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.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

First Communion, Vacation, Grandchildren...

Next week Diane and I head north so we can attend our granddaughter's First Holy Communion at her family's parish in Hyannis on Cape Cod. There's something very special about a First Communion, especially when the children have been well-taught and prepared, and realize the beauty and greatness of the gift they are to receive for the very first time. You can see it in their expectant faces as they process to the altar to receive Jesus. And I know this will be true for our dear Camilla because her mom and dad love the Lord so much and will have reinforced what she has learned in their parish's sacramental preparation program.

It's important to remind these little ones that God, in Jesus Christ, gave us everything He had, including His very life. And so to ensure we remember this remarkable sacrificial act, God gives us this sacrament of Eucharist, this sacrament of thanksgiving. It's as if Jesus said to His apostles: "Remember me and all that I said and did in your presence. Remember my love for all, a love so great that I gave all that I had, even my very life." But the Eucharist isn't just a memory, and we must ensure the children realize this. In the Eucharist Jesus makes Himself present in a totally unique way, a sacramental way; and He is truly, really present, body and blood, soul and divinity. Let the children know that when they are lonely, when they need the comfort of another's presence, another's love, they need only come to Jesus in the Eucharist, and He will come to them as no one else can.

For these children First Holy Communion is the beginning of a new and closer relationship with Jesus, in which God gives us Himself, again and again. Jesus, in His last words to His disciples, told them, "I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:20]. Through the gift of the Eucharist, Jesus keeps that promise.

The children also need to know that through the Eucharist God not only joins us with Himself but also with one another. We all receive that same Lord when we receive Holy Communion, and so we are joined together not only as a parish community but as a universal Church.

Diane and I are both looking forward to sharing this day with our beautiful Camilla. It should be a wonderful day.

Naturally, while we're in Massachusetts we'll make the rounds and spend some time with our other children and grandchildren, and visit some dear friends. We're looking forward to these visits and can hardly wait to see all the little ones. We have eight grandchildren and the eldest is only ten years old, so it's always a joy to see how much they have changed since we last saw them. They grow up to quickly

Travel, of course, should be one of the great pleasures of retirement. Without the constraints of work and other obligations, we can come and go pretty much at will, taking advantage of the good deals and saving at least a few of those scarce and increasingly valueless dollars. I have always enjoyed traveling, and still do. It makes little difference whether we fly or drive, or where we go. I simply enjoy the change of pace and least for a while. There comes a point when you want and need to return to the comfortable surroundings of home, and that point seems to come a bit sooner with each trip. I suppose age has more than a little to do with it. About the only thing I dislike about traveling is the preparation -- going through the items on my list and checking them off one by one. And the worst item on that list is packing, especially for a trip in mid-spring when the weather is so unpredictable. The temptation is to pack two sets of clothes, one for warm and another for cool weather; but that just results in too much luggage. And so I guess we'll fall back on layering that lets us shed a layer or two as the temperature rises.

Well, it's time to start packing. I intend to post something occasionally during our trip, but not as often as usual.

God's peace...

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

John Paul II to be listed in Guinness Book of Records

Pope John Paul II -- a record-setter...

Homily: Wednesday in the Octave of Easter

Reading: Lk 24:13-35

What the two disciples encounter – and what we encounter – on the Road to Emmaus is conversion. It began with a loss of hope and shattered faith, didn’t it? They’re looking no further than themselves and their humanity. Despite all they heard while they were with Jesus, despite all that they saw Him do, despite all His assurances that He would remain with them, despite their conviction that He was the Messiah…despite all these things, when they came face to face with death, what little faith they had evaporated.

“They were downcast…we were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel…”  We were hoping…and where were they headed? Away from Jerusalem – presumably back to the lives they led before they met Jesus.

And so, what’s the first step in their conversion? It’s a step taken, not by them, but by Jesus. In His zeal for souls, Jesus approaches the disciples who have lost hope and the meaning in their lives. For Jesus understands their sorrow; He sees into their hearts and communicates to them some of the life He carries within Himself. It’s the life of grace, and that gift of grace begins to have its effect. And so, moved by grace, in their sorrow, they unknowingly turn to Jesus and listen.

You see, it all begins with Jesus, the Eternal Word of God. And so it shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus turns to the Word of God. He turns to Scripture. Brothers and sisters, all Scripture – the Old Testament and the New Testament -- has only one ultimate purpose, to lead us to Jesus Christ. And, remember, at this point in salvation history, there was no New Testament.

How does Luke put it? “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, He interpreted to them what referred to Him in all the Scriptures.” And the result?

“Were not our hearts burning within us while He spoke to us on the way and opened the Scriptures to us?”

That’s when conversion begins, brothers and sisters – it begins when you hear your story in Scripture. But sadly, far too many Christians stop right there. They read the Bible and believe, but unlike the two disciples, they don’t take the next logical step on their journey of faith.

You see, it’s one thing to believe in Jesus, but it’s something much more drastic to invite Him into your life, into your heart, to invite Him to stay with you, to let Him lead you on that journey. And so, late on that first Easter Sunday, Jesus responds to the disciples’ invitation by celebrating the 2nd Mass. And it’s there, in the Eucharist, that the disciples recognize Him. “…He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

Their faith is deepened by Scripture, but is cemented by the Eucharist.

Do you see now the power of the Eucharist? The power of this gift that Jesus Christ has given His Church, a power beyond all comprehension, a power that brings Jesus into our hearts, into our inner selves, a power that confirms our faith so we can carry Him to others. And now, filled with the joy that only such faith can bring, what do they do? They do the only thing they can do: they go to the Church. Yes, they go to the very heart of the Church; they go to the Apostles and report all that they had witnessed.

“Then the two recounted what had taken place on the way and how He was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.”

And with their conversion, they are called to make Christ present among men. But they do so within the Church, the Church established by Jesus Himself.

What a marvelous story this is. This Lord of ours never forces Himself on us.  He wants us to turn to Him freely, when we begin to grasp the depth of His Love, a Love He has placed in our souls. Like the disciples, we want to hold onto Him.

We want to beg Him, `Stay with us, Lord. Our souls are shrouded in darkness and You alone are the light.  Only You can satisfy this longing that consumes us.' 

And Jesus stays. He stays because He loves you. He loves you so passionately that He will chase after you relentlessly…until the very last moment of your life.

Conversion, then, begins with Jesus on the road.

Our faith is deepened through the Scriptures, by God’s Holy Word. Our eyes are opened by the gift of grace in the sacraments. And our conversion continues to completion only in the Church, where again we encounter Jesus through those same sacraments. That’s what true conversion is: a turning to God, a turning, really a continual re-turning, that turns despair into joy. And that’s why we need the Church, for it’s the Church that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, and following the lead of Jesus interprets Holy Scripture for us. And it’s in and through the Church that we receive the sacraments and the graces that allow us to continue our lifelong conversion.

Yes, conversion, like every good thing, begins and ends with Jesus, the Alpha and the Omega, He who loves beyond all comprehension. And so the way to reconciliation is now open.

May we, trusting in His promise, be reconciled with God and experience the touch of His mercy and goodness and forgiveness.

