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


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

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Homily: Memorial of Saints Timothy and Titus

Readings:  2 Tim 1:1-8; Psalm 96; Mk 3:20-21
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Our families certainly have an impact on us, don't they? But families aren't always predictable. They can be helpful and supportive; but they can also be hurtful and harmful.


Most of us here have had a lifetime of dealing with multiple generations of family, with those who preceded us and those who have followed. And I'm sure you all have stories you could tell. Just like the stories we encounter in Sacred Scripture. The Old Testament is filled with family stories of love and hate, of joy and tragedy and sorrow, of help and harm - the same kind of stories we encounter and live through today in our own families.

But families have a strong presence in the New Testament as well. First and foremost we have the example of the Holy Family, of Mary and Joseph called to prepare and protect the Redeemer of the World so He could fulfill His sacred mission. But notice, the Church doesn't extend that title, "Holy Family" to others in Jesus' extended family.

No, as we heard in today's Gospel passage from Mark, some of those relatives tried to pull Jesus away from that mission, thinking He was "out of His mind" [Mk 3:21]. The mere fact they were related to Jesus didn't mean they knew who He really was, or even accepted His mission. We get the sense they were embarrassed by Jesus' notoriety, that perhaps they'd been told to curb this radical relative of theirs.

As Christians, as disciples of Christ, we, too, might well embarrass even our own families when we openly proclaim the truth to an unbelieving world. If you have family members who resent your faith, take solace in the fact that Jesus, too, experienced this; that He, too, experienced the hurt of being rejected by those closest to Him.

Of course, just like the Holy Family, families can be very supportive. We get a glimpse of this in today's first reading. For today we celebrate the memorial of two New Testament saints, Timothy and Titus, friends and fellow evangelists of St. Paul.

Timothy was the product of a mixed marriage. His father was a Greek and his mother, Eunice, was a Jew who became a Christian; the same was true of his grandmother, Lois. It seems Paul took a real interest in young Timothy, and was like a father to him. Indeed, Timothy was often the recipient of Paul's advice.

"Let no one have contempt for your youth..." [1 Tim 4:12] Paul told this young man who was called to proclaim the Gospel to young and old alike. It must have been hard for Timothy, so Paul goes on to tell him to live a good, holy life and trust in the Lord. And it seems Timothy also suffered from illnesses, exactly what we don't know, but Paul gave him some interesting advice:
"Stop drinking only water...have a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent illnesses" [1 Tim 5:23].
But Paul also recognized the importance of family. As we heard in our first reading, Paul addressed the roots of Timothy's faith: 
"...as I recall your sincere faith that first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and that I am confident lives also in you" [2 Tim 1:5].
In other words, it was the encouraging, sustaining faith of these two women that formed Timothy's faith from the beginning. I know that the faith of my parents had a lasting impact on me, and I'm sure many of you can say the same.

The other saint we celebrate today is Titus, another of Paul's friends. Titus was a missionary and a peacemaker, the kind of man who could smooth things out when feathers got ruffled in the Christian community, in God's extended family. Yes, he was a wonderful example of how to deal with the conflicts and disagreements that can tear families apart.

Paul considered Titus, like Timothy, to be his "true child in our common faith" [Ti 1:4]. And as Paul's child in faith, Titus had been sent to heal the wounds experienced by the Christian family.

And so the message for us really hasn't changed. We are called to be peacemakers, bearers, as Paul reminds us, of God's "grace, mercy, and peace" [1 Tm 1:2].

All we can do is extend God's love and God's truth to others, and then let the Spirit do His work in their hearts. But if we resent the mistrust, the anger, even the hatred of others, especially those in our family, we reject our call to discipleship, and place our selfish needs above the will of God. 

As the psalmist said: "Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory" [Ps 115:1].

Friday, January 25, 2019

Through the Looking Glass

Our increasingly strange world continues to assault us daily, thanks in large part to those who hate and those who fear those who hate. A few related comments follow,

If you lean toward socialism and plan to embrace one of the many far left candidates hoping to be elected president next year, let me share a few thoughts. 

First of all, the issue that trumps all others on the left isn't border walls or socialism; on the contrary it's abortion, and right behind it is the whole slate of radical social issues. 

You might want your government to provide universal, single-payer health care, or a higher minimum wage, or higher tax rates for the wealthy, or more open borders, or billions to fight climate change, but the left will always push first for abortion, followed by homosexual marriage, so-called transgender issues, and the "right to die." It's not enough simply to tolerate these things; political correctness demands that everyone support them. And if you oppose them, you must be silenced. 

