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.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Football, Education, Congress, Money and Sin

For years now I have argued unsuccessfully for the cessation of intercollegiate sports, suggesting that they be replaced by intramural athletics and other forms of physical fitness training. Of course, here in the South banning college football would be akin to banning fried chicken. It ain't gonna happen. But I will continue to make my case that the stew of education, pampered and coddled athletes, and money -- lots and lots of money -- does not result in virtuous behavior.  

St. Paul reminds us, "the love of money is the root of all evils" [1 Tim 6:10]. And sports at every level, from middle school through the professionals, are increasingly driven by a love for the huge amounts of money that flow from suppliers, corporate sponsors, media, advertisers, alumni and boosters, and even the so-called "gaming" industry. Yes, indeed, those in the know estimate that upwards of $400 billion -- yes, that's billion, and it may well be an underestimate -- is wagered on professional and college sports each year. The high-growth sports apparel industry already generates worldwide revenues approaching $200 billion. TV advertising for sports coverage is now close to $10 billion annually, and that's just on the "big four" networks. And the various tv networks spend nearly $15 billion annually for the opportunity to broadcast professional and intercollegiate sports. Not surprisingly this flow of money increases every year. Anyone who believes that the businesses, leagues, schools, teams, officials, and individual athletes are somehow immune from the negative effects of all that cash obviously doesn't believe in original sin. 

And, trust me, very little of that money contributes to the actual education of those high school and college athletes caught up in this cash-fueled system run by large corporations and organizations that are ripe for corruption. Sadly, most "student athletes" manage to escape uneducated from the institutions for which they play. The most athletically talented among them, the few who make it to the pros, seem to believe they are entitled to the huge salaries this flow of money allows them to command. Apparently this idea of financial entitlement, that their salaries are a measure of their relative worth, has instilled in them an exaggerated sense of their importance. This was evident at Thursday evening's NFL game in Green Bay when the players, former college athletes who probably haven't had an original thought since the third grade, linked arms during the national anthem to show their solidarity for or against what? Social justice? Police brutality? White privilege? President Trump for calling their kneeling colleagues SOBs? I challenge any of them to explain clearly why they did not stand with hand over heart while the fans who pay their salaries showed contempt for the lack of patriotism evident on the field. Watching these self-absorbed millionaires take a stand against the nation that enabled them to achieve such success was remarkable. In their defense I can only suggest that, much like our Hollywood celebrities, they just aren't bright enough to recognize the irony of it all. (Full disclosure: I did not watch Thursday's game, but saw only the reports the following day. In fact I haven't watched a single professional sporting event on TV since the Super Bowl, and I watched only the final quarter of that game.)
I recall once hearing a professional athlete actually refer to himself as a "warrior" because he played in the NFL. His comment offers the near perfect argument for reinstating the universal military draft (among men) so every male citizen will come to understand that the work of the warrior is not a game. There is an existential difference between a block or hard tackle on the football field and having your body riddled by bullets, shrapnel, or an IED. It would be good if more citizens came to witness, if not experience, the difference first hand. This, of course, will never happen because career politicians are cowards, and reinstatement of the draft is an untouchable, a political hot potato. And so the vast majority of professional athletes will remain invincibly ignorant of the sacrifices true warriors have made so they can pursue their lucrative dreams in peace. And those warriors who make these sacrifices are paid about 1% of what many of these athletes are paid.
This leads me to another of my hopes: term limits. Our politicians are too often driven solely by reelection prospects. Reelection is driven largely by money. And money, especially in the amounts that flow in and out of Washington, leads only to corruption. Send politicians back home before they become career politicians, before they are contaminated by the infectious diseases of the swamp. I think a limit of two senatorial terms and five house terms would be reasonable. 

Opponents of term limits often say the real solution involves  the people simply exercising their right to vote. Until recently this hasn't been a very effective solution, but today dissatisfied voters seem to be making a difference. Perhaps voters will inflict their own version of term limits on our career politicians and clean house, so to speak.

The founding fathers didn't include term limits in the Constitution because none considered politics an occupation, much less a career. Most were true citizen legislators. They had businesses and farms to run and, anyway, federal legislators were paid only $6 per day when they were in session. That was the amount both senators and representatives earned from 1796 to 1815. (In 1789 the per diem rate was only fifty cents.)

Our Founders also had much more to lose than today's politicians. The final sentence of the Declaration of Independence is a promise made by the 56 signers to “mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” Nine of them actually did lose their lives in the Revolutionary War and 19 others lost every cent and every piece of property they owned. But none of the 56 ever broke that promise. Would that today's politicians were that honorable. Most are unable to keep even the simplest campaign promise. And when was the last time you heard the expression, "Sacred Honor", uttered by a politician?
Signing of the Declaration of Independence
Today the members of our national political class happily find themselves in the top few percent of "earners." Not only do they pay themselves well, they also give themselves amazingly generous pensions along with a large array of unique perks, all as a self-proclaimed reward for their "public service." And isn't it remarkable how many enter Congress with very little, yet emerge years later as multi-millionaires? 