May we let God love us.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Damaged by Arsonist

One of my favorite churches, the newly consecrated Basilica of Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) in Barcelona, was damaged on April 19 when an apparent lone arsonist started a fire in the basilica's sacristy. The sacristy suffered considerable damage but the fie was otherwise contained. Visiting tourists saw the smoke rising from the crypt level where the sacristy is located and alerted the authorities who immediately evacuated the building of 1,700 visitors. A number of people had to be treated for smoke inhalation. A group of tourists restrained the suspected arsonist until he could be turned over to the police. The suspect, a 65-year-old Barcelona man, still held a lighter in his hand which it seems he used to set fire to vestments stored in the sacristy. Despite the damage, the basilica was reopened to the public that same afternoon.

Diane and I visited Barcelona just a few months ago, and the afternoon we spent at Sagrada Familia was the highlight of our six days in the city. It is a remarkable church, begun by the equally remarkable architect, Antoni Gaudi, in 1882. Still under construction, the basilica was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI while we were in Barcelona. I have included below a few of the many photographs I took during our visit. You can also view a slide-show of some of my Sagrada Familia photos here.

What can motivate someone to inflict such damage on a church? But then what motivates anyone to choose evil over good? There is certainly a lot of that going around these days. Pray for the arsonist, and thank God that the damage was much less than it might have been.

An Easter Vigil Homily

Readings: Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Ps 118; Col 3:1-4; Jn 20:1-9

Statue of Jesus on the main facade of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican
I have a friend who’s a practicing Jew, bordering on the orthodox. He and his family make a conscious effort to follow the precepts of Jewish Law, a not so simple task in today's a-religious society.

Over the years we've had some long discussions that often center on religion. And as you might expect, because we each hold some very strong beliefs, these conversations can become quite animated. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of these exchanges is that, more often than not, we find ourselves is complete agreement. My friend, you see, has tremendous respect for the Catholic Church, which he once called, "one of the few beacons of sanity in an otherwise insane world."

I bring him up tonight because of something he said to me a few years ago. We were discussing how so many of today's evils are really, at their core, the fruits of selfishness. At this point, my friend looked at me and said, "It's more than selfishness. It's really a form of despair, because for so many people, this is it. They see nothing else but this life. They live their lives as if God, eternal life, heaven and hell are mere words. And so they focus all their efforts on the gratification of what they see as their immediate needs and wants.

"In one very limited sense, they are optimists, but only short-term optimists. This is why there is such a sense of urgency to all that they do. They need to 'get theirs' before it's all over. For in the long run they are pessimists.

"But you and I," he said, "Christian and Jew, are just the opposite. Yes, we may look at the world and all its evils, shake our heads, and express a sort of pessimism, but only in the short term. For our faith guarantees our long-term optimism. We know that God, a loving and just God, is in charge of it all, and that He has prepared a place for those who believe in Him and do His will."

Brothers and sisters, what does all this have to do with tonight's celebration, our celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus? Well, just about everything. For today we come face-to-face with the Risen Christ, the very source of our faith and hope – the fuel for that Christian optimism that keeps us going even during the darkest moments of our lives.

When we look again at the Gospel reading from John, we see Mary Magdalene finding the tomb empty and running back to the Apostles to let them know. Why was Mary going to the tomb? Because Jesus had died on the very eve of the Sabbath, prohibiting the anointing of His body immediately after His death. Yes, Mary, along with the other women, returned to the tomb at dawn on Sunday prepared to do their duty to the Master, the One they love.

You see, Mary, like the Apostles and the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, didn’t expect the Resurrection. Jesus, the One in Whom they had placed all their hopes, had not only died, but died the ignominious death of a criminal. In a display of courage sorely lacking among the Apostles, the women had been there, at the very foot of the Cross, joined only by the young John.

The women knew He had died. They had heard Him take His last breath. They had seen the soldier's lance pierce His heart. They had grieved with His Mother as she cradled her Son's lifeless body in her arms. And they had seen that body placed hurriedly in the tomb.

Oh, yes, they knew He had died. And in their overwhelming grief, a grief of emptiness and tinged with an underlying fear, they made their way to the tomb of a dead man. They, like all the disciples, hadn’t understood Jesus when He spoke of His Resurrection. And faced with the finality of death, their faith and their hope had all but disappeared. All that was left was their love. And it is this love for Jesus that carried them along the path to the tomb that first Easter morning.

But when they arrive, they find that the huge stone no longer blocks the entrance. It has been rolled away. The tomb is empty. What has happened? They don't know what to make of it, and their hearts are bursting with a jumble of emotions: confusion, astonishment, fear.

In Mark’s Gospel they also encounter a young man, who appears and tells them not to be amazed. For the One they seek, the One Who was crucified, the One Who had died before their very eyes, is risen. In the shock of sudden revelation, they realize that death has not had the last word, but that the Word has overcome death. With this revelation, faith and hope explode into their hearts. Like St. Paul in tonight's epistle, the meaning of this glorious event becomes crystal clear. They too will be united with Him in the Resurrection. And just as suddenly, all of His teachings, every word He uttered, take on new meaning. Now they know what He meant by the Kingdom of God, for it is in their very midst, catapulted into the here and now by the Resurrection.

Matthew in describing this same event, tells us that the women left the tomb "fearful yet overjoyed." Fear and joy – a rare combination of emotions that I suspect exist only in the presence of God. Oh, yes, they were fearful, for they had just witnessed God's awesome power, and for the first time truly understand Who Jesus is. He is the Messiah. He is the Redeemer. He is the Chosen One. He is the Son of God. It is this same understanding, and all that it brings with it, that makes them so joyful. He is risen! And so too have all of His promises, that suddenly make such perfect sense.

Yes, they are overjoyed. Overjoyed that their trust in Jesus had not been misplaced. Overjoyed that they, like all of us, are the object of God's overwhelming love. Overjoyed because pessimism has turned to optimism, despair has turned to hope – and that tiny kernel of faith, almost lost during the dark hours after the crucifixion, has blossomed into a sure knowledge of redemption.

Perhaps Mary Magdalene understood this best. Later in Mark’s Gospel, we read that Our Risen Lord appeared first to Mary Magdalene. Have you ever wondered why Jesus appeared first to Mary? It really makes perfect sense. Mary – she who had been dead in the slavery of her sin, she who had been sealed in a tomb of her own making – had been given new life through the healing power of God's love and forgiveness. Jesus knew that she, who had experienced this power in her own resurrection from the deadness of sin, would believe.

Who better to break the news – the Good News – to a sinful world. For Mary Magdalene is what every woman and every man is called to be. She is the sinner who became the saint. She is living proof of the power of God's redeeming love. She is the fruit of Christ's Resurrection.

