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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

One Thing After Another...

We seem to live in an odd world in which the strange has become normalized.  

Shakespeare, just another dead white male. Consider the University of Pennsylvania (or simply "Penn," as it prefers to be called). Penn is an Ivy League school that commands big bucks for offering its students, in the words of the Penn administration, "an unparalleled education informed by inclusivity, intellectual rigor, research, and the impetus to create new knowledge to the benefit of individuals and communities around the world." I suppose that means they promise some sort of education to their students. To confirm both the inclusivity and intellectual rigor of a Penn education, activist students -- apparently a horde of frenzied English majors -- tore down a portrait of William Shakespeare, whom they dislike, and replaced it with a photo of Audre Lorde, whom they esteem. Lorde, it seems, is a black, lesbian poet who quite probably, like her student devotees, believes she is far more relevant than the Bard. 

The head of Penn's English Department, an academic named Jed Esty, decided that the portrait should not be returned to its former place of honor because Shakespeare, a white male, was the antithesis of diversity. And for those of you who might be paying for a child to attend Penn, listen to what else Professor Esty had to say:
"Students removed the Shakespeare portrait and delivered it to my office as a way of affirming their commitment to a more inclusive mission for the English department...We invite everyone to join us in the task of critical thinking about the changing nature of authorship, the history of language, and the political life of symbols."
The problem for the few thoughtful students at universities like Penn is that to succeed they must parrot this gibberish in their papers and on their exams. Failure to do so would be seen as symptomatic of reactionary uniformity, the opposite of the progressive diversity (paradoxically, a diversity that demands conformity) the school hopes to instill in its charges. You can read more about this incident at Penn here.

Wounded but not healed. After the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the U.S. Congress provided $7 billion in compensation to the families of the victims of the attacks. Each family received an average of $1.8 million. I mention this here not because I disagree with the compensation but simply to make a comparison with the following.

Ten years ago, Dusty Kirby, a Navy corpsman serving with the Marines in Iraq, was severely wounded by an Iraqi sniper. The bullet shattered his jaw and caused serious damage to his mouth. Even after a life-saving surgery and 30 subsequent operations Dusty remained in excruciating pain and suffered from brain injury and PTSD. He could not chew food, speak normally (he'd lost 1/3 of his tongue), or smile since he had almost no teeth left. 

Then, after almost ten years, Dusty turned to the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation an organization that, through its affiliate Marine Assist, arranged for specialized reconstructive surgery at New York's Lenox Hill Hospital. The result was miraculous. The surgeons repaired his jaw and later provided a completes set of dental implants. He can smile, eat and speak. Here's a news story on this young hero.

To me the sad thing about this story is that Dusty Kirby, a Navy corpsman whose service was dedicated to healing wounded Marines, had to turn to an outside organization to receive the healing he needed. These surgeries were not paid for by the United States government who apparently did not consider it important to return this young man to normalcy.

We can pay $1.8 million to the families of 9-11 victims who sadly were in the wrong place at the wrong time, but then treat our warriors horribly. These underpaid men and women return again and again to the war zone, placing their lives on the line to ensure our security. The very fact that the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, Marine Assist, and many other similar organizations have to exist is a scandal. 

And what about our senior officers and Defense Department officials, you know, the folks whose job it is to care for the people under their command? Do we ever hear them screaming about the poor treatment wounded veterans receive? How many have resigned in protest? How many have taken the case to the public? 

Obama and Israel. Look at a map of Asia and Africa. Draw a line from Turkey south to Somalia and then expand that line into a large rectangle that stretches eastward to Pakistan. Within that box there's one democracy, Israel. All the rest are either military or theocratic dictatorships. They are all Muslim majority nations. And they all hate Israel. By the way, if you're using a map printed by the Palestinian Authority, you won't find Israel on it.

The United Nations, an organization made up largely of nations ruled by thugs, passed its latest anti-Israel (actually anti-Jewish) resolution and for the first time the United States failed to exercise its veto. Our ambassador instead abstained, which it the same as voting 'Yes' since it yields an identical result.

We therefore sided with the terrorists and the nations that support them. This, of course, is nothing new for our president who just thinks the world of his friends who run Iran, the same nation that his own State Department claims is the world's leading supporter of terrorism.
Rouhani and Obama Celebrating

I'll write more about this at a later date. Let me just say that January 20th can't come soon enough.

Carrie Fisher, R.I.P. I really don't pay too much attention to show biz types, their work, their lives, and their deaths. But I was especially saddened to hear that Carrie Fisher died today at the age of 60 after suffering a major heart attack last week aboard a United Airlines flight from London to LA. 

Because Fisher became ultra-famous as a teenager in her role as Princess Leia in the first of the Star Wars movies, most of us probably never accepted the fact that she had aged along with the rest of us. I know I'll always see her as the young, spunky, intergalactic heroine she played so well. 

Princess Leia, Armed and Dangerous
The daughter of two genuine Hollywood celebrities -- actress Debbie Reynolds and crooner Eddie Fisher -- Carrie Fisher suffered much during those 60 years. Drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, strained and shattered relationships all contributed to a deep sadness that seemed to plague so much of her life. 

