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.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas 2011

Over the past week or so I've come across several news stories, most related to Christmas, that I decided might be of interest to those who read this blog. I found these stories intriguing because they span the globe and don't really form a cohesive whole or obvious pattern. The events described depict our world in all its often contradictory strangeness, and show us how ill-advised it can be to draw general conclusions from single events. I'll refrain from making too many editorial comments and will let the stories speak or themselves, letting you draw your own conclusions.

Indonesia. Members of a number of Muslim groups attended Christmas Masses in Catholic churches and services in Protestant churches in an effort to discourage attacks by Islamic terrorists who have targeted these churches in the past. 1,500 members of one of these groups, the Muslim United Organization, actually patrolled Christian churches to protect them from attack. The result for Indonesian Christians was one of the most peaceful Christmas seasons in recent years. To read more: Muslim commitment ensures peaceful Christmas

Bethlehem and Gaza. This is the story of two Christmases, one in Bethlehem, a city in Israel governed by the secular Fatah of the Palestinian National Authority, and the other in Gaza, ruled by Hamas. This Christmas in Bethlehem, over 100,000 Christians from across the globe celebrated Christmas, worshiping the newborn Jesus in Manger Square. For Fatah Christmas is a real money-maker, and they also must accept that large numbers of Arab Christians still live in Bethlehem. But in Gaza, where all is controlled by the Hamas Islamist terrorists, there were no Christmas celebrations by the Christians living there. They know better. Any public display of their Christian faith can have dire consequences. Even the UK's leftist, pro-Palestinian Guardian found the plight of Gaza Christians worth addressing: Hamas cancels Christmas. To read more on the difference between these two celebrations: Bethlehem and Gaza

USA and Canada. From Toronto to Florida it's apparently become an "in thing" to steal the Baby Jesus from nativity scenes. The thieves seem to be interested only in the Baby Jesus and generally do not take the other statues in the nativity scenes. Although I have my suspicions, I won't hazard any guesses as to the motives behind these odd thefts and will let you decide for yourselves. Read more here: Baby Jesus thefts

Nigeria.  For the second straight year, Islamist terrorist have attacked Catholic churches in Nigeria at Christmas. This year 39 people were killed in the attacks; last year 32 were killed. And each year dozens more have been seriously injured. The group responsible for the attacks, Boko Haram, has as its goal the institution of Sharia Law throughout Nigeria. According to their spokesman, "There will never be peace until our demands are met. We want all our brothers who have been incarcerated to be released; we want full implementation of the Sharia system and we want democracy and the constitution to be suspended." I suspect such a group is not likely to engage in meaningful negotiation. To read more: Church attacks in Nigeria

Boston. The famed MBTA, Boston's subway authority, donned a Scrooge suit on Christmas night instead of the traditional "gay apparel", and reprimanded one of their dispatchers for programming the lyrics to "Deck the Halls" on the Park Street LED sign that normally displays only the date and time. Apparently the authority's authorities considered any display of Christmas spirit in the bleak underground world of the MBTA to be undesirable. Passengers, however, seem to disagree. Speaking of the cheery sign, one rider, Miriam Monlisa Gharavi, stated, “'s probably one of the best things they’ve ever done. I can’t remember the last time the T made somebody smile.” To read more: MBTA Scrooges dispatcher

Vatican City. Pope Benedict XVI, in his final general audience of 2011, urged the faithful to focus on the truth and reality of Christmas and not so much on the often distracting externals. In his words, "Christmas greetings, which are exchanged in these days, must not lose their religious significance in today's society and the celebration must not be absorbed by external aspects that touch the heartstrings. Certainly, the external symbols are beautiful and important, provided they do not distract us, but rather help us to experience Christmas in its truest sense, which is sacred and Christian, so that our joy is not superficial but profound." The pope added, "Today - every day - we are invited to discover the presence of God's saving love in our midst. In the birth of Jesus, God comes to us and asks us to receive him, so that he can be born in our lives and transform them, and our world, by the power of his love. The Christmas liturgy also invites us to contemplate Christ's birth against the backdrop of his paschal mystery. Christmas points beyond itself, to the redemption won for us on the Cross and the glory of the Resurrection. May this Christmas fill you with joy in the knowledge that God has drawn near to us and is with us at every moment of our lives." To read his entire address: Papal Audience

Bangladesh. An interesting effort undertaken by a Buddhist has resulted in the construction of a hostel for that welcomes orphaned, abandoned and disabled tribal children, Buddhist and Christian, with the aim of educating them so they will have a significant impact on the future of the nation. Joined by several of his colleagues, the founder, Mong Yeo Marma, who spent much of his own childhood in an orphanage, has already built a Christian chapel and a Buddhist temple on the grounds of Hill Child Home. According to Mong Yeo, "This sense of frustration is something you carry inside you from when you are small. This is why this hostel is so important. It provides opportunities for these kids to grow up in an environment where they feel welcome and accepted for who they are, where they can explore, discover and develop their talents, to learn respect for and the value of women. Even the tribal children are the future of this country and education plays a fundamental role. Only when the entire population is educated, can there be a real development of the state. Education is the cornerstone of a nation." To read more: Bangladesh hostel

Yes, it's a strange, unpredictable world. Thank God for God, and the power of His love.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homily: Feast of Holy Innocents (Dec 28)

Readings: 1 Jn 1:5-2:2; Ps 124; Mt 2:13-18

More than any other day in the liturgical year, Christmas is a celebration of life. It’s the day we celebrate the remarkable gift of the Father – the gift in which He gives us His Son, Jesus Christ, by having Him share in our human life, by becoming one of us. On this day God sends Himself into the world. The Word is made flesh and dwells among us. He becomes Emmanuel – God with us. Yes, Christmas is a wonderful manifestation of God’s love for us. It shows how greatly He cherishes His gift of life.

Herod orders the slaughter of Innocents - Altamura Cathedral, Puglia, Italy
But in today’s Gospel reading we witness how man so often rejects this gift. Herod, so afraid of losing his earthly power, a power that cannot last, turns that fear into hate, and that hate into the destruction of innocent life. Like many of today’s political leaders, Herod foolishly believes he can defeat the will of God. Driven by fear and hatred, he becomes a mass murderer of the most innocent among his people.

Today we are faced with something very similar, but really something far worse. Since 1973 over 50 million of our nation’s most innocent have been slaughtered by abortion. And that’s just a small percentage of the global total. It’s time to stop this child-killing and put the Life back into Christmas.

And I’m convinced this won’t come about through politics. No, it will happen only when we as God’s People undergo a change of heart, when we all begin to lead the Christian life the Gospel calls us to lead.

Catherine Doherty, Servant of God and founder of Madonna House, phrased it best when she titled her book, The Gospel Without Compromise.

