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.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

A New France...or the End of France?

While reading several reports out of Europe on the recent election of France's new president, socialist Francois Hollande, I came across some photographs of the post-election celebrations at La Bastille Plaza in Paris. In the first photo below I couldn't help but notice that the victors are waving lots of flags, but could spot only one French flag. There are flags from Palestine, Turkey, Syria, Algeria, and Morocco. There's even a European Union flag along with a number of unrecognizable flags that probably represent trade unions and other organizations. The sole French flag is in the lower right corner. It would seem, then, that a large percentage of those celebrating Hollande's victory were Muslims who apparently express little loyalty toward their adoptive country.

One published analysis of the election results stated two million Muslims voted in the election, and over 90% of them voted for Hollande. This was more than enough to ensure Hollande's victory over Sarkozy. (See this article in the Business Insider.)

I searched for other photos of the celebrations just to make sure the above photo wasn't an aberration, and I found another (below) and, once again, I could spot only one French flag, this time a small one in the upper right corner.

In addition to the overwhelming support he received from Muslims, Hollande also received 70% of the vote of those who consider themselves irreligious. On the other hand, nearly 80% of practicing Catholics voted for Sarkozy. And a significant majority of French Jews, unlike American Jews who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, also voted for Sarkozy. This no doubt stems from the European left's overt antisemitism and hostility toward Israel.

I don't usually make predictions when it comes to things political, but these election results are less political than they are cultural. With the socialists now in power -- and if there's one thing the left knows how to do it's wield power -- they will strive mightily to maintain that power. Since the Muslim vote handed him the election, Hollande will do what is necessary to keep the growing Muslim community on his side. If he doesn't, he risks a violent backlash that could lead to a level of unrest approaching civil war.

Unfortunately for Hollande, he's a socialist and his economic policies will do nothing but further damage the nation's already sick economy. All the bones he tosses to the Muslim community will mean nothing when unemployment soars and the French welfare state no longer has the money to pay for all the benefits much of the populace has come to expect. As the indomitable Maggie Thatcher once said, "The trouble with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people's money."  When that happens, the wealthy will leave the country and take their wealth with them, the middle class working people will be dumbstruck wondering what has happened to their country, and the mobs will hit the streets. And mobs are never a good thing.

So...any way you look at it, France seems destined to encounter a violent future, and I think it will happen sooner rather than later.

France may have the largest Muslim population in Europe but it's not unique, and the left has begun to recognize that Europe's Muslims generally support candidates on the left. This will no doubt continue until that population reaches a level where Muslims can field their own candidates in nationwide elections, and win. When that occurs, they will discard the secular left and embrace an Islamic future, and Europe will no longer be Europe. Here's a link to an article addressing this: Muslim Voters Change Europe.

It's all very interesting, and symptomatic of Europe's rejection of its Christian roots and the faith of its fathers. Only by reclaiming and living that faith can Europe hope to reverse the current trend and save itself.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Memorial Day

Dear Diane and I are leaving tomorrow for points slightly north...North Carolina to be exact. I haven't posted too much recently but hope to change that once we return after the holiday weekend.

In the meantime, take some time from the barbeques and other festivities this Memorial Day weekend to remember those who willingly gave their lives for the rest of us. I think of my friends and Naval Academy classmates who lost their lives on active duty in Vietnam and elsewhere: Henry Wright, Guido Carloni, Hal Castle, Bart Creed, Jim Hicks, and so many others. Below is a photo of a plaque in Memorial Hall at the Naval Academy honoring the members of my class who died on active duty. You will notice the last name is that of Mike Smith, the pilot of the space shuttle Challenger. (Click on the photo to enlarge it.)

I've also included a video that I thought was especially appropriate:

I'll close this post with a quote from President Ronald Reagan, Memorial Day 1986:

I know that many veterans of Vietnam will gather today, some of them perhaps by the wall. And they're still helping each other on. They were quite a group, the boys of Vietnam -- boys who fought a terrible and vicious war without enough support from home, boys who were dodging bullets while we debated the efficacy of the battle. It was often our poor who fought in that war; it was the unpampered boys of the working class who picked up the rifles and went on the march. They learned not to rely on us; they learned to rely on each other. And they were special in another way: They chose to be faithful. They chose to reject the fashionable skepticism of their time. They chose to believe and answer the call of duty. They had the wild, wild courage of youth. They seized certainty from the heart of an ambivalent age; they stood for something.

