The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Although I am an ordained deacon of the Catholic Church, the opinions expressed in this blog are my personal opinions. In offering these personal opinions I am not acting as a representative of the Church or any Church organization.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

God and Politics

I'm tired. I'm tired of the arguments, tired of defending the truth to people who should know better. Sometimes I just want to crawl into my tent, close the flap, and get away from it all. 

For example, the other day after Mass, a parishioner approached and, I guess, challenged me. I don't know why he came to me, but for some reason I was his target of opportunity.

"Religion and politics don't mix," he told me. "The Church should stay away from politics, and politicians should stay clear of religion." 

He had thrown down the gauntlet and I should have addressed the many errors in his statement, but the thought of another long I said, I'm tired. My reply? "I'm sure many people agree with you, but I'm not one of them. Maybe we can talk about it later, when I have the time." With that I turned and entered the safety of the sacristy, my tent.

As I removed my vestments I couldn't help but recall the words of St. Paul, who seems to delight in reminding me of my weaknesses:
"Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer" [Rom 12:11-12].
In other words, "Keep going, pal. If you're not tired, you're probably not doing what you're called to do." And so I resolved to talk with that parishioner the next chance I get. 

Politics, of course, is just one of many human activities. It involves the how and why of governance, the practice of directing the affairs of human society, particularly public policy. 

Religion involves man's relationship with God, the Creator of all. And since that relationship must involve every aspect of human life, neither politics nor any other human activity can be divorced from religion. 
Some, of course, will wrongly argue that our Constitution's First Amendment is designed to do just that, to separate religion from politics. But that's not its intent. It merely tells citizens (and politicians) that the state may not favor one religious group over others by establishing a state religion. It also tells the state that it cannot prohibit its citizens from freely exercising their religious beliefs. Those who drafted our Constitution recognized the pervasive and beneficial role religion plays in regulating human activity, and sought to protect religion from those who would place unjust limitations on it.

Anyway, in the strange way my mind works, this got me thinking about World War One, and that brought to mind my Uncle Bill. He was my mother's half-brother -- I guess that makes him my half-uncle -- and was a Navy veteran of World War One. We will "celebrate" the 100th anniversary of that war's conclusion at 11 a.m. on November 11. The irony, of course, is that this "war to end all wars" and its aftermath brought us the even more devastating World War Two and all the other wars that followed. 

[By the way, if you're interested in a fascinating book about the end of World War One and the deadly and pointless fighting that continued right up to the final minute on that first Armistice Day, read Joseph Persico's fascinating book, Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour.]
I was just a teenager when Uncle Bill died, but I remember him talking about WWI and his pride in having served. On one of our visits I recall him saying something to the effect that, "But the politicians sure made a mess of things afterwards. Maybe if they'd been more Christian…" And with those words, Uncle Bill beautifully summed up the mess the politicians made of the 20th century.  

"...if they'd been more Christian…" We suffer today because human powers decided to remove God from the political decisions that formed our modern world. God's Word was ruled out 100 years ago at Versailles. Instead of forgiveness, the ruling word was "revenge." The victors sought retaliation and reparations at any cost, and the world paid a high price indeed. The desperation of the Central Powers also sent Lenin's train to Russia, an act that ultimately cost far more innocent lives than the war itself.
I am not a pacifist. I accept that nations have a right to defend themselves from those who would attack them. I am well aware that sometimes just action can include the waging of war in order to prevent even greater evil. But when men try to repair a broken world by forgetting God and following only man's faulty wisdom, more brokenness inevitably follows.

But how many politicians actually take the Sermon on the Mount seriously? How many of us...?

"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you" [Mt 5:43-44]. 
I know of no nation that has integrated this mandate of Jesus into its foreign policy. Is that what Jesus wants? Can we 
love our enemies and still defend ourselves from them? Yes, I believe so. But loving them still places demands on us, the kind of demands ignored by the victors at Versailles. And note Jesus' other command: "...pray for those who persecute you." In other words, at some point we must bring God into the picture, for that's what prayer is intended to do.

We cannot expel God from politics, war, economics, or any other human activity. He simply won't let us, and will insert Himself as He wills. He is, after all, the Lord of History. But to include Him in all we do as a nation involves far more than an annual prayer breakfast at the Capitol or the occasional speech-ending "God Bless America."  No, it means struggling to be imitators of God, to live up to our creation in His image and likeness, to strive to do what is impossible for man.
"Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect."
Jesus concludes His teaching on loving our enemies with a  command impossible to obey, at least on our own: 

"So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect" [Mt 5:48].
To strive for this perfection that God desires of us means we must turn to Him in all things, and that even includes politics. Wouldn't it be nice to be able to vote for a politician who was striving for the perfection of our heavenly Father?