We can start by following St. Joseph and obeying God’s commandments – quite simply, doing what He tells us, even if He tells us to get up in the middle of the night and go to Egypt.

We are called also to love, and that means loving even the Herods of today’s world. Love them into God's kingdom by calling them to repentance, forgiving them, praying and suffering for them, and sharing the love of Jesus with them.

We, too, are called to repentance, to ask God to heal our apathy, our lack of faith. As John told us in our reading today, "If we acknowledge our sins, He Who is just can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrong" [1 Jn 1:9]. When we are right with God and His Church, when we repent and accept God's forgiveness, all things are possible.

You see, brothers and sisters, you and I aren’t battling people. No our real battle is with Satan. By prayer and fasting we can drive out the demons of abortion and hatred. 

And finally we can fix our eyes always on Jesus Christ. It is He who welcomes those innocents into the Kingdom, and it is He who can forgive those who took their precious lives. Only Jesus Christ, and the grace He showers on us through His holy Church, can save us from our sinfulness and from eternal death. Only Jesus Christ can give us the gift of life, eternal life…for He is the Lord of Life.

We must never forget that.

Late Night Questions

As I have aged, my sleeping habits have become less...well, habitual. Some nights I find myself waking at odd hours, unable to get back to sleep. I usually get up, tiptoe out of the bedroom, plop down in my nice comfortable easy chair, and read until I once again get sleepy. Tonight, however, my mind turned from the book I was reading and began asking itself a series of presumably rhetorical questions. And so I reached for the iPad and began to tap them into its memory, which is far more reliable than my own memory.

One would think that the true welfare of children is not a very high priority among pro-abortion politicians. Abortion, after all, has an obvious, fatal impact on the unborn child. Why, then, do so many pro-abortion politicians inevitably claim that the economic and social programs and policies they champion are all done "for the children"?

Why do so many seemingly intelligent people turn to socialism when it has been an abject failure whenever and wherever it has been tried? And why do an even greater number of people assume that the government will be the best provider of needed services when all evidence tells us otherwise?

In both business and engineering, I found that problems inevitably recurred unless their root causes were addressed and eliminated. Most people would agree that illegal immigrants don't flock to this country because life is better where they came from. Why, then, is all the attention focused on this side of the border when the root causes of the problem are the corrupt governments, dysfunctional economies, and oppression on the other side?

Christmas Day, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, was declared a national holiday over 140 years ago by both houses of congress and the president. The Supreme Court has not ruled this declaration unconstitutional. Why, then, do so many governmental entities, at all levels, attempt to prohibit employees and citizens from using the word "Christmas" in any public venue?

The First Amendment to our Constitution begins with the words, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." Why have the courts expanded the "establishment clause" to include almost any mention of religion, while at the same time they have completely disregarded the second clause about prohibiting the free exercise of religion?

As dear Diane and I trimmed our tree and decorated our home in preparation for Christmas, I couldn't help but notice that almost every item -- ornaments, the large creche set, and most of the other decorations -- were made in China, a communist country with an official policy of atheism. What do the Chinese workers think when they design and make a ceramic Madonna or a Baby Jesus, or a rosary or crucifix? Does it cause them to question why so many people buy such things? I suspect so. Human beings are, after all, naturally religious and atheism is a rather modern aberration. I've, therefore, decided to pray for the conversion of all these workers, that the Holy Spirit will use these objects, these as yet unblessed sacramentals, to enlighten all those involved in their manufacture and lead them to the Way, the Truth and the Life.
At this point I've tired myself out once to bed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Holy Innocents

Tomorrow, December 28, is the Feast of the Holy Innocents, those children of Bethlehem who were murdered by Herod in his bizarre attempt to thwart God's plan. Matthew briefly describes the event in his Gospel:
When Herod realized that he had been deceived by the magi, he became furious. He ordered the massacre of all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had ascertained from the magi.

Then was fulfilled what had been said through Jeremiah the prophet: "A voice was heard in Ramah, sobbing and loud lamentation: Rachel weeping for her children, and she would not be consoled, since they were no more." [Mt 2:16-18]
Slaughter of the Innocents - Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Matthew relates this horror in just three short verses. How many children were killed? Just a few? Less than a hundred? Several hundred? We don't know. Matthew provides no details, and we can be sure that Herod wanted no records kept of this horrendous act. Today, of course, we keep detailed, accurate records of our killing. Since 1973 our nation has allowed the slaughter of over 50 million of our most innocent, our unborn infants. You don't have to believe me. The federal government proudly publishes the abortion statistics every year. 

Herod's killing of the innocents was met with "sobbing and loud lamentation." Today's killings of innocents are met with a collective shrug. As one woman told me after a Mass in which I had preached a pro-life homily, "You and the Church are wrong. I think the girls should have a choice." 

I didn't mind her calling me wrong. Lord knows I've been wrong time and time again. But not the Church, not when it comes to matters of faith and morals, and not about something the Church has taught consistently for 2,000 years. Her words are simply symptoms of the disease that has infected so many of our citizens. It is a most diabolical form of political correctness, a willingness to be completely absorbed by today's culture of death and to condemn those who champion life. It stems from one thing: an especially insidious form of selfishness that declares openly and without embarrassment, "I am the measure of all things." For unless I believe this, how else can I deny God's will in favor of my own?

A few months ago, during a conversation with a friend, who happens to be a Protestant minister, he mentioned a woman who had applied for an administrative position in his church: "She made a point of telling me she was strongly pro-life. Well, as you can imagine, that eliminated her from consideration." I know I should have responded more strongly, and used the incident as a teaching moment, but I was too flabbergasted that he had said this to me. So I just said, "As you know, I'm a deacon in the Catholic Church. And so I, too, am strongly pro-life. Send her to us."

Radical political correctness has also apparently commandeered our State Department. We hear little from our government regarding the growing persecution of Christians throughout the world. Communist governments, steeped as they are in radical atheism, have always persecuted Christians and will continue to do so. Persecution and oppression are the rule for Christians living in North Korea, China and Vietnam. But how often do we hear anything about this from either the mainstream media or the federal government? After all, China and Vietnam are trading partners, and North Korea? Well, we don't want to upset our diplomatic efforts to bring them into the fold of civilized nations. And so the barbarity continues.

And when it comes to the rapidly growing persecution of Christians in Islamic countries, we encounter a special form of political correctness that seems to say: Islam is good, Christianity and Judaism are bad. Well, pardon me! But I'm a Catholic Christian and I simply won't accept that.

