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, May 31, 2016

Pope Francis' Challenge to Deacons

Diane and I have visited Rome several times in recent years, including a pilgrimage during the Holy Year in 2000 when St. John Paul II was pope. On that occasion we joined hundreds of deacons from around the world who had come together to focus on our diaconal ministry. What a blessing that was!

This year the Church is celebrating the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy and last week in a special way it celebrated the Jubilee of Deacons. This celebration drew permanent deacons from all over the world. Unfortunately Diane and I were unable to make the trip, but thanks to the worldwide web I could follow the events each day.
Deacons in Procession at St. Peter's - Jubilee for Deacons

One of the more interesting of these events was a Mass celebrated for the Jubilee of Deacons by Pope Francis this past Sunday, May 29, in St. Peter's Square. I was especially moved by the pope's homily in which he encouraged deacons to strive to live up to their calling as servants. He made a point that to be a good servant, one must be available:

"A servant daily learns detachment from doing everything his own way and living his life as he would. Each morning he trains himself to be generous with his life and to realize that the rest of the day will not be his own, but given over to others...One who serves is open to surprises, to God’s constant surprises. A servant knows how to open the doors of his time and inner space for those around him, including those who knock on those doors at odd hours, even if that entails setting aside something he likes to do or giving up some well-deserved rest."
Pope Francis meeting several deacons

The Holy Father then went on to challenge our parishes to focus on availability and not be slaves to a timetable. The needs of the people we serve do not mirror the parish schedule:
"One who serves is not worried about the timetable. It deeply troubles me when I see a timetable in a parish: 'From such a time to such a time.' And then? There is no open door, no priest, no deacon, no layperson to receive people…This is not good. Don’t worry about the timetable: have the courage to look past the timetable. In this way, dear deacons, if you show that you are available to others, your ministry will not be self-serving, but evangelically fruitful."
The Holy Father is right. So many parishes operate as if they are store-front providers of retail services, available only when the store is open for business. Perhaps deacons can be the catalysts for change and develop creative ways to make our parishes more available to those we serve.

Finally, Pope Francis addressed the need for spiritual healing so we can more readily give ourselves to others.
"To be ready to serve, we need a healthy heart: a heart healed by God, one which knows forgiveness and is neither closed nor hardened. We would do well each day to pray trustingly for this, asking to be healed by Jesus, to grow more like him who 'no longer calls us servants but friends.'”
You can read the Holy Father's entire homily here: Homily - Jubilee of Deacons.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Homily: Monday, 9th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 2 Pt 1:2-7; Ps 91; Mk 12:1-12

Today, of course, is Memorial Day, the day when we honor those who have given their lives for the freedom we hold dear.

Offer a prayer of thanksgiving today; thank God for raising up those courageous souls so willing to sacrifice themselves so you and I can worship here this morning in freedom. Jesus said it best:

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” [Jn 15:13].
And so, today I recall my many friends who did exactly that, and I pray that, thanks to God's mercy, they now share eternal life in His presence.

Now…let’s turn to today’s Gospel.

Do you recall the scene in Saturday’s Gospel passage? The chief priests, scribes and elders had questioned Jesus’ authority, an authority they rejected even though it was accepted by the people. It hadn’t been a pleasant experience for these important men; Jesus had embarrassed them and revealed their hypocrisy. Now, in today’s Gospel, Jesus addressed these same hardened hearts with a parable.

Usually when confronted by a passage containing a parable the homily focuses on the parable’s interpretation – how it was perceived by those who first heard it and how we should understand it. But I think sometimes it’s just as important to understand the situation in which the parable was introduced. So that’s what I intend to do this morning.

Because Jesus’ disputes with the Jewish leadership were so frequent and so confrontational, it’s easy to believe that His aim was simply to expose them and condemn them. Yes, it would be easy to think this, but it would also be wrong.

In truth, Jesus hoped to soften their hardened hearts, and lead them to true conversion. In this we’re reminded of what God spoke through His prophet Jeremiah during some of Israel’s darkest days:

“I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in them doing good” [Jer 32:40-41].
Jesus teaching in the Temple
God rejoices, and all heaven rejoices with Him, when the sinner returns in true conversion of heart.

Have you ever considered that one of the reasons Jesus used parables as a teaching tool is because a parable contains a promise; it includes a message of hope. Jesus, you see, is always pursuing rebellious hearts, encouraging sinners to return to Him and do so freely.

Through this parable He hoped that the priests, scribes and elders would recognize their true selves and the evil that was consuming them. It’s that shock of recognition in one’s own sinfulness that causes the listener to question his life, and to realize that he must change. But such change can come only in the presence of humility. One must be willing to see oneself as a sinner.

