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

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

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pope Benedict Departs (and so do his tweets)

Today, after the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI became official and left the Chair of Peter vacant, the Vatican closed the Pope's Twitter account. It also deleted his tweets, every last one of them. Indeed, if you visit the Pope's Twitter page, it has been changed to "Sede Vacante" (the seat being vacant). The deletion of all these tweets took me by surprise, but I suppose the idea is to mark a definitive end to Benedict XVI's papacy and ensure that whoever succeeds him will not have these unofficial communications lingering in cyberspace. Cyberspace, however, is not so easily cleansed of the unwanted. In this instance, I had saved them, simply because I enjoyed reading them and thought them worth rereading. I suspect many others have done the same. I believe I saved them all, but if a reader knows of one I missed, please pass it along via a comment.

If you are unfamiliar with Twitter, a tweet (a Twitter communication) cannot exceed 140 characters, a limitation that should encourage both brevity and clarity. Twitter enforces the brevity, but for many users clarity is elusive. The Pope had no problem with either. For someone who has written many books, some of them quite long, the Holy Father adapted well to this unique medium. Many of his tweets are simple words of encouragement to us all; others are brief statements reminding us of religious truths; some are pleas to pray for a particular intention; and some pose questions designed to help us live the Christian life. They are all worth reading.

I have listed these tweets in the order in which they appeared, from the first on 12 December to Pope Benedict's final tweet today. I hope you enjoy them.

12 December 2012: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart."

12 December 2012: "How can we celebrate the Year of Faith better in our daily lives?"

12 December 2012: "By speaking with Jesus in prayer, listening to what he tells you in the Gospel and looking for him in those in need."

12 December 2012: "How can faith in Jesus be lived in a world without hope?"

12 December 2012: "We can be certain that a believer is never alone. God is the solid rock upon which we build our lives and his love is always faithful."

12 December 2012: "Any suggestions on how to be more prayerful when we are so busy with the demands of work, families and the world?"

12 December 2012: "Offer everything you do to the Lord, ask his help in all the circumstances of daily life and remember that he is always beside you."

19 December 2012: "Everyone’s life of faith has times of light, but also times of darkness. If you want to walk in the light, let the word of God be your guide."

19 December 2012: "Mary is filled with joy on learning that she is to be the mother of Jesus, God’s Son made man.True joy comes from union with God."

21 December 2012: "When you deny God, you deny human dignity. Whoever defends God is defending the human person."

21 December 2012: "We do not possess the truth, the truth possesses us. Christ, who is the truth, takes us by the hand."

21 December 2012: "At the end of the year, we pray that the Church, despite her shortcomings, may be increasingly recognizable as Christ’s dwelling place."

24 December 2012: "What family Christmas tradition from your childhood do you still remember?"

24 December 2012: "The cribs that we built in our home gave me much pleasure. We added figures each year and used moss for decoration."

1 January 2013: "May Our Lord bless you and watch over you in the new year."

2 January 2013: "When we entrust ourselves to the Lord completely, everything changes. We are children of a Father who loves us, and never leaves us."

6 January 2013: "The Wise Men followed the star and reached Jesus, the great light that illuminates all of humanity."

7 January 2013: "Please join me in praying for Syria, so that constructive dialogue will replace the horrendous violence."

7 January 2013: "Nigerians have a special place in my heart, as so many have been victims of senseless violence in recent months."

7 January 2013: "May we defend the right of conscientious objection of individuals and institutions, promoting freedom and respect for all."

9 January 2013: "Following Christ’s example, we have to learn to give ourselves completely. Anything else is not enough."

13 January 2013: "In this Year of Faith, may every Christian rediscover the beauty of being reborn in the love of God and living as his true children."

13 January 2013: "What happens in Baptism? We become united forever with Jesus, to be born again to a new life."

16 January 2013: "If we have love for our neighbor, we will find the face of Christ in the poor, the weak, the sick and the suffering."

20 January 2013: "What does the Lord ask of us as we work for Christian unity? To pray constantly, do justice, love goodness, and walk humbly with Him."

23 January 2013: "Many false idols are held up today. For Christians to be faithful, they can’t be afraid to go against the current."

25 January 2013: I join all those marching for life from afar, and pray that political leaders will protect the unborn and promote a culture of life."

27 January 2013: "What does Sunday, the day of the Lord, mean for us? It is a day for rest and for family, but first of all a day for Him."

30 January 2013: "Every human being is loved by God the Father. No one need feel forgotten, for every name is written in the Lord's loving Heart."

2 February 2013: "Today I have a special thought for every religious: may they always follow Christ faithfully in poverty, chastity and obedience."

3 February 2013: "Let us imitate the Virgin Mary in welcoming and guarding the word of Jesus, in order to recognize him as Lord in our lives"

6 February 2013: "Everything is a gift from God: it is only by recognizing this crucial dependence on the Creator that we will find freedom and peace."

10 February 2013: “We must trust in the mighty power of God’s mercy. We are all sinners, but His grace transforms us and makes us new.”

13 February 2013: "During the season of Lent which begins today, we renew our commitment to the path of conversion, making more room for God in our lives."

17 February 2013: "Lent is a favorable time in which to rediscover faith in God as the foundation of our lives and of the Church’s life."

24 February 2013: "In these momentous days, I ask you to pray for me and for the Church, trusting as always in divine Providence."

27 February 2013: "If only everyone could experience the joy of being Christian, being loved by God who gave his Son for us!"

