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.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Go Navy!!

On Friday Dear Diane and I left Williamsburg and made the drive to Fairfax without driving a mile on an interstate highway. As a result we were blessed with some beautiful scenery and even encountered three bald eagles that flew alongside the car only feet away from us. What magnificent birds! Unfortunately I was driving (and being tailgated by a local in a pickup) and was unable to take any photos without careening off the road.

Above: fall colors in rural Virginia
We're now enjoying the hospitality and lovely home of our old friends, the Lees, who have agreed to put up with us for a few days. Yesterday, while Nancy and Diane roamed through the shops of Annapolis, Dave and I took advantage of his season tickets and spent the afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium as the Naval Academy's football team beat Georgia Southern, 53-19 -- a wonderful day for Navy football.

Above: Navy on its way to another score

Above: the Navy stadium during the game
Before the game the four of us went to the Midshipmen Store to pick up a few USNA souvenirs and then took a short walk to check out the statue of Tecumseh who's always painted up for each game. I also took advantage of the opportunity to stop by my Class of 1967 tailgate get-together and renew some old friendships.

Above: Tecumseh ready for Georgia Southern

Above: Nancy and Dave at USNA

Above: Dear Diane and I standing outside the window to my room back in 1966-67

Above: 1967 classmates -- Dave Church, me, Pete Nanos
This morning we attended Mass with the Lees at their parish church, Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Annandale, a welcoming and Spirit-filled parish. We decided just to chill this afternoon and watch football -- a needed day of rest. Tomorrow we leave Virginia and begin our trip home. We've had a wonderful stay but look forward to returning to the warm air of sunny Florida.
Pax et bonum...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Jamestown and Williamsburg

Yesterday the two of us spent the morning at the Jamestown Settlement, an extensive museum and outdoor exhibit depicting the first permanent English settlement in America. Our visit once again began with a film describing the colony's first difficult years. We then roamed through the museum displays, joined by hundreds of children on school field trips. One can only hope they absorbed some of the history to which they were exposed.

The outdoor exhibits include replicas of three period ships, a recreation of the settlement's fort, and a typical Indian village. We boarded the Discovery, the smallest of the three ships, and could not imagine sailing across the Atlantic on so small a vessel. Brave hearts in those days! At the Indian village Diane and I spent some time chatting with a young woman who was making needles from pieces of deer bone. The fort, a reproduction of the sort built by the English colonists, was equally interesting and underscored the challenges faced by those who left their homeland to settle in this rather hostile wilderness. 

Above: Diane aboard Discovery

Above: Powhaten "Indians" 

Leaving Jamestown, we returned to the riverside town of Yorktown to spend a little time in a used bookstore we had noticed on our previous visit. After a mediocre lunch in a local restaurant we drove to Williamsburg and revisited the shops and exhibits. 

In the midst of our ramblings along Duke of Gloucester Street we encountered the traitorous Benedict Arnold, now an officer in the British Army and accompanied by a squad of redcoats. Addressing the people of Williamsburg, he attempted to rationalize his actions with little success. In truth as a British Brigadier General, Arnold actually did carry the war to Virginia and even captured Richmond. He eventually settled in London and died there in 1801 at the age of 60. He was generally disliked by both the Americans and the English.

Above: Arnold the traitor addresses a hostile crowd

Above: Basket makers in Williamsburg

Above: a typical Williamsburg house

Today we head to Northern Virginia to join our friends, the Lees; and tomorrow it's on to Annapolis where Dave and I hope to attend the Navy football game. The weather, however, has turned much colder, especially for those of us who live in Florida.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Yorktown: America's Battle

Yesterday the four of us visited Yorktown to see the battlefield.  With the exception of a few skirmishes, Yorktown was really less of a battle and more of a short-term siege. But its happy result was the beginning of the end for the British in the 13 former colonies. Within two years the Treaty of Paris had been signed, the war was officially over, and Great Britain accepted (more or less) the independence of the United States of America.