But it's important to realize that she was more than an actress who reached her peak of fame 30-40 years ago. She was also an extremely talented writer. I'm not a big fan of Hollywood fiction (or non-fiction), but I truly enjoyed her autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, which I suspect was an honest and painfully humorous depiction of the humanly dysfunctional film industry. She wrote a number of other best-selling novels and was in demand as a screen writer and fixer of scripts. 

I'm sure she will be missed by those who knew and loved her. I pray that the Lord receives her with mercy. Rest In Peace.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Homily: December 19

Readings: Jgs 13:2-7,24-25; Ps 71; Lk 1:5-25
Angel Announces the Birth of Samson
Some years ago I found myself in a long discussion about miracles with a New Testament scholar. To be blunt, he didn't believe in them. He rejected everything from Jesus changing water into wine at Cana all the way to the Resurrection. And, of course, he accepted none of the miracles described in the Old Testament. He was so caught up in the modern spirit of the age that he saw miracles as a scandal. God, he believed, can act only in ideas or thoughts, but certainly not in the material world.

Of course if God does not possess creative power over the material universe, then, quite simply He isn't God. And what is the Incarnation if not God moving in the world.

Today's readings show us how God can move and act in ways miraculous. They speak of trust – trust that God will do as He promises, even when those promises seem impossible. They speak of hope and belief in the miraculous. They speak too of our relationship with God, for God wants us to trust in Him. He wants us to accept that the world is powerless in the face of His majesty. And when we turn to the Lord, when we accept Him as our salvation, He will be our refuge from the idiocies and hatreds of the world. And they also speak of preparation, a fitting theme for the week before Christmas. 

In our first reading from Judges we encounter a foreshadowing of the birth of John the Baptist. Like Zechariah in the Gospel, Manoah's wife was visited by an angel who told her she would bear a son, a very special son, a son blessed by the Lord. He would be called Samson. We encounter a similar event elsewhere in Scripture, in 1st Book of Samuel when Hannah was promised a son, the prophet Samuel.

Each of these women, who had long despaired of being mothers, was granted the gift of a child. And their sons became great, each in his own way a herald of the Messiah who is still to come.

In today's Gospel passage Luke describes the angel's promise of a son to the elderly Zechariah. I don't know about you, but I've always felt a little sorry for Zechariah. He'd finally been chosen, in what amounted to a priestly lottery, to enter the Temple's Holy of Holies, an honor that happened only rarely.

And there he was, this faithful, aging, Jewish priest, fulfilling his duties when the angel Gabriel appeared to him. Now that had to be quite a shock. After all, angelic apparitions aren't very common. But even more shocking is what Gabriel told him:

"Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall name him John" [Lk 1:13]
Gabriel Appears to Zechariah
God had heard his prayer, the angel told him, but maybe Zechariah had long ago stopped praying that prayer, had stropped asking for the son he now believed he and Elizabeth would never have. But that's how God is sometimes. We ask and we receive, but occasionally it can take awhile; for God works in His time not ours.

Gabriel went on to relate wondrous things about this son who had yet to be conceived. But Zechariah seemed to ignore all those wondrous things, and instead focused on the conception issue. That was the problem for Zechariah; and he just couldn't help himself. He had to explain the situation to Gabriel: "For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years" [Lk 1:18], as if Gabriel and God don't already know this.

Yes, how often you and I do the same thing? How often are our prayers filled with explanations, in case God hasn't grasped the details.  How much of your prayer centers on your wants and your will, and how much is in praise and thanksgiving for the manifestation of God's will in your life? Most of us are probably a lot like Zechariah who instead of saying, "Thank you, Lord, for hearing my prayer," proclaimed his doubts by asking, "How shall I know this?" [Lk 1:18]

It was this proclamation of doubt that betrayed his weakness of faith, his unwillingness to accept that "nothing will be impossible for God" [Lk 1:37]. The irony is that later Gabriel uses these very words when he tells Mary of Elizabeth's pregnancy. Yes, with God all things are possible. It's an irony that also displays God's sense of humor.

And so, in today's encounter with the Word, we see the time for preparation drawing to a close, as the world readies for the appearance of its Savior. Can the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah help us to think about the coming of the Lord?

Now is a time to set priorities. Now is a time to decide how to spend these last hours of Advent before they are gone. What matters most to us? 

Can we ask for guidance and grace to spend these brief days in a way that recognizes the core realities of redemption and justice? 

Do we need to turn our hearts toward our family, our children and grandchildren, in some new way, offering love and forgiveness and peace?

Can we open our minds to God's Holy Word, allowing Him to teach us?

And Recall the words of our Responsorial Psalm. Can we make them our prayer today?

"For you are my hope, O LORD; my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother's womb you are my strength" [Ps 71:5-6].
Can we abandon ourselves to Him and His Divine Mercy, and allow Him to refine and purify us?

