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 30, 2017

Europe's Suicidal Option for Sterility

We normally think of historians as those who look to the past and chronicle human history. Historians examine events and people, identify the most influential, and strive to help us understand better both past and present. Some do this well and others not so well. Many are overly influenced by ideology and other biases, while a few actually search for the truth. Of course, to search for the truth one must first believe that truth exists, something most progressive relativists, historians included, cannot accept. And yet the very best historians, and they are indeed a rare breed, are often prophetic in that, based on their understanding of history's truths, they offer us realistic insights into what the future holds. 

I certainly have my favorite historians, and among these I include Lord Acton, Christopher Dawson, Henri Pirenne, Arnold Toynbee and Eric Voegelin. I'll also add G. K. Chesterton to my short list, even though he considered himself a journalist and not an historian. I suppose, though,  good journalists are historians of sorts in that they chronicle the recent past. This, of course, was exactly what Chesterton did, and in doing so he shared many prophetic insights with his readers.

George Weigel
I'm not really sure why my thoughts turned to historians, but it guess it began this morning after reading a brief essay by George Weigel, an intellectual who, like Chesterton, probably doesn't consider himself an historian. A Catholic theologian, biographer of St. John Paul II, and all-around commentator on the meeting and separation of the religious and the secular in the modern world, Weigel included some surprising truths in his essay, Catholic Lite and Europe's Demographic Suicide (published online on the First Things website). 

Addressing what can be seen only as a war on children, Weigel focuses on the demographics of the once-Christian population of Europe, a population that is quickly disappearing. Interestingly, Weigel implies that Europe's political leadership -- and much of its relgious leadership -- is fully aware of the situation but really doesn't seem to care. He mentions a conversation he had a decade ago with a member of the Brussels-based European Parliament in which the Italian politician said,  “Look, we know we’re finished. We’re trying to arrange things so that we can die comfortably in our beds. Don’t you Yanks come over here and start stirring things up.” 

One can only wonder what motivates a politician to prefer personal comfort and societal suicide to his responsibility to preserve and protect the society he supposedly serves. The most obvious answer is a degree of selfishness taken to the extreme, of the sort that can only have a demonic source. Political correctness is, of course, tailor-made for the promulgation of such an attitude. Once a society decides that speaking the truth is not only unacceptable, but also punishable, the lie -- any lie that fits -- becomes the "new truth." Sadly, Europe has already reached this point in its decline. 

Europe's sterility is epitomized by another remarkable fact pointed out by Weigel: "...the prime ministers or presidents of Europe’s largest economies — and of all the European members of that exclusive global club, the G7 — are without children..." Good heavens! Just consider the example these childless leaders set for their constituents.

(Of course the one growing segment of Europe's population is the Muslim segment. Even if some of this segment consider their children expendable and fitting candidates for suicide bombings, the majority apparently see their children as their future.)

Weigel goes on to place much of the blame for Europe's suicidal option for sterility on the so-called Catholic Lite accommodation to secular values, what he rightly considers a "colossal evangelical failure." Much of the Church's leadership, particularly in Germany and the Low Countries, have been virtually silent in the face of European society's widespread acceptance of contraception, abortion, assisted suicide, and euthanasia. Given the seriousness of Our Lord's warning in Matthew's Gospel, I suspect personal weakness and fear of persecution are not acceptable excuses:
"Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of things that cause sin! Such things must come, but woe to the one through whom they come!" [Mt 18:6-7]
George Weigel is always worth reading and if this subject interests you, I suggest picking up a copy of his little book on Europe, America and the Church: The Cube and the Cathedral.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Sad Happenings...and Odd

The slaughter of Christians in the Middle East and Africa continues, but at least our president openly addressed this ongoing tragedy when he spoke to the gathering of the leaders of Muslim nations in Saudi Arabia. He didn't parrot the foolish political correctness of the previous administration, but identified the enemy as Islamist terrorists.

President Trump in Saudi Arabia
It was also refreshing to hear him scold those leaders for their halfhearted, at best, efforts to rid Islam of this cancer. Now we'll see if they actually do anything. I'm not holding my breath because in far too many of these nations a sizable percentage of the population actually support some of the terrorists' goals, specifically the universal imposition of sharia law. (See Pew Research Center's polling results.)

I also applaud President Trump's strong support for our ally, Israel, perhaps the only nation in that part of the world that doesn't hope for our destruction.

Yesterday's slaughter of Coptic Christians in Egypt provided an interesting juxtaposition alongside the recent terrorist attack in the UK. While the UK attack has almost monopolized the news for several days,  I suspect we'll hear much less about the wholesale murder of a larger number of Egyptian Christians, many of whom were also children. I'm not belittling the tragedy in Manchester, far from it, but what happened in Egypt is no less tragic.