Perhaps, in conjunction with term limits, we should pay our members of Congress the median income of the average American. This year that's about $51,000. This might encourage them to enact legislation that actually supports economic growth. Then, as the American worker prospers, so too will they. We could also house our senators and representatives in Capitol Hill dormitories freeing them from the need to buy or rent second homes in those expensive D.C. suburbs. Another likely benefit would be shorter legislative sessions, thereby limiting the damage Congress inflicts on the nation. 

These, of course, are mere pipe dreams, but having expressed them I feel a lot better. Yes, indeed, men are not angels, so we shouldn't be surprised by non-angelic behavior. We are sinners and our sinfulness is evident everywhere, even on the football field and in the halls of Congress. I suppose the best thing we can do, other than pray for our nation, is to elect men and women whose fear of the Lord exceeds their love of self.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Homily: Wednesday, 24th Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Tm 3:14-16; Ps 111; Lk 7:31-35

Some years ago there was a small storefront church in nearby Wildwood. A large sign over its door included a reference to 1st Timothy 3:15, one of the verses we heard in today's first reading:
"But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth" [1 Tim 3:15].
I'm pretty sure that little church displayed that verse because of the phrase, "the pillar and foundation of truth" -- one of the better-known definitions that St. Paul gives for the Church.
Vatican: St. Peter Receiving Keys to the Kingdom
Sadly, ever since the Reformation there has been an explosion of Christian churches, and each has a different understanding of the truth. And because many disagree on even some of the most basic Christian beliefs, they can't all preach and teach the truth. The irony is that logically only one Church can be "the pillar and foundation of truth."

Now I'm not criticizing the faith and devotion of the folks who attended that little church on Main Street. I know some of them and they're all good Christians who love the Lord. Neither am I criticizing any other Christian church, but I'm pretty sure Paul was referring to something greater, something more universal, more catholic.

Pray for Unity
For Paul knew, as we know, that the fullness of truth resides only in one Church, in one united Church. And just as Jesus stressed and prayed for unity among His followers, so too does St. Paul. Indeed, in many of his letters he pleads for unity, for obedience to the legitimate authority, an authority that comes directly from the Apostles. Paul even alludes to the Church's universality in the very next verse of today's reading when, referring to Jesus, he says:
"...Who was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed to the Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory" [1 Tim 3:16].
Can there be anything more universal than "believed in throughout the world?" This belief in a united, universal Church founded by Jesus Christ was so strongly held by the Apostles and Church Fathers, that for over 1,000 years they withstood every serious attempt to destroy it.

One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic
Sadly, over the next 500 years leading up to the Reformation it suffered wounds, some self-inflicted, some not, resulting in the splintered Christianity we see today.

But Jesus promised He would be with His Church - His One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church - until the end of days. And so we, too, pray for unity.

St. Paul says something else about the Church in that brief passage, calling it the "household of God." What a wonderful image! To be a member of God's own household. But notice the context: " should know how to behave in the household of God..." [1 Tim 3:15]. 

This is where things get serious.

Too often our behavior as Christians gives no indication that we're members of God's household. Indeed our behavior seems to conceal Christ from the world rather than revealing Him to the world.

Jesus accuses his listeners of acting "like children who sit in the marketplace" [Lk 7:32], self-centered and full of complaints.

How often do we make our Christianity look and sound like a disagreeable chore? And so we do only the minimum, acting less like a true member of the household and more like the teenager who's never home because he has better things to do than spend time with his family. Why are so many of us like this?

Jesus accuses and challenges us, doesn't He? In our contradictions and complaints, in our tendency to criticize rather than listen, we don't hear what God is trying to teach us.

"Listen!" Jesus pleads. Be open to God's Word.  And then, referring to Himself, He tells us, "...wisdom is justified by all her children" [Lk 7:35].

I suppose that's the question for us today: Are you and I among those children of God's household whose behavior justifies the wisdom of Christ?

Just as God came to the people of 1st century Palestine through the prophet John and then in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, He comes to us under different guises. The Holy Spirit is like that, often using the least likely among us to manifest His Presence.

How do you respond to the people God sends into your life? Are they like John, that odd, wild-looking firebrand who wasn't quite acceptable to polite society? Do you accept them for what they are or do you ignore them, or worse yet, criticize them because they don't quite fit your idea of God's messenger? Brothers and sisters, God's household is not only large, but it's also a varied household, filled with all kinds of people.
Give some thought today to how God might be using the others in your life to bring you closer to Him -- how He's calling you back to His household.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Happy Birthday to Me

Early this morning, after thanking God for another day, Maddie and I both wolfed down our usual breakfasts: hers consisting of kibble and a few small pieces of cooked chicken breast; mine a bowlful of Cheerios and strawberries, accompanied by lots of coffee.

After breakfast I kissed Diane goodbye and joined Maddie on her morning walk. When we returned I gave Maddie a treat (see photo); afterwards she sat beside me in my chair while Diane and I watched the local and national news. Saddened by the strange stories the networks choose to air as the most important, I turned off the TV, glanced briefly through the morning newspaper, and then read one of Saki's short stories.

