The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Homily: Happy St. Stephen's Day

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

Happy St. Stephen’s Day! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Young Voice of Truth

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

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

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

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

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Homily: 3rd Sunday of Advent, Year C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s peace…

Friday, December 14, 2012

Tragedy, Grief, Forgiveness and Blessing

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

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

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

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

Pray too for our country.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Back Home Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pax et bonum...