In a related story Thomas Mair, the mayor of Greater Manchester, speaking about the horrific terrorist bombing in his city, stated: “This is an extremist act and the person who did it no more represents the Muslim community than the person who killed Jo Cox represents the white Christian community.” Jo Cox, you might recall, was the Labour MP who was stabbed to death a week before the "Brexit" referendum. The problem with the mayor's statement is that I'm pretty certain the vast majority of the UK's white Christian community doesn't support the indiscriminate killing of Muslims and would report such plots to the authorities. Sadly, a recent poll indicated that a majority of the UK's Mulims would not report suspected Jihadist activity to the police.

I found it interesting that Nancy Pelosi, now perhaps the most irrelevant of left-coast politicians, for some unknown reason chided the president for visiting Saudi Arabia on his first international trip. She seems to think he instead should have visited Canada, or perhaps one of those needy foreign people's republics like San Francisco. I expect some in her party are urging her to retire before she does even more damage to their collective credibility.

Greg Gianforte, Body-Slammer
And speaking of the credibility of the Democrat Party...Things must be very bad indeed when a Montana Republican, Greg Gianforte, wins a special election for a U.S. Congressional seat the day after he's charged with misdemeanor assault for body-slamming a pesky reporter. The Democrats had expected the election to result in an anti-Trump win for their party, an expectation considered a certainty after the Wednesday assault. Last-minute radio and tv ads by the Democrats focused almost exclusively on the assault, and three Montana newspapers pulled their endorsements of Gianforte. But the Repblican still won, and by a decent margin. I certainly don't support assualting reporters, even those who are purveyors of fake news, but the incident certainly says something about the mood of the country. Mr. Gianforte has since publicly apologized for his ill-considered aggression toward the media.

Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's Finance Minister, another of Europe's brighter lights, suggests that Germany's Christians can learn from its growing Muslim population. What can they learn? In the minister's words, “Many human values are very strongly realised in Islam. Think of hospitality, and other things like, what is there… And also tolerance, I believe, for example.” Hospitality and tolerance were certainly in evidence in Manchester and Nice and Paris and San Bernardino and Egypt and...the list goes on. Of course many, perhaps most, Muslims are hospitable and tolerant, but to deny the religious basis of Islamist terrorism is not just foolish in the short term, but suicidal in the long term. 

I have to admit, I've pretty much written off all career politicians, a class of people epitomized primarily by their inability to tell the truth. It's no wonder people are rejecting the liars and increasingly voting for politically inexperienced men and women. It's a trend I suspect (and hope) will continue. 

One of my heroes, the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen, believed strongly that the Islamic world would eventually convert to Christianity through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. He expected that Mary, because she occupies an especially exalted position in Islamic theology, would draw the Islamic world to her Son and Christianity. She will bring this about as Our Lady of Fatima, a title that has some fascinating Islamic roots.

I've always thought that Archbishop Sheen was likely correct about all this and that our politicians, as usual, will follow a much less productive course. This, of course, is just another good reason for all Catholics to pray the Rosary daily, not just for the conversion of Russia, but for the conversion of the entire world. After all, as St. Paul reminds us: 
"This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" [1 Tim 2:3-4].
"All men to be saved..." Why not? With God all things are possible.

And how fitting that we should turn to Our Lady of Fatima this year, the 100th anniversary of her apparition to the three children of Fatima. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Homily: Monday, 6th Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 16:11-15; Ps 149; Jn 15:26-16:4a

I've often mentioned my father and some of the things he taught me. When it came to listening, he used to say:
"Nobody ever hated a listener. I've never heard anyone say, 'He listens too much.'"
Isn't that the truth?

And when it comes to our Faith, our willingness to listen can make all the difference. You and I hear the Word of God proclaimed and preached right here, and yet how many of us hear the words but not the Word?
Jesus is the Living Word of God
If the Word of God is going to pierce our hearts and make a difference in our lives, we have to listen to it. And if we listen, if we really listen, the power of the Word is beyond our imagining, something we're told in the Letter to the Hebrews:
"For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" [Heb 4:12].
Wow! Talk about power!

And did you notice - did you listen to what Luke told us in our first reading? Paul, when visiting the city of Philippi, went outside the city to a place of prayer. And there he encountered Lydia. Lydia was a merchant, a dealer in purple cloth - in those days that was the expensive stuff - so she was probably wealthy. She was also a "worshiper of God," which means she was either a Jew or a righteous Gentile, probably the latter. Lydia, too, had gone to that place to pray, but what did she do when Paul began to preach?
Lydia and Paul in Philippi
Luke tell us: she "listened, and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying" [Acts 16:14].

Did you hear that? Because she listened, the Lord opened her heart. In other words, if we do our part, the Lord will do His. And too often that's the problem. Because we don't listen, our hearts remain closed and impenetrable, unable to receive God's saving Word. We become like Pharaoh in the Book of Exodus. He refused to listen to what the Lord was telling him through Moses and Aaron, so his heart remained closed and hardened.

But not Lydia. She listened to God's Word and had her entire household Baptized. And then, her heart filled with the Spirit, she opened her home to Paul and his companions.

