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.

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...

Monday, October 15, 2012

Homily: 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: Wis 7:7-11; Ps 90:12-17; Heb 4:12-13; Mk 10:17-30

One hot summer day in 1941, in the infamous death camp of Auschwitz, ten prisoners were sentenced to die by starvation in retaliation for an escape. One of the ten had a wife and children, so a 47-year-old Polish, Franciscan priest offered himself in his place. The man's number was crossed off the list and the priest's inserted: number 16670. That very day ten men entered the starvation bunker, just an underground pit -- no light, no air, no food, no clothing, nothing…nothing but the love of God radiating from one simple man.

Two weeks later, to make room for others, the priest was injected with a fatal dose of carbolic acid. The next day, on the feast of the Assumption, his wasted body was burned in a furnace. 30 years ago this week, Pope John Paul II canonized this man, St. Maximilian Kolbe. St. Maximilian lived the Gospel message of love to the fullest, conforming his will to God’s, regardless of the consequences. He answered God’s radical call personally, and without question.

Only a few are called to witness to God's love as martyrs, although their numbers have increased greatly in recent years. But we’re all called to witness, to lead Christian lives in the circumstances in which God places us.

Sometimes the Gospel message almost knocks us flat with its firm but unmistakably clear demands. Sometimes it shakes the very foundation of our world, turning everything we believe in upside down. Sometimes it forces us to question the honesty and depth of our response to God’s personal call, placing our lives into stark contrast with the lives we’re called to lead.

Today's Gospel passage contains just this kind of disturbing message. I know you heard it.

"It is easier for a camel to pass through a needle's eye than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Even allowing for hyperbole, the exaggeration so common in Jewish speech and writing in Jesus' day, it’s still quite a statement. And like so many of Jesus' words, it’s frequently misunderstood, misinterpreted and misapplied.

Some Christians, in an attempt to soften the metaphor and open Heaven's door a little wider, claim that the Needle's Eye was really the name of a small gate in Jerusalem's walls. But, so far as we can determine, this has little basis in fact; and, anyway, it misses the entire point of what Jesus is telling us.

Others take the opposite extreme. Jesus, they claim, says material wealth is the great disqualifier, that only the poor can enter the Kingdom of God. This, too, misses the point. It also ignores the relationships Jesus had with many who were certainly not poor.

Do you remember Zacchaeus, in Luke's Gospel – and how he proclaimed, "Lord, I give the poor half of my goods." Not all...but half. And still Jesus tells him, "Today salvation has come to this house."

And does Jesus tell His friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha to dispossess themselves? Does He tell Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea that they’re excluded from the kingdom because of their wealth?

Even John the Baptist, dressed in animal skins and eating only honey and locusts, told the crowd, "If you have two coats, give"

So is Jesus trying to confuse us? Or do His words betray a deeper meaning, something not so obvious when taken out of the context of His teaching?  What did his words mean to these Jewish disciples? What exactly did Jesus have in mind? And what does it all mean to us today?

First of all, it's little wonder the disciples were shocked by what they’d heard, for Jesus had just contradicted a powerful and long-standing Jewish tradition, one in which wealth was seen as a sign of God's favor. The patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, were all wealthy men, blessed by God who enriched those He loved. And hadn’t Moses promised the Chosen People that if they obeyed God they’d prosper in a promised land where they’d lack nothing?

Indeed, this tradition permeates the Old Testament. Everywhere the message was clear: if you feared God, if you loved Him, you’d be blessed with the good things of the earth. Yes, the disciples’ astonishment and understanding of Jesus’ words are quite different from our own. We assume Jesus meant that entering God's Kingdom is hard, especially for the rich. But the disciples understood it as hard even for the rich. If the rich, whom God has blessed, find it hard, then who indeed can be saved?

So when the rich young man approached and knelt before Jesus, the disciples were surely excited that of one so favored might join their ranks. He was wealthy and respectable, an intelligent, self-assured young man who’d apparently led a blameless life in keeping with the Law. Yes, the disciples were impressed.