And so today, as we receive the gift of Our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, let’s lift our hearts and minds in thanksgiving and celebrate Christ's victory over death and sin, a victory that resounded throughout the universe. St. John Chrysostom, the great fourth-century preacher, said it best:

Poor death, where is your sting?
Poor hell, where is your triumph?
Christ steps out of the tomb and you are reduced to nothing.
Christ rises and the angels are wild with delight.
Christ rises and the graves are emptied of the dead.
Oh, yes, for He broke from the tomb like a flower, a beautiful fruit: the first fruit of those already gone.
All glory and power be His, through every age…forever and ever.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pope Benedict's Good Friday Reflection

After the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum on Good Friday, Pope Benedict gave the following reflection.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,

This evening, in faith, we have accompanied Jesus as he takes the final steps of his earthly journey, the most painful steps, the steps that lead to Calvary. We have heard the cries of the crowd, the words of condemnation, the insults of the soldiers, the lamentation of the Virgin Mary and of the women. Now we are immersed in the silence of this night, in the silence of the cross, the silence of death. It is a silence pregnant with the burden of pain borne by a man rejected, oppressed, downtrodden, the burden of sin which mars his face, the burden of evil. Tonight we have re-lived, deep within our hearts, the drama of Jesus, weighed down by pain, by evil, by human sin.

What remains now before our eyes? It is a crucified man, a cross raised on Golgotha, a cross which seems a sign of the final defeat of the One who brought light to those immersed in darkness, the One who spoke of the power of forgiveness and of mercy, the One who asked us to believe in God’s infinite love for each human person. Despised and rejected by men, there stands before us “a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, one from whom others hide their faces” (Is 53:3).

But let us look more closely at that man crucified between earth and heaven. Let us contemplate him more intently, and we will realize that the cross is not the banner of the victory of death, sin and evil, but rather the luminous sign of love, of God’s immense love, of something that we could never have asked, imagined or expected: God bent down over us, he lowered himself, even to the darkest corner of our lives, in order to stretch out his hand and draw us to himself, to bring us all the way to himself. The cross speaks to us of the supreme love of God and invites, today, to renew our faith in the power of that love, and to believe that in every situation of our lives, our history and our world, God is able to vanquish death, sin and evil, and to give us new, risen life. In the Son of God’s death on the cross, we find the seed of new hope for life, like the seed which dies within the earth.

This night full of silence, full of hope, echoes God’s call to us as found in the words of Saint Augustine: “Have faith! You will come to me and you will taste the good things of my table, even as I did not disdain to taste the evil things of your table... I have promised you my own life. As a pledge of this, I have given you my death, as if to say: Look! I am inviting you to share in my life. It is a life where no one dies, a life which is truly blessed, which offers an incorruptible food, the food which refreshes and never fails. The goal to which I invite you … is friendship with the Father and the Holy Spirit, it is the eternal supper, it is communion with me … It is a share in my own life (cf. Sermo 231, 5).

Let us gaze on the crucified Jesus, and let us ask in prayer: Enlighten our hearts, Lord, that we may follow you along the way of the cross. Put to death in us the “old man” bound by selfishness, evil and sin. Make us “new men”, men and women of holiness, transformed and enlivened by your love.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Guest Homily: Holy Thursday

My brother deacon, Deacon Joe Mador, who ministers with me in the same parish here in Florida and was also my deacon classmate as we went through diaconate formation in the Diocese of Fall River 15 to 20 years ago, gave the homily at the Mass of the Lord's Supper yesterday. I asked him to email it to me so I could include it here. Deacon Joe's homily follows:

da Vinci's Last Supper
This afternoon we celebrate the memorial of the Lord’s Last Supper.

This was the last time that Jesus would have the opportunity to gather with His apostles before His crucifixion, and He knew it. He had some very important work to do and it had to happen then and there. He had two absolutely essential gifts for His fledgling Church. These gifts, which we call sacraments, were initiated that night.

First, the Sacrifice of the Mass – the Eucharist – was established when Jesus gave us the words of consecration that change ordinary bread and wine into His Body and Blood: “This is my Body which is for you” and “This cup is the New Covenant in my Blood.”

But the Mass and the Eucharist would not be possible without the sacrament of Holy Orders. At that same supper, Jesus gave the apostles and their successors the power to consecrate the bread and wine when He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He was teaching His apostles, who that night became the first bishops, how to celebrate the Sacrifice of the Mass.

Thus the Lord’s Supper that we commemorate today is a most important event in the history of our Church – two vital gifts, Eucharist and Holy Orders –were given to His Church and to us by Jesus. 

But here’s an interesting fact about the Last Supper. The evangelist John, in his Gospel version of that all-important event, the version we heard tonight, chose not to focus on either the institution of the Eucharist or on Holy Orders. No, John was apparently so impressed by what Jesus did to His apostles that, instead, he told us the story about how Jesus washed their feet.

As many of you know, Ann and I spend about half of each year up on Cape Cod in Massachusetts. While we’re up north, Ann and I participate in three-day Catholic retreats at the local prison where I am a part-time Catholic chaplain. These retreats are called “Recs”, which stands for “Residents Encounter Christ.” Some of you may have lived a Cursillo weekend. Well, Recs are much like Cursillos, but slightly modified to meet the needs of the incarcerated men and women. 

Before the celebration of Mass on Sunday of the retreat weekend, we ask for a dozen volunteers for the washing of the feet ceremony. There are usually two deacons on the retreat team and so we move from one resident to the next pouring water on their feet, drying them, and then most surprising of all, we kiss their feet. Even if they’ve seen it before it always takes them aback. These are men and women in jail for all kinds of serious crimes. Many of them think of themselves as garbage, unworthy of the love of others. In fact, some fully believe their own love isn’t worth anything to anybody else, including themselves. The washing of their feet and those of their fellow prisoners opens their eyes to a deeper meaning of the phrase, “Love thy neighbor.”

For us gathered here this afternoon, the washing of the feet is a profoundly important aspect of our celebration of Holy Thursday, when according to John’s Gospel, Jesus washed the feet of His apostles.

Again it’s interesting to note that John the Evangelist thought it was so significant an event that he chose to focus his description of the Last Supper on the washing of the feet rather than on the words of consecration that appear in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. For this reason the readings for Holy Thursday include a selection from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians in which he briefly tells the story of the Last Supper and includes those essential words.

Why was the washing of the feet so important to Jesus and His apostles 2,000 years ago, and why is it so important to us all these years later? It is important because it symbolizes the love of Jesus for His fellow human beings. Remember, although Jesus was full divine, He was also fully human. The washing of the feet symbolizes His love for us in the same way.

Tonight our pastor, Fr. Peter, will take the place of Jesus and some members of our congregation will symbolically take the place of the apostles. To those selected to participate in this ceremony, please be advised that your halos are issued only temporarily. You can’t take them home to show your friends and neighbors, so please keep your humility at the forefront…just kidding…

Our feet are the lowest part of our bodies, the part that most easily gets dirty, especially if we wear sandals or go barefooted. Thus, the washing of someone’s feet demonstrates a great act of humility, a great act of love, a symbol of what it means to love thy neighbor.

This is exactly the lesson Jesus was teaching His apostles. He told them that, after His Resurrection, they must carry on the tradition of love wherever they went. And the same lesson applies to us, especially in these days of economic crisis in our country and in our world.

Whether or not you are involved in the feet-washing ceremony, please realize that what is happening is indeed a reenactment of the very thing Jesus did for His apostles on the night before He was crucified. He considered it important enough to spend part of His precious remaining time to carry it out, and that’s why the Church has continued this Holy Thursday tradition over the centuries.

