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.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Europe's Eradication of Christianity

It's really remarkable that the continent that owes its place in history to its Christian roots is now trying to eradicate all signs of Christianity. The process is sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle, but it continues nevertheless. 

Two major European businesses recently joined the effort when they apparently realized that some of their products were wrapped in packaging that displayed tiny Christian crosses. Lidl, the huge  German retailer, has its own brand of Greek-style food. Its packaging depicts a scene from the island of Santorini that includes the famous Anastasis Church. As you might expect the domes of the church are topped with crosses. It seems that Lidl, after suffering with the crosses for more than ten years, decided to alter the packaging and remove these Christian symbols. The company, after receiving many, many complaints, responded with an interesting statement:

Santorini Church with Crosses (former packaging)
"We are extremely sorry for any offence caused by the most recent artwork and would like to reassure our customers that this is not an intentional statement...In light of this we will ensure that all feedback is taken into consideration when redesigning future packaging.”

Lidl packaging without those pesky crosses
One can only wonder how the airbrushing of the crosses could be anything but intentional. As an amateur photographer who often "doctors" my photographs, I can state without question that the crosses did not disappear accidentally. And notice that Lidl does not intend to replace the crosses. No, in the future "feedback will be taken into consideration" -- whatever that means. The company then added:
“We avoid the use of religious symbols on our packaging to maintain neutrality in all religions. If it has been perceived differently, we apologize to those who may have been shocked.”
Of course such neutrality is a new policy in line with the general trend in Europe, a policy that is hardly shocking 

Nestle, the Swiss conglomerate, also depicted the Santorini church on packaging for its Greek yogurt. Not to be outdone by Lidl, the company followed suit and removed the church's crosses from the packaging. It claimed that the crosses might offend the "sensibilities" of those who are not Christian.
New Nestle packaging (without crosses)
The Greek Orthodox Church is unhappy with the actions taken by Lidl and Nestle and has called for a boycott of their products. We'll see if that results in further changes.

The trend, however, has reached down even to the local government level. In the UK a local council tossed a rare bookseller from a marketplace because she sold coffee mugs that might offend the sensibilities of Muslims. The bookseller, Tina Gayle, is upset and says she's never had a Muslim complain to her about any of the products she sells. (Read the story here.)

The mugs contained an image that reflected the Knights Templar and also included the famous verse from the beginning of Psalm 115, in Latin:

“Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomini tuo da gloriam"  [Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory]
The Knights Templar were an interesting order of monkish knights, formed to protect Christian pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. They were actually quite heroic, but were treated abominably by the royals of France and others. I tend to look on them favorably, something which, happily, is extremely irritating to politically correct progressives. (I also want one of those mugs.) But I can't see how a coffee mug and a psalm would offend Muslims or anyone else, unless they are history deniers. Anyway I'm really tired of all those folks who get so offended by speech  or writings or pictures or attitudes they don't like. Grow up people. If you disagree with something, learn how to defend that with which you agree.

By the way, if you'd like to read more about the Knights Templar, pick up a copy of Regine Pernoud's book, The Templars: Knights of Christ.

Finally, also in the UK -- once the bastion of freedom of speech -- police departments around the country arrested 3,395 people last year for breaking a law that declares it illegal to intentionally "cause annoyance, inconvenience, or needless anxiety to another." (Read the story here.)

Now, I don't know about you, but I probably do all of those things several times a day. Dear Diane tells me regularly that I'm being annoying. I sometimes go out of my way to make the lives of others mildly inconvenient...but only when they're really annoying. And how can one differentiate between needless and necessary anxiety? Heavens! I'd probably get a life sentence from the Queen's courts. 

As you might expect, the law is not evenly applied. Several Muslim media types in the UK regularly accuse others of all kinds of nasty crimes simply because of their race or religious beliefs. For this they are not prosecuted. But if a Christian criticizes Islam..."OK, be a good chap and put your hands behind your back."

Well, Jesus told us to expect persecution, and our experience with Nazism and Communism should have been warning enough. But I wonder how many American Christians still believe they are immune to the persecution to come?