Can we turn to the Holy Spirit, asking Him to fill our hearts and minds with God's truth, God's

May the Spirit of wisdom, the Spirit of love guide you this day – and may you have a blessed Christmas season this year!

Monday, December 12, 2016

It's a Dog's World

For almost three years Diane and I have shared our home with a wonderful little dog named Maddie. Now almost nine years old she is a rescued Bichon Frise who has seemingly adapted well to our household. Last evening I took a photo of of her doing what she does best (below). As you can see, she makes herself comfortable wherever she likes, and in this instance has made good use of one of Diane's Christmas pillows and a red throw. The deep dents in the white sofa cushions are the result of her testing out various napping spots. She prefers the extra-soft, down-filled cushions on the living room sofa and do I. Fortunately, Bichons don't shed so I need not follow her around with a vacuum cleaner.
Maddie's a very happy little critter and complains only when we leave her alone for more than a few moments. She also smiles a lot which is a common trait among Bichons, a remarkably sociable and friendly breed. Right now she's resting on the bed in the guest bedroom from which she has a commanding view of our front yard. She seems to believe her primary job is to warn us when anyone steps foot on the property. I consider this adequate work for her room and board; but because she also offers us real affection, we provide her with all kinds of tasty treats -- a true symbiotic relationship.

Among her favorite treats are the large sized milk-bones (see photo below), the kind marketed to big dogs. But when given one of these treats Maddie won't eat it, at least not right away. She will walk throughout the house, milk-bone sticking out of her mouth, sometimes for an hour or more. Then she'll usually "bury" it under a throw pillow and retrieve it the next day. Eventually she will eat it but not before completing this ritual of instinctive canine behavior.
Maddie and I walk together for a mile or two every morning and every evening. The Villages is home to many dogs, so we often encounter several as we stroll through the surrounding neighborhoods. Interestingly, Maddie has never barked or growled at or tried to attack another dog, regardless of the other dog's attitude. Based on her reaction to the dogs we encounter, I've concluded that she places dogs in one of three categories. 

First, there are the nasty little -- and some not so little -- dogs. They represent perhaps 20% of the dogs we meet on our walks and include the small yappers and ankle-biters that really care little for other living beings. The category also includes a few -- and only a few -- large dogs that view other dogs as prey. For example, we sometimes encounter a large Akita who growls whenever it sees another human or canine. Maddie senses the nastiness of all these dogs long before they approach and simply encourages me to avoid them.

Maddie seems to lump many other dogs into the second category. These are the indifferent dogs and represent maybe a third of the dogs we meet. Maddie tries to approach them, wagging her tail in friendship, but they simply ignore her and continue on. These rejections of her offered affection always seem to surprise her. but she quickly puts it behind her. 

The final category includes what I call the dogs with good hearts, the dogs that simply enjoy the presence of humans and other dogs. Maddie herself falls in this category, so I suppose it's natural that she would gravitate to others of her kind. When she spots one approaching, she will often just sit down and wait for them to arrive. They then sniff and play and enjoy each other.

As an aside, I've often noticed that the person on the other end of the leash mimics the behavior of the dog (or vice versa): grumpy, indifferent and happy dogs tend to be accompanied by grumpy, indifferent or happy human beings respectively.

Speaking of happy dogs, someone recently sent me a link to a video of a rescued Pit Bull named Brinks who smiles constantly -- certainly among the happiest-looking dogs I've ever seen.  I've included two videos of Brinks, the one my friend sent me and another of Brinks walking through his Brooklyn neighborhood. This is one neat dog who has apparently become a YouTube celebrity.

Actually, the Pit Bull is a wonderful breed, a naturally friendly and protective dog that makes an excellent family pet. Sadly the breed has been often mistreated and misused by far too many people resulting in its rather bad reputation. In fact, one neighborhood dog is part Pit Bull and he and Maddie have become fast friends. He's about four times her size but that doesn't seem to bother her at all. His name happens to be Trump (no relation), a name he was given long before the onset of the recent presidential race. On our twice-daily walks Maddie insists we go out of our way to visit Trump. 

Over the years our family has been blessed by many good dogs, both large and small, but I really think little Maddie is my favorite. 

By the way, according to the Harvard Health blog: “The evidence reviewed by the AHA indicates that dog owners are more likely to exercise, have a better cholesterol profile, have lower blood pressure, be less vulnerable to the physical effects of stress, and be more likely to survive a heart attack.” Sounds like a good reason to bring a dog into your life.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Flannery O'Connor, the devil, and today's Holy Innocents

I've been re-reading a lot of Flannery O'Connor lately, both her absolutely perfect fiction and her enlightened and enlightening non-fiction. If you've never read her work, your life is grossly incomplete and needs a little shot of Flannery to make it half-full again. Her work is always grace-filled, always surprising. But it's also (at least to me) gloriously optimistic because it tells of the effects of God's redemptive act in the lives of His creatures, even in the midst of tragedy.

