sharia law and the growing influence of fundamentalist clerics has encouraged radicalized Muslims to act violently against Christian minorities. In Saudi Arabia, and increasingly in Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia and other Muslim nations, the governments themselves engage in overt persecution of Christians.

One logical conclusion of all this is that Christianity is perceived as the enemy by much of the world, regardless of the religious or philosophical beliefs of the persecutors. We should, of course, expect this since we were clearly instructed by the Lord that the world would persecute us because of Him. But that doesn't mean we should sit on our hands and say nothing. As Pope Benedict XVI has clearly stated, religious persecution of both Christians and non-Christians must cease. He has called on the international community to support him on this. But, sadly, most Western nations lack the courage to do so, or they simply do not care.

Clifford May has written two interesting articles in National Review Online that address the ongoing war waged by Muslims against Christians and other "infidels." They are well worth reading, and I've provided links below:
Pray for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world.

Pax et bonum...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Dr. R. R. Reno: New Editor at First Things

I subscribe to far too many magazines and journals, but if I were forced to drop them all but one, First Things would be the one I'd keep.

The news this past week is that R. R. Reno, theologian and prolific writer, has been named the new editor of this, my favorite journal; and I can't think of anyone more qualified. A professor of theology at Creighton University (I believe he is currently on a leave of absence) and a fairly recent convert to Catholicism, Dr. Reno has written a number of books that occupy honored places on my bookshelves. He is a gifted scriptural scholar and writer, and I especially enjoyed his Commentary on Genesis, a volume in the new Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. As general editor of the entire series, Dr. Reno is the guiding force behind the production of this wonderful guide to the theological interpretation of Holy Scripture. I only hope his new responsibilities will not have too negative an impact on his literary output.

By the way, if you don't read First Things, it you should. They also have an excellent website. To read more on Dr. Reno's selection as editor, check out the links I've provided below:

...and if you'd like to read a sampling of his writings, visit this page with links to his articles published in First Things:

May the Spirit of knowledge, the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of love guide him as he takes on this challenging work. Pax et bonum...

Homily: Wednesday 2nd Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Heb 7:1-3, 15-17 • Psalm 110 • Mk 3:1-6

“...looking around at them with anger and grieved at their hardness of heart…”
Can you even imagine what it must have been like to see our Lord, Jesus Christ, look on you with anger and grief? Just to see those emotions on His face…How could it not melt the hardness in your heart?
If you and I could only place ourselves in that synagogue in Capernaum and let the power of that moment penetrate us and soften us and turn our hearts, maybe we would come to understand all that Jesus did for us. Because, ultimately, the final outcome of the glance of Jesus Christ is nothing less than healing.
If we would only stretch out our withered hearts, our withered souls, and, yes, even our withered bodies – if we would only do that in the presence of our Lord, He would heal us. He would take our weaknesses and our blindness; He would gladly take them unto Himself so that we can experience the healing He promises.
If I can withstand the grief and anger of Jesus, if I can stay long enough in His presence, then, and only then will I find true healing. This, brothers and sisters, is the very purpose of our prayer. We pray for healing, for renewal of life in God’s grace. This is what it means to be born again, to be completely renewed in Jesus Christ, to experience the joy of His coming again and again…for He comes to us whenever we pray. And He comes to us whenever we receive His Body and Blood. Yes, He and the Father and the Spirit all dwell within us, make their home within us.
We must fear the Lord, but it must be a healthy fear, a fear born of love and reverence before the absoluteness of the Trinity living in Christ, the same Trinity that will dwell within us. For it is then that Jesus looks on us, not with anger and grief, but with love and compassion. Could anything be a greater source of joy?
Not everyone that day in Galilee would experience that joy, the joy of the man who was healed.  “The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.” How sad for the Pharisees that they couldn’t bear to stay and subject themselves to Jesus’ gaze. Had they remained, had they let Jesus melt their hardened hearts, perhaps they too could have experienced that life-changing renewal. But they left.
They actually did more than just leave His presence; they joined together with others who hated the Lord for His goodness. They allied themselves with the supporters of Herod Antipas, people any self-respecting Pharisee would normally despise. They created a hateful alliance that had one mutual goal: the destruction of Christ in His fullness. Of course, Christ’s glory is beyond destruction.
How painful, though. How painful it must be to breathe always an atmosphere of hatred, to inhabit a little world that seeks to destroy goodness, that cannot recognize the very God that you long for. Yes, these Pharisees, like so many today, longed for a God they had created, not the true God, the God who actually came to them. Because if Jesus were really sent by God, then what he was saying was true. And if what he was saying were true, then much of what they believed, and how they lived their lives, would have to change. And this, well, they just couldn’t accept it.
I once read an account of the Fatima apparitions by a seminarian who had witnessed the miracle of the sun. That day he happened to be standing next to an Englishman, a reporter for a London paper, who had stated earlier that he was an agnostic. After the miracle the seminarian turned to him and said, “Wasn’t that amazing? How does it feel to be an ex-agnostic?”
The reporter looked ashen, and said quietly, “No, I can’t possibly believe. I’d have to change everything…absolutely everything, and I can’t possibly do that.” He then turned and walked away shaking his head.
Compare his sadness with the joy of St. Agnes, whose feast we celebrate on Friday. St. Ambrose wrote that this girl, barely out of her teens, "went to the place of execution more cheerfully than others to go their wedding."
Now God isn’t calling all of us to imitate Agnes by becoming martyrs; but He is calling all of us to conversion and repentance. You see, brothers and sisters, we can’t just believe and then do nothing about it. That would make us no better than the Pharisees. It boils down to one thing: We all have a choice. We can take the hardness of our hearts and flee His presence. Or we can believe, and act on our beliefs.

