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, November 28, 2018

Homily: Wednesday, 34th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Rev 15:1-4; Ps 98; Luke 21.12-19


If the gospel message is good news, why then do so many oppose it with hostility and even violence? Jesus, of course, predicted this. He warned us that we'll be confronted with persecution, evil, false teaching, and temptation.

But the Gospel's real enemy is Satan - the one Jesus calls a "murderer" and "father of lies" [Jn 8:44].

Earlier this week, as hospital chaplain, I was visiting the room of a man suffering from a heart ailment. He told me he was no longer a practicing Catholic, having decided to leave the Church the same day he left the Marist Brothers novitiate 50 years ago.

He said he believed in God, loved Jesus, but didn't accept the existence of evil, and he particularly didn't believe in Satan. All the bad things people did were simply the result of selfishness, mental illness, and other psychological disorders.

We had an interesting conversation, and while I don't think I changed his mind, he said he might stop by our church some Sunday and give it a try.

Of course, he's wrong about Satan. Satan's not some psychological construct; no, Satan is very real, and he uses fear and hatred to encourage the persecution of those who follow Jesus Christ.

How did Jesus respond to all this? With love and truth, with forgiveness and mercy.

Only God's love can defeat bigotry, hatred and envy...for only God's love purifies our hearts and minds of all that would tear us apart.

Because Satan deceives and sin blinds the heart and mind, God's truth is also essential. Only God's truth can overcome the evil and tribulation in the world. Only God's truth can free us from error and spiritual blindness. The Truth. That's what the Gospel is, brothers and sisters, God's word of truth and salvation.

That's why Jesus tells his disciples to proclaim the gospel throughout the whole world [Mt 28:19], even in the midst of opposition and persecution [Lk 21:12,16-17]. And He promises his disciples that if they endure to the end they will gain their lives [Lk 21:19]. They will see God's salvation and inherit eternal life and happiness with God.

But such endurance, such perseverance - the ability to remain faithful in the midst of trails, temptations, and persecution - doesn't come from human effort. No, it is a gift, a supernatural gift of the Holy Spirit, a gift strengthened by hope: the assurance that we'll see God face to face and inherit His promises. As in all things, we turn to Jesus as our model: Jesus who endured the cross for our sake and salvation; Jesus who in turn calls us to love and to die to ourselves.

Do you know the word martyr in Greek means witness? That's right, true martyrs live and die as witnesses to the Gospel. John in The Book of Revelation calls Jesus "the faithful witness...who freed us from our sins by his blood" [Rev 1:5].

Tertullian, a second century lawyer converted when he saw Christians singing as they went out to die at the hands of their persecutors. He compared the blood of the martyrs to seed, the seed of new Christians, the seed of the church.

St. Augustine spoke of this too: "The martyrs were bound, jailed, scourged, racked, burned, rent, butchered - and they multiplied!" They multiplied because Christian martyrs witnessed to the truth; they witnessed to the joy and freedom of the Gospel; and they did so through the testimony of their lives and their deaths.

A few years ago, while on a cruise ship, Diane and I met a couple at dinner. The man, born and raised just down the road in Bushnell, is now a professor at the University of Florida.

He told us that being a Catholic in Bushnell was a real challenge back then. In fact as a boy he was regularly beaten up after school, just because he was Catholic.

Years later a man approached him and said that he remembered seeing him accept those beatings peacefully, without fighting back. He'd been very moved by this. Even though he'd gone on to become a Baptist minister, his memory of our friend's witness caused him to look into the Catholic Church. He'd since converted and wanted our new friend to know it.

What attracts others to the truth and power of the gospel? Seeing Christians loving their enemies; seeing Christians joyful in suffering, patient in adversity, forgiving of injuries, and showing comfort and compassion to the hopeless and the helpless. 

True witnesses pray for their persecutors and love their enemies. In their suffering they witness the truth of the gospel.