Its’ a beautiful little ceremony with such profound meaning, and it occurs only once a year. Let it be a reminder that to be a true follower of Christ, we must be humble enough to care for the needs of others, no matter how low we must bend in doing so. And we must carry out those acts with the same love that Jesus showed to His apostles and the unconditional love he has for each of us every day.

If we were invited to the royal wedding in London next week, we’d be sure to get there on time if not early. We would show the utmost respect to the royal family and all the dignitaries. We would follow all the proper protocols and would surely avoid leaving early. How can we do any less in the presence of Almighty God every time we enter this Church? He holds our destiny in the palm of His hand, and His real presence in the Eucharist is the greatest gift that any Father could give His beloved children. He gives us His very essence – His Body and Blood, His soul and divinity.

And we also need to show great respect for our priests. Remember this, without our priests, we’d have no sacraments, and without the sacraments, we’d have no Church, and without our Church, we’d be like abandoned children wandering through life aimlessly.

Each of our priests has been called to ministry by God Himself. It wasn’t by chance; it was divine providence. May God help us to use Holy Thursday this year as a reminder of the importance of the Eucharist – the real presence of Jesus – in our lives. And let us be reminded that without the gift of devoted priests, we would no longer be able to make Jesus a part of us and to make ourselves a part of Him through the Eucharist.

Please, pray for our priests, our bishops, and our holy father, and pray fervently for more good and holy vocations to the priesthood.

God bless you.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Reflection on the Beatitudes

Reading: Mt 5:1-12

Today, as Lent draws to a close and we turn our attention to the passion, death and resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, it's useful to stop for a moment and reflect on the very core of Jesus' teaching. The Beatitudes aren’t just the gateway to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, but in a very real sense form a perfect introduction to Jesus’ teaching.

To understand them properly, we should realize that they’re all addressed to each one of us. In other words, to be poor in spirit and meek, to mourn, to hunger and thirst after righteousness, to be merciful and clean of heart, to be a peacemaker, to suffer persecution in a search for holiness -- these aren’t different people or kinds of people but different demands made on every true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Jesus doesn’t promise salvation to different groups. He promises it to each of us as we strive to follow the spirit and to meet the demands of the Beatitudes. The healthy and the sick, the powerful and the weak, the rich and the poor -- all of us are called, regardless of circumstances, to the happiness experienced by those who live up to the Beatitudes taught by Jesus.

The Beatitudes have what theologians call an eschatological meaning, that is, they promise us definitive salvation not in this world, but in the next. But they also promise peace in this life, God’s peace in the midst of tribulation and suffering. And in doing so, they imply a completely new approach, one radically at odds with the way we usually evaluate things.

They rule out the kind of religiosity expressed by the Pharisees – the kind that regards earthly happiness as a blessing from God and a reward for good behavior, and unhappiness and misfortune as a form of punishment. Instead, the Beatitudes place spiritual good above material or worldly good. While they don’t contain the entire teaching of the Gospel, they do encapsulate the whole program of Christian perfection.

Today as we prepare ourselves to receive God’s pardon for our sinfulness, let’s take a brief look at the Beatitudes and try to understand what Jesus is telling us…

The poor in spirit…This has more to do with an attitude of neediness and of humility towards God than with material poverty. The person who is poor in spirit looks to God, not to himself, for salvation, trusting in God’s mercy. “Unless you become like this little one…”

It’s the attitude of seeing oneself as a child in God’s presence, a child who owns nothing: everything I have comes from God and belongs to God. It’s not easy to become detached from material things or to practice austerity in using them, but this is what Jesus asks of each of us.

Those who mourn… We are blessed, Jesus tells us, when we suffer and bear our suffering with love and a spirit of atonement. We are also blessed when we are genuinely sorry for our sins, or are pained by the offenses of others. The Spirit of God consoles us when we weep for our sins, and gives us a share in the fullness of happiness and glory in Heaven: these are the blessed.

The meek… We are meek when we patiently suffer unjust persecution; when we remain serene, humble and steadfast in adversity; when we don’t give in to resentment or discouragement.  Our irritabilities often stem from a lack of humility and interior peace. The virtue of meekness is the antidote; it’s a necessary part of the Christian life.

Who hunger and thirst for righteousness…The notion of righteousness (or justice) in Holy Scripture is essentially a religious one. We are righteous when we sincerely strive to do God’s Will by obeying the commandments, by fulfilling our responsibilities to God and each other, and by entering into a life of prayer. Righteousness, in the language of the Bible, is what we today would call holiness. And so Jesus is asking us not simply to have a vague desire for holiness; rather, we should hunger and thirst for it. Our lives should be a striving for holiness in God’s eyes.

The path to Christian holiness is through the Church, the universal vehicle of salvation. We should love what the Church teaches and offers: the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, and an intimate relationship with God in prayer.

The merciful…Mercy isn’t just a matter of charitable giving, but also of accepting other people's defects, overlooking them, helping them cope with them and loving them. Mercy means rejoicing and suffering with others. It’s the practical application of the 2nd of the great commandments: love your neighbor as yourself.

The clean of heart… When we speak of a person's heart, we refer not just to his emotions, but to the whole person in his loving dealings with others. To be clean of heart is a gift of God. It’s the capacity to love, in having an upright and pure attitude to everything noble.

As St. Paul instructed the Philippians, "Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is beautiful, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Helped by God's grace, we should constantly strive to cleanse our hearts and acquire this purity, whose reward is the vision of God.

The peacemakers…Those who foster peace, in themselves and in others, and therefore try to be reconciled and to reconcile others with God. Being at peace with God is the cause and effect of every kind of peace.  Any peace on earth not based on this divine peace will be a false peace, shallow and misleading. "They shall be called children of God." As St. John tells us in his first letter, "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are".

The persecuted… Blessed are those who are persecuted because they are holy, or striving to be holy, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus blesses those who suffer persecution for being true to Jesus, those who suffer patiently and joyfully.

Circumstances arise in every Christian's life that call for a sort of heroism – situations where no compromise is possible. We either stay true to Jesus Christ whatever the cost to our reputation, life or possessions, or we deny Him. St. Bernard called it “the beatitude of the martyrs,” but don’t be deceived into thinking it doesn’t apply to each of us. For the word, “martyr”, means “witness.” And we are all called to be witnesses to the truth of Jesus Christ. A refusal to do so is, quite simply, a sign of weak faith, a refusal to trust that God will be with us to support and strengthen us.

Because of Jesus’ promises, you and I can believe that all sacrifice and all suffering has value. Leading the Christian life is never easy, and suffering always tests our faith.  But we know we can always trust in God’s help, and in his mercy and forgiveness.

We can say, "Thy will be done," no matter how difficult the circumstances. For God’s will works in bad times and good. It works in ways far beyond our ability to understand, but we can always trust in it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Homily: Wednesday of Holy Week

Readings Is 50:4-9a; Ps 69; Mt 26:14-25

John Anthony Walker – You might not remember the name, but in 1985 he was arrested by the FBI. His crime? For almost 20 years he spied for the Soviet Union. Walker was a chief warrant office in the US Navy, a communications officer who had access to some of our military’s most classified information. And he gave it all to the Soviets, over a million documents.