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Truth Will Set You Free

Archbishop Vigano
Just a brief post today. My comments will mean nothing in light of what has already been said and will likely be said in the days and weeks to come. Of course I write about Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, former Papal Nuncio to the United States, and his detailed 11-page testimony related to the serial homosexual abuse committed by ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. The archbishop also addresses what he sees as the willful cover-up of McCarrick's crimes by many in the Church's hierarchy. 

I read the document as soon as it was published and was saddened by what the archbishop wrote. I do not know Archbishop Vigano personally, but I have two acquaintances who know him well, and both have stated that he is an honest, honorable and faithful priest to whom we should listen. If what he writes is true he is also a courageous priest. Here's a link to the archbishop's testimony: Archbishop Vigano 

I also know that there are those who are very uncomfortable with the idea of making all of this evil, this corruption and widespread perversion, public. It will damage the Church in ways we can't imagine, they tell us. Perhaps it will, but more importantly, " will know the truth and the truth will set you free" [Jn 8:32]. I've always believed that, and one hopes the Church's bishops believe it too. We must demand the truth! And if what Archbishop Vigano has written is substantiated, then I agree with him when he pleads with all those who covered up this depravity to resign. The depravity of McCarick and too many others like him is a horrendous evil, but to cover it up and allow it to continue is even worse. As I remarked in a homily the other day, it is time to begin again as the Church always has when it must root out sin and corruption within its walls.

There are brave bishops out there and here's what just two of them have written about what is happening in the Church today:

Letter to the Faithful by Bishop Robert Morlino, Diocese of Madison

Comments by South African Cardinal Wilfred Napier

Pray for our One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Maddie, My Teacher

How nice it is to have a day meetings, no obligations, just a day to take it easy. As it turned out Maddie, the wonderdog, seemed very happy that I had nowhere to go and would spend the day with her and Diane. The only time we left the house -- and we took Maddie with us -- was to take advantage of early voting in the Florida primary elections.
Maddie, Wonderdog
Anyway, this day with Maddie got me thinking about how remarkably intelligent she is and what she has taught me. Other than Dear Diane, who in her kindness knows best how to remind me of my many weaknesses and encourage me in my few strengths, I believe it is our little Maddie, a ten year old Bichon Frise, who has become my most reliable teacher. 

Yes, indeed, I have become my dog's student. I suspect most dog owners would recoil at such a thought. Dogs are to be trained, fed, played with, walked, and exercised. From this we in turn reap the benefit of their company and their seemingly blind loyalty. I suppose for most people, who share their homes with a dog, this is a reasonable quid pro quo. It was certainly a sufficient trade-off for me and the many dogs I enjoyed before Maddie joined our household. They were all good dogs...OK, a couple had some mild sanity issues. But none ever taught me very much. Or, perhaps more accurately, I wasn't very receptive to their teaching. Aha! You see, I continue to learn. Often enough it's the receptivity of the student that determines the quality of the teaching. Maybe those earlier dogs tried their best to share their canine wisdom with me, but I was simply too wrapped up in my humanity to grasp and absorb their teaching. Perhaps, then, it is the more mature and open person I have become that has made little Maddie such an effective teacher. But, regardless, she does teach me, and her lessons frequently call to mind truths of Sacred Scripture. That's right! Maddie's lessons are the seeds that bear some very fruitful scriptural meditation. 

This should be expected. On the sixth day, right before He created man, 
"God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the cattle according to their kinds, and everything that creeps upon the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good" [Gen 1:25]. 
As for dogs, I've always believed the Holy Spirit on that day instilled in them a special nature and intelligence -- "according to their kind" -- something greater than that possessed by the average beast. "The Lord, the giver of life" gave the dog a unique nature that makes it especially compatible as man's loyal companion and workmate. Not only was the dog specially created, but it's been around longer than we have and can perhaps teach us a few things.
"But now ask the beasts to teach you, the birds of the air to tell you; or speak to the earth to instruct you, and the fish of the sea to inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of God has done this? In His hand is the soul of every living thing, and the life breath of all mortal flesh" [Job 12:7-10].
As I describe Maddie's teaching and the lessons that derive from it, I'll just point to what I believe to be relevant passages  and let you dig into your Bibles should you wish to pursue each more deeply.

These lessons begin early each day. Maddie and I are both morning people -- OK , she's a morning dog, but you know what I mean. We are both at our best in the hours shortly before and after dawn:
"Rising very early before dawn, He left and went off to a deserted place, where He prayed" [Mk 1:35].
"I rise before dawn and cry out; I put my hope in your words" [Ps 119:147].
I rise first, throw on a pair of shorts and a shirt, make the coffee, pray the Church's Morning Prayer, and then retrieve the newspaper from the driveway. I suppose I feel a bit superior because I rise before most others in my time zone, or at least in my neighborhood. I am reminded of the words of the psalmist:
"It is vain for you to rise early and put off your rest at night, to eat bread earned by hard toil -- all this God gives to his beloved sheep" [Ps 127:2].
Maddie still sleeps, but after about 30 minutes she rises and greets me. She neither drinks coffee nor reads newspapers, so it makes sense to grab an extra half-hour of sleep. She does, however, pray. Indeed, every beast prays through its very existence, a sign of God's creative love, a sign revealed through His prophet Daniel:
"All you beasts, wild and tame. bless the Lord; praise and exalt Him above all forever" [Dan 3:81].

