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.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Always a Time for Thanksgiving

On Thursday I sort-of helped Dear Diane as she cooked an absolutely wonderful meal for our guests at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen. The soup kitchen operates Monday through Saturday, with a different cook assigned to each day of the week. Since Diane is the Thursday cook, we are always blessed to be able cook and serve the Thanksgiving meal. I've included a copy of the menu below...

As is our custom on Thanksgiving, we gave our usual crew of Thursday volunteers the day off and solicited others to join us on this special day. We always have far more Thanksgiving volunteers than we can handle, and have to turn away some folks; otherwise we'd be tripping over each other. This year we probably accepted more volunteers than usual, and divided them into two shifts: one from seven to ten a.m., and the other from ten a.m. until one p.m. This made things a bit more manageable, but even then we still had a crowd.

The first shift -- which must have included at least 20 people -- assisted Diane as she prepared the meal. Diane and our regular Thursday team had already done much of the necessary prep work in advance. And many other regular soup kitchen volunteers had cooked and sliced turkeys earlier in the week. As I recall, these good folks cooked twelve or thirteen large turkeys for us. This still left a lot of work for our first shift volunteers, and as "Thursday Captain" (a rather overblown title), I tried to organize them into effective work groups. Everything seemed to go pretty well and the meal was ready on time. The first shift then served up 140 meals for delivery to shut-ins who live in Wildwood. Our volunteer drivers, who use their own cars (and gasoline), each deliver 30-40 meals...and what wonderful and generous folks they are!

At this point we encountered out first challenge: trying to get the first shift to quit and go home. They were enjoying themselves so much they didn't want to leave. Unfortunately we had about 30 people in the second shift waiting to take over. Finally Diane and I had to order all those happy first-shift volunteers to get out and make room for others.

At 10:30 a.m. we opened the doors to our guests, and served the meal between 11 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Once again, though, we did things differently on Thanksgiving. Instead of having the guests pick up their own meals as they walk through the serving line, we met and greeted them as they arrived, took them to their seats, got them a drink -- coffee, iced tea, lemonade, etc. -- and then asked them to check off the menu items they would like. A volunteer then went through the serving line, filling the order, and took the meal to the guest. Another group of volunteers carried trays of desserts in the dining room, letting each guest choose which dessert he or she would like. It's really quite an operation, but thanks to all our enthusiastic and giving volunteers, it all went very smoothly.

The result was a record Thanksgiving Day. I never know whether to be pleased or upset when we break attendance records at the soup kitchen. I'm pleased and thankful that we have always been able to feed all those who come through our doors; but the fact that we must serve so many says a lot about the state of the economy. Including our delivered meals, we served nearly 330 meals on Thursday. On previous Thanksgivings our numbers were always much lower then this.

As always, our guests were truly appreciative and raved about the meal. Indeed, they liked it so much that many took a second meal home with them -- so many, in fact, that at the end of the day, we had virtually nothing left, another very rare occurrence. Next year we'll just have to cook more turkeys.

Of course, Diane and I couldn't have done any of this on our own. It was truly a joy that we were joined by all those good people who volunteered to give up part of their Thanksgiving to help others. What a blessing that so many were willing and able to be with us on this day of thanks!

Take some time today, and every day, to thank God for all that you have been given, and for your very being, for the gift of life you have received. Recall the words of St. Paul:
"What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?"[1 Cor 4:7]
If you're interested in knowing more about the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, click here.

God's peace...

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Homily for Today: Wednesday, 34th Week of Ordinary Time

Usually I spend quite a bit of time preparing my homilies. Before I sit down to write, I pray, asking the Holy Spirit to guide me. And as I write I dig deeply -- too deeply some might think -- into the Scriptures and Church teaching. After I've written the homily, I inevitably revise and rewrite a few times before I'm comfortable with the finished product. Then I give it my final test, I have Dear Diane read it. If she's happy with it, then I am as well. This is what I usually do.