This is not my typical morning routine, but today, thanks to Irma, our parish church has no electrical power. Life, then,  has become much slower. It's also my birthday, so I have an additional excuse to take it easy.

At a little after 10 a.m. I filled my coffee cup once again, entered my little den, and turned on the laptop to check my email. It boots up directly to the Google search page, and what do I see? Google wishing me a Happy Birthday with this animated GIF file.

Now, I can't speak for everyone, but I find it more than a little disconcerting that Google apparently knows so much about me. And they're not alone. On my birthday I usually receive cards and phone calls from family and some close friends. These are always welcome, but I also receive quite a few birthday greetings from those I don't know. The dealership from whom I bought my last car sent a card. So did one of the banks that keeps track of my limited funds. I even received a card from a local funeral home, an organization that would probably prefer that I not celebrate another birthday. And this doesn't include all the online email cards from other companies and organizations who believe that a birthday card will make me love and patronize them. In truth, I'd be far happier if their goods and services just cost less.

I find it all a bit weird, and can see why some folks go, as they say, "off-grid." It seems that many of our largest tech firms are driven by a compulsion to enter into every aspect of our lives. Am I a wee bit paranoid if I suggest that their ultimate goal is control, that they consider our lives open to manipulation? And this just because Google wishes me a Happy Birthday? Maybe. But one thing is certain, these companies have extraordinary power over the minds and hearts of those who rely on them completely for information and news about our world. Mildly scary stuff.

But for now I intend to forget about all the world's weirdness and just enjoy the day. Diane and I are going to celebrate my 73rd at a local restaurant here in The Villages. Some friends are joining us and because the restaurant has outdoor "dog-friendly" seating, Maddie gets to take part in the festivities. Woof, woof.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Back to Normal...Not!

The past few days have been a sort of revelation for me. For once I wasn't running around doing all those things I normally do, because there was no place to do them. Our parish offices were closed, and all parish activities came to a halt as we prepared for, lived through, and cleaned up after Hurricane Irma.

All the meetings I usually attend have been cancelled. Hardly anyone called me about parish or related issues. And the only non-spam emails I received were from family and friends concerned about our well-being. I'll assist at Mass tomorrow morning, but our usual Wednesday Bible Study sessions have both been cancelled, as has our monthly clergy meeting. [Late note: The church is still without power and will, therefore, be closed all day Wednesday.]

Diane and I had also planned to take a day off from our normal Thursday soup kitchen work. A few weeks ago Diane asked her assistant cook to run the show one Thursday each month, thus giving the two of us and our aging bodies an occasional needed rest. This means I won't even have soup kitchen to wear me out this week. I try to keep Friday unencumbered and often use the day to catch up on the work I ignored during the week, Now I'll be idle that day as well.

A few friends have already remarked that it's been quite some time since I posted this much on my blog. Usually I just don't have the time, or at the end of the day I'm simply too tired to sit down and post these trivial thoughts. I admit, I'm enjoying the time off, but am a bit concerned I won't want to crank up the activity level when next week rolls around. There's also the guilt factor, that I should be doing something meaningful and worthwhile. But I've suppressed that by attributing my idleness to an unplanned week-long celebration of my birthday. After all, as I told Diane this morning, "It's not every year I turn 73." And I thank God for that because 73 sounds so very old.
Our Groomer's Vehicles
But some things have returned to normal. Our dog groomer, a nice woman named Leah, arrived this afternoon and parked her pick-up and grooming trailer in front of the house. Her business, "Bark, Bath and Beyond," is wonderful because she comes to us, freeing us from having to drive Maddie to a groomer. Maddie's breed, the Bichon Frise, must be groomed because her hair never stops growing and the poor dog would eventually disappear under a blanket of white, curly hair.
Maddie, after her grooming - Looking Good!
Poor Maddie is not very fond of Leah and considers these sessions akin to torture. Our little dog doesn't even like to be brushed, so I can imagine how she resists all that Leah must do. Whenever Leah arrives at our door, and Maddie sees who has arrived, the little thing make a beeline to another part of the house.
Dear Diane Sweeping Up
As you can see by the first photo above, our palms all survived, as did our large oaks out back. Along with most of our neighbors, I spent the morning raking and bagging, so everything will look pretty and inviting once again. Even Diane, after an appointment at the hair dresser and a session with the physical therapist, helped out.

I'm starting to like this new normal. Perhaps I'll cut back, at least a little, on my work and spend more time with Diane  enjoying God's gifts. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

It's All Interconnected

I have always loved coincidences, largely because I don't believe in them, and enjoy putting their seemingly disparate pieces together, showing how interconnected they all are. I actually believe that everything is a part of God's plan, that everything is connected. Nothing is mere coincidence. I don't mean to say that God plans all the evil in the world -- not at all. No, evil is there, all around us, because we too often welcome it, because we choose it. It came into the world when our first parents chose it and it's still hanging out with us. But God does make use of it, and to demonstrate His power, turns it into good. As St. Paul reminds us:  "We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose" [Rom 8:28]. Did you get that -- "all things" and "according to His purpose"? That's why I don't believe in coincidences.