So many people in our confused world are half-empty pessimists because they ignore the showering of God's grace in their lives. Either that or they reject out of hand the very idea of God's active presence in the world. For these, God has no role in all that He created and all that He maintains through His love. They evict God from their lives, and Nietzsche's claim that "God is dead!" becomes the watchword of their closed, truncated worlds. They either slide into a deep, suicidal despair or they grab hold of an ideology that assumes man (that's us) is actually in charge and can bring about a perfect world. As Flannery O'Connor wrote to a correspondent:
"The Liberal approach is that man has never fallen, never incurred guilt, and is ultimately perfectible by his own efforts. Therefore, evil in this light is a problem of better housing, sanitation, health, etc. and all mysteries will eventually be cleared up. Judgment is out of place because man is not responsible" [The Habit of Being, p. 302].
And so man becomes godlike, seemingly in charge of his little world. But because he is a tiny god in a massive, sprawling universe, he is not responsible and can escape judgment. And although he must contend with an array of forces, Satan isn't one of them. If a personal, loving God doesn't exist, neither can personified evil. The devil, then, becomes a fiction.

How many people today actually believe the devil exists, that he is a personal entity, a rebellious and fallen creature? How many believe God's grace is a very real and active force in the lives of individuals and in human history? At one time, at least in our Western Civilization, the vast majority of people believed with absolute certainty that Satan and grace were indeed very real. But no longer. 

Shortly before she died In 1964, Flannery O'Connor, addressing the plague of relativism that has infected so many today, anticipated the thought of Pope Benedict XVI and his condemnation of the "dictatorship of relativism" when she wrote:
"Those who have no absolute values cannot let the relative remain merely relative; they are always raising it to the level of the absolute" [Mystery and Manners, p. 178].
On another occasion, discussing her fiction, she wrote something that got me thinking about how the devil, certainly without intention, moves God's plan forward:
"From my own experience in trying to make stories 'work,' I have discovered that what is needed is an action that is totally unexpected, yet totally believable, and I have found that, for me, this is always an action which indicates that grace has been offered. And frequently it is an action in which the devil has been an unwilling instrument of grace" [Spiritual Writings, P. 128]
That last phrase -- "the devil has been an unwilling instrument of grace" -- was a bit of a shock to me. But then I found myself thinking of Satan's greatest success in our modern world: the plague of abortion. Since January 22, 1973, when the Supreme Court sanctioned abortion through its infamous Roe v. Wade decision, well over 50 million unborn children have been killed in our country, not to mention the hundreds of millions of unborn slaughtered throughout the world. Satan is surely pleased as he revels in the deaths of so many innocents and in the guilt of those who took their lives. 

And yet, where are these millions of innocents now? In their sinlessness, dressed in the robes of their martyrdom, they are in God's eternal presence. They join the saintly members of Christ's Mystical Body; and there, among the heavenly host, they prayerfully intercede for those who took their far too brief lives. Indeed, they pray for us all, for a world that has lost its way. And can any prayers be more efficacious than their prayers, the prayers of the completely innocent?

What, then, has Satan done? In his lust for death he has been "an unwilling instrument of grace." He has unwittingly raised up an army of prayerful saints, millions of God's most precious creatures determined to destroy all of Satan's works. Baptized in the blood of martyrdom, all those aborted babies, through their prayerful intercession are now instruments of God's grace, living signs of His love and mercy. This, then, is another of God's great paradoxes: the slaughter of these innocents, one of the modern world's great evils, has become a blessing that will change the world. Yes, God certainly has His ways doesn't He? For "We know that all things work for good for those who love God" [Rom 8:28].

Satan, as Lucifer, might have been the greatest of God's creations, but as the "light-bringer" he could only reflect God's eternal light. With Satan's fall from grace, having torn himself away from God's love, he can bring nothing but darkness. Flannery O'Connor realized that his works, more often than not, led to the wondrous manifestation of God's grace. "In my stories," she wrote, "a reader will find that the devil accomplished a good deal of groundwork that seems to be necessary before grace is effective" [Spiritual Writings, P. 128]

If God's grace were visible, it would fill the world, bringing light even to those hidden dark corners, just begging every person to reach out for it, to grasp it, to bathe in it. But that grace really is visible, for it's present in the sacraments of the Church, those "grace-giving outward signs" that free us from our sinfulness. Our Church, then, is a Church, not for the smug and the self-righteous, but for sinners who come to experience God's mercy and forgiveness. Yes, it's through an awareness of our sinfulness that we can approach God in repentance and come to accept His saving grace.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fat Chickens and Other Interesting Things...

Every so often I come across information that catches my attention -- like the article I mentioned in yesterday's post about the toilet found in the Temple of Ba'al. Of course, it shouldn't have surprised anyone who reads his Bible and believes what he reads. Yes, right there in Chapter 10 of 2 Kings is the description of the pagan temple's destruction and the addition of a latrine to desecrate the temple and make it unusable.