Jesus, too, treats him affectionately. When asked, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life," Jesus doesn't say, "Get rid of your wealth." No, instead he says, "Keep the commandments." It is only when the man persists, saying in effect, "I've done that, but I want to do more," that Jesus looks at him with love, and issues His unexpected and radical challenge:

"…one more thing you must do. Go and sell what you have and give to the poor; you will then have treasure in heaven. After that, come and follow me."

And the effect of this command? Mark tells us…
"At these words, the man's face fell. He went away sad, for he had many possessions."
He’d been so sure of himself, hadn't he? So brimming with confidence. So pleased with his irreproachable life. His boast was that he had done nothing wrong, that he had followed all the rules. He’s aware of his innocence before the Law, but unaware of his weakness before God. On this day, for the first time, a great sacrifice is asked of him. But he lacks the heart for it. The peace that he seeks is placed beyond his reach because he cannot let go of his possessions. He sees the way, but fears the renunciation. And this fear, this failure to follow God's personal call, always produces sadness.

Jesus, of course, knows the young man's weakness. As we heard earlier from the Letter to the Hebrews,
"Nothing is concealed from Him; all lies bare and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must render an account."
And what of this weakness? Is it the love of money and material possessions? Or are these merely symptoms of something else, something deeper?

The man's inability to shed his wealth results from his love of things over his love of others. But at the root of this disordered love is something even more serious: a deep-seated and stubborn self-love, a self-love that refuses to place God first. Such a person will inevitably turn his back on Jesus.

You see, Jesus doesn't condemn the rich solely because of their wealth. No, His concern is for those of us who place anything ahead of God. Material things, in themselves, are good. The sin lies in excessive attachment, in trusting in them as if they will solve all your problems, in failing to realize that they, like everything, are gifts from God which must be shared for the good of others. For such a belief will cause you, like the young man in the Gospel, to turn your back on God.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life," Jesus tells us. And therefore nothing, absolutely nothing, should take precedence over Christ in my life, over His right to rule over my heart.

What takes precedence in your life? Is it God's Will or like the young man, are you consumed by your possessions or your financial worth? Are you being asked to rid yourself of these obstacles to salvation? Or perhaps your life is centered on fame, power, or position. Even human friendships, or the love for another person, can manipulate us, strangle us, lead us away from God. For that which we place first in our lives – when it is not God – always becomes a prison. Only when we place God first do we experience true freedom.

God is calling each of us, brothers and sisters, and He never stops calling. In return for our response, for our submission to His Will, He promises a different kind of wealth, a treasure far greater than you and I can ever imagine.

But only arms that are empty of self can stretch out to receive that gift…just as St. Maximilian did when he held out his arms for the fatal injection.

And just as Jesus did when He emptied Himself giving everything on the Cross.

Caesar's Fatal Steps

One of the more interesting, if not particularly important, Roman archaeological mysteries has been the identification of the exact spot where Gaius Julius Caesar was assassinated on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. Anyone who's been to Rome and taken in some of the ancient archaeological sites has likely stood on Via Arenula and looked across Torre Argentina and seen the remains of several temples. Behind them is the Theater of Pompey and its famous curia, used for political meetings. It was also chosen as the site of one particularly fatal political meeting that resulted in Caesar's murder by his rival senators. Today the area is perhaps equally famous for its many cats who inhabit the Torre Argentina Cat Sanctuary where they are protected from felinophobics who might want to do to them what Brutus did to Caesar.
My photo of Torre Argentina (2005) Click and look for cats.

Like many ancient Roman sites, over the centuries Torre Argentina with it temples and theater have been plundered of most of their stones and columns, so for archaeologists there hasn't been very much to work with. As a result, there has never been any solid archaeological evidence pointing to the exact spot where the assassination took least, until now.

Because they're always digging in Rome these busy archaeologists keep uncovering interesting stuff. It seems a team recently unearthed what they believe to be a memorial structure at the base of the curia. This structure -- ten feet wide and over six feet tall -- was apparently built by Augustus to mark the site of Caesar's death. Many ancient texts point to this location and several mention that after the assassination a chapel was built there as a memorial.
Recent photo of the location of Caesar's Assassination

So now, when you visit Rome, you can satisfy your curiosity, along with any morbid inclinations you might have, and gaze on the actual spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed by Brutus and his pals.