This form of PC wants us to believe that the vast majority of Muslims disagree with the Islamist jihadist terrorists, aka Al-Quaida, Hamas, Salafists, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, et al. "Don't worry," we're told, "Islam will ultimately reject this aberrant behavior by a few extremists." And yet, as a result of the much praised "Arab Spring," a significant majority of the voters in Tunisia and Egypt voted for these "few extremists" who, among other things, intend to impose sharia law on their nations. It would seem the extremists have now become mainstream. When the governments of other nations with Muslim majorities are overthrown -- Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria... -- we can expect much of the same. Christians in these nations will have few options. They will either leave their homelands or they will suffer increased persecution.

Yes, today's innocents will continue to suffer, right here at home and throughout the world. Pray for them and for their oppressors.

St. John the Evangelist

Today, December 27, is the feast of St. John the Apostle. Here's a link to a wonderful essay on the legacy of St. John by Fr. James Schall, S. J., a Jesuit who teaches at Georgetown University and who, unknowingly, has been educating me through his writings for years:  “That Your Joy May Be Full”

Homily: Christmas Day

Readings: Is 52:7-10; Ps 98; Heb 1:1-6; Jn 1:1-18

I can’t speak for you, but I find it hard to ignore the commercial side of Christmas, that part of Christmas our secular and materialistic culture wants us to focus on. Wrapped up in all the shopping and decorating and diners and parties, it's easy to forget why the Magi carried those original Christmas gifts to a newborn baby lying in a manger. Believe it or not, the true message of Christmas is not an order confirmation email from

No, the true message of Christmas is the message we just heard, the message revealed to us in John’s Gospel: The creative Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us as the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. It’s the Archangel Gabriel’s message to Mary, when he said, "You shall name him Jesus and he shall be called Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us" and he “will be called holy, the Son of God.” It’s the message of a passionate God, the message of a God whose love for us is overpowering.

This is what we celebrate today: God’s fierce zeal for us, His commitment not to abandon us; for God is unwilling to leave us in the darkness of our own sinfulness, our own personal tyrannies. What we have in Christmas is a terrible desire on God's part to "be with us," to be part of the human condition: God with us in our entirety.

The Christmas message is that God simply won’t let us alone. God, the most passionate of Lovers, wants to be Emmanuel. And it’s this remarkable action on God’s part, this Divine decision to become one of us, that so many people find so troubling, so hard to accept.

Some years ago, in a diocesan newspaper up north, I read a story – I believe it was called a “Christmas Parable” – about a man who had come to the Church all the way from disbelief. I can’t recall all the details, but I’ll share what I recall.

The man was a good guy, a compassionate and caring husband and father, well liked by those who knew him. He just didn’t believe. His disbelief was simple. Deep inside, he couldn’t understand how this God of the Christians, this Creator of all that is, could allow Himself to become a baby in a stable in Bethlehem. What was the point of it all? Why would this all-powerful God become one of us? Why would this Creator of all that is do something so demeaning, so nonsensical? Christmas, the Incarnation, none of it made any sense to him. It all seemed pretty foolish.

One wintry Sunday, a few days before Christmas, he’d just returned home from taking his wife and children to church. He’d pick them up later when Mass was over. He sat at the front window of their home, enjoying the view of his property – several acres of rural countryside, snow capped trees, an ice-covered pond, the old barn he’d recently restored.

That’s when he noticed a small flock of birds flying in circles around his barn. They’d scatter, then land near the pond, and then a moment later take off again, only to circle the barn once more. They kept repeating this odd behavior as if they were looking for a safe place to hide from the wind and snow and freezing temperatures.

Eventually he threw on his coat, ran to the barn, flung open the big doors and tried to coax the birds into the barn. He waved his arms, ran back and forth between them and the barn…he tried everything, but the birds simply didn’t understand. He could almost see the wind and cold pressing down on them. “Stupid, damn birds,” he muttered to himself. “They’re afraid of me. If only I were a bird, they’d understand, and I could lead them to safety.”

And that’s when God’s grace entered his heart; for it was then that he suddenly understood why God had to become man. It was then he understood the love of the Father, Who sent His only Son to be one of us – a Son Who would guide us to the warm safety of His Father’s Heavenly Home. God became man to turn to us a human face, to speak words of comfort and reconciliation, words that we can understand. It’s this gentle birth we celebrate today, this gentle birth that heralds out salvation.

A few weeks ago at the soup kitchen, I sat down next to a mother holding her little baby girl in her lap. The baby’s name was Heather. As I sat down, Heather saw my smile and reached out her little arms to me. Naturally I picked her up and she just snuggled right up against me and buried her little head into my chest and her arms clasped over my shoulders.

My first thought was that, “Here’s a little baby that needed some hugging.” And then I realized how wrong I was. Heather had been perfectly happy being held by her mom, with whom I could never hope to compete. No she didn’t need my hugs. But she knew that I sure needed hers.

You see, brothers and sisters, in a very real way, little Heather is the meaning of Christmas. God with us. God with Heather. For that brief moment Heather is God’s love. Heather is Christmas. Heather is God's arms, God’s zeal, God’s passion for each of us.

God loves us despite our foolishness. He loves us with our broken lives, our selfishness, our tattered relationships, our foolish sins. God is two tiny arms determined to break into our lives.  God is a fierce little baby who makes no distinctions but embraces the least likely along with most likely.

This is what the feast of Christmas is about -- an enormously unrelenting love feast. Not a soft sentimental love, but a love as searing as any passionate romance. Christmas is God's fulfilled desire to be with us. This is what and why we celebrate.

For if God is not Emmanuel, if God is not with us, if God has not embraced our tattered lives, then woe to us. If God isn’t with us, there’s no hope, no light, only darkness and despair. And if that’s the case, we’re here tonight out of fruitless hope, or habit, or empty sentimentality.

But if we’re here out of love, if we’re here like ragtag shepherds to kneel and rejoice and let God take us in His arms, then we’ve caught the meaning of Christmas: Emmanuel, the passionate God, has had his way and has hugged us fiercely.

Brothers and sisters, when the wintry blasts of sin, suffering and death scatter our souls far and wide like those birds outside that barn, that’s when we need God the most. And that’s when Jesus comes to us to guide us to His Father’s loving arms.

There’s really nothing more to say this Christmas morning…except to wish each and every one of you, and all your loved ones near and far, a blessed and peaceful Christmas

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homily: Wednesday, December 21

Readings: Zeph 3:14-18a; Ps 33; Lk 1:39-45

Is everyone joyful? I don’t know; there are some grumpy looking faces out there.

Now, I don’t expect you to leap for joy as John the Baptist did in his mother’s womb. But maybe a joyful smile…That’s better.

Because in case you didn’t notice, they’re almost over. No, I’m not talking about the political commercials; we’ve got another 10 months of those to suffer through. And you know they’re only going to get worse. And neither am I talking about the remaining shopping days before Christmas.

