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.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Relationships, Renewals and Encounters

Life, this remarkable gift with which we've been blessed, often seems to be marked less by who we think we are or what we have done as individuals than by the relationships we share with others. If I try to define myself, I usually turn to words that mean nothing outside of the human relationships they describe: "I am a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a grandfather, a friend, a child of God..." These are the words that first come to mind, and it is right that they do so. After all, God so loved the world that He sent His Son. He didn't send an idea or a concept or a philosophy. He sent a Person, Someone with Whom He has the deepest and closest kind of relationship imaginable. Indeed, the Holy Trinity is all about a relationship. It's also telling that the Father's Son was born into a human family with a mother and a father. Jesus didn't just appear; He became one of us in all things except sin.

In the same way, our closest relationships tend to be familial or of the kind of friendships that last a lifetime. Other relationships rise and fall with the rhythms of our lives. We move. We change jobs. We change interests. Some of us even retire and settle in Florida. Gradually some earlier relationships fade while others develop. Life goes on, even though we might occasionally glance backwards in time wondering about those faded friendships and asking, if only of ourselves, "Whatever happened to...?"

One of these long-ago relationships came to mind this past week. As I've mentioned before, I'm on the board of the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, an ecumenical ministry in nearby Wildwood, Florida. At our last board meeting we appointed a new soup kitchen manager, and the other day, as I helped Dear Diane (my wife who's also the Thursday cook) prepare and serve nearly 300 meals to our guests, I had the opportunity to speak with our new manager for a few moments. At one point she said, "I understand you were involved in the recoveries of some of the Apollo astronauts." I told her I had been a Navy helicopter pilot and, yes, had flown on several of the recovery operations. At that point, she said, "My brother-in-law was a crewman on some of those recoveries. Maybe you knew him? Glen Slider?" I almost dropped the box of donated food I was moving. Glen Slider was a Chief Aircrewman, one of the two aircrewman who flew with Chuck Smiley, our commanding officer, and me and on the Apollo 13 recovery. Over the years I had completely lost track of Glen, so it was wonderful to hear he was doing well and occasionally visits here in The Villages. What a marvelous coincidence! It will be nice to renew our acquaintance after so long a time.

The photo below shows the crew of the recovery helicopter for Apollo 13: (left to right) Chuck Smiley, me, Mike Longe, Glen Slider. I was a very young 25-year-old back in April 1970.
Apollo 13 Recovery Crew
Other renewals of past relationships are less spontaneous. For example, two weeks ago Diane and I attended my 50th high school reunion in White Plains, NY. I actually enjoyed those four years at Archbishop Stepinac High School. We were blessed with some outstanding teachers, all priests and brothers, although very few are still with us. Stepinac was and remains an all-boys school.

Prior to this reunion I had visited the school only once since my graduation, and had never attended a class reunion. I was likely too busy with work and family. And so it was a pleasure to renew some old friendships and to form a few new ones with classmates I had really not known at all. As I recall our class had about 400 members so I was unlikely to know everyone very well. And yet, as you might expect, Diane and I spent most of our time with the few friends with whom I had stayed in touch over the years. I'm very happy we took part, although I was disappointed that so many classmates did not attend.

Our connections with some people, however, are the result of simple encounters and can hardly be called relationships. And yet, for various reasons some of these brief, often single, encounters become firmly planted in our memories. My chance meeting with then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger on the streets of Rome back in February 2000 certainly falls into this category. As a result of this brief encounter -- we spoke for perhaps two or three minutes -- I have a wonderful photo and a delightful personal letter from the man who would become Pope Benedict XVI.
Cardinal Ratzinger, as I give instructions to the photographer