All of this, of course, is the work of the Holy Spirit, the "Advocate" that Jesus promised in today's Gospel passage. The Holy Spirit, you see, is the dispenser of God's gifts. You remember His wondrous gifts, don't you? The gifts of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord [Is 11:1-3]. Kinda cover the waterfront, don't they?

And notice, too, how Jesus explains that the Holy Spirit, the gift-giver, is Himself a gift from Father and Son. Listen again...
"When the Advocate comes whom I will send you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify to me. And you also testify..." [Jn 15:26-27]
"...our God is a consuming fire" [Heb 12:29]
Jesus goes on to remind us that this testifying won't be easy, that many will fail to listen, and with closed hearts will reject His Word. Did you hear His prophecy?
"...the hour is coming when everyone who kills you will think he is offering worship to God" [Jn 16:2].
Yes, for many Christians throughout the world, that hour has already arrived. And so let's pray for today's persecuted Christians; and pray too for those who persecute them. Pray that these will hear God's Word of salvation, listen to it, and open their hearts to the conversion God desires for them.

And let us pray, too, for ourselves - we who so often place the things of this world ahead of God's will for us. Pray that we will be open to the Spirit's gifts, that like Lydia we'll listen and open our hearts and homes to Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Homily: Saturday, 5th Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 16:1-10; Ps 100; Jn 15:18-21

I always like it when the Gospel quotes Jesus directly. It's as if the evangelist - in this instance, John - is telling us, "OK, this isn't me speaking here. This is Jesus Himself, this is exactly what He said, so you'd better listen carefully to His words."

Interestingly, in this passage from John's Gospel, Jesus uses one word several times: the word, "hate." Hate's a strong word, isn't it? Jesus could have used "dislike" or "turn away from" or even "reject," but He didn't. He used "hate." And when He said, "hate," He was talking about the world's attitude toward Him, and by extension toward those who follow Him, and that's you and me.

Now I don't know about you, but I don't like the thought of someone hating me. When I'm the object of hatred I experience a certain tension; opposing forces tug at me. On one side I find myself questioning my own words and actions. What could have inspired such hatred? There's just something very self-damaging about being hated. Of course, the opposing tendency is to respond in kind: to hate the hater.

When I was a boy, my father would recruit me to help him on Saturday mornings. He loved to work with wood and always had a project or two in the works. I would do the boring work: holding boards while he sawed or nailed; helping him measure and re-measure; all this while I wanted to be outside with my friends. But as we worked, we would talk, and he'd use this time together to teach me things.

I remember one morning telling him about a little skirmish I'd been involved in at school. It was one of those stupid little fights between two ten-year-old boys. I was one and Donnie Anderson was the other. Today I can't recall the cause of it, but I do remember telling Dad that I thought Donnie was a jerk. "I really hate that kid," I said.

Dad just looked at me and said, "You know, hatred is really just selfishness."

Just what I wanted to hear from good ol' Dad. He went on to explain that by hating another we place ourselves above him, and as Christians we can't do that. God loves and we must love as well. But that's no fun, and we can always find a reason to hate, can't we?

Longfellow, in his play, "The Spanish Student," had one of the characters admit:

There's nothing in this world so sweet as love,
And next to love the sweetest thing is hate.
Yes, as the saying goes, "revenge is sweet," and it's easy to hate. Hate polishes up the self-image, doesn't it? It makes us feel so superior, and when we take action, based on that hatred, we're really just trying to destroy another.

I once read about a Navy doctor during World War II who was aboard an American warship that was transporting wounded Japanese prisoners. He took such excellent care of the prisoners that some of the American officers protested. "Treat those animals the same way they treat our wounded," they told him.

"No," he replied, "Let them play by their rules. I play by a different set of rules, and if that bothers anybody, I'm sorry. I'm going to do my best to replace whatever hatred they have in their hearts with love. That's the only way we're ever going to have peace in this world."

It takes a lot of courage to be a true Christian when the world is screaming contrary values at you. How did Jesus put it in today's Gospel?
"If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own; but because you do not belong to the world...the world hates you...If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you" [Jn 15:19,20].
Yes, indeed, being a Christian creates some difficult choices, especially if we hope to gain the world's respect and escape persecution.
If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you
Can we really expect to receive better treatment than Jesus? Not if we listen to Our Lord and, like that Navy doctor, exchange hate for love.

This leads us to the question we all have to ask ourselves every day: What kind of rules do I play by? The rules of the world? Or the rules of Jesus?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Wildwood Soup Kitchen Video

Our parish -- St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wildwood, Florida -- is in the process of preparing a number of videos addressing the many ministries sponsored by the parish. Among the first of these videos is one describing the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, an ecumenical ministry that Diane and I have been actively involved in for over 13 years. We just completed this video, which I was recruited to narrate, so I thought I'd include it here on my blog.

The Wildwood Soup Kitchen is a wonderful ministry and Diane and I are the Thursday Cook and Captain respectively.  The Soup Kitchen serves meals six days a week, although a different team of volunteers prepares and serves or delivers these tasty, nutritious meals each day. It's quite an operation run by several hundred volunteers. For example, today we served and delivered well over 300 meals.