I’m talking about the days of Advent. They’re almost over. And as we approach the day of Christ’s coming, Christmas Day, we should be increasingly joyful.

Did you notice how everyone in today’s Gospel passage from Luke is just bursting with joy? Tiny John the Baptist, still in his mother’s womb, leaps for joy.

And Elizabeth is so filled with joy and the Holy Spirit that she cries joyfully, greeting the mother of her Lord. She didn’t just say, “Oh, hi, Mary.” No, she cried out to the rooftops so that all the neighbors would hear her, and not only the neighbors but the hosts of heaven as well.

And Mary herself, as she will exclaim moments later in her Magnificat [Lk 1:46-55], “my soul rejoices in God my Savior.” Yes, this Visitation by Mary, and by Jesus, is one of those “rosary moments” as my mother used to call them. Actually, it’s a very special rosary moment, because it is not only one of the joyful mysteries, the Visitation, but it’s the source of the words of the prayer that’s prayed more than any other.

Earlier in this same 1st chapter of Luke, the archangel Gabriel gives us the opening words of that prayer: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” And then Elizabeth, as if completing the archangel’s thoughts, adds, “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

Yes, Mary, this woman-child, still in her teens, is blessed. Elizabeth knows it. The unborn infant, John, knows it. And Mary, too, knows it, for she praises God saying: “From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.”

Yes, today we are surrounded by and immersed in joy and blessing not only in Scripture, the Liturgy of the Word, but in the Liturgy of the Eucharist, where Christ comes to us, in communion, becoming one with us. This Eucharistic coming is just like His first coming 2,000 years ago and just like His coming on the last day. For He is here – Emmanuel – God with us. As the prophet Zephaniah said in our Old Testament reading, "The LORD, your God, is in your midst, a mighty savior..." [Zeph 3:17] Can there be a better reason for joy?

Not only is Mary blessed, but we too are blessed; for the Father has given us the same gift He gave Mary: the gift of a Savior who opened the gates of heaven for us. Through the Eucharist, He lets us take that gift within us, making us, like Mary, God-bearers.

And so, today, in these last few days before the actual Christmas season begins, take time to pray, fast a bit, repent at the sacrament of reconciliation, read the Bible. Take time just to be joyfully still in God’s presence. Make these last days of Advent special days. Make them days of preparation, days to prepare ourselves to receive and acknowledge the Father’s wondrous gift of salvation.

Let’s do as Jesus instructed and, like that other Mary, choose the better part and not be so busy about the details of hospitality that we neglect to sit at Jesus' feet and listen to His words. [See Lk 10:38-42]

And let’s pray that the Holy Spirit inspire us and fill us with joy and the boldness we need to proclaim the message of the Lord's visitation and redemption to all we encounter this day.

St. Peter reminded the first Christians, that we all possess God’s prophetic message. We should, Peter said, keep our attention fixed on it, “as you would on a lamp shining in a dark place until the first streaks of dawn appear and the morning star rises in your hearts." [2 Pet 1:19]

Come, Lord Jesus!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Václav Havel, R.I.P.

Today the world lost one of the great men of our time. Václav Havel was many things. He was a noted poet and playwright, a courageous dissident who spent many years in communist jails, the leader of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that freed Czechoslovakia from the tyranny of communist totalitarianism, the president of Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992, and the president of the newly formed Czech Republic from 1993 to 2003.

But more than all these things, he was a kind of prophet, a secular prophet if you will, but a prophet nonetheless. He was one who always spoke his mind and strove always to speak the truth.

Vaclav Havel -- Reuters Photo

"Genuine politics -- even politics worthy of the name -- the only politics I am willing to devote myself to -- is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral because it is a responsibility expressed through action, to and for the whole." - Václav Havel

Twenty years ago, when he was invited to address the United States Congress, he told the assembled politicians that “the salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart.” He went on to instruct his audience that "we still don't know how to put morality ahead of politics, science and economics. We are still incapable of understanding that the only genuine backbone of all our actions, if they are to be moral, is responsibility -- responsibility to something higher than my family, my country, my company, my success – responsibility to the order of being where all our actions are indelibly recorded and where and only where they will be properly judged."

And then, reminding our American political leadership of those great ones who came before them, Havel said, "When Thomas Jefferson wrote that 'governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,' it was a simple and important act of the human spirit. What gave meaning to that act, however, was the fact that the author backed it up with his life. It was not just his words; it was his deeds as well."

Wow! These are words our politicians don't hear very often. Of course, as we can see by their actions over the succeeding two decades, most of them ignored what Havel told them and rejected the challenge that he, in his own country, had so willingly accepted. He accepted the responsibility thrust on him to move his nation to freedom, while too many of our political leaders accept no responsibility at all with the result that we are moving in the opposite direction.

Here's some additional information on Václav Havel worthy of your attention:

Havel's address to the U. S. Congress (2/21/1990)

Living Responsibly: Václav Havel's View (in Religion and Liberty, 9/1998)

Václav Havel, the official website

Ironically, as I was writing these words, I received a news alert that Kim Jong Il, North Korea's totalitarian, murderous "leader", has died. And so today the world lost two men: one who sacrificed his own freedom and placed his life on the line to ensure the freedom of his countrymen; and another who sacrificed the freedom and lives of his countrymen to satisfy his own selfish ends. May God have mercy on their souls.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

A Forgotten Archangel?

In my role as a deacon, I assisted at a vigil Mass yesterday evening, and am left with a quiet Sunday at home with dear Diane. Since I was not scheduled to preach, I have no homily to share with you, although I suppose you can, if you care to, read my homily from this same 4th Sunday of Advent, Year B, from December 2008. Here's the link: 4th Sunday of Advent.

Anyway, I thought I might touch on a subject that attracted my interest this past week. I came across the below video news clip from Rome Reports about a being whom I had encountered in my reading only rarely: the archangel Uriel. The video highlights a book on Uriel written by Fr. Marcello Stanzione. I believe the book is available only in Italian.

According to Fr. Stanzione, Jewish tradition, as well as the Coptic and some other Christian churches, include Uriel, along with Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, among the archangels. Uriel appears in apocryphal Gospels and, although not officially included among the archangels by the Catholic Church, he apparently is venerated by many Christians and Jews. There is, however, a strong Catholic connection to Uriel. In the 16th century a Sicilian priest, Antonio Lo Duca, experienced a vision of martyrs and angels, including Uriel, that encouraged him to recommend the construction of a church in Rome. The resulting church, sponsored by Pope Pius IV and designed by Michelangelo, is the Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs. I visited the church once a few years ago. Here's a photo of the church's exterior and another a painting in the church of the traditional seven archangels as mentioned in the Book of Tobit (Tobit 12:15).