Fat chickens. But some things are not so predictable. For example I recently discovered that today's chickens owe their chubbiness not to Frank Perdue but to the Catholic Church. That's right, until about 1,000 years ago, chickens were not widely domesticated in Europe. Most folks in medieval Europe preferred wild and hardy birds such as pheasants and geese. But back in the 10th century, as a result of monastic reforms, the changing rules for fasting required abstaining from the meat of four-legged animals: cattle, sheep, goats, etc. To us this might not seem a very big deal. After all, today's Catholics are required to fast only two times each year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. But in medieval times fasting was mandated about 130 times each year. This reform, therefore, made the two-legged chicken a far more attractive alternative and people began to domesticate (and fatten) these tasty critters. Read more here.

Palmyra photos from 1864. Also in yesterday's post I described the destruction by ISIS of so many ancient sites in the Middle East, especially in Syria. One of the cities I mentioned is Palmyra, an important ancient trading center with a history that stretches back 4,000 years. Palmyra's ruins were among the most visited in Syria and one of the highlights had been the ancient temple of the god Ba'al, a pagan god mentioned frequently in the Old Testament.

In 1864 Louis Vignes, a young lieutenant in the French navy, took 29 photographs of Palmyra, surely the first photographs ever taken of the city. Last year the Getty Research Institute acquired the photos and made them available. Since virtually everything in Palmyra was destroyed by the barbarians of the Islamic State, these photographs provide us with a glimpse of what the site looked like 150 years ago. Here's a link to an article which includes many of the photos: Ruins of Palmyra. You can also examine these photos and others taken by Vignes by visiting the Getty website. I've included one of these photos below:
Temple of Ba'al in Palmyra (1864)
Ten Commandments auctioned off. Yes, indeed, I guess everything does have its price. Just a few weeks ago, at an auction in Beverly Hills (where else?), a 1,500-year-old stone tablet, weighing in at over 100 pounds, was sold for $850,000. Although dating from early medieval times, it is the oldest known stone inscription of the Ten Commandments.

Interestingly, after its discovery in Israel in 1913, the tablet was used as a paving stone for 30 years. This wore down some of the chiseled inscriptions, blurring many words. It eventually made its way to the U.S. and was owned by the New York's Living Torah Museum, which put it up for auction. The terms of the auction require the unknown buyer to display the tablet in a museum open to the public. Presumably that will happen, so we can all check it out up close and personal.
Ten Commandments Tablet (c. 500 A.D.)
I recall watching one TV reporter who, when describing the sale, asked the remarkable, presumably rhetorical, question: "Could this be the actual Ten Commandments from Moses?" The fact that Moses predates the tablet by at least another 1,500 years was apparently lost on him. Or perhaps he was just trying to justify the high price. Read more here.

Concealed Carry Permit Holders Most Law-Abiding. Here's one that will cause some of my friends' heads to explode. All those people -- and there are now millions of them across the USA -- who have concealed-carry permits turn out to be the most law-abiding of Americans. A recent study by the Crime Prevention Research Center examined two key states, Florida and Texas, comparing crime rates of gun owners, police officers, and other groups, as well as the general population. In its results the study declared that “It is impossible to think of any other group in the U.S. that is anywhere near as law-abiding" as concealed-carry permit holders.

Just to give you an idea of the rates involved, among the general population the overall crime rate was 3,813 per 100,000 people. For police officers the crime rate was 103 crimes per 100,000 officers and the firearms violation rate was 16.5 per 100,000 officers. But among permit holders in Florida and Texas, the firearms violation rate was only 2.4 per 100,000.

Just an FYI, I own several firearms but do not have a concealed carry permit...although that could change.

To read more about the study, click here.

A Christmas Gift

In the event you're trying to decide on a worthwhile charity for a Christmas donation, here's a particularly timely one that you might consider.

As you surely know -- unless you're been in hiding or watch only MSNBC -- the Christian community in Mosul, Iraq has suffered greatly since the forces of the Islamic State (aka, ISIS, ISIL, Daesh) took control of the city two years ago. Thousands who fled in advance are now refugees while many who remained in the city were slaughtered by ISIS simply because they were Christians.

The refugees are in dire need of help as they face a cold winter. They need kerosene for heaters and stoves, warm clothing, and funds for rent and other basic necessities. These people, who hope to return to their homes, fear that much will have been destroyed by ISIS and by the fighting between ISIS and the Iraqi forces trying to liberate the city.

Asia News, a Rome-based Catholic news website run by the P.I.M.E. missionaries and focusing on Asia, has re-launched their Adopt a Christian from Mosul campaign with the goal of relieving the severe difficulties faced by these suffering people. Go to this link and scroll down to the bottom of the page for donation information: Donate.

Share your Merry Christmas with another who probably hasn't experienced one in some time.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Ancient News

If you're among the handful of regular readers of this blog -- my loyal and holy remnant -- you will know that I often write about certain archaeological discoveries that give us a glimpse into the distant past. It's really a life-long fascination with the work of archaeologists, one that began when, at the age of ten, I found a flint arrowhead amidst the gravel in our driveway in suburban New York. I still have that point, and I count it among my treasured possessions. But this early fascination with things archaeological was no more than an interest and I never considered becoming an archaeologist. I have absolutely no desire to dig in the dirt to uncover the lives of our ancient ancestors. Over the years, though, I've become acquainted with several professional archaeologists who enjoy doing just that. They have not only taught me many wonderful things but also whetted my appetite to learn more. This growing interest paralleled my interest in Sacred Scripture, especially since so much of what we know about the ancient world of the Bible has come to us through the work of archaeologists. More importantly, though, their work continues to confirm much of what the Bible tells us.