Jesus died for us all, gave His life on the cross for Jews and Christians and Muslims, for Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, agnostics and atheists. Yes, indeed, "For God so loved the world..." [Jn 3:16] God doesn't love just part of the world. He loves it all. After all, He created the world and it was good. And He loves each of us. It can't be otherwise because He created each human being in an individual act of love.
For God so Loved the World...
Satan, on the other hand, hates us all. He seeks to destroy our faith through the fear of death and he incites others to persecute Christians for their faith in Christ.

The martyrs witness to the truth - the truth of Jesus Christ and his power to overcome sin and fear, hatred and bigotry, and even death itself.

Most of us are called simply to bear witness to the joy and power of the gospel whatever the challenges, temptations, and adversities we encounter as we follow the Lord Jesus.

But by persevering we are all witnesses; we are all martyrs for Christ.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Nancy Hathaway, Our Dear Friend - Rest in Peace

Today, in the early morning hours, Diane and I, and so many others, lost a dear friend, Nancy Hathaway. She died the day before her 63rd birthday

Nancy's husband, Joe, lost a loving wife, a partner who cherished him, cared for him, encouraged him, nudged him and sometimes shoved him, but always kept him pointing in the right direction. Her children and grandchildren lost a mother and grandmother whose deep love for them they will never fully comprehend, at least not in this life. And those of us who were blessed to be counted among her friends will miss her dearly, for she was one of those rare friends who always went the extra mile. We are joyful that she has gone to her true home, but her absence has left a hole in our hearts.  

Nancy and Joe - May 2018
At the end of her life on earth, Nancy was back home in Sumter, SC, together with her family. Of her four children only one was missing, but not really. Her youngest, John, returned to the Father last month, and as Joe said this morning when he called us: "John was there, waiting for his mother so he could carry her to the Father." Amen! I wrote a brief post about John the day he died -- click here if you'd like to read it. 
Nancy with granddaughters Allie & Gianna (2008)
Diane and I have known Nancy and Joe for well over a decade. I first met them when Joe applied for the position of director of our parish's music ministry and my pastor asked me to join him for the interview. In walked Joe with Nancy at his side. Joe handled the interview well, but Nancy was the one who iced the cake. She repeated the many testimonials, made sure we knew the breadth of Joe's experience, and handled all the negotiating. It was an impressive team performance. We hired him (them).

Nancy & Joe at our Home - December 2012
At the time Joe was working at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia. He and Nancy would drive down to Wildwood, Florida every weekend so Joe could lead our  parish's music ministry. Our pastor at the time put them up in an old Winnebago motor home he kept in a local RV park. It wasn't just an old motor home, it was an old, leaky and moldy motor home, unfit for human occupation. I expect our pastor didn't realize how bad it was since to my knowledge he'd never stayed in it, but as one of our other deacons remarked at the time, "Even St. Francis wouldn't stay here." And it was especially horrible for Nancy who at the time was recovering from brain surgery. So Diane decided Nancy and Joe should stay with us each weekend, and thus began our friendship.

The Four of Us - Tennessee (August 2009)
Over the years we've visited them as they moved, vagabond-like, from Georgia, to Florida, to Tennessee, and to South Carolina. I like to think they always considered our home as their home, a place they could stay, if necessary without notice. We certainly thought the same of their home, wherever it happened to be. We never demanded much of each other but each gave whatever was needed. It was the kind of friendship that didn't ask questions, except for, "What can we do?"

Diane and I got to know Nancy even better this past year since she and Joe lived with us for several months while Nancy underwent treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. As you might expect, driving to and from Tampa, plus all those hours during treatments, generated some interesting conversations that spanned the human condition and more. We shared the stories of our lives, cried occasionally, but laughed more, a lot more. The laughter was usually at ourselves and the strange things we've done and encountered over the years. We also prayed. We prayed for healing. We prayed for miracles. We prayed for each other and our families. But we always prayed that God's will be done, for He knows what is best and turns all to good for those who have faith and love Him [Rom 8:28].
Take it! We can't keep smiling: Nancy & Diane (2016)
Throughout much of her adult life Nancy waged an ongoing battle with illnesses many and varied. She suffered much and deeply, but never let suffering stop her from embracing the duties of this life. Heck, she never even slowed down, at least not until her very last days with us...a true energizer bunny. But now she can rest easy in God's loving embrace, for He "will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears..." [Is 25:8].
Giving me "the Look" -- Ocoee, TN (August 2011)
Describing another is always a very personal thing. The person I know and love may be a very different person to someone else, who sees her from a unique perspective. But if I were asked to describe Nancy with only a few words, I'd simply say, "Sweet, funny, loving and tough." For me, that says it all. 