Late last month I had another of these enjoyable but brief encounters; however this time I had no idea whom I had met. Diane and I were in Dublin, Ireland and had stopped by to meet some friends at their hotel. While there, we discovered the hotel was hosting a fundraiser, including a barbeque and live entertainment, for a local Catholic parish, so we all decided to attend and bought tickets. While waiting for our friends to join us, Diane and I sat at a small table outside the hotel's pub while I enjoyed a pint of Guinness. After a moment we were joined by a man carrying a clarinet. He sat down with us and like all Irishmen began to talk and ask us questions. Noticing his clarinet, Diane told him about our eldest daughter who had played clarinet in our town's band on Cape Cod. He then told us how his father, who also played, made him practice when he would have preferred to be "playing football with my mates." He went on to tell us of his years touring the States and in Las Vegas playing with his band on the strip. And so the conversation went until our friends arrived and he had to leave to join the other entertainers.
Paddy Cole at the St. Mary Parish fundraiser

Later, when he stepped on the small stage, he was introduced as the famous Paddy Cole, whom we discovered was one of Ireland's most loved musicians. He entertained us all for quite some time, playing the clarinet and saxophone and singing wonderful old songs that brought back many memories. What a delightful, unassuming man, one who placed his family first, above his show-business career, and today was willing to share his talent to support St. Mary Parish in Dublin. Here's a video of an interview of Paddy Cole that spans his entire career:

It's unlikely I'll ever sit down and chat again with Paddy Cole, or run into a future pope on the streets of Rome, but who knows what kind of new encounters and renewals of old relationships the future holds.

What a marvelous gift life is.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Political Authority and Its Limits

Today, in our own nation, we are confronted by an administration that apparently believes there is little room in the public square for either the pronouncement or the application of religious values, especially those religious values that conflict with the government's ideology, its own view of the world. Not just the Catholic Church, but all faiths have been put on notice that they will be required to suppress their most basic moral beliefs and take actions that directly contradict these beliefs. This, of course, flies in the face of this nation's founding principles and the Constitution in which these principles are enumerated. Our Constitution prohibits the federal government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion and yet this is exactly what the current administration is attempting to do. The Catholic Church, joined by many of other faiths, has come out strongly against these policies and we can hope that this dispute ultimately will be settled by the U. S. Supreme Court in favor of the Constitution and the Church. Until then, and perhaps even afterwards, the Church -- and that includes all of us, not just our bishops -- must resist the implementation of such policies regardless of the personal consequences.

Many Catholics, along with many other Christians, however, seem not to realize what is at stake and view this issue as just another political controversy, one that will have little or no effect on how they vote in November. If this represents your view I suggest you turn to the Catechism of the Catholic Church and take a few moments to review the Church's teaching on political authority and its limitations. The Catechism is one of the few sources of wisdom to which we should turn when confronted by the absurdities and disputes and terrors we encounter in the world. The Church's teachings as found in the Catechism derive not only from Holy Scripture but also from Apostolic Tradition and the Church's Magisterium, the teaching authority it received directly from Jesus Christ.

Addressing this issue (CCC 1901-1904), the Catechism first quotes Pope John XXIII, in his encyclical, Pacem in terris:

"Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it. If rulers were to enact unjust laws or take measures contrary to the moral order, such arrangements would not be binding in conscience. In such a case, 'authority breaks down completely and results in shameful abuse.'" [Pope John XXIII, Pacem in terris 51]
And so, we are called to resist laws or regulations that are "contrary to the moral order." By not doing so we place the salvation of our own souls in jeopardy.

In this same section the Catechism also quotes Pope John Paul II, from his encyclical, Centesimus annus:
"It is preferable that each power be balanced by other powers and by other spheres of responsibility which keep it within proper bounds. This is the principle of the 'rule of law,' in which the law is sovereign and not the arbitrary will of men." [Pope John Paul II, Centisimus annus, 44]
Here Pope John Paul encourages keeping government authority in check via the application of separation of powers which epitomizes our own constitutional form of government. But he also addresses the necessary presence of "other spheres of responsibility" -- i.e., the Church --to ensure the government does not stray beyond its "proper bounds." The Church, then, must speak out when confronted by the gross usurpation of authority by teaching its members, the community at large, and the government itself. And it must also put its teachings into action by resisting the illegitimate application of authority.

