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.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Pope Francis and the Jews Revisited

In a recent post -- December 6 -- I included a few paragraphs from Pope Francis'  apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium in which he addresses the Church's relationship with our Jewish brothers and sisters. These were not however, the Pope's first published words on the subject. Earlier, on September 11 of last year, Pope Francis wrote an article for the Italian national daily, La Repubblica. The Pope's article was in response to a series of questions asked by the publication's founder, Eugenio Scalfari, a non-believer. One of these questions focused on the Jews and whether, in light of centuries of persecution, God had kept His promise to Abraham and his descendants. Pope Francis gave the following reply:

"At the end of your first article, you also ask me what to say to our Jewish brothers about the promise God made to them:  Has this been forgotten? And this  -  believe me  -  is a question that radically involves us as Christians because, with the help of God, starting  from the Second Vatican Council, we have discovered that the Jewish people are still, for us, the holy root from which Jesus originated. I too, in the friendship I have cultivated in all of these long years with our Jewish brothers, in Argentina, many times while praying have asked God, especially when I remember the terrible experience of the Shoah. What I can say, with the Apostle Paul, is that God has never stopped believing in the alliance made with Israel and that, through the terribile trials of these past centuries, the Jews have kept their faith in God. And for this, we will never be grateful enough to them, as the Church, but also as humanity at large. Persevering in their faith in God and in the alliance, they remind everyone, even us as Christians that we are always awaiting, the return of the Lord and that therefore we must remain open to Him and never take refuge in what we have already achieved."

Pope Francis & Rabbi Di Segni
As a result of the Pope's comments -- You can read his entire article here -- Rome's Chief Rabbi, Dr. Riccardo Di Segni, praised Francis in a letter published the following day, September 12. In his letter Dr. Di Segni stated, "This Pontiff does not cease to surprise." He went on to say that, although the Pope's thoughts were not new, and were certainly confirmed by Vatican II, “it is the force with which he expresses them and his capacity of communicating them that is astounding. The fact that Judaism is the holy root of Christianity is fundamental, but many theological currents, especially in Protestantism, have tried to belittle them. In opposing these currents, Francis is coherent to the teaching of Benedict. Especially noteworthy is his expression of gratitude to Jews for their devotion in faith.”

We have been blessed by God with a series of remarkable popes who have led the Church wisely through some very challenging times, and Pope Francis appears to be no exception. Pray for him.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The War to End All War

Frank Buckles
This year we celebrate, if I may be pardoned for using that word, the centennial of the start of World War One. I was born during the Second World War but as a child I often encountered veterans of the First World War who were still around in large numbers. None, however, survive today. In fact, Frank Buckles, the last American veteran of World War One, died just a few years ago at the age of 110. But back in the mid-fifties, the First World War was no more distant in time than the war in Vietnam is to us today. As a Vietnam veteran, I find that fact a bit hard to wrap my aging brain around.

Most of the WWI veterans I met in those days were only in their fifties or sixties, and included relatives and family friends. I remember seeing our milkman (for you youngsters, he was the man who delivered fresh milk to our house every few days) marching in our town's Memorial Day parade. When I pointed him out to my mom, she said, "Yes, he was quite a hero and received several medals for bravery." I never again thought of him as "just the milkman."

Those veterans were impressive men and I was a bit in awe of them. I suspect this had something to do with the stories I'd heard about life and death in the trenches as well as the air war waged by those early air aces in their biplanes. It generated within me an odd mixture of horror and romance. I believe, too, I was influenced by my father who, although he served during World War Two, often spoke of the earlier war's great impact on our world. The historian, Edmund Taylor, believed much the same when he wrote:
“The First World War killed fewer victims than the Second World War, destroyed fewer buildings, and uprooted millions instead of tens of millions – but in many ways it left even deeper scars both on the mind and on the map of Europe. The old world never recovered from the shock.” 
Among the WWI veterans I knew as a child my favorite was my Uncle Bill, my mother's older brother. He had served in the Navy during the war and for a time in France immediately after the war. Although I didn't get to see Uncle Bill too often -- he lived 50 miles away and died when I was just 14 -- I do remember him well. He was a lifelong bachelor and drove a really cool red 1955 Cadilac convertible; and he also had some very neat souvenirs from his WWI Navy days, including one of those spiked German helmets or "picklehuabe". According to Uncle Bill a US Marine had given him the helmet as a reward for rescuing him when he fell overboard in some French harbor after a night of celebratory revelry in late 1918. 
British troops going "over the top" - 1st day of the Somme
Unlike my uncle, who always had a story to tell, many of those who actually fought in the trenches said little about their wartime experiences. But almost every veteran who survived the horrors of WWI called that conflict "The Great War" in an attempt, I suppose, to distinguish it from all previous wars. It was, of course, a very stupid war, brought on by an attack of global insanity that particularly afflicted the "best and brightest" of their time. 

