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.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Homily: Happy St. Stephen's Day

Readings: Acts 6:8-10; 7:54-59; Ps 31; Mt 10:17-22

Happy St. Stephen’s Day! 

For us deacons today is one of our special days. On this day after the solemnity of Christmas, we celebrate the feast of St. Stephen, deacon and first martyr.

It might seem a bit strange to join the memory of the Church’s first martyr to the birth of the Redeemer – an odd contrast between the peace and joy of Bethlehem and the tragedy of St. Stephen…for Stephen was stoned to death in Jerusalem during the first persecution against the nascent Church. And yet this seemingly odd contrast is really very much in tune with the mystery of Christmas.

The Child Jesus, born in the stable, the only-begotten Son of God, will ultimately save humanity by dying on the cross. Right now we encounter Jesus as a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger. But later, after His passion and death, His body will again be wrapped and placed in the tomb.

In the Eastern Church icons sometimes represent the newborn Baby Jesus lying in a small sarcophagus, as a vivid reminder that the Redeemer was born to die, born to give His life in ransom for all.

St. Stephen was the first to follow in our Lord’s steps; and like Jesus, he died forgiving and praying for his executioners. By doing so he set the stage for all the saints of the early Church who would follow him to martyrdom. This army, a countless multitude, the liturgy calls "the white army of martyrs."

The early Church did not view their deaths as a reason for fear and sadness; indeed, quite the opposite. Back in the 2nd century Tertullian described the blood of the martyrs as the seed of the Church, a source of spiritual enthusiasm, always giving rise to new Christians.

And believe me it will be the same today as the Church experiences increased persecution, for many Christians throughout the world are following in the footsteps of St. Stephen. We should be praying for them and for all those persecuted for the Faith. Pray that they will have the strength to persevere, to realize that the trials they suffer are really a source of victory.

Pray too for the Church’s deacons. We need your prayers as we strive to serve God and His people in the many ways He calls us. For the word deacon simply means “servant” – and serve we must.

The deacons of your parish serve today in jails, and hospitals, and nursing homes, and soup kitchens. They assist in the faith formation of children and adults. They’re involved in healing ministries and provide spiritual direction. They teach, they preach, they heal, and in doing so look to St. Stephen as the model of the servant we are all called to be. Yes, we need your prayers, so that we will have the strength and the courage to do God’s work in the world.

St. Stephen died a martyr, but died filled with joy; and so we can say again, Happy St. Stephen’s Day. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Young Voice of Truth

Sometimes I miss things. Much of my leisure time is spent reading books, playing with my cameras, and taking catnaps in my extraordinarily comfortable easy chair. This time of year I also watch the occasional college football game. But I really don't surf the web very much so I miss all sorts of interesting things that millions of others have known about for weeks. Normally this doesn't bother me because the things I miss usually aren't all that important or interesting.

Today, however, I was surprised when a friend pointed me to a YouTube video of a Canadian girl who has become perhaps the most eloquent young voice in the pro-life movement. Her name is Lia Mills and she is truly remarkable. I've embedded two videos below. One is the video that made this little 12-year-old famous, and the second shows her speaking at a pro-life rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. If you're not one of the million or so who have already watched one of her videos, you will be amazed.

I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot more from this young lady in the years to come.

Pray for an end to abortion and respect for life worldwide.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C

Readings: Zep 3:14-18a; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:10-18

Newtown, Connecticut – Years ago some dear friends of ours lived in Newtown and we visited them on a number of occasions. In fact, as a youngster I lived only 15 miles away in the much smaller town of Nichols, Connecticut.

I remember Newtown as a lovely town, quiet and quaint, one of those typical New England towns of the kind pictured in calendars, a nostalgic sort of place where people long to settle with their families.

On Friday that quiet town and many of its families were shattered by the actions of a single person – horrific actions, evil, irrational – and quite likely we’ll never fully understand the motivations involved. These unanswered questions will only add to the grief of those families.

Yet here we are in this holy season of Advent, looking forward to Christmas, the celebration of our Savior’s coming into the world. For Christmas is a joyous event. Indeed, today is Gaudete Sunday, the joyful Sunday of Advent. As a sign of that joy, we light the rose-colored candle on our Advent wreath. Our readings instruct us not only to experience the joy of expectation in Christ’s coming but also to express our joy openly. We’re repeatedly called on to shout for joy, to sing joyfully, to cry out with gladness, to exult with all our hearts, not to be discouraged, to have no anxiety and to fear nothing.

And yet, as we think of and pray for those families who mourn and grieve for their children today, it just doesn’t seem to fit together, does it?

Holy Innocents - Sagrada Familia - Barcelona
When I first became aware of the extent of that tragedy, my thoughts turned to a similar tragedy that occurred in another sleepy little town 2,000 years ago. The town was Bethlehem, where God had told the prophet Micah the Messiah, the ruler of Israel, would be born. Thinking he could actually thwart God’s plans, King Herod sent his soldiers into Bethlehem to kill all its young boys two years old and under. Yes, that first and most joyous Christmas was also marred by tragedy.

As we studied Matthew’s Gospel in a freshman theology class, someone asked our professor, “How many children do you think Herod killed?” I remember the good Jesuit saying, “Well, Bethlehem was a pretty small town – probably only about 20.”

About 20…the Holy Innocents we call them – infants and toddlers, unknowingly martyred, canonized by their baptism of blood. How the mothers and fathers of Bethlehem must have mourned.

About 20…today 2,000 years later we mourn the loss of another 20 innocents, a loss that will change how we will celebrate Christmas. We will hug our children and grandchildren a little tighter this year, and we will pray in thanksgiving for keeping them safe.

Of course, as Christians we’re called to see these events through the eyes of faith; and in faith we know that this life is not all there is, that our true home is elsewhere. And so we accept that these young innocents, who had tasted only a sample of this life, are now in God’s loving, eternal embrace.

Did you hear what Paul told us in our second reading? “Rejoice in the Lord always. I say again, rejoice!” [Phil 4:4]

Rejoice always? Truly remarkable words. And they’re remarkable because Paul didn’t write these words to the Philippians from some hotel room in Ephesus, from a condo in Corinth, or from a retirement community in the Greek isles. No, Paul wrote them from a Roman prison, where his life was in imminent danger.

Rejoice always! That’s hard to do sometimes, for certain times just don’t seem to call for rejoicing. And yet, in the early church our mothers and fathers in faith went to their deaths rejoicing. They literally did “Rejoice in the Lord always.”

And Christians are still doing it today. I recall reading about a Romanian Baptist preacher named Josef Tson. Back in the 1970s he was continually persecuted and imprisoned by the communists in his country…simply for preaching the gospel. It’s still happening today, in China, Viet Nam, Cuba, in many parts of the Islamic world…Christians are imprisoned or martyred simply for preaching the gospel.

After one of his many arrests Tson felt certain he would be killed. Resigned to his fate, he told one of his interrogators, “You should know your supreme weapon is killing. My supreme weapon is dying,”

You see, brothers and sisters, that’s how St. Paul can say, “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him…” [Rom 8:28] In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy, the good is not readily apparent…but we must give God time to work, because He works through us, through you and me.

You and I can’t address the causes of what happened, because we don’t know what’s in the heart of another human being. We leave that to God. Instead we can do only what John the Baptist told the crowds to do in today’s gospel passage as he preached the Good News throughout Judea.

“What should we do?” they all asked him [Lk 3:10].