Basilica of Saint Mary of the Angels and Martyrs

If you would like to know more, check out the church's website. Here's the page describing the basilica's unusual history: The Basilica of Saint Mary of The Angels and Martyrs

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Rabbi and the Pope

Lord Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth, paid a visit this week to Pope Benedict XVI in a private audience at the Vatican. During his visit Rabbi Sacks echoed what the pope has been saying for years and expressed his concerns about Europe and the rejection of its Judeo-Christian roots. "We are very concerned obviously with the soul of Europe, I mean Europe was built on Judeo-Christian foundations, even the market was built on Judeo-Christian foundations,” the rabbi later stated in an interview with Vatican Radio. He believes these Judeo-Christian roots are responsible for Western civilization's remarkable political and economic success over the centuries.

The rabbi added that although religious leaders are powerless in the world's eyes, they can exert a tremendous amount of influence in the world. Indeed, he stated that the pope's influence brought him to Rome "because I think if Jewish and Christian voices are heard, along parallel lines, then they should not underestimate the influence they have.” Rabbi Sacks was impressed by the overwhelming positive response to Pope Benedict's visit to England and Scotland last year and the "acute and...widespread" interest the pope's trip generated.

At the same time he also expressed optimism that many Europeans are beginning to question the secularism and materialism at the root of so many of Europe's problems. They have come to recognize that "there is something lacking in the wider secular culture where all that matters is ‘what I am, what I spend, what I buy, what I earn,’ instead of ‘what I am.’” Rabbi Sacks has noticed symptoms of this new awareness in the increase in attendance at synagogues and among Jewish parents who are now enrolling their children in Jewish schools.

Rabbi Sacks also urged Christians and Jews to unite against anti-Christian and anti-Jewish persecution throughout the world, and only recently condemned the persecution of Christians during a debate in the House of Lords.

To read more click here:

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks on Vatican Radio

Rabbi Sacks delivers inaugural Pope Benedict Lecture in UK (September 2011) -- Listen to audio file

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Thanksgiving at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen

One of my colleagues at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, passed along this video today. It's an item from a local evening news show here in The Villages, Florida. Interestingly, as they interviewed me, you can see dear Diane, the head cook, moving about behind me and doing all the work while I schmooze with the cameraman and the reporter. Ah, well, it's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.

If you want to watch more exciting videos of the happenings at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, go to the "News" page of our website.

Be Still!

Working at the soup kitchen this morning, I was kept very busy from the moment I arrived until I limped toward the car hours later to drive home with dear Diane. I was limping because when I climbed out of bed in the darkness of the early morning, I stubbed my toe against a chair and broke it (the toe, not the chair). It hurt all morning, although not horribly, and I didn't realize it was broken until I got home, took off my shoes, and saw this rather ugly black and blue appendage on my foot. Naturally, from that very moment the pain increased measurably.

Usually, after a long morning at the soup kitchen, I spend a few quiet minutes with the Lord, thanking Him for allowing us to do His work. Then I talk a lot and listen a bit as He and I examine the challenges and opportunities facing me. It's always a nice time for me because it slows me down, helps me put my worries and concerns into perspective, and leads me to focus on God's will rather than my own...well, usually. But today, because of the ugly, broken toe, I did nothing. Feeling sorry for myself, I put off prayer, along with all the other items on my to-do list, sat down in my big, overstuffed easy chair, put my feet up, and turned on the TV to watch the news or whatever else seemed interesting.

That's when I remembered the penance my confessor gave me during my last confession. After listening to the sorrowful litany of my sins -- none of which I need repeat here -- the good father said, "For your penance, be still! Take some time, just ten minutes every day or two is enough, to be with God in the stillness of His world. And listen! I know you know how to pray to God, but do you know how to pray with God? Be still and let Him teach you."

Arrggghhh...and then I could almost hear my dear, departed mother's voice saying, "So you broke your toe? Offer it up!" And so, with the Holy Spirit and my mother conspiring to renew me, I turned off the TV, put my feet on the floor, and entered, if only partially, into God's stillness.

"Be still and know that I am God." 

We've all heard these words from Psalm 46:11 probably hundreds of times, but how often do we actually do what they command? We're so busy in our lives that we rarely take the time to be still. But it's worse than that. Many of us are so attuned to lives of busyness that we've come to believe stillness is just another form of laziness. The world frowns on those who spend too much time doing "non-productive" things. Doctors may caution workaholics, but bosses love them. And I suspect more people follow their boss' advice rather than their doctor's advice. This leads far too many of us to define ourselves by our work. Indeed, once we learn a person's name, often the next question we ask is, "What do you do?" (Except here in our large Florida retirement community, where it's "What did you do?") The next time someone asks you that question, just reply, "I stay busy with God, working out my salvation." I'll bet you'll get some interesting reactions.

Yes, our worldly work -- as opposed to our spiritual work -- can overwhelm us to the point that we distort our understanding of success in life to mean "getting ahead" in whatever profession or line of work we happen to find ourselves. We forget that as Christians, no, as human beings loved by God, success should really mean holiness and accepting God's gift of salvation. And this means getting to know God through prayer. 

Of course, we can pray anytime, even during the busiest of life's moments. But deep meditative or contemplative prayer demands stillness. It forces us to step away from our world and enter God's world, for only then can we hear what He has to tell us.

I can't tell you how many people have told me they're "too busy to pray." I find it particularly curious that many who say this are retired, and have no trouble finding their way to the golf course several times a week. Now, there's nothing wrong with golf -- well, there would be if I ever played, but fortunately for the golfers of the world I don't -- but we must make room in our lives for that which should take top priority, our salvation. I've come to the conclusion that most people who don't have a regular prayer life are simply afraid of the stillness. They're afraid of shutting out the world, if only for a few moments, because they really do not want to be forced to confront themselves or God.

I'm not an expert, but I can share some experts with you. If you want to deepen your prayer life -- and all of us should want to do that --here are a few books that helped me:

Deep Conversion / Deep Prayer, by Thomas Dubay, S. M. (2006). Father Dubay, who died last year, was a noted spiritual director and retreat master. Here he shares his advice on the spiritual life in straightforward, readable prose.

The Fulfillment of All Desire, by Ralph Martin (2006). Ralph Martin, a leader in Renewal Ministries and an Assistant Professor of Theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, has written this wonderful book that leads the reader on a spiritual journey using the teaching of several Doctors of the Church. 

Learning to Pray, by Bernard Bro, O. P. (1966).  This book, now out of print, can still be found online. I first read it almost 40 years ago and it, along with the book that follows, represented my introduction to the spiritual life. Fr. Bro, a distinguished theologian, is perhaps the world's greatest expert on St. Therese of Lisieux. I've reread this book several times over the years.