Many historians place the entire blame for the war squarely on Germany and Austria-Hungary because,  well, they lost. In truth, however, the Allied nations must shoulder their share of the blame. The British were determined to reduce German power anyway they could. The Russians wanted to do the same to the Turks. The French were still fuming over their loss in the Franco-Prussian War. The Serbs hoped to break up the empire of the Habsburgs and harbored any number of terrorist groups. Of course the Germans and Austrians, especially the Germans, were no less culpable. Indeed, on both sides heads of state were joined by the aristocracy, the military, and many intellectuals and artists in accepting the inevitability of the war. Some considered it necessary and even desirable, the natural and inevitable outcome of what had been the greatest arms race the world had ever experienced. For others waging war was a matter of personal, and by extension national, honor. And perhaps the irrationality of Nietzsche had so infected many Europeans that they saw violence as the only solution to their growing frustration with the status quo. The majority of the people, of course, wanted the peace to last. War would create only havoc in the lives of most farmers and factory workers and shopkeepers, especially for the millions who would be called on to fight the war. But the decision to wage war was not made by the people. It was made by others who really had no idea of what they were about to do to the world.

When the guns of August roared 100 years ago, few expected the war to last long. That very month Kaiser Wilhelm II promised his troops, "You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees." Sadly it took several autumns before the surviving soldiers returned to their families. And far too many never made it home. Compare the Kaiser's capricious comment with the observation made after almost fours years of war by a young private immediately after the Battle of Passchendaele in January 1918:

"There was not a sign of life of any sort. Not a tree, save for a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight. Not a bird, not even a rat or a blade of grass. Nature was as dead as those Canadians whose bodies remained where they had fallen the previous autumn. Death was written large everywhere." 
Sir Douglas Haig
Perhaps the insanity that afflicted the leadership on both sides can be most graphically demonstrated by this comment by Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, who commanded the British forces during the catastrophic Battle of the Somme in 1916:

"The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists."
Haig wrote this on the eve of that battle, a four-month disaster that resulted in over one million men killed or wounded and led to an Allied gain of only ten miles of French countryside. Haig, an unimaginative and pigheaded man who had little understanding of modern warfare, was perhaps the war's most incompetent military commander. As Winston Churchill would later write, Haig "wore down alike the manhood and the guns of the British army almost to destruction." I'm reminded of the comment by an anonymous German soldier who described the British troops as “lions led by donkeys" -- a tribute to the bravery of the individual soldier, but a condemnation of his leaders.

Some contemporaries we're remarkably naive. In 1912, just two years before the war, Guglielmo Marconi, the inventor of radio, made the following prediction: "The coming of the wireless era will make war impossible, because it will make war ridiculous.” Well, we've moved through the wireless era, through the television era, into the internet era and war is more destructive than ever. Just two years later, as the war began, H. G. Wells actually believed it would cure humanity of its warlike ways. Apparently overcome by an attack of inexplicable optimism, Wells called it, "The war that will end war." It would of course do no such thing. Wells should have known this, but his progressive ideology prohibited him from accepting that war was just another consequence of our fallen human nature. Indeed just as Jesus assured us that "you always have the poor with you," He also warned us that at the "end of the age" we "will hear of wars and rumors of wars...For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom..." I suppose it's safe to say that war won't end until we end.

Others had convinced themselves that out of this war good would come. On April 2, 1917, when President Woodrow Wilson requested a declaration of war against Germany, he told the joint session of Congress that "The world must be made safe for democracy." How ironic that the conclusion of the war, less than two years later, would lead to the spread not of democracy but of totalitarianism throughout Europe and much of Asia. 

US WWI Cemetery at Chateau Thierre, France
The deadly foolishness that began the war continued all the way to its end and beyond. Marshall Ferdinand Foch of France, who commanded the Allied forces at the end of the war, accurately predicted in 1919 after the Treaty of Versailles was signed: "This is not peace, it is an armistice for 20 years."  And before those 20 years ended, we had been given Lenin, Stalin, the Soviet Union, the slaughter of millions of Russians, and the gulag where millions more were enslaved. The war also gave us Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich, the holocaust, World War II, and a half-century of Cold War. In some ways the horrendous mistake of the First World War was the catalyst of all that followed in the 20th century and beyond. We live with its repercussions today. Perhaps this centennial remembrance will lead to a deeper understanding of the causes of the First World War and help us avoid repeating the errors of the past.

The following video on the Battle of the Somme will give you a good sense of what it was like to live and die in trench warfare.It's an hour long but well worth viewing if you have any interest in World War One.

Two fairly recent books on the war, one on its opening days and another on its final hours, are well worth reading: Europe's Last Summer by David Fromkin and Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour by Joseph E. Persico. Because of the centennial, I expect the next few years will bring the publication of many more books on every aspect of the war.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

A Postscript

In yesterday's post -- More Murdered Christians? Ho-Hum... -- I provided a link to an excellent article by Michael Brendan Dougherty in which he briefly details the role played by the US and the West in the ongoing persecution of Middle Eastern Christians. In his article Dougherty mentions a small Kindle book, The Silence of Our Friends, written by Ed West. I had intended to recommend the book, but simply forgot to do so. If you have a Kindle or use the Kindle app, pay the $.99 to buy this little book from Amazon. Believe me, it won't take you long to read, but will change how you think about the Middle East.

Pray for the persecuted Christians of the world, and pray for us.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

What In The World?