If, after watching the video, you get the urge to make a contribution, visit the Soup Kitchen's website. It's important to realize that we accept no government funds (Government agencies at every level try to exert too much control over the operation once you accept their money.) which means we are funded completely by private donations. And no one at the Soup Kitchen receives a salary or any compensation of any kind...other than an occasional donut. We are all volunteers.

Here's a link to the Wildwood Soup Kitchen's donation page:

I've embedded the video below, although I'm not sure how long it will be online...

SOUP KITCHEN MAY 18 2017 mpeg 4 from robert carberry on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Homily: 5th Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Readings: Acts 6:1-7; Ps 33; 1 Pet 2:4-9; Jn 14:1-12

(Below is a video of this homily. The text follows.)

In a few days I'll celebrate a milestone of sorts, the 20th anniversary of my ordination to the permanent diaconate. As a permanent deacon, I have a special fondness for today's first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. For in this brief passage we encounter the institution of the diaconate in the early Church.

But those first deacons, those "seven reputable men, filled with spirit and wisdom" [Acts 6:3], weren't ordained to hold high office in that rapidly expanding Church. They weren't ordained to do great things. They were ordained to do little things, in some ways the littlest of things.
Ordination of the first Deacons
You see, the early Church, like today's Church, had its imperfections. Although divinely instituted by Jesus, its members were human, and when they entered the Church, they carried a heavy load of human baggage. I think a lot of us, when we enter this Church each Sunday, would like to turn to the usher and say, "Look, here are all my problems, all my worries, all my aches and pains, all my biases, bigotry, hate, anger, and confusion. Here's everything that's keeping me from leading a Christian life. I'm going to leave it all with you." That would be nice, wouldn't it? The trouble is, I'm afraid too many of us would demand it all back on the way out the door.

Well, the early Christians were no different. Like you and me they carried their sinfulness with them.

In today's reading we see this manifested in the complaints of Hellenic Jews, the Greek-speakers, that the widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food - that the locals, the Hebraic Jews, treated them poorly.

St. Luke, the author, doesn't specifically address the problem of justice in the global terms we'd use today, but he does clearly define the roots of the Christian concept and mission of justice. In this particular instance, we encounter unjust discrimination based on language and culture, a problem still experienced by many today.

What did the Apostles do about it?

They established the order of deacons. The word, "deacon" has its roots in the Greek word, "diakonia," meaning service. Deacons were called to be servants, to wait on tables, taking food to the hungry. Perhaps that's why I enjoy working at the soup kitchen so much.

Although the Church was established by Jesus, it's filled with imperfect people, including deacons, priests and bishops. We are all fallible, often weak human beings whom the Lord miraculously uses to teach, govern and sanctify His Church.

Of course, God makes a point of raising up saints every so often to remind us of the lives we're called to lead. And among those first seven deacons were a couple of great saints: Stephen an eloquent preacher and the Church's first martyr. And Philip, a powerful evangelizer. What about the other five? We don't know. I suspect they just struggled to discern God's will in their lives and live up to their calling. Like today's Church the early Church had its share of sinners and saints, and all of them struggled just like you and me. Throughout its 2,000-year history the Church has also had to deal with the false teachers that Jesus warned us would appear regularly.

And so, what are we to do - we who struggle - to make sense of it all? Well, St. Peter gives us some pretty clear direction in today's second reading. Listen again to his words.
"Come to Him...rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God...and whoever believes...shall not be put to shame" [1 Pt 2:4,6].
And then Peter says something rather remarkable. He calls God's people - now that's you and me - he calls us "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of His own..." [1 Pt 2:9]

Just consider what this means.

We're a chosen race. Chosen by God Himself we are related, not by blood, but by faith. We are brothers and sisters united in Christ in a unity that transcends all human barriers and distinctions.

We're also a royal priesthood and that gives us direct access to God and carries with it the responsibility to bring others to Him as well. Our very lives become an offering to God, or as Peter said, "let yourselves... be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" [1 Pt 2:5].

And we're a holy nation, a nation set apart and consecrated to God's service: a holy nation, not a political nation like the United States, or Mexico, or Canada, or the UK, but a holy nation, a spiritual nation. As disciples of Christ we are called to be different from the world because our values are those of the Gospel. Nevertheless, as Christians we're dedicated to transforming the world and restoring it in Jesus Christ. That's what a holy nation does.

And lastly, we are a people of His own. We are God's private property. No matter how ordinary, how unwanted by the world, because we belong to the Lord, we each acquire priceless value.

Peter tells us we're pretty special in God's eyes, that as Christians we mustn't belittle ourselves. God wants each of us to recognize our value, to know how precious we are to Him. St. Paul calls our bodies "Temples of the Holy Spirit" [1 Cor 6:19], God's dwelling place. We must, then, keep ourselves holy, doing as Jesus has commanded us to love our God and each other.