For God always gives us a choice. He always lets us decide whether to stretch out our hand…and be healed.

News You Might Have Missed

Here are a few news items that probably didn't receive prominent coverage in the mainstream media:

California Churches Desecrated. It would seem that there are more than a few people in California who have it in for the Catholic Church. In recent weeks quite a few churches have been desecrated in some of the most despicable ways. Here's a link to the complete article in the California Catholic Daily: Same Hate, Different Church

European Union Omits Christian Holidays. Just in case you thought that the European Union hadn't completely dismissed the role of Christianity in European life, here's a story that will likely change your mind. The EU, in its recently published school calendar, has omitted such Christian holidays as Christmas and Easter, but included both Muslim and Jewish celebrations. You can read about it in detail here: EU Calendar Omits Christian Holidays

Islamic Scholars Suspend Vatican Talks. In a rather bizarre, Alice-in -Wonderland sort of twist, Islamic scholars at Egypt’s Al Azhar University have decided to discontinue their talks with the Vatican, claiming Pope Benedict XVI insulted Egypt and Islam when he asked the Egyptian government to protect its Coptic citizens from terrorism and mob violence. By expressing concern over the dangers Christians face in Egypt, the pope apparently engaged in "unacceptable interference" in the country's internal affairs. How weird is that? Sometimes I think that Islam is its own worst enemy. Instead of condemning those who commit acts of terror on their own soil, these "scholars" attack those who express concern for the victims. By the way, Egypt also recalled its ambassador to the Holy See over the same issue. You can read all about it here: Sunni Scholars

Christian Martyrs and Christian Unity. Swiss theologian and president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, Cardinal Kurt Koch, has stated that today's Christian martyrs, regardless of their denomination, are the "most credible witnesses" for the cause of Christian unity. Writing in the Vatican's newspaper, l’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Koch referred to the "ecumenism of the martyrs" and stated that "We have martyrs in all the in Rome we have St Bartholomew's for all the modern martyrs. I think that what John Paul II said, that between the martyrs we have perfect unity and when we see this unity, we can have new forces to make visible the unity that the Holy Spirit has given us." I find myself agreeing with the cardinal, for in times of persecution the Church always strengthens and differences are much more likely to be overcome. We should all be praying daily for Christian unity. You can read about the cardinal 's comments here: Cardinal Koch on Unity. And you can listen to his comments (in English) here: Interview with Cardinal Koch.