I haven't posted anything archaeological in quite some time, but in recent weeks the field has made the front pages on several occasions. And so I suppose it's time to share my thoughts on these and other news stories. Here are a few for your enjoyment, enlightenment or surprise:

UNESCO's Bias. Just in case you're not yet convinced that the United Nations is the most useless of all international organizations, here's some news that should change your mind. UNESCO -- the UN's so-called "Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization" -- has condemned Israel because it has conducted archaeological investigations at the Temple Mount and other locations in Jerusalem. UNESCO apparently believes Jerusalem is sacred only to Islam, something they insist all those pesky, imperialist Jews must also recognize. This, of course, ignores the fact that Jerusalem is the far more ancient center of the Jewish people. UNESCO also refers to Israel as the "occupying power" and condemns it for conducting any excavations in the old city of Jerusalem. UNESCO, it would seem, is staffed by Jew-haters who parrot the Islamist line that Israel is a rogue state that must be eliminated. Nothing more need be said.

Jerusalem Exists! As long as we're talking about Jerusalem, it has risen up once again and embarrassed some who consider themselves Scriptural scholars. Yes, believe it or not, many of these experts have long downplayed the biblical record that focuses on the importance of Jerusalem. Some have actually assumed that Jerusalem and Israel were never all that important because there is no contemporary record that mentions Jerusalem. No longer! Sci-News, a site that covers the latest scientific discoveries, describes the discovery of a papyrus fragment in which Jerusalem is mentioned prominently. This extra-Biblical reference to Jerusalem dates to the 7th century B.C., the time of the first temple.

The Jerusalem Papyrus
Discoveries that confirm the Biblical record have been going on for decades. Prior to the 20th century, the only place one encountered the Hittites was in the Bible. Naturally, most scholars, therefore, rejected the very idea that a Hittite empire had ever existed. Their general rule was: If it's in the Bible, it must be wrong.

Then, in 1906, the Hittite capital of Hattusha was discovered in modern-day Turkey. The discovery included a library containing over 10,000 tablets that confirmed the Biblical record and led to further discoveries. Yes, the Hittites were a powerful people with an extensive empire.

Toilet Desecration of Ba'al Temple. Once again, thanks to the work of  archaeologists, the Biblical text is proven correct. In 2 Kings 10 we find the following verses, describing Jehu's destruction of Ba'al temples in the northern Kingdom of Israel during the 8th century B.C.:

"Afterward they went into the inner shrine of the temple of Baal, and took out the pillars of the temple of Baal. They burned the shrine, tore down the pillar of Baal, tore down the temple of Baal, and turned it into a latrine, as it remains today" [2 Kgs 10:25-27].
Well, guess what? Archaeologists, digging at Lachish, in ancient Israel second in size only to Jerusalem, found a destroyed temple of Ba'al and right there in the middle of the inner temple they found a toilet where no toilet should be. Jehu had "turned it [the temple] into a latrine" because doing so was the ultimate desecration and made the temple unusable forever. Interestingly, the archaeologists, after conducting laboratory tests on the toilet, determined it had never been used. In other words, its placement was strictly symbolic, but would still desecrate the temple forever.
An 8th century BCE "symbolic" toilet found at Lachish during the 2016 excavation by Israel Antiquities Authority archaeologists. (Ilan Ben Zion/Times of Israel staff)
Temple Toilet - the "Jehu's Latrine"
ISIS Destruction of Antiquities. Driven by their fundamentalist Islamic faith, ISIS believes that all symbols of polytheism (and even those of non-Muslim monotheism) must be destroyed. After all, you never know when a bunch of Ba'al worshipers might rise up out of the sands of the Middle East and threaten Islam. They see idolatry as the greatest of sins, and any of its manifestations must be obliterated. History means absolutely nothing to these folks who consider only their version of Islam worth preserving. And so wherever these maniacal fanatics go, they leave infidel corpses and piles of rubble behind them. In the words of ISIS leadership, "These monuments should not be excavated and restored, but viewed with disgust and hatred...The sites were destroyed for disbelieving in Allah and His messengers.”

The Iraqi Army recently managed to push ISIS forces from the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud, and what they found was devastating. The city's history goes back over 3,000 years and has long been considered one of the treasures of the ancient world. No longer. Ali al-Bayati, a militia commander who visited the newly liberated site stated that “One hundred per cent has been destroyed.” This, of course, was expected since ISIS conveniently made videos of their destruction of Nimrud. I've included one below:

ISIS has repeated this destruction throughout the Middle east. In the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra ISIS troops went on a rampage of destruction. One temple of the Assyrian god Ba'al was completely flattened. The below photos show the temple pre-ISIS and its destruction.

