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.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

It continues...

On several occasions in recent years I've mentioned how our society is moving not simply away from God, but actively against God and His Church. I'd like to be able to say that this movement is happening only slowly, but I'm afraid Satan realizes he has a better opportunity to work his evil if he acts quickly.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley
Although it's been going on for centuries, the Scatterer has been particularly busy in Western Europe and the USA. For example, some years ago the legislature of the commonwealth of Massachusetts decided that the Catholic Church would have to stop its foster parenting and adoption services unless it agreed to place children with same-sex couples. Ultimately, the Church, in the person of Cardinal Sean O'Malley, refused to agree and, therefore, ceased providing these services. The courts supported the state, in effect saying that these family services had nothing to do with religion. The prohibition, therefore, was not considered to be a violation of religious freedom. In fact, the state courts maintained that any organization refusing to place children with same-sex couples acted for one reason only: it must hate gay people. Although the state legislature that enacted the legislation was (and remains) overwhelmingly Democrat,  the Republican governor at the time -- Mitt Romney -- and the Republican lieutenant governor both did little or nothing to encourage the legislature to revise the law. Although state laws vary, this same prohibition has been adopted by a number of other states causing Catholic Charities and other Church-related agencies to cease adoptions. You can read more about this here and here and here.

Massachusetts, of course, wasn't satisfied with abolishing freedom of religion for its citizens. No, it still has work to do because people might actually speak openly against its enforced political correctness. The state legislature has now enacted legislation designed to protect transgenders from a variety of evils, including the evils of religious belief and religious speech. This new law will be enforced by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, an agency dedicated to eliminating discrimination against everyone but believers. And so the commission has decided that all churches must comply with the new law. This includes prohibiting the use of improper pronouns by Church leaders and volunteers since doing so would constitute harassment. Bre Payton, of The Federalist, writes:
"The potential infringements upon religious freedom are vast, as this new law basically provides the state and trans activists with a legal tool to force pastors into using terms that violate their beliefs (and basic biological facts).
"It also raises some serious constitutional questions. The Bible states that humans were created as man and woman in part so they would procreate, a blessed event. So if a pastor faces legal consequences for preaching the Bible, these new rules threaten their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion."
You can read more about this latest governmental assault on the Church in a recent article published in Boston's Catholic weekly, The Pilot.

Archbishop Charles Chaput
One of our great bishops who never shies away from the front lines of this battle is Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia. In his weekly column, dated October 19, the archbishop shows us exactly where these battle-lines are drawn and who the enemy really is. Read it before you cast your ballot in the upcoming election. Here's a link: About Those Unthinking, Backwards Catholics.

Our nation's founding fathers not only included religious freedom in the Bill or Rights, but placed it in the very first amendment to our constitution. And even there they gave it primacy of place, listing it before freedom of speech, or the press, or assembly. They considered religious freedom to be the most important of all our freedoms. 

Today, however, our society has not only rejected religion, it has largely rejected God Himself. Despite all their religious allusions in stump speeches and public addresses, most of those who enact and enforce our laws are tacit atheists. By this I mean that they have essentially chosen themselves over God. They are convinced that their laws supersede God's laws, and by doing so they have chosen darkness over light. 

So far it's been a bland sort of atheism, but lately it's becoming far more virulent. It exchanges a belief in God for a belief in technology and science as the future saviors of humanity. It thrives on a kind of materialism that seems to have no moral or ethical boundaries. It argues for prosperity and peace but brings only hardship and strife. It's also a clueless form of atheism because it doesn't understand or refuses to accept that it is largely responsible for most of the growing ills confronting our societies today.

Pope Paul VI
I'm reminded of something Pope Paul VI said during a General Audience almost fifty years ago:
"In the world of thought everything is doubted today, and consequently, religion too: It seems as if the mind of modern man finds no peace except in total negation, in abandoning any kind of certainty and any kind of faith. He is like a person with infected eyes who finds no rest except in obscurity, in darkness. Is the realm of darkness to be the final end of human thinking, of man's unquenchable thirst for truth and of his encounter with the living and true God?" [General Audience, 14 June 1967 - Italian Only]
I don't fear the future, because at my age I don't have that much of a future to fear. Anyway, Our Lord told us only a few dozen times: "Be not afraid!" And so I'm determined to do just that until the day He calls me home. But what do we do in the meantime? I suppose we just continue doing what we've been called to do: we make disciples of all nations, starting right here at home. We preach the Word; we teach God's people all that He commanded us; and we touch those who need to feel God's healing hand on body and soul.