These issues, of course, are nothing less than an attack on traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs despised by the left. The left's true believers, as opposed to Lenin's "useful idiots" who blindly go along, despise Christianity in general, and the Catholic Church in particular. Folks, the culture war is, in essence, a religious war, because the Church and the faith of the people are what authoritarian governments have always feared and hated. Their first task is to destroy the Church in the minds if the people, to make the Church irrelevant. They can then proceed with their societal altering agenda.


For example, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo, who likes to call himself a Catholic, and his Democrat allies in the state legislature have just enacted a law allowing abortion at any time -- in other words, they have agreed to legalize infanticide in the great state of New York. In the governor's words, we should "celebrate this achievement and shine a bright light forward for the rest of the nation to follow." Yes, indeed, what an achievement! And note how he uses the Gospel metaphor of a bright "light" when in truth the law is only a continued descent into darkness. New York's bishops have strongly criticized the new law, but has the governor been excommunicated? 

Did you notice how many in the media attacked Vice President Pence's wife, Karen Pence, because she teaches art at a Christian school that upholds traditional Christian teaching on these same social issues? To the elites such beliefs are anathema. The hatred expressed by commentators and news anchors was visceral and over the top. CNN anchor, John King, suggested Mrs Pence should be deprived of Secret Service protection. Why? So someone could more easily kill her? Why else would he say such a thing? The culture of death is no longer in hiding but is declared openly.

In the U.S. Senate, two Democrat senators, Mazie Hirono (D., Hawaii) and Kamala Harris (D., Calif.), are apparently ignorant of the Constitution's prohibition of religious tests for public office holders. (See Article 6, Clause 3.) Both senators attacked Brian Buescher, one of President Trump's judicial nominees, for his membership in the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal and charitable organization that adheres to the teachings of the Catholic Church. (And, yes, I am also a member of the Knights.) These Church teachings really upset the senators who demanded that Buescher quit the Knights. They also want him to agree to recuse himself from any case that involved an issue on which the Knights have taken a position. Of course, the senators' motives are nothing but blatant anti-Catholicism. Both senators charged that Buescher's Catholic beliefs would keep him from being an effective judge. The senators are either grossly ignorant of or simply don't care about the Constitution which they are sworn to uphold. It seems we will elect just about anyone to high office these days, a bad omen of things to come.

In the same way, our new House of Representatives, now led by the Democrats, asserted its pro-death convictions from the start. Nancy Pelosi, the once again Speaker of the House, charged ahead with her pro-abortion agenda. What did she do? In her very first act as speaker, Pelosi offered the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2019, which includes a repeal of the Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance policy, as well as huge increases in taxpayer funding of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The UNFPA also contributes heavily to China's deadly policies of forced sterilization and abortion. Pelosi not only wants to overturn President Trump's entire pro-life agenda but also force Americans to finance the international abortion industry. The culture of death is alive and well, thanks to Nancy Pelosi and those who bow to her wishes. And she, too, calls herself a Catholic.

As for true socialism, even though many Democrats may talk it, very few really want it. The smart ones know it doesn't work and never has worked. What they really want is a form of fascism in which big business partners with big government and bows to the latter's wishes to ensure increased control over the population. It's all about power. Big business, like big government, despises competition and tends either to destroy or to absorb small, creative, and innovative companies. And big government's policies aid in this effort by crippling small, entrepreneurial businesses with burdensome legislation and regulations. One of the most under-reported stories is the fact that far more large corporations support Democrats than Republicans. If you really want to experience true socialism, and the raw power of a government that tolerates no opposition, just go to Venezuela and starve to death.

Sadly, too many people who should know better are silenced by simple fear. For example, just consider how hard it must be for bishops who are so motivated by fear of the mainstream media and the political left that they are unable to recognize and proclaim the truth. 

A perfect example of this occurred at the recent March for Life in Washington, D.C. After taking part in the March, students from Covington Catholic High School (Kentucky) were waiting for their bus when they were approached by a group of Native Americans intent on harassing them. Leading the harassment was a known hate group, the Black Israelites. One Native American, a Nathan Phillips, singled out a specific student and got in his face while incessantly beating a drum. The student did nothing and said nothing. He simply stood there patiently and smiled at his harasser. 

The result? An avalanche of vicious anti-Catholic reports and tweets from the mainstream media, accusing the student and his schoolmates of racism and worse. For doing what? Absolutely nothing. The attacks were so horrendous that the students and their families were subjected to dozens of death threats and their school actually had to close for a day. (And Nathan Phillips? He lied again and again about the confrontation and his own personal history.) 