But this morning I didn't realize I was scheduled to preach until after I arrived at the church. And so I had about five minutes to give the readings some thought and decide what I would say about them. The two readings: Dn 5:1-6, 13-14, 16-17, 23-28 and Lk 21:12-19. As well as I can recall my words, here's what I had to say:


Last night I had a dream, a very strange dream. I woke up at about 2 a.m. with the dream fresh in my mind. I was in a church, not this church, but a very large church, and as I walked up to the ambo to preach I saw that the church was filled with people. But as soon as I began to preach, everybody in the church simply stood up and left the building. I'm not kidding. That's exactly what least in my dream.

Now as I lay there in the dark at 2 a.m. I had no idea what this might mean. I think perhaps I need a Daniel to interpret it for me. But after reading today's Gospel passage from Luke earlier this morning, I began to think that it might relate to how well I'm doing as an evangelist. And, apparently, if the dream is accurate, not very well.

How about you? Are you an evangelist...yet? You do know that as a Christian you are called to evangelize, don't you? Indeed, the last three popes -- John Paul II, Benedict, and Francis -- have all made evangelization a key priority of the papacy and, therefore, of the entire Church. For evangelization is the Church's one mission, the mission that Jesus gave to the disciples and to us with His last words before He returned to the Father:
"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].
He addressed these words to all of us, brothers and sisters. Yes, you and I are called to make disciples and to teach. We are all called to evangelize. And Jesus, in those last words of His, gives us the consolation of His presence. He will be with us until the end of the age, just as He is with us now. He is with us in the Eucharist until He returns in glory. We have Him, the Real Presence,  in our presence every day. What a consolation that is!

And we will certainly need Him because evangelization comes with a cost. Did you hear what Jesus said in our Gospel passage?
“They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name...and they will put some of you to death...You will be hated by all because of my name" [Lk 21:12,16-17].
Not very comforting is it? But this is the cost; this is the price you and I must pay if we are to evangelize in a world that rejects Jesus, a world that rejects the Word of God. And so we need His presence if we are to answer Jesus's call to evangelization.

Recall, too, that He will inspire us through His Holy Spirit. How did He put it?
"It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute." [Lk 21:13-15]
Lord knows I didn't prepare these words today, so if they're of any value, they are the Spirit's words. not mine.

And so, today, perhaps you and I should take some time to think about this call issued by Jesus, this call to evangelization.

Are you an evangelist...yet? If not, why not? And don't worry, because God will be with you always, leading the way.

God love you.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Land Ho!

Tuesday, 5 November 2013 -- At Sea

Okay, not quite. Our first sighting of land is still several hundred miles to the west, but today is our last full day at sea before our arrival in Nassau tomorrow morning.  We had another in a series of time changes last night so, of course, I awoke at 4 a.m. ready to start my day. Once again I sit here in the dark tapping away while Dear Diane sleeps soundly.

Last night, for the first time since last week's transit of the Bay of Biscay on the way to La Rochelle, the seas have been other than calm. I believe we're feeling some of the residual effects of the storms that have been moving up the east coast of the U.S. Overnight the ship developed a distinct roll, one that helped me sleep well, just like a baby in a cradle, at least until 4 a.m. We're still rolling, and because it's quite dark outside, I can't see whether we have an overcast or clear skies. I could certainly get a better view by sliding open the noisy door to the balcony, but that would surely awaken Diane, not a wise thing to do.

Yesterday, extending the celebration of our anniversary a bit, we gave ourselves a treat and had lunch at one of the specialty restaurants, the S.S. United States. The restaurant seems to be a kind of shrine to that once famous ship that carried folks across the Atlantic back in the fifties and sixties. I remember when it was first put into service and, if I recall correctly, it set a speed record for the transatlantic voyage between New York and Southhampton. I'll have to look that up and see if my memory is correct. Anyhow, the meal was wonderful, the best since we've been aboard Infinty. 