And we owe them something, those boys. We owe them first a promise: That just as they did not forget their missing comrades, neither, ever, will we. And there are other promises. We must always remember that peace is a fragile thing that needs constant vigilance. We owe them a promise to look at the world with a steady gaze and, perhaps, a resigned toughness, knowing that we have adversaries in the world and challenges and the only way to meet them and maintain the peace is by staying strong. 
God's peace...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Test of Fire: Election 2012

A parishioner just sent me a link to this remarkable video that encourages Catholic voters to think seriously about the real issues in the 2012 elections for president and members of Congress. I've been told it was produced by a group of laymen in Pembroke Pines, FL. It's very well done and I trust it will receive wide exposure.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cardinal Dolan on Religious Freedom

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is my latest hero. He's been leading the Church's charge against the Obama administration's attack on religious freedom in general and on the Catholic Church in particular. The president has been trying to present the controversy to the public as if it were solely a dispute over contraception, which of course it isn't. Although Church teaching is clear in its condemnation of artificial contraception, the bishops are not at all seeking to ban contraception. Indeed, the controversy isn't about banning anything. No, Cardinal Dolan and his brother bishops object to the administration's attempt to force the Catholic Church and its institutions to provide contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients in the health care plans it offers to its employees.

I can guarantee this issue will not go away, and I can't see the U.S. bishops caving on any aspect of it, not as long as Cardinal Dolan's in charge. The below video is of Cardinal Dolan's appearance on Bill O'Reilly's Factor show in late March. As you might expect, O'Reilly doesn't fully understand the basis of the controversy and apparently thinks the Church and its bishops want to ban contraception.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Around the World...

Pakistani Christians Protest
Pakistan [from AsiaNews]. Finally, out of Pakistan comes some good news for Christians. Asif Masih (24), a young Catholic from the village of Kathore, had been falsely accused of blasphemy by two Muslim neighbors and subsequently arrested. Blasphemy is a very serious offense in Pakistan and can result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty. Defending oneself against such accusations is problematic for Christians since the trial usually turns into a he-said-he-said situation in which the testimony of Muslims carries more weight in court than that of a Christian. This time, however, young Asif was supported by a wealthy Muslim landowner, Chaudhary Khalid Cheema, as well as by most of the villagers (all Muslim) who came to his defense at his trial on May 9.

During the trial, testimony showed that the main accuser, Muhammad Boota, had falsely accused Asif, who was then released for lack of evidence. Asif's parish priest spoke of how the blasphemy law had been often abused in the past, but this time he "was touched by the solicitude of Muslim landowners, the Muslim community and the local administration." Afterwards, Chaudhary Khalid Cheema, Asif's prominent defender, stated that "being Muslim is no reason to defend Muhammad Boota because his behavior towards Asif Masih was repugnant." He then went on to say, "I have no doubts that the young Christian is innocent...We will stand by the Christians for their rights, and will live together with equal respect and dignity."

May his tribe increase...

Indonesia [from AsiaNews]. I'm all for freedom of speech, but I have to admit this little piece of news out of Indonesia generated some mixed feelings. It seems the authorities in Indonesia have cancelled Lady Gaga's concert, scheduled for June 3 in Jakarta, because they deemed it "incompatible with the culture and moral values of the country." Indonesia, of course, is a Muslim nation; indeed it is the most populous Muslim nation in the world. And yet, surprisingly, it's reported that Lady Gaga has quite a large following among young Indonesians, a fact not lost on Indonesia's influential Islamist organizations. While the growing influence of Islamist radicals cannot be considered a good thing for Christians living in the country, a small part of me wants to cheer them on for showing Lady Gaga the door. They have accused the pop star of being an "admirer of Lucifer," an accusation I am unable to affirm or dispute. I simply find her distasteful. The problem, of course, is that these Islamists would likely level this same accusation at Christians simply because we're not Muslim. As I said...mixed feelings.
Advertising the Lady Gaga concert in Jakarta
It's also important to realize that historically freedom of speech -- which today has morphed into "freedom of expression" so that it encompasses far more than speech -- once had its limits. I believe it's safe to say that our founding fathers would not have considered x-rated movies, flag burning, internet porn, or Lady Gaga shows acceptable forms of expression protected by the Constitution. They, too, would have considered each of these "incompatible with the culture and moral values of the country." My, how far we have come since those unenlightened days. We now permit virtually anything under the banner of free speech -- After all, it's a right enshrined in the First Amendment, isn't it? -- while at the same time we prohibit most religious speech in the public square. But isn't that right also explicitly guaranteed in the First Amendment? Well, yes, sort of...but our reigning cultural and moral values are different today and they don't include religious expression. All that religious talk irritates too many people.