When they entered Palmyra, the ISIS forces promised to leave the site untouched, but soon after staged a public execution of Khaled al-Assad, the archaeologist who for years had managed the excavations. They then began their systematic destruction of the ancient city.

ISIS continued their destruction wherever their forces went. They destroyed the Mar Elian Monastery in the Syrian town of al-Qayatain. They did the same in the museum in Mosul (see video below), and looted the ancient Roman city of Apamea, selling looted artifacts to fund ISIS military operations. The city of Dura-Europas with its ancient Christian church and synagogue was also systematically looted as was the Bronze-Age city of Mari. 

But the greatest atrocity committed by ISIS has been the equally systematic slaughter of thousands of Christians and others, including Muslims who don't share their demonic vision.
Christians About to be Killed by ISIS
We have been blessed by these martyrs who have kept the Faith in the face of certain death.

ISIS, al-Qaida, the Taliban, and their millions of followers represent Islam at its very worst and call to mind the early days of the 7th and 8th centuries when Muslim armies spread Islam by the sword. Unlike the early spread of Christianity, the spread of Islam was not a peaceful process.

There is much more, but it will have to wait. I am called to other work. 

Monday, November 28, 2016

Fidel, R.I.P.

What can one say after hearing of the death of Fidel Castro (90)? I suppose for those members of the Cuban nomenklatura, that little clique of Communist fawning toadies who helped Fidel create the island prison we call Cuba, the best response is: "The dictator is dead. Long live the dictator." After all, baby brother Raúl (85) has been running things for years and, despite President Obama's wishing and hoping, hasn't shown any desire to change the murderous policies of his brother.

The below photo of Fidel, his brother Raul, and their homicidal maniac colleague, Che Guevara, was taken back in their salad days.

The accolades and over-the-top praises that have poured in from many in the West, including our own president, are truly remarkable. Fidel has been called everything good and noble. Of course, like all those who have led Marxist nations, Fidel Castro was just another mass-murdering sociopath. If a Cuban citizen disagreed with him, Castro would imprison him, torture him, and, if necessary, kill him. And apparently it was frequently very necessary. Why so few of our elites are willing to admit this publicly is a mystery.

I will pray for the repose of the soul of Fidel Castro because I must; but I will pray more fervently for the good of the Cuban people who have suffered far too long.

Cuba libre!

Thanksgiving a Few Days Later

As we have for the past dozen years, Dear Diane and I spent our Thanksgiving at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen (that's Wildwood, Florida). It's not because we're such good and charitable people; it's simply one of those things that happens because Thanksgiving always falls on a Thursday. Diane, you see, is the Thursday cook at the soup kitchen and I'm her #1 flunky, so we always have the joy of serving our many wonderful guests on Thanksgiving Day.

Once again we gave our usual team of Thursday volunteers the day off to celebrate with their families, while we recruited a large group of one-day volunteers to help us cook up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We prepared and served (or delivered) a total of 284 meals...and what a meal it was! We try to make it special by serving the meal restaurant-style, with servers who seat our guests, take their orders, and offer drinks, desserts and other frills. I've included the menu below.

We also got a little ink from the local newspaper, The Villages Daily Sun, thanks to a lovely, young reporter who interviewed both guests and volunteers and took a few photos during our Thanksgiving dinner. This link will take you to an abbreviated version of the article: Villages Daily Sun. The paper's website doesn't contain  many complete articles, but only offers brief teasers designed to get you to read the paper itself. 

We had a wonderful time and afterwards enjoyed our own Thanksgiving dinner at the home of some good friends. But my age is beginning to take a mild toll, and I needed a little more than a day to recover. I thank God that I'm retired and can rest when needed.

I trust you all had a happy and blessed Thanksgiving and are now looking forward to Christmas. Yesterday, the first day of Advent, Diane and I we put up the Christmas decorations inside and outside, and are now happily awaiting the Lord's coming. "Come, Lord Jesus!" [Rev 22:20]

Friday, November 11, 2016

Election Reflection

Well, it's over...and I can't help but add a little I-told-you-so when I point back to my post of July 18 in which I predicted a Trump victory. There! Enough patting myself on the back. Anyway, it's a bit painful thanks to my slightly damaged rotator cuff.
I suppose the first question a lot of folks have been asking is, "How did all the smart people get it so wrong?" Actually, I truly believe they didn't. I believe that all those pollsters saw what was happening but either couldn't believe it, or believing it, tried to change it. In other words, they lied to us. They tried to show the nation that Hillary Clinton had such a lead that all those undecideds might as well stay home on election day or just climb aboard the coronation train and vote for Hillary. Abetting this strategy were the mainstreams who continued to portray Donald Trump as the incarnation of a being they don't believe in (Satan) and Hillary as the elect of another they reject (God). And like all those who lack faith, they are deathly afraid. And so, yes, I believe what we witnessed was -- drum roll -- a conspiracy!
Happy Hillary? Not!
Now that the election is over, those who opposed Trump, all those fearful ones, have initiated a new two-pronged strategy. Okay, it's not so new. It's been used by revolutionaries for centuries. The first thing that must be done is to completely ignore the results of the election. Instead, get the "people" -- the easily led, the useful idiots -- into the streets. Show the world how dissatisfied, how angry, how hurt everyone is. Let the protests grow and evolve into cries for Revolution! Burn and destroy, tear it all down, keep the nation's attention on the protests turned riots so they won't think about the real task facing America.
Hillary Voter Protests Turn to Riots
This, of course, will fail. There will be no revolution. (One reason: unlike the protestors and others on the left, the folks who voted for Donald Trump are the armed citizens. This is the primary reason we have avoided revolution since that messy affair with King George III.) Anyway, it wasn't just Donald Trump who was elected; it was a movement. And I'm pretty sure Trump realizes this. It was this movement that I'm convinced the pollsters and wonks finally recognized and simply could not deal with. Now that the election is over, they realize their only chance to salvage something is to co-opt Donald Trump. And this goal will form the second prong of their strategy.