Other than that, our day was just one of those relaxing, do-nothing days. We napped (well, Diane napped), we read, we watched the sea roll past our little balcony, we sampled some of the gelato served on deck five by a lovely Italian girl (coconut and cinnamon turned out to be a great combination), and we met with a couple -- friends of a friend -- whom we looked up a few days ago. I expect today to be more of the same, except we will probably do some initial packing so we won't be too hurried our last evening aboard.

It's still dark. Diane still sleeps soundly. More later, assuming there's anything worth writing about.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013 -- Nassau, Bahamas

We arrived in Nassau this morning under sunny skies and tied up at the pier along with four other cruise ships. With all those ships in port, Nassau's downtown streets were clogged with tourists anxious to part with their money in the jewelry stores, craft stalls, souvenir shops, and restaurants. Diane and I did our small part to aid the local economy by purchasing a few baubles and other little things. We also sat on an outside deck at one of those noisy and fun waterfront eateries and ate huge and tasty hamburgers. But Nassau, at least its downtown, could only hold our interest for a few hours so by mid-afternoon we decided to stroll back to the ship. The ship departed at 4 p.m in a wonderful display of seamanship and now we're on our last leg, a short trip to Miami. 

We've had a wonderful month, but it's time to return to our home and once again take up the routine of our lives. 


Monday, November 4, 2013

Bath Revisited

I just realized that, despite my promise to do so, I never posted anything describing our weekend in the beautiful city of Bath. I'll try to rectify this omission by offering a few comments on our brief stay over the weekend of 18-20 October.

We had booked a room at a lovely B&B, The Bath House, located only a block or two from the city's center. Because we had made our reservation a bit late (rooms in Bath are always in demand) we were given a room on the top floor of the house. Fortunately, our host was a strong, young man who happily carried our bags up the two flights of stairs. The room was very nice with a king-size bed, an en suite bath, and also included a wonderful English breakfast delivered to our room each morning. And most conveniently, and a true rarity in Bath, the B&B also had free on-site parking. The only problem we encountered that weekend was the weather: it rained almost constantly. 

After our late afternoon arrival, we walked into town, passed by the Jane Austen Center which we decided to visit the next morning, and strolled up Gay Street to the Circus, one of Bath's many architectural wonders. The first photo below shows only one of the three segments of the Circus. In the second photo you can see the three types of classic columns present on the three levels of the building. It had started to drizzle so we stopped by a pub, grabbed a bite to eat, and then returned to our B&B. It had been a long day and so we called if a night, hoping to see all the sights on Saturday.

On Saturday morning, after our in-room breakfast, we walked the few short blocks to the Jane Austen Center where we were greeted by the doorman dressed in Regency period clothing, but looking more like a character out of Dickens. Here are a couple of photos...

The Center itself is well worth a visit. First we listened to an interesting talk delivered by a lovely young lady who spoke eloquently about Jane Austen's time in Bath; then we spent about an hour browsing through the museum which focused on various aspects of life in early 19th-century Bath. Of course we also stopped by their gift shop and contributed to the economy of 21st-century Bath. I've included a photo below of Diane standing alongside a faceless mannequin wearing a period dress, and a young boy writing with a quill pen. For one so young he actually did quite well. Bright lad.

We spent much of the day roaming about the city trying to stay dry. We walked to the Royal Crescent, another of those uniquely designed Bath buildings. In the photo below you can see the ha-ha, the depressed wall in front of the Crescent, an unusual construction commonly used at the time to keep animals and other undesirable critters from desecrating the front lawns of the wealthy. It could not be easily seen from above; hence the name.

We visited the Bath Abbey (see first photo below) and spent quite a while in the ancient Roman baths, another must-see when visiting Bath. The museum takes one through the early history of the city from pre-Roman times to the present.