And so Lady Gaga -- banned in Jakarta, but not in Boston -- will probably just add another concert here in the USA to enhance her bottom line. I'm so happy for her.

Washigton, DC [Cardinal Newman Society]. Georgetown University, the nation's oldest (1789) Catholic University, has invited Kathleen Sebelius, the Obama administration's Secretary of Heath and Human Services (HHS) to speak at the Jesuit university on commencement day. She is slated to speak at an awards ceremony for the university's Public Policy Institute. Normally, inviting a cabinet member to speak would generate little interest or controversy. But Secretary Sebelius is the author and future enforcer of the administration's recent decision to trample on the religious freedom of Catholic organizations by forcing them to either shut down or support government programs that are completely contrary to core Catholic beliefs. This decision has been condemned by the U.S. bishops who have declared that they will not comply with these unjust requirements.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I'll admit that I attended Georgetown for one academic year (1962-63) prior to receiving an appointment to the Naval Academy. I can say only that this university was a very different place back then. The decision by the school's current administration to invite Sebelius to speak is nothing less than a scandal, and in the minds of many will place the university in opposition to the U.S. bishops as they cope with what is perhaps the greatest threat to religious freedom in our nation's recent history. As Georgetown professor, Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., wrote today, "The rule of thumb in these matters is: 'Tell me who you honor and I will tell you what you are.'”

By the way, eight faculty members signed a letter asking the university's president to withdraw the invitation to Secretary Sebelius -- that's eight out of nearly 2,000. How very sad.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Blue Angels over Annapolis - In the Cockpit

This is more than a little change of pace from my usual post, but as an old, retired naval aviator, I couldn't resist sharing this video. It was taken from the cockpit of one of the Blue Angels' FA-18s during an air show over the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. I suggest viewing it "full-screen" if you have a good monitor. Enjoy...

A Little Taste of Kerry

In advance of our trip to Ireland later this year, I've been scouring the web for information in the form of tips, apps, guides and anything else that might help me as I prepare in my uniquely obsessive way. One iPad app I downloaded includes several videos describing various parts of the country. Since we're planning to visit County Kerry and will spend a night at Ballyseede Castle in Tralee, I'm particularly interested in making the drive along the famous Ring of Kerry. And so I took a few minutes to watch an embedded video in which two young locals, Joe McGill and Des O'Sullivan, describe South Kerry and its attractions. I enjoyed it so much I've included it below:

Archbishop Wenski on the President

Thomas Wenski, our former bishop here in Orlando and now the Archbishop of Miami, spoke to a reporter while in Rome for his ad limina visit with Pope Benedict. During the interview the archbishop commented on President Obama's recent public support for homosexual (aka, "same-sex") marriage. He considers the president's statement strictly a political move meant to distract the voters from the real issues that will ultimately define the election in November. Here's a brief video, thanks to Rome Reports, that includes Archbishop Wenski's comments:

Website for Children

There's a new website designed to help parents teach their children the basics of their Catholic faith. Called the site presents these basic concepts graphically and in language children can understand. Here's a brief video describing the site:

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The David Myth

I find it both interesting and disturbing that so many biblical scholars disbelieve most of what's in the Bible. The so-called "David Myth" is a good example of what I mean. According to many scholars, King David, who, along with Abraham and Moses (two other mythical figures), can only be described as a central figure in the Old Testament, simply did not exist. He was instead the fictional creation of priests and political leaders who needed to provide the people with a heroic figure who epitomized the mythological former glory of this primitive tribal people. David, the youthful shepherd who became a giant killer, a great strategist and general, and a king respected by all the nations, is simply too good to be true. Too great to have been created by God, he must have been created by man. As I said, this really disturbs me.