One of our more courageous bishops, Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Springfield, Ill, in a recent column in his diocesan newspaper, encouraged Catholics to approach the upcoming election responsibly and not vote for candidates who support intrinsic evils. As he stated in his column, “My job is not to tell you for whom you should vote. But I do have a duty to speak out on moral issues.” You can read the bishop's column in its entirety here. (A video of his comments is also available on the same website.)

As Bishop Paprocki told the people of his diocese, we must all “think and pray very carefully” about our votes in the upcoming election.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Irish and Islamist Terrorism

Not long ago a friend, speaking of what he called the "tensions in the Middle East", told me that eventually the Israelis and Palestinians would follow the example of the Irish and come to a "reasonable solution" that would no doubt lead to lasting peace. I thought this was more than little Pollyannish and suggested that the two conflicts were not at all alike. He, however, countered that there was little difference between the IRA and Islamist groups such as Hamas or Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood or even al-Qaeda. "We just need to get them all together with the Israelis," he argued, "apply some serious diplomacy, and they will come to see that violence never leads to success." When I said that World War II was a rather obvious example of the successful application of violence, he got personal and said, "That's the sort of warlike talk I'd expect from you." (He knows I am a retired naval officer.) At this point I concluded there was little reason to continue our argument.

Sadly this all occurred before I read the following article by Clifford May, or my (rhetorical) weapons would have been considerably more effective. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security. The article appeared this week on National Review Online. I intend to share it with my friend, who I am certain does not read this blog or NRO.
Dublin — In 1978, I was a young foreign correspondent assigned to cover “the Troubles,” the conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, between those loyal to the British Crown and those determined to make Ireland a united and independent nation. There were “paramilitaries” on both sides. Terrorism — bombings, assassinations, and other forms of violence targeting civilians for political ends — was among the principal weapons employed.

But in at least one way, terrorism was different then: Although I sometimes worried that I might end up on the wrong Belfast street at the wrong time, I was confident that no one saw me as a target. Journalists were neutrals. “Loyalists” and “Republicans” alike were eager to tell me their stories, and have me retell those stories to distant audiences. Without fear, I would sit down with hard men and ask tough questions.

At some point over the years since, new technologies and ideologies brought changes that became obvious when the Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl took his notebook and pen to a 2002 meeting with terrorists in Karachi. They had a different approach to shaping the narrative — one that would entail beheading Pearl on camera and posting the video on the Internet.

The Troubles wracked Northern Ireland for almost 30 years. More than 1,500 people were killed. In those days, that was a serious number. But early in the new century, nearly twice as many innocent people would be killed on a single day in New York, Pennsylvania, and Arlington, Va. Meanwhile, in Syria over the past year, a conflict with ethno-religious-political undercurrents has taken some 20,000 lives. Perceiving this as an inflationary trend does not inspire optimism.

Queen Elizabeth & Martin McGuinness, former IRA commande
George Will, the venerable columnist, once cited Northern Ireland as one of the world’s two “intractable” conflicts. The other was what was then known as the Arab–Israeli conflict, today more usually called the Palestinian–Israeli conflict, though in reality it is now Islamist regimes and movements that are most seriously waging what they call a jihad against Israel.

Will was wrong about Ireland. The Troubles ended with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Two Northern Irish politicians, John Hume and David Trimble, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — a rare occasion on which the awards were actually deserved.

Today, Northern Ireland remains British. But a good road connects the Republic in the south with the United Kingdom in the north, and no border guards or checkpoints impede travel between the two. Former terrorists, reformed if not repentant, serve in Northern Ireland’s government. Rightly or wrongly, Queen Elizabeth II shook hands with one earlier this year.

On a brief return to Northern Ireland this week, it was apparent that there are still tensions, still segregated neighborhoods, still pubs where Protestants and Catholics do not mix. But the Troubles ended when most people on both sides accepted the idea of an imperfect peace, when they came to see compromise as preferable to more killing and dying, and when they tired of the poverty and degradation that chronic carnage brings in its wake.