28 February 2013: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives".

Please keep Pope Emeritus Benedict in your prayers, and pray too for the College of Cardinals as they soon come together in conclave to elect our new Holy Father.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Few Modern Prophecies

Here are just a few prophetic comments I've come across in my reading recently...

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) on 13 November 1926

"All centralized systems mean the rule of the few; and industrial machinery is the most centralized of all systems. If the modern American really wants to know what his fathers meant by democracy, he will never learn it from a Ford car. He must make the supreme and awful sacrifice. He must get out and walk."

Christopher Dawson (1889-1970) in 1933:
"The family is steadily losing its form and its social significance, and the state absorbs more and more of the life of its members. The home is no longer a centre of social activity; it has become merely a sleeping place for a number of independent wage-earners.

"If we accept the principles of the new morality this last safeguard [marriage's social prestige] will be destroyed and the forces of dissolution will be allowed to operate unchecked.

"Marriage will lose all attractions for the young and the pleasure-loving and the poor and the ambitious. The energy of youth will be devoted to contraceptive love and only when men and women have become prosperous and middle-aged will they think seriously of settling down to rear a strictly limited family."
And another by Christopher Dawson, also in 1933 from Enquiries into Religion and Culture):

"The central conviction which has dominated my mind ever since I began to write is the conviction that the society or culture which has lost its spiritual roots is a dying culture, however prosperous it may appear externally. Consequently the problem of social survival is not only a political or economic one; it is above all things religious, since it is in religion that the ultimate spiritual roots both of society and the individual are to be found.”
Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) in 1954 from her Introductory Papers on Dante:

"That the Inferno is a picture of human society in a state of sin and corruption, everybody will readily agree. And since we are today fairly well convinced that society is in a bad way and not necessarily evolving in the direction of perfectibility, we find it easy enough to recognize the various stages by which the deep of corruption is reached. Futility; lack of living faith; the drift into loose morality, greedy consumption, financial irresponsibility, and uncontrolled bad temper; a self-opinionated and obstinate individualism; violence, sterility, and lack of reverence for life and property including one's own; the exploitation of sex, the debasing of language by advertisement and propaganda, the commercializing of religion, the pandering to superstition and the conditioning of people's minds by mass-hysteria and "spell-binding" of all kinds, venality and string-pulling in public affairs, hypocrisy, dishonesty in material things, intellectual dishonesty, the fomenting of discord (class against class, nation against nation) for what one can get out of it, the falsification and destruction of all the means of communication; the exploitation of the lowest and stupidest mass emotions; treachery even to the fundamentals of kinship, country, the chosen friend, and the sworn allegiance: these are the all-too-recognizable stages that lead to the cold death of society and the extinguishing of all civilized relations."
 Richard Weaver (1910-1963) in 1948 from Ideas Have Consequences:
"It may be that we are awaiting a great change, that the sins of the fathers are going to be visited upon the generations until the reality of evil is again brought home and there comes some passionate reaction, like that which flowered in the chivalry and spirituality of the Middle Ages. If such is the most we can hope for, something toward that revival may be prepared by acts of thought and volition in this waning day of the West."

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Homily: 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C

Readings: Gn 15:5-12,17-18; Phil17-4:1; Lk 9:28b-36

I’m sure each of us has witnessed remarkable transformations, in people or places.

Just a few years after the end of World War II, my family spent a year in Germany. It was a remarkable time, for the destruction caused by the war was still very much evident. In some cities, almost everything was destroyed. Homes, apartment houses, shops, small businesses, large factories had been turned into unrecognizable piles of brick and broken concrete.

But thanks to the Marshall Plan and the power of the human spirit, rebuilding had already begun. And by the time I returned ten years later, Western Europe had been completely transformed. It was a remarkable example of the human spirit, in its darkest hour, rising to accomplish wonderful things.

But this resurrection of post-war Europe pales in comparison to the rebuilding God has promised us – the miraculous restoration He will accomplish in our resurrection from the dead. As St. Paul reminds us in the 2nd reading:
 "…our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body."
Today's Gospel reading from Luke gives us a glimpse of what Christ's glorified body is like. Before His Resurrection, Jesus' body was just like ours, subject to hunger and thirst, pain and pleasure, weakness and strength. But after the Resurrection, Christ's body was glorified, transfigured by His divine nature. And God will do the same for us.

The eternal life God has promised to those who love Him isn’t merely some sort of spiritual existence. It will include our material bodies, but bodies very different from what we now have. More than that we cannot say. What really matters is how our faith in the resurrection affects what we do in our lives today.

This is why this surprising event that Luke describes, the Transfiguration, took place; for the Transfiguration was both a glimpse into the future that God has planned for us, and a wake-up call for the here and now.

Yes, a wake-up call, for Peter, James and John had been asleep. How did Luke put it? "Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain to pray…" Then, just moments later, Luke tells us that "Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep."

Now, this was nothing new. In fact, the disciples spent a remarkable amount of time asleep, afraid, oblivious, blind, or hidden away.  Jesus often had to wake them up, open their eyes, calm their fears, and bring them out of hiding.

By the time Peter, James and John went up that mountain to pray with Jesus, they had seen Him heal the sick and cast devils into the sea.

They heard unclean spirits shriek and watched while a paralytic simply picked up his pallet and walked away. They had seen him walk on water and change water into wine.

In the past few months, they’d had all their fears challenged; all their sins revealed and forgiven.

They found themselves eating with sinners, laughing with tax collectors, talking to lepers and harlots and thieves.

