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, August 29, 2014

Homly: Wednesday, 21st Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Thes 3:6-10, 16-18 • Ps 128 • Mt 23:27-32

Today's Gospel passage includes two of what are called the “seven woes” – seven convincing and sad condemnations of religious hypocrisy that Jesus delivers rapid-fire to the disciples and the crowd. And it’s certainly hard to mistake His meaning.

Hypocrisy is not all that rare, and like most failings, it’s always easier to spot in others, isn’t it? And so we see it all around us. We see it in those people who appear to be so outwardly religious, but whose deeds and words lack any trace of kindness and mercy.

Because we love judging others we assume Jesus’ words were really addressed only to those nasty Pharisees. That would be a big mistake. Jesus was just using the Pharisees as an example because they were such obvious hypocrites. He wasn’t speaking just to the Pharisees; He was also speaking to His disciples and the people. He was speaking to us, warning us.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus came to call sinners – that’s you and me and the Pharisees -- but He came to call us to holiness. He expected His disciples to turn away from sin, not remain in it.

By issuing this call to us, Jesus makes it clear that some sins, like religious hypocrisy, have graver consequences. Why? Because it often leads others astray, even deeper into the darkness of sin. It can cause others to believe that it’s enough just to look religious, despite the evil one does in secret.

Jesus says, “No, don’t believe it!” And He says it loudly. Such people are no better than a tomb, all painted to look nice, but in reality just a cover for a corpse.

Let’s just forget about all those who come to mind when we think of hypocrisy. The real question is:  What about me? What about you?

Jesus chastised the scribes and Pharisees for ignoring the high standards they demanded of others. How often are you and I like that? He chastised those who professed admiration for the prophets and yet opposed the prophets' message and closed their ears to the word of God. How many of us call ourselves Catholic and yet ignore the Church’s teachings on one or another moral issue? How many of us rewrite the Gospel to reflect our so-called lifestyle?

Like the Pharisees, we are called to change, to conversion of heart. They rejected Jesus and His message because their hearts were hardened to the voice of God. But don’t we do the same when we submerge the Gospel message beneath the cluttered mess of our own wants and desires? How did Chesterton put it? “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.”

Yes, we are called to conversion, to holiness. And we are called to humility, for only then can we accept God’s pardon and healing. How blessed we are that the Lord who judges is also a Lord who forgives.

The Holy Spirit will renew our minds and hearts; He’ll teach us God's way of love and holiness. Turn to Him and He will purify your heart. Invite Him in and He will give you the grace you need for real inner conversion.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Who Are Those Guys?

The citizens of the civilized world, as well as those of us who live in the once-civilized world, are understandably appalled by the atrocities committed by ISIL. We find ourselves asking whether such brutal and inherently evil acts can be committed by sane people. Equally troubling is the obvious enthusiasm with which these men carry out these vicious acts. These young jihadists actually appear to enjoy murdering innocent men, women and children. Can this be motivated solely by religious belief or is there something else at work, something deeper, some form of mass psychosis? Such evil is evident in individual serial killers, but to encounter it wholesale in large groups of young men is profoundly disturbing. We have, of course, seen it before -- in the Nazi death camps, in the Soviet gulags, in Mao's cultural revolution, in the killing fields of Cambodia -- and we will doubtless encounter it again, long after ISIL has gone the way of its evil predecessors.

Daniel Hannan
In the meantime, though, the questions remain. Perhaps the most interesting answer is that given by Daniel Hannan, one of the few sane voices in the European Parliament. In a recent blog entry he asks, "What makes some British Muslims become jihadis?" His comments are worth reading and his advice worth heeding.

Friday, August 22, 2014

ISIL Barbarism

We have in recent years (decades?) so misused the language that it has become a challenge to comprehend exactly what some folks are trying to say. The commonplace is too often described using out-of-this-world superlatives and the truly outrageous, well, it's awesome, man. And so we're left with few words to describe adequately the activities of a collection of terrorists like ISIL. ISIL seems to recognize this and has made effective use of new media. If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth many times more.