I didn’t know him, but a close friend of mine did. In fact, they worked together for two years. When Walker was arrested my friend was flabbergasted. “I didn’t like the man,” he told me later, “but I never imaged he’d betray his country. Almost as bad was the sense of personal betrayal I felt.”

Betrayal really is a horrible thing, isn’t it? It’s so destructive. It hits at the very core of our humanity, where we establish and maintain those essential relationships based on trust and love. For one who’s been betrayed, it can undermine their willingness or ability to trust others.

And yet look how Jesus handled betrayal. Even though He knew Judas’s plans, He invited His betrayer to recline and dine with Him. It’s as if He were trying to prevent Judas’ betrayal by questioning him and forcing him to admit what he planned to do.

Was Jesus hoping that Judas, by openly admitting what he intended to do, would confront it and be repelled by its inherent evil? After all, Jesus certainly did much to win Peter back after his three-time denial. Wouldn’t He have tried to do the same for Judas?

We really don’t know why Judas betrayed Jesus. Was it greed, disillusionment, hatred, impatience? We don’t know. But whatever the reason, it all boiled down to Judas being unable to accept Jesus as He is.

Notice how Judas responded to Jesus. He called Him, “Rabbi,” while the apostles, each in turn, called Jesus, “Lord.” And that’s the difference! Sin is so much easier when we distort and limit our understanding of who Jesus is. Unable to accept the real Jesus, Judas leaves to carry out his betrayal.

This is the Christian’s great temptation: to create a Jesus in our own image. It’s easy to do. Just look in the mirror and say, “Hi, Jesus!” And from then on, whatever I do, or think, or say, well…that’s not me, that’s Jesus talking, that’s God talking. It sure makes things a lot easier when we need only look to ourselves for all the answers.

This, I suspect, was Judas’ sin. He wanted Jesus to change, to be like him. He wanted to use God for his own purposes. But poor Judas got it all backwards -- for it’s not God who must change; it’s we who must let ourselves be changed by Him.

As we enter this holiest time of our liturgical year, let’s make that our prayer, to allow ourselves to be changed by God’s love, by the Good News of His Son’s redemptive act. For when we abandon ourselves to God’s holy will, He will send His Spirit to lead us and guide us, to deliver us from evil, the evil of betrayal that we call sin.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Not Ayn Rand, not again...

Whenever I spot a used bookstore, I just can't pass it by. I have to check it out, if only for a few minutes. Usually it takes all of about 30 seconds to determine whether it's my kind of bookstore. And if it is, I might end up spending hours in the place.

Dr. Norman
About 20 years ago I stopped by a used bookstore in downtown Boston and, while searching for a particular book of essays, came across a thin paperback that had apparently been placed on the wrong shelf. Published in the mid-50s, it was written by a certain Dr. Ernest L. Norman and had the intriguing title, The Truth About Mars. As one who is always interested in learning the truth, even about the planet Mars, I opened the book and began to flip through its pages, stopping occasionally to read a paragraph or two. It took only a moment to conclude that Dr. Norman was completely mad, a wacko of the first order. (Norman was apparently an ordained minister of an occult science church; hence the "Dr." title that precedes his name.) In the book he claimed to have "visited" Mars personally if not physically via a kind of clairvoyant or extra-sensory perceptive contact with Martians. Here, for example, is one of the more telling passages in which he describes his initial contact:
"It has been my consistent habit to spend an hour or so of the late evening time in meditation. During these hours I have made innumerable contacts with those who have passed from this plane of existence. however no serious attempt at interplanetary contact was tried until the second month of the year of 1955. At that time I began to be increasingly aware that something like this was being attempted by the peoples of other planets. One evening, about the first part of May, of this year, while in a deep meditative state, I suddenly perceived a rather strange looking man standing before me. At first I thought him to be Chinese, as his dress and general appearance was somewhat similar to that of a man of ancient China. After introducing himself as Nur El, however, he quickly explained that he was from the planet Mars, and that if I so desired, I could go there with him, to his city (in astral flight) and that he would be my personal guide. He explained that his people were very desirous in view of all the controversy going on, to clear up some of the so-called mysteries of Mars. He further assured me that it was quite obvious that a complete understanding was not possible in one visitation; therefore as the first contact was made, it would be comparatively easy to establish other contacts, as was convenient and necessary. Since this first contact and trip was made, I have returned on several occasions; in fact, Nur El often stood beside me as I wrote, to further clear up, or refresh my memory regarding any details which were not entirely clear."
Don't you just love it? It makes one wonder if Dr. Norman's "deep meditative state" was perhaps given a pharmaceutical assist. What's really remarkable is that some people today remain convinced that this man's fantasies are the absolute truth, that he was a visionary of true genius. (The book can be read online at a number of sites, including the blog, bombshock. You can even listen to the doctor himself on YouTube.)

Despite my feelings regarding the good doctor's sanity, I simply had to have the book, which I purchased for the remarkably low price of one dollar. A year or so ago I gave it to a friend, a physicist and computer scientist who, like me, appreciates the entertainment value of the patently absurd. Today, out of sheer curiosity, I searched for the book on Amazon and discovered that used copies are selling at substantially higher prices (from $15 to $295), which I'm sure would please Dr. Norman were he still with us.

Photo I took of the Apollo 13 Splashdown
Over the years I've met quite a few folks like Dr. Norman. Back in my Navy days I had the good fortune to fly as copilot of the primary recovery helicopter that picked up the Apollo 13 astronauts in the South Pacific when they returned from their ill-fated lunar mission. Since then I've given a presentation on the Apollo 13 recovery to nearly a hundred different audiences. On several occasions I have been challenged by those who actually believe the Apollo missions never happened but were instead cleverly faked studio productions by NASA, designed, I suppose, to provide the masses with a 20th-century version of bread and circuses. Like Ernest Norman, they too are wackos. And let us not forget, there really is a Flat Earth Society.

Ayn Rand
All of this came to mind when I read a report that Ayn Rand's book, Atlas Shrugged, is being made into a three-part movie. You see, I include Ayn Rand in the same category as Dr. Norman, the Apollo-deniers, and the flat-earthers. I consider them all absolutely crazy. Unfortunately, unlike her companions in insanity, Ms. Rand has a rather large following who think she was  the greatest philosophical mind of the last century. You can make up your own mind rather quickly if you simply examine what she liked and what she didn't like.

Ayn Rand liked greed, immorality (an oversimplification since she was really just amoral), selfishness, hedonistic and predatory people, really bad novels of the kind she wrote...and she hated Christianity and morality (as it is presented in the Gospels), altruism of any kind, good literature (she despised Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, etc.), and the common man and woman whom she believed were societal parasites. She viewed kindness as a weakness, and would have despised Mother Teresa and probably thought Machiavelli was overly charitable.