Give to the poor, he told them…and give from your own need, not just from your surplus. Be honest, loving, caring people.

This was the message that John was sent to give to the world. He was educating the souls of men and women, preparing them to receive what Christ would tell them.

And the result? Paul supplied the answer: “Your kindness should be known to all…Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” [Phil 4:5,7]

And perhaps the best place to first express our kindness is in our own homes, to those who love us most, those to whom we can sometimes be most unkind indeed.

Yes, John and Paul, two men who died martyrs’ deaths in prison, both discovered that the joy of God’s presence overcame all fears, removed all anxiety, turned every kind of suffering into a reason to rejoice and give thanks. It was their work to awaken those who were totally unconcerned with the things of God, to pull them out of their complacency, to wake them up with the Good News.

It’s no different today. To shake the world out of its indifference we need prophets like John and Paul, men and women who are true witnesses to God’s love for the world. Today, brothers and sisters, we need people of joy, not just on one Sunday of Advent, but every day. We need you, because God has sent each of you to do just that.

Pray for the souls of the children and teachers who died.

Pray for peace in the hearts of those who love them.

Now the hard part…As Christians we must pray too for the soul of the confused and troubled young man responsible for this massacre of innocents. We must pray for him because the families of most of his victims will be unable to take that step, probably for years to come. Forgiveness cannot easily enter a heart that is understandably filled with grief and anger. We must extend forgiveness for them who are as yet unable to do so.

And bless your children and grandchildren each day, for blessings are spiritually powerful acts, especially when extended by a parent. As fathers and mothers, as grandfathers and grandmothers, reach out and touch their precious heads with your hands and extend God's blessing in the name of Jesus Christ. Send them into the world each day cloaked with God's love and your love.

Let them know you love them deeply and ask the Father to protect them, for as Jesus told us, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father" [Mt 18:10].

God’s peace…

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragedy, Grief, Forgiveness and Blessing

I just returned from the local UPS store where I shipped five large boxes filled with Christmas presents. They're on their way to our children and grandchildren, all of whom still live in the icy north. Presumably, as our children age the cold will penetrate their bones more deeply and lead them to migrate in our direction. One can only hope, since sending large, heavy boxes is not inexpensive. I'd prefer to drop them off personally at the front doors of our sons and daughters. In the meantime, however, I will add to the UPS bottom line.

Returning home from my errands, I caught the news about the horrific school shooting in lovely Newtown, Connecticut. Dear Diane and I are familiar with the town since good friends once lived there and we visited them on several occasions. But I find myself unable to juxtapose in my mind the memory of that quaint, picturesque village and the events of this sad day. It simply does not compute. Far worse, however, as a parent and grandparent I cannot imagine what the families of the victims are experiencing. My thoughts turn to my children and grandchildren, and I thank God they are safe, but I stop that train of thought in its tracks. I cannot go where it wants to take me. To have a child, one of God's precious little ones, taken so suddenly and so capriciously is something no family should ever experience. For those families in Newtown this will be the worst time of their lives, and in their grief whatever faith they have will be sorely tested.

Recognizing this please join me today in praying for the souls of those who died, for peace in the hearts of those who love them, and also for the soul of the confused and troubled young man who was apparently responsible for this massacre of innocents. We must pray for his soul because we are commanded to do so by our Lord Himself. We must pray for him because the families of most of his victims will be unable to take that step, probably for years to come. Forgiveness cannot enter a heart that is understandably filled with grief and anger, that is unable to respond in love. And so let us extend forgiveness for them who are as yet unable to do so.

And to those of you with children, please accept a little advice. Bless your children each day, for blessings are spiritually powerful acts, especially when extended by a parent. As a father or a mother, reach out and touch their beautiful heads with your hands and extend God's blessing in the name of Jesus Christ. Every morning send them into the world cloaked with God's love and your love. Let them know you love them deeply and ask the Father to protect them, for as Jesus told us, "See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father" [Mt 18:10].

Pray too for our country.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Back Home Again

Dear Diane and I were away from home for about ten days, visiting friends in Bradenton, Florida and then sailing off on a brief, five-day cruise in the Western Caribbean. The weather was perfect, and we enjoyed our two port visits to Grand Cayman Island and Cozumel, Mexico. Our ship, the Carnival Paradise, was, despite its name, most un-Eden-like. The 2,500 or so passengers were of the younger, party-hearty persuasion so I spent much of my time searching for quiet, out of the way spots to sit and read while sipping one of those oddly named, umbrella garnished drinks. The food was reasonably good, good enough at least to satisfy my humble tastes.
Carnaval Paradise at anchor in Grand Cayman
We had visited Grand Cayman a few years ago so we decided to spend just a few hours in George Town window shopping and strolling along the waterfront. After a lovely lunch at a local restaurant, we returned to the ship and simply relaxed.

Diane - Grand Cayman
That's when I caught sight of a yacht owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Tatoosh is nearly 300 feet long and comes equipped with just about everything, including its own helicopter. It reportedly cost Allen $160 million, but remarkably is not the largest of his yachts. Another, the Octopus, at 414 feet long is truly a mega-yacht. Octopus is the world's largest privately owned yacht and cost Allen $200 million back in 2003. It has a crew of 60 and sports two helicopters, one forward and one aft. And to think I spent several minutes in one Grand Cayman shop questioning whether I should buy one T-shirt or two. Apparently even Allen believes his two mega-yachts are one too many since he's put Tatoosh up for sale. If you're in the market, check out the details here.
Paul Allen's Tatoosh at anchor in Grand Cayman

I don't envy Paul Allen his wealth, but I do worry about where his salvation falls among his priorities. I suspect it would be very difficult to sail the Octopus, or even the Tatoosh, through the eye of a needle.

For me the highlight of the trip was a visit to the Mayan ruins at Coba on the Yucatan peninsula. Getting there involved a half-hour ferry ride from Cozumel to the mainland, and then an hour long bus ride to the ruins. Luis, our guide, is of Mayan descent and was able to provide interesting commentary along the way. After our arrival at the site, Luis led us on a one-mile forced march along a dirt road through the jungle. For someone who couldn't be over five feet tall, Luis could certainly walk fast.
Mayan Pyramid at Coba -- after my climb
The central edifice among the ruins is the great pyramid, reputed to be the site of human sacrifices of a truly horrific nature that involved heart removal and decapitation. We were told the Coba pyramid is the only Mayan pyramid visitors are still permitted to climb. Naturally I had to make the ascent. It wasn't as easy as it looks since it's quite steep and the steps are high, narrow and slippery, offering this aging body and its size-12 feet a definite challenge. The descent was actually scarier than the climb, but I was accompanied by a young Italian boy named Giacomo with whom I practiced my limited Italian. Like me, Giacomo was a bit anxious and so he and I encouraged each other and provided needed moral support on the way down: "Va bene, Giacomo, va bene."
About half-way up the pyramid
Another interesting ruin was the ball court, the site of highly competitive games with serious consequences. It seems the captain of the losing team would necessarily be sacrificed after his loss. I would guess the average Mayan preferred being a coach potato to an athlete.
The ball court where some very serious games were played
Skull-stone in floor of ball court -- added incentive to win

Since the infamous Mayan calendar ends on December 21, many people around the world apparently interpret this as a certain indication of an imminent, apocalyptic, world-ending calamity. I can say only that I encountered no eschatological signs during our visit. All was quiet and normal. Indeed, even the local vendors were busily selling rugs, onyx statues and other crafts, as well as snacks for our return bus ride. It would seem, then, that the Mayans themselves anticipate no catastrophe. And so when we returned home I saw no reason to delay putting up our Christmas decorations and buying gifts for the grandchildren.