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Another Archaeology Update

If you're among the select few who actually read this blog, you'll know I've long had an interest in things archaeological. I'm certainly no expert, not even a knowledgeable amateur, but I do try to stay abreast of what's happening in this fascinating field of study. Science and technology have provided today's archaeologist with tools undreamed of just a few years ago. The result has been a remarkable expansion of our knowledge of ancient civilizations and the societies that formed them.

I'm especially interested in what is often labeled "Biblical Archaeology", that branch of the science that relates to the events described in Sacred Scripture. Of course, any good archaeologist doesn't set out to "prove" the accuracy of Sacred Scripture; rather, he tries to uncover the truth in the form of objective facts, and then based on these hard facts share with us how our ancient ancestors lived, worked, prayed, and died. Interestingly, recent findings uncovered by archaeology, palaeography, and textual philology seem increasingly to support the truth of Sacred Scripture.

I'm also intrigued by those discoveries that bring the ancient world to light and often demonstrate that the ancients were far less primitive than previously thought. I'm always pleased when the temporal bigotry that colors the thinking of today's progressives is exposed for what it is, a blind prejudice that assumes we are smarter and wiser than those who preceded us. Indeed, looking at the chaos, brutality and global destruction that typifies much of our recent history, one can make a pretty good case that we have devolved and are far less wise than many of our ancient ancestors. In itself, this is a good reason to study the ancients, how they lived and what they believed. Maybe we'll actually learn from them.

Although we moderns certainly view the world very differently from the ancients, when it comes to our interpersonal relationships we are remarkably unchanged. As a student of Sacred Scripture I find the manifestations of human nature to be one of the constants that spans the centuries between the ancients and us. One need only read Genesis, Exodus, and the Gospels to realize that Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and the Apostles are very much like us as we struggle to live our faith in a world hostile to God's Word. In the loosely translated words of the French writer, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."

All that being said, what's been happening lately in archaeology?

Sarah Parcak, Space Archaeologist. Dr. Sarah Parcak, a Yale- and Cambridge-educated archaeologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has led what can only be described as a revolution in her field of study. For the past decade or so she has pioneered the use of satellite imagery to identify likely archaeological sites. Her work has led to the identification of hundreds of sites in Egypt, Sinai, Rome and elsewhere throughout the world. Many, perhaps most of these sites would never have been located by means of surface-based techniques. Dr. Parcak's work will keep her and many of her colleagues busy for decades to come.

There are, of course, some archaeologists who dispute her conclusions, but I expect most would resist any new techniques, especially those that might force them to reevaluate their own work.

Here's a brief video of Dr. Parcak discussing her work.

Babylonian Trigonometry? This story really interested me since trigonometry was among my favorite subjects back in high school. Back then (I think it was in my junior year), I'm pretty sure we were told that modern trigonometry and all its sines and cosines and tangents was something developed by the Greeks. The Egyptians might have used a primitive form to help them as they built pyramids and other edifices, but the Greeks were the ones who perfected this branch of mathematics. 
Mathematician David Mansfield holding ancient tablet
Now, it seems a couple of Australian mathematicians -- David Mansfield and Norman Wildberger -- have concluded that an ancient (3,700 year-old) Babylonian tablet found over 100 years ago contains a trigonometric table with "exact values for the sides of a range right triangles." In other words, instead of using angles, the Babylonians, with their base 60 math, expressed trigonometry in terms of these exact ratios of the sides of triangles. If the Aussies are correct -- and there's no shortage of folks who dispute their claims -- it's an amazing discovery. I expect we'll hear more about this in the future. You can read more about it here.

Destruction of Ancient and Religious Sites by Islamists. This is becoming a standard headline as followers of ISIS, al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Hamas and other Islamist terrorist entities seem determined to destroy anything that doesn't support their warped sense of history and religion.

In the Philippines, particularly in the south, where ISIS influence has increased greatly in recent years, ISIS followers regularly destroy Christian churches. A recent example is destruction of the Catholic cathedral in the southern Philippine city of Marawi by Islamists who made a video of their rampage:

Read the story here.

In Iraq, ISIS, during the two years they controlled the city of Nimrud, carried out a plan of total destruction of this ancient city. When ISIS forces were finally driven out, the Iraqi soldiers found near total devastation. ISIS used bulldozers, explosives, sledgehammers, anything that could destroy, as they went through the ancient city smashing everything in their path.