The recent beheading, on video, of an American journalist, James Foley, was turned into a viral YouTube spectacle. This says it all. (By the way, as an aside, why would anyone want to watch this gruesome video? I certainly won't, but I suspect I'm in the minority. ) Just keep in mind that this atrocity simply mirrors what these barbarians have done to so many others in both Syra and Iraq. In some strange way, then, the murder of Mr. Foley, horrendous as it was, pales when compared to the widespread enslavement and slaughter of Christian, Yazidi, and even Muslim women and children. How many of these precious innocents were beheaded, shot, and even crucified simply because of their religious beliefs? At least Mr. Foley had a choice. As a journalist he chose to travel to Syria to report on the civil war raging in that country. His kidnapping by ISIL, while not a certainty, was still a possibility. This doesn't at all mitigate the horror of his death, and it certainly doesn't excuse those who murdered him. I mention this only because the media coverage of James Foley's death has been non-stop, but how much have we heard of the hundreds, probably thousands, of faceless and nameless ISIL victims?

James Foley
I can understand the media focus on the death of one of their own. To some he was a colleague, and because he was an American his death is also a story with domestic, political overtones. But the real tragedy in Syria and Iraq -- and I believe James Foley would have agreed -- is the continual slaughter of those who resist ISIL as it terrorizes in the name of a false god. For example, read this report of the murder of an entire village of Yazidis -- over 600 people -- because one village elder refused to convert to the ISIL brand of Islam. And then read this story describing 11 elderly Iraqi Christians who also refused to convert and courageously told the ISIL thugs they would rather die. They were spared. Such stories are seldom reported by the mainstream media. Another story you won't find in the New York Times or on CNN is one describing Islam's centuries-old penchant for beheading those who resist. Here's a story on Catholic Online that does just that. (Warning: at the end of the article there are some very gruesome photos.)

We shouldn't underestimate ISIL. They have access to hundreds of millions of dollars that they will use to finance their vicious jihad. Thanks to the Iraqi army they are well-equipped with modern American weapons. The civil war in Syria has provided the training and experience they need to wage their war on the world. And perhaps most worrisome their ranks are filled with hundreds of jihadists who hold valid passports from the UK, USA, and Western European countries. They will return all too soon to bring their horrific form of terror to the West. I rarely find myself in agreement with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, but his comments on ISIL yesterday were instructive:
"This is beyond anything that we've seen...ISIL is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They marry ideology, a sophistication of strategic and tactical military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded....So we must prepare for everything. And the only way you do that is that you take a cold, steely, hard look at it ... and get ready."
Get ready, indeed. Secretary Hagel was joined by chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey, who added, "This is an organization that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision and which will eventually have to be defeated."

About our absent strategy for dealing with and defeating ISIL, the secretary and the general also said some remarkably inane things, but at least they seem to appreciate the nature of the threat. Perhaps in time they will be able to convince the president to address it.

All of this brought to mind what Christopher Dawson wrote, describing the barbarian invasions suffered by the late Roman Empire:
"To pagan and Christian alike it seemed the end of all things -- in St. Jerome's words, 'the light of the world was put out and the head of the Roman Empire was cut off'...It is a tendency of modern historians to minimize the importance of the invasions, but it is difficult to exaggerate the horror and suffering which they involved. It was not war as we understand it, but brigandage on a vast scale exercised upon an unwarlike and almost defenseless population. It meant the sack of cities, the massacre and enslavement of the population and the devastation of the open country. In Macedonia the Roman envoys to Attila in 448 found the once populous city of Naissus empty save for the dead. In Afrida, if a city refused to surrender, the Vandals would drive their captives up to the walls and slaughter them in masses so that the stench of their corpses should render the defenses untenable." [Christopher Dawson, Medieval Essays, p. 50]
Dawson goes on to quote St. Jerome who wrote the following early in the 5th century when the barbarian attacks were just beginning:
"The mind shudders when dwelling on the ruin of our day. For twenty years and more, Roman blood has been flowing ceaselessly over the broad countries between Constantinople and the Julian Alps, where the Goths, the Huns and the Vandals spread ruin and death...How many Roman nobles have been their prey! How many matrons and maidens have fallen victim to their lust! Bishops live in prison, priests and clerics fall by the sword, churches are plundered, Christ's altars are turned into feeding-troughs, the remains of the martyrs are thrown out of their coffins. On every side sorrow, on every side lamentation, everywhere the image of death."
Although it's highly unlikely we in the United States will face the kind of devastating attacks suffered by the 5th-century Romans, others throughout the world are already experiencing exactly that. I expect it will continue to spread.