Above: Nancy and Diane with George W., who seems to be enjoying it.

At first we visited Virginia's Yorktown Victory Center, a well-designed and well-run museum that addresses the Revolutionary period but focuses largely on the climactic American victory at Yorktowm. The period displays of a Continental Army encampment and of a small eighteenth-century family farm were extremely interesting. We were particularly impressed by the docents who described the period's medical practices as well as the weaponry and tactics of the army during the war -- interesting stuff. Of course, I took pictures.

Above: a colonial turkey

Above: a colonial farmhouse, a one-room fixer-upper

Above: a Continental Army encampment

Above: a musket is fired at the enemy

Above: the medical officer's tent

We then drove a mile to the actual Yorktown Battlefield site run by the National Park Service. We sat through an interesting film and then joined the walking tour conducted by a young park ranger from Kentucky named Jenny. What a joy! Jenny not only knows her subject well, but she also presents it with enthusiasm and humor. Her 45 minutes with us was one of the highlights of our stay here in Virginia. She deserves a raise!

Above: Jenny, our tour guide and National Park Ranger

Above: Redoubt #9 -- Scene on the Yorktown battlefield

As you can see, yesterday was another wonderful day. Sadly our friends had to leave us last evening and return to their home in Northern Virginia. We will follow and join them on Friday. But today, Dear Diane and I visited the Jamestown Settlement and also made a return visit to Colonial Williamsburg, something I'll describe in my next post.

Pray for our country, and that honest, courageous leaders will arise from the people and return us to the principles that guided our founding fathers.

Williamsburg Scenes

Before describing yesterday's visit to the Yorktown Battlefield, I'll post a few more photos of Tuesday's day-long stroll through the streets of Colonial Williamsburg.

Above: a view of the Capitol

Above: In the stocks

Above: the stage rumbles through the city

Above: a shop window

Above: view through the window of a wig shop

Above: enjoying a lovely fall day and a good book

Above: the Colonial Virginia Capitol

Above: the jail (gaol)

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Williamsburg: Oxen, Taverns and Shops

Yesterday, in celebration of Veterans Day, Dear Diane and I, along with our friends, Nancy and Dave Lee, spent much of the day at Colonial Williamsburg. It had been several decades since our last visit and the changes were considerable. Of course Williamsburg itself was much the same, with the exception of some new shops along Duke of Gloucester Street, the historic site's main drag; but now there's also a large Colonial Williamsburg Visitors Center designed to introduce visitors to the history of the city and to separate them from their cash in the expansive gift and book shops. We purchased three-day passes and then, shunning the shuttle bus, walked the half-mile into the city.

Our first stop along the way was at Great Hopes Plantation, a re-creation of a period working farm just a few hundred yards along the path from the Visitors Center. The folks who run the farm are dressed in period costumes and play their roles well. I was particularly impressed by the young woman driving a team of oxen that pulled a plow to break up the soil of a large field (see photo below). It's not often one sees a team of yoked oxen these days, and as I watched this slip of a woman lead these two huge beasts, I couldn't help but call to mind the Lord's words: "...for my yoke is easy, my burden is light" [Mt 11:30].

Among the more interesting things we encountered at the plantation was a small barn in which air-cured tobacco leaves hung from the ceiling (see below).

After leaving the farm and entering Colonial Williamsburg, I had a more personal encounter with another ox, a rather pleasant animal named Dan. I noticed him cozying up to a group of tourists and decided to join them. As soon as I approached the fence he walked right up to me and posed for a few photos as I patted his rather massive head. Dan was really very friendly and also took an interest in my camera which I managed to keep safely away from him. Here are a couple of photos of Dan...

As we strolled along Duke of Gloucester Street, Dave and I enjoyed the local sights and sounds as the ladies browsed in the shops. Here's a photo of my three companions, Nancy, Dave and Dear Diane (left to right).

I tried to look the part of a colonial preacher by trying on a period clerical hat, but decided it really didn't fit well with my image as 21st-century deacon...