As disciples of Christ, we are called to spread His gospel - His good news of eternal life - to others. Brothers and sisters, this is our calling. We, who are so imperfect, are called to follow Jesus, the source of all perfection, and to bring others to Him.

How did Jesus put it in today's Gospel?
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" [Jn 14:6].
Notice that Jesus didn't say, "I am a way, one way among many." Nor did He say, "I am a version of the truth." Or "I am a way of life, a lifestyle." No, he was very explicit, wasn't he?

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life."

C. S. Lewis
In other words, we can't pick and choose when there's only one real choice. C. S. Lewis, the great Christian apologist, said it well:
"Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance and, if true, is of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important."
What is the Way? Nothing other than our Christian faith and the struggle to put that faith into practice by loving God and our neighbor. We can't do it alone, and so we turn to God for help, and trust in His mercy. Follow me, Jesus tell us, and I'll show you the way.

The truth is the Good News of Jesus Christ. the truth of His promise, borne out and proven by His resurrection. Follow me, He says, and you will know the truth.

The life is eternal life, the fruit of Jesus' promise - the understanding that we're here for a purpose: to do God's will so we may spend an eternal life of happiness with Him. Follow me, Jesus tells us, and I'll lead you to eternal life.

These are God's gifts of love to us. And He wants each of us to know how much He loves us.

Why does He love us? For the same reason a parent loves his child. He loves us for who we are, not for what we do. The Father loves us because He sees His Son in us. Yes, we are precious to God. We are living temples that carry the image of His Son within us.

Like those first deacons, we are called to do the little things, to live our Christianity in our daily lives, to carry Christ to others, one person at a time.

Yes, there will always be scandalous sinners and false teachers - but the Church herself will continue as Jesus' presence in time and space.

Today we join Pope Francis and pray even more ardently for her cleansing, a task that must begin with ourselves, with you and me.

May the choices we make be those that reflect the dignity given to us by the Lord of Life, and the truth He teaches us through His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

Lifted up by His love, and fed by His Church, we can avoid what the world says is acceptable these days, but what we know is unacceptable any day.

Brothers and sisters, we are the Church - all of us, you and I. We are a royal priesthood. We are a people chosen by God to bring light to all who live in darkness.

Bathed in the light of Christ, let the Word of God and His Eucharistic Presence transform you.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Saving Your College Kid

I wouldn't even try to guess how many books have been written since the first Sumerian or Egyptian wordsmith decided to apply a little charcoal-based ink to a handy sheet of papyrus. How many would you think? A hundred million, a billion, even more? I think we can agree that it's a big number. The vast majority of these tomes probably aren't worth reading, and since we've been blessed with a limited lifespan, it would be a shame to spend much, if any, of that precious time reading unworthy books.

This got me thinking about today's college students, young people at the mercy of their professors when it comes to the books they're assigned to read. And sadly, too much of that assigned reading likely falls into the unworthy category. The young, with a few rare exceptions, lack experience, a key ingredient in the process of discernment. Absent the valuable experience of life, they too often fall prey to the seemingly attractive excesses of the ideologue. And believe me, the ideologues took control of most American colleges and universities decades ago. 

Ideology, a child of the Enlightenment, came into its own a few hundred years ago. As anyone who knows me might expect, I agree with Russell Kirk who considered ideology the antithesis of conservative thought. For Kirk the conservative "thinks of political policies as intended to preserve order, justice and freedom. The ideologue, on the contrary, thinks of politics as a revolutionary instrument for transforming society and even transforming human nature. In his march toward Utopia, the ideologue is merciless." Kirk goes on to describe ideology as "a political formula that promises mankind an earthly paradise; but in cruel fact what ideology has created is a series of terrestrial hells." [See Kirk's The Errors of Ideology.]

These hells were brought to life (and death) in the 20th century in Stalin's Soviet Union, Hitler's Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia, and the Kim dynasty's North Korea, not to mention China, Vietnam, Cuba and Venezuela, among others. Ideology, then, intends to replace religion by providing "salvation" here on earth and hopes to accomplish this by any means necessary, including violent revolution. One can, I believe, make a good case for claiming that Islam in its purest, most fundamental form of the sort that motivates ISIS, al-Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, and their terrorist allies is really more ideology than religion. But that's a topic for another time.