Nancy seemed to be most relaxed when our little Bichon, Maddie, would assume the role of therapy dog and cuddle up with her. And remarkably, Maddie seems to know that something has happened. She has obviously missed Nancy since she and Joe returned to South Carolina last week. But today, our little dog has not been her usual enthusiastic, nagging self. Like most dogs, Maddie is sensitive to changes in the humans with whom she lives.

Dear Nancy, everyone, all your family and friends, will love you always. We will miss you, Sweetie, but we know we will be with you again. May Almighty God look upon you with kindness and give you peace. 

Pray for us, Nancy, intercede for us, and keep a place for us. 

Homily: Monday, 34th Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Rv 14:1-3, 4b-5; Ps 24; Lk 21:1-4

A few days ago a parishioner asked why the Catholic Church doesn't demand tithing, as many other churches do. My response wasn't particularly satisfying, but at some point I decided to refer to today's Gospel passage from Luke and let Jesus answer for me.

Yes, Luke shares with us a seemingly trivial event that took place at the Temple in Jerusalem. It's just a brief passage, isn't it? Just four short verses. But is it really trivial, or is it something far greater, something that might well bear on our own salvation?

Jesus had just spoken to His disciples about the scribes and their false pride, how they abused their authority and took advantage of the poor, especially poor widows. Our Lord then turned their attention to one of the many receptacles located throughout the Temple grounds into which people placed their donations. He and the disciples watched as several wealthy Jews placed large donations into the receptacle. 

The disciples were likely impressed by the generosity of the wealthy, but not Jesus. No, He focused instead on the act of an impoverished widow who willingly gave all that she had, two small copper lepta, the least valuable of coins.

Unnoticed by others, she was nobody; and in the eyes of the world her gift of everything was seen as nothing. Everyone else was eying the wealthy, no doubt commenting on their large donations. But Jesus sees the true value of everything. He knows how little their gifts meant to them, gifts they could easily spare. 

To tithe, to give some set percentage of your surplus, really means little when you have so much. Compare this to the gift of the widow, a gift of everything, every cent she had. Indeed, her seemingly small gift, her sacrifice, was an emptying of more than a purse; it was the emptying of the self.

How about our giving? Do we give from our surplus or form our need? Is it a mere plea for recognition? Or perhaps it's a self-congratulatory pat on the back: "Boy, did I write a big check today." Yes, indeed, Jesus knows our motives. 

And we shouldn't focus only on our giving of money. Can we sacrifice our time, our effort, our talents, and instead of using them only for ourselves can we turn them over to God? Is our giving an emptying of self? 

True emptying is the kenosis of Jesus who poured out His lifeblood from the Cross for our salvation [Phil 27-8]. But true emptying is too often ignored by the world [Jn 1:10]. It's ignored because the world doesn't want to think about it. It doesn't want to hear Jesus' call to carry our cross, to give all for Him. 

But to give all, to live the Gospel without compromise, is to love God by doing the work of God, the work of holiness. Such work, never done for personal glory, usually goes unnoticed by all except God. The widow, you see, gave all and did so out of love. Despite her poverty she gave not just a little, but all; while the wealthy gave not just a lot, but nothing.

And as a faithful Jew, worshipping God at His Temple, she knew what the psalmist had promised, how the Almighty "is the father of orphans, and the judge of widows. God in His holy place" [Ps 67:6].

She was so very much like Our Blessed Mother who willingly gives everything for our God, and does so again and again, everything and all things, in the silence, in the anonymous silence of her hidden life.