And for those of you -- and there are many -- who are worried sick about the upcoming elections, don't be. Each of us can only do our duty as citizens and Christians by voting. Just keep in mind that God's will must always surpass the ways of the world, and we should vote accordingly. And regardless of the outcome, the Lord of History will ensure His New Covenant with His people will be kept.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Homily: Monday 30th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Eph 4:32-5:8; Ps 1; Lk 13:10-17
While I was teaching a group of teens in a pre-Confirmation class, a young man asked me an interesting question: “How come Jesus doesn’t just perform some miracle that everyone can see? That way everyone would believe.”

A reasonable question, but I responded by saying that many would still reject Our Lord. And then I had him turn to today’s passage in Luke’s Gospel.

The leader of the synagogue had just witnessed a remarkable miracle, and yet all he could do was castigate Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. So blinded by law and ritual he lost sight of God's mercy and goodness, and couldn’t recognize God working right before his eyes.

He didn’t deny the healing. Indeed, it was the supposed illegality, the timing, of the healing that bothered him. But Jesus healed on the Sabbath because God never rests from mercy and forgiveness and love. The official didn’t reject the miracle; he rejected Jesus – something we encounter again and again in the Gospels. And we still encounter it today.

But what a healing it was…a healing of hope.

The woman had said nothing; she had asked nothing of Jesus. It was simply her presence that moved Him.

Despite her affliction – bent over, unable to stand erect, probably in constant pain – still she makes her way to the synagogue on the Sabbath. This faithful Jewish woman comes to offer her prayer of thanksgiving and to hear God’s Word proclaimed. She doesn’t blame God for the suffering she’s endured for 18 years. She hasn’t turned from God; she’s turned to God.

Jesus sees her, and in seeing her, He knows her. He peers into the deep recesses of her heart. He knows her faithfulness and He knows her suffering, something that calls to mind those beautiful words from Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord you know it altogether. 
You beset me behind and before and lay your hand upon me. [Ps 139:1-5]
And because Jesus knew her better than she knew herself, “He called to her,” and uttered those healing words:
“Woman, you are set free…” [Lk 13:12]

Set free from the chains that bind those who suffer. Set free from the doubt and despair through which Satan challenges our faith. Yes, she was free.

But notice, Jesus didn’t exercise His healing power through Word alone. No, He touched her – “He laid His hands on her” [Lk 13:13]

Just think about that. God’s Word is certainly enough. It alone can heal. After all, that same divine Word brought the entire universe into being. Jesus reaches out to this woman and touches her with his hands, and immediately she stands straight. Jesus touches because He is one of us. He took on human form and human flesh, and he knows we need the touch of another. But His touch is holy. Yes, His flesh, His holy flesh, bears within it the presence and the power of God.

The woman senses this, doesn’t she? For how does she respond? She glorifies God. She knows it is God working through the hands, working through the holy flesh of Jesus. And it is this same healing flesh, this Body and Blood of Jesus, we receive in the Eucharistic feast.

Is it any wonder that she is healed? Like us, she has experienced a Holy Communion. The love of God, the healing grace of Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit have entered her and set her free and returned her to the wholeness God intended for her.

How often do I struggle bound and bent double, my soul unable to stand upright?

And yet the weight of my sin inclines me toward the Merciful One, and in my repentance He heals me.

Lord Jesus, You alone are our Protector. You turn your eyes to us, and call us to You. You speak Your Word, and touch us with Your holy hands, with Your Body and Blood.

You set us free.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Flannery O'Connor on the Future of the Church

A few days ago I included a long quote from a book Pope Benedict XVI wrote long before he was pope [See this post: October 18]. In it Pope Benedict gives his vision of what the Church of the future will be like.