This will likely be a disjointed post full of seemingly random thoughts, but every so often I'm just overwhelmed by what I see in the world. I'll begin close to home.

Although I was born in Connecticut, I spent most of my childhood in a suburb of New York City and so for years I considered myself a New Yorker. I was, therefore, taken aback when the governor of New York stated that “extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay....have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are." -- Also sprach Governor Cuomo from his chair in Albany.

Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio
Hmm...let's see. I am indeed pro-life and I support the right to bear arms as guaranteed by the Second Amendment of our Constitution. I certainly wouldn't call myself "anti-gay" because as a Christian I "hate the sin but love the sinner." Of course, the fact that I believe marriage is sacred and unites only a man and a woman in a sacramental way no doubt makes me "anti-gay" from the governor's skewed perspective. I find it particularly curious that he would label me an "extreme Conservative" because I hold these beliefs which are also held by at least half of the US population. Fortunately for me, I haven't lived in New York since I was 18, so I guess I'm safe from whatever the governor has planned for those who disagree with him. 

Pope John Paul II: Extremist
Not surprisingly New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, agrees with the governor. In his words, “The first point is, we represent our people and Governor Cuomo is right and I believe I’m on firm ground in saying our people, the people in New York State and the people of New York City reject extremists views against a women’s right to choose and in favor of the proliferation of guns in our society. And I stand by that 100 percent.” Why do I get the feeling that the "our people" to which the mayor refers actually includes only those who agree with him. And I always thought those we elected were supposed to represent all the people.

And don't you think there's something a wee bit scary about a governor who wants no one in his state excerpt those who share his beliefs? Will New York change its name to Stepford? Such thinking by someone who holds the reins of political and legal power in New York can lead to all kinds of nasty policies and their enforcement. It's also a rather blatant form of bigotry in that it attempts to exclude from society most Catholics and many other Christians who hold orthodox beliefs; that is, those who, unlike the governor, accept the tenets of their faith and believe what their Church teaches. Apparently the governor objects to the First Amendment as well as the Second. 

Governor Cuomo also provides us with another reason to be against capital punishment. Once you give a government the right to put people to death, what's to stop it from expanding its list of capital crimes? Once political correctness is formulated in law -- and this is already happening in many Western nations -- eliminating some of these "criminals" just might become too tempting for the authoritarians in charge. It's worth noting that the Marxist roots of political correctness can be easily traced back to Germany in 1923 and the Institute for Social Research, also known as the Frankfurt School. According to Bill Lind, PC is a form of Cultural Marxism in which "all history is determined by power, by which groups defined in terms of race, sex, etc., have power over other groups. Nothing else matters. All literature, indeed, is about that. Everything in the past is about that one thing." The history of Marxism put into practice clearly demonstrates how capital punishment can be used by those in power to eliminate any who refuse to toe the party line. (You can read the full text of Lind's comments here.)

And how can we forget another New Yorker, former Mayor Bloomberg, and his soda ban? In the course of his legal battle to keep New Yorkers safe and healthy by forcing them to drink less root beer and cream soda, he made the telling statement: "I do think there are certain times we should infringe on your freedom." Ah, yes, Big Brother knows best and we should just go along.

The Soda Jerk
But honestly, there are worse things than those politicians who despise me for my beliefs and others who are nanny wannabes. Governor Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg might be small potatoes in the overall scheme of things, but what troubles me most about them and those like them is their willingness to disregard that pesky Constitution of ours. They seem not to realize that the words of this document have meaning and our acceptance of them has been the guarantor of our freedom. 

For example... 

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." 
These are the words of the 4th Amendment to our Constitution and like all ten amendments that make up our Bill of Rights, they define the rights of the people, not the rights of the government. The Bill of Rights was added to our Constitution to protect us from the government, from those we elected to positions of power. It you doubt this, just read the Federalist Papers, written by those who also wrote the Constitution. And so I am a bit confused when attorneys for the Department of Justice declare in federal court that American citizens have no right to challenge the government's collection of their personal records. I guess it all boils down to which we believe is more important, freedom or security. Personally, I'll join Patrick Henry who on March 23, 1775 ended his rousing speech to the Second Virginia Convention with the words: "I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" And one can't help but cheer the people of New Hampshire who have "Live free or die!" as their state motto.

And speaking of life and death, isn't it interesting that pro-choice politicians often claim their policies are aimed at "protecting the children" while at the same time actively supporting the killing of unborn children in the womb? We saw an example of this when the administration joined the world in decrying the deaths of several hundred Syrian children who perished as a result of a chemical weapons attack. But when the federal government's own figures tell of the deaths of 55 million American babies since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, we hear not a peep from that same government.

If we look beyond our borders, things don't seem much better. As a result of our feckless foreign policy, does the international community, in particular the nations of the Middle East, hold the United States in greater respect today than in 2008? If you want a clear answer, just listen to what the Iranians are saying about us now.

And what about the changes that have swept across the Middle East and North Africa, changes our government openly celebrated and supported? As a result of this so-called "Arab Spring" are the people of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria better off now than they were living under the despotic regimes of Mubarak, Qaddafi, et al.? Are the Christians (what's left of them) in these countries better off now than they were before? Why do all our real smart people fail to anticipate such "unintended" consequences, while some of us dummies saw them coming from the beginning? Go figure.