Because the ideologues of the left have taken near complete control of most American institutions of higher education, their students receive an indoctrination rather than an education. Colleges and universities, especially the elite liberal arts colleges and the state universities, more closely resemble the re-education camps of Communist China and Vietnam than the schools their founders intended them to be. Indeed, today's student activists are reminiscent of the vicious Red Guard of Mao's so-called cultural revolution of the late 1960s. So consumed by their leftist ideology, today's student and faculty activists cannot abide the presence of anyone who might disagree, and they are willing to use violence to keep their little world ideologically pure.
(An aside in the form of a word of advice to today's confused and disheveled campus radical: The campus has little resemblance to the rest of America, so you might want to reconsider any plans to lead violent revolution in the United States. After all, very few of those tens of millions of firearms owned by Americans are owned by folks on the political left. Just a thought...)
As we might expect, most college administrators tend to share at least some of the radical beliefs of their students and, predictably, will cave in the face of violent protest and agree to even the most outlandish demands. For the "normal" student -- i.e., the student who hopes to receive an education -- the situation has become almost intolerable. In many of our colleges academic freedom, the sharing of ideas, and open debate on controversial topics have become things of the past. Too many professors punish students who do not worship the accepted wisdom of the moment. The more courageous students fight back in what is usually a losing battle, while the majority simply keep quiet or parrot the party line.

Way back in 1962 I spent a year at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service prior to receiving a congressional appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy at Annapolis from which I graduated in 1967. Sadly Georgetown is now plagued by extreme political correctness and actively discourages any straying from the ruling ideology. And even at the Naval Academy there are signs of a growing PC culture. This truly saddens me.

Fortunately some institutions still consider open debate and sensible argument to be key elements of the educational process, but their numbers are few. Even once strongly Catholic institutions like Notre Dame, Providence College, Boston College and many others are now ruled by political correctness to the extent that faculty and students who actively defend the Faith often find themselves under fire by the school's influential, and more vocal, radical elements.

Providence College's recent scandalous treatment of Professor Anthony Esolen is a sad example of this. (You can read about this here.) I don't know Tony well -- we first met when I worked at Providence College for a few years back in the 1990s during the time of my diaconal formation -- but I have followed his career, read his books, and know him to be a brilliant scholar and strong apologist for the Catholic Faith. Tony recently resolved his personal situation by accepting a teaching position at Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, NH. How fortunate for Thomas More College and how very unfortunate for the students at Dominican-run Providence College.

As you might expect Thomas More College  is among those institutions that continue to believe in true academic freedom in the pursuit of truth. There are others: Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, CA (our elder daughter is a 1993 graduate, and the college will open a second campus in Massachusetts in 2018); Christendom College in Front Royal, VA; Ave Maria University in Ave Maria, FL; Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH...and quite a few more. (See my post of May 15, 2010.)

And so, for parents, especially Catholic parents, I strongly recommend you consider sending all that hard-earned cash to a college that actually offers a good, solid education. Send your almost adult to a school that values the pursuit of truth, one in which his or her faith will be preserved rather than destroyed. This is the preferred option.

An alternative is to encourage the exploration of online educational opportunities. I'm serious about this. Many excellent colleges and universities now offer complete degree programs online. The degree earned is no different from that earned by those who attend classes on campus and your young scholar can escape much of the idiocy that plagues both classroom and dormitory. It is also much less expensive. An additional and not insignificant benefit of an online educational experience is the opportunity it offers to hold down a real job in the real workplace while the student studies from home. Talk about a learning experience! It might require an extra year or two to earn that BA or BS degree, but there is no on-campus substitute for the discipline, maturity, and real-world experience gained from working for a living. And an education paid for, at least in part, by the student becomes far more valuable. I would also encourage the online student to take a trade-related job. Learn the basics of plumbing, or electrical work, or welding, or carpentry; that is, learn a trade for which there will always be a demand. Given the political and economic instabilities of our rapidly changing world, many of our so-called knowledge workers might find themselves without jobs and wishing they knew how to repair a furnace or a Ford.

Anyway, as a result of all this not very clear thinking, I decided to compile a short list of books that I believe all college students should read before or during their years of undergraduate study. I offer these as a kind of antidote to the ideological poison forced on students by too many of their professors.

I have not included the classics -- or "great books" as they are often called -- on my list because every pursuer of truth should make them a part of his journey through life. The late Mortimer Adler -- founder of the Great Books Foundation -- offered a comprehensive list that you can find here: Adler's Great Books. Another list with a Catholic focus can be found on the four-year undergraduate Syllabus of Thomas Aquinas College. I've also placed Adler's famous book, How to Read a Book, among the selections on my list.

Now for the list: books written in recent decades that helped me maintain my sanity in this increasingly fractured world. My aim in offering this list is not to be "fair and balanced" but to help overcome the grotesque ideology of the left that permeates much of modern society. Some of these books I read while in high school and college, others during my working years, and a few since my retirement. Of course, I don't agree with all the ideas expressed by the authors, but every one of these books forced me to think, and to examine and often modify my worldview.

A few comments about my list:

I've resisted listing more than one title for any author but, believe me, each has much more to say and most have done so in other books. I would hope a reading of the books I've included on my list will encourage the reader to dig more deeply into each author's work.

I've provided links (Amazon) to each book. I prefer actual printed editions with covers and paper pages, but most are available in Kindle editions for younger folks who seem not only to tolerate but to prefer digital editions.

Sadly, several of the listed books are no longer in print, so you will have to search for used editions.

To save space I haven't offered descriptions of the books. You can follow the links to Amazon and read the descriptions and reviews included on each book's page.