Aren't you happy you weren't born in Yucatan 1,000 years ago? And happier still you don't have to worry about maintaining two mega-yachts? The very fact of our being is good, and we are all blessed by God in so many countless ways. Take some time today to thank Him for those blessings.

Pax et bonum...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fogging the Looking Glass

I grew up in the fifties and the early sixties. It was actually quite a wonderful time to come of age, and I've always felt a bit sorry for those only a few years younger who had to navigate their way as adolescents through the turmoil and the stupidity of the late sixties and the decade that followed.

From 1962 to 1967 I was a student at Georgetown University for one year and then at the Naval Academy for four more. After graduation I spent almost 18 months as a student Navy pilot in Pensacola. Dear Diane and I were married in late 1968 and I was then assigned to my first squadron in San Diego which I joined in 1969.

It was a busy time. Still in our twenties, we considered ourselves adults and lived adult lives. We were not the spoiled, rebellious children who despised their country while living off the largesse of working parents. Although my involvement in the war in Vietnam was minimal and certainly nothing heroic, I willingly flew into harm's way because it was my duty to do so and because I believed we had an obligation to defend an ally from the predations of totalitarian, atheistic communism. I considered our military involvement in Vietnam to be honorable -- and still do -- but I also believe it was a war foolishly waged by incompetent politicians of both parties who believed they were military strategists and by generals and admirals who acted like politicians. I blame them all for the deaths of so many friends. Throughout it all, or perhaps because of it all, I kept my faith.

It's that faith that keeps me going today by helping me place all the world's happenings in perspective. Even in the midst of rapid societal decline, I find myself laughing at the insanity that so many take so very seriously. For example, every so often I encounter odd stories in the news, particularly stories about religion, that amaze me. I realize I shouldn't be amazed since the world has become very odd indeed, but I can't help myself. I suppose my amazement stems from my upbringing in what can only be described as a fairly stable family environment at a time when it was normal to have faith, when virtue was prized, and when most people accepted that sin was real.

Here's a sampling of some recent stories that caught my eye:

Jesus Mentally Ill? The Church of England continues to surprise. It seems they prepared a suggested sermon for Anglican clerics who want to address mental illness and the stigma sometimes associated with it. The proposed sermon names John the Baptist, St.Francis of Assisi, St. Paul, and even Jesus as people who may well have suffered from mental illness. This just confirms what so many in our society now believe: Christians are obviously crazy. Read more here, if you can stomach it.

President as Crucified Lord and Savior? These two stories absolutely floored me. I realize that those who like the president are somewhat prone to hyperbole, but one can take such rhetorical emphasis to the extreme and beyond. Perhaps the more disturbing of the two stories relates to a painting, "The Truth", by Boston artist Michael D'Antuono and currently on display at Bunker Hill Community College Art Gallery. The painting depicts President Obama standing in front of his presidential seal with his arms outstretched and wearing a crown of thorns. See below...

 You can read more about this remarkable piece of art here.

The second and similar story is almost as disturbing and relates to actor Jamie Foxx, who at the Soul Train Music Awards made a rather curious and blasphemous statement when he said, "First of all, give an honor to God and our lord and savior Barack Obama..." You can read more about it here. I've included a video below...

The Holy Family as an Alternative Lifestyle. MSNBC offers its audience a steady stream of surprising commentary. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving MSNBC weekend anchor Melissa Harris-Perry, in an attempt to provide examples of alternative family lifestyles that should be cherished by our society, used the Holy Family as an example when she stated that “even Jesus was born to an un-wed mom and raised by a doting stepfather.” Wow!

You can check out her comments by viewing the video here.

Islamists Just Love Killing Jews. know, that's the terrorist organization that the Gaza Palestinians voted into power a few years ago. (Way to go, Palestinians!!) Hamas is the same peace-loving group that began the recent conflict by launching hundreds of deadly rockets into Israel because...well, just because they wanted to kill as many Jews as possible.They're also the same terrorist organization that the new Muslim Brotherhood dominated government of Egypt supports 100%. Now, just in case you think I exaggerate, here's what their official TV station had to say on the subject of Israel and its Jewish citizens:

“Bless [Hamas'] Al-Qassam men, guardians of Palestine. Oh pride of Salah Shahada, oh wisdom of Immad [Aqel] (Hamas leaders killed by Israel), [Oh] the explosives of [Yahya] Ayyash, (Hamas bomb maker killed by Israel), Martyrdom, [oh] lovers of the trigger: Killing the occupiers is worship that Allah made into law. (Arabic text: “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah”). Arise, oh determined men. The color of [the Martyr's] blood protects the land. Oh masked one wearing a keffiyeh (Arab head scarf), terrifying the Jews…call out in Zionism’s face: ‘Muhammad’s army has begun to return.’”
Don't you just love it? Killing Jews becomes an act of worship. And you wonder why so many Muslim leaders were avid allies of Hitler's Nazi Germany during World War Two. See the video below:

I think that's enough for today. Any more and I might have to scream. My neighbors wouldn't understand.

Oh, yes, Dear Diane and I leave soon for a brief vacation -- visiting friends and a Caribbean cruise. I've already packed the books I intend to read while sitting in my deck chair.

Pax et bonum.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Homily: Mass for Healing - God Knows Your Heart

Late yesterday morning, at our parish in Wildwood, Florida, we celebrated a special Mass focused on the healing of body, mind and spirit. Our pastor, Fr. Peter, celebrated the Mass and I was privileged to be asked to preach. I have posted my homily below:

Readings: Phil 4:10-19; PS 112; Lk 16:9-15

Good morning, everyone. And praise God – praise Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I’m honored to have been asked to preach to you here today at this healing Mass. It’s wonderful to see so many people here today; all filled with the Spirit, all open to God’s healing presence. Praise God too for this.

There are definitely two or more of us gathered here in Jesus’ name, so we know He is with us. And where Jesus is, so too is the Father, for they are One, One with the Holy Spirit. We certainly want the Holy Spirit among us today in all His power, in all His glory, so we can come to know our loving Father better, all through Our Lord Jesus Christ.

You know, among the many wonderful things Jesus told us about the Spirit is that He is the Trinity’s workhorse. Now Jesus never uses that particular word, but it's true nonetheless. That’s right…the Spirit does all the heavy lifting.

When we turn to Scripture we find the Holy Spirit doing the inspiring, the revealing, the anointing, the counseling. He is the giver of life, the fount of Truth and Wisdom, the Sanctifier, the source of sacramental grace, the manifestation of God’s power in the world. When Jesus rejoiced, He rejoiced in the Spirit. When He prayed, He prayed filled with the Spirit. The Spirit teaches us, He intercedes for us, He guides us. And He will be with us always. That’s right, the Holy Spirit, God’s gift to us, does God’s work in the world. And thank God for that because these days we certainly need Him working among us and with us.

And do you know something else? He’s also the Divine Healer. In fact healing is the Spirit’s greatest work. God knows how much we all need healing – healing of body, mind and spirit – and He sends His Spirit into the world to heal all who come to Him. What kind of healing do we need? What do you need? Or you? What do I need?