If you want to read more, click here.

Who's Suing the Obama Administration?

Unless you've spent the last few months on one of Jupiter's moons, you've at least heard of the now notorious Obama-care mandate issued by the current administration's Department of Health and Human Services. This mandate requires all religious-based institutions, including schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and other charitable organizations, to provide employee health insurance that includes coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients, even though this coverage would force such institutions to violate their religious beliefs.

It's hard to imagine a more direct attack on the religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution's First Amendment. The mainstream media, however, following the lead of President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, have attempted to spin the coverage into a controversy over contraception. It's not about religious freedom, we're told. No, it's just another example of the "war on women" being waged by all those reactionary Catholics and Evangelicals.

Our religious freedom will be decided by these 9 justices
The administration is trying mightily to keep the truth of this mandate from the American people, at least until after the election. They believe they have public opinion on their side when it comes to contraception, but religious freedom? That might be far more problematic. The churches, however, especially the Catholic Church, just won't go away and are taking the only action available to them: they're suing the administration in federal court. Ultimately -- and we can only hope that this will occur sooner rather than later -- the issue will be resolved by the nine justices of the U. S. Supreme Court.

But who exactly are the plaintiffs in these lawsuits? Most are Catholic entities and include dioceses, educational institutions, charitable and healthcare organizations, as well as businesses; and the list continues to lengthen almost daily. Interestingly, there are a growing number of Evangelical Protestant institutions and businesses among the plaintiffs. You will note that eight states attorneys general have also joined the suit. 

The following is a current list of plaintiffs. You can find information on the state of each of the lawsuits here.
Aquinas College (TN)
Archbishop Carroll High School (DC)
ArchCare (NY)
Archdiocese of Atlanta (GA)
Archdiocese of New York (NY)
Archdiocese of St. Louis (MO)
Archdiocese of Washington (DC)
Autocam Corporation (MI)
Autocam Medical, LLC (MI)

Ave Maria University (FL)
Belmont Abbey College (NC)
Biola University (IN)
Catholic Cemeteries Association of Diocese of Pittsburgh (PA)
Catholic Charities of Atlanta (GA)
Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago (IL)
Catholic Charities of D.C. (DC)
Catholic Charities of Fort Wayne-South Bend (IN)
Catholic Charities of Jackson (MS)
Catholic Charities of Joliet (IL)
Catholic Charities of Diocese of Pittsburgh (PA)
Catholic Charities of Rockville Centre (NY)
Catholic Charities of Springfield (IL)
Catholic Charities of St. Louis (MO)
Catholic Charities of Tennessee, Inc, (TN)
Catholic Health Services of Long Island (NY)
Catholic Mutual Relief Society of America (NE)
Catholic Social & Community Services Inc. (MS)
Catholic Social Service (NE)
Catholic University of America (DC)
Christ the King Catholic School (GA)
College of the Ozarks (MO)
Colorado Christian University (CO)
Consortium of Catholic Academies (DC)
De l’Epee Deaf Center Inc. (MS)
Diocese of Biloxi (MS)
Diocese of Dallas (TX)
Diocese of Erie (PA)
Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend (IN)
Diocese of Fort Worth (TX)
Diocese of Jackson (MS)
Diocese of Joliet (IL)
Diocese of Nashville (TN)
Diocese of Peoria (IL)
Diocese of Pittsburgh (PA)
Diocese of Rockville Centre (NY)
Diocese of Savannah (GA)
Diocese of Springfield (IL)
East Texas Baptist University (TX)
Eternal Word Television Network (AL)
Father Ryan High School (TN)
Franciscan Alliance (IN)
Franciscan University of Steubenville (OH)
Geneva College (PA)
Grace College and Seminary (IN)
Hercules Industries, Inc. (CO)
Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (OK)
Houston Baptist University (TX)
Korte & Luitjohan Contractors, Inc. (IL)
Legatus - Catholic Business Association (MI)
Louisiana Baptist College (LA)
Mary, Queen of Angels, Inc. (TN)
Michigan Catholic Conference - supports 7 dioceses (MI)
O’Brien Industrial Holdings, LLC (MO)
Our Sunday Visitor (IN)
Pius X Catholic High School (NE)
Pope John Paul II High School (TN)
Priests for Life (NY)
Prince of Peace Center (PA)
Resurrection Catholic School (MS)
Sacred Heart Catholic School (MS)
Seneca Hardwood Lumber Company (PA)
St. Anne Home (IN)
St. Dominic Health Services (MS)
St. Joseph's Catholic School (MS)
St. Martin Center (PA)
St. Mary Villa, Inc. (TN)
State of Alabama (AL)
State of Florida (FL)
State of Michigan (MI)
State of Nebraska (NE)
State of Ohio (OH)
State of Oklahoma (OK)
State of South Carolina (SC)
State of Texas (TX)
Triune Health Group (IL)
Tyndale House Publishers (IL)
University of Notre Dame (IN)
University of St. Francis (IN)
Vicksburg Catholic School (MS)
Villa Maria Manor, Inc. (TN)
Weingartz Supply Company (MI)
Wheaton College (IL)
Quite a list! One sad observation: not one of the  28 Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States are listed among the plaintiffs.

