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, September 26, 2018

Homily: Wednesday. 25th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Proverbs 30:5-9; Psalm 119; Luke 9:1-6
When Diane and I travel we always overpack. Hotel bellman cry out with prayers of thanksgiving for the expected tips. Yes, despite our best intentions we carry all sorts of baggage on our journey. It's certainly not very apostolic of us. 

For Jesus tells the apostles to take next to nothing! And do you know something? He tells us to do the same. You see, Jesus knew that the more we take on this journey of ours, the more we'll rely on those things and the less we'll rely on God. The less we rely on God, the harder it will be to see God in others, especially those who lack the material blessings we've been given. And I suspect the more we're encumbered with stuff, the harder it is for others to see God in us.

A few months ago, in a conversation with one of my fellow volunteers at the Wildwood Soup Kitchen, I remarked that the meal we were serving that day looked particularly appetizing. She just shrugged her shoulders and said, "I suppose so, but I really don't think much about food." Just then one of our guests, who had overheard her comment, said, "You would if you didn't have any."

What do you think? Did he see God in us that day? It's easy to overlook another's empty plate when our own is overflowing. Perhaps having too much to eat is worse than having too little. It tends to make us insensitive to those who hunger, and ungrateful to God for all His gifts.

Jesus invites us to rely on Him for everything we need, so we're not tempted to take credit for the good in our lives.
When He sent out the Apostles, He gave them something far more valuable than things. He gave them a companion and a message; he also gave them power and authority. He took away their transportation, their luggage, food, money, and extra clothes. He didn't make reservations for them at the Ritz Carlton, or the Holiday Inn, or even Motel 6. Instead he told them, "Whatever house you enter, stay there and leave from there" [Lk 9:4]

Too often we do exactly the opposite of what Jesus tells us, with predictable results. Why? Because we just don't trust God enough to do it His way.

This is a particularly fitting theme for our parish because tomorrow we celebrate the memorial of our patron, St. Vincent de Paul. Vincent was the epitome of trust. Like Mother Teresa, 300 years later, he placed total trust in God and achieved great things. Listen to what Vincent once said about trust:
"Free your mind from all that troubles you; God will take care of things. You will be unable to make haste in this (choice) without, so to speak, grieving the heart of God, because he sees that you do not honor him sufficiently with holy trust. Trust in him, I beg you, and you will have the fulfillment of what your heart desires."
St. Vincent knew poverty because he lived a life of poverty, and devoted himself and the orders he founded to helping the poor.

His life was an echo of today's reading from Proverbs: 
Put falsehood and lying far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; provide me only with the food I need; lest being full, I deny you, saying, "Who is the Lord?" Or, being in want, I steal and profane the name of my God [Prv 30:8-9].
Yes, St. Vincent knew that "poverty of spirit" frees us from greed and preoccupation with possessions and gives God room to act in our lives.

The Lord wants us, His disciples, to be dependent on Him and not on ourselves - for then He will work through and in each of us for his glory. So, the question for us today is: Are we ready to handle the power and authority God wants us to exercise on His behalf? 

He entrusts us with His gifts and talents.  Are we eager to place ourselves at his service, to do whatever He asks, and to witness His truth and saving power to all He sends to us?

Political Correctness

Among modern man's more puzzling traits is his seeming unwillingness to name that which is trying to destroy him. It's a particularly dangerous trait since it even goes so far as to disguise its own name. We are urged to call it "political correctness" which has both an innocent and positive ring to it. But political correctness really has little to do with true politics, and because it is inherently deceiving, it is far from correct. In truth it is nothing but a lie. 

I've always believed that all lies have their origin with Satan and his flunkies. He is, after all, the father of lies, as Jesus reminded those who refused to accept Him:
"You belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in truth, because there is no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies" [Jn 8:44].
How many today accept these words of Jesus? How many accept that Satan even exists? I'm reminded of that line from the movie, The Usual Suspects, when Kevin Spacey's character Verbal says: "The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he doesn't exist." This revelation didn't originate in Hollywood, but is actually found in the book of Revelation:
"The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it" [Rev 12:9].
Yes, he "who deceived the whole world" continues to deceive, and has many willing to help him. The idea of political correctness, indeed even the actual term, was a clever semantic innovation by Stalinists in the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Its purpose, then and now, is to bully and/or brainwash the public in order to squash debate on any subject that might undermine the state's ideological foundation. For the communist this includes virtually every subject imaginable, from art to science, from architecture to engineering, from philosophy to politics, and, yes, even religion. We don't call them totalitarians for nothing. 

Because atheism is among the basic tenets of communist ideology, that original political correctness and its modern descendants strive to eliminate all things religious from the public square. Christian values are particularly troublesome to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes because of Christianity's embrace of freedom, the freedom of the individual to choose the good. This, of course, runs afoul of the state's desire to control every aspect of the citizen's life. 

In a totalitarian state political correctness can be enforced rather easily: the government need only exert its extensive state power through education, forced re-education, imprisonment, or even execution. But in a constitutional republic like the United States, the application of political correctness demands a more subtle approach. By flooding the educational establishment with ideological fellow travelers, the state can control the thinking of future generations. Other tactics include publicly accusing violators of being homophobic, racist, sexist, or any other convenient "ist" that connotes hatred. Once applied by the elites and their allies in the media, these labels tend to stick, and go on to ruin reputations and remove the targets and their ideas from the public discourse.