Yesterday evening, as I was writing my homily for this morning's Mass, I found myself looking through a book of Flannery O'Connor's letters. I was searching for a comment she had made in a letter to a friend in which she described her almost lifelong battle with lupus. I eventually located it, but during my search came across something she had written to a Protestant friend that addresses her vision of the Catholic Church's future:

"I don't believe that if God intends for the world to be spared He'll have to lead a few select people into the wilderness to start things over again. I think that what He began when Moses and the children of Israel left Egypt continues today in the Church and is meant to continue that way. And I believe all this is accomplished in the presence of Christ in history and not with select people but with very ordinary ones -- as ordinary as the vacillating children of Israel and the fishermen apostles. This comes from a different conception of the Church than yours. For us the Church is the Body of Christ. Christ continuing in time, and as such a divine institution. The Protestant considers this idolatry. If the Church is not a divine institution, it will turn into an Elks Club..." [The Habit of Being, p. 337].
I've always liked this comment because it depicts God working through ordinary folks like you and me. We are sinners in the midst of conversion being led by God who offers us hope. And it is through His Church, the Body of Christ, that we can, like Moses and the chosen ones of Israel, enter the Promised Land.

If you haven't read Flannery O'Connor's fiction, you've missed something wonderful. Get a copy of her collected works (Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works -- Its a Library of America volume) and enjoy these unique short stories and novels.

Homily: Saturday, 29th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Eph 4:7-16; Ps 122; Lk 13:1-9

We always seem to be asking God, “Why?” Bad things happen and we want to know why. Good people suffer and God seems absent. Or things just don’t seem to balance out the way they should.

We look at our own families and wonder why God allows things to happen the way they do. Why did my son get meningitis when he was just a toddler, and lose his hearing? Why did my mom and brother die in their 60s and my dad live to be 95? Is it all part of God’s plan or is it just happenstance?
Of course, deep inside there’s a little voice saying, “Well, if I were God, I’d handle things a lot better.”

In our Gospel passage Jesus mentions two events: Pilate, the Roman Governor, had slaughtered a group of Galileans in the Temple; and a tower had collapsed in Jerusalem taking the lives of 18 people. Both incidents are recorded only in Luke’s Gospel, and most of the Jews at the time likely considered such events to be God’s punishment on those who had died.

The ancients generally believed that God – or in the case of pagans, the gods – willed everything that happened. And believe me many people today still think this way.

Years ago, I’d been a deacon about a week and was conducting my first vigil service at a local funeral home. A 34-year-old man had died tragically in a heavy-equipment accident. He’d left a wife and three young children. When I arrived and walked over toward the young widow, I overheard her ask a friend, “Why?”

His answer? “Well, it’s just God’s will.”

I almost came unglued, but then realized the man was simply trying to offer some comfort. And so I approached her and said, “No, Bruce’s death was not caused by God. God did not will this. He did not want this to happen to Bruce.” For the next half hour we talked about God and faith and free will and God’s will and original sin and evil and suffering.

You see, God expects us to ask “Why?” Indeed, He wants us to ask this of Him. The very fact that we ask means that we know He’s there.

Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O’Connor, one of my favorite writers, was a Georgia girl and a Catholic. She died in her late thirties after a long battle with lupus. It was a battle that lasted her entire adult life. While in the midst of all her suffering, in a letter to a friend she wrote:
“I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, a very instructive place, and it’s always a place where there’s no company, where nobody can follow. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don't have it miss one of God’s mercies” [The Habit of Being, p. 163].
Yes, Flannery O’Connor was a woman who, in her suffering, had tasted God’s mercy.

But for some the danger is that, in their suffering, in their grief, they will come to believe that God doesn’t care. When we suffer we so often feel abandoned by the God who loves us.  Suffering has a way of blinding our eyes to God’s image, who He really is, and deafening our ears to His voice.
When confronted by evil, as we so often are today, I’m inevitably drawn to the Book of Job where God reveals something of how we should respond to suffering. Job’s so-called friends kept insisting that his misfortunes were due to his sins. But Job replied with a phrase that could have come straight from the Gospel:

“I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at last he will stand upon the earth” [Job 19:25].
There’s no easy answer to the problem of evil; there is only God's response: the Redeemer did come and stand upon the earth. And in doing so He became one of us. And He suffered, in His human body, and gave His life for us.

You see Jesus used those two tragic events in Jerusalem to correct the thinking of the people. No, He said, the sins of those who died were not the cause of their deaths; but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t learn from such events.

Sir, leave it for a year...

Like the fig tree in the parable we still have a chance to bear fruit, to turn our lives around, for there is always hope of transformation. How long do we have? We don’t know, but if we need to reorder our lives, we shouldn’t delay.