Speaking of the widow, St. Augustine put it well: "She gave whatever she had, for she had God in her heart. But she had plenty, for she had God in her heart."

Yes, like Mary, she had God in her heart. Is God in your heart? Is He in mine? Do we let Him dwell there or just stop by on occasion?

Our Blessed Mother is the model of those whom Jesus praises, those "who do the will of my Father in heaven" [Mt 7:21]. We too are called to do the will of the Father so we can be Temples of the Lord, carrying Jesus Christ, carrying His presence to others.

How did St. Paul put it? "Do you not know that you are the Temple of God?" [1 Cor 3:16]

Today, through the Eucharist, you and I will also become God-bearers, Temples of the Living God. And so as we process together to receive Our Lord this morning let's all ask Mary to intercede for us, to pray that we may always do the will of the Father, to give all, and so become true Temples of the living God.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Anniversary #50

November 2, 1968
A few days ago, on Friday, November 2nd (All Souls Day), Dear Diane and I celebrated the 50th anniversary of our wedding. It's hard to believe that 50 years have passed since that day in Pensacola, Florida and we're both wondering how quickly those years have slipped by. But they certainly have and here we are ready to begin our next 50, or some fraction thereof.

Because we are hosting our good friends, Nancy and Joe Hathaway, who are each coping with serious health issues, we've been occupied with far more important things than anniversary celebrations. 
Happy Day for Both of US
We had expected to take Nancy to Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa on the morning of November 2nd, but another dear friend, Pat Eggert, came to our rescue and did the driving for us. Pat's husband, Larry, is a fellow alumnus of the U. S. Naval Academy (class of 1965) and both he and Pat are regulars at my Bible Study sessions in the parish. Yes, indeed, we are blessed to have such wonderful and caring friends.
1972 in Monterey after 4 years
1974 - Annapolis - After 6 years
1979 - Montecello - Diane +4 after 11 years
As it turned out, at the last minute we were actually able to  do a little (very little) celebrating, so we went out to dinner and enjoyed some excellent seafood that Friday evening. Of course, because our lives have lately been less than exciting, I expected something weird would happen...and it did. Just as our meal arrived, my cellphone, along with the phones of all the other diners, began blaring emergency signals. 

2000 - Florence, Italy after 32 years

In 2003 after 35 years
Surprise, surprise! It was a tornado warning! Almost simultaneously with the warnings the sky darkened and we were greeted by a downpour and high winds. The rain was horizontal. Very exciting. So we said a quick prayer, thanking God for our years together and for the dinner before us.
2008 After 40 years
We informed our waiter, a very nice man named Carlos, of the warning and he simply said, "It's good you're not sitting near a window." I agreed and added that rather than taking shelter, we intended to enjoy our meal while it was still hot. This turned out to be an excellent choice, for the meal was delicious and the warning was withdrawn after about 15 minutes.
2012 - On a cruise after 44 years
So...our day was fine and was enhanced by a good meal and even better friendships.

Thank you, Diane, for putting up with me all these years. I have been truly blessed.

Homily: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time - Year B

Readings: Dt 6:2-6; Ps 18; Heb 7:23-28; Mk 12:28b-34
"Which is the greatest commandment?" This question, put to Jesus by an unnamed scribe, was no simple inquiry. The Torah, the Jewish Law, was full of commandments - 613 of them according to later rabbinic tradition - and this scribe was honestly searching for an answer to his question. Was there one commandment that encompassed them all? 

Jesus says, "Yes", and provides an answer from Deuteronomy, by referring first to the Shema. This Hebrew word means "Hear," the first word of the command: "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone."

And so Jesus answers first by saying that God is One. He is One, and One Alone. And if God is Lord Alone, there is no other to worship. He takes the Scribe back to that day when Moses first asked God to identify Himself. What is your name?

"I am who am." And then God adds, "This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you." And so, this is our God. Our God is "I AM." Our God is not one God among others. No, He is existence itself. As John tells us, "without Him nothing came to be." And so the words from Deuteronomy, the words of the Shema, seem fitting and proper, don't they?