And, finally, does it trouble you, as it troubles me, that the nations we have aided and for whom we have expended so much American blood and dollars are now among the worst persecutors of Christians? Our war in Iraq, begun in 2003, has been catastrophic for Iraqi Christians. Not too many years ago, Christians made up nearly 10% of Iraq's population. During the past ten years, however, it's estimated that half the Christian population of the country has fled as a result of violence and other forms of persecution. How and why did we let this happen? Why do we hear little or nothing from the current administration about the murders of Christians and the widespread destruction of Christian churches by Islamist and Jihadist terrorists? Why has the administration openly supported Islamist groups -- for example, the Muslim Brotherhood -- responsible for this persecution?

Ah, well, too many unanswered questions. Thank God for His gift of faith.

More Murdered Christians? Ho-hum...

Every so often I write here about the ongoing and growing persecution of Christians throughout the world, especially in the Islamic world. I don't expect my comments to have much impact because I have only a handful of regular readers who, like me, are far from being global movers and shakers. But knowing the power of prayer, I ask only that you remember our persecuted brothers and sisters and lift them up to God, asking that they be strengthened and protected.

To be a Christian in many countries today guarantees persecution, and to practice one's Christian faith openly too often leads to martyrdom. Isn't it strange that the nominally Christian West has largely ignored what is happening to Christians throughout the world? When Russia spoke out against homosexuals, the media and government elites were apoplectic; yet we hear next to nothing from them about the widespread murder of Christians and the destruction of their communities.

This intentional lapse is the subject of an excellent article by Michael Brendan Dougherty published in The Week. Read it, please. Here's a link to the online article: Christian Persecution: No One Cares.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Homily: Baptism of the Lord

Readings: Is 42:1-4, 6-7; Ps 29; Acts 10:34-38; Mt 3:13-17

Mary Queen of Scots, as she waited those long years in prison before being executed by her cousin, Elizabeth, had the following words embroidered on her cloth estate: “In my end is my beginning” -- words that, for Mary, symbolized the eternity of life that awaited her after death.

But they are fitting words, too, for many of this life’s transitions, for those times when something significant has ended only to be followed by something even greater.

“In my end is my beginning.”

In that sense they are fitting words for today’s very special feast: the Baptism of the Lord; for on this day we celebrate a day of major transition in the life of Jesus. With His Baptism by John, Jesus leaves behind that part of his life about which we know so very little. His Baptism brings those early years to an emphatic end. But His Baptism is also a beginning, the beginning of His public ministry, a ministry of teaching, preaching and healing that culminates in God’s great redemptive act. Yes, Jesus begins to walk the road that ultimately leads to His passion, death and resurrection.

“In my end is my beginning.”

It wasn’t John who decided to Baptize Jesus. It was Jesus’s decision. Just as the Son of God humbled Himself to become one of us, He willingly lowered Himself to be baptized at John’s hands, a Baptism in which we all share. It’s this humility Isaiah describes in today’s 1st reading, words uttered centuries in advance:
"He does not cry out; he does not shout; he does not make his voice heard in the street; he does not break the bruised reed; and he does not quench the smoldering wick." [Is 42:2-3]
Yes, Jesus, the perfect servant, teaches us something significant on this feast of His Baptism. For in that servitude Jesus shows us how to live the Christian life. In that servitude Jesus places Himself in the presence of the Father and the Spirit. In that servitude Jesus is loved by the Father who tells the world that this is His Son, the perfect servant, in whom He is well pleased. And in that servitude Jesus is loved by the Spirit whose presence manifests the perfect love of the Trinity to a sinful world awaiting redemption.

Yes, Jesus, the Son, was loved. Before the first leper was ever healed or a single parable was told, He was loved. Before any sinner was embraced; before the crowds began to gather; before palm branches were cut; He was accepted. Before Jesus began His mission; before He called even one disciple, God tore open the heavens, sent down the Holy Spirit, and cried, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” [Mt 3:17] What an ending! And what a beginning!

“In my end is my beginning.”

God’s love was present at the beginning of the journey, long before the ending was revealed. God’s approval came from the start -- before Jesus calmed the storm or set one captive free.  Jesus was beloved, even before the water became wine and before that wine, before that precious blood, was offered up for us. God’s love surrounded Jesus, not because Jesus did something, or said something, or proved something, but because He was something. He was the beloved Son of the Father.

For most of us, this kind of love is hard to understand and even harder to accept. The kind of love poured out for Jesus at his baptism…Is it really meant for us? Somehow, in our sinfulness, we’ve come to believe that God’s love must be earned, and that God’s blessings, like bonuses, are carefully calculated and rationed, the way we would do it. We see God as a sort of heavenly CPA, keeping track of our debits and credits, instead of the loving Father He has revealed Himself to be. Like Isaiah’s bruised reeds, we only feel loveable after we’ve walked on some water or fed a lot of hungry people. Smoldering wicks, we only feel accepted after we attract a crowd or successfully complete a journey. The kind of love poured out for Jesus — if it comes to us at all — should come as a benediction, not a beginning.