The early medieval world survived the attacks of the barbarians and ended up converting them to Christianity. Of course those early Christians were a people of faith. May our faith be as strong.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

ISIL: What We Can Expect

For those of you who consider the ISIL terrorists in Iraq and Syria to be no more than a local problem, one limited to the always volatile Middle East, I suggest you read the comments of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop of Mosul. His warning to the Christians of Western Europe and the USA is quoted today by Fr. Dwight Longenecker in his wonderful blog: Standing on my Head. Check it out.

Fr. James Schall, another of my heroes, also offers some comment on the archbishop's warning: click here.

Dare We Hope...

I've been reading and re-reading a lot of von Balthasar lately, something that demands far more mental effort than I am accustomed to expending. For those of you who might not be familiar with him, Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) was among the leading Catholic theologians of the 20th century. A native of Switzerland, he wrote well over 100 books on all things theological, and is certainly one of the leading figures behind ressourcement theology (sometimes called la nouvelle théologie or the new theology) that had so much impact on the Second Vatican Council. Briefly, the ressourcement theologians believed that theology must relate to the challenges faced by the Church today and can best do so by recovering the Church's vibrant past. In other words it called for a return to the "sources," the rediscovery of the Church's sacred tradition.

I am currently reading one of von Balthasar's more controversial books, Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved? I suspect it's controversial because it has been misunderstood by so many, who seem to think that von Balthasar is making a case for universal salvation when he is doing nothing of the sort. I considered writing a few explanatory paragraphs on the subject when I stumbled across the following two videos by the incomparable Fr. Robert Barron. They provide a brief (each is about 12 minutes long) two-part overview of von Balthasar's thought and theology. I can promise you will not regret taking the time to watch them:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Our New Church

A few weeks ago the construction of our new parish church was completed. It's been a long time coming.

The original church of St. Vincent de Paul  in Wildwood, Florida was built as a relatively small mission church, supporting St. Lawrence Parish in Bushnell, Florida. When I moved to Florida and was first assigned to the parish as a deacon almost 11 years ago the mission schedule included only three or four weekend Masses. The pastor celebrated daily Mass a few days each week. On the other days, Deacon Byron and I conducted Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion. But with the growth of The Villages, one of the nation's largest retirement communities, the Bishop of Orlando made St. Vincent de Paul a parish in its own right. That same growth, however, generated huge crowds each weekend. During the peak season our attendance surged to 5,000 people in a church that could comfortably seat perhaps 500, requiring us to schedule between 9 and 11 Masses every weekend. Since The Villages continues to grow, a larger church was necessary.

After a few years of fits and starts, we now have our new church that seats approximately 1,100 people, and it is wonderful! On the evening of August 27, Bishop John Noonan of the Diocese of Orlando will celebrate the Mass of Dedication, an event the entire parish family looks forward to.

Here's a photo I took earlier today of the front of the new church. I will add photos of the interior in a few days.
St. Vincent de Paul Church, Wildwood, Florida (click photo to enlarge)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Persecution of Christians: Some Links

After posting my earlier comments on the rise of chaos in the world, I thought my readers might find a few related articles of interest. Here are the links:

US Enables Christian Persecution

Islamist - Nazi Connection

Christianity Finished in Iraq

Pope Francis: Trust in God Overcomes Worldly Fears

...all are interesting and relevant reads.

And here's a world map showing the nations in which the persecution of Christians is greatest:

For more information go to: Open Doors

God's peace.

Chaos Rising

Here I am, just a few weeks shy of my 70th birthday, and I can't recall a time in my life when both the nation and the world seemed to be moving so rapidly toward the brink of total chaos. One can only marvel at those in the affluent, self-absorbed West who bury their heads in the sand believing all is right in the world.

You'll quickly discover what I mean if you spend a morning or afternoon watching the business shows on CNBC or Fox Business Channel. The denizens of these networks, whether bulls, bears, or creatures in-between, distill everything down to economics. Money and high finance rule. Each apparently believes that, at its core, every problem is related to the economy. Party affiliation or political labels seem to matter little. Their solutions certainly vary, from the libertarian's "anything goes" approach that borders on anarchy to the don't-call-me-a-socialist's "turn it all over to the government" approach that leads only to Orwell's Big Brother. And as they talk, and predict, and cheer and jeer, the stock ticker runs across the bottom of the screen, a constant reminder of the current state of these tiny pieces of the economy. For those worried about the condition of their 401Ks, or who hope their penny stocks will soar into Apple territory, I suppose it's all very addictive. The viewer comes to believe that ultimately  the shape of the future will be determined by the Dow Jones Average.