In my last post I mentioned how, at least as they relate to my life, the Great Atlantic Hurricane of 1944, Hurricane Donna of 1960, and Hurricane Irma of recent fame are interconnected. All three came into prominence during the week of my birthday, September 13. In my post I focused only on the hurricanes themselves, but there was another interesting connection that tied me to that 1944 Great Hurricane, one that I had read about years ago, but had forgotten.

73 years ago, as that hurricane made its way up to New England, it took the lives of well over 300 people, most of them lost at sea. The largest number of these were the crew of a United States Somers-class destroyer, USS WARRINGTON (DD-383). The ship had spent much of the war serving in the Pacific and had just completed repairs in both New York and Norfolk. She was steaming south en route to Trinidad when she encountered the hurricane near the Bahamas. The high seas led to water pouring into the vents to her engineering spaces which ultimately shut down her propulsion system and resulted in her sinking. Of the 321 men aboard, only 73 were rescued. She sank on the very day of my birth, September 13, 1944. Two days later that same hurricane poured over 10 inches of rain onto St. Vincent's Hospital in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the city where my mother gave birth to me, her second son.
USS WARRINGTON (DD-383) in 1938
I was born into an all-Army family. My grandfather served in the Spanish American War and the Boxer Rebellion, and my father served in World War Two. My older brother graduated from West Point in 1962 and served in Vietnam. The only person in our family who spent time in the Navy was an uncle, my mother's half-brother, who served as a seaman on a destroyer during World War One. I didn't know Uncle Bill all that well, but enjoyed my few conversations with him during my early teens. He died in 1959 when I was only 15. Anyway, on September 13, 1944 no one in our family would have anticipated that I would graduate from the U. S. Naval Academy in 1967 and eventually retire as a Captain in the U. S. Naval Reserve. But I did. All part of God's plan.

Commander Lewis Warrington
Here's another non-coincidental connection. The USS WARRINGTON was named for Lewis Warrington (1782-1851) a naval officer who fought the Barbary Pirates in the Mediterranean and later the British during the War of 1812. He was quite the hero during the latter war. Warrington went on to serve as temporary Secretary of the Navy and Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance. Now, that's all wonderful, but Warrington is also the name of a district of Pensacola, Florida, the neighborhood right outside the main gate to the Naval Air Station. It was, of course, named for Lewis Warrington. Where was my first assignment immediately after graduation from the Academy? To Pensacola where I would spend the next 16 months learning to fly naval aircraft. I also met Dear Diane in Pensacola where she had lived most of her young life. We were married at the NAS Chapel exactly 186 years after Lewis Warrington's birth.

Martha (Cavanaugh) McCarthy, RN
One more connection...The place so mistreated by the hurricane at the time of my birth, St. Vincent's Hospital, was also the hospital where my mother earned her RN and worked as a nurse. It was, of course, named for St. Vincent de Paul, the 17th-century French priest who devoted his life to serving the poor. Sixty years later, when we moved to Florida in 2004, to what parish was I assigned? St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wildwood, Florida.

Now do you see why I don't believe in coincidence? I'd much rather believe in God, who I am convinced enjoys making all these wonderful connections in our lives.

My Birthday Hurricanes

Having just experienced hurricane Irma up close and personal, I recall my father telling me about another hurricane, one that rolled through New England as I was born.

My birthday is this coming Wednesday, September 13, and during this same week, back in 1944, a large hurricane roared up the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Canada. They didn't name hurricanes back then but this particular storm became known as "The 1944 Great Atlantic Hurricane."

This storm reached its peak on my birthday when it recorded 145 mph winds, making it a Category 4 storm by today's standards. A few days later it dumped a record 10.7 inches of rain on the city in which I was born, Bridgeport, Connecticut. My father said little about the experience, only complaining that the storm had made things very difficult. I don't think he blamed me for the inconvenience...
Great Atlantic Hurricane Track (September 1944) 
Being born during a major hurricane is a claim to fame of sorts, but the 1944 storm wasn't the last to visit me on my birthday. I recall another massive hurricane that stopped by to wish me well back in September 1960, just as I was celebrating my 16th birthday. Hurricane Donna made its way from Florida to New England, and on September 12 roared right by Larchmont, New York, our town on Long Island Sound. 

The parallels between these two storms are interesting, but the parallels between Donna and Irma are even more remarkable. Although 57 years apart, both storms struck the mainland USA in the vicinity of Marathon, Florida on September 10 with winds of 130 mph. And both went on to ravage the state of Florida. The biggest difference between the two relates to their respective post-Florida tracks. Irma ceased being a hurricane as she made her way into northern Florida. Donna, however, moved up the state and into the Atlantic, where she regained strength and then ravaged the Atlantic coast all the way to New England. Like her 1944 predecessor she too had maximum winds of 145 mph, making her a Category 4.
Hurricane Donna's Track (September 1960)
Irma, of course, began as a much more violent storm, a Category 5 with sustained 185 mph winds. It was these winds that devastated so many islands in the Caribbean.
Hurricane Irma's Track (September 2017)
Fortunately, at least for us in Florida, Irma could not maintain this strength as she made her way through the western Caribbean to south Florida. And her over-land track after coming ashore allowed her to weaken even more. Her visit here was no picnic, but it could have been much worse. I suppose she could have stuck around and interfered with Wednesday's celebration.