Introduction to Spirituality, by Louis Bouyer (1961). Another Frenchman and noted theologian, Fr. Bouyer, who died in 2004, wrote extensively on liturgy and spirituality. This book, really a practical manual, provides a wonderful introduction to prayer and spirituality. Fr. Bouyer was raised in a French Protestant family, became a Lutheran minister, and was eventually received into the Catholic Church in 1944.

Let me conclude by sharing some thoughts on prayer by Fr. Bro:
"When God leads a man to a state of poverty, is this not always to bring about an increase of love? ... Prayer does more than make us aware of our limitations: it transforms that part of our life that weighs us down and crushes us, and changes the nature of this poverty...Prayer, after bringing us to accept our limitations and making us aware of our real need, it transforms that need, that deficiency, that poverty into a dependence upon someone else. Love will not rest until it achieves its goal: to share everything in order to bring about the unity toward which it tends...Love needs the need of another. It nourishes itself and continues to exist on the awareness of this need within itself. God likewise needs our need. Thus, the poverty which before crushed us now becomes, through prayer, a source of wealth, by which we gain possession of the heart of God. To refuse to recognize one's own poverty, is not to recognize God; it means refusing to allow him to be God for us. For me, God is God only when I accept the fact that I need him...thus our poverty becomes a source of wealth, provided that we are conscious every day that I am in the night, but I am no longer in prison, I am no longer alone." -- Bernard Bro, O.P.
 Be still and enjoy the peace that God wants for you...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

John of the Cross & Morning Prayer

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Saint John of the Cross, the great sixteenth-century Spanish mystic and poet whose life and writings have led so many to accept God's gift of faith. John realized early in his life that the search for worldly happiness can never succeed because true joy comes only from God. He taught that we can experience this joy only when we free ourselves from worldly desires. His writings have been especially helpful to those who suffer spiritual dryness in their prayer life, those who need the reassurance of God's constant love for them during times of spiritual hardship. If you want to delve more deeply into the life of prayer, I suggest reading the works of this mystic and doctor of the Church. If you're like me, you will find his work challenging, but it's a challenge worth accepting. Here's a link to the edition of his collected works that I first read a few years ago: The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross

This morning, as I prayed the Morning Prayer of today's Liturgy of the Hours, I was particularly struck by the brief prayer that followed the recitation of Psalm 86:
"God of mercy and goodness, when Christ called out to you in torment, you heard him and gave him victory over death because of his love for you. We already know the affection you have for us; fill us with a greater love of your name and we will proclaim you more boldly before men and happily lead them to celebrate your glory."
What a wonderful prayer for us today! It leads us to thankfulness for the gift of eternal life brought about by Jesus Christ's saving act of redemption. It reminds us that this gift, indeed, the gift of creation itself, is a sign of God's overwhelming love. And it calls us to proclaim this truth "boldly" to all, so that they too can experience the joy that God promises those who love Him.

God's peace...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Football, God and Country

It was quite a weekend for this one football fan. First of all, Navy beat Army for the tenth straight year, far better than the record during my four years at the Naval Academy. We beat Army once during that period (thanks largely to Roger Staubach), lost twice and tied once. Those were the days when ties were still permitted.

Over the years I've celebrated many Navy wins and suffered through not quite so many losses, but I enjoyed every game, largely because of my only brother, Jeff. Jeff graduated from West Point with the class of 1962, while I graduated from Annapolis with the class of 1967. As you might imagine the Army-Navy game was always an exciting time in our family. Our parents feigned neutrality, although both were not so secret Army fans. Jeff was, after all, the older son and habits are hard to break. I suspect it also had something to do with Dad being an Army colonel.

My dad and brother (1947)
Jeff and I would bet on the game only occasionally, and usually for something insignificant like a beer at our next meeting. But every year the loser would traditionally call the winner immediately after the game to offer congratulations. It's a tradition that finally stopped last year. Jeff, you see, died in January 2010 and since then the game simply hasn't been the same for me. Oh, I still watch it and root for Navy, but knowing there will be no phone call has brought real sadness to the day. It has also taught me that my love for my brother was really the primary reason this annual football game still had any significant meaning for me.

Another game I enjoyed was the the New England Patriots' win (barely) over the Washington Redskins this afternoon. The Pats keep winning thanks to their explosive offense led by Tom Brady, and despite their almost non-existent defense led seemingly by nobody. Should they get past the Steelers and make it to the Super Bowl to face the Packers, it just might turn out to be the most offensive Super Bowl ever. I am, however, not so much of a fan that I will hold my breath in expectation.

And then there's Tim Tebow, the miracle-working quarterback of the Denver Broncos. I really like this young man, not only because he openly displays his faith, but because he also lives it. This is, after all, what we as Christians are called to do. We are commanded to live our faith, to make disciples of all nations, to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ. And Mr. Tebow seems to do it all. To my knowledge nobody, even among those who apparently despise him, have seriously questioned the reality of this man's faith.

Unlike Tim Tebow, far too many Christians prefer to keep their faith private, hiding it under a bushel basket, pleading that for them their Christian faith is something "personal". In truth, they are among the great mass of lukewarm Christians who are ashamed of their faith and ashamed of Jesus Christ. They fear having to defend their faith in a world hostile to the gospel message. I would encourage them to follow Tim Tebow's example lest they hear those dreaded words of judgment, "Depart from me..."

Of course, a lot of folks disagree with Mr. Tebow because their only belief is that religion has no place in the public square, much less on the football field. These are the same folks who want to ban any expression of religious faith from our society, especially if the faith in question is Christian. No more Christmas crèche displays, no prayer in school, no Bibles in military hospitals, no Jesus Christ anywhere outside a church building. I can't help but wonder: Would we hear complaints about Tim Tebow's public displays of faith if he were a Muslim?

Because they despise this young man, his critics find themselves confused about the remarkable success he has experienced since becoming Denver's starting quarterback. Every week they keep running out of excuses: the game was an anomaly; the opponent's defense was horrible; Tim Tebow was extremely lucky; there was a full moon. (I heard that one today on ESPN.) Certainly he's not the most skilled quarterback in the league, but it seems to me his success can be attributed to his exceptional leadership skills, his ability to inspire his teammates, his desire to win, and his overall positive attitude. Such things are contagious and have apparently infected his teammates. It will be interesting to see how he and his team perform against the Patriots next week.

As I said earlier, I really like this young man. May his tribe increase.

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Fraternal Correction

The Samaritan woman
The other day I was asked by a parishioner if it were okay for a Christian to correct another Christian who had fallen into sinful habits that were leading him astray spiritually. My short answer was, "Yes...just be careful." She then asked for a scriptural reference on the subject. I suggested she turn to Matthew 18 (see below) where Jesus provides a three-step approach to fraternal correction.