Jesus began His ministry with the simple command: “Repent and believe in the Gospel” [Mk 1:15]. And if we just do that, we’ll go a long way toward fulfilling His will for us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Unsought Thoughts

Yesterday and today I have two rare days off. My calendar is completely empty. There is nothing that demands my presence -- no meetings, no parish demands, no social events, no projects that can't wait, even the items on Dear Diane's honey-do list can be deferred until tomorrow. It's a wonderful feeling, and one I had hoped to experience more frequently during this so-called retirement of mine.

Of course I bring it all on myself because I seem incapable of saying "No" when asked to do something. I'm not bragging and trying to paint myself in some saintly light, because, believe me, this inability is far more fault than virtue. If I allotted my time and effort more carefully I would do a much better job on the truly important tasks, and would also have more time to devote to the personal relationships that matter, especially my relationship with my spouse of 48 years. And so I have vowed to set some limits in the hope that good things will result. We'll see.

My clear calendar has also given me some time to think. The busyness of my life has made thinking an increasingly rare luxury, and so usually I just plod along doing things and thinking only about practical matters, about the hows of those things I must do. Now, I'm no great thinker, and certainly no philosopher, but the journey of life demands thought or it will ultimately be a journey to nowhere.

Josef Pieper
Indeed this little thought calls to mind that wonderful book, Leisure, the Basis of Culture, by a true philosopher, Josef Pieper (1904-1997). In it Pieper instructs us on the critical role leisure plays in the very act of being human. Too many of us today seem to think that just because we're busy, we're also being creative and productive. And yet, so much of what we do, the daily busyness of our lives, is just about making a living. Or it's directed toward ideological ends such as materialism. This modern obsession with keeping busy prevents us from focusing on that which is truly and eternally important. To do this we need leisure. If you disagree, read Pieper's book and then rethink your life and the busyness that fills so much of it.

Another thought that struck me this morning originated from an interview I watched on some local TV station late last night. The person being interviewed, a writer and self-proclaimed atheist, stated that he was turned off by all religions because most believers seemed to ignore what their religions taught. I'll paraphrase his comment: Their actions show me they really don't believe what they preach, so why should I? Anyhow, most religious people seem very grim. He especially noted Christians as the most hypocritical. The interviewer nodded knowingly and moved on to another topic.

I found myself agreeing with the atheist's premise, at least as it relates to Christianity, but coming to exactly the opposite conclusion. The fact that most Christians are abject failures when it comes to following the teachings of Jesus Christ -- i.e., we are all sinners -- actually confirms rather than denies that which we profess to believe. If we were perfect we wouldn't need a Savior. If our first parents hadn't fallen in Eden we wouldn't have to cope with original sin or need to be redeemed by God Himself. It's the very fact of our sinfulness and our continued struggle to live the Gospel that convinces me of the truth of Christianity. 

Pope Francis Sharing the Good News
As for all those grim Christians out there, I'll concede the atheist's point. Often enough, as I stand at the ambo and proclaim the Gospel at Mass, I can't help but notice that most of the faces in the congregation don't look very happy. Sometimes I want to scream, "Hey, Christians! This is the Good News you're hearing, not the bad news. You've been redeemed by Jesus Christ. God loves you as no one else has or ever will. Put a smile on your face and show God how thankful you are."

Other unbidden thoughts popped into my aging brain when I assisted at the funeral of a friend's mother on Saturday. Her name was Ruth Stafford and she died just six days after her 100th birthday! Fr. John, the homilist, mentioned how much she had witnessed during a long life that began in 1916. Yes, although the world has changed much since then, human nature has remained the same. But in addition to Ruth's birthday, we mark some interesting anniversaries in 2016 and 2017.
Flanders Field

Next year, for example, is the 100th anniversary of our nation's entry into the World War I, a war which began in August 1914 and brought devastation to Europe for four deadly years. Ironically, this "war to end all wars" did exactly the opposite. Not only did it set the stage for the even greater devastation of World War II, but it also brought us the horrors of Hitler's Nazism and Stalin's Communism, deadly ideologies that were forced onto the people of dozens of nations.
The Blessed Mother Appears at Fatima

In the midst of that war, during the spring and summer of 1916, near Fatima in Portugal, three young children were visited by an angelic being. His mission was to prepare them for something far greater the following year. And on May 13, 1917 the children saw a woman, "brighter than the sun," who told them to pray the Rosary daily. This, she promised, would bring peace to the world and an end to the war. The apparitions of Mary, which continued monthly for six months, have been repeatedly confirmed by the Church as supernatural in origin. Along with a series of predictions and warnings, the Blessed Mother told the world that the only effective antidote to sin is prayer and repentance.