Bye-Bye Irma (Irma #6)

She's gone...sort of. In the darkness of the early morning hurricane Irma passed right over us here in central Florida. It's now mid-morning and even though a weakened and less organized Irma is already in Georgia, we're still experiencing  tropical storm force winds upwards of 50 mph. We're told these will be with us for most of the day. After yesterday and this morning these gusts are no big deal. She's still a huge storm, though, spreading her rains and winds over hundreds of miles. Here's a radar view, more or less current:

The winds and rains howled and hammered all night, but we seem to have come through with little or no damage. Our trees lost a lot of branches, but from what I can tell, most were very small. I might have to make some repairs to our garage door, but other than that all is well. I stayed up until 3 a, m, and then finally grabbed a few hours of sleep. I think an afternoon nap might be called for.

Millions of Floridians are without electrical power, but here in The Villages, at least in our neighborhood, we seem to have lost nothing. We still have electricity, telephones, internet --  the bounty of the good life promised by modern civilization. The only thing I lost was AT&T cell service, but it's already back, up and running.

Now we're just thankful that we came through this safely. Occasionally God needs to remind us of the power of His creation. The humble recognize this and realize that as inhabitants of this tiny planet we're actually powerless little critters, totally dependent on His mercy. I trust those who mistakenly think they are powerful might come to accept the truth of God's omnipotence.

There is one powerful gift God extends to us: the power of prayer. And Diane and I thank you for your prayers. We also turn to our two patron saints, the martyrs St. Vitus and St. Elmo (Erasmus), and thank them for their intercession.

We pray, too, for those who are still feeling the effects of Irma. We have relatives and friends in northern Florida, Georgia and South Carolina and pray for their safety.

As the hymn reminds us: "Praise God from Whom all blessings flow..." Yes, indeed, God is good.

With that, I'm finished with Irma -- no more updates.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Irma Heads Right For Us (Irma #5)

Well...the highly unpredictable Irma changed course after making landfall in Marco Island, Florida. Instead of heading off to the northwest as most of the tracking models predicted, she decided to charge ahead almost due north. The problem for us is that this new course will cause her to pass directly over us here in Sumter County. Arrgghhh.

The Villages, our massive retirement community of well over 100,000 residents, spans three Florida counties: Lake, Marion, and Sumter. Our home is in Sumter County and is apparently in Irma's crosshairs. According to the seemingly wise meteorologists of Orlando's Channel 9 (WFTV), we will experience some very high winds beginning around midnight and lasting for many hours. We can expect things to settle down around 7 or 8 a.m. tomorrow.

Right now I estimates we're feeling the effects of perhaps 50 mph winds, along with constant torrential rains. It's quite noisy so winds perhaps twice as strong should really keep us awake. No damage yet...well, no damage heard or seen, but it's a very dark night. I'll have to wait until morning to survey the exterior of the house. I'm still a bit concerned about the live oak trees behind the houses on this side of our street. Although I don't expect Irma to uproot these large tress, her strong, shifting winds will probably rip off some large branches. We hope none will damage any homes.

Diane and Maddie are both asleep. (It's now past 11 p.m.) As for me, the storm seems to have awakened me -- some sort of stimulant effect. I also feel a kind of manly sense of responsibility calling me to watch over Dear Diane and our home. I can't imagine going to bed while Irma roars just beyond our thin walls. And someone should stay awake in the event of a tornado warning, so we can all -- Diane, Maddie and I -- retreat to the guest bathroom, our only interior room with no windows. 

We still have electrical power and all the other utilities we've come to rely on. And for this we thank both St. Elmo and St. Vitus. Our diocese -- the Diocese of Orlando -- has placed a prayer on the diocesan website. I invite you to pray:

May God calm the storms of our heart.
Let us pray that God will calm the storms of our heart. May we remember to check on one another as the storms arrive – our coworkers, our neighbors, our friends, our families – to assure each other of our care and concern for our safety and well-being.

May He bring safety to all in the path of the storm

We pray for those in the path of the storm, for all evacuating to safety and for all who will work to serve our communities and protect the dignity of life. May we take care of ourselves, our loved ones and those God puts in our path.

Let us pray for protection

Lord of mercy, watch over and protect all of your children in the path of Hurricane Irma. Please protect us and guide us toward safe harbors as we take shelter in you. Amen.

It Begins (Irma #4)

The rains and wind have arrived in earnest. We're already on the receiving end of tropical storm force winds and the rain is coming down in buckets. It's hard to believe this is just a first taste of Irma's power. She is one very large storm, larger than any I've experienced, well over 500 miles in diameter. The forecast for our area is not encouraging. She will strengthen and hammer us throughout the night and into tomorrow.