Vote responsibly on November 6.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Libertarian View of 2012 Election

I am not a libertarian, but every once in a while a libertarian will say something interesting and insightful. The following interview of Judge Andrew Napolitano certainly falls into that category and is worth watching.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Vice President Biden Not Truthful

"If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet." [Proverbs 29:9]

The following is a press release from the U.S. Catholic Bishops addressing Vice President Biden's comments about the HHS mandate made during the recent debate. As anyone who is even slightly familiar with the issue knows, the vice president was far from truthful in his comments. The bishops call him on it...


DATE:October 12, 2012



WASHINGTON—The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) issued the following statement, October 12.  Full text follows:

Last night, the following statement was made during the Vice Presidential debate regarding the decision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to force virtually all employers to include sterilization and contraception, including drugs that may cause abortion, in the health insurance coverage they provide their employees:
“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear. No religious institution—Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital—none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact. That is a fact.”

This is not a fact. The HHS mandate contains a narrow, four-part exemption for certain “religious employers.” That exemption was made final in February and does not extend to “Catholic social services, Georgetown hospital, Mercy hospital, any hospital,” or any other religious charity that offers its services to all, regardless of the faith of those served.

HHS has proposed an additional “accommodation” for religious organizations like these, which HHS itself describes as “non-exempt.” That proposal does not even potentially relieve these organizations from the obligation “to pay for contraception” and “to be a vehicle to get contraception.” They will have to serve as a vehicle, because they will still be forced to provide their employees with health coverage, and that coverage will still have to include sterilization, contraception, and abortifacients. They will have to pay for these things, because the premiums that the organizations (and their employees) are required to pay will still be applied, along with other funds, to cover the cost of these drugs and surgeries.

USCCB continues to urge HHS, in the strongest possible terms, actually to eliminate the various infringements on religious freedom imposed by the mandate.

For more details, please see USCCB’s regulatory comments filed on May 15 regarding the proposed “accommodation”:


Gary Marx
Executive Director
Faith & Freedom Coalition

Election Thoughts

The Good News of the Gospel encounters a lot of competition these days. Open the morning paper, browse the headlines on the web, watch the evening news. More often than not, the reports you encounter are less than comforting: wars, terrorist attacks, riots, vicious crimes, unemployment, deficits, religious persecution, drought and famine, natural disasters...Subjected to this constant stream of bad news, it's easy to become overwhelmed and overlook the good news, especially the Good News of Jesus Christ. Indeed, one cannot help but notice the dour expressions on the faces of many Christians, people who instead should be filled with joy regardless of the state of the world.

Too many Christians resemble the seed sown on rocky ground [Mk 4:16]. They hear the Good News preached on Sunday and "immediately receive it with joy", but because their faith lacks roots, "when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the Word, immediately they fall away." This same lack of roots undermines not only their faith but also their understanding of the moral life. As they "fall away" from God's Word, they turn increasingly to the word of the world. This is perhaps most evident in their approach to politics and the upcoming election.