How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren (1940)

The Servile State, by Hilaire Belloc (1913)

Up from Liberalism, by William F. Buckley (1959)

Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton (1908)

The God that Failed, Ed. by Richard Crossman (1950)

Dynamics of World History, by Christopher Dawson (1978)

Christianity and Culture, by T. S. Eliot (1940)

Out of the Ashes, by Anthony Esolen (2017)

The End of the Modern World, By Romano Guardini (1950)

The Road to Serfdom, by F. A. Hayak (1944)

The Conservative Mind, by Russell Kirk (1953)

Lovely Like Jerusalem, by Aiden Nichols (2007)

Collected Works, Flannery O'Connor (1988)

Leisure, the Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper (1948)

Personal Knowledge, by Michael Polanyi (1958)

Truth and Tolerance, by Joseph Ratzinger (2002)

The Life of the Mind, by James V. Schall (2006)

Small is Beautiful, by E. F. Schumacher (1973)

Order and History (5 volumes), Eric Voegelin (1956-1987)

Faith and Freedom, by Barbara Ward (1954)

Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard M. Weaver (1948)

I could add a few dozen more to the list, but it's long enough as it is.

Time to work on my homily for tomorrow...

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Homily: Wednesday, 4th Week of Easter

Readings: Acts 12:24 -13:5a; Psalm 67; John 12:44-50
If you've ever lived outside the US, especially in a country that doesn't respect freedom, you probably know what it's like to be less than free.

Back in the fifties the parochial school I attended welcomed two new children who had just arrived from Hungary. Their parents had managed to escape that country in the midst of the turmoil surrounding the 1956 uprising, and had made their way to the United States and eventually to our town in New York. Having lived under both the Nazis and the Communists, this family, especially the children, had never really experienced freedom of any kind. I remember how amazed they were when they discovered they could actually do even the simplest thing without worrying about the authorities watching them or their parents being arrested. Like so many before them, they marveled at the Statue of Liberty and the light of freedom she held high over the harbor.

But in our exuberance for political freedom, we forget that the light of such freedom, powerful metaphor though it is, doesn't burn forever. Earthly freedom always passes, because it's a flawed freedom, a freedom derived from our human imperfections. Only one freedom truly lasts; only one is eternal: the freedom only God can offer, the freedom Jesus Christ promises. That's what eternal life is, brothers and sisters; it's true freedom, a freedom unlike anything we will ever experience here on earth.

Jesus doesn't just carry the light of this eternal freedom; Jesus is the light. "I am the light of the world" [Jn 8:12], He tells us. And so, without Jesus, the world plunges into darkness. If you want proof of this, just pick up a newspaper. Read the headlines. Watch the evening news. Look at a world that tries its best to evict Jesus from it.

Even in this country, where freedom has long been cherished, true religious freedom is under attack. But such attempts always fail. Christ will not be denied. The light of the world can't be extinguished. Just as the rising sun overcomes the darkness of night and exposes what is hidden, so the light from the Son of God, God's Word, exposes the sinfulness of this world and leads all who will follow to the safety of the Father's embrace.

Back in 1951 my family spent a year in Germany. On a visit to Bavaria My father took us to see the Dacau concentration camp outside Munich. I remember entering the gate and seeing the words "Arbeit Macht Frei."  I spoke enough German to know this meant "Work makes you free" which of course was a pleasant sounding euphemism for it's real meaning: Here you are slaves.

But when we view the world through Christ, our Light, we can recognize these manmade lies and see the truths of God's kingdom. How did Jesus put it? "You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free" [Jn 8:32]. It's not the work of the slave that makes one free, but the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Just as sunlight brings warmth and allows living things to grow, Jesus' words produce life - the very life of God - within those who receive it with faith. To see Jesus is to see God.  To hear his words is to hear the voice of God.

He, the light of God, overcomes the darkness of sin, ignorance, and unbelief, and brings healing, forgiveness, and transformation.  God's light shines on everyone. He excludes no one from His love. It is we who exclude ourselves by rejecting that love, by rejecting His Son.

We really have only two choices: Either we are of Christ or we are of the world.

Jesus didn't come to condemn us, but rather to bring abundant life and freedom from the oppression of sin, ignorance, and evil. No, Jesus doesn't condemn. We condemn ourselves when we reject God's wisdom and truth. 

It's one thing to live in simple ignorance, but it's something else entirely to reject the Word and those chosen by God to bring it to us. In our first reading from Acts, Paul and Barnabas make the choice to carry the light of Christ into a darkened world, and we are called to do the same.

Jesus tells us that God's Word has the power to judge; it also has the power to transform our lives. Fortunately we have a merciful God, who cares deeply for us. When, in our sinfulness, we slip into the shadow of darkness, He calls us back, into the light. And it's His light, the light of Christ, the light of eternal freedom. Bathed in the light we can let the Word of God and His Eucharistic Presence transform us.