A few moments ago I stepped out on the lanai and noticed that water is beginning to pool in the area between the houses. There's pretty good drainage back there but I'm not real confident it can keep up with a storm of this intensity. When hurricane Frances hit us back in 2004 we experienced some significant flooding behind our house, but it eventually drained off and did no damage. Water also seeped in under the front door. Fortunately we managed to sop it up with dozens of towels until the rains stopped. But we've had so much rain this summer that I'm afraid the ground is already waterlogged. We'll see.
Maddie viewing the empty lanai
Adding to the excitement are the tornadoes that accompany Irma. A dozen or so have already popped up in central and eastern Florida with several causing serious damage by uprooting trees and destroying mobile homes. One TV meteorologist commented that well over 10% of Floridians live in mobile and manufactured homes, a fact that explains why they are so often the target of severe weather: there's just a lot of them. The only good thing about hurricane-embedded tornadoes is their size and duration: they tend to be small and they don't last long.

Oh, yes, for those of you concerned about our lizards, on my brief visit to the lanai I noticed that Leo, the largest of our three lizards, apparently decided to come out of hiding. The below photo shows him comfortably waiting out the storm. We are pleased that all three seem to be doing well, and trust they will make it through the "dark and stormy night."  
Leo, the largest of our lizards
We still have electricity, telephone, cable and internet; and this is good. At my age the idea of reverting to a more primitive lifestyle is unappealing. Whether all of these modern conveniences will still function tomorrow morning is anyone's guess, but I'm hoping for the best.

Martyrdom of St. Erasmus (Elmo)
Interestingly, when it comes to things electrical or electronic, Diane always asks St. Elmo to intercede. This all began when I once described the phenomenon known as "St. Elmo's Fire," a form of electrical discharge that sometimes appears on the masts and rigging of ships. Because sailors considered them to be signs of St. Elmo's protective concern, they named the phenomenon after him. The patron saint of sailors (and I suppose that includes me), Elmo is more properly known as St. Erasmus of Formia. I suppose Elmo is just a nickname preferred by sailors. And here's an amazing  coincidence: St. Elmo and St. Vitus (remember him from my first Irma post) were both martyred in the same year, 303 A.D. Isn't that remarkable? Our two patrons -- Elmo, Diane's patron of things electrical, and Vitus, the patron of protection from storms -- returned to the Father at about the same time.

And so I ask that you join with us as we turn to these two saintly martyrs in prayer, asking for their combined intercession for all who are in the path of this devastating storm. 

God's peace.

Hello Irma (Irma #3)

We're still in an awaiting mode, with little to do but watch the easily excitable weather people on TV. They are, of course, in their glory since these significant weather events are relatively rare. But when severe weather does occur, the meteorologists take center stage and all other news fades into the background. I'm always amazed by their ability to come up with new things to say. After all, hurricanes are really just a lot of very strong winds and torrential rains, but these TV weather people dazzle us with graphs and charts and tracks and millibars and cones and all sorts of wonderful stuff to keep us watching. I especially enjoy the weather reporters in the field who stand in knee-deep water while they lean into 50-knot winds and tell us things we can't understand because the sound of the wind drowns out their words. Then they remind us to stay indoors because these storms are dangerous.

And yet I continue to watch.

Earlier this morning, after joining Maddie on her morning walk through the neighborhood, I took holy water in hand and blessed the house and the surrounding trees, asking God to keep us safe. Two of our three resident lizards watched me intently as I sprinkled the lanai and them. As you can see clearly in the below photos, both showed real interest. Lizzie, the smallest, clung to one of the screens, while Leonard watched from his favorite ledge. Leo, the big guy, was nowhere to be seen, but I suspect he's hiding under the grill, his usual place of retreat whenever I enter the lanai.
Lizzie on the screen

Leonard on the ledge
I hope that all three make it through the storm. Dear Diane suggested inviting them into the house, but I nixed the idea assuming Maddie might not accept them. She has never bothered, or even taken an interest in, our lanai lizards but asking her to share the house with them might be expecting too much.  

As you can tell, I seem to have far too much time on my hands today. There's nothing much to do except wait and pray and occasionally raid the cookie jar. Although this morning we've experienced a few passing squalls with some wind and rain, so far all is relatively calm. We're told this will change this evening. The worst will be with us throughout the night, so I expect I'll get little sleep. I hope Diane and Maddie sleep well, but someone has to stay up and keep an eye on Irma as she passes through.
As you can see by this fairly recent map of Irma's track (above), the experts still anticipate that she'll follow the Gulf coast as she heads north. If that actually happens, we will be just outside the eyewall and be subjected to some very strong winds. Should be a fun night.

Again, keep us in your prayers, and don't forget St. Vitus, who has a special way with storms.


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Irma Update (Irma #2)

With hurricane Irma less than 24 hours away, Dear Diane and I have been trying to prepare for her arrival. Our first task? Empty the lanai of all furniture, so it doesn't get blown through the glass French doors that open to the living room.

The task is complete, but I didn't expect the reaction of the three little lizards that have been living in our lanai for several months. I named them a few weeks ago, from smallest to largest: Lizzie, Leonard and Leo. It just seemed like the proper thing to do since they had become permanent residents. Anyway, I think they're upset about all the unexpected activity. Every time I moved a chair or table, they ran for cover, seemingly very concerned about these sudden changes. Now, with the lanai completely empty, they have no place to hide. They have been sitting together on a ledge and staring down at the large void that was once their adopted home. Sad, but I suspect they'll recover once the storm passes...assuming they survive.