It distresses me when I hear someone label Rand a conservative, or when people who claim to be conservative wax eloquently on Rand and her so-called philosophy of objectivism. To my knowledge, Rand was no believer in "the permanent things." Indeed, the only thing she would have considered permanent is the raw self-interest that epitomized her survival-of-the-fittest approach to human life. Her "conservative" admirers are really just apostles of greed who see in Rand's thinking a means of rationalizing their own selfish motives. How to spot a Randian? Just listen for those telltale words: "I'm strictly a fiscal conservative." Left unsaid is the disdain for all those social issues that make moral demands on one's conscience.

Many of my generation first read Rand's novels during our high school or undergraduate years.  At that age most of us were not only literary and philosophical neophytes, but also overly self-involved, and so Rand's simplistic and self-serving worldview held a certain attraction. And then we grew up and realized how wrong she was. Well, most of us grew up. Others remained in a state of suspended adolescence and stayed true to their insane mentor.

One can only hope that Atlas Shrugged, the film, is highly unsuccessful. I know I won't pay the money to see it.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Homily: Palm Sunday

A long Palm Sunday reading of the Passion, and so a short homily...

Readings: Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Ps 22:8-9, 17-18, 19-20, 23-24; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 26:14-27:66

It's always a little difficult to know what to say after the Passion narrative. Really, what can you say? What we’ve heard is clear, precise, even dramatic in its impact – almost too much to take in at once. And so over this Holy Week we’ll consider and celebrate, part by part, day by day, the Last Supper, the arrest, the death and the burial of Jesus, and his glorious Resurrection from the dead.

But today we encounter the unsettling contrast between our two Gospel readings. Oh, yes, as Christians we welcome Christ. We hold our palm branches, and shout, "Hosanna!" But on whose terms do we welcome Him?

2000 years ago they welcomed someone they thought would be another David, who’d gather an army, and make Israel great again…until they realized that Jesus was not this sort of king. Instead they saw a man who’d be summarily executed like a slave or petty criminal, a man of no consequence. And so the disillusionment, the resentment, the anger set in. Oh, yes, they wanted a savior, their kind of savior.

It's hard to be overly critical, because we would likely do the same thing. We too pick up the palm branches of welcome, but too often want to live our lives on our own terms. And like the people of Jerusalem, we even expect God to meet our terms and conditions.

We’re have no problem demanding that God rearrange the world and its people to conform to our plans, our timetables, our politics, to remove any burdens we may be asked to carry. And if our terms and conditions aren’t met…well, we too can put down the palms and reach for the cross -- not to shoulder it ourselves, but to force it once again on Jesus. Yes, we too want a Savior created in our image.

Jesus didn't suffer and die on the cross for this. He did it out of love, love for each one of us – not a generic but an individual love. Look at the hands of the crucified and glorified Jesus. Do you know what you’ll see? You’ll see your name written on His palms, right next to the nail holes of crucifixion.

As Jesus died on the cross, He pictured your face. Your name was on His lips. He died for you, knowing everything about you. He died because of your sins and consciously for love of you. When we finally come to accept that we are loved individually with a perfect, infinite, and divine love – a crucified love – our lives must change. We must throw our palms and ourselves at Jesus’ feet in worship. Only then, when we finally realize the depth of this love, can we undergo the conversion, the change of heart, that Jesus seeks in each of us.

"Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" Every time we participate in the Eucharist, we repeat these same words. We call Him, and He comes. Jesus comes into His Church under the appearance of a little bread and wine, and so prepares us for his ultimate coming in unequalled glory! Never forget this! Honoring Him as the King of Glory, you and I can let Him rule our hearts and minds, our lives and our homes.

Living in His love, we too must live, suffer, and die for Him who is Love, “so that at Jesus’ name every knee must bend in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, and every tongue proclaim to the glory of God the Father: JESUS CHRIST IS LORD!”


The Archdiocese of New York, the Diocese of Brooklyn, and the Diocese of Rockville Center, have been hosting a video contest to encourage Catholics, especially young Catholics, to go to confession on Reconciliation Day, Monday, April 18. The i-confess contest asked young people to submit their videos online, with the winner receiving a $25,000 scholarship award. Apparently quite a few young folks took advantage of the contest. It sounds like a wonderful way to promote this sacrament that is so neglected at a time when it is so needed. I've included the official video introducing Reconciliation Day below...

If you would like to view some of the submissions -- many of them quite clever -- you can see them here: i-confess video submissions. I've included my favorite below:

When the winner is announced I'll try to remember to post the video here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Reflection: Stations of the Cross - Friday 5th Week of Lent

Usually when praying the Stations of the Cross, I find myself focusing on Jesus and His sufferings. I suspect I’m not alone in this, for as we join Jesus on this journey, this Way of the Cross, our hearts are easily overwhelmed with sorrow that our God should have been treated so abominably.

But along with this deep sorrow also comes joy, the recognition that He did this out of an overwhelming love for us, His creatures, that we are loved so greatly. It’s why we call next Friday, “Good Friday.” After all it was through His passion, death and resurrection that He brought redemption to a sinful world and, with it, the gift of eternal life.

And this odd mixture of sorrow and joy is as it should be. But if our reflection goes no further, if we focus solely on Jesus’ sufferings and our thanksgiving for His act of redemption, then we have missed the true purpose of this devotion. Brothers and sisters, we must take this devotion and our personal reflection to the next level. We must look into ourselves and our response to Jesus’ call.

For the true purpose of the Stations of the Cross mirrors the very purpose of Lent itself: it’s a call to conversion. Indeed, at each station Jesus pleads with us to reform our lives, to turn away from sin, to accept the Gospel. It’s the same call He proclaimed as He began His public ministry: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”
Look at the first station. As He is condemned by Pilate, He looks into my heart and your heart and reminds us of the times we have condemned others. It’s the same look He gave Peter in the high priest’s courtyard after His friend had denied Him, betrayed Him, again and again.

And we hear Him say to us, “Who are you to condemn? Who are you to exalt yourself above another and confine that child of God, that sister or brother of mine, to the category of human debris?” Yes, standing there before Pilate, Jesus tells us, “There’s only one Lawgiver and Judge…and it is I, not you! Leave God’s justice to me, and love one another.” Once again He issues the call: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

Then we watch as Jesus, for love of us, takes up His cross. He looks up at us, bloodied and beaten, and if we listen we hear His words: “…whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.” But you and I, as we strive mightily to avoid any kind of cross in our lives, find ourselves alone, unable to accept the burden.

...the burden of a terminal illness

...or the death of a spouse or a child

...or failure, rejection, loneliness or pain, or the memory of our own past sinfulness.

Again Jesus looks at us, again with love, and says: “I have to do this alone, for that is the Father’s will. But you don’t. You need only ask and I will help carry your burden. Come to me...For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.” And again, we hear the call to conversion: “Repent and believe in the Gospel.”

And then Jesus falls. Indeed, He falls three times…and the world simply watches. No one goes to help Him.

How often are we just the observers? People fall in a thousand ways all around us – and we do nothing. They hunger, they thirst, they become ill, they’re imprisoned, they’re rejected by others, they’re confined at home…and we watch.

And then we fall…and suddenly you and I know the pain, the pain of absence, the pain of being watched but not helped. Don’t they know what I’m suffering? But He knows. He’s been there. 