At one time Nimrud was the capital of the ancient Assyrian Empire. It was an archaeological marvel, the site of temples, ziggurats and other ruins thousands of years old. The Iraqi troops also found mass graves filled with the bodies of the local people murdered by ISIS. Seemingly proud of what they had done, ISIS also made several videos showing how they destroyed much of this ancient city. Here's a video  made after ISIS had been driven from the city, showing the level of destruction:

The Islamists' war of devastation continued in Syria with the destruction of much of the ancient city of Palmyra. They also bulldozed the Christian monastery of Mar Elian. They removed ancient mosaics, presumably to sell on the black market, from the Roman trading city of Apamea. In the city of Dura-Europos, located on the Euphrates and perhaps the easternmost of Roman outposts, they destroyed one of Christianity's oldest churches, a beautiful synagogue, and many Roman temples. And they looted the bronze-age city of Mari. And all of this destruction was just in Syria. The Islamists were guilty of even more looting and damage in the Iraqi cities of Hatra, Nineveh, Mosul, and Khorsabad, to name only a few.

The Sea People. Here's a fascinating story that shows it's important to take notes and keep them.

A few years ago I read a book entitled 1177 B.C., The Year Civilization Collapsed. Written by Eric Cline, an American archaeologist who focused on the causes of the sudden and near simultaneous collapse of many of the societies that ringed the Mediterranean Sea and even beyond. Many historians and archaeologists have placed the blame on the so-called "Sea People" who embarked on a series of invasions and raids that destroyed the key cities of these societies. Even Egypt was attacked, and although the Egyptians repelled the attackers, their society never fully recovered.
Egyptian wall frieze depicting Egypt repelling the Sea People

But Egypt wasn't the only victim. Hittites, Minoans, Trojans, and others all seemed simply to disappear. Cline isn't so sure this was all the result of the Sea People and adds natural calamities and economic factors to the mix of causes. But no one was ever absolutely sure where these Sea People came from. We might now have an answer, and it comes from an unexpected source.

Back in 1878 a French archaeologist, George Perrot, came across a limestone slab in the Turkish village of Beykoy. The slab, about a foot high and almost 100 feet long, was covered with ancient inscriptions. Because the locals intended to use the stone as part of the foundation of their mosque, Perrot decided to make an accurate copy of the inscriptions before the slab was destroyed.
Copy of Luwian Inscriptions
The copy, long forgotten, surfaced in 2012 in the estate of an English historian. Its inscriptions were then identified as Luwian, an ancient language that only a handful of experts can decipher. The translation of the inscriptions describes how kingdoms in Western Asia formed a confederation -- the Sea People -- and with a united fleet conducted raids of the eastern Mediterranean. Here's the story.

That's enough. More archaeology later...

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Descent

I've been reading some poetry lately, more than usual. It seems to fulfill a need. While there are certainly exceptions, poets seem to be saner than most of us, certainly saner than most modern philosophers, and the best of them have been given a gift of prophecy. Today, given all that's happening in our world, I need a regular dose of sanity, and have therefore turned to a few of my favorite poets.

Poets, of course, are often pessimistic when it comes to the human condition. (This is a gross generality, but it's my blog so I can write such things if I like.) Anyway, two of the poets who have lately grabbed my attention are W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot.

Turning the pages of my copy of The Poems of W. B. Yeats, I'd occasionally stop and read a poem that caught my eye. Among these was The Second Coming. Written in 1920, after the wholesale death and destruction of World War One, it foresaw, with prophetic accuracy, what the world would face in the years that followed. Crushed by four years of nightmarish violence, the enlightened pre-war optimism disappeared along with the promising lives of a continent's youth. Expedience trumped morality as human lives became expendable, the means to political ends. The war promised only a bleak future, one that Yeats described in his poem:

The Second Coming
Turning and turning in the widening gyre   
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere   
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst   
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.   
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out   
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert   
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,   
 gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,   
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it   
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.   
The darkness drops again; but now I know   
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,   
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,   
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?