They had left their comfortable lives, and set out on the adventure of a lifetime. And yet…and yet despite all this -- despite all their waking up and growing up and sitting up in wonder, when they followed Jesus up that mountain, they still fell asleep. Only eight days before the Holy Spirit had moved Peter to declare Jesus to be "the Christ, the Son of the Living God." But when Jesus spoke of His passion and death… well, Peter and the others would have none of it!

Then, on that mountaintop, flanked by Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, Jesus is transfigured before them. As His divinity is revealed, Peter, James and John awaken, and their own transformation begins.

Peter wanted to stay there. He wanted the moment to last forever. Is it any wonder? But God says, No. Not now. You must return to the world. You must do my work. You must take my love and my Word to all. You must do what my beloved Son tells you.

“Listen to him”, the voice of the Father cries. Listen! Do as He has commanded you, and you will share in the glory you see today. Listen…and be transformed.

He has sent me to announce Good News to the poor, to proclaim release for prisoners and give sight to the blind; to let the broken victims go free. Listen…and be transformed.

Do not be afraid. From now on, you will be fishers of men. Make disciples of all nations. And I will be with you even until the end of time. Listen…and be transformed.

I haven’t come to invite the righteous, but to call sinners to repentance. Your sins are forgiven you. Go and sin no more. Listen…and be transformed.

Blessed are you who accept your spiritual poverty, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who show mercy, for you shall obtain mercy. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall receive comfort beyond your imagining. Blessed are you who are persecuted because of me, for your reward will be great. Listen…and be transformed.

Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. If you love only those who love you,
what credit is that to you? Listen…and be transformed.

Take and eat. This is my body given up for you. Take and drink. This is my blood, shed for you and for many, so that your sins may be forgiven. The Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ nourish us on the way to our destiny. In a few moments, as we process up the aisle to receive Jesus, we symbolize a people on a journey. And our firm "Amen" to the Body of Christ is a sign of our faith in the promise of Jesus: "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have life eternal and I will raise them up on the last day." Listen to the Word of the Lord…and be transformed.

But just like Peter, John and James, we seem to spend a remarkable amount of time asleep. We spend so much of our lives afraid, oblivious, blind, and hidden away – hiding from the God who loves us. This season of Lent, Jesus wants us to awaken and open our eyes. He wants to calm our fears and bring us out of hiding.

How many of us spend Lent fretting about what we’ll give up? Desserts, movies, coffee, a favorite TV show? And on Fridays we trade pepperoni pizza for fish and chips. But today's Gospel reminds us that, above all, Lent is a season of transformation. It’s a time to wake up, to open our eyes so that like the three Apostles, we can see Jesus in his glory. It’s a time to listen, so we can hear His voice calling us to be fully aware and fully alive – to live our faith every moment of our lives.

Lent is a time to take your place beside Abraham, to look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.

Lent is a time to stand beside Moses and tell stories of liberation; for that's what Jesus gave us – freedom – freedom from sin, freedom to do the Father's will. We’ve been brought out of slavery, redeemed at a great price, by the blood of the Father’s only Son.

Lent is a time to come out of hiding and walk with Elijah, to spread the Good News fearlessly to all who will hear.

Lent is a time to listen, to hear the urgency of Christ's message to each one of us – a message of love He never tires of repeating.

Lent is a time for prayer, for it’s in our prayer life that we are most open to the God’s Word.

Yes, brothers and sisters, Lent is a time to listen… a time to be transformed. Don’t let it go to waste.

Homily: Morning Prayer Saturday 23 Feb

While on my weekend deacons' retreat, I was asked to conduct Saturday's Morning Prayer and preach the homily on the reading from Isaiah, chapter one:

"Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Come now, let us set things right, says the LORD: Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they may become white as wool" [Is 1:-16-18]

My homily follows:
Sisters and brothers, God often speaks to us in the silence of our hearts, and like Elijah we're called to pull away from the noise of the world and listen for His quiet, still voice [1 Kgs 19]

...become white as snow (By Natalie Hunsaker)
But sometimes God doesn't wait for us to get all cozy and comfortable. Sometimes there's an urgency to His message. He wants us to hear and respond now and so He literally shouts it at us...just like this morning's passage from Isaiah chapter one.

When you read the early Church Fathers, especially their commentaries on Sacred Scripture, one common theme becomes evident: They all preached that the entire Old Testament, virtually every verse, pointed in one direction, to Jesus Christ, to the Good News. And I think there's probably no better example of this than the prophet Isaiah. Listen again to some of the words we just heard:

"Wash yourselves clean!
...Come now, let us set things right, say the Lord.
Though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow."

Do you hear the Gospel here? Do you hear the Good News? Well, all you have to do is turn to Mark's Gospel and listen to the parallel between the first chapters of each book.

In Mark, Jesus begins His public ministry with a proclamation and a command, and as usual Mark gives it to us wrapped up in tight, succinct prose. Listen to these first words spoken by our Lord:

"The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel" [Mark 1:15].

First He proclaims the fulfillment of all that has come before -- the Law, the Prophets, all is fulfilled. All has been brought to completion. And the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom so long awaited by God's People, is at hand.

But it's not all God's work. We each have a part to play. And so the command: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."  This command, these six words, are the same words with which we are greeted on Ash Wednesday when the ashes, that sign of repentance, are applied to our foreheads: "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

These are the words of Lent. These are the words of our journey to the Kingdom. We are called to accept the fact of our sinfulness and the need for repentance. For without repentance the rest of the command means nothing.

"Believe in the Gospel." Believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ. What is the Good News? It's forgiveness. And forgiveness calls for repentance. And it's eternal life, the fruit of our repentance and God's forgiveness.