Despite the fact that she wakes up hungry, Maddie usually lies at my feet, quietly and patiently. She always allows me time to read the paper and sip my coffee, thus setting an example for all of us who are called to wait patiently: 
"Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? Bur if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience" [Rom 8:24-25].
Eventually, though, she lets her stomach speak. She sits up, wags her tail enthusaistically, stares at me intently, and utters a series of muted but mildly irritating high-pitched whines. This, she has learned, motivates the lazy, distracted me to act. In truth I see myself as little better than the unjust judge of the parable, pestered by the widow who won't cease requesting justice:
"...because this widow keeps bothering me I shall deliver a just decision for her lest she finally come and strike me" [Lk 18:5].
Take some time to read and meditate on the entire parable [Lk 18:1-8]. There is much good to be found there.

And of course, as Maddie realizes, it is only just that I who accepted the responsibility to care for her, should be willing to feed her when she is hungry.

After eating, Maddie most often curls up in her little bed and rests for a while. Like Our Lord, she seems to know that both food and rest are necessary for the disciple who does God's work:
"He said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.' People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat" [Mk 6:31].
But it's not long, perhaps another half-hour, before she again lets me know -- more wagging, staring, and whining -- that it's time for our morning walk. The length of our walks varies, determined largely by the weather. But most Florida mornings are pleasant enough to allow for a longish walk, say 30 to 60 minutes. 

Walking, of course, is a good thing, depending on its purpose. For me it offers a time and place for prayer and an opportunity to contemplate God's greatness through His gifts.
"Arise, walk through the land, across its length and breadth, for I give it to you" [Gen 13:17].
"And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and a sacrifice to God"  [Eph 5:2].
During these walks Maddie and I converse about all kinds of things. In fact, a few of the neighbors, have occasionally remarked, "Oh, yes, I hear you when you walk your dog, talking to her. How interesting..." I suspect that someone, somewhere in the vast bureaucratic wasteland we politely call "government", has started a file with my name on it. Conspiracy theory? I don't think so.

But did you know that "experts" -- that is, those who spend taxpayer money on such things -- claim that the average intelligent dog has a vocabulary of upwards of 200 words? I don't find this at all surprising. My conversations with Maddie during our walks only confirm this -- something, by the way, I concluded without expending a single tax dollar. 

Let me describe a typical conversation during one of these early morning walks. (Note: Maddie is an adept at what the experts call non-verbal communication, and her expertise is bi-directional: she both "sees" what I'm saying and communicates through both expression and posture.)

When I mention the word "walk" and she hears the noise associated with my retrieval of harness and leash, she heads for the front door. Overflowing with excitement, she begins the game of hiding from the harness. This "game" lasts only a few seconds, but it must be played. Once the harness is on, I tell her to "shake" which she does in a remarkable display of bodily control, a rapid progression of high-speed shakes that moves from head to tail in less than two seconds. Leash attached, she moves to the door, but glances at me over her right shoulder, and I hear the words, "OK, I'm ready. No hesitation. Let's move." And I'm reminded of the need always to be enthusiastic in our faith. When that which is good calls, there should be no hesitation:
"Never flag in zeal, be aglow with the Spirit, serve the Lord" [Rom 12:11]
"He said to them, 'Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed Him" [Mt 4:19-20]
When we reach the end of the driveway, I ask her, "Which way today?" She looks right, then left, and finally decides. 
Again, without hesitation she moves down the street with obvious purpose. 

I jokingly accuse Maddie of suffering from that dreaded canine syndrome, OCS, or Obsessive Compulsive Sniffing. I've learned to live with it and allow her to apply fully her remarkable olfactory talents. The process engages her so completely that all other sensory inputs seem to be ignored. If I speak to her, even using words that would normally bring an instant reaction -- for example, "treat" or "doggie" -- she doesn't react but continues to sample the scents left behind by other of God's creatures. At some point she decides she knows all there is to know and reengages with me. Watching her I'm reminded of St. Paul's advice to stay focused: 
"I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature be thus minded; and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you" [Phil 3:14-15]
This morning, as we sniffed our way along one of the neighborhood streets, we encountered Angel and her master. Angel, a small terrier-like dog, is both blind and deaf, and navigates using her sense of smell alone. Maddie seems to understand Angel's disability and always approaches her gingerly so as not to surprise her. Angel senses Maddie's presence at some distance and turns toward us. They sniff noses and share friendly canine greetings. To Maddie Angel's disability is nothing strange, nothing remarkable. She doesn't shy away. She doesn't avoid her. She treats her just as she would any other dog, with enthusiasm. What a lesson for us. Read Mark's narrative of the healing of the blind Bartimaeus at the gate of Jericho. Note the condescending way the disciples treated this blind man:
"On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.' And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, 'Son of David, have pity on me.' Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.' So they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take courage; get up, he is calling you'" [Mk 10:47-49].
Read the complete narrative [Mk 10:48-52] and then ask yourself, "Who is the true disciple here?" Perhaps the so-called disciples should take a lesson from Maddie.