Finally, the truth came out and some reports were corrected, tweets were deleted, and even a few rare apologies were offered. But after those initial false reports were spread by the mainstream (anti-Catholic) media, a number of bishops joined in the attacks on the completely innocent students. Their own bishop of Covington, Kentucky, Bishop Roger Foys, condemned the students and threatened them with expulsion.  Amazingly, even after those errant reports were completely debunked, the bishop has yet to retract his comments. He was joined in his attacks and his subsequent silence by Baltimore Archbishop William Lori and St. Louis Archbishop Joseph Kurtz, among others. I suggests the bishops read their own Catechism of the Catholic Church and what is has to say about the sins of rash judgment and calumny:
___________________________

2477 Respect for the reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty: 

- of rash judgment who, even tacitly, assumes as true, without sufficient foundation, the moral fault of a neighbor; 
- of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another's faults and failings to persons who did not know them;
- of calumny who, by remarks contrary to the truth, harms the reputation of others and gives occasion for false judgments concerning them. 

2478 To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor's thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way: 
Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.
2479 Detraction and calumny destroy the reputation and honor of one's neighbor. Honor is the social witness given to human dignity, and everyone enjoys a natural right to the honor of his name and reputation and to respect. Thus, detraction and calumny offend against the virtues of justice and charity.
________________

Isn't it interesting that some of our bishops, who readily attacked these young people based on erroneous reports, have been so hesitant to protect other young people from clergy, including bishops, who subjected them to horrendous abuse? 

A few months ago the former Papal Nuncio to the U.S., Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano, released a bombshell document addressing ex-Cardinal McCarrick's homosexual abuse of youths and seminarians. The archbishop's testimony focused largely on the massive cover-up of McCarrick's depravity and mentioned a few dozen members of the Church's hierarchy both in Rome and the U.S. He accused these bishops of sins of commission and omission through which they, in varying ways, protected McCarrick from public exposure and even abetted the continuation of his perversions. Archbishop Vigano went on to decry the presence in the Church of a homosexual subculture that he believes is at the heart of the Church's problems. 

What I find confusing are the responses of so many of the bishops named in the report. Since the report's publication some have spoken publicly about the report, while most have been strangely silent. This silence I find perplexing. Had I been wrongfully accused of complicity, no matter how slight or indirect, in covering up such acts, I would shout my innocence from the rooftops and offer whatever exculpatory evidence I had. Those few who have commented sounded very lawyer-like in their well-spun denials, hoping perhaps that a left-leaning media would not dig too deeply into their involvement. 

Even Pope Francis, when questioned by reporters after the release of the document, replied that he would "not say a word" about the matter. For those of us who don't hang out at the Vatican, this seems an odd response. And then, a few days later, the pope told the faithful that the proper response to the division and scandal resulting from this horrendous ugliness in the Church should be "silence and prayer." I agree that prayer is needed as perhaps never before, but silence? Isn't the silence of the bishops, decades of silence, the reason the Church finds itself wallowing in this moral cesspool?

The generally leftist media also has a problem with all this. They despise the Church and happily publicize all the sordid details. But it seems that those most responsible for the cover-up are the more progressive among the episcopate, the same bishops who work so hard to placate the media. Don't get me wrong, though. These high-level sins do not respect the lines separating so-called liberals and conservatives. And making their reporting even more challenging, the media must deflect any focus on the homosexual subculture and place the blame solely on pedophiles even though the vast majority of clerical abuse is purely homosexual; that is, with post-pubescent young males.

One hardly knows what to make of it all. And so we just listen to Jesus, as He tells us again and again: "Be not afraid." These are good words for us today because I expect we face some difficult and challenging times. 

Monday, January 14, 2019

Homily: Monday 1st Week in Ordinary Time

Readings: Hebrews 1:1-6 • Psalm 97 • Mark 1:14-20
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Today is a beginning, the first day of Ordinary Time in our liturgical year. And our readings today also present us with beginnings. The Letter to the Hebrews opens with a statement that really sums up God's plan as it's revealed to us through Sacred Scripture:
"In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe..." [Heb 1:1-2].
It says it all, doesn't it? Spanning the countless centuries from creation to Abraham to Moses and the prophets, it all leads ultimately to Jesus Christ and His Church. All that Old Testament revelation, confusing as it sometimes seems, is fulfilled through the Father's Son, Jesus Christ, who not only comes to us in flesh and blood, but is eternally present with the Father from the moment of Creation.
The Creative Word of God
I remember when I first actually thought about the eternal presence of Jesus Christ. I was a freshman at Georgetown taking an Old Testament course taught by a very old Jesuit (who was probably 15 years younger than I am now).