The priests, scribes and elders, however, are so consumed by themselves, so sure of their own holiness, so certain that their observation of the law will save them, that they cannot even conceive of the need for a Savior. But Jesus will not turn away from them. He will continue to pursue them. And He does so by exposing them, again and again, to God’s hope for them.

"...they realized that he had addressed the parable to them."
One parable after another focuses on their weaknesses, on that which separates them from true friendship with God. Jesus never loses hope in their conversion. He never grows impatient. He continues to knock, hoping they will open the door and invite Him in.

He seems to plead with them: My love for you is beyond your understanding, and will launch a steady stream of arrows, arrows of divine love, into your hearts. The Father has filled me with His wisdom. And the Spirit is ready to move within you, to change you in ways you can’t imagine, if only you will respond, if only you will make the slightest nod in my direction.

“Listen,” Jesus says, “to another parable, and understand.”

Did they come to understand? Perhaps some did, even after they had shouted out those terrifying words, “Crucify Him!” [Mk 15:13] Yes, the Father sent His Son and the tenants put Him to death. 

The Father sent His Son...
And God takes His vengeance on the unfaithful, the hardhearted, the sinful, and He does so in a most unusual, unpredictable way: 

He overwhelms them with His mercy.

All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord

"Bless the Lord..."
Knowing my fondness for things squirrely, yesterday morning a friend sent me an email that contained this photo of a squirrel -- obviously a very charismatic squirrel. 

Only moments before I had finished my Morning Prayer of the Liturgy of the Hours, which on Sunday morning includes portions of that beautiful canticle of praise from the Book of Daniel, a canticle sung by the three young men in the fiery furnace: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego [Dan 3:28-68]. Among the verses in that canticle is the following:  

"Bless the Lord, all beasts and cattle, sing praise to Him and highly exalt Him forever" [Dan 3:59].

At one point during my lifelong spiritual formation, I wondered about this canticle in Daniel, questioning its reference to inanimate objects, plants, and animals as sources of blessing and praise. I even recall a theologian once almost laughingly ridiculing this canticle as a symptom of the naive, primitive understanding of the early Hebrews. I suppose I laughed right along with him.

But then I gradually learned to look beyond myself and became aware of all that surrounded me. Unlike that theologian I actually began to grow up. I came to recognize the greatness of God's Creation, a Creation so vast, so complex, and so varied that each unique element, by its very existence, blesses and praises its Creator. 

And, after looking at the above photo, who can deny that even this humble squirrel, probably standing on that picnic bench begging for a treat, praises the Creator simply because he is, because he has been given the gift of life?

Today, when you pray, thank God for His Creation, and for making you a part of it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Memorial Day: Remember Those Who Gave All

Yesterday afternoon, as I was walking little Maddie on our circuitous route through the neighborhood, two other walkers passed by and both smiled and said, "Thank you for your service." I was wearing an old Navy t-shirt which obviously tipped them off that I was a veteran. I returned their smiles and wished them a good day. I know their hearts were in the right place, but I really wanted to tell them that the purpose of Memorial Day is not to honor our veterans -- we have a special day for that in November -- but rather it's a time to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice and gave their lives for our country. I suppose I'm being a bit too narrow in my view here, and should be pleased that others are willing to honor all who served our country, whether in peacetime or in war. But I hate to see the true meaning of Memorial Day watered down, even for the best of intentions.

I lost many close friends, particularly during the war in Vietnam, and Memorial Day always brings their faces and their voices to mind. Forever young, they never had the opportunity to be fathers to their children, to enjoy spoiling their grandchildren, or even to walk their dogs through a Florida retirement community. 

Henry Wright, my Naval Academy classmate and friend, who wanted nothing more than to be a Marine, achieved his goal and then became the first of our classmates to die in Vietnam on February 6, 1968 after just one month in-country. 

Bart Creed, another friend and classmate, was flying a mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail when his Navy A-7 Corsair was shot down. He was likely captured but may have died from injuries suffered during his ejection. To my knowledge, his remains have never been found. 

Classmate Hal Castle, a fellow helo pilot, was assigned to HAL-3, the Navy's helicopter attack squadron in South Vietnam. His helo was shot down by enemy fire on April 28, 1969 resulting in Hal's death, along with two others in the crew. One crewman survived. 