Believe in forgiveness. Believe in eternal life. Know that God wants to forgive. He wants those scarlet sins of ours, of the entire world, to be washed away. And notice too, both Isaiah and Jesus tell us it's up to us. That's right, God wants us to cooperate in our salvation.

"Repent," commands Jesus. "Wash yourselves clean," Isaiah pleads with God's people. Yes, that's right, you can do the washing. All it takes is repentance. And then, speaking through His prophet, God Himself pleads:  "Come now, let us set things right." Not you, not me, but us. Let's do it together, God says.  You provide the repentance, you do my work in the world, and I'll take care of the forgiveness; I'll provide that salvation I've promised. Let us set things right.

Believe in the Gospel. Believe in the Truth, Jesus says. The truth of redemption. The truth of forgiveness. The truth of eternal life. The truth of Jesus Christ, true God and true man. Believe in Me, Jesus says; Believe in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, for we are here with you.

We will make our dwelling within you. We will work alongside you as you carry out my work, as you carry out your ministry, as you make disciples of all nations, as you preach and teach and heal...for you are never alone.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to be servants of the Truth in our shared ministry.  Let's do it together. Come now, says The Lord, let us set things right.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

Blogging Again

It's been almost two weeks since my last post and I've received more than a few emails from friends (and others) asking whether I've given up this little hobby of mine. I suspect some were hoping for a "yes" answer, but unhappily for them I can say definitively that Being Is Good will continue to appear, although  not perhaps so regularly as before.

I've just been busy, and despite my best intentions am not always able or willing to spend time sharing these unworthy thoughts of mine. I had naively believed that retirement, even retirement as a still ministering deacon, would mean more free time to do that which I enjoy. Silly boy! I'm afraid a form of Parkinson's Law begins to govern the lives of permanent deacons as soon as they retire from their civilian occupations. It's probably best stated as: Ministries multiply to the point where they fill all the available waking hours of the deacon and his wife.

Now, I'm not complaining...really I'm not. I truly enjoy every ministry in which I am involved. That, in itself, is an undeserved blessing for which I am exceedingly grateful to God. My teaching and preaching ministries are a joy, and I can't imagine not being able to facilitate, or at least be an active part of, the parish's two weekly Scripture Study sessions. And for nine years now the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, our fellow volunteers, and the wonderful people of God we serve have been a major part of our lives. No doubt there will come a time when Dear Diane and I can no longer do the work, but I prefer not to think about that possibility.

There are more, and among them is a new ministry -- new at least to us -- and one that we have come to enjoy immensely. Since the beginning of the year Dear Diane and I have been working several days each month as volunteer on-call chaplains at our local hospital. It's really not all that demanding. On our assigned days we're on call for a 24-hour period and also spend perhaps four hours or so at the hospital visiting new arrivals and others who need to be reminded of God's presence and love in their lives. It's a very ecumenical ministry. We visit everyone who doesn't specifically state they want to see no chaplain: Catholics, Protestants of every denomination, Jews, unbelievers....everyone. So far, I'm convinced we have received far more from the patients we visit (and their families) than they could possibly have received from us. What a wonderfully rewarding ministry. It's never the same, never routine, always a blessing...and the hospital gives us a free lunch! As Mr. Levi, one of our favorite soup kitchen patrons, would put it, "God is good, Mr. Dana. God is truly good." Amen!

Dear Diane and I returned just a few hours ago from our annual deacon couples retreat. About 50 couples attended. It was one of those Friday evening through Sunday noon weekend retreats at which the retreat master tried to accomplish far too much. At least that's the way it seemed to me. I believe a two-day retreat should focus only on one aspect of our spiritual and ministerial lives and delve into that aspect at some depth. Doing so offers the possibility of real change and spiritual advancement, as opposed to a wide-ranging approach that skims the surface of many different aspects of our spiritual lives. In the latter instance one comes away thinking, "Wow, that's a lot to absorb into my life, a lot of changes to make, but I really have no idea where or how to start." I would rather, for example, spend a weekend on a retreat that focused on the shared prayer life of a deacon and his wife, and enter into that one subject at far greater depth. But this is a topic for another post, after I've had more time to absorb all that I experienced this weekend.
Five deacons' wives (Diane center)
During the retreat Dear Diane and four other deacons' wives (see the photo above) were asked to give reflections on various aspects of Mary's life as described in the Gospels of Luke, Matthew and John. Each of these five women did a marvelous job.

Our Bishop Emeritus here in Orlando, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, C. P., died Thursday evening at the age of 83. His passing added a note of sorrow to our retreat. A Passionist priest, Bishop Dorsey was the Bishop of Orlando when I arrived here from Massachusetts in early 2004. Shortly thereafter he retired to be succeeded by Bishop Thomas Wenski, now Archbishop of Miami, who was replaced in turn by our current Bishop John Noonan. I met Bishop Dorsey only a few times but was impressed by his gentle and kind nature and his infectious smile. I will join several of our parish's deacons as we attend his funeral in Orlando this coming Thursday.

Finally, I haven't had time to sort out all my thoughts on Pope Benedict's resignation and impending departure from the Papacy. I love the man dearly and certainly understand his reasons. Humility has always been his most evident virtue and his decision highlights this fact. But I will miss him terribly and am convinced that much of what he has done as Pope will only bear fruit long after he has gone. Pray for him.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Archbishop Chaput: The Politics of Abortion

In the brief video I've posted below, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia shares his thoughts on the politics of abortion, particularly as they relate to American Catholics.