When Jesus plunged into the waters of the Jordan, he had nothing to repent. There were no sins to wash away, no emptiness to be filled, no brokenness to be made whole. But he came to the water, anyway. When Jesus plunged into the waters of the Jordan, he was not thirsting in the desert or yearning to be healed. But he came to the water, anyway.

Jesus waded into the river to join prostitutes and thieves, to join gossips and liars and haters. He joined rough soldiers and dishonest shopkeepers. He joined tax collectors and tax cheats. You see, brothers and sisters, Jesus doesn’t go into the waters of Baptism alone. He joins us in the water; he joins you and me to show us that God’s love is our birthright. God’s blessing is our gift, right from the start.

He comes into the water to tell us there’s no village too remote, no river too foul, no place of temptation so terrible that God is not already there, waiting to take us by the hand, to lead us to salvation. Recall the revealing words of Isaiah:
“I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” [Is 42:6-7]
Paul recognized this when he asked the Romans:
“…are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” [Rom 6:3-4]
Yes, brothers and sisters, in our end is our beginning. We are truly brothers and sisters, because through our Baptism we are the Father’s children, brothers and sisters of His Son, Jesus Christ. This Jesus plunges into the water to open our eyes: to show us that heaven has been torn apart for us. Jesus wades into the Jordan to open our hearts: to show us that the love we are given must bear fruit.

And the love we are given also sends us out: out into the desert, out into the crowds, back into the river with prostitutes and gossips and petty thieves…into the river with family and neighbors and friends…into the river with the homeless, the hungry, the hopeless.

Do you recall those words at the end of the Latin Mass? "Ite missa est." It’s often translated as, “Go the Mass is ended.” But literally, it means: “Go! It has been sent.” What has been sent? Well, theologically, the Mass, the sacrifice, has been sent to the Father. But something else has been sent: nothing less than the Church…and that’s you and me. We are sent out — not to earn God’s love and approval, or even to bring Christ to the world – but to proclaim that Christ is already with us. We are sent out to proclaim, along with John:
“Rise up! Shake the water from your eyes! God is with us, not because we did something, or said something, or proved something, but because we are something!”
Yes, brothers and sisters, through His Baptism in the waters of the Jordan, Jesus shows us that God’s love is eternally present for us. The beginning of our journey came about through an act of creative love.

And the end of our journey? Well, thanks to that same love, our end is just the beginning.

Dwarfs on the Shoulders of Giants...

Isn't it remarkable that so many who came before us turn out to have been pretty smart? This is no new revelation; it's been known for some time. Indeed, an early 12th-century reference is attributed to Bernard of Chartres who is quoted as saying that "we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants." We can see and understand more, and accomplish more, than those who came before us, not because we are smarter than they, but because they were such giants and have raised us to greater heights. 

Friederich Nietzsche
Bernard was neither the first nor the last to believe this. Indeed, Isaac Newton said much the same thing in a 1676 letter: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants." Of course, believing this contradicts today's progressive ideologues who have convinced themselves that our predecessors and their ideas have little to teach us today. This rejection of the accomplishments and intellectual heritage of the past, especially the distant past, is particularly evident when the sources of these accomplishments are dead white European males (or DWEMs as they are arrogantly abbreviated). 

Driven by ideology -- whether Marxist, feminist, multiculturalist, atheist, environmentalist, or some grotesque fusion of several or all of these -- far too many of today's educators increasingly dismiss the works of such greats as Dante, Chaucer, and Shakespeare. Can you imagine a college survey course of English literature that ignores Shakespeare? Well, believe me, such courses are being taught in many colleges and universities today. 

Not long ago I encountered something even more troubling. I had the opportunity to speak with a young graduate student who had volunteered to help out at our soup kitchen while she visited her grandparents here in Florida. She'd recently earned a BA in philosophy at a rather prestigious private university. When I asked about her undergraduate course of study, it became evident she had read neither Plato nor Aristotle. "The old Greeks really aren't very relevant today," she explained, kindly substituting "old Greeks" for DWEMs in the presence of this living white male. That's when I decided not to ask her about Augustine or Aquinas or Duns Scotus or any of the medieval thinkers. Whom had she studied? Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Marx, Dewey, Marcuse, Peter Singer, Chomsky...all the usual suspects. 

It's all very sad, watching today's educators limit their vision by refusing to climb onto the shoulders of the giants who came before us. Even worse they are effectively blinded by willfully descending into the ideological pits they've dug for themselves. There they see nothing but the dirt beneath their feet and on the walls that surround them. If only they would look up, they would see the light.