And then I remember, Ron Zinn. Ron was my brother's roommate at West Point (Class of 1962). He was a remarkable young man, a race walker who finished 6th in the 20 km race at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. This was the best performance ever by an American walker. During his years at West Point, Ron spent many weekends at our New York home and had to suffer being idolized by his roommate's teen-aged brother. After his Olympic performance Ron returned to Army duty and died in a firefight in South Vietnam on July 7, 1965. My brother, Jeff, died in 2010.
My brother, Jeff, and Ron Zinn on graduation day, 1962
There are so many others, but I can hardly bear writing about these men whose courage is beyond measurement. Rest in Peace.

I've added a photo (below) of the memorial plaque honoring my Naval Academy classmates  who gave their lives while on active duty. The last name, Mike Smith, was another friend who died aboard the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986.
USNA Class of 1967 - Memorial

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Homily: Saturday, 8th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Jude 17, 20b-25; Ps 63; Mk 11:27-33

Authority’s a strange commodity, isn’t it? To borrow a line from the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart: I might not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.

Yes, you see it when the deputy fills your review mirror with that flashing light; you pull over and stop. You accept the authority granted to him by the citizens of Sumter County who voted his boss into office.

Authority in your rear-view mirror
During my years as a Navy pilot, I was occasionally ordered to do some rather scary things. But my commanding officer was a link in a chain-of-command, a chain of authority, that extended to the president and beyond him to the sovereign people of the United States. And so I obeyed.

But if my U. S. senator had called and ordered me to fly some mission, I’d have to tell him, “Sorry, Senator, I know you’re an important guy, but you’re a legislator. You’re not in my chain of command.” In the same way you wouldn’t feel obligated to stop if the mailman pulled up behind you and flashed his lights. All authority has its limits, doesn’t it? Well, all human authority has limits.

In today’s Gospel passage from Mark, we find Jesus approached by some very important people: “the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders” [Mk 11:27]. Quite a group, brimming over with all kinds of authority; probably a contingent sent by the Sanhedrin, the Jews’ supreme religious authority. And what did they want?

Who gave you this authority?

They wanted to know how Jesus could speak with such authority, especially since He wasn’t one of them. Who gave you this authority? We certainly didn’t.

It’s interesting that in all three synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – we find the people remarking that Jesus “taught them as one having authority, but not as their scribes” [Mt 11:29]. Do you think that, maybe, the scribes had heard these comments? A little resentment, perhaps a touch of jealousy?

Jesus, not yet willing to reveal Himself fully, like a good rabbi, responds to their question with a question. If they can answer His question, He’ll answer theirs. And then He asks them, “Was John’s baptism of heavenly or of human origin?” [Mk 11:30]

Did you notice their little discussion? They weigh the likely results of the two possible replies, but they never discuss simply answering the question truthfully. Truth is never an option when sin enters the human heart.

“We do not know” [Mk 11:33], they finally say – a dishonest response, a selfish, face-saving response. And so Jesus tells them nothing of His authority.

Jesus’ answer to their question will come later when He ultimately reveals the source and extent of his authority. Indeed, we receive this revelation in the words spoken by Jesus immediately before He ascends to the Father. They’re the very last verses of Matthew’s Gospel:

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the close of the age” [Mt 28:18-20].

What are we to make of this?

First of all: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  And the source? Why it's the Trinity itself, from Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You will baptize all nations on earth in their name.

All those people who had heard Jesus and marveled at His authority recognized that it was something special. And indeed it was. It came from within Him, from His intimate relationship with Father and Spirit.

But what kind of authority? “All authority in heaven and on earth...” That pretty much covers the waterfront, doesn’t it? Jesus is telling us that His authority knows no bounds, but He’s also reminding us that all human authority has its source in Him. How did the psalmist put it?

“You have given him rule over the works of your hands, put all things at his feet” [Ps 8:7].
The human authorities in Jerusalem didn’t remember that their limited authority came from God. Let’s pray that those in power today recognize the true source of their authority.

And today, as we honor the Blessed Mother on this last Saturday of May, we should realize that she certainly recognized the full authority of her Son. The last words Mary speaks in the Bible sum it up well: “Do whatever He tells you” [Jn 2:5] -- no limits, no exceptions. 

Let's pray today that these words of Mary move us and move the world to accept the authority of Jesus Christ.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Archaeology Update

If you're a long-time reader of this blog -- a member of a very select group -- you'll know that I have an interest in things archaeological. 

My interest in archaeology first arose from a book I read in 1962 while I was enjoying myself as a freshman at Georgetown's School of Foreign Service. I was in the office of a Jesuit, my New Testament professor, and spotted the book on his desk. In an effort to kiss up a bit and show that I was really interested in theology, I asked if it were an interesting book. He handed it to me and said, "Here, you can borrow it. Come back next week and let me know what you think." An oral book report wasn't the outcome I had planned, and I suspect the good Jesuit knew this. 