Satan, of course, takes no days off and one can only assume that, even as he relished the desolation of World War I, he perceived the message of Fatima as a threat. Yes, indeed, Satan was very busy back in 1916.

On October 16 of this year Planned Parenthood celebrated the 100th anniversary of its founding. Margaret Sanger, who founded this organization devoted to death, opened its first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, NY in 1916. Sanger, who believed that certain people should not procreate, focused her attention on those races she believed to be unfit for life. Most Americans, and certainly most minorities, don't realize this, but Planned Parenthood really hasn't changed. The vast majority of its clinics are located in the nation's inner cities where they can more easily "serve" minority clients. Under the Obama administration, Planned Parenthood has received over $1.5 billion of federal funds in just the past three years and performed over one million abortions during this same period. This will only increase if Hillary Clinton is elected.

It is no coincidence that God sent the Blessed Mother to remind the world that sin has its consequences. Will the world listen?

A Younger Professor Ratzinger
All these thoughts about the past caused me to think about the future and what it holds for the world and for the Church. This brought to mind something Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) wrote back in 1969, long before he was pope, or even a bishop. It's a quote from a book entitled, Faith and the Future. The book's five chapters were actually first delivered as radio addresses during 1969 and 1970. In the last chapter, Fr. Ratzinger, then a 42-year-old theolgian, offers his vision of what the Church will be like as it encounters the changing world in the years to come. The quote is quite long, but well worth reading.

"What will remain is the Church of Jesus Christ, the Church that believes in the God who has become man and promises us life beyond death...

"From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge -- a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so will she lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, she will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, she will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly, she will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Alongside this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess. the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize her true center and experience the sacraments again as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

"The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism of the eve of the French Revolution -- when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain -- to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret."
And so my generation has its work cut out for it: to prepare our children and our grandchildren for what is to come. The Church will face some serious hard times, but it will remain the only beacon of hope in a hostile world. I suppose the question for all of us is, are we ready to do what God expects of us? But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? [Lk 18:8]

Enough thinking. As I typed the above words, my PC crashed and confronted me with that deadly blue screen. I have tried every remedy I can think of, along with all those recommended by HP and Microsoft, but the problem persists.The desktop PC has therefore been removed from the desk and been replaced by my handy laptop. We'll see what data has disappeared, but I trust my precautions have prevented serious loss.

God's peace.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Homily: Monday, 29th Week of Ordinary Time - Year 2

Readings: Eph 2:1-10; Ps 100; Luke 12:13-21

That’s quite a man Jesus describes in today’s Gospel passage – a real success story, the kind of person many would admire, even today. His perceived success is measured by his wealth, attributed to his hard work and good planning. But that’s not how God sees him. For Jesus, this man’s life was a mess, guided by misplaced priorities.

His first wrong priority was never seeing beyond himself, focused only on “I”. But “I” is the shortest word in our language, and requires just one stroke of the pen. Perhaps this is the best indication of its relative importance.

His second wrong priority was his inability or unwillingness to see beyond this world. A true materialist, he based his security entirely on his personal wealth, showing us again how little the world has really changed since Jesus’ time. For many today the driving force is to build better and bigger barns, to create increasingly more personal wealth.

Now wealth, in itself, isn’t bad. But when it’s misused, when it becomes an end in itself and not a means to help others, when it’s unjustly accumulated at others’ expense, when greed and envy become the guiding forces in its acquisition, then it becomes evil.

During my working years I encountered many like the man in the Gospel. So consumed by their desire for wealth or fame or power, they ignored or neglected the morality of their actions. So driven by greed, or so self-absorbed, they were indifferent to its disastrous effects on others.

So the Gospel message is nothing new. Greed and self-absorption will always be with us. Many people are still owned by their possessions; and yet, by spending their lives collecting riches, they prove only how poor they are. And for the truly greedy, no amount of wealth is sufficient, for no amount can bring true happiness. How sad for them. They devote their lives to adding zeroes to their net worth – so much work for nothing, just another zero!


Remember, though, Jesus preached this parable to people who were far from rich, so don’t assume you must be wealthy to be greedy. Greed and meanness, and the self-absorption that breeds them, cut across all income levels. The only real difference between a greedy rich man and a greedy poor man is that the former has managed to convert his greed into wealth.