The documentary evidence for David's existence is, of course, substantial. It's called the Bible. If we substituted David's name with the name of some obscure ancient Middle Eastern king, and then discovered these writings in a desert cave, there would be rejoicing among the archaeologists and textual scholars that we now knew so much about this previously little known potentate. But for some reason, the Bible is generally discounted as an historical document. After all, it's filled with all those odd theophanies, all those concocted and impossible manifestations of this minor tribal god. How can anyone believe anything in documents littered with such obviously tall tales? And what really bothers these scholars is that, even in these enlightened times, so many people -- believing Jews and Christians -- still accept all of it.
Aerial view of excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa

In recent years, however, there's been a constant stream of archaeological evidence pouring out of the Holy Land in support of the Bible as real history, and this includes the story of David and his kingdom. The latest evidence comes from the excavation of a fortified Iron Age city at Khirbet Qeiyafa that dates from the time of David. The archaeological evidence points to its being a Jewish city in the Kingdom of Judah. All of this evidence argues that the Jews of the 11th century B.C. lived in urban settings, something that supporters of the "David Myth" have disputed, believing instead that urbanization didn't occur until centuries later. And so it appears that this primitive tribe of nomadic shepherds might actually have been more sophisticated and advanced than previously thought. In other words, they were pretty much just as they are described in the Bible.

To read a brief overview of the report of this excavation, click here: The Sacred Page.

To read a more detailed report, click here: Israel Antiquities Authority.

And if you're really interested in this general subject of the historical accuracy of Scared Scripture, let me suggest reading K. A. Kitchen's fascinating book, On the Reliability of the Old Testament.

In the meantime, read your Bible every day, and believe what you read.


Alone At Last

Have you ever watched one of those UFO "documentaries" that appear now and again on various cable channels? Usually I just click the remote and move on to something else, but the other day I actually spent perhaps ten minutes watching the end of one of these programs. The narrator, whose deep, sonorous radio voice sounded very serious indeed, seemed convinced that aliens from other worlds were visiting earth on an almost daily basis. Why, the evidence is simply overwhelming. How else can we explain all those blurry photos of flying saucers and strange lights in the sky? How can we possibly dismiss the hundreds of personal testimonies of so many seemingly normal people who have experienced close encounters with intelligent extraterrestrials? How else can we explain Area 51 in Nevada? And, of course, the almost incomprehensible vastness of the universe argues that there must be millions of planets right here in our own galaxy capable of supporting life. At least that's what some people think.

I, however, have always been an ET heretic. Aliens are wonderful grist for the science-fiction mill, and make great movie heroes and villains, but do they really exist? Personally, I don't think so. That's right, I believe we earthlings are all alone in the universe. As I said, this is scientific heresy.

Based on the Hubble telescope's deep space exploration, some astronomers estimate that our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains perhaps 300 billion stars and that there are probably 500 billion galaxies in the universe. How many stars, then, are in our universe? Assuming your pocket calculator can handle so many zeroes, you would end up with a very large number indeed:


...which I believe is 150 sextillion. I might be wrong here, since it's easy to lose track of some of those "...illions" when you get to the really big numbers. But, really, does it make a heck of a lot of difference if we're off by a few zeroes one way or the other? The number is still mind-boggling and if anything is likely an underestimate since astronomers seem always to be discovering more and more in our fascinating universe.