Anyway, he and the book he lent me had an impact. The Archaeology of Palestine: From the Stone Age to Christianity was written by William F. Albright in 1940 and then revised in 1960 to reflect the impact of later archaeological discoveries. It was this later edition that was forced on me that day. 

William Albright, an American evangelical and the son of Methodist missionaries, probably did more to advance the science of biblical archaeology than any other 20th-century archaeologist. During the latter part of his life (he died in 1971) and since his death, Albright has been strongly criticized by historical-critical scholars and others who believe his methods and conclusions were overly influenced by his Christian faith. Can you imagine? Actually approaching Sacred Scripture with faith...
For example, Albright believed that the Book of Genesis, in its depiction of such figures as Abraham, was "as a whole...historical, and there is no reason to doubt the general accuracy of the biographical details." As you might imagine, many modern scholars disagree. Indeed, too many even doubt the actual existence of a historical Abraham. But one does not have to be a literalist or a fundamentalist to agree with Albright. 

I think it's important for Catholics to realize that the teachings of the Catholic Church do not encourage scholars to doubt the historical accuracy of Sacred Scripture. Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council's Constitution on Divine Revelation, offers us a clear reflection of the Church's teaching on Sacred Scripture:
"Therefore, since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching solidly, faithfully and without error that truth which God wanted put into sacred writings for the sake of salvation" [Dei Verbum, 11].
I've always thought that those who believe that the Bible, particularly the Old Testament, is littered with fictional characters must not think very highly of the Holy Spirit. After all, in effect they're saying that the Holy Spirit, unable to raise up faithful servants from among His People, instead invented fanciful heroes to carry out God's will in the world.This, of course, assumes that they accept the Holy Spirit's role as the Divine Author of Sacred Scripture. 

K. A. Kitchen
Although my interest in biblical archaeology began with William Albright's book, it was further influenced by the work of K. A. Kitchen. A Professor Emeritus in Egyptology at the University of Liverpool, and also an evangelical Christian, Dr. Kitchen wrote two books that I found truly fascinating. In the first, published in 1966 and entitled, Ancient Orient and the Old Testament, Kitchen attempted to synthesize the work of two very different and too often independent areas of study: Ancient Near Eastern studies and Old Testament studies. But then in 2003 Kitchen published a comprehensive work, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, in which he argues (I believe, successfully) that the archaeological and textual evidence confirms the historical accuracy of the Old Testament. 

Interestingly, what we're finding as a result of recent archaeological discoveries is that the Bible is a remarkably accurate historical document. I've included stories relating to a few of these discoveries that confirm what the Bible tells us. The links will take you to the online articles.

Shiloh's Destruction. Shiloh is the city in Samaria where the ark of the covenant was kept after Joshua and the Israelites conquered Canaan. Shiloh was later destroyed by the Philistines not long after their victory at Aphek, a battle in which the two sons of Eli, the priest, lost their lives. Although many scholars assumed these event were apocryphal, recent archaeological findings confirm the destruction of the shrine at Shiloh c. 1050 B.C., a date that corresponds closely to what the we find in 1 Samuel. The remains of Shiloh may be found is the exact location described in the Book of Judges (Jgs 21:19).

Shiloh today -- Photo by Abraham Sobkowski OFM 
Siloam Tunnel. This remarkable tunnel zig-zags for over 500 yards beneath the ancient city of Jerusalem. The construction of the tunnel, an underground waterway, is described in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles. Built during the reign of King Hezekiah (727 - 698 B.C.) to protect the city's water supply in anticipation of an Assyrian siege, the tunnel was recently carbon dated to 700 B.C. confirming the Biblical description of its construction at that time. Once again, the Bible displays its historical accuracy. 
Siloam Tunnel beneath Jerusalem

Pharaoh Shoshenq and Kingdom of Israel. Many scholars have long thought that the Biblical descriptions of the early Jewish kingdoms are complete fiction, and that if David and Solomon actually existed, they were no more than petty chieftains. Increasingly, though, archaeological evidence supports what the Bible tells us. Among many recent discoveries is evidence that the army of an Egyptian pharaoh by the name of Shoshenq I (Shishak in the Bible) raided and sacked the town of Rehov in Israel 3,000 years ago. The event has been dated archaeologically to 925 B.C., just five years after Solomon's death. The Bible describes this military expedition by the Egyptians in 2 Chronicles 12. Here's a part of the narrative:

"Once Rehoboam had established himself as king and was firmly in charge, he abandoned the law of the LORD, and so did all Israel with him. So in the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak, king of Egypt, attacked Jerusalem, for they had acted treacherously toward the LORD. He had twelve hundred chariots and sixty thousand horsemen, and there was no counting the army that came with him from Egypt — Libyans, Sukkites, and Ethiopians. They captured the fortified cities of Judah and came as far as Jerusalem" [2 Chr 12:1-4].