The alternative, brothers and sisters, is only more darkness.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Presence of God

So much of life is made up of things we must do, and so little of things we truly enjoy. The saints, of course, seem to be able to turn all those "must-dos" into gifts, into moments of thanksgiving and praise. I have not yet arrived at that point as I struggle to advance on my spiritual journey. I still have trouble turning mundane tasks into joyous occasions. If, as I take out the garbage, I offer thanks to God for the opportunity to do so...well, it just seems a bit hypocritical, as if my thanksgiving is less than honest. Although I can understand St. Therese's "Little Way," I have not yet been able to put it into practice. This inability to experience joy from the mundane is just more evidence of my spiritual immaturity, but perhaps God will give me a few more years to grow. 

Fortunately God is so wonderfully merciful that, despite my many faults, He has still blessed my life with much to enjoy. Dear Diane, my wife of 48 years, is at the very top of the list. Without her my life would be far less joyful. She has taught me how to give and to take joy in the giving, even in the midst of deep sadness. I have trouble remembering what my life was like before she entered it, or even comprehending how empty it would be without her presence. Other blessings, especially family -- children and grandchildren -- and friends who love us in spite of our oddness, have brought Diane and me much joy. 

To all of this I must add my ordination to the permanent diaconate 20 years ago. That life-changing event has enabled me to do much that I find so very enjoyable. Among these is my facilitation of our parish's two Bible Study sessions. I've now been doing this for over ten years and between these two weekly sessions -- one morning and one evening -- approximately 60 parishioners participate. I'm often thanked for what I bring to these sessions, but what the participants don't realize is how much they have taught me over the years. Perhaps I should tell them this more often.

Because here in central Florida so many of our parishioners fall into the "snowbird" category, we take a break from organized Bible Study during the summer months. It just didn't seem fair that those who went north should miss a summer's worth of studies, and I also needed a break from the weekly sessions. And yet many of our year-round parishioners wanted to continue their studies in some fashion. And so last year I offered a relatively brief Scripture-based course to those who remained here during our summer hiatus. It was open to anyone, not just the regular participants in our Bible Study. 

Last year's course was fairly basic, a three-session overview of the Old Testament. This year I'm a bit more ambitious and have been spending a lot of my so-called "free" time preparing a five-session course that I've decided to call "Temple and the Presence of God." The idea for the course came to me years ago after reading a little book, The Presence of God (1966) by Jean Danielou. Cardinal Danielou was a French Jesuit, one of the Ressourcement theologians who had such a major impact on the Second Vatican Council. The course will focus on Temple in all its manifestations, from the Temple of Creation or Cosmic Temple, to Sinai, Jerusalem, Jesus and His Church, all the way to the Heavenly Temple St. John describes in Revelation -- "I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God almighty and the Lamb" [Rev 21:22]. It trust the participants will find it interesting since it examines the theme of Temple and God's Presence as it runs through all of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation.
Anyway, all this preoccupation with the Presence of God has had its effect on me. I find myself thinking about it constantly, and especially of God's Presence in the Cosmic Temple of His Creation. Every day Maddie and I -- Maddie's our little Bichon Frise -- take both a morning and evening walk, each a mile or two depending on our collective mood. I especially enjoy our frequent pre-dawn walks when I can delight in the glory of God's creation as manifested in the starlit skies of central Florida. Venus hovers brightly over the Eastern horizon and on many mornings I catch sight of a meteorite or two burning their way through the upper atmosphere. But I must admit, I take far more joy in the sights and sounds of the microcosm close at hand.

I especially enjoy the birds. Before I moved here about the only bird calls I could recognize were blue jays and crows. But thanks to my twice-daily walks through The Villages, I have developed a more discriminating ear and can identify the squawk of the common grackle, the rapid-fire chirps of our many neighborhood cardinals, the brief but strange call of the red-winged blackbird, among many others. And no one can dislike the multiple calls of the mockingbird that seem designed simply to show off this bird's remarkable singing talent. We also have large flocks of black-bellied whistling ducks that amaze by whistling instead of quacking. Another of my favorites are the wonderful sandhill cranes that hangout here in The Villages. These large birds can be heard from afar as they fly over the neighborhood and emit their very loud staccato squawks. They seem to enjoy letting the world know they're up and about.

From these daily encounters with such little pieces of God's Creation I can do nothing else but thank Him for His gift of life. I simply cannot understand how anyone who hears a mockingbird spend several minutes running through its entire repertoire of songs can claim to be an atheist. To me the mockingbird and the sandhill crane and the trail of the meteorite and the brightness of Venus all prove God's Presence and His continued love for us. Indeed, God's care for His creation sends us a message. How did Jesus put it?
"Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?" [Mt 6:26]
He would care for us as well if only we would let Him, if only we would come to realize His love for us.

Yes, God's Presence fills every corner of His Creation, but most miraculously His Presence is within us when we open ourselves to Him. We are, after all, "Temples of the Holy Spirit."

Oops...have to go. It's time for Maddie and me to take a walk.