It must be remembered that the transition of the Democrat Party from a once pro-life party to today's rabid pro-abortion party began when a group of dissident Catholic theologians and liberal politicians met in the summer of 1964 at the Kennedy's Hyannis Port compound on Cape Cod. At this meeting the party's more progressive and enlightened approach to abortion was developed, an approach designed to enable Catholic politicians to neutralize Church teaching. And by constant repetition of the bad theology that Catholics could, in conscience, support abortion in certain circumstances, the Kennedys and their colleagues were highly successful in their effort.

To read more about this meeting, its roots, and its aftermath, visit these sites:

Pray for our political leadership, and especially for those Catholic politicians who have abandoned the Gospel and the teachings of the Church simply to gain worldly power which does not last. And pray, too, for all Americans, that their voting decisions may be guided by God's will and not the will of sinful men. 
"Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom, there is no help" [Ps 146:3].

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI To Resign

Sad news for those of us who love Pope Benedict XVI. Today the Holy Father announced that he will resign the Petrine ministry as of February 28. While not unprecedented, papal resignations are certainly rare, with the last occurring in 1415 when Pope Gregory XII resigned in order to bring an end to the Great Schism. Below is a video of New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan as he responds to the Pope's announcement.

I expect we'll encounter many interesting but erroneous reports in the secular media as it covers the resignation, its causes, and its consequences.We should not, of course, be surprised by the often wild inaccuracies found in stories about the Catholic Church. The secular media might get the main thrust of a story correct, but when it comes to the details -- the motivations, causes and consequences  -- they haven't a clue. I suppose that's to be expected since those who write the stories usually view the Church from the same worldview from which they view all human organizations. They parse the Vatican's statements on world events solely from a geopolitical perspective, seemingly unaware that the Church teaches from its unique perspective of faith, morality, and eschatology. They assume the Church can alter its magisterial teachings or add to and subtract from the deposit of faith much the way a worldly government can change its laws. They identify popes, cardinals, bishops and theologians using the same comfortable terms they use to label politicians. One who accepts established Church teaching is conservative rather than orthodox, while one who rejects magisterial teachings is viewed as progressive rather than heretical.

For example, one often hears Blessed Pope John XXIII referred to as a liberal and Pope John Paul II as a conservative. And yet, from the Church's perspective, both were Catholic, both were orthodox. Both held fast to the deposit of faith with which they were entrusted and both were completely dedicated to fulfilling the Lord's command to "...make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you," accepting, too, Jesus' promise that "I am with you always, until the end of the age” [Mt 28-19-20]. Each pope is called to his ministry at a specific time in the life of the Church, and each responds differently, guided by the Holy Spirit and his own understanding of what is needed to fulfill the Church's overriding mission of evangelization. Today, Pope Benedict believes he is no longer physically able to carry out the heavy responsibilities of his office and that the Holy Spirit desires someone else to carry on as his successor during this challenging time in the Church's life.

As you might expect, already some in the secular media have responded in typical fashion. I heard one "expert" on TV this morning stating that Pope Benedict's likely reason for resigning was to avoid responsibility for the scandal resulting from the abuse of children by priests. Another (the UK's Guardian) implied that he was, in effect, forced from office because of his "conservative"and "divisive" papacy: "A deeply conservative pontiff, whose tenure has been overshadowed by sexual abuse scandals, Pope Benedict, 85, leaves with a chequered reputation after a papacy that was at times both conservative and divisive." Between now and next month's conclave we will no doubt be subjected to far worse than this. Most of the errors repeated by the media will stem from ignorance, but sadly some will be driven by hatred.

I'm certain we can take Pope Benedict at his word as he makes what for this holy, humble and brilliant man must have been an extremely difficult decision. So you will know exactly what the Holy Father said, here is the full text of his announcement:
Dear Brothers,
I have convoked you to this Consistory, not only for the three canonizations, but also to communicate to you a decision of great importance for the life of the Church. After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.  I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering. However, in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the barque of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me. For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.

Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects.  And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff. With regard to myself, I wish to also devotedly serve the Holy Church of God in the future through a life dedicated to prayer.

From the Vatican, 10 February 2013


Now is the time for all Catholics, indeed, for all people of good will, to pray for the Church, for Pope Benedict XVI, and for the conclave that will elect his successor.

I've included below a video clip on what will happen after Pope Benedict's resignation takes effect on February 28.

One last photo...I couldn't resist. This is a photo of me and Pope Benedict XVI on the streets of Rome in February 2000. Okay, officially he wasn't pope yet, but that's just a technicality. His election took place about five years later. But it's still pretty cool. I simply ran into him on a street near the Vatican and accosted the poor man. But he was very gracious and let me talk and question him for five or ten minutes; then he posed for this photo in which I am, of course, giving instructions to the photographer, our Polish friend, Fr. Adam Domanski.

Homily: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

Readings: Is 6:1-8; Ps 138:1-8; 1 Cor 15:1-11; Lk 5:1-11

In one of my other lives, one of my pre-retirement working lives, I had responsibility for interviewing and hiring those who would work for me. I always considered these hiring decisions the most important and yet the most difficult I had to make. I suppose I had a pretty good track record, but every once in a while I’d get fooled.

Sometimes I’d hire someone who just seemed perfect for the job. He had the education and qualifications, projected just the sort of personality and attitude I was looking for…and so I hired him. And then I soon discovered that he was lazy, barely competent, disloyal, and unable to function as a member of a team.