Addressing this discovery at Rahov, Professor Lawrence Stager, director of Harvard University's Semitic Museum stated, "There's no question that Rehov and the other cities that Shoshenq conquered were indeed there at the time of Solomon."
Captives with hands raised submitting to Pharaoh Shishak
David, King of Israel. Another related discovery, made in 1993, uncovered a chunk of basalt, dating to the 9th-century B.C., inscribed with words referring to the "House of David" and "King of Israel." To those of us familiar with the Old Testament, this is no great revelation, but archaeologically it represents the first time David's name had been found outside the Bible. The discovery was made at Tel Dan, located in the north of Israel.
The Tel Dan Basalt Stele
Aristotle's Grave. One last item has little to do with Sacred Scripture, but because it was announced only recently and should be of interest to anyone with a classical education, I thought I'd include it. Konstantinos Sismanidis, a Greek archaeologist, is convinced that he has located the tomb of the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. For 20 years Sismanidis has been working a site near the village of Stagira, Aristotle's birthplace. The archaeological team have uncovered the tomb and an altar both dating to the time of Aristotle. Other evidence also support Sismanidis' conclusion. The drawing below shows what the tomb would have looked like when it was built. Note the altar and the raised walkway leading to the door.
Artist's conception: Aristotle's Tomb
Today the excavated tomb is not as pristine, but check out the view:
The tomb today -- a room with a view.

And so, for those of you who struggled through the study of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, you can now make a pilgrimage to the philosopher's tomb and perhaps leave a small token of your esteem. 

Until next time...

Monday, May 23, 2016

Benedict Arnold, American Patriot?

While we were away on our trip to New England, the magazines piled up along with the rest of the mail. Today I finally got around to reading the May issue of Smithsonian. in which I found a fascinating article about the American general turned traitor, Benedict Arnold. You can read the article online here: Why Benedict Arnold Turned Traitor. According to the article's author, Nathaniel Phibrick, the ultimate reason for Arnold's defection to the British was clear: money. 

The article brought to mind something Dear Diane and I saw in the fall of 2013 while visiting the UK. We had just left Victoria Station on a bus which would take us to Harwich where we would board our Celebrity cruise ship for the transatlantic voyage home. When the bus stopped in London traffic I glanced out the window and noticed a plaque affixed to the front entrance of a building. Here's a photo I took from the window of our bus.

I remember thinking at the time, "American Patriot?", and assuming the words were likely written either by Arnold's family or by some Brit bureaucrat who yearned for the empire's colonial past. No American could have written them. I especially liked the two flags -- British and American -- a nice touch.

The building entrance with plaque
Then I discovered that the plaque is a relatively recent addition to the Westminster neighborhood (1987), thanks to the efforts of one Peter Arnold, whom we are told is not a descendant. (You can read about the origin of the plaque here: American Patriot in London.) This current Arnold believes that Benedict Arnold was greatly misunderstood and simply tried to do what he believed was best for America. Yeah, right! At least that's what Benedict Arnold told himself and others to rationalize and justify his traitorous acts. But what he really needed, and demanded from the British, was cash to keep his new loyalist wife happy.

Yes, Arnold had been a patriot, at least, for a time, but that earlier loyalty to the American cause was wiped out by his one, final act of disloyalty -- disloyalty not only to his country, but also to the man to whom he owed so very much: General George Washington.

Oh, yes, the building displaying the plaque is now the office of an oral surgeon.

Rest in peace, General.

Homily: Monday, 8th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Pt 1:3-9; Ps 111; Mk 10:17-27

“Are you saved?”

I remember the first time I was asked that question. It was about 40 years ago, and my young family and I were at the San Diego Zoo when a young person came up to us and shouted those words at me: “Are you saved?”

At first I was taken aback and didn’t say anything. But when he was joined by another young person who asked the same question, I simply said, “I working on it, but like St. Paul I’m working out my salvation with fear and trembling.”

I then said quietly, “Philippians 2:12”, gathered my family, and walked off to check out the gorillas.

It was one of those rare lucid moments when I actually said the right thing. Most of the time my perfect response comes to me about an hour later.

Of course, Jesus always said the right thing. And today’s passage from Mark is a wonderful example.

When the rich young man approached and knelt before Jesus, the disciples were surely excited that of one so favored might join their ranks. Jesus, too, treated him affectionately. 