A highlight of our day was lunch at Shields Tavern, an establishment founded by James Shields in the mid-eighteenth century. Dear Diane is a direct descendent of Mr. Shields, so a visit there was a must. Our lunch was actually quite good and was accompanied by a woman playing an Irish harp. Photos follow...

We stopped by the old cemetery at the Episcopal Church and came across an unusual headstone. Take a moment to read the inscription (photo below). Do you see what troubled me about it? Hint: Do the math. We decided the stone-cutter made an error and put 1845 for the year of Mr. Smith's death instead of 1843. Follow-up on 11/13: I went back today and took a closer look at the headstone. It seems there's a small chip out of the last number on Mr. Smith's date of death. That minor damage makes a "3" look very much like a "5". And so, all is well in the cemetery.

The weather was quite nice, generally sunny with unseasonably warm temperatures pushing seventy degrees by mid-afternoon, although we were subjected to a little rainstorm just as we were leaving the city. All things considered, however, we had a very pleasant day and we're ready for a quiet evening back at our little condo.

I'll add some more photos of our Williamsburg visit in my next post which will also address today's excursion to the site of the crucial Battle of Yorktown.
God's peace...

Colonial Roads Less Traveled

In my most recent post I neglected to mention our minor (very minor) adventure on the James River Ferry. Because I tend to avoid the interstate highways whenever I have the time to do so, we made our way from Smithfield, NC to Williamsburg, VA on "blue highways." In this instance my TomTom GPS included a short ferry trip across the James River. Along with about 30 other vehicles we drove aboard the Pocahontas and crossed the river in much more interesting than a mere bridge crossing. The only inconvenience related to the timing of our arrival at the ferry. We had missed the boat by only two minutes and had to wait a half-hour for its return. But since we were in no hurry, it mattered little and gave me an opportunity to get out of the car, stretch my tired muscles, chat with the fellow lined up behind us, and take a few photos.

And speaking of blue highways, traveling along them provides opportunities to see and experience that which no interstate can offer. For example, you'll never see this on I-95:

...nor will you ever get "up close and personal" with a cotton ball when barreling along I-40. But while driving on state and county roads all things are possible:

We spent yesterday, Veterans Day, with the other tourists at Colonial Williamsburg. I have no time this morning to share our adventures. Later today...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

To Williamsburg...

Another enjoyable day! I really do enjoy traveling, even if it's to less than exotic places. Wherever we go, Dear Diane and I meet the most pleasant and interesting people. The staff at the Holiday Inn Express in Smithfield, NC were helpful, cheerful and seemed to truly enjoy their work. After our excellent complementary breakfast we got back in our Kia and made our way to downtown Smithfield, all of a mile away. We parked the car and strolled along Main Street as we waited for the Ava Gardner Museum to open. Smithfield seems like a pleasant town, one of those nice, comfortable small cities undergoing a bit of a renaissance. We parked near the Greenway that runs alongside the Buffalo Creek and Neuse River and enjoyed the view. I took a short stroll on the riverwalk so I could snap a few photos.

The Ava Gardner Museum is actually quite interesting and well designed. Our visit began with a brief (20-minute) film on her life, after which we viewed the many displays highlighting her early years in Smithfield, her film career, and her later life outside of Hollywood. Diane, a devotee of old movies, took it all in, and the docent on duty, a lovely woman named Sarah, answered every question with a smile. After an hour or so we had probably learned more than enough about Ava Gardner and her three show-biz husbands: Mickey Rooney, Artie Shaw, and Frank Sinatra. Here's a photo of Ava and Frank, a romance that ended like the others in divorce.

I bought a coffee mug and Diane a book from the museum's shop.

Leaving Smithfield in mid-morning we made our way north to Virginia along country highways. As we passed through one rural county after another it became obvious that we were in cotton country. Most of the fields had already been harvested, but I was surprised that so many were still filled with unpicked cotton. Actually, a cotton field that's ready to be harvested is a beautiful sight, so I was pleased to see so many and took a bunch of photos.