But both behave as if they will live forever. Did you notice that it’s through the rich man’s encounter with death that his true poverty is exposed? All that wealth is suddenly eclipsed by the person he became during the process of living. Yes, this man the world sees as so successful is an eternal failure in the deepest sense because he tries to live without God’s sustaining power.

So the parable is really a story of a person who spends life with little or no reference to God. Jesus warns us against going it alone, trying to hold our future in our own hands, of wasting our time, of reveling in our possessions and life’s comforts.

We need humility and courage to trust that the Good Shepherd will continue to lead us and guide our lives along paths we cannot wholly anticipate, let alone understand. Self-sufficiency, so highly touted today, is one of the great myths of our time. For just as with God, nothing is impossible [Mt 19:26; Lk 1:37], so too without Him, nothing lasting is possible.

Brothers and sisters, we are a spiritual people; for that is how God created us – in His image and likeness – so there’s a hunger in our hearts for more than bread, more than possessions. We hunger for the transcendent. We hunger for God – a hunger He will satisfy, if only we let Him. The only truly satisfying nourishment – God’s Word poured into our hearts – comes to us from the One Who is pure spirit – the holy mystery at the heart of our universe.

Instead of grasping after the world's riches, which all pass away, seek what God offers. As St. Paul reminds us in our first reading:

"God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love he had for us...brought us to life with Christ" [Eph 2:4-5].
Let’s pray today that we open our hearts to the riches God offers us, that we strive always to know God’s will for us, and that we use well the gifts He has given us, especially the gift of life itself. 

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Weather According to Matthew

The ubiquitous media has truly altered the way we observe and experience weather events. A week or so ago we began to hear about Hurricane Matthew as it formed, strengthened, and moved slowly through the central Caribbean, eventually becoming a dreaded Category 5 storm. Once its movement indicated a potential threat to Florida and the U.S. East Coast, the "weather establishment" shifted into high gear.

As it traveled north the storm caused catastrophic damage to poor Haiti, but this seemed a secondary concern. Yes, we're told that several hundred Haitians lost their lives and thousands more lost their homes and their few possessions, but isn't this to be expected? After all, it's Haiti! They're real poor down there, and backward, and live in shacks; they have poor construction codes, and probably don't even have a national weather service. Anyway, Channel Whatever Eyewitness News doesn't have a news crew down there; and if it's not on TV it mustn't be all that important. After Haiti Matthew scraped the eastern edge of Cuba and then rolled through the Bahamas, but we heard little about its effects in these places. All eyes were focused on Florida.
Hurricane Matthew Approaches Florida

Reporter in the Storm
The media frenzy really peaked yesterday, and hasn't ebbed a bit. At some point every local TV station in Orlando (the ones we are blessed to receive on our cable system) preempted their usual programming and offered round-the-clock hurricane coverage. One station even replaced Thursday Night Football with several meteorologists sharing their thoughts about millibars, storm surge, eye walls, forecast models, digital radar, and other wondrous things. Every station pre-positioned reporters and camera crews wherever they expect disaster to strike. This, of course, led to an interesting contradiction. As some poor, 100-pound, young woman reporter is battered on camera by hurricane force winds and driving horizontal rain, the studio anchors tell their audience not to be foolish by leaving their homes during the storm. Go figure!

As is often the case, the TV meteorologists focus on their worst-case scenarios and discuss other possibilities only in passing. This creates a sense of impending doom, that this storm will be like no other. I suppose such warnings are useful since they probably convince some reluctant people to evacuate threatened areas, but they also cause others to believe the danger was grossly overstated. 

The 24-hour coverage generates another problem: constant repetition. There's only so much to say about a storm. And now -- thanks to the internet, hurricane apps on our smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, instant messaging, and push notifications -- information pours into our homes unceasingly. No doubt this flow of information has saved many lives, lives that would have been lost in the days when hurricanes appeared with far less warning. But an inundation of data and opinion can also confuse and lead folks to turn it all off.
Matthew's Coming!!

The media also provide a venue for our politicians to communicate their advice, concerns, and demands. Indeed, every few hours the governor, surrounded by his emergency management team, a collection of very serious-looking people, appears on screen and gives us an update. The governor and his team have apparently spent our tax dollars well and done an excellent job preparing for Matthew's arrival. Governor Scott, I am told, is a very nice man, but his reports seem so very gloomy. I suppose that's to be expected since he likely feels responsible for the safety of the people of Florida and hopes they will take the storm seriously. Even though the storm has obviously weakened -- it's now a Category 3 storm -- and has drifted slightly seaward, the warnings remain severe. At the same time, however, the meteorologists are almost apologetic because Matthew hasn't fully lived up to their expectations. They truly enjoy storms. It's all very interesting.