I have, on many occasions, been accused of being a "one-issue voter." I suppose there's an element of truth in this accusation, but where I and my accusers differ is on the nature of that one issue. Because I am strongly pro-life, they assume abortion is the one issue that directs my voting. They're wrong. For example, I would not vote for a candidate who declared his opposition to abortion, but at the same time supported same-sex marriage or the funding of embryonic stem cell research or physician assisted suicide. These are all intrinsically evil acts and this is the one issue that motivates my voting. I will vote for no candidate who supports anything that is intrinsically evil.

An intrinsically evil act is never moral. It is evil to the core, evil by its very nature. Abortion is one of these intrinsic evils. The willful destruction of innocent human life -- And what can be more innocent than an unborn infant? -- is always wrong. This, by the way, is the consistent teaching of the Catholic Church.

The problem today is that many politicians and the voters that elect them assume a kind of moral equivalence among such issues as abortion, unemployment insurance, food stamps, same-sex marriage, taxation, national defense, medicare, immigration policy, along with dozens of other issues facing our legislators. Our vice president typified this attitude in the recent debate. Most of these issues are open to a multitude of approaches. We can safely and morally disagree on the efficacy of the food stamp program or the income tax. But this is not so when it comes to something that is intrinsically evil. Archbishop Lori of Baltimore said it well when he addressed the Knights of Columbus annual convention in August:
“The question to ask is this: Are any of the candidates of either party, or independents, standing for something that is intrinsically evil, evil no matter what the circumstances? If that’s the case, a Catholic, regardless of his party affiliation, shouldn’t be voting for such a person.”
In 2004, before his election to the papacy, Cardinal Ratzinger was Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In this capacity he wrote the following in a Letter to Cardinal McCarrick:
"Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia."
Today, then, approaching an election with a properly formed conscience might well force the Christian voter to question his usual party affiliation. Having lived many years in Massachusetts where candidates from both major parties often held similar and morally unacceptable positions on such issues as abortion or same-sex marriage, on several occasions I could not in good conscience vote for either candidate. In every instance I wrote-in a candidate, voted for an acceptable third party candidate, or left that line of the ballot blank.

In that same letter to Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal Ratzinger added as a postscript:
[N.B. A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favor of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.] 
I, however, could never come up with what I believed to be "proportionate reasons." Even when two acquaintances, both moral theologians, suggested that I could morally vote for the "lesser of two evils," I could not bring myself to do so. The faces of millions of slaughtered innocents were far more persuasive than the words of the theologians. A "lesser evil" is still, after all, evil.

This isn't just a Catholic issue. It crosses religious and denominational boundaries. And it doesn't relate only to one political party. Timothy George, writing in the Baptist Press, agreed that Archbishop Lori's concerns apply to all Christians and went on to say:
"There is a difference between Christian discernment and partisan politics. The Kingdom of Christ cannot be equated with any political party. Our current president, a Democrat, is the most pro-choice president in American history, and yet Supreme Court justices appointed by Republicans gave us Roe v. Wade."
And just last month, during his apostolic journey to Lebanon, Pope Benedict told a gathering of government and religious leaders that "The failure of upright men and women to act must not permit evil to triumph. It is worse still to do nothing."

We should, therefore, carry out our civic duty and vote responsibly and morally. We must not abdicate this duty, but neither should we profane it by supporting that which is evil.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Whys and Wherefores of Liturgical Vestments

Rev. Gerard Ellard, S.J., Jesuit priest, medievalist, and liturgist, was a major player in the early days of the liturgical movement in the United States that preceded the Second Vatican Council. He died in 1963, in the midst of that Council, at the age of 68. A man of true humility and quiet leadership, Father Ellard is probably best known for his textbook, Christian Life and Worship, read and studied by thousands of Catholic college students in years past.

Over the years, as a result of training sessions I have conducted for various lay liturgical ministers, I've concluded that most Catholics don't really have a clue when it comes to the vestments worn by priest or deacon. What are their names, their origins, their significance? Some can name perhaps one vestment -- usually the stole and perhaps the alb -- but many are unable to do even that. Here's an example...

A few weeks ago, as I was standing alongside our pastor greeting folks after Mass, a parishioner approached me and asked, very accusingly, "Deacon, why are you dressed like a priest?"