I won't bore you with more of my conversations with Maddie. But I trust she will continue to educate me, continue to show me God's Word in action. She's quite a dog.

 (Just a quick aside for all you cat lovers out there. The largest of dogs can still be a faithful companion, the kind one would trust with a small child. But large cats simply don't posses a nature compatible with domestication. Would you leave a child in the care of a Cheetah? The loyalty of even most small cats is greatly suspect, and seems more directed to self than to another...just one man's opinion.)

Monday, August 20, 2018

Homily: Feast of St. Bernard - Monday, 20th Week in Ordinary Time

Today's homily includes some of the comments I made in an earlier blog posting. But I felt called by the Spirit to address the current news about the Church in a homily. 
Readings: Ez 24:15-23 • Dt 32:18-21 • Mt 19:16-22
In recent days more than a few parishioners have come to me, looking for direction and hope in the face of the headlines and all they see happening in the Church. Why they came to me, I can't imagine, for I am the least qualified, the least able...How often do I find myself praying those words of St. Peter:
"Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man" [Lk 5:8]. 
"Depart from me, Lord..."
And then God humbles me, and I realize it's not me, the man, people come to; it's the deacon, God's servant. Calling on the Holy Spirit, I respond as best I can. Sometimes it takes a while to hear the Spirit, and it was actually through today's readings that I gradually came to realize the fulness of what He was telling me.

Turning first to Ezekiel, we find the prophet faced with a personal loss, the sudden, unexpected death of his wife, whom God lovingly refers to as "the delight of your eyes" [Ez 24:16]. Aren't those beautiful words? - "the delight of your eyes" - words that offer a glimpse into the love that must have bound these two. 

I suspect Ezekiel ultimately came to accept his wife's death as a blessing that would spare her from the calamities about to befall God's People. For God tells Ezekiel not to mourn her death openly, that much more sadness is coming, and he must be the example:
"You shall be a sign to them, and they shall know that I am the Lord" [Ez 24:27].
Babylon's long siege of Jerusalem will end, the enemy will overrun its walls, God's sanctuary, the Temple, will be desecrated and destroyed, and many of God's children will be slaughtered, the rest carried off into exile.
Jerusalem and the Temple Destroyed
God gave Ezekiel the task of leading the people as they faced these tragedies. "What does this mean for us?" they ask him.

They're reminded that sin has entered the Temple, just as today sin has desecrated the Church from within. Innocents have suffered and shepherds have turned away. In Ezekiel's Jerusalem priests and kings had turned from God, had forgotten His Law, just as today far too many in God's Church have done the same.

Blessed Pope Paul VI
In 1972, Blessed Pope Paul VI stated prophetically that, "Through some fissure, the smoke of Satan entered into the Temple of God." With this we're reminded of Moses' words in our responsorial.
"You have forgotten God who gave you birth" [Dt 32:18].
Yes, too many have forgotten God; and we are overwhelmed with sadness and moved by righteous anger. It must always be a righteous, not a vengeful, anger. It must be the kind of righteous anger that cleansed the Temple in Jerusalem. And so we, too, turn to our God and ask, "What does this mean for us? What shall we do?"

We must do what the faithful have always done, which is really little different from what Ezekiel told God's People: Continue to turn prayerfully to our merciful God and ask for the strength to begin over again. That's right! We must begin again as the Church has many times over two millennia.

Francis, Repair My House...
St. Bernard, whose memorial we celebrate today, was called to heal the Church in a time of disunity and schism almost 1,000 years ago. Yes, it was a time to begin again.

Our Lord later commanded St. Francis: "Go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin." It too was a time to begin again.

Yes, the Church has faced ruin before, but Jesus promised: 
"I am with you always, until the end of the age" [Mt 28:20].
Today we are led by another Francis, a man who must carry on with the task of rebirth. We must pray that God gives him and his bishops the will and the strength to cleanse the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Sadly, some in the Church will not accept this. They will turn from Christ's Church, forgetting that the Church remains holy despite the sinfulness of its members. In their sadness and their anger, they will turn away even from the Eucharist - "the source and summit of the Christian life" - and reach after so much that offers so very little. Like the rich young man who came to Jesus in our passage from Matthew, they will turn away in sadness, unable to accept the Gospel without compromise.