More and more colleges and universities are descending into those pits by eliminating programs that focus on the great thinkers who helped Western Civilization flourish and replacing them with courses designed to undermine its foundations. For example, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Heather MacDonald describes the recent changes to UCLA's humanities program:
Until 2011, students majoring in English at UCLA had to take one course in Chaucer, two in Shakespeare, and one in Milton —the cornerstones of English literature. Following a revolt of the junior faculty, however, during which it was announced that Shakespeare was part of the "Empire," UCLA junked these individual author requirements. It replaced them with a mandate that all English majors take a total of three courses in the following four areas: Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Disability and Sexuality Studies; Imperial, Transnational, and Postcolonial Studies; genre studies, interdisciplinary studies, and critical theory; or creative writing.
The idea, of course, is to destroy the dominant culture and replace it with some amorphous, politically correct multiculturalism. In other words great literature is being replaced by garbage. And UCLA isn't alone. Instead of studying Bach and Mozart at the University of South Carolina you can take a course in "Lady Gaga and the Sociology of Fame." Or how about a course at the University of California Irvine on "The Science of Superheroes"? Or perhaps you'd prefer a Harvard University course on "Vampires in Literature and Film"? Or you can spend your time at Appalachian State University studying "What if Harry Potter is Real?" Instead of celebrating the greatness of our civilization, we now celebrate its decadence. And in the process education is trivialized.

According to the National Endowment for the Humanities -- and these figures are from 1988, over 25 years ago! -- one could graduate from 37% of American colleges without ever taking a history course, from 45% without taking a single course in either English or American literature, from 62% without a course in philosophy, and 77% without studying a foreign language. Just imagine what the percentages are today. Far too many students, after putting themselves (and/or their parents) into deep debt are graduating uneducated. Some leave these schools with an acceptable level of technical expertise, equipped to handle the basic requirements of their chosen field. They are prepared for work at its most elementary level, but are they prepared for life? They might know how to be a chemical engineer, but do they know how to be a human being, created in the image and likeness of their Creator? 

This did not happen overnight; indeed it's taken centuries. We now find ourselves approaching the end of a 500-year experiment in humanism, an experiment in which virtually all the obstacles, especially the moral obstacles, to the human will have been obliterated. Once we reject God as the source of all authority and reassign that authority to ourselves, everything changes. Once we reject Christ crucified and replace Him with man deified, we can shout, along with Hegel and Nietzsche, "God is dead!" At that point, anything goes, and I'm reminded of the lyrics of Cole Porter's 1934 song...
In olden days a glimpse of stocking
Was looked on as something shocking,
But now, God knows,
Anything Goes.
Good authors too who once knew better words,
Now only use four letter words
Writing prose, Anything Goes.

The world has gone mad today
And good's bad today,
And black's white today,
And day's night today,
When most guys today
That women prize today
Are just silly gigolos
And though I'm not a great romancer
I know that I'm bound to answer
When you propose,
Anything goes.

Today, 80 years later, "anything" has been expanded well beyond the anything of Cole Porter. The Catholic philosopher and historian, Thomas Molnar, in his 1988 book, Twin Powers, described our society's cultural decay as well as anyone when he wrote:
"Culture has come to mean, of course, anything that happens to catch the fancy of a group: rock concerts, supposedly for the famished of the third world; the drug culture and other subcultures; sects and cults; sexual excess and aberration; blasphemy on stage and screen; frightening and obscene shapes; the plastic wrapping of the Pont-Neuf or the California coast; the smashing of the family and other institutions; the display of the queer, abject, the sick. These instant products, meant to provide instant satisfaction to a society itself unmoored from foundation and tradition, accordingly deny the work of mediation and maturation and favor the incoherent, the shapeless and the repulsive."
Western Civilization has been around for quite a while, and so I suppose its ultimate disintegration shouldn't come as a great surprise. In his 1993 book, America's British Culture, Russell Kirk accurately summed up our culture's current condition:
"If the decay goes far enough, in the long run a society's culture sinks to a low level; or the society may fall apart altogether. We Americans live, near the end of the twentieth century, in an era when the general outlines of our inherited culture are still recognizable; yet it does not follow that our children or our grandchildren, in the twenty-first century, will retain a great part of that old culture."

Russell Kirk
Much has happened in the twenty years since Kirk wrote those words. Certainly the moral and ethical decay is evident to anyone who can see. But the culture has also experienced a broader intellectual decay as many rewrite history to fit the demands of their ideologies. The European Union, in a remarkable display of intentional ignorance, has dismissed the role of Christianity, and especially Catholicism, in the development of European civilization. And here in the United States religious freedom, once thought to be the most fundamental of our freedoms, is under constant attack. Enshrined in our Bill of Rights as the first and foremost right of the people, it is now treated as meaningless by those who hold positions of power thanks to that same Constitution. Yes, the dwarfs still refuse to climb onto the shoulders of the giants who went before them.

Of course, this is all just symptomatic of the disintegration of Western Civilization. If the foundational elements of a civilization are tossed aside, if the cult is excised from the culture, the civilization can do nothing but crumble. When and how this will happen is anyone's guess. Will it occur with a whimper or a bang? Will it happen tomorrow or a century from now? I certainly don't know. But because our Christian faith is universal, unattached to any civilization or culture, I know it will survive and flourish until the end of time. 

Instead of worrying about the future, or trying to predict it, perhaps we should simply echo the prayer at the very end of Sacred Scripture: "Come, Lord Jesus!" [Rev 22:20]

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Misrepresenting Pope Francis

Aren't you glad you're not the pope? Every pope from Peter to Francis has been asked to bear a cross of one kind or another. For some, like Peter himself, the cross was very real, a companion in both life and death. Peter and many of his successors were men who understood their own weaknesses and accepted God's gift of strength. But others, fortunately far fewer in number, rejected the gift, found the weight of the cross too much to bear, and let it fall, too often onto the shoulders of others.