W. B. Yeats
Writing almost a century ago, Yeats seemed to recognize that the 20th century would be one of chaos and upheaval such as the world had never seen. Rapid and remarkable scientific and technological progress would hide from many the continuing moral decline and the gradual replacement of religion by scientism in the minds of the elites. God is replaced by man, who finds himself caught between a failed rationality of the Enlightenment and the despair of the postmodernists. 

Closing my book of Yeats' collected poems, I turned to Eliot and amazingly opened right to page 96, the beginning of his long poem, Choruses from "The Rock" (See T. S. Eliot: The Complete Poems and Plays), written not long after Yeats' poem. I've included those opening verses below:


Choruses from "The Rock"
The Eagle soars in the summit of Heaven,
The Hunter with his dogs pursues his circuit.
О perpetual revolution of configured stars,
О perpetual recurrence of determined seasons,
О world of spring and autumn, birth and dying!
The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.


T. S. Eliot
Eliot, like Yeats and Chesterton and many others, was a modern prophet who saw clearly what would result from the moral distortions of his time. Read his thoughts on Christian society and culture in Christianity and Culture to get a better understanding of what we face today.  

Yes, as the poets remind us, we are surrounded by the signs of decline. Distracted by the wonders of technology that tell us how very smart we are, we forget that wisdom does not emerge from an integrated circuit. No, wisdom is passed down from one generation to the next through the traditions that today are forgotten, ignored, ridiculed, and suppressed.

We develop cures and preventatives, extending lives by years, even decades, but then slaughter the inconvenient infants in the womb by the tens of millions. Not content with denying life's beginnings, with god-like audacity we kill those approaching its end, the sick and the elderly, and label it "compassion."

We praise humanity's "progress" despite the evidence of a century of totalitarian despotism that destroyed more lives than in all previous human history. And yet, driven by extraordinary hubris, politicians scramble to acquire more power, actually believing they can control the uncontrollable and plan the unplannable.

It's all very disconcerting for those who lack faith. Most just move along in life hoping, at least, to find some ephemeral happiness. But some, far too many today, are driven to the brink of despair and self-destruction. Others find meaning in the extremes of human behavior and cling to ideologies that promise a distorted form of salvation. Satan is very busy in our world today.

Pope Benedict XVI
As I pondered the prophetic words of these poets, I couldn't help but think of the tragic events in Las Vegas. So many in the media and politics scream about controlling guns, the tools used by the man responsible for the carnage. But no one says a word about moral culpability because this would lead to an uncomfortable discussion of morality and truth, two words that have been excised from the popular language. As Pope Benedict XVI reminded us, today our culture is plagued by "a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

No one dares examine the root cause of the Las Vegas tragedy and others like it: the fact that in our society human life has little value. If an unborn child, a human being with a beating heart who can experience pain, is considered disposable because he or she doesn't suit the parents' lifestyle or plans, then why not use violence to promote one's ideology or to satisfy  personal psychological desires? Without God, His commandments, and His gift of faith, there is no morality, there are no limits.

I thank God for my faith, and I do so every day, many times each day. For we were created by a loving God who has given us the freedom and the grace to accept His revealed Truth. But acceptance or rejection is up to us.

We must remember, too, that our loving God -- Father, Son and Spirit -- is the Lord of History and acts in our world through us or in spite of us. His will be done because His will cannot be denied. I encounter too many Christians who fear the future because of what they see in today's world. Such fears must never enter the Christian's heart, for our loving, merciful God has promised salvation to those who love Him. "Be not afraid" is God's constant command to His People, His reminder that He walks with us always. 

God's peace...

Monday, October 2, 2017

Homily: Memorial of the Guardian Angels

Before turning to today's homily, posted below, please join me in prayer for all those innocents who lost their lives in last evening's horrific shooting in Las Vegas. We pray that God will take them into His loving embrace and enfold them in His mercy.

We pray, too, for the hundreds of people who were wounded by the shooter or otherwise injured, that they will find healing of both body and spirit in the wake of the trauma they have suffered.

And we pray for the families and loved ones of all who died and were wounded, that they, too, will experience God's merciful touch and the healing that comes only from Him.

Finally, we pray for the man responsible for this tragedy. We  know neither his motives nor his mental state and so we place him in God's hands and trust in His mercy and justice.