50 years ago, when Pope Benedict XVI was a young Father Joseph Ratzinger, he too made some prophetic comments in a radio broadcast:
"From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge - a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning.
"But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.
"The Church will be a more spiritual Church... It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek."
Fr. Ratzinger Speaking About the Church's Future
 [Note: To read the entirety of then Fr. Ratzinger's broadcast, get a copy of his book, Faith and the Future. His remarks on the future of the Church can be found in the last chapter.]
Brothers and sisters, we must become the Church of the meek, a Church of the humble that approaches God in repentance. This is what we are called to do. We, the faithful, are called to "start afresh...from the beginning," and do so in faith, in humility, and in love. We must not, we cannot, accept sin by calling it by another name, and yet we must also forgive the sinner and embrace and console the innocents.

About 20 years ago, as a fairly new deacon, I was asked to speak to a group of seminarians. During the course of my remarks, I told them: 
"The holiest people you will ever encounter are not seated in the sanctuary; they are in the pews of your parish church. They will look to you for truth, for direction, and example, but if you don't provide it, they will rightly turn to God. They will find Him in prayer, in the Sacraments, in Sacred Scripture, and in Sacred Tradition. They will find Him in each other, in the Church, and it is through them that God will keep the Church holy."
That's right, brothers and sisters; through you, God will keep the Church holy.
“Be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy [Lv 19:2].
Pray for our faithful priests and bishops.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Homily: Monday, 19th Week of Ordinary Time - Year 2

Readings: Ez 1:2-5,24-28 • Ps 148 • Mt 17:22-27
Jesus spent a lot of time shaping His disciples' hearts, opening their eyes to the Paschal mystery that ultimately must come. He did this first through the example of His own life, and then gradually in their lives. In our passage from Matthew, we see this shaping taking place.'

For some time, now, Jesus' allusions to His death and Resurrection had gained steady momentum. In the two chapters preceding today's reading, He  revealed to them the necessity of His suffering, death and resurrection. But today Jesus tells the disciples openly that, 
"The Son of Man is to be handed over to men, and they will kill him, and he will be raised on the third day" [Mt 17:22-23].
Although still unable to accept this, the disciples seem to have made some progress.

Remember how Peter reacted almost violently when the Lord first announced His passion? Compare that with their reaction now. They no longer dare argue with Jesus. Instead they're "overwhelmed with grief" [Mt 17:23] 

Jesus' words were plain, their meaning clear. The Apostles certainly don't understand the "why" of it all, but they've begun to accept its inevitability.
Jesus Reveals the Cross
Perhaps that's one of the reasons Jesus often calls Himself the Son of Man. That the Son of Man, the flower of humanity, will be betrayed by men underscores humanity's tragic self-deceit. By betraying God, by killing His Son, Who is also the Son of Man, we actually betray and kill ourselves.

Our loving God doesn't come to us as an all-knowing, omnipotent creator...No, He comes as one of us, as our loving brother.

Years ago, an agnostic friend said to me, "I could never be a Christian. Your idea of God is absolutely crazy...that the God who created the universe would come to this insignificant little planet as a man, and then let us kill Him. That's an insane God."

Yes, indeed, for many men, such love is insane. It's insane to them because they could never love so much. They actually despise how God approaches us in Jesus. They hate it for the same reason Cain despised and killed his brother, Abel.

The motive is clear: Jesus presents us with the reality of our better selves. He shows us how we could be, and we feel in our flesh the sharp edge of judgment and inferiority. And this presents us with two choices:

We can listen to Him and do the Father's will. We can change and become conformed to Jesus' beauty and goodness...

Or we can try to damage that beauty, destroy that goodness, in a feeble attempt to suppress its judgment of our sinfulness.

But Jesus' divine strategy overcomes our foolishness and our sin. He allows Himself to fall into the abuse and violence of men's hands so that, when they wound Him, they will be covered by the tide of His Precious Blood flowing from Calvary, from this very altar and thousands like it. For His blood has the power of absorbing into its love, and therefore neutralizing, the worst hatred of which we are capable.

Victor Frankl, the Austrian Jewish psychotherapist who spent much of World War II as a prisoner in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, wrote a remarkable book of his experiences called, Man's Search for Meaning. In it he describes how in the midst of unbelievable brutality and the most degrading conditions he found so many examples of remarkable faith and unselfish love. Again and again, Frankl encountered people who had achieved victory over the sinfulness that surrounded them. And out of this experience of abject suffering Frankl had a revelation.

He wrote, "Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, 'The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory.'"

And yet so many of us, we who have never known such suffering, never come face to face with the kind of evil Frankl encountered, the kind that Jesus encountered on that first Good Friday...most of us in our sufferings only argue and fight with God.