In truth, the future of civilization will be determined by the battles being waged between ideology and religion, between the many brands of totalitarianism and freedom, between a horrific brand of Islam and civilization itself, between those who worship man as a god and those who worship a Man as God. If you were to ask an al-Qaeda leader or an ISIL follower (or ISIS or whatever these barbarians call themselves today) why they wage war against the West, I'm pretty sure the answer wouldn't focus on economics or NASDAQ futures. They know we are in the midst of a global war, a spiritual war that most people in Western Europe and the U.S. blithely ignore. 

Western elitists, the descendants of a Christendom that no longer exists, are apparently oblivious to the ramifications of what's taking place in the world's unenlightened corners. They don't take the idea of spiritual warfare seriously because they don't take the idea of God seriously. In their enlightened progressivism they believe that society, especially their society, is moving unrelentingly forward. And they believe this despite the global barbarism of the past hundred years. I suspect such thinking often arises from a subtle form of racism that views events in the so-called Third World and the Southern Hemisphere as unimportant or certainly far less important than what happens in the developed world. At best it's the product of a myopic parochialism that prevents one from seeing beyond its self-defined borders. And for some it stems from simple ignorance, abetted by the political correctness that controls much of what passes for education these days.

And yet the war rages and continues to expand. One thing is certain: unlike many in the developed West, the people of Africa and the Middle East know they are in a war zone. Although the Middle East will always be the primary battleground, Africa might eventually rival the Middle East because Christianity on that continent has experienced such remarkable growth. This growth is perceived as a real threat by those who would destroy Christianity. Based on the common, erroneous belief that Christianity, and more specifically Catholicism, is in decline, few Westerners, including Western Christians, are aware of the extent of this growth. For example, how many know that Catholics in sub-Sahara Africa increased from 2 million in 1900 to over 130 million in 2000? -- a remarkable growth rate of over 4% annually. Or that Gallup estimates the total number of African Catholics today at over 200 million? The fact that the growth of the Catholic Church in Africa has outpaced the growth of the continent's overall population is a sign of some very healthy evangelization. 

According to recent study by CESNUR (The Center for the Study of New Religions), among African countries, 31 have Christian majorities, 21 have Muslim majorities and 6 have populations which adhere mostly to traditional African religions. In 1900 Christians in Africa totalled ten million; in 2012 this number reached five hundred million. In 1900 only 2% of Christians in the world were African; today, this figure has risen to 20%. In ten years time Africa will be the largest continental bloc within Christianity, outdoing Europe and the Americas. “This data is still not widely known," stated sociologist Massimo Introvigne, CESNUR’s founder, "but they have a profound historical, cultural and political significance. There are now more practicing Christians in Africa than in Europe. In the long run, this will not only change Africa but Christianity as well, as John Paul II had intuited..."

“Of course, not everyone is happy about this development,” Introvigne added. The sociologist claimed that this growth in the number of Christians across the African continent is likely behind many of the attacks on Christians. “Some Islamic ultra-fundamentalists consider it scandalous that there are more Christians than Muslims in Africa and proceed to persecute and kill Christians in countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and Kenya. The way the ultra-fundamentalists see it, today the battle which will determine whether the world will be Muslim or Christian is being fought in Africa. And that Islam is losing. This is why they are responding with bombs.” In Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood's primary target has been Christians and Christian churches. The same is true of Boko Haram in Nigeria. And the Islamists who carried the Nairobi mall massacre made a point of singling out Christians.

This desire to destroy Christianity isn't restricted to Africa. It's even more apparent in the Middle East. We've heard a lot of talk out of Iraq recently about the potential "genocide" of the Yazidi people by ISIL. And what is happening to that people is certainly horrendous. But how many Westerners realize what's happening to the larger Christian community in Iraq? Indeed, how many know what's been happening to Christians throughout the world, particularly in Muslim-majority countries? Christians in Pakistan and Iran are persecuted, imprisoned and murdered simply because of their beliefs. In Iraq the Islamist jihadists of ISIL are beheading young Christian children and displaying their severed heads on pikes. They are crucifying Christians and staging mass executions of anyone who resists converting to their vicious form of Islam. As a result Christians are fleeing the Middle East and their once-thriving communities have all but disappeared.