All too often we’re just so sure we know, aren’t we? We think our aches and pains and illnesses point to our needs. These bodies of ours just don’t seem to hold up. Apparently our parents didn’t buy the extended warranty. And so we turn to the Lord in our suffering and in our fear, in all those aches and pains, those illnesses, in the trials of our children, in the sometimes shattered lives of those we love…and through it all we pray for healing.

But so often as we pray, in the midst of all that suffering, our faith wavers. We can’t understand why this suffering has fallen upon us, or why God doesn’t just take it away. And so our prayer falters. But take heart. St. Paul tells us, “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.” [Rom 8:26]

You see, sisters and brothers, God knows your heart…and so God Himself, the Holy Spirit, prays for us in ways we can never understand.

About 20 years ago, I was given the challenging but thankless task of teaching a class of ninth-graders who were preparing for Confirmation. I know, it should have been fun, but it wasn’t. Even back then, I was already a curmudgeon.

Anyway, during one of our sessions, while discussing God’s divine nature, I went through the list of those attributes we normally assign to God…you know…He is eternal, holy, immutable, infinite, omnipotent, omniscient, immaterial…

As I was reciting these attributes, one young man interrupted and asked, “What does omniscient mean?”

I said, “It means God knows everything.

He thought for a second or two and then said, “Okay,  but you really don’t mean everything, like what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

“Oh, yes, God knows everything that happens, throughout all time – past, present and future – and everywhere, in the universe and in eternity, every single thing, no matter how large or small.”

But that didn’t satisfy this budding theologian. “But you mean He just knows things. He can’t know thoughts too, can He?”

“Oh, yes, thoughts are God’s specialty,” I said. “He knows your every thought, your every desire, all your hopes and dreams…and He knows them all even before you have them, the good, the bad, and yes, even the ugly.”

Well, in the silence that followed, I wish you could have seen that young man’s face.

“You’re really serious, aren’t you?” he finally asked.

“Yes, I am. You can’t hide from God. He knows you perfectly, far better than you’ll ever know yourself. “

“You see, God knows your heart.

And, brothers and sisters, God knows your heart too.

The psalms praise “God who knows the secrets of the heart” [Ps 44:22]. And Peter, at the Council of Jerusalem, speaking of the Gentiles tells his brother apostles, “God, who knows the heart…granted them the Holy Spirit just as He did us” [Acts 15:8].

But it’s in today’s Gospel passage from Luke that we hear these words spoken by Jesus Himself. “God knows your hearts,” Jesus said to the Pharisees [Lk 16:15]. When they heard those words, do you think maybe those Pharisees recalled the words of the psalm?
LORD, you have probed me, you know me: you know when I sit and stand; you understand my thoughts from afar. You sift through my travels and my rest; with all my ways you are familiar. Even before a word is on my tongue, LORD, you know it all. Behind and before you encircle me and rest your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, far too lofty for me to reach. Where can I go from your spirit? From your presence, where can I flee? If I ascend to the heavens, you are there; if I lie down in Sheol, there you are. If I take the wings of dawn and dwell beyond the sea, even there your hand guides me, your right hand holds me fast. [Ps 139:1-10]
From our human perspective, God’s omniscience seems to be a double-edged sword, doesn’t it?

We rejoice that God, in humbling Himself to become one of us, also honors us in our humanity through this same act of love. We rejoice that we are worth so very much to our loving God that even the hairs on our head are numbered. He knows every microbe, every atom of our bodies. He knows our every fear, our worries, our joys, our pains, our sorrows.

But He also knows every sin, every dark secret, every hatred, every weakness. Yes, our awareness of God’s omniscience should, as St. Paul would say, fill us “with fear and trembling” [Phil 2:12].

Did you happen to catch that question the psalmist asked? “Where can I go from your Spirit?” Sometimes we try, like Jonah, to hide from God, to turn up the world’s volume so we can’t hear God’s voice. But it doesn’t work…because God knows my heart. He knows my entire being.

Too often we simply forget this remarkable truth about God. We think we have to teach Him things.

I remember visiting a woman in a nursing home, giving her the Eucharist, and afterwards chatting with her for a while. I had visited her several times before, but had never really had the opportunity to talk with her. Anyway, that day she was very upset with God. She’d been sick for a long time, and really wasn’t getting any better.

“I pray every day,” she said, “hoping that God will help me get better. If God only knew how much I suffer…”

It took every ounce of control not to burst out laughing. That, of course, would not have been very pastoral. Instead I assured her that our all-knowing God certainly knew how she suffered, and that He too had suffered.

I always carried a few cards with me. They had a picture of Christ crucified on one side and the words to that wonderful old “Prayer Before a Crucifix” on the other. I gave her one and we prayed together. We prayed for healing, that the Holy Spirit would take her heart, the heart that God knows so well, and fill it with His healing peace. And as I left that day, for the first time I saw her smile.

But, you see, brothers and sisters, we’re all a little bit like her, aren’t we? We all like to complain about our sufferings. I suffer from occasional migraines; and, believe me, you don’t want to be around me then. Too often I’m not a very good sufferer.

I remember back in my Navy days, a fellow officer, knowing that I was a Catholic, mentioned that he could never be a Christian, much less a Catholic: “You people seem to enjoy suffering so much. That can’t be healthy.”

Well, he sure wasn’t talking about me. And, anyway, he was wrong. Christians don’t enjoy suffering. To enjoy suffering is to be mentally ill. No, Christians accept suffering, and that’s something quite different. We know that suffering is something we all experience. As someone once said, “Suffering is the true democratic experience.”

Nazi death camp survivors
Viktor Frankl, the Jewish psychiatrist who survived years in Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps, wrote a wonderful book, Mans Search for Meaning. In it he writes of our freedom to choose how we will respond to suffering. We can choose to be embittered, broken, hateful, resentful…or we can accept our sufferings as a path to something greater.

As always, Jesus shows us the way. He took His sufferings and turned them into something far greater, into an act of redemption. That act is what all of Scripture points to, for it’s nothing less than the story of God’s love, of His willingness to suffer for you, for me, for all of humanity.

And we are called to join our sufferings to His. We’re called to be like Paul who could say: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” [Col 1:24]

Dear friends, what is lacking in Christ's suffering is our acceptance of our own, willingly taken up with Jesus on His walk up Calvary. As Christians our sufferings have meaning and worth because through them we share in the sacrifice of Christ. When you and I come to understand, if only in the smallest way, His sorrow and His undeserved suffering, ours begins to pale and lighten as we place ourselves at His Side. And it’s through that experience that we learn how well God knows our heart.

It’s through that experience that we realize how faltering, how inadequate our prayer is; and how much we need the Spirit to intercede for us with those "inexpressible groanings" of His. For the Spirit prays for what we need, not what we want.

There will be healings here today, sisters and brothers. Some of you have come for physical and emotional healing. And there will be some of those. But every one of us here today needs spiritual healing, healing of the soul, the healing that comes from total surrender to God.

Yes, God knows your heart. But the question I put before you is: What’s in your heart today?

Are you willing to make an act of surrender, an act of abandonment, and take all that you have, all that you are, and lay it at Jesus’ feet. He wants it all, out of a love so great it’s beyond our understanding. He wants us to mirror His redemptive act of love by sharing in the crosses that we each must bear. Do we recognize the power of this collective faith and the prayers of our community come together as we have here today?

Do we trust that Jesus can do the same for us as faithful, prayerful people who lift others up who need to be healed?

After Mass we’ll have four priests available for the sacrament of reconciliation in the back of the Church. Take advantage of this healing sacrament and the graces it brings.