Sadly, the poor weather prevented us from seeing many of the sights we had hoped to visit, and I was particularly disappointed in missing out on a planned boat trip on the River Avon. Indeed, late that afternoon we were caught in a downpour that, despite raincoats and umbrellas, completely drenched us as we hurried back to our lodgings. We were thoroughly soaked and quite cold by the time we returned to our room. It continued to rain throughout the evening and the next morning we had to drive to London's Gatwick Airport to drop off our car. Perhaps we'll be able to travel to Bath again someday, and see all those places we were unable to visit. I've included a few random Bath photos below...

Now...back to our ocean voyage.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Eclipses and Fishes

As part of the celebration of our 45th anniversary yesterday we decided to go to the show put on by the ship's remarkable young entertainers. It turned out to be a tribute to the disco music of the seventies, a decade I pretty much missed because of my 24x7 Navy life. I was either at sea, in graduate school, or teaching at the Naval Academy. Also, our four children were born between 1971 and 1977 so that pretty much absorbed any free time we might otherwise have had. I suppose the only concession I ever made to the 70s zeitgeist was a pair of bell-bottoms and a leisure suit. (Yes, the photos have all been burned.) The show, however, was actually pretty good -- a number of talented singers and a troupe of seemingly inexhaustible dancers. Diane and I enjoyed it. 

Later at dinner our maître'd and wait staff surprised us with a special anniversary cake which was surprisingly good. And when we returned to our room our bed was covered with rose petals and one of our room attendants had drawn a rather good caricature of the two of living color! And there, too, on our coffee table was another anniversary cake. I thought it a rather nice conclusion to a wonderful, relaxing day.

Before going to bed we heard that the ship would experience a partial eclipse of the sun from about 7 to 9 a.m. So we rose a bit earlier than usual and made our way topside to deck 11. Some folks had come fully prepared with special darkened viewing cards that enabled them to watch the eclipse without destroying their eyesight. One kind gentleman must have had dozens of these cards and gave one to anyone who asked, including us. As it turned out, the eclipse, although partial, covered about 90% of the sun's surface. And so all of us oohed and aahed as we watched the moon slowly move across the surface of the sun. Here are a few photos, including one taken through a make-shift filter during the eclipse...

While all these astronomical events were taking place, we were also entertained by a seabird, some sort of hawk-like bird of prey that gave us a remarkable demonstration of airborne acrobatics. I had noticed him yesterday when he made a high-speed pass down the length of the ship just a few feet from my balcony, so I suspect he's taken up residence in his own little aerie somewhere high up on the ship. 

And then the entertainment shifted to the ocean's surface as we watched many tiny flying fish leave the water and skim over its surface for quite a long distance. We see them often when they break the surface to escape the bulk of the ship as it disturbs their habitat. You can barely make out three of them in the following photo. They're the three white specks in a line from upper left to lower right.

As you can tell, I am easily entertained...

Take a moment today to thank God for His creation.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Captain and Crew

Off hand I don't know the size of the crew of this ship. I've seen the figure somewhere but I simply can't recall it. But according to the little pocket map of the ship given to us when we boarded, the ship can accommodate 2,170 guests. It takes a significant number of people to keep all these guests happy and fed and exercised and entertained and safe and moving along from one destination to the next. And despite the long hours and hard work demanded by most of their jobs, all of the crew members we encounter seem to enjoy their work. They are invariably friendly, helpful and focused on pleasing us, the guests. A lot of businesses could learn much about customer satisfaction from some of these cruise lines.

Our captain is Greek, a nice enough fellow who seems a bit shy. He gives us a brief update over the ship's public address system each day at 10 a.m. and occasionally walks through the public spaces, greeting passengers and asking if we're pleased with everything or have any complaints. Today he informed us that we are just about half-way to Nassau, having covered over 1,700 miles since leaving Lisbon. The seas remain relatively calm and the skies clear with only a few fair-weather cumulus clouds. 

Of course, the crew members with whom we have the most contact are our two cabin attendants and the wait staff in our little Aqua Class restaurant. Marcelino (from Goa, India) and Edy (from Indonesia) take care of our cabin, doing all those big and little things that make life aboard ship comfortable. They are real treasures, pleasant young men who go out of their way to keep us happy, although Diane and I are not particularly demanding. I trust we have made their jobs a bit easier.