Walking with the Lord
He said, "You know all those verses that refer to the patriarchs and others walking and talking with God? Well, most scholars just assume it's a metaphor. But what if it's not? After all, is not the Eternal Word of God present throughout all time? Could not the Son of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, walk and talk with Adam and Noah and Enoch and Abraham and Moses? Time, after all, is no obstacle to our eternal, omnipotent God, to Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end."

Well...that certainly got me thinking.

Is this what Jesus meant in John 5 when He revealed the Son's work and challenged the Jews? 
"For if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me, because he wrote about me" [Jn 5:46]
Or at the Transfiguration when Moses and Elijah converse with Jesus about His future redemptive act on Calvary? [Lk 9:30-31]

As St. Augustine reminds us, "The New Testament lies hidden in the Old; the Old is made explicit in the New."

Yes, indeed, just as God, through His Eternal Word, led the Israelites through the wilderness, so too does His Eternal Word, Jesus Christ, lead His Church through the wilderness that surrounds us.

We see this in today's Gospel passage. It, too, presents us with a beginning, and Jesus begins His public ministry with this simple message:
"This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel" [Mk 1:15].
A simple message...but what does it mean? Let's look at the last part first.

We use the word, "repent," but the Greek word for repentance is metanoia, and the translation can be problematic. Most people think of repentance as being sorry for something. Metanoia certainly means that, but it means so much more. It means to think differently, to change. 

We're not called just to be sorry and then continue on. As Paul reminds us, we're called to "put on the new self" [Col 3:10], to be something new. We're not called simply to change what we do; we're called to change who we are.

Did the Apostles realize this? Did Andrew and Simon, and James and John know what Jesus was calling them to do when He said, "Follow me"? [Mk 1:17] Why did they drop everything - all those entangling nets, their work, their homes, and follow Jesus?
Come, follow me.
Did they really understand it all? 

No, they didn't. But it seems that they sensed it, doesn't it? They sensed the Presence of the Holy Spirit, the Presence of God, in this Jesus and in His call. It must have been overwhelming to cause them to leave everything. They knew they'd been called to something very special, even if they didn't know what it was. And so they followed.

Brothers and sisters, it's pretty much the same with us. "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel"

It's still the time of fulfillment, the time of Jesus' Presence in the world.

The kingdom, God's reign, is here, a kingdom founded on love, on our relationships with God and with one another.

He calls us to repent. He calls us to a radical conversion. We don't know exactly what God has in store for us, but we do know He wants us to change, to renew ourselves in Him.

What kind of change? The kind that comes straight from the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. To "believe in the Gospel." Not just to accept all the Gospel teachings of Jesus, but to believe in Him, to pattern our lives on Jesus Himself.

It means living the Gospel without compromise.

It means a new beginning every day, not looking backwards, not regretting the sins of the past; allowing God to forgive you; forgiving yourself; putting on that new self, starting anew with God.

It means forgiving others, letting go of all the pain, all the hurts caused by others...starting anew with all those in your life.

It means following Jesus. The path may not be all that evident, but the destination is eternal life.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Homily: Monday after Epiphany (and St. Raymond)

I've included my homily below, but I thought I'd first say a few words about the saint we honor today. Today is the memorial of St. Raymond of Penyafort. He was a very smart man from Catalonia who died in his 100th year in 1275. He's always been one of my favorite saints. 

As I said, St. Raymond was very bright, a bit of a prodigy who was teaching philosophy by the time he was 20 and then went on to earn a doctorate in law. Raymond was made an archdeacon by the Bishop of Barcelona but a few years later answered God's call to join the Dominicans. A gifted preacher, he ministered to the Muslim Moors and to those Christians who had returned from Moorish slavery. 

As the confessor to Pope Gregory IX he spent years in Rome codifying canon law, work that actually defined much of the Church's law well into the 20th Century. Ultimately he was elected as the third master general of the Dominicans. 

To include his other accomplishments would require many pages, so I'll just say that the mere reading of his life makes me tired. Whenever I think I'm overworking,  I simply think of St. Raymond and he charges my batteries. 

By the way, St. Raymond resigned from his position as the Dominican master general when he turned 65, citing age as a factor. He then went on for another 35 years, working along the way. I consider him the perfect candidate for patron saint of The Villages, our massive retirement community here in Florida. 