We’ll also have the laying on of hands right here in front of the sanctuary. Come forward. Turn your heart and mind to Jesus Christ. Give Him permission to come into your life, to work His will within you.

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

Trust God, brothers and sisters. He is not alternatively yes and no. He is always yes, because He knows your heart.

Praised be Jesus Christ…now and forever.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Evangelization - An App for You

The Diocese of Fort Wayne/South Bend in Indiana has developed an iPhone and Android app called "My Year of Faith" to help Catholics get involved in the New Evangelization. I checked it out today and it's definitely worth the 99 cents one must pay to download it.

Here's a brief video describing the app:

If you don't happen to have one of those fancy little smart phones, you can access everything on the app via a website. Click here to check it out at My Year of Faith. The site also includes links to the two smartphone apps.

Given what is happening in our country, I believe the best way to change things is not through the usual political paths, but through active evangelization, from one person to another. Perhaps this app will in some small way help a confused people regain its faith.

The Future of the Church in America

A few days ago I offered my personal reflection on the meaning of the recent elections. In doing so I made no specific predictions, other than suggesting that these elections portend the imminent collapse of Western Civilization. I suppose some might think that's a pretty dire prediction, although such suggestions are nothing new. People have been predicting this for decades. With Christendom gone, the civilization it founded will necessarily decline, to be replaced by something else. I won't even try to predict what that "something else" might be, except to say it will attempt to exert power over all things. In this, of course, it will fail because the power of God's love ultimately overcomes everything.

I'm reminded of something Malcolm Muggeridge wrote over 30 years ago [The End of Christendom, 1980] about an interview he conducted with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. He paraphrases Solzhenitsyn as saying:

"...if in this world you are confronted with absolute power, power unmitigated, unrestrained, extending to every area of human life -- if you are confronted with power in those terms, you are driven to realize that the only possible response to it is not some alternative power arrangement, more humane, more enlightened. The only possible response to absolute power is the absolute love which our Lord brought into the world."
Most Americans have yet to experience the kind of absolute, worldly power of which Solzhenitsyn speaks, the sort of power that confronted those who lived in Hitler's Third Reich, in Stalin's Soviet Union, or in Mao's China. And we naively assume we will never be the objects of those who wield such power. This, after all, is America. To a certain extent those who believe this are probably correct. I also do not expect our nation to turn into the typical 20th-Century fascist or communist state. No, those who wield power here are far too sophisticated, too progressive to follow the failed paths of the past. Instead, as Solzhenitsyn suggests, they will enforce power through a "more humane, more enlightened" sort of society, one in which all of life is controlled for our own good, as those goods are defined by those who hold the reins of power.

How long this transition will take is anyone's guess, but I expect it will not take long. And when it finally occurs, perhaps then, in the midst of this kinder, softer totalitarian oppression, those who have seemingly welcomed this change will begin to question. Perhaps then, as they experience the subtle but relentless attack on their very humanity, they will come to an understanding of what is happening to them. Perhaps then, as they search for answers, they will open their hearts to the only alternative: the power of God's love. And when they do this the Church will still be there to lead them to the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Although this little blog of mine doesn't generate many comments, (I'm pretty sure one has to have readers to get comments), I do receive occasional emails from friends and acquaintances who either agree or take issue with what I've posted. And I always appreciate both. But as a result of my last post, I received quite a few emails complaining about what they perceived to be a sense of despair in what I wrote. The only thing I can say in response is that I am never without hope when it comes to the "permanent things." If claiming that our civilization will ultimately collapse is to despair, I plead guilty. I am not at all optimistic when it comes to worldly hope and change. But then I don't consider our human, worldly civilizations to be all that important when measured alongside the salvation of souls, something of eternal importance. And although I love my country, I realize that it too is of human origin and necessarily doomed to turn to dust.

I do not, however, despair when it comes to the Church -- One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic -- since our Lord, Jesus Christ, promised to remain with us until the end of time. Will the Church in tomorrow's America have a different role than it has today? Not really; but how it must carry out that role will be very different.

This morning I read a most interesting essay ["What the Election Means"] by Fr. Philip de Vous, a Catholic priest and pastor in Kentucky. Fr. de Vous offers his thoughts on the election and what it will mean for the Church and for religious liberty in the near term. It is well worth reading.

God's peace...

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Decadence and Decline

The American people have spoken and, as my late brother once cynically remarked, "You'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American voter." It would seem his cynicism has been borne out by yesterday's election.

As you have probably guessed, I am not happy with the results. My displeasure, however, has less to do with who won or lost in particular elections than the direction these results are taking our society and the unexpected speed of that movement.

To be blunt, I honestly believe Western civilization is nearing its total collapse. It's been coming for some time but I never expected to be alive when it finally happened. Europe, of course, has led the way and only the morally blind cannot see the depth of its decline. I am aware, too, that our nation must eventually go the way of every other nation. Original sin pretty much guarantees that. But I had optimistically held out the hope that the United States of America would last longer than most, that it would rediscover its uniqueness, that its people would somehow reclaim its birthright, that we would defy history and the forces of evil and bring about a rebirth of freedom. Alas, this is not to be. We have, I believe, passed a societal point of no return.

As a nation we seem to have fallen prey to democracy's fatal weakness: the awareness by the majority that they can bleed the minority with impunity. Once politicians grasp this, they use their considerable powers, especially the power of taxation, to aid their friends and harm their foes. Our founding fathers hoped to prevent this by means of a Constitution that would protect the rights of all, include checks and balances, and guarantee separation of powers. What they didn't foresee was: (1) a judiciary that would, in effect, rewrite the Constitution, adapting it to the prevailing zeitgeist; (2) an executive that would increasingly usurp the powers of the legislature; and (3) a weakened legislature that would allow this to happen. When the collapse will occur, I cannot predict, but it will occur, and soon enough.

This modern Western civilization of ours came to be through Christianity, but once its religious foundation crumbles it will cease to exist as a civilization. No civilization can survive when the core values that gave it purpose have disappeared. And Western man cannot survive in the shell of a civilization deprived of these values, its Christian underpinnings. These values are rapidly disappearing in the face of internal decay and corruption. Civilization grows closer to barbarism as it drifts father away from Christianity. Evidence of this can be seen in Western Europe where Christianity is now the faith of only a small minority and consequently is discounted as irrelevant by the politically powerful. These same worldly forces are not content to ignore the remnants of our civilization but have turned on Christianity and its values in an inexplicable suicidal attack. We are now witnessing much the same here in our own country. And, believe me, the signs cannot be dismissed.

Only the most brutal society will slaughter its children by the millions simply because they are inconvenient.

Only the most self-centered society will neither honor its elderly nor aid its infirm, preferring instead to find ways to eliminate them through "managed health care".

Only the most decadent society will equate sodomy with marriage.

Only the most corrupt society will pile up astronomical amounts of debt onto future generations merely to satisfy its own immediate wants.

Only the most faithless society will allow its government to undermine our nation's most cherished freedom, the people's free exercise of their religious beliefs.

The citizens of our nation have reelected a man who sees no evil in either abortion or infanticide, no problem with the continuing destruction of our free-market economy, and no contradiction in same-sex marriage. He bows to those who despise us and shows disdain for our allies. He is a man of his time, a man of our times, a man so certain he is right that he will never admit to being wrong. And he is, once again, our president.