The wait staff in our restaurant form an eclectic  group, from Serbia, Jamaica, Zimbabwe, India, Nicaragua, Argentina and a half-dozen other countries. They're all wonderful. In no time they have learned our likes and dislikes and recommend menu selections accordingly. A few of them seem to know what I'll like before I've even thought about it. And Maria keeps my coffee cup full at breakfast. For what more could I ask?

Naturally, the cruise line is in business to make money, so I suppose happy guests cruise again and again. And although I have no financial data on this company, I can't help but believe they're doing very well. They have certainly found many creative ways to separate their guests from their money. Casinos, bars, specialty restaurants, spas, shops, port excursions, wines -- all of these things are "extras" and all generate a lot of cash. I'm very fortunate not to be an alcoholic gambler who likes massages, exotic foods, and Swiss watches.

I'm back on our little balcony, but it's almost time for lunch which today will be only a simple plate of fruit. I must get back on the diet and exercise regimen that allowed me to lose 20 pounds in the three months prior to our leaving home. I suspect I've gained half of it back thanks to pub food, good British ale, and a ship that feeds me constantly.


45 Years

Today, November 2, is our 45th anniversary. Dear Diane and I were married on this day in 1968 in the base chapel at Naval Air Station Pensacola. Since then we have brought four wonderful children into the world, who in turn have blessed us with nine perfect grandchildren. During those 45 years we have moved from one home to another, first to Chula Vista, California, then north to Monterey, across the country to Annapolis, Maryland,  back to California, this time to Bonita, then all the way to Harwich Port on Cape Cod where we lived for 25 years, and finally, ten years ago, to our retirement home in The Villages, Florida. It's been a wonderful adventure, this life together. May it continue for at least a few more years.

Dear Diane sleeps alongside me as I quietly tap away on the iPad. With all the time changes crossing the Atlantic, I've been waking up earlier each morning. Today it was 4:45. It's a bit like switching from daylight savings time to standard time on five or six consecutive days. These changes don't seem to bother Diane so very much though. She is able to sleep through all the resettings of the clocks and only occasionally awakens to ask me the time. I usually have no idea since my iPad, iPhone and watch all display different times. Perhaps they will all magically synchronize by the time we reach Florida.

Once again we have a lovely, calm day at sea. After showering and dressing I moved out to our little balcony to enjoy the sea air. Each day is warmer than the last and even now, at this early time of day, I am comfortable in shorts and polo shirt. This is just about the most relaxing activity (if I may call it that) in which one can engage. I can see why zillionaires own big yachts. It ain't a bad way to spend one's leisure time. Of course, had I such wealth I could never live that way. I feel guilty enough just sitting here undeservedly on my little balcony. 

Time now for an early breakfast. Later I hope to find one of those quiet spots topside where I can read in peace while I bask in the warmth of the Atlantic sun. If not, there's always this wonderful little balcony. 

We have nothing over-the-top special planned for the day. I believe Dear Diane and I decided to keep it low-key and simply relax in each other's presence. Of course, I might well be wrong. Even after 45 years of wedded bliss, I am often very, very wrong.

More later...maybe.

Friday, November 1, 2013

A Sea of Humility

Friday, 1 November 2013
Today we are again blessed with calm seas and a sun that has warmed us and our immediate world to the point where Dear Diane and I can sit comfortably on our cozy balcony up here on deck 9 on the port side of the Celebrity Infinity -- a balmy day indeed.

"Infinity" -- an odd but interesting name for a ship, one that the cruise line likely chose because of its connotation. As ships go, ours is certainly not the largest, but neither is it small. And yet that's exactly why its name seems so very odd, because in relation to its environment it becomes almost infinitely tiny. But I doubt this was on the mind of the one who gave it its name. As I sit here on the edge of this ship, looking out over the expanse of the Atlantic, I feel so very small.