About all this our nation has done little, and said even less. Indeed, our selective concern seems almost arbitrary. In 2011, we joined the British and the French and bombed Libya's Gaddafi regime out of existence. Ironically, it's likely more Libyan civilians have died since Gaddafi's overthrow than before. And as the power of the Islamists has increased in that country, so too has the persecution and exodus of Libyan Christians.

Only a year later, when confronted by a far worse situation in Syria, we did virtually nothing, other than draw some imaginary red lines in the sand. The result has been the deaths of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians and the growth of ISIL into a formidable military force. And now, with half of Iraq in the hands of ISIL, we limit our response to humanitarian assistance and highly selective air strikes that have only driven ISIL underground where they will resort to classic insurgency tactics. I suspect ISIL, flush with cash and modern weaponry, will only grow stronger. And in the meantime the Christians of Syria and Iraq are being slaughtered by the jihadists. 

After Mass yesterday morning a parishioner asked me, "Are we in the end times? Do you think Jesus will come soon?" I told her I had no idea. Indeed, Our Lord made a point of reminding us that no one knows when the end will come. But He also told us not to ignore the signs. Read Matthew, Chapter 24, and pray for our world, for yourself, and for those you love. Pray that in the midst of the chaos, we will remain true to Jesus Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

I conclude with the words of Pope Benedict XVI:
"...from the beginning the Church lives in prayerful waiting for her Lord, scrutinizing the signs of the times and putting the faithful on guard against recurring messiahs, who from time to time announce the world's end is imminent. In reality, history must run its course, which brings with it also human dramas and natural calamities. In it a design of salvation is developed that Christ has already brought to fulfillment in his incarnation, death, and resurrection. The Church continues to proclaim this mystery and to announce and accomplish it with her preaching, celebration of the sacraments, and witness of charity." [The Joy of Knowing Christ, p. 115]

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Homily: 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)

Readings: 1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-13a; Ps 85; Rom 9:1-5; Mt 14:22-33

Almost fifty years ago, it what now seems to be another lifetime, I was a young naval officer, a flight student in Pensacola. Three of us, all happy bachelors, had rented a house – well, it was really a hovel, but it had three bedrooms and cost us only $85 a month, total. You can imagine what it was like.

One hot summer day, since I was scheduled to fly that night, I decided to take an afternoon nap. I was awakened by a near-deafening noise, like nothing I’d heard before. Not only had my little world turned noisy, it had also turned dark. I was sure I’d overslept and thought of all the trouble I’d be in if I missed my flight. But the roaring outside my window pushed those thoughts aside; I ran to the door and walked onto our front steps to see what was causing it.

It took only a second. A tornado, black and ominous, was just a hundred yards away. As it moved along the next street, it overturned cars and trucks, sent huge chunks of debris flying into the air, and sparked electrical fires. I stood on that step, frozen, my eyes locked on that funnel cloud only a block away.

At that moment I realized there was nothing I could do, nowhere I could go. Our little hovel offered no protection. I could not save myself. And so I did the only thing I could do. I just stood there, and asked God to keep me safe, to save me from the storm. In a minute it was gone – and in that sudden silence I thanked the Lord for His mercy. It was then, too, I realized I was soaked to the bone. I’d been standing on the front step and hadn’t even noticed the torrential rain. Fear can do that to you.

I know I experienced God’s voice in the silence that followed. God speaks to each of us, but to hear His voice in the storms and the quiet of our lives, we must listen, just as Elijah listened.

Fleeing Ahab and his wicked queen, Jezebel, and fearing for his life, Elijah, God’s prophet, was led by the Spirit to God’s holy place, Horeb, or Sinai. He entered a cave there, and in the darkness awaited God’s word. But God called him out of the cave and Elijah found himself in the midst of nature’s devastating power: a fierce tornado-like wind, then a destructive earthquake, and finally a fire.