Who's to blame for all this? We all are, along with those who came before us. Too often we stood by silently and watched as our citizenry slid into the decadence that surrounds us. Although I dislike doing so, I assign much of the blame to our American Catholic bishops whose reaction to all this was too little, too late. For years they said little and did less when Catholic politicians screamed their rejection of Church teaching from their bully pulpits in Congress and governors' mansions. Ted Kennedy, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Andrew Cuomo,  John Kerry, Chris Dodd, Martin O'Malley...these and too many other Catholic politicians have set an example that millions of uncatechized Catholics have followed. If it's okay for them, it must be okay for me. As one educated layman said to me a few years ago, "My pastor told me it would be sinful to vote against a candidate just because he's pro-choice or favors gay marriage." Comments like that make one wonder about the involvement of that pastor's bishop.

But perhaps this will wake up our bishops, our clergy, and our laity, and turn them into a holy remnant seeking God's will in their lives. Maybe it's exactly what we need. As my pastor said this morning, "It seems we all have a lot of work to do." He's right. The world is littered with so much dirt and squalor and hatred. Millions devote their lives only to the aimless and irresponsible pursuit of pleasure. These are the obvious symptoms of internal decay and corruption, and God will probably allow a purging. As Evelyn Waugh once wrote [Vile Bodies, 1930], there is "a radical instability in our whole world-order, and soon we shall be walking into the jaws of destruction." But we must always remember: even if our entire civilization crumbles around us, the Church will remain.This was promised us.

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Monday, November 5, 2012


"As Catholics we are called to be engaged in the public discourse, to be involved in the political process, and to exercise our obligation to vote in this very important election." - Bishop John Noonan, Diocese of Orlando

Bishop Noonan also appeared in the following 30-second commercial urging voters to consider the critical issues of life and religious freedom as they cast their ballots. I've included it below.

 The bishops of Florida also released the following statement regarding tomorrow's election. I urge you to read it.

The Church affirms that every Catholic is called to prayerful, active, and responsible participation in the political process. We urge all Catholics who are eligible, to register and vote. For those who are ineligible to vote, especially our youth, we suggest that they pray, study, and offer insights during the election process.

In preparation for the November 6 election, certain actions are necessary to properly form our consciences: (1) Study - consult and become familiar with the teachings of the Church and seek accurate information on issues that impact human life and shape our culture; (2) Discuss - actively participate in thoughtful and respectful conversations with family, fellow parishioners and others; (3) Pray - seek wisdom and guidance through prayer and reflection; then (4) Vote - prayerfully and thoughtfully choose by casting our ballots; and (5) Continue to pray during the elections.

From a moral perspective, all issues are not of equal importance or urgency. Some are more fundamental and deal with matters of intrinsic evil, such as abortion and euthanasia, which must always be rejected or opposed and must never be supported or condoned. Let us share our values with a strong voice and use our votes to shape a society that will defend human life, promote human dignity, preserve traditional marriage and the family, and protect religious freedom. As followers of Christ, we are called to build a more just and peaceful world and care for the weak and defenseless. The Gospel command for us to not forget the least of our brethren is central to our rich and God-given faith.

To assist with choices in the voting booth, we invite you to view the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops Candidate Questionnaire Project, which asks candidates “where they stand” on important issues that may come before them as elected officials. In addition to candidates, several proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution will appear on the November 6 ballot. We have issued statements in support of Amendment 6 (Abortion Funding) and Amendment 8 (Religious Liberty) and urge you to vote yes for the passage of both. Candidates’ responses to the questionnaire and statements on the amendments may be viewed at Copies are also available through local parishes.

Each of us has an important role, and our collective efforts can strengthen our nation and renew our Church. Study, discuss, pray, and then vote with an informed conscience on November 6!

In humility, we seek God’s love and blessings on our cherished state and country.
This is a crucial election, perhaps the most important in our lifetime. Please exercise your right to vote.

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Saturday, November 3, 2012

Homily: 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Jer 31:7-9; Ps 126:1-6; Heb 5:1-6; Mk 10:46-52

A few weeks ago, as we studied John’s Gospel in one of our parish Bible Study sessions, someone asked me why the gospels were so short, why they didn’t tell us more about Jesus and His life. Actually, St. John, at the very end of his Gospel, almost apologizes for this, telling us that the world couldn't hold all the books that would have to be written to tell the full story of Jesus.

I think perhaps too many of us view the gospels simply as a collection of stories about the life of Jesus -- sort of like Boswell's Life of Johnson, only a lot shorter. And so, as we read the gospels, we're often left wondering about what wasn't written. But to do this is to miss the entire point.

You see, the Holy Spirit, in inspiring the gospel writers, knew exactly what He was about. Yes, the gospels are about Jesus, about His life, His teachings, His redemptive passion, death and resurrection -- the centerpiece of human history. And reading them prayerfully certainly brings us closer to Him. But the gospels are also about us, about you and about me. Indeed, we can make a good case for claiming that true conversion to Jesus Christ really begins only when you recognize yourself in the gospel.

The gospels are really a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s their power. That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. The gospels illuminate the blind spots in our lives -- the attachments that keep us from full conversion.

Remember the encounter we had two weeks ago? The rich young man who sought out Jesus and asked what he must do to inherit eternal life. "You are lacking in one thing." Jesus told him. "Sell what you have, give to the poor…come follow me." We can almost feel the man recoil from Jesus, and he went away sad, burdened by his possessions. He came to Jesus sure of his innocence before he Law, but unaware of his weakness before God. He came with a sense that something was missing; but didn’t suspect what it was. For it was everything! His wealth – neither wrongly acquired nor wrongly used – still enslaved him. And for the first time, a great sacrifice was asked of him…but he lacked the heart for it.

Is this materialism our blind spot as well?

And then last Sunday, that other encounter with Jesus? James and John, apostles, brothers, "sons of thunder," the Zebedee boys, so full of zeal…They too asked Jesus a question: “When you come into your glory, may we sit beside you, one on your right and one on your left?”

Jesus' response? "You do not know what you are asking." They too were unprepared for the truth about themselves, about the true nature of their calling. Their status as apostles, their unique relationship with Jesus, filled them with self-importance, the kind that leads to petty rivalries. In essence they said, "Come on, Jesus, tell us that we're better than the others, that we're your favorites."

Oh, yes, they had a blind spot as well -- pride and a lack of Christian humility. We're so much better, they thought, so much holier than the rest. How sad that they can't be like us. And so Jesus illuminates their blind spot: you are called not to be princes, but servants, and you must follow My example in all things, even to the Cross. Of course they don’t understand. It's only later, when confronted by that Cross, that they scatter like scared rabbits, their pride shattered by the reality of Christ's passion and death.

How many of us, blinded by pride, forget that everything comes from God, that we were created in a wondrous act of love, but created to serve, to serve God and to serve each other?

60 years ago I, along with a large group of children, received my First Holy Communion in St. Peter’s Church in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Among those children was a developmentally disabled boy. He was maybe two or three years older than the rest of us and attended a special school so none of us knew him very well. I can’t even recall his name. But I remember he was seated on the aisle at the end of our pew and when it was time to rise and go forward for Communion, he literally leaped to his feet and said, “Jesus!” -- really scared the rest of us. But that’s how excited he was about receiving Jesus for the first time. And whenever I read today’s Gospel passage I think of him.

Because today we encounter Bartimaeus -- Bartimaeus, the son of Timaeus, leaping Bartimaeus, the blind beggar of Jericho. How different from the other encounters with Jesus.