The old seagoing habits die hard and instinctively my eyes scan the horizon, searching for signs of others, for the superstructures that first appear over the edge of that fine line marking the division of sea and sky. Late yesterday I spotted another ship, a tanker steaming eastward. At first only a bump along that line, a mere speck, it eventually came within a half-dozen miles of us as it passed by heading probably for the Mediterranean. Like our own vessel, it too was a large ship, but before long it had been swallowed by the curve of the earth and simply disappeared. Infinity indeed! Only sea and sky can claim such a name; certainly not a ship made by such finite creatures as men. Perhaps, though, our nameless namer had that in mind. Perhaps he too had spent such moments and had christened this vessel as a tribute to the seas on which it would sail. Perhaps...but not very likely in a world in which such humble thoughts are rare indeed.

My life, however, has been littered with humbling experiences. Being in the presence of another possessed of remarkable talent can certainly be humbling. So too are those moments when my foolish mistakes are brought into the open for all to see. But true humility is more likely experienced alone, during those rare moments when I encounter myself as I actually am.

Years ago, as a young naval officer aboard a U. S. Navy ship in the South Pacific, I took advantage of a Sunday "swim call", an opportunity to take a dip in the ocean. It was a hot day, the sea was truly glassy, as calm as one ever sees it, and a swim seemed a nice way to cool off. So I donned my swimsuit, joined several dozen others, and jumped into the sea which was nearly as warm as the air. The depth of the water at this particular mid-ocean spot could more easily be measured in miles than in feet or fathoms. It was very deep.

At one point, after swimming about for a while, I ducked my head under water and looked down into the depths. There in the South Pacific, not far from the equator, the noonday sun was almost directly overhead and the resulting visual effect was so striking I couldn't turn away but stared down transfixed by the awesome sight. My bare legs dangled in the center of a funnel of light, a brilliant sunlit vortex that pierced the darkness and stretched seemingly forever into the depths of the ocean. Those legs of mine looked tiny indeed, as if they had been pasted, paper doll-like, onto the almost surreal scene that world, sea and sun had presented to me. It was a fearful scene, one that said, "Do you see how small you are? Do you grasp how great is God's creation? Do you see these depths, these darknesses that will forever remain hidden from you? Can you accept your relationship with Me, the I Am that brought you into existence so you can share in mine?"

These questions and more forced their way into my thoughts during that brief moment of revelation. Eventually I raised my head to the surface and gasped for air, confused and awed by what I had encountered there in the sea. I had been humbled by the sea, by the world, by creation, by my Creator. I was truly afraid, not physically afraid, but terrified by what I had learned about myself. Hoping to escape, I swam to the ship and quickly climbed out of the water, but then realized there was no escape. Even aboard a warship, one is dwarfed by the sea, where the expanse of creation is most evident.

How can one be at sea and not be humbled by the experience? Yes, we have climbed into space aboard rockets and have seen the world small, but once we return, when we once again take our proper place on the planet we've been given, we are forced to accept the truth of our relationship with the earth. It is a vast and varied home, this gift to humanity, and our lifetimes are far too short to see it all, to understand it all, to grasp the changes that both nature and human history have wrought. Indeed, it is only at sea where these changes disappear. For today I look out on an ocean that is no different from that which confronted a Phonecian sailor three millennia ago. Humanity may alter the landscape in a thousand ways that hide its past, but the sea is virtually changeless, and it is here that I feel most closely connected with my ancestors...and my descendants.

In a sense this is an antidote to our physical mortality, to that which seems so unjust about life. We all wish we could continue. We wish we could see the world as it was a century ago or as it will be two centuries hence. But we know it cannot be. We are mortal. We must die. And yet, we need only look out over the sea, confident that what we see now will be seen by those who come long after us, just as it was seen by those a thousand years ago.
God's peace...

(Just a note: I took the above photo as we departed Lisbon.)