The Apostles, with the help of the Holy Spirit, eventually came to understand what Jesus meant when He connected the necessity of His suffering with the cross His followers must take up daily.

Let's learn from them and today turn to the Holy Spirit. Invite Him into our hearts, to shape us, to give us the joy that only the love of God can bring.

For the Spirit waits patiently, always listening for our call, always responding to our prayer.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

V. S. Naipaul, R.I.P.

This morning I read that the novelist and Nobel laureate, V. S. Naipaul, died yesterday at his London home. His death occurred just a few days before his 86th birthday. Although a native of Trinidad, Naipaul was of Indian descent, hence his full name: Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul. To his few close friends and acquaintances he was simply "Vidia," a blessing to those with Western tongues. Awarded a government scholarship in 1950, he left Trinidad to study at Oxford and thus began the career of this exceptional man of letters.
Image result for v. s. naipaul
V. S. Naipaul
I first read Naipaul in 1979 when I picked up a copy of his newly published novel, A Bend in the River. I had heard of him, but had never read his work, just a few reviews. But the opinions of the critics were so varied and confusing I decided to sample his work and find out for myself. As I read the opening words of the novel -- "The world is what it is; men who are nothing, who allow themselves to become nothing, have no place in it." -- I was hooked. Those words, although politically incorrect to many, for me had the ring of worldly truth. Yes, indeed, despite our personal hopes and dreams, "the world is what it is," and Naipaul spent his literary life describing his take on that reality to his readers. 

Although I'm not a Naipaul fanatic, I 've probably read a dozen or more of his books, and enjoyed every one of them. But Naipaul was more than a novelist, and wrote a number of fascinating books describing the places, people, and cultures he encountered during his extensive travels. His observations, opinions, and conclusions often surprise, and sometimes irritate, but always force me to examine my own attitudes and judgments.  Some critics, of course, objected to his cultural characterizations and plastered him with negative labels, apparently hoping that some might stick. He's been called a racist, a misogynist, an Islamophobe, a Hindu nationalist, and more...I've always thought of him as a man who told the truth as he saw it. Can we ask anything more of a writer than this?

If you haven't read Naipaul, by all means do so. I especially enjoyed his semi-biographical novel, The Enigma of Arrival, as well as his much earlier work, A House for Mr. Biswas. Among his non-fiction works, I suppose my favorites include Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey; The Middle Passage; and A Turn in the South.

My bookshelves house 10 volumes of Naipaul's works and, coincidentally, they reside on the same small shelf with about a dozen of Evelyn Waugh's books. Despite their widely varied backgrounds, the two men had much in common. Each could be included among the best writers of his time. Each wrote wonderful novels, often based on his own life experiences. And each wrote exceptional works of non-fiction describing his travels in culturally distant lands. 

Interestingly, both Waugh and Naipaul have also been described as personally irascible, as curmudgeons with few close friends. I can't and won't judge another based on his personality, assuming that what we see of another is rarely an accurate reflection of his true self. Anyway, I would much rather have a handful of close friends who accept me for who I am, than be surrounded by a flock of chirping, faithless acquaintances who come and go with the seasons. 

Religiously the two men were far apart. Although Naipaul often criticized the religious values held by many today, particularly among those who practice Islam, I don't know if he were a man of faith. One can certainly be personally unpleasant and still be an active believer. After all we are all sinners. Evelyn Waugh, of course, was a convert to Catholicism. Once, when asked how he could justify his nasty disposition with his Catholic faith, Waugh replied, "You have no idea how much nastier I would be if I were not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being." Waugh, too, was a man who spoke the truth as he saw it. 

Rest in peace, Vidia, and thank you for your work that caused so many to reexamine the world in which we live. May God shine His face upon you...

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Final Session of our Seminar in Biblical Typology

Earlier this evening we conducted the fourth and final session of our brief summer course in Biblical Typology. It's a big subject, so a four-hour course can only scratch the surface.

We had a wonderful group of  participants. Between 65 and 80 people attended each session. They were obviously very interested in the subject (after all, they kept coming back for more) and I trust they all found it spiritually rewarding.

The course PowerPoint presentations -- in both PowerPoint and PDF formats -- are available on the "Documents" page of my little Bible Study website here: Parish Bible Study

Also available on that page is all the handout material provided to the participants.