Jesus continues from Deuteronomy: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength." It's an answer that rolls up all the laws, prohibitions, and commandments into one.

Jesus also takes us back to the first of the Ten Commandments, "I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me." We often interpret this as God saying, "Put me first."  We see it as a question of having the right priorities. But to think that way would be wrong. Putting no other gods "before" me doesn't mean "ahead of me," it means "anywhere in my sight."  God can see above, below, around, and through.

It's an all-consuming commandment.  Anything that is not of God is to be removed from our lives. It's an all-infusing commandment.  Even that which is good is to be immersed and permeated by God. The Oneness and Aloneness of God means that not one fiber of our being can be spent on anything but that which is good, that which comes from God.  We are called to see and honor God everywhere, in all things, in all the activities of our lives. 

God's Oneness, therefore, is a call to relationship. If there is no other to love, then we must give our heart to God. If there is no other to care for us, then we must allow our being to be shaped and molded by God.   If there is no other to follow, then God must order all our thoughts and intentions. If there is no other to whom we can devote our energy, then whom are we to serve?  In all of this we become one with God.

This doesn't mean we are called to desert our ordinary lives, to run off to the mountain top and lose ourselves in contemplation...although a little retreat from time to time wouldn't be a bad idea.

No, becoming one with God means to find God in all of life, because God is there, everywhere present. He's in our music and in our dance, in our work and in our play, in our romance and adventures, in our families and our friends, and in those we dislike, those we mistrust, those we avoid...God is there!

From God's cosmic perspective, His command to love Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength - with all of our being - expands to include everything we do that is pleasing to God. Being one with One God is not a flight from reality; it's a true and complete embrace of reality. If God is One, then all creation, all humanity comes from God. There is no other source of creation. And if indeed we become one with God, then we also become one with all that comes from God.

And so, out of that one commandment, bursts a second, from Leviticus: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." For, truly, we are all children of God, expending our energy and living our lives in ways that, in the end, give glory to God our Creator. What gives glory to Him? What on earth is pleasing to God? Nothing less than obeying this second commandment, which flows logically from the first.

Our neighbors spring from the heart of God.  If we touch them we touch the heart of God. As God loves them we must love them too. God is One, and cannot be divided. To separate ourselves from our neighbor is to separate ourselves from God. To harm that which is created by God is to do violence to the Creator.

When we profess that Jesus is Lord, we attest to the truth of His call and become advocates for His vision of the world, taking on His concerns, bringing His love to others. By describing ourselves as Christians, we say we are Christ-like, that we will love as Christ loves.

The question is, do we?

Do we reach to the poor and homeless, to those who hunger and thirst, to the sick and imprisoned, or do we blame them for their situation?

Do we believe in the dignity and honor of all people, or just those who live as we feel they should?

Do we forgive as Jesus forgives, or do we find satisfaction in harboring our own hurts and hatreds?

Most of us probably come down on both sides of these questions at one time or another, because we, too, are sinners. Yes, in our sinfulness, we gather in this sacred space, as others gather in churches throughout the world, all of us possessed of the hope that through God's grace we'll become more Christ-like.

We take instruction from God's Word.

We admonish one another to be more loving and forgiving, without sacrificing the Truth.

And we eat from the sacred altar, the table of this Eucharistic sacrifice, receiving the Saving Body and Blood of Christ, all the while praying that it will transform our hearts.

You see, sisters and brothers, our hearts are connected not to our mouths, but to our hands. To discover the truth of our commitment to these two great commandments, others look to what we do, not what we say. It's by the work of our hands that we test the call of Jesus to love the Lord our God with our whole hearts, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

We press our hands together in prayer to connect the hands with the heart and drink deeply of the grace of God, and once we have been filled with that peace and passion, we go forth - we go forth with open hands so we can touch the world with the Spirit and presence of Jesus Christ.
And don't forget to vote, to vote as an informed and faithful Catholic.