Hubble Telescope - Deep Space - Galaxies
Now, estimating the number of stars in the universe doesn't generate a lot of controversy. I would guess that most astronomers consider such estimates as moving targets, and one educated guess is likely as good as another. Things can get a little interesting, though, when scientists start talking about extraterrestrial life. Most who study such things seem to believe there must be lots of planets capable of supporting life. Such planets must have solid (rocky) surfaces, water, and an atmosphere. Exobiologists -- they're the very smart people who devote themselves to the study of extraterrestrial life even though they have yet to find anything to study -- make a lot of assumptions about such planets. The most remarkable assumption is that life will definitely arise on any planet with those basic requirements. Without any real evidence to support their position, they claim that the creation (a word they wouldn't use) of life is inevitable. It's so inevitable that Frank Drake, a scientist of the SETI Institute estimates our galaxy contains at least 10,000 advanced civilizations that are searching for us just as we are searching for them. (SETI, by the way, stands for the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence.) All of this optimism is based on nothing more than a single data point: earth. And despite all our knowledge, we really don't understand how life came into being on our own planet -- lots of guesses, but no real knowledge.

So far, the ongoing, active search for extraterrestrial life has yielded absolutely nothing. We've heard no Martian hip-hop, viewed no soap operas from Alpha Centuri, caught no news reports from Andromeda. What if we actually are unique? What if earth is the only place in our entire universe where life exists? I may well be wrong; there may be all kinds of intelligent aliens driving around the universe in their warp-drive spaceships. But so far...nothing.

Actually, I think most of these scientists and their fellow travelers are petrified of dealing with the ramifications of earthly uniqueness. If we are alone in the universe, then life isn't quite so "natural"; it doesn't just happen. And this, of course, would bring God back into the picture. What if "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth...Then God said: Let there be Light and there was" the Big Bang. A scary thought indeed.
When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars that you set in place -- "What is man that you are mindful of him, and a son of man that you care for him? Yet you have made him little less than a god, crowned him with glory and honor." - Psalm 8:4-6

Saturday, May 12, 2012

One Thing After Another

Today, for the first time in a several weeks, I stepped away from all the things that seem to monopolize my time, and just sat down to read and relax. I thought about turning on the television to catch up on the world news, but then decided against it. Indeed, reading has always relaxed me, while watching television seems to have the opposite effect. For example, early each day, after my morning walk around our neighborhood, I sit down with the newspaper and my first cup of coffee. Interestingly, reading the paper, even on those days when it's filled with bad news, rarely upsets me. Oh, I'll occasionally shake my head at the general stupidity of humanity, but that's about it. Watching the news on TV, however, often generates an entirely different and far more lively response.

I don't believe the human psyche was designed to accept the constant barrage of information of the sort originating from the all-news cable channels. Fox News, MSNBC, CNN, and whatever other news networks are out there, all fire a steady stream of bullet-like news items -- some newsworthy, most not -- at their targets, and that's you and me. Like the body of a soldier being hit repeatedly by withering machine-gun fire, our minds are unable to absorb the shock of all this information. Like those bullets, every story seems to carry equal weight. None is perceived to be more important than another, for each gets an allotted 10 or 20 or 30 seconds of air time: a man is executed in Florida; another is convicted of fraud in Texas; the president decides homosexual marriage is fine and dandy; the Iranians crank up another bunch of nuclear centrifuges; Egyptians Christians are murdered outside the doors of their church; newly elected Greeks fail to form a coalition government; a socialist government takes the reins in France; the Hollywood "elites" cough up millions for the president's reelection; the new, improved maniac in charge of North Korea threatens to destroy us; a 40-pound house cat dies; and on and on... Not only does all of this come at us rapid-fire, but there's never a ceasefire. It doesn't stop. The same stories are aired repeatedly for a day or two while new or revised stories are added to the mix. What's the average citizen to make of it all?

And so I pick up a book instead, or a magazine, or a newspaper, or even my iPad. In each instance I can at least partially control the source of the news and its depth of coverage. And because I can fully control the rate at which I receive this information, I can actually take some time to think about it and weigh its meaning. And these days I can even do a little fact-checking on my own.

David Bentley Hart
The first thing I read today was the June/July issue of First Things, which arrived in yesterday's mail. And the first thing I turned to in First Things was David Bentley Hart's monthly essay, "The Back Page." This month Dr. Hart addressed the subject of human death in his essay, "Death the Stranger." He wrote of death not as something natural but as something unnatural, as something that breaks unannounced into our humanity and interrupts "a story that might otherwise have continued to unfold." He makes a point of separating human death from the surrounding natural cycle of birth and death, a separation founded on our unique rationality, on the fact that unlike other creatures we are able to reflect on such matters as life and death. In his words, "Our consciousness of death constitutes an absolute alienation from the rest of the natural world." It's really quite a wonderful and profound essay. I recommend it, and suspect it will be available online in a few days; otherwise, subscribe to First Things. It's a great journal.