I feel confident that we've prepared as well as two old folks can. We have gallons of fresh water, enough batteries, weather radios, ice for the coolers, flashlights, candles, two full gas tanks for the grill, ice cream, cookies, and the most important item, good neighbors. I also have a little Irish whiskey for myself in the event of an emergency.

Here's Irma's current location and anticipated track:

We're still hoping that Irma -- now moving rather slowly along the north shore of Cuba -- will continue on her westward course for a while before making that anticipated turn toward the north. If she skirts Florida's gulf coast we will receive some very high winds here in Sumter County, so I'd prefer her farther out to sea.

The latest forecast for our area calls for hurricane force winds upwards of 100+ mph for a rather extended period: 5 pm Sunday through 2 pm Monday. That's a long time to be battered by so much wind. The forecast also predicted 8 to 15 inches of rain. To emphasize the seriousness of all this, the forecaster told us to expect power outages, flooding, and tornadoes. All very encouraging.

And so we continue to ask St. Vitus to intercede for us and for all who find themselves in the path of this huge storm. And I ask you, my tiny but holy remnant of readers, to keep us in your prayers. Praise God!

Homily: Wednesday, 22nd Week of Ordinary Time

Readings: Col 1:1-8; Ps 52; Luke 4:38-44
To whom do you take your troubles?

The best answer is clearly offered in today's Gospel passage. For it's Jesus who heals. It's He who brings us the Good News. It's He who saves us from the evils that surround us.

In the Gospel we see Jesus teaching and preaching and healing, doing the work we're all called to do. His disciples freely brought their troubles to Him because He was always there, always ready to deal with any difficulty, to heal any affliction or sickness.

When Simon Peter invited Jesus to his home for the Sabbath meal (right after Jesus preached in the synagogue in Capernaum), Our Lord instantly healed Peter's ailing mother-in-law. Jesus heard Simon's prayer. Is it any wonder Jesus drew huge crowds wherever He went? No one who sincerely asked for His help left disappointed. Not only did he heal, but all those healings and exorcisms gave power and authority to His Word. They prepared His disciples to understand who He is and what they would be called to do.

Because of these healings many came to realize that no mere man could do what Jesus did. When He touched eyes and ears, people saw and heard. When He laid His hands on a fevered brow, the fever left. When He called forth the dead, they came to life. When He rebuked demons, they left as well. Indeed, those demons shuddered in His presence because they recognized Him as the Christ, the Son of God. They knew He had power to destroy their kingdom by releasing those bound by it.

This was Jesus's mission: to free us from bondage, to break the chains of sin and evil that tie us to the world and keep us from the Kingdom.

This leads to another question: Do we seek freedom in Christ and trust in His power to set us free?  I hope so, for He's always ready for us, hoping we'll come to Him.

When Jesus and the disciples went to a lonely place to regroup and rest, they found instead a crowd waiting for them!  And how did Jesus respond?  Did He tell them, "Look, folks, I'm tired. I need a little down time, a time to recharge these healing batteries." No, He set aside His own needs and welcomed them with open-arms. Our Lord always places our true needs ahead of everything else. Through His divine compassion He showed the depths of God's love and concern for all who come to Him in need, giving them His Word, healing them physically and spiritually.
You and I can never intrude upon God. We can never exhaust His generosity and kindness. And this leads to our final question: Do we allow Jesus to work through us, to bring healing to our family and community?

Brothers and sisters, approach Him with expectant faith, knowing that He'll answer your prayer, that His will be done in your life and the lives of others. God's healing power restores us to health and to active service and care of others. There's no trouble He can't overcome; no chains He can't break.
And so, once again, to whom do you take your troubles? With expectant faith take them to Jesus.

Lord Jesus Christ, you have power to heal and deliver, to forgive and save. Set us free to serve you joyfully and to love and serve others generously.

Teach us to be like you.

Praised be Jesus Christ.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Here Comes Irma (Irma #1)

I can think of no better place to live than Florida...except during a hurricane.

Irma, apparently a hurricane of historic proportions, has set her sights on Florida. Dear Diane and I happen to live smack dab in the middle of this great state, something which causes me more than a little concern. The latest predictions by the weather-guessers show the storm smashing into South Florida and then moving north, right up the spine of the Florida peninsula. If these forecasts are accurate, Irma, still packing hurricane force winds, should reach us sometime early Monday.

Because we live in Central Florida, between Orlando and Ocala, we will be spared the destruction caused by the storm surge that affects coastal areas. But the high winds and heavy rains could still take their toll. So much depends on the path Irma ultimately follows. If she makes a slight right turn and heads north along the east coast, the damage here will be lessened but the people of coastal Georgia and the Carolinas could find themselves facing an even stronger storm. She could instead take a left turn into the Gulf and run up Florida's west coast. This, too, would be better for us, but might hammer the folks who live along the Gulf Coast and in the panhandle. There's really no good scenario, so the best we can do is pray that God will be merciful and keep us all safe.