But the surprises weren’t always bad. Once, to satisfy pressing customer needs, I had to hire a couple of trainers quickly. The first who walked in the door was a young woman with a so-so educational background, a thin resume, and very little experience. She was also extremely nervous throughout the interview.  But something, some gut feeling, told me to hire her. She turned out to be an outstanding employee because she had drive, a positive attitude, a willingness to learn, and loved her work.

Now with that in mind, just think about Jesus’ hiring decisions. He was putting a team together, this apostolic team of His, a team that would have to begin and grow a worldwide enterprise of the sort never before seen. What’s His vision for this organization, this Church? Geographically, he told his disciples, it will span the entire world, encompass all nations. But that’s not all. He also promises it will exist until the end of time.

And so, whom does he hire to lead it? Does he bring in the top religious leaders of the time? Or the greatest thinkers? Does he tap into the elite, the movers and shakers of the Empire, the power brokers, the intelligentsia? No. Instead He chooses a bunch of fishermen from the backwater of Galilee, a collection of simple, unknown men who, for the next three years, seem totally incapable of understanding anything Jesus tells them.

What kind of men are they? Well, most were indeed fishermen, but one, called Matthew, was a tax-collector, probably the profession most despised by the people. Not a very customer-focused hire.

Another, named Judas, proves to be disloyal in the extreme, so disloyal he betrays Jesus by handing Him over to those who will kill Him. Simon Peter, the de facto leader of the group isn’t much better. Full of bluster and false pride, he talks a good game, but when the going gets tough he denies Jesus again and again. Then there’s Thomas, the doubter, and James and John, the “Sons of Thunder” Jesus calls them with sharp irony, the brothers so concerned with their ranking among the disciples. And the others…well, they just fade away at the time of Jesus’ greatest need.

Oh, yes, Jesus hires one more apostle. He reaches down and touches a man named Saul, a leading persecutor of the early Church. That’s a bit like the CIA saying, “You know, we should be more multi-cultural here. Let’s hire some al-Qaida and Taliban folks to work in our embassies.”

But, you see, Jesus wasn’t influenced by all the worldly qualifications – and disqualifications – that we consider so important. He wasn’t hiring for a business start-up. No, He was choosing men who could become faithful, trusting disciples, men who could do His work of leading the world to salvation.

Jesus sees each person’s true worth and judges the heart and the will. He judged the apostles and He judges us not so much for what we are, but for what we can become on our lifelong journey of conversion.

Like the apostles, and many who came before and after, we too can resist that call to conversion, that call to discipleship. Isaiah, Paul and Peter – the three men we heard from in today’s readings – each resisted God’s call when confronted by his own insignificance, his own sinfulness, in the presence of God’s transcendent greatness.

Of the three I suppose I feel more kinship with Peter. He just seems so totally human – a practical, down-to-earth sort of man who says what he thinks, and isn’t easily impressed by others. He was a commercial fisherman, an entrepreneur who, with his brother Andrew, owned his own boat and nets, and worked hard to earn a living. He probably came from generations of fishermen, since in those days occupations were usually passed on from father to son. Fishing was in his blood. He knew his trade and he knew the Sea of Galilee as well as anyone.

So when Jesus told him to “put out into deep water” and cast his nets, Peter was justifiably skeptical: “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing…” [Lk 5:4-5]

Yes, a nice way of saying, “Look, Jesus, you’re a carpenter and obviously a very holy man, but if I know one thing it’s fishing, and there’s no way we’ll catch anything now, not in the middle of the day.”

Yet, despite this, Peter did as Jesus asked: “…but at your command I will lower the nets.”
"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man."

And what happened? They caught so many fish that their nets were tearing and they needed the help of other fishermen on another boat.

Now Peter had witnessed the miracles of Jesus before. He had seen healings, even the cure of his own mother-in-law, but Peter was no doctor.  He had seen Jesus turn water into wine at Cana, but he was no chemist. But this was different. Because Peter knew fishing, and he knew that what he’d just witnessed had never happened before, that he’d witnessed a miracle.

Overcome by this revelation, he fell to his knees, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man” [Lk 5:8]. Just moments before, he had called Jesus, “Master.” Now he calls him, “Lord.”

But just as He did with Isaiah, and would later do with Paul, God takes the initiative. Jesus knew that Peter’s sense of unworthiness was accompanied by something else: a very deep fear. I look back at my own life and see it littered with these fearful, Peter-like moments, but Peter’s experience was far more profound. For Peter, at his very core, was frightened, frightened by the sudden realization that he was weak and powerless in the presence of something, of some ONE, much greater than himself. And he was frightened too by the knowledge that Jesus could see into his inmost being. Frightened by the darkness, the sinfulness he knew was there. I suspect he was also frightened by what Jesus might ask him to do.

Yes, Peter was frightened, and Jesus knew it. Jesus also knew that Peter’s sense of unworthiness and fear wasn’t the same as unwillingness. Peter, this tough guy, normally full of bravado, was now overcome by a kind of fear he had never before experienced. But Jesus also knew that Peter would ultimately do whatever His Lord asked of him. “Do not be afraid,” Jesus tells him, “from now on you will be catching men” [Lk 5:10].

You see, brothers and sisters, Jesus accepts us as we are. He loves us as we are. But He loves us too much to let us stay as we are. He calls us as we are, but He always calls us to something greater. He calls us to holiness.

How did St. Paul put it in today’s first reading? “…I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle…But by the grace of God I am what I am” [1 Cor 15:9-10]. God doesn’t call saints. He calls sinful men and women and makes them saints. He calls the weak and makes them strong. And He calls us all, every single one of us.