A few years ago, Diane and I spent almost a week in Barcelona. During our stay we spent a day or two exploring the city's beautiful old Cathedral. So you can imagine my surprise and delight when we came upon his sepulcher in a small side chapel. I said a brief prayer to this tireless man, asking him to intercede for me, to help me carry out my ministry with the same kind of enthusiasm and energy for which he was known.

Here's a photo I took of his sepulcher:
St. Raymond, pray for us.

And now...today's homily
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Readings: 1 Jn 3:22-4:6; Ps 2; Mt 4:12-17;23-25
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Matthew, writing to a largely Jewish audience, didn't hesitate to present Jesus as the "new Moses," as the promised One Moses himself described in Deuteronomy [Dt 18:18]. Jesus, the lawgiver, through the New Covenant, fulfills the Mosaic law of the Old Covenant, deepening its meaning. As Jeremiah prophesied:

"I will place my law within them, and write it upon their hearts..." [Jer 31:33]
But the Gospel doesn't restrict Jesus' mission, for He came not only to Abraham's descendants, but to the entire world. We heard this in Luke's Gospel when the aging Simeon, at the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple, exclaimed:
"...my eyes have seen your salvation. which you prepared in sight of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel" [Lk 2:30-32].
It's a message aimed not just at a handful of Bethlehem shepherds and wise men from the East, but one that reverberates throughout the world and through all time. Matthew first proclaimed this Gospel message of universal Good News in the genealogy that opens his Gospel. There we encounter a family of saints and sinners, of Jews and Gentiles.

Also in that family was John the Baptist who paved the way for Jesus, His forerunner in every respect. John would soon be martyred, but for Jesus the Cross comes later. First He must preach and heal. He must form His disciples so the Church they lead can preach the Good News and "make disciples of all nations" [Mt 28:20].

And so with John's arrest, Jesus began his ministry in earnest. He stepped into the world beyond His Jewish roots, and carried the Good News to "the Galilee of the Gentiles," as Matthew and Isaiah described it. [See Is 9]

He got right to work, didn't He? He taught in the synagogues, preached the Kingdom, and healed all who come to Him. It must have been an exhausting pace, such that word of His work spread beyond Galilee and Judea to the Gentiles of the Decapolis, of Syria, and beyond the Jordan. They came to Him with their sick and He cured them all: the physically ill, the mentally ill, the spiritually ill.

At this point Matthew tells us nothing of the content of Jesus' preaching, only that He echoed John's call to repentance in readiness for the coming Kingdom. But, you see, it wasn't His preaching that first brought those in need to this One they had never heard. How did Matthew put it?
"His fame spread to all of Syria" [Mt 4:24].
Truly remarkable! He was famous in a country He'd never even visited - and all without Facebook, or Twitter, or TV. No, it was simply His Presence in the world. Jesus, the Word of God Incarnate, need only be present and act, doing God's work in the world. It's work that only God can do, showing the world that God's creative power, His truth, and His very nature are bound up in the Presence of His merciful love.

In deep humility, a divine humility beyond our understanding, Jesus tells all that the saving, victorious Presence of God is at hand, that nothing will ever be the same. It's the same Presence He will ultimately entrust to His Church for all time through the gift of the Eucharist. This bread and wine offered by us become God Himself, His Real Presence, which He uses to heal our weakness and lead us to eternal life.

Brothers and sisters, Jesus must fill the world with His healing, saving Presence, for it is this Divine Presence that draws the world to Him. His call is a call to repentance, to conversion:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" [Mt 4:17].
This repentance, this metanoia, as the Greeks call it, means more than being sorry for our sinfulness...much, much more. It calls us to something new, a radical change of being, really a change of everything, because we now recognize God's Presence in our midst. 

It generates a hunger within us, a hunger for God's Kingdom, a hunger for the living Bread that God gives "for the life of the world" [Jn 6:51]. Living in God's Presence and with God's Presence living in us, we can then say with Paul:
"...yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me" [Gal 2:20].
Like Matthew's world of the Gentiles, our world, too, is "in darkness...a land overshadowed by death" [Mt 4:16]. Only Christ's Presence can bring God's saving light into this world, and that's where you and I come in.

We must be the God-bearers, those who, like Jesus, must act always in love. We must carry Him and His healing Presence to those who know Him not. Let that be our prayer today: that God will lead us to those who need His glorious Presence to enlighten their darkened lives.