I was wearing a dalmatic, as I always do at Sunday Mass, and so I replied with a smile, "I'm not. I'm dressed like a deacon. This is a dalmatic, a vestment which should be worn at Mass by the deacon."

This didn't impress him in the least. "Well, it looks just like the thing Father's wearing."

And so I tried to explain further by saying, "You'll notice that my dalmatic has sleeves, while Father's chasuble doesn't."

Apparently this was a meaningless subtlety because he just shook his head and walked off, likely mentally accusing all deacons of being priest-wannabes.

And so, I thought it might be useful to share some of what Fr. Ellard wrote on the subject. The following, written 60 years ago, is his brief explanation of the Roman origins of the liturgical vestments worn by priest and deacon at Mass. I trust you'll find it interesting.

The ministers at the Sacrifice wear garments such as we now see nowhere else. These are modifications of the ordinary civil dress of the late Empire, say, of the 4th Century. Some of the priestly vestments are garments properly so-called, others are insignia of office.

Amice. In the order in which the vestments are put on, the first is a white, rectangular linen cloth put upon the shoulders and wrapped about the neck. This vestment is called an amice (amicta). It is a survival of the customary neckerchief or scarf of the ancients; by the older authors it is often called 'the protection of the voice'. Originally meant to serve purely practical purposes, to cover the neck and to protect the other vestments from the hair, the amice becomes a very conspicuous item in the Middle Ages, when it was decorated with a wide, rich band of embroidery and allowed to show outside the other garments. Up to a certain point in the Mass it was even worn over the head, a usage that survives still in some monastic orders. With the disappearance of this rich ornamentation, the amice went back to its original, humbler form.
Alb. In the whole of the Roman Empire of the 4th Century the customary body-garment of both sexes and all classes was a sleeved tunic reaching well below the knees and caught at the waist by a girdle. It was of white linen. Later, a short tunic became commoner in civil life, but churchmen kept to the longer form in their official functions. This old tunic lives on in our alb (Latin for white)...The use of lace on the alb is a modern departure from tradition, and destined, it would seem, to disappear before long.

Tunic and Dalmatic. The decorated outer vestment worn by the subdeacon, called a tunic as well as the vesture of the deacon, called a dalmatic, are, in origin, outer tunics, with shorter, wider sleeves, and shorter body. The dalmatic is so called because this style of highly ornamented tunic came from Dalmatia (Croatia region).

Maniple. The maniple, a band of colored, decorated fabric laid across the left forearm, is a relic of a handkerchief carried as an emblem of office by Roman officials. The consul carried such a ceremonial handkerchief and with it gave the signal for the opening of games and other functions. In the first detailed description of a Roman Mass we have, the Pope's handkerchief is used to give the signal to begin Mass. The maniple was formerly made of linen, and by reason of its humble origin was called a sudarium, a sweat cloth, or, because carried in the hand, a manual. Until about the year 1000 this clerical emblem of office was carried in the hand (usually the left); then began the custom of wearing it on the wrist or forearm. When that happened, its original purpose was lost sight of, and instead of white linen it was made of a colored and ornamented fabric.

Stole. Quite a different mark of the clerical order is what is now called a stole ( a Greek word for garment in general). This was in ancient times called the orarium (literally, mouth-cloth). How it was that a long, flowing band, slung over one or both shoulders and hanging loosely bout the body, and originally destined for such humble purposes, should have become a highly prized symbol of the clerical order remains in the present state of our knowledge, an unanswerable question. Old mosaics and pictures show the stole worn in many different ways, even as it is now worn in distinctive ways by bishop, priest and deacon respectively.

Chasuble. The most conspicuous of the sacrificial garments is the chasuble, as we say from the Latin casula, a little house; so called, said St Isidore of Seville, because it covered the whole man. It is a modified form of the ancient paenula, a cone-shaped outer garment reaching down, more or less, the full length of the body all around, and provided with an opening and hood for the head. Designed for protection against all weathers in traveling, it finally became the ordinary outer garment for all wear, even replacing the toga of the high officials. At Rome it continued to be the ordinary outer garment for both sexes and all classes until the end of the 6th Century or later.