Thomas Howard
While reading Dr. Hart's essay, I couldn't help but recall an article published in last month's issue of First Things. Entitled "Two Deaths", it was written by Thomas Howard, a man whom I met on a few occasions and whose books and other writings I have enjoyed immensely over the years. A far more personal essay than Dr. Hart's, it addresses the execution of a friend, a death-row pen pal with whom Dr. Howard had regularly corresponded for 10 years. He then juxtaposed this one man's death with the recent death of another, Archduke Otto, the heir to the long-gone Hapsburg throne. It too is a beautiful essay, one of those brief pieces that leads your mind to think of many other things.

In preparation for my upcoming trip to Ireland, I've also been reading Joseph Pearce's fascinating biography of Oscar Wilde, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde. In fact, I just finished it this afternoon. If you haven't read it, do so. It certainly changed my view of this complex man. And this morning Diane and I took a little break and drove the golf cart to our local library where I checked out Volume Three of W. B. Yeats' Collected Works, which includes his autobiographical writings. I have to be able to hold my own in the only nation in the world where everyone considers himself a literary critic. Even I, however, have my limits and I refuse to read James Joyce again. After making my way through Ulysses some years ago, I decided it should have come with a warning: "Drink before reading." It certainly appears that Joyce did just that as he sat down to write it.

Pax et bonum...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Reflection on the Eucharist

The following is a brief reflection on the Eucharist I gave to a group on May 2, the feast of St. Athanasius.

In case you missed it, today is the feast of St. Athanasius, Father of the Church, and a true soldier of Christ. Athanasius is among my favorite saints, and I wanted to give his name to my first son, but for some reason my wife, Diane, vetoed the idea.

Anyway, Athanasius was quite a scrapper, and back in the 4th Century he fought many a spiritual battle against the heresy of Arianism, a very popular heresy that denied the divinity of Christ. Of course, if we deny Christ’s divinity, most of our core beliefs as Christians become meaningless – and this is particularly true of the Eucharist.

In a sermon to newly baptized Christians, St. Athanasius said,
“You shall see the Levites bringing loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ…the Word comes down into the bread and wine – and thus His Body is confected.”
Like those newly baptized Christians in the early Church, I think we sometimes need to be reminded what it is we receive when we receive the Eucharist. Yes, of course, we receive the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we – and I use the word “we” and not “I” intentionally – receive even more than this. It is through the Eucharist that we receive the Church from our Lord; and, indeed, without the Eucharist, we would have no Church.

Another saint of the early Church, Augustine, also in an Easter Vigil sermon to the newly baptized, summed it up well when he said:
“It needs to be made clear to you what it is that you have received. Hear briefly, then, what the Apostle Paul – or rather Christ through Paul – says about the sacrament of the Body of the Lord.
“‘We who are many are one Body…one Bread.’ (1 Cor 10:17) Behold,” Augustine continues, “that is all; I have told it to you quickly; but weigh these words, do not count them.”
In Augustine’s view, this one sentence of Paul’s sums up the whole mystery of what these new Christians received in the Eucharist: "We who are many are one Body…one Bread."

Just a few words, he reminds us, but weighty words, words that open to us what the Eucharist is all about. It’s through the Eucharist that Christ builds Himself a Body and makes us into one single Bread, one single Body.

The content of the Eucharist, then, what happens in it, is the uniting of Christians. Yes, it’s through the Eucharist that Christ brings us from our state of separation into the unity of one Bread, one Body. That’s why the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian life.”

And so the Eucharist is at the very heart of a dynamic, living process, a process central to the very formation and growth of the Church. Addressing this, Pope Benedict wrote, "It is the living process through which, time and again, the Church’s activity of becoming the Church takes place."
And so don’t think that the Church is just a people. No, the Church is nothing less than Eucharistic fellowship. It’s through the Eucharist that the Church brings many peoples together to form one people, one Body, through the one table that the Lord has spread for us all.