Governor Scott Updates the State

Here in The Villages we are on Matthew's western fringe and have experienced only periodic rain and wind -- nothing very substantial. But in anticipation of the storm, most local government offices and many businesses have closed. We even closed the Wildwood Soup Kitchen today. Yesterday Diane and I and our wonderful team of volunteers prepared a tasty meal for our guests, and then prepared an additional double brown-bag meal so no one would go without food today. We all went home tired but satisfied that the hungry would be fed.

As Matthew heads north we pray that it drifts farther out to sea and spares the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. We also look forward to a little less weather and far less weather news.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Compare the Platforms

Too many citizens vote for one political party or another almost out of habit. Or as one parishioner said to me: "My family have been Democrats for generations, so I'm a Democrat." I suspect many Republican voters would say something similar. 

Such thinking (or lack of it), however, doesn't take into account the changes both parties have undergone in recent decades. These changes are perhaps most obvious when one examines the party platforms and learns exactly what each party believes and what policies it will advance once it has the political power to do so.

Father Frank Pavone, the longtime director of Priests for Life has prepared an excellent document that every citizen should read before voting in November's election. It examines and compares the official platforms of the Republican and Democrat parties. Available as a PDF file, the document is entitled:

A Comparison of the 2016 Republican and Democratic Platforms. A non-partisan guide on issues of concern to the electorate.

Click on the above title to download the document.

And then, with your well-formed conscience, perform your civic duty next month and vote.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Homily: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year C

Readings: Hb 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Ps 95; 2 Tm 1:6-8,13-14; Lk 17:5-10
The deacons in my previous parish on Cape Cod conducted a weekly Liturgy of the Word with Holy Communion at a local nursing home. After the liturgy, if we had time, we usually helped our volunteers return the residents to their rooms.

Well, one day I was pushing Teresa in her wheelchair. Now, I’d known Teresa for several years. She was in her early 90s and had recently started to have some mild mental problems. But one thing hadn’t changed: she talked incessantly. It didn’t always make complete sense, but it never stopped.

On this particular day as we approached the elevator, Teresa was chattering away when we encountered Connie, another woman, standing in the center of the corridor. She was screaming at the top of her lungs. Teresa immediately asked me to stop the wheelchair. She then reached out and touched Connie’s forearm, rubbing it gently, not saying a word. The three of us remained there for what seemed like an eternity Connie screaming, Teresa rubbing, and I just wondering how long all this would go on.

After a few minutes Connie’s screaming dropped in both volume and frequency; and a few minutes later stopped completely. Teresa then gave her arm a final squeeze and said quietly, “We can go now.”

I wheeled her into the elevator and as soon as the door closed, Teresa said, “Connie’s OK, she’s just afraid because she doesn’t have much faith.” She then went on talking about how good the lasagne had been the night before.

Whenever I read today’s Gospel passage from Luke, I inevitably think of that day, about Connie's fears and her lack of faith...and about Teresa's faith and her lack of fear.

Connie reminds me of the Apostles, who were also so very afraid. On their way to Jerusalem, they sensed the mounting threats and danger. And yet Jesus continued to lead them into the heart of it all. Their faith, what little they had, was drowning in a sea of fears. And so they turned to Jesus and said, "Increase our faith!" [Lk 17:5]

Jesus responds by telling them it's the quality, not the quantity, of their faith that's important
that with even the smallest amount of real faith, they could command the forces of nature a faith, as Matthew tells us, that can move mountains. Jesus continues by telling them a parable that ties their faith to their role as His disciples, that true faith only comes when we accept the nature of our relationship with God and with His people.

Faith is a strange commodity, isn’t it? When we attempt to look at it objectively, it defies all logic. Ultimately, faith comes down to trust in that which is unseen and, in most instances, unknowable. And not just supernatural faith.

You and I exhibit remarkable faith every time we turn on the television, dial a phone number, send an email, pick up a prescription at the pharmacy, or take a seat on an airplane. Each of these is a true act of faith
an act of natural faith, certainly, but faith nonetheless. If we were to examine just one of these everyday tasks and the chain of events that must fall into place to ensure its success, we might take a second look at our faith.