Later, as I thought about the times I hadn't handled this necessary but challenging task of correction very well myself, I decided it might be a worthy topic to explore here on the blog.

First of all, fraternal correction is required of us and is actually listed among the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Too often the world (Satan) convinces us to avoid this essential work of the Christian. We are accused of “judging” whenever we call attention to another's sin: “Who made you my judge?" We must realize, however, that correction is by no means the same as judgment.

Certainly we should avoid certain judgments. We can never condemn another because God alone is judge regarding our salvation. Neither can we see into another person's heart as God can; therefore, in humility we can never consider ourselves as better (or worse) than someone else in God's eyes. As scripture tells us: "But the LORD said to Samuel: Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The LORD looks into the heart" [1 Samuel 16:7].  And we should never be overly harsh in our correction. As Christ instructed us: "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give and gifts will be given to you; a good measure, packed together, shaken down, and overflowing, will be poured into your lap. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you" [Luke 6:36-38].

It's important, however, to realize that by telling us not to judge, Jesus doesn't mean we shouldn't exercise fraternal correction. Jesus is telling us not to condemn others. He's telling us to be merciful. And He's telling us that we should approach correction with patience and love.
Jesus and the adulteress

Jesus also tells us:  "Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’  while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye" [Matthew 7:1-5].

We must pay careful attention to what Jesus says here. Again, He is not telling us to avoid correcting sinners, but rather to get right with God first. Have we repented of and confessed our own sins? Do our own lives reflect our love for God and neighbor, our obedience to His commandments? Then we will be given the grace to see clearly how God wants us to correct our brother or sister, to "remove the splinter" from his eye.

In truth, Scripture tells us time and again to correct the sinner. Here are just a few of the passages in which we are told to correct our brothers and sisters in Christ.

In the New Testament
"If your brother sins [against you], go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector. Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again, [amen,] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them[Matthew 18:15-20].
"Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him" [Luke 17:3-4].
"Brothers, even if a person is caught in some transgression, you who are spiritual should correct that one in a gentle spirit, looking to yourself, so that you also may not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ" [Galatians 6:1-2].
"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as in all wisdom you teach and admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God" [Colossians 3:16].
"Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid." [1 Timothy 5:20].
"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness..." [2 Timothy 3:16]."I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths" [2 Timothy 4:1-2].
Do you love me, Peter?
We ask you, brothers, to respect those who are laboring among you and who are over you in the Lord and who admonish you, and to show esteem for them with special love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak, be patient with all. See that no one returns evil for evil; rather, always seek what is good [both] for each other and for all. Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophetic utterances. Test everything; retain what is good. Refrain from every kind of evil" [1 Thessalonians 5:12-22].
"If anyone does not obey our word as expressed in this letter, take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame. Do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother. [2 Thessalonians 3:14-15].
The rich young man -- Jesus looked on him with love
"For there are, indeed, many who are disobedient, who speak empty words, and who deceive, especially those who are of the circumcision. These must be reproved, for they subvert entire houses, teaching things which should not be taught, for the favor of shameful gain. A certain one of these, a prophet of their own kind, said: 'The Cretans are ever liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Because of this, rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish fables, nor to the rules of men who have turned themselves away from the truth" [Titus 1:10-14].
"Say these things. Exhort and correct with all authority. Let no one look down on you" [Titus 2:15].
"After a first and second warning, break off contact with a heretic..." [Titus 3:10]
"My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins" [James 5:19-20].
"Since you have purified yourselves by obedience to the truth for sincere mutual love, love one another intensely from a [pure] heart" [1 Peter 1:22].
"Now who is going to harm you if you are enthusiastic for what is good? But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. Do not be afraid or terrified with fear of them, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope, but do it with gentleness and reverence, keeping your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who defame your good conduct in Christ may themselves be put to shame" [1 Peter 3:13-16].
 In the Old Testament
"You shall not hate any of your kindred in your heart. Reprove your neighbor openly so that you do not incur sin because of that person" [Leviticus 19:17].
"Discipline seems bad to those going astray; one who hates reproof will die" [Proverbs 15:10].
"You, son of man—I have appointed you as a sentinel for the house of Israel; when you hear a word from my mouth, you must warn them for me.When I say to the wicked, 'You wicked, you must die,' and you do not speak up to warn the wicked about their ways, they shall die in their sins, but I will hold you responsible for their blood. If, however, you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, but they do not, then they shall die in their sins, but you shall save your life [Ezekiel 33:7-9].

Open and public sinfulness by another Christian certainly merits correction, just as ignorance on important matters of faith and morals merits instruction. But we must be careful about correcting others on things that really merit no correction at all. I have heard people complaining about and attempting to correct others because of disagreements on certain spiritual matters. Spiritually, the Catholic Church is a mansion with many rooms, each with its own approach to prayer and spirituality. For example, Ignatian, Franciscan and Dominican approaches to spirituality are very different, and each can aid the believer on his journey to salvation, but none is necessary. Let's save our correction for that which is truly essential: repentance for and forgiveness of ones sins; the grace of the sacraments, especially baptism, reconciliation and the Eucharist; and a life in the fulfillment of God's command to love Him and our neighbor. These alone keep me busy just correcting myself.

A Journey to Life

Paul Greenberg, Southerner, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and self-described "slow learner", was recently honored by the Human Life Foundation with its ninth annual Great Defender of Life award.

In his remarks on the occasion of the award, Mr. Greenberg described his own journey from pro-abortion advocate to defender of life. I have been unable to locate his complete address, but found one of his columns, reprinted in the online version of the Jewish World Review, in which he included the key elements of his talk. It's something all Christians and Jews should read. Click here: Witness.

Mother Miriam: From Conservative Jew to Benedictine Sister.

I have a number of friends who have come to the Catholic Church from Judaism, but none of them took the same path. One, for example, was a completely secular Jew who was brought up in a family in which religion in any form was considered the height of folly. His conversion came about when, after suffering a series of family and business setbacks, he wandered into an inner-city Catholic Church and had what he calls a "mystical experience." Another was the son of a rabbi. Seeing his father's frustration in the face of God's silence, he lost what little faith he had, only to find it, transformed, years later when he read a book by Mother Teresa. The others experienced equally unique conversions, leading them to the fulness of Christian faith.