Should that give us hope that peace in the Middle East also is possible and perhaps even imminent? Absolutely not.

At its worst, the IRA never sought the destruction of Britain and never vowed to wipe Protestants off the Irish map. The most extreme Protestant paramilitaries did not argue that southern Catholics had no right to self-determination.

These days, it is fashionably multicultural and politically correct to assign blame in roughly equal measure to Israelis and Palestinians. It also is patently false. Time and again, Israelis have demonstrated their willingness to compromise in order to achieve an imperfect peace with their neighbors, not least those in Gaza and the West Bank.

Hamas, by contrast, is openly committed to Israel’s annihilation, attacking those who would settle for less as traitors and apostates. Fatah’s spokesmen, at least in Arabic, express solidarity with Hamas on that score. Meanwhile, Iran’s rulers, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood all continue to insist that they will never accept Israel, that they will not allow even the tiniest swath of the Middle East to be ruled by non-Muslims, least of all the despised Jews, who, it is charged with bewildering inconsistency, defied the Prophet Mohammed in ancient Arabia and have no roots in the region.

“There are fascist forces in this world,” David Trimble said in his 1998 Nobel Lecture. “The first step to their defeat is to define them.” In Ireland, enough people took that step, and what Trimble has termed “a sort of peace” has been the admirable result. In the Middle East, too many are still unwilling or unable to take that first step, and so no other steps can follow.
Here's a link to Clifford May's original article on NRO: Letter from Ireland

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Religious Freedom

Here are a few words on religious freedom, or the lack thereof, by Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):
"Today our focus is on threats to international religious freedom, but, as you are well aware, there are serious challenges to religious freedom within our own nation, serious problems the Church faces in her life and mission in the United States — threats that could marginalize the Church and her educational, charitable and health care institutions. As grave as these challenges remain, they are of a different order than those faced by Christians and other people of faith in many countries. In the words of Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, Secretary for Relations with States of the Holy See, 'Of course, nobody would confuse or equate this marginalization of religion with the actual persecution and killing of Christians in other areas of the world.'"
The cardinal delivered the opening address at a conference on International Religious Freedom held earlier this month at the Catholic University of America. To read his complete address, click here.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Great Philanthropist

When I was about eight or nine years old I joined my parents and older brother at the funeral of a family acquaintance who it seems was quite wealthy. I have a vague recollection of him and his wife coming to dinner at our home once, but that's about it. I can't even recall his name. Although my father and the deceased were not close friends, Dad thought it important to attend the funeral Mass which was being celebrated at a Catholic church in a neighboring town. The church was packed with people and those who arrived a few minutes late were forced to stand. I remember my brother, Jeff, observing that our father's friend must have been a very important man to attract so many people to his funeral. Dad simply said, "He helped a lot of people. He was a philanthropist." And then he told us to be quiet.

I, of course, had never heard the word before and so later that day I asked my older, smarter brother, "What's a philanthropist?" At that point in our lives, Jeff didn't have a lot of time for his kid brother and just replied, "It's a guy who gives his money away." Now this was a definition I could understand. Indeed, that very week all of us public school kids who attended the religious education program on Wednesday afternoons at our local parochial school had taken part in a fundraising drive for the foreign missions. My mom received several monthly publications from missionary orders and I had always enjoyed looking through them. The missions seemed so exotic and life as a missionary appealed to my adventurous nature. And so when Mom suggested I contribute half of my allowance (money earned for chores I had to complete each day) to the drive, and I had happily done so.

From that moment on, I considered myself a philanthropist, and began to refer to myself using that term. I suppose I did this rather frequently, probably 20 or 30 times a day. Philanthropist was, after all, a rather impressive, large word and a neat sounding word too. I enjoyed saying it. This particular habit lasted only a few weeks since it really irritated the rest of the family and I was finally and clearly told to cease and desist. Backed by the threat of physical harm, Jeff had bluntly said,"You're not rich enough to be a philanthropist so stop calling yourself one or I'll stuff you in the window seat." This comment enhanced my understanding of the word. A philanthropist now became a rich person who gave his money away.