'...he went away sad..."
When asked, "Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life" [Mk 10:17], Jesus didn't say, "Get rid of your wealth." No, instead he told him to keep the commandments.

It is only when the man persists, saying in effect, "I've done that, but I want to do more," that Jesus looked at him with love, and issued His unexpected and radical challenge:

"…one more thing you must do. Go and sell what you have and give to the poor; you will then have treasure in heaven. After that, come and follow me" [Mk 10:21].
And the effect? At these words, the man's "face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions" [Mk 10:22].

He’d been so sure of himself, hadn't he? He’d done nothing wrong; he’d followed all the rules. He was aware of his innocence before the Law, but unaware of his weakness before God. On this day, for the first time, a great sacrifice was asked of him. But he lacked the heart for it. The peace he sought seemed beyond his reach because he couldn’t let go of his possessions. He saw the way, but feared the renunciation. And this fear, this failure to follow God's personal call, always produces sadness.

Jesus saw the man's weakness, for nothing is concealed from Him, but says nothing else to him. And what of this weakness? Is it the love of money and material possessions? Or are these merely symptoms of something else, something deeper? The man's inability to shed his wealth results from his love of things over his love of others. But at the root of this disordered love is something even more serious: a form of self-love that refuses to place God first.

You see, Jesus doesn't condemn the rich solely because of their wealth. No, His concern is for those of us who place anything ahead of God. Material things, in themselves, are good. The sin lies in attachment, in trusting in them as if they will solve all your problems. Everything we have is a gift from God, a sacred trust which must be shared for the good of others.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life" [Jn 14:6], Jesus tells us. And therefore nothing, absolutely nothing, should take precedence over Christ in my life, over His right to rule over my heart. As St. Peter reminded us in our first reading, your faith is "more precious than gold" [1 Pt 1:7].

Let each of us meditate on that question today: What takes precedence in my life? Does my faith place God's Will first, or am I consumed by something else? Even human friendships, or the love for another person, can manipulate us, strangle us, and lead us away from God. For that which we place first in our lives – when it is not God – becomes a prison. Only when we place God first do we experience true freedom.

God is calling each of us, brothers and sisters, and He never stops calling. In return for our response, for our submission to His Will, He promises a different kind of wealth, a treasure far greater than you and I can ever imagine.

But only when we empty our arms of self can we stretch them out to receive the gift of salvation…just as Jesus, in total humility, and acceptance of the Father’s Will, emptied Himself and stretched out his arms on the Cross.

Then, when you stand before Jesus, with the fear and trembling well behind you, and He asks, “Are you saved?”, you can say “Yes, indeed.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Homily: Saturday, 7th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Jas 5:13-20; Ps 141; Mk 10:13-16

Prayer, healing, childlike faith and hope…these themes wind their way through today’s readings leading us to the spiritual perfection God asks of us.

In our first reading we find the James pleading with an audience of lukewarm Christians. Like all of us who must cope with the problems that life throws at us, they obviously need help and so James takes the teachings of Jesus and distills them down to the basics.

He begins with the most important: prayer. Are you suffering? Pray for relief, James tells them. Are you in good spirits? Offer a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. Are you sick, in need of healing? Have the Church pray with you and for you, anointing you in the name of the Lord. Do you need forgiveness? Confess your sins and pray for spiritual healing.
"...they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord..."
Note, too, that James emphasizes the power of sacramental prayer. For it is through the sacraments, celebrated in the midst of the Church community, that we tap into unique graces offered to us by the Holy Spirit. And James clearly describes the physical and spiritual healing that comes to us through the Sacrament of the Sick and Reconciliation. But the sacraments aren’t magic tricks. No, they are efficacious; they bring about healing and holiness, because of prayer – the prayer of the Church and the prayer of individuals.

Pray for each other, James goes on to tell us. And calling to mind the wondrous deeds of the prophet Elijah, he reminds us that “The fervent prayer of the righteous person is very powerful” [Jas 5:16].

Elijah: the power of prayer

We’re not to condemn people; rather we’re to help them to salvation. Pope Francis recently touched on this when he instructed us to stay clear of those who act as if they are the guardians of divine salvation. These are the scholars of the law who think that if you obey all the commandments, you will be saved. But in doing so, they neglect the greatest of the commandments: the commandment to love.

James addresses this by offering us a wonderful gift:  

“…whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” [Jas 5:20].
This is a good thing to remember, brothers and sisters. It’s the fulfillment of that great commandment: to love God with all my being and to love my neighbor as myself. Bringing others to God’s Love is simply obedience, a response to salvation which I have done nothing to deserve.