Thus, everyone in a Roman church then wore a chasuble. St Augustine speaks of it as the clothing of even the poor, but, of course, it could be something very fine, and only a generation or so later St Fulgentius will not have a colored chasuble because he thought that something for wealthy people. But Fulgentius was a monk and wore his monk's robe at the altar.

In the new European nations the chasuble was at first the ordinary garment of clerical attire for church, street and domestic uses. In the course of time it became reserved for priests and, later still, for priests only at the time of Mass.

The ordinary chasuble of today represents a very truncated form of the ample 'little house' of former ages. The garment, to allow freedom to the hands, had to be caught up over the forearms. Even in classical antiquity the chasuble was often cut somewhat shorter at the sides to facilitate freer movement. As long as pliable silk, the prescribed material for this vestment, continued to be used in making it, there was no great need for radical altering, but it was another thing entirely when stiff, brocaded velvets, themselves heavily embroidered, began to be substituted for silk. Then it was necessary to trim and cut away all that should have been folded. The nadir of the trimming process was reached in the 18th Century. Since that day a gradual reversion to the traditional garment has been making itself felt. This movement will probably be slow in progressing, because it depends in the last instance upon the slow-growing, inner religious sentiment, to which all change in external features of worship corresponds."

Of course, you won't see many maniples these days, and few priests or deacons even wear the amice. (I wear one occasionally, with a particular alb that doesn't adequately cover the collar of my "civilian" attire.) But alb, stole, dalmatic and chasuble should be familiar vestments to most Catholics.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Wars and Numbers

The current administration and its allies have been talking a lot about a supposed "War on Women," but if one looks at the numbers published by this same administration's agencies, it would seem there are some other wars being waged. Knowing how they can be misused to distort reality, I'm not normally a big fan of statistics. But in some instances the numbers are so extreme they can lead to only one conclusion. Here are a few examples.

The War on Black Babies. African Americans make up only 12.6 % of the population of our country, yet they have 46% of all abortions. And in Mississippi black babies are the victims of 78% of abortions. Does the African American community not realize what is being done to them? And why is our first African American president such a champion of abortion, even supporting the killing of babies who happen to survive an abortion? That's right, as a state senator, Barack Obama opposed the "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act" on three different occasions. The bill recognized babies born after attempted abortions as persons and required doctors to give them medical care. To show how extreme his position is, the federal version of this bill passed the U. S. Senate unanimously. Read more here and here.

The War on Parents. The "Obamacare" mandate issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services has generated much controversy, largely because of its requirement that religious affiliated organizations offer services that directly violate their religious beliefs. But did you know that it also demands that parents' healthcare plans include free coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs for minor children? And here's the interesting statistic: in 26 states there is no requirement for parental notification. In other words, a school nurse can't give a child an aspirin without her parent's consent, but that same 12-year-old can get a "morning-after" abortifacient from any physician who's willing to give it to her. Read more here.

War on Christians in Africa. While it hasn't received much attention in the mainstream media, Islamists in many African nations have been waging a war on Christians. In Egypt, the Sudan, Somalia, Nigeria and elsewhere on the continent, Islamic fundamentalists have murdered Christians, destroyed churches, burned Christian homes and businesses, all in an attempt to eliminate the Christian community. Remarkably, despite this ongoing persecution, these communities have persevered, setting a wonderful example of faith for the world's Christians. The most interesting statistic out of Africa, though, relates to the increase in its Christian population, which has now surpassed the continent's Muslim population. Christians now make up 46.5% of Africa's population, while Muslims make-up only 40.5%. It is estimated that within 10 years Africa will be the continent with the largest Christian population. This rising tide of Christianity has reportedly disturbed the continent's Islamic fundamentalists.

Massimo Introvigne, the founder of the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) at the University of Morocco, stated:

“This data is still not widely known but they have a profound historical, cultural and political significance. There are now more practicing Christians in Africa than in Europe. In the long run, this will not only change Africa but Christianity as well, as John Paul II had intuited. His attention to Africa was continued by Benedict XVI who has already visited the continent twice.
“Of course, not everyone is happy about this development. Some Islamic ultra-fundamentalists consider it scandalous that there are more Christians than Muslims in Africa and proceed to persecute and kill Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya. The way the ultra-fundamentalists see it, today, the battle which will determine whether the world will be Muslim or Christian is being fought in Africa. And that Islam is losing. This is why they are responding with bombs.”