Progressives also target constitutional protections, particularly those supported by our Bill of Rights. They ridicule the Constitution as another old document, or as President Obama said in his 2017 farewell address, "It's really just a piece of parchment" and presumably no longer applicable to the lives of modern Americans. For progressives it must instead become a "living document," one demanding constant change so it can reflect our society's evolving norms. I also recall when Barack Obama echoed this interpretation by stating, "The Constitution is a living document; no strict constructionism." Such thinking, of course, makes the Constitution as written by our founders irrelevant.

Many see political correctness as essentially harmless, but I suggest it becomes truly dangerous when those who exercise state power adopt it as their governing attitude.  Just look at the record of the police in the U.K. In the 12 months ending in March 2008, the police in the U.K. made 1.5 million arrests, while nine years later, in the 12 months ending in March 2017, they made only 780,000 arrests. Now this might lead one to believe that this almost 50% decrease in arrests resulted from a corresponding decrease in crime. But this assumption would be wrong...very, very wrong. Although arrests were down by 48%, crime increased drastically. In just the past year violent crime in the U.K. increased by almost 20%, rape by 22%, knifings by 26%, and in a nation where gun ownership is almost non-existent, gun crime increased by 27%. Similar increases were reported for both burglary and robbery.

Why so few arrests in the face of so much crime? The answer is simple. Instead of solving real crimes, the police have focused on "hate incidents" and "malicious communications." In London, which by the way is now more dangerous than New York City, arrests for making offensive online comments rose 53%. And so freedom of speech, once a cherished right among the British, gets crushed by political correctness...and so do peoples lives.

St. Michael, protect us...from ourselves.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Christ and His Church

The other morning after Mass I exposed the Blessed Sacrament on our church's altar for an hour of adoration by the faithful. I left the church for about 20 minutes to take care of a few things in the parish office and then returned to spend the rest of the hour with the Lord before Benediction. 

I prayed and gazed upon the gift of Christ's Real Presence in the monstrance, but as usual my prayers were lacking -- self-absorbed prayers of petition driven not by the Father's will but by mine. At some point I realized how imperfect my prayer had become, and glanced up at the large crucifix suspended over the sanctuary. 

As my thoughts turned from my petty problems, I found myself pondering Jesus Christ and His Church. When we see Jesus we see the Church, His Mystical Body, for He is its head and we are its members. Where Jesus is, so too is His Church. There, high over the sanctuary, is Jesus, nailed to that Cross to redeem us, to forgive us of our sinfulness, to free us from our enslavement. And there, too, is His Church, crucified by the sins of its own members. Every sin is yet another pounding of the hammer on those nails. Every sin is another of God's people admitting that he prefers slavery to true freedom. Things really haven't changed much since the days of Moses. Here we are, three millennia later, and like God's chosen ones, we too are willing to toss freedom aside in exchange for the modern equivalent of the fleshpots of Egypt [Ex 16:3]. 

I experienced a kind of vision as I knelt at the foot of the altar looking up at our crucified Jesus. High on the back wall of the sanctuary a window framed  the large crucifix, and beyond that window clouds rushed across the blue Florida sky. And, oh, did they rush! They moved quickly, so quickly a single cloud was visible for only a second or two before another took its place. I had been outside earlier and it hadn't been at all windy, and yet those clouds flew by that window. Watching them, I thought only of the passage of time, the centuries moving through God's Creation and carrying us, His Church, with them. But there, in stark contrast to the fleeting clouds, was Jesus on the Cross, unmovable, constant, the Lord of History, the Eternal Word, a sign of God's unchanging love.

I can't write about the horrendous sins of some priests, bishops, and others (deacons?), at least not today, because I simply don't know the facts. In truth I'm not sure I want to know the facts, all the sordid details. I have enough trouble confronting my own sinfulness without having to deal with the sins of others. But the facts will ultimately be revealed because the truth cannot be hidden forever. How did Jesus put it in today's Gospel passage from Luke?

"For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light" [Lk 8:17].

The truth can't be stashed in some chancery closet because God's suffering Church demands the truth. And the truth will set us free even if it leads to seemingly hard times for the Church in the days to come. The Church, like Jesus on the Cross, will always be a suffering Church. But despite the sinfulness of its people, the Church itself remains holy.

Pope Francis and our bishops should perhaps listen to the words of St. Catherine of Siena who, in the year 1380, in the midst of another crisis that threatened to tear the Church apart, wrote the following to Pope Urban VI:

“You cannot with a single stroke wipe out all of the sins people in general are committing within the Christian religion, especially within the clerical order, over whom you should be even more watchful. But you certainly can and are obligated to do it, and if you don’t, you would have it on your conscience. At least do what you can. You must cleanse the Church’s womb — that is, see to it that those who surround you closely are wiped clean of filth, and put people there who are attentive to God’s honor and your welfare and the good of holy Church. …”

St. Catherine went on to warn the pope:

“Do you know what will happen to you if you don’t set things right by doing what you can? God wants you to reform his bride completely; he doesn’t want her to be leprous any longer. If your holiness does not do all you can about this — because God has appointed you and given you such dignity for no other purposes — God will do it himself by using all sorts of troubles.”

Yes, indeed, if we do not act God will "do it himself" as he has many times in the past...just as he did it himself when he stretched out his arms at Calvary.