But in none of these did Elijah hear the Lord; and so he waited. And in the silence he heard “a tiny whispering sound,” [1 Kg 19:12] the voice of God speaking to him. God, who controls the entirety of creation in all its majesty, revealed Himself in humility, in peace, in a gentle breeze revealing the whisper of His own heart.

And what did Elijah do? He “hid his face” [1 Kg 19:13] for he knew He was in the presence of God. He hid his face because in Elijah’s time God had not yet become man. The world would have to wait hundreds of years for that. Until then God, in His person, remained hidden.

And yet, Elijah’s encounter offered a foretaste of the Incarnation, the self-humbling of God, who chose to enter the world like a whisper in a stable in Bethlehem

…who, though sinless, allowed Himself to be baptized in the Jordan

…who offered Himself as victim to be tortured, crucified on the Cross by the very ones He created.

Yes, the more God humbles Himself, the more He reveals His love and who He is. And He does so most often in the silence of our lives. My father used to ask, “How much do you learn about the other person when you’re talking?” The answer, of course, is “not much.” This applies as well to our prayer.

Brothers and sisters, God wants to reveal Himself to us, but He doesn’t force it. He simply calls us. He calls us to a relationship through prayer. Prayer is simply a conversation, a dialog with God, in which God speaks and reveals, and we respond. We must listen in silence, listen to God’s Word, and recognize His voice, the “tiny whispering sound” that will penetrate our very souls, if only we let it.

We see this as well with Peter, who like Elijah also had a stormy encounter with God. Jesus had been on the mountain in communion with the Father; then in the darkness He came down to the sea, and walked upon it.

On that same stormy sea the apostles, tossed about in their boat, were afraid. When they saw Jesus waking toward them in the midst of the storm and gloom, their fear was magnified. It must be an apparition, a ghost. They saw, but did not recognize Jesus. Only when He spoke, only when they heard His voice, His Word, did recognition come.

And what did He say? “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” [Mt 14:27] The Greek phase, ego eimi, can be translated as “It is I”, but in the original Greek it means “I am.” And these two words take us back to God’s revelation of His name to Moses at the burning bush: “Tell the Israelites I AM has sent me to you.” [Ex 3:14] Jesus, then, revealed His divinity through His domination of creation by walking on the stormy sea, and through His Word: “I AM.”

But as usual the apostles doubted. Yes, their faith, like ours, was often weak. It’s a weakness that reaches its peak on Calvary when they hid, unwilling to recognize the Lord in that place of fear. Is it any wonder that, again and again, Jesus told them, as He tells us, “Be not afraid”?

On the water, Jesus spoke as He moved toward them, closing the gap, the huge gap that had always separated God from man. No longer must we hide our faces. No longer must we fear His presence for He calls each one of us into friendship, into a sacred, personal relationship. But that day, on the water, this was not yet evident.

What does Peter do? In his boldness, he challenged the Lord. How often you and I are like that, weak in faith we challenge God, looking for some quid pro quo: “Okay, God, prove yourself to me. Do this, Do that.” In effect Peter said, “If it’s really you, let me walk on the water too.”

Jesus uttered only one word, the word He says to all of us: “Come.” [Mt 14:28] Come. Come to me and I will ease all your burdens, remove all your fears.

Peter responds and in faith steps out of the boat. But then, as we so often do, he allows fear to dominate his faith. He turns from Jesus and sees instead the wind, the stormed-tossed sea, and in fear and doubt he begins to sink. Now, with a name like Peter – “The Rock” – I suspect he sank rather quickly. But Peter, the man of emotion, doesn’t hesitate and overcome by fear speaks the words we so often cry out in our own failures of faith: “Lord, save me!” Jesus, of course, responds at once. He reaches out a hand and grasps Peter, pulling him to safety.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus is our Savior not because of our piety or because of anything we have done…and certainly not because of our weak faith. He is our Savior simply because, out of love, He saves us. Because He is first our Savior, we can enjoy the wonder of a personal relationship with God Himself.

Now, I didn’t encounter God in that Pensacola tornado; no I saw only a storm, nature unleashed thanks to original sin. But like Peter I called out to God, and like Elijah I encountered God in the silence.

But the next morning I wandered over to the scene of destruction on Jackson Street; and It was there I saw God. I saw Him in the hundreds of people who volunteered to help their neighbors whose homes and businesses had been hammered by that storm. They cleared debris, brought food and clothing, and ministered to the victims in every way imaginable. It was in this selfless work, in this manifestation of love for one’s neighbor, that God’s quiet voice could be heard that day in Pensacola.