Jesus was leaving Jericho, on His way to Jerusalem, on His way to the Cross, when He passed by the blind beggar named Bartimaeus. Jesus was accompanied by a “sizable crowd,” Mark tells us, no doubt a noisy, pushy crowd, curious about this Jesus.

When Bartimaeus heard Jesus’ name, he cried out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me." What an interesting thing for this man to say. Like all who encountered Jesus, Bartimaeus knew there was something special, something prophetic, something divine, about Him. And so Bartimaeus didn't hold back. In faith he uses the Messianic title, "Son of David" and by doing so proclaims Christ's mission to the world.

His request? So simple: "Have mercy on me." Yes, like all of us, he’s a sinner, filled with weakness, in need of mercy. His blind spot? Strictly a physical one.

The disciples try to shut him up, this beggar, this blind man who's what? An embarrassment? But Bartimaeus won’t comply. He won’t be silenced: "Son of David, have mercy on me."

And Jesus stops. "Call him," He says.

Notice how solicitous the others suddenly become, but how patronizingly solicitous. "Take Heart," they say, "Rise, He is calling you." As if to say, "Remember, Jesus is very important, and unlike us, you're just a worthless beggar. But for some reason Jesus wants to talk to you." But Bartimaeus, in his blindness, is focused not on these others, but on Jesus alone.

And so he leaps to his feet, throws off his cloak, that symbol of his status as a beggar, and makes his way, through his own personal darkness, directly to Jesus. Jesus asks him the same exact question He asked James and John in last Sunday's Gospel: "What do you want me to do for you?"
But the answer is something quite different. Having already admitted his sinfulness, and tasted Jesus' mercy in his heart, Bartimaeus asks for one thing: "Master, I want to see."

How does Jesus respond to this? Not, as we might expect, with, "Receive your sight." No, Jesus simply says, "Go your way; your faith has saved you."

Instantly Bartimaeus can see. And he went, but not his way. No, as Mark tells us, he follows Jesus on the way. For it is Jesus who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

You see, unlike the young rich man, unlike the apostles, in his faith, Bartimaeus really had no blind spots whatsoever. His physical blindness was a mere technicality. Bartimaeus knew exactly what he was -- not a blind beggar, but a sinner in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. “Master, I want to see” – not to see with his eyes. No, he wanted to be cured of spiritual blindness so he could see the way, the truth, and the life.

And so we’re each left with a question: Where do I see myself in the Gospel? Am I like the rich young man, blinded and enslaved by my possessions, so wrapped up in the world that to follow Jesus is unthinkable? Or am I like James and John, so caught up in myself that I lose sight of God's call to love and serve Him and His people?

Let us pray today that, like Bartimaeus, we can all turn to the Father in humility, begging for His mercy, and that we too may see the way He has planned for each of us.

Catholic Vote: Prayer for America

On Tuesday our nation is faced with a choice. Choose religious freedom. Choose life. Vote as an informed and faithful Catholic. And pray for our nation. Visit

Heroines Today

After posting the story earlier today about the French Trappist monks who sacrificed their lives in Algeria in 1996, I thought it might be uplifting to hear about another group of Trappists, in this instance a small group of Italian nuns, who live in a monastery in the western Syrian village of Azeir.
Cistercian Nuns in front of their monastery in Azeir, Syria

Like Algeria in the 1990s, Syria today is suffering from the effects of a gruesome civil war, a war in which both sides have been guilty of horrible atrocities. Although the majority of these atrocities have been committed by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, the rebel forces have become increasingly brutal as more and more Islamist extremists join their ranks. In the midst of all this violence and chaos, five Cistercian nuns carry on at their small Monastery of Valserena, determined to remain as a sign of Christ's presence. As their superior, Sister Monica, stated, "...we are part of this community and cannot leave at a time of trial. Its fate is our fate...Christians are called to bear witness to it [Christian hope] in the world. Since we have been called to Syria, why leave?"

The nuns ask us all to pray for the people of Syria who have experienced so much tragedy in their lives since the civil war began early last year.  Pray too for these courageous women.

Read more here and here.

Heroes on Film

Yesterday Dear Diane and I went to the movies, something we don't do very often. But it was out 44th anniversary, so movies and dinner seemed like a good choice. We saw the Ben Affleck film, "Argo," very loosely based on the escape of a group of American diplomats from revolutionary Iran in the midst of the 1979 hostage crisis. The movie tells an interesting story with a good Hollywood, edge-of-your-seat ending, but unfortunately it's also highly inaccurate in too many critical areas. I can understand the filmmakers adding some excitement to turn the story into more of a thriller. One expects that in a movie. But I am mystified as to why they felt the need to rewrite Iranian history, downplay the role of the Canadians, and misrepresent the role of both the UK and New Zealand. It was an okay movie, though, and told a story of regular, if not particularly likable, folks who were thrust into a situation demanding courage if not heroism. I actually enjoyed our later dinner at a local Mexican restaurant much more than the movie.
The Seven Martyred Trappists

If you want to watch a film depicting true heroism, let me recommend "Of Gods and Men," the story of a group of French Cistercian monks caught up in the 1990s civil war in another Muslim country, Algeria. These Trappists from Our Lady of Atlas monastery, about 40 miles south of Algiers, decided to remain despite death threats from Islamist militants. They even refused military protection, not because they wanted to die, but because the local villages couldn't also be protected. The monks enjoyed an excellent relationship with their Muslim neighbors, helping the poor and providing free medical care. These men, then, placed their trust in God, knowing that they would all likely be killed. As it happened, in March 1996, seven of the monks were abducted by nearly 20 members of the Armed Islamic Group, and were beheaded two months later after France refused to negotiate the release of detainees. Read more here. I've included the film's trailer below.


Vote as an informed, faithful Catholic! Vote for Life!

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Surprising Stories

Most news stories today are hardly news. By this I mean that they really don't surprise, but instead only confirm what one already knows or suspects to be true. For example, let me share a few of this morning's news stories. Here are the headlines...

Security draft would force agencies to share cyber-threat information. If you've ever worked for or with the federal government, the fact that US intelligence agencies haven't been sharing such information with likely targets 11 years after the 911 attack won't surprise you. Government entities -- Congress included -- tend to be reactive, unwilling to anticipate problems. Rather than take what might be the politically unsafe path, they prefer instead to wait until they are forced to act in the midst of a full-blown crisis. This executive order from the White House will, of course, fall far short of what's needed.

Gun industry going gangbusters. Again, no surprise here. Whenever he lets his guard down, the president clearly shows he is no friend of the Second Amendment. Many Americans, concerned about possible restrictions should the president win a second term, have been visiting their local gun shops to buy handguns, shotguns, rifles and ammunition. Those of you who prefer not to own a gun, can always buy stock in the industry. The stocks of many gun manufacturers have more than doubled in value over the past four years. 
Gun Sales Booming under Obama

Unemployment drops in seven swing states. Oooh...surprise, surprise. The administration's Bureau of Labor Statistics, three weeks before the election, has suddenly presented us with the lowest unemployment rate -- 7.8% -- since the president was elected. Not addressed was the fact that the vast majority of all these "new" jobs were part-time jobs held by people still looking for full-time work. 

TSA workers at Newark face firing or suspension. This is one of those stories that generates a yawn tempered by some mild surprise. The surprise is that TSA finally got around to firing anyone. At this one airport (Newark) TSA fired 25 of its employees and suspended 19 others. That's a rather large number, don't you think? They were fired because of "improper screening of checked luggage." Let me translate this little snippet of bureaucratic speak: they were stealing items from passengers' luggage. No surprise there.