As He calls disciples to Himself, He makes the most unworldly of hiring decisions. He hires everyone who comes to Him in humility and powerlessness. Paul and Peter both came to understand that the Incarnation – this God becoming man – and especially our Lord’s passion and death was an act of voluntary powerlessness on God’s part. They also understood that Word and Sacrament aren’t gifts to make us feel good, but rather a way for us to participate in the humbling work of Christ.

God’s call is a call to powerlessness, something that many of us, clergy and laity, have yet to accept. It’s a call to “put out into the deep water” – and that can be a very scary place when you’re alone. The first true steps in faith are always a bit frightening, brothers and sisters, but you’re not alone, for Jesus promises to be with each one of us every step of the way.

What is He calling you to do? Don’t know? Then look to your weaknesses, because the call will come from there. And then, like Isaiah, you too can respond, “Here I am...Send me” [Is 6:8].

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Richard III, R. I. P.

Portrait of Richard III (1520)
Have you heard the news from the United Kingdom? Using DNA testing and other evidence, scientists from the University of Leicester have confirmed that the bones uncovered beneath the pavement of a Leicester parking lot in the English Midlands are indeed those of the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III. A facial reconstruction, based on Richard's unearthed skull, is also remarkably similar to the king's portrait.

The king was buried not far from where he fell at the Battle of Bosworth (August 22, 1485), the final conflict of the War of the Roses. After the battle his victorious adversary, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), treated Richard's corpse rather shabbily, first stripping it naked and mutilating it, then binding it as if he were a criminal and parading it around on display for a few days. Franciscan friars finally buried the slain king it in a grave close to the altar of a nearby priory, one subsequently destroyed by Henry VIII during his brutal nationwide destruction of English monasteries. Read the full story of the discovery of Richard's bones here.

Since the victors generally become the authors of history, Richard III  has been regularly depicted as a monster, as an evil ruler who murdered his own relatives in his quest for the throne. Richard was even subsequently blamed for most of the troubles that afterwards befell the Tudor monarchs who followed him. And who can ignore William Shakespeare's version of a bloodthirsty Richard III? And yet there is almost no contemporary evidence supporting such claims which apparently have their roots solely in later Tudor propaganda. It would seem that the historians of the time, playing a kind of royal shell game, attributed to Richard all the vices and corruption of his Tudor successors, particularly those of Henry VII and his son, Henry VIII.
Facial Reconstruction based on unearthed skull of Richard III

Of course, another strike against Richard III was his religion. He was not only a Catholic, but reportedly a very pious Catholic. Everything we know about him, written before the Tudors came to power, describes him as a man of exceptional courage possessed of a strict moral code. In some respects it is Richard's Catholicism that best defines him. This is why many English Catholics are disturbed by the plans to give Richard the funeral he deserves but never had, but to conduct it in a post-Reformation cathedral using a Protestant funeral rite. This Catholic king, they protest, deserves to receive a Catholic funeral. I agree. Maybe I'll join the Richard III Society. Read more here.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Homily: 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)

I neglected to post this homily last apologies.


Readings: Jer 1:4-5,17-29; Psalm 71; 1Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Lk 4:21-30
As a deacon I get asked a lot of questions – questions about the Church, questions about God, questions about morality…what’s right and what’s wrong and why. And, you know, most of them are good questions, questions asked by people who need answers, who are honestly searching for the truth, questions that come straight from the heart.

But occasionally the questions I’m asked come from a different place. Occasionally they come from anger, or from pride, or from hatred. And it’s those questions I have a hard time answering. It’s not so much that they’re hard to answer; it’s that those asking them don’t want to hear the answers.

“How can a loving God be so cruel? Why did He kill all those innocent people in that earthquake?”

“Isn’t the Church against abortion just because it gives women control over their lives?”

“Why didn’t God answer my prayer? I told Him what I needed again and again.”

“How come the Church hates gay people?”

You see, in each instance it’s pretty clear they’ve already made up their minds. They already have their own answers, answers that support what they want to believe. What really bothers them is God’s unwillingness to conform to the divine image they’ve created. And they want His Church to support that image.

Those questions, as different as they might seem on the surface, really boil down to one question: “Why doesn’t God agree with me?” In other words, the creature tries to assume the role of the creator – by creating a god in his image.

Of course, this is nothing new. It’s been around from the very beginning. That first sin, the sin in the garden, was a sin of pride: Adam and Eve wanting to be like God. And we also see it in evidence in today’s Gospel passage from Luke.

Jesus in the synagogue of Nazareth
Jesus visits his home town of Nazareth, enters the synagogue, and reads the words of Isaiah. He then makes that amazing claim: “Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” [Lk 4:21]

At first the townspeople look at each other in amazement, overcome by wonder and pride. Isn’t Jesus one of their own? Isn’t He the same one who grew up with their own children, played with them, went to synagogue with them? Isn’t He the young carpenter? Isn’t this the son of Joseph? How is it He speaks with such wisdom?

Nazareth was likely a pretty quiet place — a small village on the road to larger, more exciting places. I suspect nothing much ever happened in Nazareth. And yet, on this day, in sleepy Nazareth, the people heard the Word of Isaiah – the Word of their Fathers – claimed to be fulfilled in their hearing. Isn’t this the son of Joseph?