If, however, you would rather just view the Session 4 PowerPoint online, you can view it here: Biblical Typology Session 4.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Just A Few Thoughts

This afternoon I took a break from my work on the mini-course I'm teaching, and glanced through the local, national, and world news. A few of the things I encountered got my juices flowing. For example:

A New Socialism? What about that young woman from New York (I've forgotten her name) who calls herself a socialist and it intent on changing the face of the Democrat Party? Interestingly she seems to be achieving some degree of success, at least according to much of the media. And yet, isn't a socialist, by definition, an ignoramus? After all, socialism has been tried many, many times throughout the world and it has always failed. In fact, the only thing socialism achieves is universal poverty. In that sense I suppose one could claim that socialism is the perfect path to true egalitarianism, the kind that doesn't lift but  lowers everyone to the same impoverished level. Oh, wait! There's always one exempted group: the elite, the ones the Soviets called the nomenklatura. These are the folks who, because they're so much smarter than the rest of us, give themselves special privileges. The elites, you see, can't be bothered with all those mundane things that complicate the lives of the hoi polloi. Running every aspect of a society is hard work; and run it they do, right into the ground. 

Socialists are just polite versions of Communists and National Socialists (i.e., Nazis) in disguise. There's really little difference because socialism in any of its forms cannot stand on its own. Eventually the people who allowed the socialists to gain power realize the mistake they've made. But socialists cannot give up power so they quickly evolve into authoritarians and then totalitarians. This is why so-called "democratic socialism" is a myth. Just try to get rid of it once it's in place. If this new variety of Democrat actually takes power, heaven help us. 

Abuse in the Church. All this abuse business within the Church is taking its toll, but our bishops seem to be unaware of its impact on the faithful. I hear about it almost every day from parishioners and others who share their concerns with me. Many are outraged by the requirements placed on them, especially since the problem seems to be largely the result of actions by priests and bishops. The faithful are fingerprinted and investigated; they are forced to take part in vapid and insulting workshops or on-line programs; they are repeatedly reminded not to do things they've never even thought of doing. It's as if the Church leadership is placing the guilt on the faithful, instead of where it belongs, on those who actually did these reprehensible things and those who tolerated them.

As one parishioner remarked this morning, "How come I have to go through all this garbage [his word], when the bishops exempted themselves from background investigations and fingerprinting and all the rest of it?" A good question from a faithful man who is frustrated by what he sees in the Church he loves.

And God forbid if someone is falsely accused of abuse -- something I suspect has happened many times. Even without proof, he or she will be removed from ministry and you can imagine how that will effect reputation and life.

I was once asked to give a talk to a group of seminarians , and in the course of my comments I told them, "The holiest people you will ever encounter are not seated in the sanctuary; they are in the pews of your parish church. They will look to you for direction and example, but if you don't provide it, they will turn to God. They will find Him in the Sacraments, in Sacred Scripture, and in Sacred Tradition. And it is they who will keep the Church holy."

I truly believe the Church of the future will be much smaller but much holier -- a mere remnant of today's overly bureaucratic organization. In 1969, the then Father Joseph Ratzinger, the future Pope Benedict XVI, said the following during a broadcast over German radio:
“Let us go a step farther. From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. As the number of her adherents diminishes, so it will lose many of her social privileges. In contrast to an earlier age, it will be seen much more as a voluntary society, entered only by free decision. As a small society, it will make much bigger demands on the initiative of her individual members. Undoubtedly it will discover new forms of ministry and will ordain to the priesthood approved Christians who pursue some profession. In many smaller congregations or in self-contained social groups, pastoral care will normally be provided in this fashion. Along-side this, the full-time ministry of the priesthood will be indispensable as formerly. But in all of the changes at which one might guess, the Church will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which was always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world. In faith and prayer she will again recognize the sacraments as the worship of God and not as a subject for liturgical scholarship.

“The Church will be a more spiritual Church, not presuming upon a political mandate, flirting as little with the Left as with the Right. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek. The process will be all the more arduous, for sectarian narrow-mindedness as well as pompous self-will will have to be shed. One may predict that all of this will take time. The process will be long and wearisome as was the road from the false progressivism on the eve of the French Revolution — when a bishop might be thought smart if he made fun of dogmas and even insinuated that the existence of God was by no means certain — to the renewal of the nineteenth century. But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church. Men in a totally planned world will find themselves unspeakably lonely. If they have completely lost sight of God, they will feel the whole horror of their poverty. Then they will discover the little flock of believers as something wholly new. They will discover it as a hope that is meant for them, an answer for which they have always been searching in secret.

“And so it seems certain to me that the Church is facing very hard times. The real crisis has scarcely begun. We will have to count on terrific upheavals. But I am equally certain about what will remain at the end: not the Church of the political cult, which is dead already, but the Church of faith. It may well no longer be the dominant social power to the extent that she was until recently; but it will enjoy a fresh blossoming and be seen as man’s home, where he will find life and hope beyond death."
Immigration Root Causes. And while I'm on the subject of our bishops, might I ask why we rarely hear anything from them about the root cause of the immigration problem in the US and elsewhere? Specifically, why do people flee one nation for another? The root cause is not the fault of the destination country, whose societal structures are so attractive to others. No, the root cause is the widespread persecution and corruption that promote general poverty, keep people uneducated, and limit opportunity in the countries of origin. And yet, when it comes to immigration, you would think our nation were the bad guy. I think it's time for the US bishops and the bishops in these other nations to focus on these root causes and not the symptoms. Just a thought.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Homily: Saturday, 17th Week of Ordinary Time - Year 2