Back in my Navy flying days, I developed a friendship with Father Mark, who at the time was a new Navy chaplain. We were about the same age, both in our late twenties. He was a remarkable man, a man of tremendous faith
supernatural faith who made a big difference in the lives of many of the young sailors who made up his flock.

But despite this strong faith in God, he suffered from an almost paralytic fear of flying in helicopters. Unfortunately, flying in them was part of his job. Every Sunday we would fly him from one ship to another so he could celebrate Mass for their crews
a mission we called the "Holy Helo."

To make matters worse, he usually had to be lowered from the hovering helicopter to the deck of each ship using the rescue hoist
not a pleasant experience, especially in high seas. It often took him several days to recover emotionally, just in time to start worrying about the next Sunday's flight. I'll confess that my fellow pilots and I took a perverse pleasure in doing little things to heighten his discomfort. I won't go into that here. Let's just say that his mistake was in letting his fear show.

Well, over time Fr. Mark and I became friends and shared many long conversations, usually after dinner. I recall one evening in particular. After kidding him about his fear of helicopters, I asked how he could have such faith and yet be so afraid of flying.

He looked at me as if I were from another galaxy, and said, “Faith in God is easy, especially since He’s a loving God
so loving He allowed His Son to become one of us and sacrifice His life for us. But helicopters…well, God didn’t make them. They're fallible devices made and flown by equally fallible men thousands of parts moving at high speed. It's enough to frighten any sane person."

I also remember asking him, "Well, then, why don't you trust that God will look after you and keep you safe, even when you're in a helicopter?"

"Because He never promised to do so. Look," he said, "I enjoy the life that God has given me, and I'd like to enjoy it as long as possible. That's only human. But how long I live, and when and how I die, well, that's God's decision.” Sane words from very sane man.

You see, brothers and sisters, God calls us to do one thing in this life: to serve Him and His people. And as His servants, we should expect nothing in return. God doesn't promise his servants safety. He doesn't promise us long and happy lives. He doesn't promise success, or fame, or wealth, or beautiful children, or a nice home. God promises us one enduring thing: eternal life. Oh, it's a great thing
the greatest gift He could ever give us.

But He also told us that to achieve eternal life, to collect on this promise, we must love Him in return and do His will. And this often means carrying our cross, whatever it might be. 

How did Jesus put it? “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, we are unprofitable servants, we have done what we were obliged to do” [Lk 17:10]. This is how Jesus wants us to live our lives. Most of us probably fail as often as we succeed, but maybe with time and wisdom we'll become better servants.

That’s assuming you’ve ever even thought of yourself as a servant. Have you? Or do you think that’s a role more suited for priests and nuns and even deacons. (Actually, the word "deacon" means servant, so I guess I'm committed to the role.) But does God really expect that of everyone? Well, I am afraid He does. Each of us is called to serve God and His People, each in his own way.

Too many of us Christians seem to think that because we go to church every week, we can live as we wish. Or we believe that because we stand and recite the Creed together, because we drop our envelopes in the basket each Sunday, God owes us salvation. Yes, these folks live lives of servitude all right, but not as servants of God. They serve the world. This is a foolish and dangerous belief. Jesus told us clearly that salvation is not earned. It’s a gift. We can never put God in our debt. We can never have any claim on Him. For God owes us nothing. We owe Him everything.

When we’ve done our best to live by His commandments, when we’ve fulfilled all our duties, we’re still no better than slaves before the Master. But there the comparison ends. For God isn’t a slave owner. He’s our loving Father, and we’re His children. Indeed, this is the essence of the Good News: that we have a generous, loving God, who wants His people to serve Him out of love, not out of duty.

There’s a beautiful line from Psalm 95: "If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts" [Ps 95: 7-8]. Well, His voice is calling us, calling you and me. And He's calling each one of us individually. We might hear His voice, but if our hearts are hardened it’s not likely we’ll listen to it.


Teresa heard His voice in the nursing home and planted her little mustard seed of faith simply by being there for someone in distress. And so, like Father Mark, who went on to ask me a bunch of tough questions that night in an aircraft carrier’s wardroom, let me leave you with something to think about.

One question Fr. Mark asked me 45 years ago is the same question Our Lord put to His disciples 2,000 earlier: “What kind of servant will you be?”