God is always there, calling us – “Come…and I will reveal my will for you.” – We need only listen.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant

In our nation's capital President Nothing seemingly ignores what is happening in northern Iraq. The vicious Islamists of ISIS have in recent months taken over a rather large portion of Iraq. This was a direct result of President Nothing's abandoning Iraq by removing all U.S. forces. And so today ISIS is murdering Christians -- men, women and children -- by the hundreds and probably by the thousands. They are destroying Christian churches and killing priests in an attempt to eliminate Christianity and create their caliphate of evil. And as Christians are slaughtered where they have thrived for 2,000 years, President Nothing jets around the country fundraising and thanking Muslims for "the many achievements and contributions of Muslim Americans to building the very fabric of our nation and strengthening the core of our democracy."  I wonder if he can name a single Muslim who "built the fabric of our nation." And when it comes to strengthening democracy, Islam's record is non-existent.

At this point I'm going to write something that is radically politically goes. God is a God of love; God is not the Allah of hatred worshipped by ISIS and those who support them. These ISIS jihadists are certainly not doing the work of God, so let's stop pretending they are religiously motivated. They are motivated solely by hatred and bloodlust. And sadly it's apparent that a sizable number of Muslims living in the Islamic world support radical jihadists of one form or another. In many Muslim nations a majority call for the imposition of the brutalities of Shariah Law.  Indeed, polls taken throughout the Islamic world confirm this conclusion. And even more disturbing is the fact that this support seems to be growing.

And in the West, especially in Western Europe, we see the revival of a virulent anti-Semitism. Today's European (and far too many American) know-nothings support the terrorists of Hamas and condemn democratic Israel for doing less than what any other nation would justifiably do under similar circumstances. Israel is apparently the only nation in the world that is prohibited from defending itself when attacked by a hostile neighbor. Actually, when one hears the rants and reads the posters of the protestors, it's apparent they're not motivated by the polite, euphemistic anti-Semitism so common among today's European elites. No, they are motivated by nothing less than a visceral hatred of Jews, pure and simple.

Chaos is coming, folks, and it's name is Jihad. Perhaps it's time for another Crusade.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Flannery O'Connor - August 3, 1964

Flannery O'Connor died 50 years ago yesterday, on Auugst 3, 1964. Born in Savannah on March 25, 1925, she spent most of her life in Milledgeville, Georgia where she wrote two wonderful novels and some of the best short stories in the English language. She died far too young of complications from Lupus. She was only 39 years old.

I first read O'Connor in 1962, when my senior English teacher assigned one of her stories, "Good Country People." Even at 17 I had read a lot of good fiction, including many short stories, but I had never read anything quite like this odd tale. I ended up reading it at least four times in one evening, wondering why I was being asked to read about these strange, back woods Southerners who seemed so unlike any people I had ever known, certainly not at all like the people who lived in our suburban New York town. Believe me when I say that I had never encountered an evil, or even a good, door-to-door Bible salesman. No one like that ever came knocking in Larchmont. Neither had I ever come across an atheistic, one-legged woman with a PhD in philosophy who lived on her mother's farm. Gradually, though, as I re-read the story, I came to recognize bits and pieces of myself (and others) in each of the characters and began to understand that rural Georgia was merely the setting for a wonderful story about the reality of the human condition. I was hooked, and thus began my love affair with Flannery O'Connor and her work.

If you haven't read her, do so. She wrote 32 well-crafted short stories, each meant to be savored and slowly digested. Her two novels, too, are masterpieces. Here are some links:

The Complete Stories, by Flannery O'Connor

Wise Blood, a novel by Flannery O'Connor

The Violent Bear It Away, a novel by Flannary O'Connor

The Habit of Being, Letters of Flannery O'Connor

I've included the last, a collection of her letters, because it's by far the best and most interesting collection of letters I've ever read.

Dear Diane and I have made the pilgrimage to Andalusia, her home and family farm in Milledgeville, on several occasions and always enjoyed it. Here's a photo of the house in Milledgeville:
Andalusia, the O'Connor home in Milledgeville
...and another of her childhood home in Savannah:

O'Connor's childhood home in Savannah

Rest in Peace, Flannery.