Sargent Shriver, faithful pro-life Catholic. Sargent Shriver was a faithful Catholic, a Democrat, and solidly pro-life, a combination we are unlikely to encounter ever again in someone as prominent as he. I disagreed with him on many issues; he was, after all, a man of the political left. But he was certainly consistent in his beliefs and true to his Catholic faith. Father Raymond de Souza, writing in the Canadian National Post, stated that although Shriver was married to a Kennedy (Eunice), "it was Sarge who lived the life of public service and personal integrity the brothers Kennedy only pretended to. Sarge, who died Tuesday at the age of 95, was the son that the corrupt Kennedy patriarch never deserved to have." Read more here: Married to a Kennedy, but Dedicated to God.

Given the world we live in, I can never understand people who claim to be bored.

Pax et bonum...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Extra-terrestrial Life?

I find it amusing when I read the comments of scientists and mathematicians and others who claim that, given the size of the universe, extra-terrestrial life must exist. This belief is based first on a sense that our sun and its planetary system cannot be unique and that among the countless billions of stars, many must have similar planetary systems that must include earthlike planets with all the necessary ingredients for the evolution of life. For these folks life isn't the result of an act of creation, but rather the result of an evolution within some lifeless primordial soup that happened to form randomly out of the chaos of our planet's own cosmic evolution. They are also convinced of the existence of intelligent extra-terrestrial life. After all, if intelligent life evolved on earth, why not elsewhere as well? Remarkably, we even have scientists, with legitimate PhDs, who call themselves "exobiologists"; that is, their work is devoted to the study of life beyond the planet earth. Of course, to date they have no specimens of such life, not a one, zero. In fact, we have uncovered no hard evidence whatsoever that such life exists at all. And so what they have is a field of study with nothing to study. It must make their work stress-free, if a bit uninteresting.
Lots of galaxies...

I think it also remarkable that these people can hold such strong beliefs about something for which they have absolutely no evidence, and then criticize and mock the Christian for his belief in God, for which quite a bit of evidence exists. Certainly, as Aquinas showed us, we can come to a knowledge of God through reason, although faith is needed to accept the fullness of His revelation.

My own opinion is that we earthlings will never find intelligent extra-terrestrial life. I may be wrong, but one thing no one can deny is that so far I'm absolutely right. This opinion has its source in St. John's words that "God is love." You see, by making us totally unique in His universe, God shows us how great His love really is. "All of this, every molecule of it, every one of those billions of galaxies, everything I have made I made for you and for you alone. And I did it because I love you.  And then I, myself, came to that little jewel of a planet and gave my life for you. Do you see, now, what real love is?"

Apparently, though, the evolutionary pundits have made an impact, at least in the United Kingdom. According to a recent poll of 2,000 British adults, 44% believe that extra-terrestrial life exists. You can read about it here: Nearly Half of British Think Aliens Exist.

Dedication to One's Work

I've always admired people who possess a love for their work and display true dedication even in the face of real adversity. There are, of course, many inherently dangerous professions -- my own days as a naval aviator come to mind here -- in which adversity is encountered frequently. But I don't think I've ever considered the work of a neighborhood barber to be rife with danger. Then someone sent me a link to the video I've included below.

This Alaskan barber, Han Song, obviously takes in stride the dangers that accompany his profession. After the SUV crashes through the front window of his barber shop, he quickly surveys the situation, and then calmly returns to cutting his customer's hair.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The King's Speech

I'm not much of a movie-goer. Diane usually talks me into accompanying her to watch a film that she believes I'll enjoy. And, of course, I usually do. Or when the grandchildren visit, she and I will take them to see the latest animated offering by Disney. Indeed, during their recent Christmas visit we took four of them to see Tangled, an animated version of the old Rapunzel fairy tail. It was really quite well done, a lot of fun for the kids, and we all enjoyed it.

Normally that would have filled my movie quota for the next few months, but last week Diane and I decided to see The King's Speech, the highly acclaimed film about England's King George VI and his very personal battle with a severe speech impediment. When described that way, it doesn't sound like something that would fill the theaters day after day, but it has. There are no exciting chase scenes, no explosions, no zombies or vampires; indeed, not a drop of blood is spilled.

I actually agreed to go because I like Colin Firth who plays the role of the king. As I recall, the first time I saw him in anything was in A&E TV's 1995 production of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, in which he played a perfect Fitzwilliam Darcy alongside Jennifer Ehle's equally wonderful Elizabeth Bennet. (See photo above.) I still watch my DVD version of Pride and Prejudice at least once a year.

Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter in The King's Speech as George and Elizabeth
As for The King's Speech, don't miss it. To my knowledge I have never before recommended a movie on this blog. I'm by no means a film critic and would normally recommend that you pay little attention to anything I say about movies. But this film is different. It is one of those rare films that actually extols such virtues as love of family, honor, duty, perseverance, courage...and it does so in a most beautiful way. By the way, for those of you who wonder about its "R" rating, that was assigned because of a scene in which the king's unorthodox speech therapist encourages him to shout out a string of rather explicit expletives. It's actually a pretty funny scene. For me, though, the film's strength is in its story and its characters. It's simply remarkable how well the script and the superb cast bring the characters to life in a way that I fear has been lost among Hollywood's filmmakers. The British have apparently not forgotten how to take a good story and turn it into a better film. Deservedly, Firth received a Golden Globe award last night for best actor.

I won't say any more about the movie because I would hate to spoil it for anyone who has not yet seen it. Give your self a treat and see it this weekend. I've included the trailer below...

Blessed Pope John Paul II

In the unlikely event that you missed it, here's some wonderful news! Pope Benedict XVI has announced that he will declare Pope John Paul II "Blessed" in Rome on May 1 of this year. Preparations are already underway for the event which will likely draw a few million of the faithful to Rome. This will be the first time a pope will beatify his immediate predecessor. I would love to be there, but Diane and I simply can't afford to make another trip to Rome so soon. That's one thing about traveling to Europe these days: You have to use so many of those pesky (and increasingly worthless) dollars. Perhaps, should we live so long, we will be able to travel there for his eventual canonization. That would be nice.
Pope John Paul II in Jerusalem (2000)

Here's a link to an article on the upcoming beatification: Pope John Paul II.

And I have also included a news video below...

Also, here's a wonderful little video on the highlights of John Paul II's life:

Pray to this saintly man for his intercession.

God's peace...

Anglican Update

There were a couple of news items this week related to the movement of Anglicans into the Catholic Church. As you will recall, back in October 2009 the Vatican, issuing an Apostolic Constitution,  provided the means for Anglicans to be received into full communion with the Catholic Church (See my 2009 post: Anglicans Welcomed). On Saturday three Anglican bishops did just that and were ordained as Catholic priests at Westminster Cathedral. You can read more on this story here: Former Anglican Bishops Ordained.
Former Anglican Bishops, New Catholic Priests: (L to R) John Broadhurst, Keith Newton and Andrew Burnham,
A second related item centers on the problem of Anglican Church property. As an increasing number of Anglican clergy return to Rome, they may well take many of their parishioners with them. This, of course, leads one to ask, "What happens to the church building when no one worships there?" Interestingly, the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, has suggested a solution, stating that “I think the challenge will come in working out shared use of churches, of how we as Anglicans ‘recommend’ people and also of course there will be some parishes without priests.” In other words, the new Catholic congregations may just find themselves worshiping in the same church building in which they worshiped as Anglicans. Read more here: Anglicans Churches Lose Their Vicars.

It's all very interesting...

God's peace.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It didn’t seem important

It didn’t seem important –
not at the time.
Just another poor man
dressed like the bums
who came knocking at the back door
when I was a kid.
You do if you’re old enough,
and didn’t live in a fancy house
with a fence and a gate
to keep the riff-raff out.

It didn’t seem important.
We gave him a meal,
a good hot meal,
with a nice dessert,
and seconds until we ran out.
That seemed like enough.
It really did.
I even brought him coffee –
cream, lots of sugar –
when he came in early,
as he always did.

It didn’t seem important – 
at least not to me.
Handing him the cup
I could smell the booze,
the old stale smell
of cheap booze.
He’d slur a “thankya,”
but missing all those teeth
he was hard to understand,
so I’d just nod and
hurry back to the kitchen.

It didn’t seem important –
until he died.
They found him lying there,
early on a cold morning,
curled up on the hard ground
behind the bushes,
right outside the door,
of the soup kitchen.
It just didn’t seem important
to talk with him
or pray with him

…and so I never did.