Note: The following is a homily unpreached. One of our visiting priests always celebrated our parish's Saturday morning Mass and always asked the assisting deacon to preach. But he is no longer with us, so that particular preaching opportunity left with him. I had already prepared this homily so I thought I should share it with my small but faithful group of followers. God's peace...
Readings: Jer 26:11-16, 24; Mt 14:1-12

Matthew, in these verses and in those that precede and follow, seems to offer us a litany of rejections, as we encounter scribes and Pharisees, priests and kings, and even ordinary folks, all rejecting Jesus. 

Each seems to reject Jesus out of a kind of personal pride, that same lack of humility that plagues the human race and leads us to believe we are such independent beings we really don't need the God who created us out of love. 

Matthew's rejecters are actually pretty interesting.

Those scribes and Pharisees, along with the priests and Levites, all wanted to be recognized and respected for their knowledge and scholarship. They wanted to be admired by the people as holy and justified. They certainly didn't want to be criticized and embarrassed, or called out in public as hypocrites, especially by some nobody like Jesus [Mt 15:1-9].
Jesus Rejected by the Pharisees, et al.
Even the people, the ordinary folks of Nazareth, wanted to be lifted up out of their anonymity and the banality of their everyday lives. But they simply couldn't accept that one of their own was something very special [Mt 13:54-58].
Jesus Rejected in Nazareth
Then we encounter a king, Herod Antipas, actually a rather small-time king, who wanted to satisfy his every desire and maintain his power. And Herod, much like his father before him, would exert that power over others to do so [Mt 14:1-12]

It's as if Matthew is running all these people by us, one after another, so we can identify the reasons for our own rejection of Jesus. 

And yet each reason is just a symptom of the same spiritual sickness, one that prevented all of them from recognizing Jesus as He truly is. Yes, indeed, they were all wrapped up in themselves, so tightly wrapped that their minds and hearts couldn't accept the reality that faced them.

As for us, whether we accept Jesus with faith or reject Him with indifference, our choice, like the choices these others made, will reflect our circumstances and our desires. Just look at Herod Antipas and his desires, his weaknesses, his fears...

Matthew presents this son of Herod the Great as a self-important, power-hungry, lustful little man, whose shabbiness symbolizes the evil and sin that rule his life. 

We also encounter a fearful man, one so afraid of John the Baptist's moral authority that he must shut him up by locking him up. Like the prophet Jeremiah in our first reading, the Lord sent John to Herod "to speak those things for you to hear" [Jer 26:15]. Of course Herod didn't want to hear them.
John the Baptist Rebukes Herod and Herodias
Herod killed John to satisfy his lust and his pride, and his wife's anger and need for revenge. And then in a communion of evil, at a self-absorbed feast celebrating his birthday, he had John's head brought to Salome, his niece and stepdaughter, on a platter.
Passion of John the Baptist (Caravaggio)
It seems that even Herod had a conscience, though one grossly deformed, deformed by his fears. But It's not a fear of God that motivated Herod; rather a fear that this Jesus, who has such mighty powers, might be John resurrected. How would the people react to that?

Then, speaking of John, he uttered those words that seem blasphemous from one such as Herod, for they are the same words the angel speaks to the women at Jesus' tomb:
"He has been raised from the dead" [Mt 14:2; 28:6-7].
We sense that Herod didn't see God at work in this false resurrection, but that he believes those "mighty powers" are more like the magical powers of Satan and his followers. No, Herod couldn't bear the thought of God and His justice, or even His mercy.

Perhaps this petty king hoped this evil distortion of the true Resurrection would free him of the guilt he carries for John's murder and so much else. 

Satan was certainly working overtime in Herod's palace.

And note the verbs Matthew used to describe Herod's actions: arrested, bound, imprisoned, feared, killed, beheaded...Yes, Herod wanted a world safe for his desires and would do anything to maintain it.

Are we all like Herod? One would hope not, but I can speak only for myself, where the difference is perhaps just a matter of degree.

What Herod lacked, and what every sinner lacks is the virtue of humility, the one virtue without which all the others cannot be.

And so perhaps each day, as we wake and greet our loving God, we should thank Him for making us so dependent on His love.

We should thank Him for our smallness, for our weakness, and for the gift of recognizing the presence of His love, His greatness, in all the others we will encounter this day.

And perhaps, too, we should do the same at the end of each day, thanking Him for all the opportunities he gave us to share His love, and repenting for those opportunities we missed.

Then, like John, we too can be joyful as we pray: 
"He must increase; I must decrease" [Jn 3:30]