Yesterday I came across a wonderful story about a remarkable woman, Mother Miriam, a Benedictine sister in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Rosalind Moss grew up in Brooklyn, in a conservative Jewish home, and in the years that followed took a strange path to her present life as prioress of a Benedictine religious community, Daughters of Mary, Mother of Israel’s Hope in Tulsa, Okla. On her journey she made stops as a Messianic Jew, as an evangelical (and strongly anti-Catholic) Protestant, as a Catholic, and finally as a nun. I could offer more details about her journey, but I think it best simply to let you read her story as it was published in the National Catholic Register.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Beauty Matters

Some time ago I heard a lecture by Dr. Peter Kreeft, prolific author and professor of philosophy at Boston College, in which he discussed the idea of beauty and the sacred, particularly as they are encountered in the arts. Today, while browsing a few favorite websites I came across a video -- a one-hour BBC documentary -- entitled "Why Beauty Matters", in which English philosopher Roger Scruton addresses the same subject from a different perspective. The documentary is really quite good and is certainly worth watching, so if you can set aside the time, sit back and enjoy what Dr. Scruton has to say. It beats the evening news.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

One Egyptian Christian Speaks - Part 2

In a November 20th post I provided a link to part one of an interview with an Egyptian Christian by journalist and author Michael Totten. Totten has since published the second and final part of the interview which is available here: The Christians of Egypt, Part 2. Interesting stuff.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Christmas List of Books I Haven't Read

Recommending books for others to read can sometimes be a bit problematic. For example, some years ago I posted a list of books for summer reading and received a rather hostile email from someone who began by complaining about the "conservatism" of several of the authors on my list. Then he got to the real point of his email. "How come," he asked, "you listed books only by Catholic authors?" Well, Duh! -- Let's see...I'm a permanent deacon in the Roman Catholic Church, this blog tends to address subjects of interest to Catholics, and that particular list was aimed at Catholic readers who wanted to deepen their theological knowledge. (Actually, one of the authors on the list was David Bentley Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian from the University of Virginia. Another author on that list, Robert Alter, is a Jew who published a translation and commentary of The Five Books of Moses.) A few weeks later I received another complaint from a reader who purchased one of the recommended books, but didn't particularly like it. I think he expected me to reimburse him. I answered neither of these emails.

I mention this so you know I won't pay any attention to complaints about the following selection of books.  The titles I have listed below are simply books that have piqued my interest recently. Although I have yet to read any of them, I hope to do so once time and budget permit. Some books are included because I have read others by the same authors and enjoyed them. Some were added simply because their subject matter interests me. In a few instances I have read reviews written by people I trust. And some are "classics" that I have meant to read for years but just never seemed to have the time. In a sense, then, these are all second-hand recommendations, so I suggest you Google the titles and check out a few online reviews before buying. In any event, I seek neither praise nor blame. Save either for the authors.

Here's my list:

Imagination in Place, by Wendell Berry; Counterpoint Press, 2010. Berry, American poet and essayist, social critic and farmer, is a true man of letters. He is the kind of writer who can change minds through the eloquence and passion of his writing. He is a man with whom I occasionally disagree, but always with great difficulty. I look forward to reading this latest collection of essays in which he examines those writers who have helped form his own thought.

Jacques Barzun: Portrait of a Mind, by Michael Murray; Frederick C. Beil, 2011.  Jacques Barzun is now 105 years old and still writing. And so I suspect this will not be the last biography of the man. Who knows how long he will be with us? Born in France, Barzun came to the United States as a youth and embraced his new country. A prolific writer on a wide variety of subjects, he taught at Columbia for almost 50 years and then began a second career as an editor at Scribner's. I have read only a few of his books -- From Dawn to Decadence (2001); God's Country and Mine (1954); and The House of Intellect (1978) -- and enjoyed them all. I look forward to learning more about the life of this remarkable man.

Firmly I Believe and Truly: The Spiritual Tradition of Catholic England, by John Saward, John Morrill and Michael Tomko; Oxford University Press, 2011. This anthology of writings spans 500 years of England's post-Reformation history from a Catholic perspective. The selections, put together and introduced by a team of scholars, include writings of historical, theological and literary value. As someone who has long been interested in the lives and struggles of English Catholics during this period, I intend to read this book soon I can afford the rather hefty price tag.

The Mind of the Maker, by Dorothy Sayers; Continuum, 2005 (first published in 1941). This book is one of those classics that has sat unread on my bookshelf for a few decades. (My copy is an older, now out of print, paperback edition published by Harper Collins in 1987.) I've enjoyed reading Sayers ever since I was introduced to her when I was in high school and assigned to read her series of plays on the life of Jesus, The Man Born to be King (1941). After that I turned to her mystery writings, particularly her Lord Peter Wimsey Stories, which I continue to reread on occasion. But Sayers was more than a playwright and mystery writer. She was also a poet, a respected translator of Dante, a noted essayist, a cultural critic, and a Christian apologist. I intend to pull this book of the shelf this week and finally read it.

The Order of Things, by James V. Schall, S. J.; Ignatius Press, 2007. Once you read one book by Father Schall, you want to read everything he has written. This book happens to be one of his I apparently missed. I intend to order it this week, envelop it in colorful Christmas wrapping paper, and discreetly place it under the tree -- thus ensuring that I receive at least one wanted gift this year. Father Schall, a Professor of Government at Georgetown University, is a must-read author for anyone struggling to understand the ongoing intellectual and spiritual conflicts in the city of man and the city of God. I can hardly wait to open my present. If you feel inspired to read more of his work, try the following: Another Sort of Learning (1988); On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs (2001); and The Life of the Mind (2006).

The Peasant of the Garonne, by Jacques Maritain; Holt Rinehart Winston (1968). A friend gave me this book a few years ago, but I've never found the time to read it. Written by the great Catholic theologian and philosopher at the age of 85, it created quite a furor when it was published. In it Maritain attacked the modernism of the "new theology," claiming its evolution posed a real threat to the Church's spirituality and its core doctrinal beliefs. He apparently pulls no punches as he takes on those who would bow down to the modern world and its ephemeral fads and trends. In my younger days I made my way slowly through a number of Maritain's philosophical works, so perhaps it's time I read this book, which promises to be a bit more accessible to my aging mind.

The Myth of Hitler's Pope, by Rabbi David C. Dalin; Regnery, 2005. This book, which has the subtitle, How Pope Pius XII Rescued Jews from the Nazis, provides a well needed defense of Pope Pius XII who has been viciously and dishonestly attacked by the enemies of traditional religion in general and the Catholic Church in particular. This well-documented book, written by a Jewish rabbi with a Ph.D. from Brandeis University, goes a long way to correct the disinformation surrounding Pope Pius XII and the spiritual battle he fought against the Nazis before and during World War II. It, too, was a gift, given to me by a Jewish friend earlier this year. I intend to read it during the Christmas season.

I think that's enough reading for this Christmas. While most of the authors on my list are Catholics, I've also included a Baptist (Berry), a Jew (Dalin), an Anglican (Sayers), and a maybe-believer (Barzun). That should appease those enamored of diversity.

God's peace.,..