Oh, they’d heard the rumors of miracles in Capernaum. They’d heard talk of healings and crowds and signs of God’s favor. And most of them probably hoped He’d do the same in Nazareth – maybe even more…much more. But they kept thinking: Isn’t this the son of Joseph? One of our own. And if He is a prophet, if He is a miracle-maker, then shouldn’t His own people be the first to benefit? After all, we’re his people! His family! His friends! He should do something special for us, perhaps some wonderful miracle, or some healings. God knows we have enough sick people in town. If He’d do that then we’d know God’s power is here, right here in Nazareth, this little town in this forgotten corner of Galilee.

Elijah and the widow
But what does Jesus do? Nothing. No miracle. Instead He speaks of the prophet Elijah and the famine that spread throughout the land in those ancient days. Although many of God’s Chosen People were starving, God sent Elijah to a widow of Zarephath, a pagan from the land of Sidon. It was she and her son, these pagans, whom Elijah miraculously fed [1 Kgs 17:7-16].

And no healings. Instead of healing the sick of Nazareth, Jesus speaks of the prophet Elisha and the leper God sent him to heal, a man called Naaman, a pagan from Syria — and this when there were many lepers in Israel [2 Kgs 5].

The people of Nazareth gathered in the synagogue to see and hear Jesus, this son of Joseph who was apparently doing wondrous things throughout Galilee. They hoped to be amazed by His words and to marvel at His mighty deeds. Yes, they wanted the hometown boy to bring them signs of God’s favor. They wanted a prophet who would do their bidding, not God’s.

But instead, Jesus told them stories of God’s grace poured out not on Jews, not on friends and neighbors, but on aliens, on unbelievers. And this infuriated them. Jesus is certainly not their kind of Messiah. And so they rose up, drove Him out of town, to the brow of a steep hill, hoping to hurl Him off the cliff.

Yes, we meet these Nazarenes across a vast gulf of time and traditions and language and experience… and although these differences are great, perhaps we’re more like them than we know. After all, don’t we also sometimes yearn for a God we can control, one who will do our bidding? Don’t we sometimes want a God who will reward us, His friends, and punish our enemies?

Oh, yes, we want a just and merciful God, as long as we’re the ones who benefit from his justice and mercy. It’s okay if God plays favorites so long as we’re the favored ones. We ask for forgiveness when we fail to do God’s bidding, and then we demand that he do ours.

Most of the time, we’re not particularly comfortable with a truly omnipotent and omniscient God. We prefer our God in a box with well-defined limitations, one who conforms to our vision of what God should do. We want a God we can tame. And so did the people of Nazareth.

For on that day Jesus reminded his friends and neighbors that God’s ways are not our ways. God’s grace cannot be constrained by our boundaries or controlled by our prayers. When Jesus spoke in the synagogue, he gave notice that his ministry would embrace the stranger and include the outsider. His message would be as confrontational as it was comforting. His teaching would be sharp and hard and often difficult to accept, or even hear.

This is why so many today find Jesus and His Church just as unacceptable. I remember walking with thousands of others on a “walk for life” in Boston some years ago. It was a peaceful event. And as we walked down Commonwealth Avenue in support of the unborn, the silence was broken only by the prayers and hymns of the participants…until we reached one corner. There we were confronted by a small group of protesters who fouled the air, screaming obscenities and blasphemies aimed directly at Jesus Christ and His Church.

You see, brothers and sisters, Jesus’ Word can be hard, and those who can’t accept and embrace it may find themselves filled with fury and standing on the brow of a hill ready to hurl him, and his message, headlong off the cliff.

Jesus didn’t go elsewhere because he was rejected; he was rejected because he intended to go elsewhere. That elsewhere beckons us, too; or at least it should, for we too are called. We have heard God’s Word. It has been fulfilled in our hearing. We are called to travel on hard paths, and to take up our cross, carrying it with us as we go.

This is our God – our crucified and risen Lord, the God who lives, still bearing the wounds of His love.  This is our God, not a God to be tamed or controlled, but a God to be loved, a God who demands our complete trust. This is our Christian calling, to abandon ourselves in trust, to abandon ourselves into His hands, allowing His will and not ours to be done in our lives. To the world it appears to be weakness; but believe me, it can be the hardest thing you will ever do.

The question is: Are we willing to do it?

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Year of Faith -- Update from Rome

I trust your home parish, like ours, is playing an active role in the celebration of the Year of Faith inaugurated four months ago by Pope Benedict XVI. The pope announced the Year of Faith on October 11, the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council and the twentieth anniversary of the publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. This year, if we live it wisely and well, offers us an opportunity, in Pope Benedict's words, to “usher the whole Church into a time of particular reflection and rediscovery of the faith.”

Pope Benedict believes this Year of Faith is necessary because of the radical changes that have taken place in our culture. No longer can belief in and acceptance of Gospel values be taken for granted. New kinds of atheism and agnosticism have become popular, especially in the post-industrial West where belief in God is mocked as passé and unenlightened. So much of this thinking stems not only from a lack of faith, but also from ignorance and misunderstanding of God's Word and the teachings of His Church.

The Church, therefore, calls us to rediscover the ‘power and beauty of the faith’ by reading the Documents of Vatican II and the Catechism, by studying the lives of the saints, by entering deeply into God's Word in Scripture, and by sharing our faith with others. We are all called by Jesus Christ to evangelize the world:

"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” [Mt 28:19-20].
But we cannot obey this command if our own faith is weak or uninformed. As Pope Benedict said, we should all “reappropriate exact knowledge of the faith, so as to reinvigorate it, purify it, confirm it, and confess it.”

I've included below a brief video that provides an update on the Year of Faith as it is being celebrated at the Vatican. You can also access the Vatican's special website devoted to the Year of Faith.