Swapping real freedom for perceived safety

Occasionally, however, I come across news items that really do surprise. How about this one:

Hunting buddies hug
Justice Kagan says Scalia is game hunting partner. In a recent interview Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, one of the most liberal members of the court, stated she was taught how to hunt birds by none other than Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the court's most conservative members. The two now plan a hunting trip to Wyoming in search of larger game. Justice Kagan said she hopes to bag an antelope. This is not a story I ever expected to read.

Vocations Boom. This is another headline one doesn't see too often these days. But it's true, and it relates to an order of Cistercian nuns near Madison, Wisconsin, the only community of Cistercian nuns in the English-speaking world. Over the past ten years this community of cloistered contemplatives has doubled in size to 20 women and they expect this growth to continue. They are building a new monastery designed to house 35 nuns. This story shouldn't have surprised me since the "boom" in religious vocations is occurring only in those orders in close communion with the Church and its magisterium. The photo below is an artist's rendering of the proposed monastery, a design based on traditional Cistercian architecture. To help defray the costs, click here.

Pope believes Christianity will rekindle in Europe. Again, this headline surprised me, although it shouldn't  have. On many occasions, and in several of his books, Pope Benedict XVI has addressed the sad state of Christianity in once-Christian Europe. And my own experience, including five trips to Europe during the past 12 years, has left me less than optimistic regarding a rekindling of Christian faith among Europeans. But Pope Benedict understands, far better than most, that ideologies always leave a void. They never fulfill. They never satisfy the deepest longing of the human heart, the desire for God. In his words, “The Gospel…is true and can therefore never wear out. In each period of history it reveals new dimensions…as it responds to the needs of the heart and mind of human beings, who can walk in this truth and so discover themselves...It is for this reason, therefore, that I am convinced there will also be a new springtime for Christianity.” We can only hope and pray he is correct. Read more here.

Joe Biden on Ash Wednesday
Bishop to Biden: No Communion in Colorado Springs Diocese. Another surprise: a bishop who teaches what the Church teaches and acts on it. Bishop Michael Sheridan of Colorado Springs has instructed Vice President Biden (a Catholic) not to present himself for Holy Communion in the Diocese of Colorado Springs when he campaigns in Colorado. As the bishop stated: "There must be no confusion in these matters...Any Catholic politicians who advocate for abortion, for illicit stem cell research or for any form of euthanasia ipso facto place themselves outside full communion with the Church and so jeopardize their salvation. Any Catholics who vote for candidates who stand for abortion, illicit stem cell research or euthanasia suffer the same fateful consequences. It is for this reason that these Catholics, whether candidates for office or those who would vote for them, may not receive Holy Communion until they have recanted their positions and been reconciled with God and the Church in the Sacrament of Penance." Read more here.

Catholic Colleges Outnumbered by Other Christian Colleges Suing HHS. This headline took me by surprise, because I truly expected more Catholic colleges to follow the University of Notre Dame's lead and join in the lawsuits challenging the HHS mandate. (See my post, Who's Suing the Obama Administration?) This hasn't happened. Instead a growing number of Protestant colleges have come aboard, to the extent that these non-Catholic Christian schools now outnumber the Catholic schools involved in the lawsuits -- a bittersweet turn of events. It's good because it destroys the administration's claim that this is strictly a Catholic issue derived from the Church's so-called anti-women teachings on contraception. And not so good because it makes one wonder why so many Catholic colleges in the country have chosen to ignore this serious threat to religious freedom. Read more here.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Polarization and Cowardice

Have you noticed a growing polarization in almost every area of human conduct? For example, politics as the art of compromise seems a relic of the past as the left and the right line up behind their issues and become virtually immovable. Whether it's health care, immigration, taxation, foreign policy, national defense, same-sex "marriage", capital punishment, global warming, whatever...the battle lines are drawn with few willing to give more than a few inches. On these and many other issues, though, it's only the rare individual who consistently falls on one side or the other. Many, perhaps most, people are philosophically and ethically rudderless, and so they wander back and forth across the lines depending on the issue and their personal stake in it. But there seems to be one issue that trumps all others, one issue that defines where a person actually stands: the protection of innocent life. And at the heart of this issue is abortion.

For many people today the idea that a woman has a right to an abortion trumps virtually every other issue. But these folks aren't just on the traditional left, since many supporters of abortion rights would be considered conservative by most Americans. This is because for many conservatism has come to mean fiscal conservatism of the kind epitomized by the question: "Their spending my tax money on what?" Sadly, too many people are more concerned about protecting the contents of their wallets than protecting the lives of innocents. And so they tolerate so-called pro-choice politicians so long as they promise tax breaks and reduced spending. Indeed the "pro-choice" label was invented to provide electoral cover for those politicians who claim they don't favor abortion per se but simply want women to have a choice, to be able to make their own decision on such a personal matter. These are the "I'm personally against abortion, but..." politicians, and their name is Legion.

Of course, if a politician is "personally against" abortion and yet claims to be "pro-choice", we can only assume he is severely logically challenged. On the few occasions I've had the opportunity to question one of these confused officials, I've simply asked him, "Why are you personally against abortion?" Such a simple question, but one they cannot answer without condemning themselves, and so they either change the subject or just refuse to answer. The only logical reason to be personally opposed to abortion is the belief it is the taking of innocent life. And if one believes that, how can he favor giving someone the right to choose that outcome? The question forces the person to accept abortion for what it is, the willful killing of an innocent human being.

Too many of our politicians, however, care little about the morality of these issues, preferring instead to focus on their reelection. They will, therefore, squirm their way out of such confrontations by inundating their interrogators, and their constituents, with words, lots and lots of words, all signifying nothing. For they have learned that unless a politician's public stance and legislative record is strongly pro-life, he'll probably earn a pass from the abortion rights folks who will focus their efforts and their spending on defeating those politicians they consider the real "enemy".

And it's not just the politicians. In one of my ministries I work with people from a variety of Christian denominations and the one issue that overpowers all those that separate us is abortion. Sadly, it's pretty much the same story within the Church. Whenever I preach a pro-life homily I can be certain that I will be approached by one or more parishioners after Mass who apparently cannot understand why I, an ordained permanent deacon in the Catholic Church, would preach such divisive ideas as respect for life and the rejection of intrinsic evil. I used to argue with them, but no more. Now I simply smile and say, "I will pray for you," and then turn my attention to the next parishioner.

What a world! Lies, lies everywhere...except with Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Before you do anything else, why not take a minute to pray Pope John Paul II's prayer to Mary, Mother of Life.

O Mary,
bright dawn of the new world,
Mother of the living,
to you do we entrust the cause of life:
Look down, O Mother,
upon the vast numbers of babies not allowed to be born,
of the poor whose lives are made difficult,
of men and women who are victims of brutal violence,
of the elderly and the sick killed
by indifference or out of misguided mercy.

Grant that all who believe in your Son
may proclaim the Gospel of life
with honesty and love
to the people of our time.

Obtain for them the grace
to accept that Gospel
as a gift ever new,
the joy of celebrating it with gratitude
throughout their lives
and the courage to bear witness to it
resolutely, in order to build,
together with all people of good will,
the civilization of truth and love,
to the praise and glory of God,
the Creator and lover of life.
Pax et bonum...