In modern times we have been blessed with remarkable popes who have been asked to bear some very heavy crosses. Each was publicly ridiculed, wantonly misunderstood, and constantly attacked, always by the smallest of men; and yet each was a man of great humility, so we will never know how much they suffered as they led the Church from Peter's chair.

Our current Holy Father, Pope Francis, is no exception. The world, particularly the secular media, seems determined to misunderstand the man and present him as someone he isn't. He is offered to us as a rebel who will overturn Church teaching on any number of issues that just drive the world to distraction. We are told the pope will "clarify" teachings on such things as contraception, abortion, and homosexual marriage. He will be the anti-Ratzinger and tone down the "excesses" of his predecessors. We can expect an easing of the liturgical strictures imposed by John Paul II and Benedict XVI. Of course, none of ths is true. It is all based on a few isolated comments taken out of context, along with a willful disregard of a lifetime of orthodoxy.

A lot of falsehoods have been written about Pope Francis, so many in fact that the Vatican felt compelled to issue a statement on it's news Facebook page. I've included the entire statement below.
Dear friends, we have been notified by many readers that there are stories currently circulating all over the Internet spreading statements by Pope Francis with regard to a number of issues, concerning the Bible’s content, the relations between religions, the renewal of the Church’s doctrine, and even the calling of an alleged “Third Vatican Council”, which are FALSE. These statements were spread by unknown sources. Therefore, we would like to alert all readers to be careful and not to trust too soon news about the Pope that are not from the Vatican.
There are also many social networks pages that try to put false information in circulation, taking advantage of the fact that it is easy to “throw the stone and hide the hand”.
We encourage all readers to check the official Vatican media sources for further confirmation of Pope Francis’ statements, or even to check what exactly he said with reference to specific issues.
Below is a list of the official Vatican media which you should use as valid reference to be sure that any reported statement referred to the Pope is true:
- a news aggregator portal, it reports the news and information from all the Vatican media in one website, available in five languages: also has a facebook page:
- L’Osservatore Romano:
- Radio Vaticana:
- VIS (Vatican Information Service):
- Centro Televisivo Vaticano:
- the official website of the Holy See, where you can find the full text of all speeches, homilies and Apostolic documents by the Pope:
- PopeApp: the official app for smartphones dedicated to the Pope (Copyright
- @Pontifex: the official Twitter profile of the Pope.
The only official facebook profiles representing the Holy Father and the Vatican are those from and the Vatican media (see the above list of Vatican media).
We would like to thank you all for your kind attention as well as for your notifications and suggestions. Please do share this information as much as possible with your contacts! Thank you very much!

Worldwide Persecution of Christians

Open Doors has published its latest World Watch List of the fifty countries with the worst records of Christian persecution. As you might expect North Korea's brutal communist regime once again tops the list, as it has for the past dozen years. And although it is joined on the list by a few other communist states (Vietnam, Laos, and China), the vast majority of nations on the list are Islamic nations. In some countries -- for example in the African nations of Kenya, Nigeria, the Central African Republic, and Tanzania -- the large Christian population is persecuted not so much by the government as by Islamist terrorist groups. India is also listed because of the deadly persecution of its Christian population by Hindu fundamentalists. Christians in Myanmar, a nation still ruled by a communist government, suffer persecution by both the government and Buddhist extremists. Buddhists are also largely responsible for the persecution of Christians in Sri Lanka and Bhutan. Colombia, because of the ongoing conflict with the FARC rebels, is the only nation in the Western Hemisphere among the top-fifty.

It is particularly disturbing to note that Iraq and Afghanistan, the two nations for which we have spent so much treasure and spilled so much American blood are listed among the top five.

I've included the list of 50 nations below. Islamic states and those with a majority Muslim population are listed in boldface type. These represent 35 or the 50 nations listed. I suggest visiting the site. The world map provided there is especially telling.

1. North Korea
2. Somalia
3. Syria
4. Iraq
5. Afghanistan
6. Saudi Arabia
7. Maldives
8. Pakistan
9. Iran
10. Yemen
11. Sudan
12. Eritrea
13. Libya
14. Nigeria
15. Uzbekistan
16. Central African Republic
17. Ethiopia
18. Vietnam
19. Qatar
20. Turkmenistan
21. Laos
22. Egypt
23. Myanmar (Burma)
24. Brunei
25. Colombia
26. Jordan
27. Oman
28. India
29. Sri Lanka
30. Tunisia
31. Bhutan
32. Algeria
33. Mali
34. Palestinian Territories
35. United Arab Emirates
36. Mauritania
37. China
38. Kuwait
39. Kazakhstan
40. Malaysia
41. Bahrain
42. Comoros
43. Kenya
44. Morocco
45. Tajikistan
46. Djibouti
47. Indonesia
48. Bangladesh
49. Tanzania
50. Niger

Monday, January 13, 2014

St. Augustine, a Man for Our Time

I've been thinking a lot about St. Augustine lately. This happens whenever I fall into the "doom and gloom" trap and need to be rescued. A quick glance at my life and one would not expect me to fall prey to such thoughts. After all, I'm reasonably healthy for someone my age. I live in a beautiful section of a magnificent country, in a lovely home surrounded by other lovely homes. I have a loving wife, four grown children each making his or her own unique way in the world, and nine very precious grandchildren. I could go on, but suffice it to say my life is really quite undeservedly good, especially when compared with the lives of so many others in today's world. And I suppose that's the point. It's not my life that distresses me; it's the state of the world.