We stopped for lunch at the Hungry Rooster, a nice little restaurant in the unusually named town of Boykins, Virginia. The food was quite good, the prices reasonable, and our waitress was just about a nice as she could be. 

By mid-afternoon we had arrived here at Williamsburg where we met up with our friends. We moved into our temporary home, a two-bedroom suite at the Holiday Inn Club Resort, caught up on family news over a glass of wine, then went out for a light dinner. On Tuesday we hope to take in the wonders of colonial Williamsburg.

Monday, November 10, 2014

On the Road Again

Once again I find myself wide awake in the day's early hours listening to Dear Diane's soft breathing as she sleeps in our hotel room's remarkably comfortable bed. Diane needs more sleep than I so this is a normal occurrence for us, especially when we're traveling. Yesterday she and I spent the day driving north along America's most-traveled corridor, I-95, and ended up in Smithfield, North Carolina.

By the time we arrived at the Holiday Inn Express the sun had set and so Smithfield remains a bit of a mystery. It's one of those towns we have passed by a hundred times in the past but never stopped to see. From what others tell me, it is a farming community known for its excellent hams. But what has intrigued me most about Smithfield is its claim as the birthplace of the late actress, Ava Gardner. I know this because there's a prominent sign on the interstate encouraging travelers to visit the Ava Gardner Museum. We intend to visit the museum this morning and by doing so take away a bit of the mystery surrounding this community.

Actually, in my younger days I, along with a few million others, had a bit of a crush in Ms. Gardner. She was, after all, a beautiful, woman. I really can't comment on her acting ability since that was never an interest. I suppose I was a bit like Louis B. Mayer, the head of MGM, who after viewing her screentest demanded that the 18-year-old beauty be signed to a contract. In a telegram Mayer wrote, "She can't sing, she can't act, she can't talk, She's terrific!" Yes, there was just something about her...Anyway, after the museum, we might buy a Smithfield ham, a more than fitting souvenir for a town so closely connected to Hollywood.

We expect to shake the dust of Smithfield from our feet by about noon, and then make our way via the back roads of North Carolina and Virginia to historic Williamsburg. We plan to spend the next four days there with our dear friends, the Lees, and get in touch with a few of our national roots. I'm looking forward to having a meal at Shields Tavern, a Williamsburg establishment dating back to colonial times. Our son, Ethan, who has an interest in the family genealogy, has informed Dear Diane that she is a direct descendant of the Mr. Shields who first opened the tavern. Maybe they'll give us a pint on the house.

It's now time to greet the rising sun and sample the hotel's complimentary breakfast. We have a busy day planned and will need nourishment. More tomorrow.

God's peace...

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Greek Orthodox Priest Addresses UN on the Persecution of Christians

In September Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Greek Orthodox priest from Nazareth spoke  to the United Nations Human Rights Council about the persecution of Christians in the Middle east. I've included a video (below) of his comments.

Here is a transcript of Father Naddaf's comments:

Mr. President, I am speaking to you on behalf of UN Watch.
Standing before you is Father Gabriel Naddaf, a Christian citizen from Nazareth, the city in which Christ was raised and where he proselytized.
Dear Sirs, while I stand before you today, the earth of the Middle East is soaked with the blood of Christians being killed daily.
Do you know that at the start of the 20th century, Christians comprised 20% of the population of the Middle East?
Today they comprise only 4%.
Do you know that over the past years some 100,000 Christians have been killed annually? And why? Not for a crime they’ve committed, but only for believing in Christ.
In Iraq alone, more than 77% of the Christians have fled during the year 2000, in addition to thousands killed and expelled.
Some 2 million Christians lived in Syria, but today, they are less than 250,000.
Christians in these countries are treated as second-class citizens; facing racial, religious, economic and social discrimination.
Why is this happening? Only due to their religion, a religion that advocates love and peace between mankind.
Christians in the Middle East are marginalized; their rights denied, their property stolen, their honor violated, their men killed, and their children displaced.
Where will they go? Who will defend them? And who will guard their property?
If we look at the Middle East, Mr. President, we realize there’s only one safe place where Christians are not persecuted.
One place where they are protected, enjoying freedom of worship and expression, living in peace and not subjected to killing and genocide.
It is Israel, the country I live in. The Jewish state is the only safe place where the Christians of the Holy Land live in safety.
Christians and Jews live in Israel not only because Christ was originally Jewish, born in Jewish Bethlehem, but because they share a common destiny, and a true hope to coexist in peace.
Does the world acknowledge Israel for protecting its Christians? Many in the international community have chosen to criticize Israel.
This, in my mind, is a double crime: because by doing so, the international community helps those striving to annihilate the Jews, the Christians, the Druze and the Yazidis for political ends.
By doing so, the international community unfortunately contributes to exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.
It causes Christians to leave the land of Christ searching for a safe haven across the world.
It is time for the world to awaken and realize the truth of those striving to destroy the Jewish state.
They are hastening the death sentence of Christians in the Middle East and the Holy Land, the land which witnessed the birth and life of our Lord Jesus Christ. If they leave, who will remain in it?
I, Father Gabreal Naddaf of Nazareth, stand before you and plead: O world leaders and supporters of peace, stop those who want to destroy the only free Jewish state in the region.
It is the only refuge welcoming and protecting all of its citizens. It is the only place that does not attempt to push out Christians, forcing them to leave their land in search of security.
I implore you from the bottom of my heart to hear the cry of the Christians of the Middle East before it is too late, and you may read about them only in the history books.
Thank you, Mr. President.

Homily: Wednesday, 31st Week of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Readings: Phil 2:12-18; Ps 27:1, 4, 13-14; Luke 14.25-33

I love to plan. I especially love planning trips. Indeed, Diane and I are about to leave on a little vacation and I’m in the midst of planning all the details. But I invariably overlook something, usually some little thing that leads to some minor annoyance. But sometimes it’s not so little and leads to all sorts of unexpected problems, turning all my plans to dust.

It’s not unlike the tower builder and the king described by Jesus. When it comes to the things of this world, poor planning leads to problems and embarrassment. But they’re forgotten soon enough. Not so when it comes to our spiritual life.

A few months ago our little  dog and I were waiting for Diane outside the local Publix Supermarket when a young couple approached me and asked if I’d been saved. I simply replied: “I’m working on it. Read Philippians 2:12.”

For that’s where Paul clearly instructs us in today’s reading “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling” [Phil 2:12]. And rightly so, because the stakes couldn't be any higher. Yes, the message today is not to take our salvation for granted. Jesus tells us and His would-be disciples to calculate the cost if we want the promised reward.

And what’s that cost? Oh, just everything we have; for to be one of His disciples, we must be willing to renounce all for Him. And not just possessions; for placing any relationship above God is just another form of idolatry. Do whatever you have to do in order to follow me, He tells us. Discipleship is your highest priority…higher even than your family.

He asks us, too, to carry our own cross, willingly and cheerfully. We all have a cross, some heavier than others; but if we walk with Christ, none is heavier than we can bear.

God’s love compels us to choose without compromise. We either give our lives over to him completely or we keep them for ourselves.

And Paul tells us as well: “ are not our own. For you have been purchased at a price” [1 Cor 6:19-20].  In other words, we are God’s…and were bought with the price of Jesus’ precious blood…

…blood He shed on the cross to redeem us from slavery to sin…

...blood He shed to free us from death and instead give us life, eternal life.

This is what Jesus offers us: the gift of an abundant life beyond our imagining, an everlasting peace and happiness with God.

The choice is ours. Let the love of Christ compel each one of us to put God first in all we do

And remember, the Lord doesn't leave us alone when we choose to follow Him. He remains with us, every step of the way.