Do you see what Paul and Augustine and Benedict are telling us? The Church is a united network of Eucharistic fellowships, in our parishes, our dioceses, and throughout the world in the universal Church.  She is united, ever and again, through the one Body we all receive.

This, of course, provides us with another reason to kneel in adoration before the Lord.

He has given us, through the Eucharist, the Church, the very means to come together to worship, the Body of Christ that we are all called to build up through our love for God and for each other.

What a marvelous gift!

Homily: 5th Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 9:26-31; Ps 22; 1 Jn 3:18-24; Jn 15:1-8

About 35 years ago Diane and I bought a house in the country outside San Diego. It was really a neat place and even had a small horse corral. Now I suppose a corral is a wonderful thing for those who like horses, but for a city boy like me, well, it was completely useless.

Anyway, on the first day in our new house, I noticed a grape vine in the back yard. It hadn’t been very well cared for and its few grapes looked pretty pathetic. At first I intended simply to remove it, dig it out and replace it with something else, but something stopped me.

For me there’s always been something very spiritual about grapevines. And I couldn’t help but recall the words of today’s Gospel passage from John: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower…I am the vine and you are the branches” [Jn 15:1,5]. Now, I’d never owned a grapevine before, but in some strange way, having this vine in my backyard seemed like a direct connection to the Gospel. Digging out that vine would be a little like removing Jesus from my life.

Of course, I knew nothing about grapevines, and I still don’t. Oh, I enjoy the finished product, the occasional glass of good wine, but that’s about it. And because I didn’t know how to care for it, that backyard vine of mine never really flourished.

In Jesus’ time grapevines were likely plentiful, and there were probably a lot of backyard vineyards, all no doubt tended far more carefully than mine. But vineyards weren’t just common; there was also something transcendent about them

This metaphor of vineyard, and vine, and branches was something the apostles had all heard before. And as Jesus spoke to them, I’m pretty sure those twelve men realized that in these mysterious words He was saying something truly important.

Isaiah, in his hymn of the vineyard, revealed God’s plan for Israel. He “planted the choicest vines” [Is 5:2] but those vines, God’s chosen people, were not fruitful. The prophet Jeremiah repeats the claim: “I planted you, a choice vine…”, but they became a spurious vine [Jer 2:21]. Again, Psalm 80 sings of Israel as a vine: “You brought a vine out of Egypt…It took root and filled the land” [Ps 80:9-10]. But those same words are also prophetic, and foreshadow the coming of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ, brought out of Egypt by Mary and Joseph [Mt 2:21].

And now these words were being fulfilled in the Apostles’ hearing. Can you imagine what thoughts filled their minds? I know when I hear those words – “I am the vine, you are the branches.” – I am flooded with all sorts of images. I see more than my pathetic San Diego vine. When I hear those words, I’m awed by all of God’s creation, the spectacular wonder of it all, from the microscopic complexity of the living cell to the vast enormity of the universe.

These words, you see, were spoken by the Creative Word of God Himself, and He uses this little piece of His creation – a grapevine – to remind us of just Who our Savior really is. It’s as if He created the vine just for this purpose. These words teach us and touch us in the most profound way and with the most profound truths.

We are called out of ourselves, out of our individual lives of petty worries and little joys and big concerns and heartfelt sorrows – we’re called out of this into God’s life. He wants us to be a real part of that life, of the divine life.

He is the vine; we are the branches. Can you separate the vine from the branches? No, they’re all of one piece. Unless, of course, a branch is cut off completely. This more than intimate connection offers us a glimpse of the relationship the Father desires with us.

But as branches on the same vine, we are also in relationship with each other. As Christians we don’t live our lives in isolation. No, we’re called to live in loving relationship with each other and with Jesus Christ. And any relationship, if it is to develop, must be continually cultivated. That vine and its branches must be cared for. If, like my backyard vine, it’s neglected – if its branches are never pruned, if it’s never watered, it will either become overgrown and fruitless, or it will wither away.

I suppose the question for each of us is apparent: What kind of branch am I?

If our lives are not fruitful we run the risk of being cut off from the vine, of being eternally separated from the divine life God wants for us. For any branch that is cut off soon withers and dies.