We must also acknowledge not only the first responders who came to the aid of the many victims, but also the many brave men and women who, placing their own lives at risk, thought first of helping others -- those who were wounded, dying, and trying to reach safety -- even as the shooting continued. Last night was a national tragedy, but it was also a reminder of the goodness and courage of so many of our fellow citizens.

Keep them and our country in your prayers.

...and now my homily. Today we honor our guardian angels.

Readings: Exodus 23:20-23; Psalm 91; Matthew 18:1-5,10


Some years ago I attended a seminar conducted by a highly respected scriptural scholar. It soon became apparent he really didn't accept the miracles described in the Bible. All of them, he argued, could be attributed to natural causes.

And despite the presence of angels in Sacred Scripture, he didn't believe in their existence either. He was certain those many passages were just examples of a kind of over-zealous piety among the Jews and early Christians.

Indeed, he soon made it clear he didn't accept any manifestations of the supernatural, the many theophanies described in the Bible.

Exasperated, I finally raised my hand and asked him what he did believe in. "Do you believe in the Trinity, in Jesus Christ, in the Resurrection, in Christ's Eucharistic Presence?"

He laughed and replied, "Of course." And then he proceeded to cast doubt on each. In humility, and somewhat cowardly, I just shut up.

But how very sad for him -- that the object of his life's work had become almost meaningless to him. After all, if you doubt so much of Sacred Scripture, what can you believe? Where do you draw the line between what you accept and what you reject?

As for me, I have witnessed hundreds of miracles in the lives of so many people, including my own. And angels? Well, I've had some encounters that removed all doubts.

But like our scholar, so many today, even many who claim to be believers, seem to think that God doesn't act in the world. That a Christian could believe this is strange indeed, since the Incarnation, a central belief of Christianity, is God's ultimate act, His personal entry into the world.

Yes, Jesus Christ is the Lord of History, the creative Word of God. And if Sacred Scripture shows us one thing, it's that God uses not only men and women to carry out His plan for humanity, but also His angels.
"I am sending an angel before you..."
When His angels act, as in our first reading [Ex 23:20], it is God Himself who acts, for no creatures are more faithful doers of God's Word than the angels. God sends that angel in Exodus before His People to protect them as they enter the Promised Land. We encounter this angelic protection manifested again and again throughout the Old and the New Testaments.

When we turn to our Gospel passage from Matthew, we find the disciples, once again displaying their pride, asking Jesus, "Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of heaven?" [Mt 18:1]

But Our Lord, knowing their hearts, again calls them to deep humility -- to the emptying of self that Paul described to the Philippians [Phil 2:6-8]. Just as the divine Jesus humbled Himself through the Incarnation and His passion and death, so too must His disciples, and that's you and me, be childlike in our humility.
"Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?"
To emphasize this, Jesus calls a child to Him, just as He had once called His disciples, one after another, thus reminding them that it is God who acts, God who calls, while we only respond in humility or turn away in pride. Now what had that small child done to humble himself? Nothing that we know of. Jesus is not talking about actions here; rather he's describing an attitude of being. Unlike the disciples, the child is aware of and content with his lowliness. He is "poor in spirit" as in the first Beatitude. And in his humility he experiences a radical freedom, seeing himself depending solely on God.

We see the same attitude manifested by Mary when she proclaims, "My soul magnifies the Lord..." Indeed, the entire Magnificat is a hymn of personal humility in the presence of God's greatness. Yes, lowliness, emptiness, hunger...all allow God to raise up, to fill, to make the last first, to place us at the center of His divine life.
"My soul magnifies the Lord..."
But then, according to Matthew, Jesus declares something truly remarkable. He declares that the angels of the childlike, the little ones, "always behold the face of my Father in heaven" [Mt 18:10]. In other words, that which is scorned on earth, the humility of the childlike, is raised up to the very highest level of being.
Their angels look upon the face of my heavenly Father
We are struck by the wonder of it all: Those who are closest to God Himself, who stand in His presence, are those whom God has appointed to serve His little ones.

Do you see how greatly God esteems and honors the angel He has chosen to guard and lead you? Let your angel lead and guard. Turn to him in prayer, plead for his protection and intercession, for this constant companion forever beholds the face of the Father. Can you imagine a better guardian and friend?