You can read more here.

Lots of wars taking place in the world today, but too many of them are way under the radar.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 1, 2012

Mullingar and Us

As I mentioned in a previous post, Dear Diane and I returned from a two-week trip to Ireland (our first) about two weeks ago. We had a delightful time and were able to visit and enjoy at least part of that lovely country.

We decided to spend the last three days of our trip in the small city of Mullingar in county Westmeath. We took up residence at a lovely B&B, Tara House, and were very well cared for by the proprietor, Maureen Doran, and her husband Gerry. If we return, and God willing I trust that will be soon, we shall certainly stay there again.

Mullingar is not your typical Irish tourist town, but our reasons for staying there were strictly personal and had little to do with tourism. My paternal grandmother, Anne Moran, was born in Mullingar in 1877 and came to the United States when she was just a toddler. The cathedral in which she was baptized was torn down in the early 20th century and replaced by the present cathedral, built in the 1930s. We attended Mass there one Sunday and were pleased that our B&B host, Gerry Doran, was the reader that morning. It's really a magnificent church as you can see in the photo below.
Mullingar's Cathedral of Christ the King

Although Mullingar might not be a tourist magnet, we soon discovered that it's actually quite well situated for visiting some of Ireland's wonderful ancient sites. One of these, Clonmacnoise, is a national heritage site that includes the ruins of a 6th-century monastery founded by St. Ciarán (Kieran to us). It also includes the tombs of many of the Irish kings of old. Coincidentally, I discovered that one of the two tall towers at Clonmacnoise is called McCarthy's Tower, named after the kings of  Munster who were apparently numbered among my ancestors. Sadly, there's nothing left to inherit. Anyway, I suspect the tower would be a bit drafty.
McCarthy's Tower at Clonmacnoise
We also drove to the nearby town of Fore, to wander among the ruins of St. Fechin's church and abbey which he founded in the 7th century. While there we encountered a breed of cattle called "Belted Galloways." They're rather unusual looking -- Diane says they look like they're wearing cumberbunds -- and are raised largely for beef. The photo below shows two of these interesting bovines lunching near the ruins of St. Fechins monastery.
Belted Galloways near the town of Fore

Another short drive took us to the town of Multyfarnham where we visited the Franciscan friary that dates to the 15th century and has been in continuous use ever since. The current friary church was quite nice, and I've included one photo below.
Interior of the church at the Multyfarnham Friary

Being creatures of habit, during our stay in Mullingar Diane and I ate in the restaurant of the Greville Arms Hotel each evening. We enjoyed our meal the first night and so we decided not to tempt fate and try elsewhere. Interestingly, the hotel is located directly across the street from Whelehans Pharmacy, founded toward the end of the 19th century. Some years ago, I bought an old  measuring bottle of the kind used 100 years ago. The bottle is etched with the words, "T. P. Whelehan Earl St Mullingar." I purchased it for a few dollars simply because of its connection with Mullingar, where my grandmother was born. I never expected that the pharmacy would still be in business. The photo below was taken during dinner from our table at the Greville Arms Hotel restaurant.

We also planned a visit to the Mullingar Pewter Company and its factory, as well as a related business, Genesis Fine Arts, that produces some beautiful sculptures. While browsing in their shop I came across a photo taken in downtown Mullingar in 1890, only a few years after my grandmother had emigrated to the United States. I had to buy it. But remarkably, as I studied the photo, I realized I had taken a photo late the previous afternoon from almost the same exact spot. As I looked at the old photo I searched my digital camera's SD card for the shot I had taken and could hardly believe the similarity. Two photographers, over 120 years apart, stood on almost the same exact spot. It was uncanny. I've include both photos below.
Mullingar c. 1890 (

Mullingar 2012 by Dana McCarthy
I'm happy I was able to touch some of my Irish roots, but happier still that I live in the USA.

Pax et bonum...