He looks up at us from under the heavy cross and reaches out a wounded hand, a hand larger than the universe itself, and holds you in His forever-pierced palm. And then He speaks, encouraging us, pleading with us to love one another as He loves us: “…whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

And so it goes. Every station along that Way of the Cross is a call to conversion. At every point Jesus speaks to us, pleads with us, begs us, calls us to conversion, to holiness.

In His Cross we see the ultimate expression of love and the power for overcoming evil. Only God's love and grace can set our hearts and minds free from the tyranny of our own sinfulness. But we must ask for that grace. We must ask for the virtues of mercy and kindness, virtues that spring from a heart full of love and forgiveness. 

As cherished children of our Father, trying hard to imitate Jesus, we need to be like a small child. We need to discover, grow, and ultimately take responsibility for building the Kingdom right here, right where God has placed us.

Lent is almost over, brothers and sisters. Let’s approach these final days filled with joy that we’re the cherished children of our Father. We aren’t in charge of our salvation, nor are we the best judges of how much we’re achieving. So let God be God and just go about the work He’s given us to do, that of being His joyful children. This, I think, is the holiness to which He calls us.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Homily: Wednesday, Fifth Week of Lent

Readings: Dan 3:14-20, 91-92, 95; Dan 3:52-56; John 8:31-42

We’re all going to die someday. It’s just one of those inescapable things: life eventually leads to death. Now, this fact of life doesn’t really bother me. I came to accept it long ago. But I have to admit, there are ways of dying I’d just as soon avoid. And at the top of the list is being burned up. It really doesn’t appeal to me at all.

One day, many years ago, when I was flying those Navy helicopters, I had an electrical fire break out right under my pilot’s seat. This was not a good thing, and while I struggled to fly the helicopter back to the carrier, my copilot and crewman were madly trying to put out the fire. As smoke filled the cockpit and my seat began to heat up, all I could think about were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing in King Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace. And I prayed that God would be as kind to me as He was to them. Apparently He was.
Now, before we dig deeply into today’s readings, I think it’s important first to recognize one thing: that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are really cool names. In fact, it’s names like these that only reinforce my belief in the historical accuracy of Sacred Scripture. Nobody could make up these names. They simply have to be real people.

Not only were these three young men real people, but they were also tough, faith-filled young men. All they had to do was worship a statue, a hunk of metal, and they would live. But instead they refused and chose what seemed to be certain death. They could kneel and live, or refuse and die…and it wasn’t a very nice way of dying.

I especially like the answer they gave the king. They said they hoped God would save them, but even if He didn’t, they still wouldn’t worship a false god. This was something they simply could not do…ever. In other words, “Sorry, King, but you can do nothing to us unless God permits it – for there is only one God, and it’s not your stupid idol.”

Now, just think about that. Is there anything that you believe in that strongly? Is your faith that rock solid?  Do you and I really have the faith of the martyrs – that unbendable faith that leads one to face death joyfully? Would we be willing to climb into that furnace or stand before a firing squad to defend a belief that’s at the very core of our being?

These may sound like simple questions, but they’re not. You see, far too many Christians never ask these questions. And so they never really examine the basis of their faith, why they hold these beliefs.

Blind faith can never see past a simple statement of belief…and because it cannot defend itself, it will likely crumble when questioned. An understanding, reflective faith is the only kind that will hold up under pressure, the only kind that can be freely held.

For our three young men, the issue was clear: they were free to do nothing but uphold the truth, for that is what their faith obliged them to do. They realized that their greatest freedom was in doing God’s will.

Jesus, of course, understood this well. That’s why he could say, “If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The truth not only sets us free, but we are free only in truth.

It’s common for people to think freedom means the right to choose good or evil. But that’s not what Jesus tells us. True freedom is only the freedom to choose what is good – for once we choose evil, we cease being free. Instead we become slaves, slaves to that evil, slaves to sin.

Brothers and sisters, our lives are marked by thousands of everyday decisions and actions, but at crucial moments in our lives we are expected to be heroic. Like the three young men in the furnace, if we want to be truly free, we have no other choice. It’s then, when we act in true freedom, that our true selves emerge most fully, most courageously, most divinely.

Do you believe that? Really believe it? I hope so because it’s the truth. And the truth – the truth of that deep divine life we are all called to share -- will set us free.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Architecture: Old & New

Pantheon - Rome
One of the most remarkable man-made structures I have ever visited is the Pantheon in Rome, once a pagan temple and now both a Catholic church and one of Rome's major tourist attractions. When one considers that the Pantheon was originally built in the first century, rebuilt in the second century, and still stands today as an intact and usable building, one's appreciation of the capabilities of Roman architecture and engineering soars. I realize the pyramids of Egypt are thousands of years older, but they are, in some respects, rather primitive structures built to impress the world (and presumably the gods) by their size. The pyramids are magnificent, but they lack the remarkable blending of art and architecture that results in a beautiful building fit for daily use, a building like the Pantheon.
Pantheon Interior - Rome

I can't imagine many structures being built today lasting more than a few hundred years. Indeed, I suspect the design and construction of most buildings these days include some consideration of planned obsolescence. Today's structures are also completely dependent on their internal systems, the infrastructure that enables them to function as usable buildings. Without its electrical, climate control, plumbing, and communications systems, without its elevators and fire-prevention systems, no modern skyscraper would be even inhabitable.

The Pantheon's dome and oculus
We can be thankful that the ancients didn't think the same way. If they had, ancient structures like the Pantheon would not be standing today. When they built something special they didn't consider such concepts as mean-time-between-failure or maintainability or six-sigma quality standards. But they built these structures to last. The walls of the Pantheon's dome, for example, are 20 feet thick at the base and only five feet thick at the oculus or eye at the top of the dome. The Roman engineers cleverly embedded lighter materials in the upper sections of the dome to reduce weight, and used the multi-row arrangement of waffle-like coffers for the same purpose. Until the 19th century no dome was larger, and the Pantheon's dome still remains the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome.

Interestingly, modern cement and concrete mixtures are much stronger than those used by the Romans, and are also reinforced with rebar steel. I wonder how many structures using these modern materials will still be around in the year 4100.

These odd thoughts were precipitated by an article addressing the latest findings on the construction of the Vatican's Basilica of St. Peter. Using specially designed radar, Vatican researchers discovered that the dome of St. Peter's was constructed using seven iron rings designed to reinforce the dome's travertine stone. And so, what we have is the totally unexpected use of a kind of reinforced concrete during the 16th century. This was apparently quite a surprise since the original construction details had long since been lost.

I'm always surprised by those who think we are so much smarter than those who went before us. Our predecessors might not have had access to our technology, but they certainly made better use of the technology they had. We do indeed stand on the shoulders of giants.

To read more about the engineering investigation of St. Peter's dome, click here.

A Brief Blog-Break

Our son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter are visiting us here in Florida for a week, and so our time is fully occupied. There may be an occasional brief posting, but I don't expect I'll do very much until next week.

In the meantime, I've included a photo of my lovely Diane holding dear Verionica, age 13 months. This is one very happy child and, of course, like all of our grandchildren is both beautiful and smart.