A few years later, when the TV show, The Millionaire, became a hit, I knew immediately that the shadowy, unseen man who gave a million dollars to someone during each week's episode was a philanthropist. After all, he was rich and gave his money away...a perfect fit. I suppose most people agree with this basic definition and would include Andrew Carnegie, J. Paul Getty, Bill Gates, various Fords and Rockefellers and Vanderbilts, Warren Buffet, and many other wealthy folks among the world's philanthropists.

But then, at some point in my education, I discovered what the word really means. Quite literally, philanthropist means a lover of humanity, and focusing on this definition can lead to a whole different understanding of philanthropy. For example, I recently read an article about Melinda Gates who, along with her husband, Microsoft's Bill Gates, founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Under her guidance the foundation is spending over $4 billion to distribute abortion-inducing contraceptives (the so-called morning after pill) to over 120 million women worldwide. This effort has received a great deal of publicity in the press and almost every article mentions that Ms. Gates is a "practicing Catholic." Indeed, the press often makes a point of describing how she openly defies the Church's teaching on sexual morality.

My question is, how can someone who promotes the destruction of human life be considered a lover of humanity, a philanthropist? Giving is good, but only if the end of that giving is also good. Human beings, whether wealthy or not so wealthy, have only limited material resources which they can share with others. To me it's not how much one shares but to what end those resources are shared. Melinda Gates is giving away billions but it's going to serve an intrinsically evil end, the destruction of innocent, unborn human life. Who is, then, the greater philanthropist, she or the child who gives a dollar of her allowance to the missions? Which is the true lover of humanity, the one who does God's work in the world or the one who defies God's law and His Church?

There's really only One true Philanthropist, only One true Lover of humanity, only One who has unlimited resources and gives of them freely to those whom He loves. God, who created us in His image, is the Great Philanthropist. He and only He is the great Lover who brought all of creation into being out of love. We can either support Him by doing His work for His greater glory, or in our arrogance we can turn away from Him and watch as our works turn to dust.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Back Home Again

Dear Diane and I returned home last Tuesday evening after being away for almost six weeks. If you're an occasional reader of this blog you will have noticed that I posted very little during our absence. I find it a distinct challenge to blog when I'm away from home, especially when I'm traveling almost every day. I leave home with the best of intentions, planning to post something every day or so, but then reality and exhaustion set in. Each evening I find myself returning to our hotel room with one thought in mind:

We had a terrific time though. We spent a little more than two weeks visiting our children and grandchildren in Massachusetts -- a true joy for Diane and me. And then we flew to Dublin, Ireland, ostensibly to attend the Navy-Notre Dame football game (We won't discuss the score of that contest.), but really to enjoy a two-week visit in the land of all my ancestors.

Joined by our dear, old friends, Nancy and Dave Lee, we spent several days in Dublin, then drove west to see the sights. We stayed in castles, hotels, guest houses, and B&Bs. We sampled the seafood and the stout...and an occasional Irish whiskey. We saw crystal being made in Waterford and pewter being made in Mullingar. We marveled at the ancient sites that seem to arise out of nowhere in the most unlikely places. Ireland is a remarkably beautiful country populated by friendly, helpful people.

As usual I took well over a thousand photos with my trusty Canon Digital Rebel SLR. This afternoon I uploaded some of them to my account. If you're interested, you can view a slide show:

After returning to Boston we spent a few days in Newport, RI to celebrate my birthday, then drove to White Plains, NY to attend my 50th high school reunion at Archbishop Stepinac High School. Once again, the wrong team won the football game, but it mattered little. Indeed, I enjoyed the weekend so much I intend to take in the 100th reunion when the time comes.

...a busy but extremely pleasant time, and as always there's no place like home.

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