But we all need some pruning, brothers and sisters. What needs to be pruned from my life, from your life? What sinfulness separates you and me from the divine life God wants for us? What selfishness separates us from the lives of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Have our lives become little more than a search for material happiness, the happiness that never lasts? Only by pruning these things from our lives will we experience the true joy that God alone offers.

Do I need to be watered with God’s Word? How did St. Jerome put it? “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Jesus Christ.” But knowledge means little if we don’t live in a relationship with Jesus.

Do I need to be fed with His Body and Blood, with the miracle of the Eucharist – the very source and summit of our lives as Christians?

We must tend the vines, friends, and grow in our relationship with the Trinity and with each other. Look at the true vine. See how its branches intertwine, how they wrap around each other, disguising the difference between vine and branches. This is a glimpse of the divine life each one of us was created to share, life with the Trinity itself.

The Father desired each of us to exist. You and I are unique creations, brought into being out of love.

The Son gave His life, suffered and died, for each one of us, and through His Resurrection gave us the hope of eternal life.

And the Spirit, the Spirit does God’s work in the world. He plants the vine; He waters it with God’s Word; He feeds it with God’s grace; and He prunes it lovingly so it will bear perfect fruit.

And so, the vine and the branches are quite simply the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Praised be Jesus Christ…now and forever.

Digging for My Roots

Thanks to our dear friends, the Lees, Diane and I will travel to Ireland at the end of the summer. Our friends called to tell us they had a couple of extra tickets to the "Emerald Isle Classic" -- the Navy-Notre Dame football game -- being played in Dublin on September 1st. (That's American football for all you Europeans out there.) Would we like to join them? Well, there was only one reasonable answer to such a question, so I started doing what I enjoy most: planning our two-week trip. Not only will we get to see what I hope will be a Navy victory over a highly favored Notre Dame team, but we'll also spend some time touring the country.

Although I've traveled rather extensively in Europe, I have never been to Ireland, the home of all my ancestors. Indeed, three of my four grandparents were born in Ireland. The family of the fourth, my paternal grandfather, had left Ireland and settled in the United States a generation or so earlier, probably at the time of the potato famine in the 1840s.
My paternal grandparents, c. 1940

My grandfather, however, was born in Canada, accidentally, he claimed, when his parents were visiting family in Quebec. This inadvertent Canadian birth of the son of two American citizens caused him no end of trouble throughout his life, but especially during his Army service in the Spanish-American War and Boxer Rebellion.

Thomas Moran
I barely knew Grandpa. He died when I was only five years old. And I know even less about his side of the family. Tracking down this group of ancestors might be a challenge.

I know more, however, about his wife's family, the Morans. My paternal grandmother died in 1960, having outlived her husband by ten years. She was the only grandparent I knew well. Born in Ireland she came to America as a toddler sometime around 1880 and often spoke to me of the voyage which she swore was on a sailing vessel -- quite the adventure for a small child. I've included a photo of her father, my great grandfather, Thomas Moran -- a rather distinguished looking gent even if his tie is a bit crooked.

My grandmother's family came to the United States from Mullingar in county Westmeath and so I assume I have some distant relatives still living there. My father was able to touch base with a few some years ago, and so I intend to spend several days in Mullingar searching them out. The photo below is of Thomas Moran's brother, Jim Moran, my great, great uncle. He stayed in Mullingar and died years ago at the age of 99.
Jim Moran of Mullingar

I never knew my maternal grandparents who died long before I was born. Interestingly I discovered only recently that both were born in Ireland. I had just assumed they were born in this country, but each listed Ireland as his and her place of birth on my mother's birth certificate. Unfortunately they included no town or county, and my mother never spoke much of her parents.

It would seem, then, that these fairly shallow roots leave me with a genealogical challenge which I will happily pass on to one of my children. My elder son is probably the best candidate since he seems to enjoy this sort of research. He's already dug rather deeply into Dear Diane's family past and uncovered a number of distinguished early American and English forebears.No doubt at some point we'll discover that her family owned my family. Such was the fate of the Irish in times past.

But I will look instead to the future and plan to enjoy this trip with my beautiful wife and wonderful friends.

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