We spent the past two days in the Tampa-Clearwater area, enjoying the sunshine and the fesh seafood. Tonight we sample some of the local barbecue right here in The Villages. Yes, being is good.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Homily: 4th Sunday of Lent

Readings: 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Ps 23; Eph 5:8-14; Jn 9:1-41

Today, smack dab in the middle of Lent, the Church calls us to rejoice…for today is Laetare Sunday. And laetare simply means “rejoice” or “delight yourself.” Father Peter and I should actually be wearing rose-colored vestments on this day, but since we don’t have any, we’re allowed to wear the usual Lenten violet vestments. But, despite our more solemn color, there’s really a lot over which we can rejoice.
Samuel anointing David
For example, in our reading from the First Book of Samuel, we’re shown clearly that God’s ways are not our ways. Now, personally, I think that’s a great reason to rejoice. I mean… really…would you want God to be just like us? Would you want Him to be hateful one minute and loving the next? Would you want Him to judge you based on human law, really a collection of ever-changing, rather arbitrary standards? Would you want Him to make decisions about you and those you love based on information filtered by deep-seated biases and prejudices? Would you want Him to show you no mercy because of your sinfulness, even after you have repented?

After all, that’s what Lent’s all about – repentance and forgiveness and conversion – three more wonderful reasons to be joyful. No, I think it’s altogether appropriate to rejoice that, unlike us, God loves and forgives, that He knows all and sees all, that He is, in a word, perfect. If only we could love as God loves and see as God sees. Perhaps that should be one of our prayers this Lent, that God will permit us to see as He sees.

Seeing is one of those things that most of us take for granted. We don’t really think much about it…until we no longer have it.

Many, many years ago when I was going through Navy flight training, one of the more exciting milestones was the day we made our first carrier landings. Now I made those first landings in old T-28, which was a big, old single-engine prop aircraft that looked like a World War Two fighter. Right after my sixth and final landing, I began the flight back to our land base only about 15 minutes away. That was when my engine decided to have a major oil leak. Black oil covered the windscreen of the canopy so I couldn’t see anything in front of me.

Now that’s not real comforting since it’s always nice when you’re flying to see where you’re going. And so for the next few minutes I flew blind over the Gulf of Mexico, preparing for an instrument approach, and hoping the engine wouldn’t quit completely. Despite my inexperience my guardian angel and I flew the approach and managed to land safely. About 30 seconds later, right after I cleared the runway, the engine seized up completely.

It was a good feeling when I climbed out of that cockpit and could see once again. I was so glad to have returned safely that I’d forgotten all about those successful carrier landings. Suddenly they weren’t all that important. That day, it was all about seeing.

And that’s actually what our passage from John’s Gospel is all about. It’s about seeing.

This encounter related by John has quite a cast of characters. First there’s Jesus, then there’s the beggar, the man who can’t see, the man born blind, along with the disciples. Then the man’s neighbors are introduced, followed by the Pharisees and finally the man’s parents. It’s quite cast for such a short story.

At first it seemed that all of these people could see, except for the blind beggar. But by the time John finishes telling us about this encounter with Jesus, the beggar can see clearly but most of the others have been blinded by their own lack of faith.

It’s actually a rather strange story. Here’s a man who has suffered mightily his entire life. Being severely disabled in those days was like a life sentence. You were doomed to be a beggar. And yet he’s not the object of much compassion, is he? He’s just been cured of his lifelong blindness, and Instead of being allowed to rejoice, he’s forced to defend himself. Neither his friends and neighbors nor his parents seem very interested in coming to his defense as he’s verbally attacked by the Pharisees.

You’d think everyone would want to share his joy at having been cured. But, no, they actually distance themselves from him, concerned less with him and more with their reputations. Yes, it’s certainly an odd story. There’s a miraculous cure, but there’s no celebration.

There’s something else a little different about this story. Instead of listening to Jesus preach, we find ourselves listening to the beggar. Yes, we’re introduced to this remarkable man of faith, a blind beggar who is given the gift of seeing as God sees. This man, this beggar, ignored by those who walk by him every day, is in a very real sense re-created.

Did you notice how Jesus effects the cure? As the Father did in Genesis, Jesus uses the dust of the earth, adds His own spittle to make clay, and with this creates a new man. Yes, Jesus has come to do the work of the Father, continuing the ongoing work of creation. “I am the Light of the world,” Jesus reminds the disciples right before He gives sight and light to the blind man.

And for this one man, it’s as if Jesus, the creative Word of God, had repeated the words of creation itself: “Let there be light!” Just imagine how that light crashed into the very being of this man who had lived so long in darkness.

As he comes to understand more fully what has happened to him, he also comes to understand who Jesus really is. We watch, as he moves, one step at a time, through a process of conversion. At first he recognizes the Lord simply as “that man they call Jesus.” Later, when first questioned by the Pharisees, he calls Jesus a prophet. And then, when called before the Pharisees to be questioned a second time, he declares openly that Jesus is a man from God. Finally, filled with the Holy Spirit, face to face with his healer, he calls Jesus, “Lord,” and bows down and worships Him.

You see, it’s through this process of conversion that the man was also cured of his spiritual blindness. As he moves toward true discipleship his faith deepens and he becomes more confident. You can hear his confidence in the words he uses to respond to the Pharisees.

Jesus sent the blind man to wash in the waters of Siloam, a name that actually means “Sent.”  And so, with his re-creation, the man becomes a disciple. Like Jesus he too is sent, sent into the world to do the Father’s work…just as we are, brothers and sisters. We have been washed in the waters of baptism. Our eyes have been opened, and we too are sent.

But all too often, like the blind man’s parents and friends, we are blinded, if only temporarily, by fear. Too often we’re afraid, or even ashamed, to profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior…to proclaim Jesus as the very Light of the world. But still, the Lord comes to us, touches us, heals us, and does so again and again, over and over, never tiring of extending His forgiveness, always calling us to conversion.

This is the same message we hear from Paul in today’s second reading. Paul calls us to be children of God, “children of light,” he says, bringing “every kind of goodness” into the world.

Today, as we continue our Lenten pilgrimage, what kind of goodness have we produced? Have we deepened our prayer life? Have we come to the Lord seeking forgiveness in the sacrament of reconciliation? Have we spent some prayerful time in God’s presence in the Eucharist? Have we spent some time each day with the Gospels, reading and living the Word of God?

Have we let God teach us to love as He loves, to forgive as He forgives? By loving, forgiving and caring for those in need, by living lives of faith, hope and love, we make God’s kingdom visible and real here on earth. It’s through our lives as faith-filled Christians that we proclaim to all the Good News of salvation through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. We are sent, brothers and sisters, sent into the world to bring peace, reconciliation, justice and God’s love.

May God continue the good work He has already started in all of us, and may we continue to live as the children of light He created us to be. May He cure us of our blindness, so that like the beggar in the Gospel, we too can proclaim, “I do believe, Lord.” And in all of this may we rejoice today that God has given us this wonderful gift of life itself.

In our creation we are truly blessed with life; through our re-creation God offers us eternal life.