One measure of the world's well being is reflected by the length of my prayer list, and lately this list has been growing. For decades I prayed for the persecuted Christians of the world, especially those who lived under the rule of totalitarian communist regimes. And although brave Christians living in China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea still need out prayers, the persecution of Christians is now a worldwide phenomena, one that has spread far beyond these remnants of Marx's "workers' paradise."

Radical Islamists and jihadists have seemingly captured the approval of many Muslims and have come to power in much of the Middle East and North Africa. Consequently, the persecution of Christians has increased greatly. Despite the recent coup in Egypt, and the arrest of President Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters continue to attack Christians openly and violently, all in an effort to implement the Koranic charge that all Christians must become Muslims. Indeed, in the midst of all the violence and chaos in Egypt, we hear that dozens of Christian churches have been attacked and burned.

Similar persecution is taking place in other nations where older, despotic regimes have been overthrown by Islamist hardliners. Ironically, virtually every one of these revolutions was begun by secular groups who hoped to replace existing authoritarian rule with more democratic structures. This was the case in Syria;  but now the rebel groups (the ones we support with arms and other goodies) consist largely of Islamists who side with al-Qaeda. I suspect the Assad regime will ultimately prevail in Syria but expect many other nations in the region to move instead from authoritarian to some form of Islamist totalitarian rule. A sad business, one which leaves our best and strongest ally in the region, Israel, more than a little concerned.

Rarely reported is the fact that in many nations the Islamists seem to have the electoral support of a majority of their people. That's right, large numbers of Muslims in the Middle East and Africa now support terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hezbollah, and their brutal friends. And as this all proceeds on a very fast track, our president dithers and waffles, and presides over a bizarre foreign policy that seems to reward our enemies and punish our friends. How exceedingly foolish.

My prayer list now also includes Christians being persecuted in India, often called the "world's largest democracy." Even among the Hindus it seems there are radical hardliners who dislike the fact that Christianity attracts converts; and so they kill Christians and burn their homes and churches. Most disturbingly though, my prayer list now includes Christians being persecuted in Western democracies, and even here in the good ol' USA. While these persecutions tend to be more subtle, they are nevertheless real and designed to remove Christianity from the public square. Just ask the Little Sisters of the Poor as they struggle to prevail over the administration as it tries to force them to accept anti-Christian elements of Obamacare.

Adding to all this, we face the prospect of economic collapse in both Europe and North America, as we watch Russia and China being transformed into gangster superpowers. And speaking of gangsters, who can ignore that strange, threatening little man who for some reason is allowed to dictate all aspects of life in the so-called Democratic Peoples Republic of North Korea? Yes, it's all very distressing, but what does it have to do with St. Augustine?

Quite simply, through his example Augustine helps me maintain my sanity and my priorities during trying times; for Augustine also lived in the midst of global turmoil. He spent much of his time as Bishop of Hippo (located in present day Libya) fighting a steady stream of heresies. Augustine defended the Church and its apostolic teachings against the attacks of Manichaeans, Priscillianists, Donatists, and Pelagians; and these were just a few of the errors that plagued the Church at the time. During these difficult years Augustine was without a doubt the man most responsible for the Church preserving its apostolic teaching.

But heresy wasn't the only challenge facing Augustine and the Church. The Roman Empire was disolving and Barbarians were on the march. Along the way they burned churches, murdered bishops, priests and deacons, sacked the cities, and devastated the countryside. Rome's rich North African provinces weren't spared and were invaded by the Vandals under their king Genseric in the spring of 428. The Vandals devastated the cities killing those who resisted. They burned the churches and killed most of the clergy. Those who survived we're either taken captive as slaves or forced to live out their lives as beggars. 

For a time the stronger cities, such as Carthage and Hippo, were able to resist and hold off the barbarians. As the Vandals moved across the region, Augustine was asked if the clergy could rightly flee from them. His response is telling. A bishop or priest could leave only if he alone were the object of the attack or if his entire flock had already fled. In other words, the clergy should remain with their people, supporting and sustaining them. This was a particularly difficult time for Augustine since many of the Vandals had fallen under the sway of the Arian heresy.
"Death of Augustine" -- fresco by Benotto Gozzoli
In May 430 The Vandals eventually laid siege to the well-fortified city of Hippo, a siege that lasted 14 months. It was during this siege that Augustine died of a fever at the age of 76 on August 28, 430. Although Augustine no doubt realized that the barbarians would eventually overcome the city's defenses, his faith never wavered. As his world, the city of man, collapsed around him Augustine reminded his flock that the City of God would prevail. 

As we witness the disintegration of our own civilization and the devastation caused by today's barbarians, we should turn to St. Augustine, asking for his intercession. St. Augustine, pray for us.