We have not received an evacuation order -- at least, not yet -- but if we do, it might be a challenge to convince Dear Diane to leave. Where would we go? she asks. Drive north to stay with relatives in Georgia or friends in South Carolina? From the forecasts it seems the storm will simply follow us. She intends to stay put and assumes that our central location will limit the damage that a weakened Irma could inflict. I pray she is correct.

In truth, The Villages tends to weather bad storms fairly well. We can only hope the community will withstand Irma's fury when she arrives. Back in 2004, shortly after we moved here, three hurricanes -- Charley, Frances and Jeanne -- visited The Villages, one after another, and caused some damage; but our well-constructed house survived all three storms. The large live-oak trees behind our house were not so fortunate, but despite all the lost limbs, the trees survived. Because all the utilities -- cable, telephone and electricity -- are underground here in The Villages, we didn't suffer any outages back in 2004. (Actually, as I recall, we lost cable TV for about 30 minutes, but that was the extent of it.)

My biggest concern is the potential flooding that could result from 10 to 20 inches of rainfall. We have excellent drainage here but I can't imagine any drainage system coping effectively with such high levels of predicted rainfall. We'll see.

But because I always want to be prepared, I stopped by the local Publix supermarket this morning and loaded up on the essentials: ice cream and cookies. I also bought  40 pounds of ice and stashed it in the freezer. I own an "enhanced" ice chest that will keep ice nice and icy for five days. I also have two full tanks of gas for the barbecue grill in the event we cannot use the kitchen range. And if we must leave, the car's gas tank is also full. I think I'm ready for whatever Irma throws at us.

Patron: Protection from Storms
Anyway, we ask that all you folks who live up in snow country keep us in your prayers. And pray, too, for those in the Caribbean who have already suffered so much devastation from this storm.

We thank God for all that happens, knowing He turns everything to good for those who believe in Him.

And, lest I forget, the patron saint of protection from storms is St. Vitus, a martyr of the early fourth century. And so we pray too for his intercession.

God's peace.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Homily: Saturday 19th Week of Ordianary Time

Readings: Jos 24:14-29; Ps 136 Mt 19:13-15

A few years ago, after baptizing a little baby girl, a friend of the baby's parents approached me with these words:

"You know, you Catholics shouldn't baptize babies and little children. There's no way that baby can accept Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. No one should be baptized until they're old enough to understand what baptism is all about."

She then gave me one of those "so there!" looks and waited for my response.

I figured she was probably pretty familiar with Scripture so I asked her if she believed that baptism was necessary for salvation. "Of course," she replied, "Jesus said so."

I agreed and repeated Jesus' words in His conversation with Nicodemus:
" one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit" [Jn 3:5].
For good measure, I added Jesus' great commission to the disciples:
"Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:19-20].
I then asked her, "And what did Jesus say about children and the Kingdom of God?"

"What do you mean?"

And so I referred to today's Gospel passage from Matthew 19:
"Let the children come to me, and do not  prevent them; for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these" [Mt 19:14].
"I don't want to argue with you," I said, "but I just ask you to think about what Jesus said. If the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to these little ones, shouldn't we lead them to Jesus? And isn't baptism the very first step? If we don't, aren't we acting like the disciples who tried to prevent them?"

"But how can this little baby understand salvation?

"She can't. That's the job of the parents and the Church, to raise this child as a Christian and bring her to an understanding. After all, in the Gospel it was the parents who brought the little children to Jesus, and it was the disciples who tried to stop them."

Well, eventually, she agreed to think about it; thus ended our little dialog.

But this Gospel passage relates to far more than baptism. It also stresses the need for humility, something we adults resist.

Jesus scolds the adult disciples, doesn't He? Stop acting like officious bureaucrats. The children must be allowed to come to Him.

And it's not just children to whom the Kingdom of Heaven belongs, but to "such as these": to those who have the humility of a child; to those with simplicity and openness; to those who accept the need to change; to those who are open to conversion. Only these are able to respond to the fullness of the Gospel.

What better examples of this than Jesus Himself and Mary, His Mother. Just consider the Annunciation [Lk 1].

The Son of God, the Eternal Word, agrees to become a tiny unborn child, conceived in the womb of a teenaged girl named Mary. 

Jesus will be born into a human family and grow up in a community of faith. He will do the father's will: He will preach and teach and heal. And then He will suffer and die for the sins of all humanity. His is a vocation of total humility, a vocation that is beyond our comprehension. As St. Paul reminds us:
"He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave...He humbled Himself becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross" [Phil 2:7-8].
Mary, too, displays remarkable strength in her human weakness. In faith she accepts what the Father has planned for her without being able to understand fully what it means. Mary, Blessed Mother of Our Lord, Mother of the Church, and our Mother, joins with Jesus showing us the need for humility all along our journey to salvation.
The Son of God - a Life of Humility
Brothers and sisters, without humility there is no virtue; there is no real faith; there is no loving God and loving neighbor.

Humility, you see, is nothing less than reality, a clear understanding of the relationship between a loving Creator and His creature, the object of the Almighty's love.

Indeed, without humility there is only the arrogance of empty pride, and no hope of salvation.