And that’s something we often forget. You and I do not deserve salvation. We can’t get to heaven on our own. Salvation is a gift. But do we really believe this? It demands trust, doesn’t it? The kind of childlike trust Jesus talks about in today’s Gospel passage. We must learn how to receive the Kingdom of God as a gift. The childlike, you see, recognize that everything is a gift, everything is a grace. And they accept their smallness.

Just consider how small we are when compared to God’s greatness and the vastness of His creation. And it’s because we can acknowledge this smallness that we are open to receive God’s love.

But to receive God's love, His grace, we must listen and contemplate. We must pray. And then we must act, loving as God loves.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Two Cheers for Political Incorrectness

I have to admit, the politically incorrect can surprise and delight, but I can really give it only two rousing cheers. The first relates to its truth: ironically, political incorrectness is usually far more correct than political correctness. I give it a second cheer because it's often pretty funny. But I withhold the third cheer because it can be uncharitable, forcing me to suppress my laughter. Of course, that's true of much humor.

Political correctness, however, deserves not a single cheer. We joke a lot about political correctness, but it's really not all that funny. Indeed, at the very heart of all political correctness, one finds the lie, and a lie is rarely humorous. Even the phrase itself -- politically correct -- belies its supposed truth and highlights the lie at its core. Something is either correct or incorrect, true or false. There's not a lot of gray when it comes to the truth. Once we modify the word "correct" with "politically" or any other modifier, we're admitting that it's really something other than correct, that it's in some way incorrect; that is, it's a lie. This all brings to mind Pope Benedict's warning about the "dictatorship of relativism." You can read his homily addressing the subject here.

Enforced political correctness, of the sort often mandated throughout our society -- by government at all levels, the educational establishment, many corporations, and much of the media --  is ostensibly aimed at eliminating language that might offend certain ideologically protected groups identified by race, ethnicity, sex and sexual preference, age, disability, religion, etc. Its real purpose, however, is something far less altruistic. What it really does is grossly restrict speech and even thought, all in an attempt to force the individual to say and think only what others believe to be acceptable.

George Orwell (1903-1950)
Political correctness, like the "newspeak" in Orwell's 1984, is designed quite simply to impose ideologically acceptable thought on the populace, to protect those in power from ideas that they believe threaten the maintenance of that power.

The very fact that not all groups are protected says a lot. The Catholic Church, for example, is by no means politically correct because its teachings so often conflict with the current Zeitgeist. Indeed, its stances on abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, and a host of today's other hot-button issues place the Catholic Church near the top of any politically incorrect list. 

Antonio Gransci (1891-1937)
This is, of course, all driven by ideology, what has been called "cultural Marxism," which has its roots it the work of the Italian Marxist, Antonio Gramsci, among many others. One of the best books on Gramsci and the other European leftists who so greatly influenced postwar American intellecturals is Michael Walsh's The Devils Pleasure Palace. And if you're interested in digging a bit deeper into PC's roots, read this paper by Dr. Jefrey D. Breshears.

Have you ever noticed that PC folks tend to be as humorless as their beliefs. Such serious people, always on the lookout for slights, for anything that runs counter to their concept of ideological purity. One cannot simply disagree with them. Depending on the subject at hand, one who disagrees must be a hater, a racist, a misogynist, or a Xenophobe...the list of handy labels is long.

Political incorrectness, on the other hand, is almost always good for a laugh, unless, of course, you're so PC that you think nothing is funny. It also demands a certain degree of courage to be non-PC these days, and I suppose that's why I so admire the politically incorrect pundits who point out the lie at the heart of the politically correct. Perhaps his political incorrectness is the reason behind Donald Trump's growing popularity among the American people who have likely grown tired of having to suppress their opinions and beliefs. Trump is certainly not afraid to shout his opinions from today's cyber rooftops. One might consider some of his statements foolish or ill-advised, but they're certainly entertaining. Whether this is a suitable trait for the presidency is another question.

Anyway, all this talk about the ongoing conflict between the PC and the non-PC led me to retrieve some observations I had tucked away for future use. I don't agree with everything that follows, but these politically incorrect comments -- many at the expense of our very PC president -- are certainly good for a laugh or two.

"Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that." -- George Carlin

"I recently read a poll reporting that the majority of Israelis believe that Obama favors the Palestinians. Well, duh!, I mean if it's not bad enough that the Community Organizer in Chief curtsied to a Saudi prince, gets angrier about homes being built in Israel than nukes being built in Iran, can't say enough nice things about the religion of our sworn enemies, and denies that we're at war with Islamic fundamentalists, there's the matter of the U. S. Consulate in Jerusalem. It seems that it is dedicated solely to Palestinian interests. It has $530 million with which to fund summer camps, free movies, business classes, and 'promoting and preserving Palestinian cultural heritage,' whatever in hell that might be. Notable suicide bombers down through the annals of history? The programs are translated into Arabic, but not Hebrew. The education finance grants are available to candidates who must be Palestinian residents of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, or the Gaza Strip. Is my memory going, or aren't they the same folks we saw dancing in the streets on 9/11?" -- Burt Prelutsky

"The urge to save humanity is always a false front for the urge to rule it." -- H. L. Mencken
George Carlin -- Burt Prelutsky -- H. L. Mencken

"A society in which men and women are governed by a belief in an enduring moral order, by a strong sense of right and wrong, by personal convictions about justice and honor, will be a good society -- whatever political machinery it may utilize; while a society in which men and women are morally adrift, ignorant of norms, and intent chiefly upon gratification of appetites, will be a bad society -- no matter how many people vote and no matter how liberal its formal constitution may be." -- Russell Kirk

"There are, of course, millionaires and billionaires who are leeches on society, who bleed our GDP and contribute nothing to the commonweal. There was, for instance, a bright young man who worked all the scholarship angles so that wealthy donors (with their tax-dodging charitable contributions) paid his way through fancy schools. He embarked on an urban scam called 'community organizing.' Then he obtained a large sum for writing a book about his life and accomplishments at age 34 when he didn't have any accomplishments and hadn't led much life. He wormed his way into politics with all its perks and benefits. And now his big house, his stretch limousine, and his luxury jet are paid for out of the public treasury." -- P. J. O'Rourke 

"The reformer is always right about what is wrong. He is generally wrong about what is right." -- G. K. Chesterton
Russell Kirk -- P. J. O'Rourke -- G. K. Chesterton

"Back in America, the coastal sophisticates joke at those knuckle-dragging rubes who believe Obama is some kind of 'secret Muslim.' But really Occam's razor would favor such an explanation, wouldn't it? That a post-American Middle East divided between bad-cop nuclear Shia and worst-cop head-hacking Sunni was the plan all along. Because there are only two alternatives to that simplest of simple explanations: The first is that Obama and the Z-graders who fill out his administration are just blundering buffoons. And we all know, from Michael Beschloss, that he's the smartest president ever, so it couldn't possibly be colossal stupidity on a scale unknown to human history, could it? The second is that his contempt for American power -- a basic class signifier in the circles in which he's moved all his life -- is so deeply ingrained that he doesn't care what replaces it." -- Mark Steyn 

"They are ready to do such horrible things. When they are ready to fly planes into the World Trade Center, when they are ready to fly planes into the Pentagon...when they have this kind of hatred... and you know they're looking at us and they're laughing at us worrying about water-boarding." -- Donald Trump

"I too was once a male trapped in a female body, but then I was born." -- Chuck Norris

"If I were to say that all men throw a baseball faster than all women, I would be talking about the extension of the terms 'men' and 'women.' That is, I would be talking about each and every man and woman. In that case, my claim that 'all men throw a baseball faster than all women' is clearly false, since there are individual women who throw a baseball faster than individual men. One the other hand, when I say that 'men pitch baseballs faster than women because they have more upper body muscle strength' I am referring to what is comprehensibly true of men and women. And in that case, it is incontrovertibly true that men in general pitch baseballs faster than women in general. The distinction between extension and comprehension is clear, easy to understand, and essential to the proper exercise of our mental powers. This is why political correctness makes us dumb." -- Francis Beckwith
Mark Steyn -- Donald Trump -- Chuck Norris -- Francis Beckwith

Equally interesting are the many comments made by those normally heralded as icons of the left. You won't find the following quotations is today's PC textbooks, or in a professor's class notes, or in the campaign literature of a neo-Marxist presidential candidate like Bernie Sanders.

"I cannot conceive of Israel withdrawing [from the West Bank and Gaza] is Arab states do not recognize Israel within secure borders." -- Nelson Mandela

"The black is indolent and a dreamer; spending his meager wage on frivolity or drink...[we're] going to do for blacks exactly what blacks did for the revolution. By which I mean: nothing." -- Che Guevara

"I shall never fight in the Armed forces with a Negro by my side...Rather, I should die a thousand times, and see Old Glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds." -- Senator Robert Byrd (D - WV) 

"We have no compassion...we shall not make excuses for the terror." -- Karl Marx

"We must meet hate with creative love...Let us hope there will be no more violence. But if the streets must flow with blood let it flow with our blood in the spirit of Jesus Christ on the Cross." -- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's an odd world we live it, isn't it? Keep your sense of humor, and laugh at those who hate.