From now until his inauguration in January we will hear nothing but calls to inclusiveness. We will be told that a divided nation demands a diverse administration, one that represents all the people, not just those uneducated white males who voted for Trump. (Actually, Trump got more of the Hispanic and Black vote than expected. He also got a majority of college-educated white males. And to the surprise of many Democrats, he received a majority of the Catholic vote. The complete demographic breakdown should be interesting.)

But Trump's opponents will be screaming for more than diversity. There will be more...much more. Because Trump has absolutely no experience in governance, they will tell us that he must mend fences with those in his own party who despise him and with the Democrats. He will need many of these wise men and women of the establishment to help him overcome his governmental naiveté and to guide him and his administration through the labyrinthine corridors of the federal government. As we heard often enough during the campaign: Build bridges, Mr. Trump, not walls.

And all those campaign promises? Really, Mr. Trump, you must now accept that most of them are unattainable, no more than useful bones to toss at the hungry masses, but not the sort of things you can actually accomplish. Compromise must be the watchword of the new administration if it hopes to be successful. Of course, our new president will succeed someone who refused to compromise with the opposition, and was praised for his intransigence by the same folks who will demand the opposite from Donald Trump.

We will hear all these things and much more from the not-so-loyal opposition, the media, the soon to be unemployed White House staffers, and from those the voters rejected. But I actually expect Donald Trump to ignore these calls to turn his back on those who elected him. He seems to be a man who, although willing to negotiate, also knows when he holds a winning hand. We shall see.

As a nation, we should be praying for God's continued help and thanking him for all He has given us.

We certainly live in interesting times. 

God's peace...

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Day for Prayer and Fasting

Today, election day, is a perfect day for prayer and fasting, a day when we should step away from the busyness of our lives and turn to God in praise and thanksgiving. 

No one can predict the results of our national election, but whatever the outcome we, as a nation, will face challenges unlike any we have encountered in our lifetime. We cannot address these challenges alone. We will need God's help; or, perhaps more accurately, God wants -- He certainly doesn't need -- our help. He wants us to turn to him in humility and to seek His will for us as a nation and as individuals. He wants us to abandon ourselves completely to Him. But, sadly, too many of our fellow citizens have evicted God from their lives, rejected any thought of humility before their Creator, and actually believe that man can solve all the world's problems without divine help. 

Take some time today to pray together as a family. Spend a few moments in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. He's there in the Tabernacles of every Catholic Church, waiting for you in silence. And fast! Let God be your food today. Let Him fill you with His goodness.

Early this morning as I prayed the Morning Prayer of the Church's Liturgy of the Hours, I was struck by the appropriateness of the selection of the prayer of Azariah from Daniel 3, the prayer he offered from within the fiery furnace. The Church selected the following verses to include in its Morning Prayer:
O Lord, do not withdraw your favor from us.

Blessed are you, Lord God of our fathers: your name is glorious for ever for you are just in all you have done to us.
For we have sinned and done wrong, we have deserted you and done all things wrong.
Do not give us up for ever, for your name’s sake we beg you, do not dissolve your covenant.
Take not your loving kindness from us, for the sake of Abraham, your beloved; and Isaac your servant, and Israel your holy one.
You told them you would multiply their seed like the stars of the sky like the sand on the shores of the sea.
But we, Lord, are made the least of all nations.Today we are brought low over all the earth on account of our sins.
Today there is no prince, no prophet, no leader, no holocaust, no sacrifice. No offering, no incense, no first-fruits offered to you – no way to obtain your mercy.
But in our contrite souls, in a spirit of humility, accept us, Lord. Like a holocaust of rams and bulls, like fat sheep in their thousands, let our sacrifice be like these before you today.
Bring to fruition the quest of those who follow you, for those who trust in you can never be confounded.
And now we follow you with all our heart and we revere you and seek your face.
Yes, indeed, "Today we are brought low over all the earth on account of our sins." We stand in a fiery furnace of our own making; and so, let us too call out to God "in the spirit of humility" and follow Him wherever He leads us.

Pray for our nation.

God's peace...